Cologne-based Pavel Borodin is the man thanks to which a larger segment of population can enjoy exciting sets happening along the German/Austrian axis (and not only). Unlimited 23 follows Borodin’s excellent features on Elliott Sharp and the Speak Easy quartet. It’s a fine documentary about the 2009 edition of one of the most important European new music festivals – unfolding over three days in Wels, Austria – combining refined artistry, the ever-splendid spontaneity of top-rank instant creativity and a general sense of contentment, the latter shared by the interviewed participants in the spoken interludes interspersing the extracts from the strictly musical activities.
As always with the productions of this passionately unprejudiced director, the film’s structure is intelligently essential yet inclusive of every necessary detail, not a painless task given the multitude of persons involved both in terms of exhibition and coordination. The 2009 instalment was curated by Ikue Mori and, besides the enormous efforts made by the chief organizers Wolfgang Wasserbauer and Peter Neuhauser, its success depended in large part to the indefatigable work of 100 volunteers, the whole under the executive banner of Kulturverein Waschaecht Wels. This is the way in which Music Unlimited manages not only to resist in times of worldwide crisis, but to be still able to showcase a wide-ranging gamut of different projects and personalities, some of them “popular” (the Frith/Cutler duo, John Zorn’s Cobra, Phil Minton, Mark Nauseef, KTL), the less known equally valuable, and occasionally even more involving. I myself rejoiced in discovering artists, never met before, who positively surprised. Two examples: Swedish vocalist Lindha Kallerdahl – noticeably pregnant at the time of her concert with saxophonist Lotte Anker and cellist Okkyung Lee – and Theremin player Pamelia Kurstin.
The female component was indeed very strong in the festival. Maja S.K. Ratkje, Sylvie Courvoisier, the Parkins sisters (Zeena, Maggie and Sara), Ute Wassermann, the above mentioned Mori, Lee and Anker, an Ex-plosive Katherina Bornefeld. These and other ladies’ engrossing performances symbolized the impressive level of intelligence, sensitivity and also muscularity that a woman usually brings to an improvisational table. The focused nimbleness and overall determination shown by Lee during dynamic exchanges with trumpet maestro Peter Evans are just spectacular. Contrariwise, a classy delicateness is predominant in the all-women Phantom Orchard Orchestra’s “Inquisitive Fingers”, a partially scored piece fusing elements of freedom and discipline commendably. Not to mention the sweet purity introduced by guitarist Kazuhisa Uchihashi’s little daughter Kanon, who warmly greets (with excited jumping) the powerful hotchpotch generated by David Watson, DJ Olive and Tony Buck in a bagpipe/turntable/drum trio, and is invited to dance on stage – which she does without flinching – by The Ex in “Song For Electricity”, the movie’s final track. The young girl is definitely growing up in an ideal environment.
Additional flashes to remember: Frith silently chuckling as Koichi Makigami gives instructions for Cobra’s “Wels Operations”; a marvellous duet of whispers between Minton and Dieb 13’s vinyls; Anker’s transparent smile in conversation; Watson’s concentration as he pumps air in the bagpipes; Wassermann’s impenetrable mask throughout an extraordinary “birdtalking” act. However, no description of mine could give an idea of how quickly the 123 minutes of this superb DVD fly, and the pleasure felt by watching these great musicians in action. As soon as the disc has stopped spinning, you’re going to reach for the menu button and start replaying your favourite chapters. Guaranteed.