For the first time in its history the Jazzfest Berlin 2020 will take place from 5.-8. November completely organized as a digital festival. All 27 productions with more than 120 international musicians can be experienced on the web as live stream: from the silent green, to which the Jazzfest Berlin has moved due to the renovation of the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, from the Roulette in New York, and from eight broadcasting studios all over Germany. Nico Daleman, musicologist and sound artist, accompanies the festival on the Berliner Festspiele blog. Here are his first impressions of the digital version of Jazzfest Berlin 2020.

Kick off Jazzfest Berlin, 5. November 2020, silent green, Kuppelhalle © Camille Blake

The eerie experience of a virtual concert gets accentuated every time a song ends and its energy disappears in the resonance of silent green’s Kuppelhalle. The lack of applause or any public interaction is there to remind us that a dreaded second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, that transformed the lives of so many within the cultural arts, has stricken again. At the beginning of last week, most of us were already getting used to a reality that although uncomfortable, was tolerable. By the end of last week, a new lockdown was put in place in Germany, while other Countries in Europe were adopting similar measures. The last-minute alternative for the Jazzfest Berlin was to broadcast a marathonic programme of “EchtZeit” music via radio, television and on demand streaming. 

As part of the forced online confinement, a series of projects were developed in a multimedia format, a little explored path for the improvised music scene. In this occasion Jazz is not only being stripped from its liveness, but also it is finding itself forced to interact with technologies that challenge the concept of “real time”. Within the current programme we can find performances that include projected 3D graphic scores, footage of nature, disco balls, video art and constructed languages. For the kick-off of the festival the Berlin-based KIM collective explored this interdisciplinary approach with an one-shot video-art-improvisation, where the members of the ensemble showcased their skills, together with design, costumes, make up and scenography that expand the possibilities of improvised music beyond sound.

Joel Grip, „Ap Lla“ by Topsi Unterhaltung, Jazzfest Berlin, 5. November 2020, silent green, Kuppelhalle © Camille Blake

The project of Joel Grip researches language as improvisation and improvisation as language through „Ap Lla“, a constructed language that serves as a basis for a new alphabet, typography, and poetry. It is materialised in a series of musical ceremonies, two of them recorded for the festival. Especially here, the emptiness of the venue gets highlighted by this ritualistic music and the uncanny presence of a newborn, archaic language, percussion instruments and the dissonant atmospheres of the string section. The prerecorded character of the video also makes it difficult to locate these ceremonies in time, as they can already be accessed on demand via the Mediathek of ARTE Concert.

In contrast to the ritual music of the kick off, on Friday the “outer space” was occupied by the collaborative project between Witch ‘n’ Monk, LUX:NM ensemble and drummer Jim Black, together with visual artist Florian Japp. “Fluid Formations” is a reworked version of some of the pieces of Witch ‘n’ Monk’s latest album. The Anglo-Colombian duo mixes the electric guitar and vocals of Heidi Heidelberg, with the traditional Colombian wind instruments performed by Mauricio Velasierra, who are far from shy in processing their sound through loop effects and guitar pedals. Together with the characteristic drumming of Black and the tightness of the ensemble, the project created an astonishing energetic performance of Jazz Fusion full of lush polyrhythms and odd meters that move between intricate composed material and expanded improvisation. Velasierra’s inclusion of quenas, sikus, gaitas, and other variations of traditional Andean and Caribbean wind instruments is tastefully merged in the ensemble, without falling into “world-music” cliches or categorisations. Velasierra successfully extracts such instruments from their traditional environment and re-contextualise them in another language, avoiding their appropriation or exotisation, while yet making the presence of Colombian realities very evident through songs such as “Coal Mine” or “Escarbando” both dealing with the destruction of indigenous cultures in Colombia in favor of the extraction of natural resources. This also effectively positions the performance of the ensemble in a place that does not exist in Berlin or Santa Marta or New York, but in outer spaces, inside our computers. 

Witch’n’Monk, Jazzfest Berlin, 6. November 2020, silent green, Kuppelhalle © Camille Blake

Today’s instalment of the Outer’s Spaces series will see Alexander Hawking and Siska move to the Sunnosphere. It will include a more evident interdisciplinary collaboration between musicians and video art, based on the music of Sun Ra and Thelonious Monk. I am really looking forward to this performance that will include live electronic sound processing by Matt Wright, something that will emphasize the outer-ness of this virtual experience. 

With the kick-off event on November 5th at 7:00 p.m. in the concrete hall of silent green, the video livestream started on ARTE Concert and on Berliner Festspiele on Demand. The live stream is also available on the websites of the ARD radio stations and Deutschlandradio, the Europe Jazz Network and the partners in the USA – Roulette in New York and the US-wide jazz broadcaster WBGO. You can find out the exact schedule of the daily live streams from November 5th to 8th at