How To Warm Your Hands On The Glow Of A Vulcano // Sufjan Stevens Live @ Berlin Admiralspalast (16/9/15, Concert Review)

2015-09-18 Sufjan TourcollageIn my recent album review of Sufjan Stevens‘ Carrie & Lowell, I compared psychological theories of grief and bereavement with Stevens artistic way of dealing with the loss of his mother on his latest record. Last night I had the chance to see how he translated his new material onto the stage at his first show of a sold-out two-day residency at Berlins noble Admiralspalast.

The stage of Sufjan and his 5-piece-band was backed by five oblonged projection screens that resembled very much cathedral windows, and after the heavy reverb piano intro of Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou), Sufjan, only lit by a single spot, began the evening with an achingly beautiful solo acoustic rendition of Death With Dignity, while the screens depicted private super-8 home videos from his childhood fooling around. You had to remind yourself that even though it was a piece of privacy exposed in the context of a performance, the scenes it showed were apparently real material, almost like a slide show at a family reunion. From this moment on, the audience was spellbound.


(c) Selective Artists

If the record seemed like a diary of grief, the show felt more like an experiment on how to convert these feelings and their energy into something new. Many of the new songs had been reworked and re-arranged. The Only Thing, after starting off as the delicate and reduced acoustic reflection as it is on the record, transformed via a sudden crescendo of tempo, drumbeats and lights directly pointed into the audience into something that almost felt like a resurrection. Fourth Of July became a disconnected sound-collage, wherein the reverb-heavy piano ballad got interrupted various times by synthie blots and splotches, before being pushed by the drum beat into an overwhelming finale.

Whereas the first section exclusively relied on the reworked Carrie & Lowell material, the second half of the main set connected old and new material by a stronger emphasis of choreography and light installation. All Of Me Wants All Of You, one of my favourites both live and on the record, had gotten rid of his acoustic guitar core and now grooved in sync to the pulsating symboles approximating to and withdrawing from each other on the screens around, dressed in wafting synth noises and an elaborated percussion, before turning into a an absolutely stunning and seducing 80s ambient disco monster with Sufjan playing an aggressively roaring synth solo. Mindblowing!

(Video by Olive Toulouse)

Along to Vesuvius, the light screens turned into a strange combination of vases that were steadily filling up by water drops threateningly dripping down, a boiling vulcano and a rocketship silhouette set to a night starry metropolis skyline. Sufjan performed the song with sort of sign language with his arms and fingers, appearing defenceless and still dignified, that I found extremely touching. I can’t exactly put the finger on the why, but the way he did this sign language somehow illustrated a breakdown of communication and the intention of reconnecting, but also the nagging and threating quality of the expressed doubts and desires of the songs’ lyrics. In the end, Sufjan concluded the song by changing between singing and playing a recorder (which was met with confusion and amusement by the audience) with the repeated line: Why does it have to be so hard? (This is not the only moment that, from a technical point of view, appeared a bit messy: Here and there the coordination between Sufjan and his background vocalist, or his use of his head voice sounded quite a bit off, and sometimes the mostly synthie keyboard foundations of the songs felt a bit thin in order to hold together the ornamentation of the other instruments).

The main set was concluded by a quite demanding and challenging 13 min impro space opera electro experimental journey through Blue Bucket of Gold, that was a final proof that at different moments, this show managed to evoke a diversity of emotions: sadness, melancholy, boredom, tiredness, sensory overload, amazement… Sufjan returned for the encore with his trademark baseball cap, starting to present a selection of older fan favourite songs. The short, beautiful piano solo version of Come On Feel The Illinoise-Opener Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinoise and the sweet banjo picking of For The Widows in Paradise, For The Fatherless in Ypsilanti were greeted with enthusiasm by the audience, who still seemed a bit stunned and shocked after how the main set had ended. Finally, something more familiar (and something easier to digest…).

(Video by PaperSnowflake)

Generally speaking, it was astonishing how Sufjan succeded to create an intimate vibe for his show; in spite of the scale of the production, the result still felt sincerely personal. Even though a relatively stable setlist sequence, a venue of >3000, an elaborated light show concept, elements of conceptual performance choreography, and an extensive tour that has been going on almost non-stop since the record’s release half a year ago, what he evoked still was more soul than show, more emotion than entertainment.

At the end of the show, he spoke shortly about how these songs are „obsessed with mortality“, and how he feels that the process of sharing them, expressing them, results into turnings these feelings into something new, something else, in an almost cathartic, spiritual way. The people in the audience could only agree, as this effect had been palpable for everyone in the room. So whether read as dealing with mortality, or with noticing the things that grow out of the ashes, and taking them to go on: in any way the final Chicago is right, when it states with its beautiful modest anthem-like sublimity: All things go, all things go.

You can find the setlist below, with some video examples for the new arrangements from earlier dates of this year’s tour. Prepare to be blown away.

Berlin, Admiralspalast (1st night) // Wednesday, September 16th, 2015
Support: Minda Tindle

Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou) (Wiltshire, End Of The Road Festival, 05/09/2015)
Death With Dignity (Wiltshire, End Of The Road Festival, 05/09/2015)
Should Have Known Better (Brighton, Dome, 04/09/2015)
Drawn To The Blood (Edinburgh, Playhouse 30/08/2015)
Eugene (Cleveland, 16/04/2015)
John My Beloved (Manchester, Apollo 31/08/2015)
The Only Thing (Edinburgh, Playhouse 30/08/15)
Fourth Of July (Paris, Grand Rex 08/09/15)
No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross (Houston, Jones Hall f. t. Performing Arts, 11/5/15)
Carrie & Lowell (Edinburgh, Playhouse 30/08/15)
The Owl And The Tangar (Austin, Bass Concert Hall 05/2015)
All Of Me Wants All Of You (Paris, Grand Rex 08/09/15)
Vesuvius (Paris, Grand Rex 08/09/15)
Blue Bucket Of Gold (Columbus, Palace Theatre 17/04/15)
Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois (Dublin, The Helix 29/08/15 )
Heirloom (Dublin, The Helix, 29/08/15)
For The Widows in Paradise, For The Fatherless in Ypsilanti (Edinburgh, Playhouse 30/08/15)
Futile Devices (Manchester, Apollo 31/08/2015)
John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (Edinburgh, Playhouse 30/08/15 )
Chicago (Edinburgh, Playhouse, 30/08/2015)

Find some german reviews off the local press and some photos from the night here:


The Resurrection of Berlin’s Lenin – well, his head.

Today, the head of the former Lenin monument placed in Berlin during the times of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) got unearthed in order to be presented in an exhibition of historic monuments in the west of Berlin.

(c) Ruptly TV

The head was just the upper part of a much larger monument of Lenin originally located at Lenin Plaza, now called Platz der Vereinten Nationen (Plaza of the United Nations), in Berlins district Friedrichshain. In 1991, the first Mayor of the reunited Berlin organized the disassembly of the statue, and the head with its over 3 tons of weight was buried in a forest in the outskirts of Berlin.

There has been a great deal of controversy over this step, as some people consider the era of the GDR as such a dark chapter of german history that they prefer to have every memory of it erased, in order to prevent nostalgic political feelings. Another group of people already critizised the original idea of disassembling the statue back in 1991 and consider it as a integral part of german history that should be remembered and discussed.

For some time, an official argument against unearthing the head was that city representants stated that nobody had any idea where the head exactly was located. This argument was refuted, when US-American film maker Rick Minnich joined the conversation. Minnich had recorded a satirical movie and, as part of its plot, not only had investigated the exact position, but even presented a scene where he himself uncovered parts of Lenins head.

(c) Rick Minnich

The last obstacle in the way was the finding, that a certain species of endangered lizards by now had populated the head, so that during every action taken, the protection of the lizards had to be warranted.

After all, the head did get unearthed today and by midday, it was presented at the location of its future exhibition at Citadel Spandau.

(c) Ruptly TV


Dota – Grenzen (a german song about borders and refugees)

2015-09-10 refugeeswelcomeDota Kerr is a singer-songwriter from Berlin of especially local popularity. She has been making her mixture of intimate acoustic guitar music with poetic everyday life observations revolving around big city life, lover’s grief, cultural and political themes with her trademark witty, intelligent wordplays. Formerly known as Kleingeldprinzessin (princess of small change) and gaining a loyal fanbase by busking, she also integrates elements of Bossa Nova and brasilian traditional music into her music

Dota is going to release a new record on January 15th of next year, and even though it is not yet ready for a proper promo cycle to begin, she released a video of a song of this record that deals with the concept of borders, in order to publish a statement about the current situation of refugees in Germany.

Check out the song in the video and a translation of some lyrics excerpts below. FInd the official german lyrics on Dotas Official Facebook Profile.

(Again we have the problem of translation. The main point of the song is that the german word for borders might stand for borders as well as for „limits“, so every time Dota sings „es gibt Grenzen“ she implies that everything mentioned before is caused by the existence of borders, but also that the circumstances already have crossed the line of the tolerable.)

Who is inside, who is outside?
I draw a line. You must not pass.
Air meets Air here
Ground meets ground
Skin meets the bullet.

There is frontex and push-backs
Fences, weapons, refugee defense conferences
Themediterrean sea becomes a mass grave
There are borders / limits

They lead to nationalism with its nutty consequences
You disfranchise people just because they came from somewhere
There are borders / limits (…)

I sign off, hand me a passport,
that states: „World inhabitant“
Just „world inhabitant“.
Please tell me where to go to for this
I sign off, I re-register
It can’t be so difficult
Just sign me up as world inhabitant.

How stable are the columns of the Brandenburg Gate? (A metro story from Berlin)

If you have ever used the subway (or locally so-called U-Bahn) in Berlin, you might have noticed how the window panes of some waggons are covered with a transparent lamination that features little reproductions of the Brandenburg Gate, arguably the most important tourist s2015-09-04 bbt_metro1ight-seeing spot in Germanys capital. These laminations were glued to the windows in order to prevent scratchings and demolition of the glass below.

Now, as the taz reports, one of the commuters must have taken an attentive look at these little gates, because he/she figured out that the second column from the left of the Gate is drawn perspecitvely wrong. It appears that this column isn’t straight, but is twisted before touching the ground. Furthermore, the lengths of the columns differs so that a close watcher has to worry about the stability of this little thingy. A couple of two graphic designers was so annoyed by this that they started to design their own drawing of the tourist magnet, this time perspectively accurate.

When they actually offered their drawing to Berliner Verkehrsverbund (BVG, Berlin Transport Company), they were rejected as the BVG had already instructed their designer to produce an improved version. According to them, they were just using up a few left-over copies of the old laminationand that since April / May of this year, the new design would be used now. So I’ll have to watch closely to discover the difference, then…

2015-09-04 bbt_metro2ganzkl

…probably a very german discussion.

You can check out the two designs in the original article of the german taz here.

Tocotronic release solidarity single for asylum-seekers in Germany

2015-08-30 tocotronicGerman Indie-Rock group Tocotronic have been known to openly position themselves in political debates. Even if they rarely explicitly adress policital issues in their lyrics, they’ve always been up to and willing to demonstrate their political positions, e.g. in taking part in campaigns against tendencies of creating a new, “german” nationalist identity, and resolutely opposing the implementation of a quote of german-language-only songs on radio by law (find a more detailled description of this debate at Goethe Institut).

In response to the recent racist and xenophobic attacks against asylum-seekers escaping from Syria, Lybia and other countries, Tocotronic released a song explicitly refering to the recent situation of the asylum-seekers in Germany. The song is called Solidarität and as the name states, expresses in very kind and comforting words the bands solidarity with these people. Here’s a translation of an excerpt of the lyrics (please excuse the crude translation, in german the carefully constructed prose is full of puns, but I guess it’s enough to get an idea of its content):

You, who undismayed are
distressed by disdain
Hunted every day
by your traumata

You, who need every help
who are running gauntlents in between the bourgeois / Babbits
leashed by the herd
confronted with their grimaces

You, who are at a loss
and miss every bit of fondness
standing in front of demolition
you have my solidarity.

You can find the delicate ballad, only accompanied by acoustic guitars and a reduced string arrangement, here. It was also released on Tocotronics latest record, “Das rote Album” in May of this year.

Since gaining popularity in the early 90’s, Tocotronic were counted by music journalists and pop culture theorists as part of the so-called Hamburger Schule, a group of bands and musicians who dealt in their lyrics with the role of an individual in society and various cultural, political and societal issues from a leftist position (which is why the name references the german group of neo-marxist, sociological and philosophical theorists of Frankfurter Schule.) Important members of the Hamburger Schule (even though they normally despised the label) besides Tocotronic included bands like Blumfeld, Die Sterne and others.

Media-related Update on Refugees in Germany

German weekly Newspaper DIE ZEIT interviews two medical physicians working voluntarily in the Dresden refugee camp tent city, who report that the conditions of medical care and treatment, hygene and sanitary facilites in the camp are violating German Constitutional Law. Expired medication, no possibilites for sex segregation in sanitary facilities, not enough toilets, incially even without running water, unexperienced, overburdended, but dedicaded voluntary doctors. They speak of a humanitarian catastrophe. This illustrates various points of the recent debate:

  • Germany has been overwhelmed by the recent increases of asylum-seekers arriving here and still is trying to catch up regarding the organization and the regulatory processes.
  • There is a great need of improving the cooperation of the involved parties.
  • Anti-aslyum-seeker-violence and sentiments in various parts of the nation, as well as the reservations certain parts of the political world and the population hold regarding the dimensions of support Germany should offer to these people, have hindered the process of attending them.
  • Additional obstacles in the way are the physical and mental health conditions of the asylum seekers, cultural and language barriers, the recent heat and the vacation period in Germany.

Nevertheless, the great commitment of various civilists and volunteers donating basic necessities or offering their private space for a period of time should not be unmentioned and gives some spark of hope.

The price of the best headline this week officially goes to Foreign Policies. They headed their recent overview on anti-immigrant attitudes, violence and racist actions with the fitting summary: Germany Has a Refugee Problem, and the Problem Is the Germans (english article).

Aprox. 40% of war zone-escaping asylum-seekers suffer from PTSD

According to data from the German Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, about 40% of the asylum-seekers entering Germany suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The prevalence of this condition stems from the experience of a huge number of stressful and traumatic events they experienced a.) in their homeland, under the conditions of war, violence, poverty and various kinds of deprivation and b.) during their flight to a safer country, including harassment, stigmatization and persecution.

Commemorating the World Refugees Day on June 20th, that was installed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2001, the Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists released a press statement demanding amends in the treatment of refugees seeking asylum in Germany.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the few mental disorders where the influence of an external life event by definition is a causal (or etiological) factor for developing the disorder. Symptoms include hyperarousal, hyper-vigilance, impaired memories of the traumatic event while at the same time experiencing intrusive memories of certain aspects, to the point of full-blown flashbacks.

Eptsd beitragsbild2tiological models of PTSD state that the intensified neurobiological stress reaction during the traumatic situation impairs the encoding of episodic memory aspects, which later on leads to an impaired memory recall. As a result, in certain situations affected people aren’t able to distinguish between the memory of the past traumatic event and the perception of a present situation. When triggered, they repeatedly feel caught in the perception of an immediately impending thread, just as it was during their traumatic experience, again and again during their everyday life. This means that even when these people escaped the lifethreatening situations they experienced, the terror of fearing for their life stays in their minds, not just as a memory, but as actually present.

As the research of Neuner and colleagues shows, there is a strong connection between the number of experienced traumatic event types and the development of PTSD symptoms. In a sample of West Nile Refugees, they found that while 23% people reporting three or less traumatic events types developed an PTSD, it was 100% of the people who reported 28 or more traumatic event types showed the symptoms of the disorder. Therefore they conclude: (…) if the cumulative exposure to traumatic events is high enough, these results indicate that anybody will develop chronic PTSD. We conclude that there is no ultimate resilience to traumatic stress (…). In other words: The development of this mental illness for these people does not depend on any individual factors as their growing up or mental state. At some point, experiencing too many of these kind of situations WILL lead to the onset of this illness.

These findings are of high relevance especially in the context of refugees escaping from war zones, as they are most probable to have been exposed to a variety of different types of traumatic events (violence, persecution, witnessing of killed or dying people, assaults, rape, and others).

Sources & further literature:

Gäbel, U., Ruf., M., Schauer, M., Odenwald, M. & Neuner, F. (2006). Prävalenz der Posttraumatischen Belastungsstörung (PTSD) und Möglichkeiten der Ermittlung in der Asylverfahrenspraxis (Prevalence of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among asylum seekers in Germany and its detection in the application process for asylum). Zeitschrift für Klinische Psychologie und Psychotherapie, 35 (1), 12-20.

Neuner, F., Schauer, M., Karunakara, U., Klaschik, C., Robert, C. & Elbert, T. (2006). Psychological trauma and evidence for enhanced vulnerability for posttraumatic stress disorder through previous trauma among West Nile refugees. BMC Psychiatry, 4 (34), full text availiable online

Spiegel: Gewalt in Flüchtlingsheimen: Traumatisiert und eingepfercht (German article describing the tensions in asylum-seeker camps due to their mental strass and acommodation conditions)

Spiegel: Therapie für traumatisierte Asylbewerber: „Ich kann leider nichts für Sie tun“ (German article dealing with the extremely limited possibilites to treat traumaticed asylum-seekers)

Is the Ugly German Back? Flames of Hate Haunt a Nation (English article on the violence attacks on asylum-seeker camps and shelters.

Tl, dnr:
Refugees and asylum-seekers are an incredibly vulnerable population, escaping from circumstances that not only threatened their physical but also their mental health. This has to be considered in the procedures and treatments they receive when looking for a safe place to stay.