Music & clubs

MaerzMusik 2022: Moving to the beat of time

The festival of contemporary sounds is back with a focus on temporality. We caught up with its artistic director and lead curator.

MaerzMusik artistic director Berno Odo Polzer and lead curator Kamila Metwaly. Photo: Berliner Festspiele / Marlena Waldthausen

Can you explain the concept behind MaerzMusik this year?

Berno Odo Polzer: The first thing to say is that this is a new curatorial constellation with Kamila Metwaly and myself as the co-curators of the artistic program. In 2015, it was given the subtitle “Festival for Time Issues”, where we focused systematically and continuously on the question of how concepts of time and time practices shape our way of living, producing, thinking, but also listening.

Kamila Metwaly: For me, it is very interesting to see how the festival is positioning itself within a certain artistic domain that does not rely on one particular genre of music or particular form of curation. The fluidity of the shape of the festival aligns quite nicely with what I did before as well. This year we are really trying to create a conversation between the two of us, bringing different experience and different knowledge into our collaboration.

The 2020 edition was cancelled and the 2021 edition was completely online. What impact has that experience of “pandemic time” had on MaerzMusik as it returns to a live format?

KM: One thing that’s interesting for me is the idea of time and social resistance or spaces of protest. The pandemic amplified that because we have to question what is going to happen when we are no longer bound to specific timing or modalities of living. This point has shaped a lot of the major questions that we are focusing on. Where do we want to be and how do we continue? It’s not just a question of blind continuity, but moving towards an ability to be vulnerable with others and challenge ourselves.

It’s a bit unusual, or let’s say frightening, to have an opening that is really an experiment.

BOP: It feels really special to come back to physical encounters. I think they are still imaginary at this point in time because so many don’t happen anymore. What does it mean to spend time with many people in a space? The general exposure to relationality on a daily basis in public spheres has completely shifted but I feel like there’s potential to move in a positive direction, too. Speaking as a person of relative privilege, I would say that I would like to see it as an opportunity. There’s a fragility to everything that I think is a real opportunity in terms of building up and growing differently, but maybe that’s the bias of a sound person because of the way it touches you and makes you emotional.

One performance, The Garden of Forking Paths, will test that. It brings guests together and allows them to create their own relations: sonically, socially and spatially. Do you have any expectations of how that will play out?

BOP: It’s a bit unusual, or let’s say frightening, to have an opening that is really an experiment. Normally, you would go with an event that is a real sure bet. But, now, we have two oddities. One is that we don’t have one opening, but three due to coronavirus. The other oddity is that it is quite incalculable. We know that the music that we present is amazing. We have some ideas of how sound could draw people into parts of the Gropius Bau that are not normally accessible, but we have no idea whether people will understand those sonic cues or not, there’s a lot we don’t know. I think it’s also great to experiment with these high stakes because we really have to trust the music.

KM: It could be quite beautiful to really see the relationship of individual bodies in space versus meeting in a collective body like an audience. You have this energy of people coming together in a different way. Maybe you take that decision to peek into spaces that you normally wouldn’t because you’re carried by the curiosity of others. That’s the really exciting thing about it. You can create your own opening in a sense and experience it from a singular position, but also let yourself be drawn by the other sounds and other sensibilities that are taking place here.

How do you curate a programme with such a broad scope as “time”?

BOP: The mycelium is a guiding metaphor in our thinking. Mycelium connects different species, transports nutrients, and creates a kind of ecological support system that is largely invisible. It’s a fascinating world that we can draw on when we think about the relationships that music and art can produce. That’s why we also put together a film program with tonnes of material so that we can bring attention to this rich, fascinating world. It’s part of our mission to look outside of the world of music, especially in times of climate crisis and think about the way of life that we are in as a whole.

KM: What’s beautiful is that most of it is invisible to the eye, right? There’s something in this factor of invisibility that I really appreciate, something that you don’t see, but you know that there is a massive support system built around communication. We are interested in collaborating in that way. Interpoiesis invites artists and musicians, from very different disciplines, cultures and ages to meet for the first time and make a piece that comes out of the sheer curiosity of a group to get to know each other. When you get outside of the regular ways of the transfer of knowledge you start to unravel traditional processes. You can create new kinds of relationships and possibilities in music, and doing it together is what we are really interested in.

MaerzMusik – Festival for Time Issues 2022 Mar 18-27, Various locations

Berno Odo Polzer is the artistic director of MaerzMusik. His interdisciplinary approach to contemporary music combines dramaturgy and political theory and has led to collaborations with institutions such as Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Kaaitheater Brussels, Tanzquartier Wien, World Venice Forum, and the Wiener Konzerthaus.

Kamila Metwaly is the lead curator at MaerzMusik. A musician and curator based between Berlin and Cairo, her practice considers performativity and non-normative musical relations. Since 2017, she has curated a long running project at SAVVY Contemporary aimed at challenging the perceived dominance of the Euro-American music canon.