Berlin: Interview with Tad Ermitaño at Club Transmediale’s MusicMakers HackLab 2020
Published 12 February 2020 by Dare Pejić
Berlin’s Club Transmediale (CTM) Festival, featuring MusicMakers HackLab, is a major European event spotlighting the latest trends in music, contemporary and intermedia art. This year’s theme was “Liminality”. Makery met Tad Ermitaño, one of the two co-curators.
Berlin, special report
For the past 21 years, CTM Festival‘s MusicMakers HackLab has reconnected with music makers, artists and performers. This year, the festival focused on Southeast Asia. Peter Kirn and Tad Ermitaño hosted 22 fellows for HackLab 2020. CTM Festival and its partner Festival Transmediale presented more than 300 participants from 30 countries, including edgy sound makers and musicians from around the globe. At the MusicMakers Hacklab finale, Makery met Tad Ermitaño, a key figure in new media art in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, to discuss his experience at MusicMakers Hacklab, CTM’s week-long open and collaborative laboratory.
How did you meet Peter Kirn, and when did you start to collaborate?
Maybe about a year ago, or more, around 2017, a delegation from CTM came to visit the Philippines. They came to talk and to get familiar with the scene in the community. They set up a meeting and I was called to the meeting. So I met CTM, without knowing what CTM was or who they were. I met Jan Rohlf [CTM’s artistic director] and his wife Eunice at a restaurant in Makati. They had read, or heard, some rumbles about Southeast Asia, and they were acquainted with Cedrik Fermont’s book Not Your World Music: Noise in South East Asia. And I think they were looking around Southeast Asia for that, so I got to meet them. A few months later, during the setting up of Nusasonic Festival in Yogyakarta (Indonesia), they were in touch with Tengal Drillon, head of WSK, the Festival of the Recently Possible from Manila, a partner festival of Nusasonic. Tengal mentioned that they would do CTM Nusasonic’s Festival in Yogyakarta, and he recommended me as one of the hacklabbers, so that’s where I first met Peter Kirn. For some reason, the next time they did it in Manilla where they hosted a hacklab, they said: “You’ve been a participant once, why don’t you host it this time?” After I hosted the hacklab in Manilla with Peter last year, they said: “Come to Berlin now.” So, it was that fast.
What is your experience with hacklabs, especially in the Philippines? How does the form of the hacklab affect the work you’ve done?
Well, I wouldn’t say there’s anything really formal about the hacklab as a hacklab. I’m more familiar with makerspaces, and they don’t really exist in the Philippines. In my experience, there’s no space where a bunch of equals share the rent and where they create a common working space. It really is more the case that there’s a patron involved or he has a house, where he has a free space. And he opens it up to resource his friends, so people start to work there. That’s the way the House of Natural Fibre (HONF) in Yogyakarta works, and also Tengal’s space Terminal Garden and Green Papaya, a gallery space in the Philippines. So they are not makerspaces, they are more free spaces, I guess. Someone with an idea would come there or some people who want to try to code might set up a study group there. So it’s very informal. As far as I know, there’s no intentionally created institution, or clubs, where making is the focus point.
How would you compare these last two events in Manila and in Berlin?
Let me think… It’s a lot colder here (laughs). It’s hard to put in words. I have to say that Berlin, being a very wild city, is less wild than Manila.
In what sense?
There’s more danger. Things are much more on edge. There are places you could be mugged and you might get into a fight if you say a wrong thing. It’s a place that is less safe. Of course, there’s extrajudicial killings and all the traffic. All this puts people on edge. Although Filipinos are very happy-go-lucky and welcoming, they tend to be under a lot of pressure. I think that manifests in a kind of sensibility. They are more likely to make a piece about something they are disturbed with, or make jokes about it. It comes easy to us to think of a piece where there would be images of blood on the streets. Things like that won’t come easy to hackers here.
What about the approach to making sounds or music?
There’s a lot in common. The approach in the Philippines is a lot more low-tech. There, more people are interested in psychical matters. So, not necessarily doing stuff in code, but more like plugging a motor into an amplifier in order to simply use it improperly. This also means to use voltages, as high as they might be, as a source of sound. It’s really more about science experiment, in a way. Here, in my experience, the approach is about bending data rather than physical objects. That’s a very broad generalization, I believe.
The topic of ‘Liminality’ was set by CTM. We were localizing something in the sense of shapeshifting. In Manila, nobody knows what the heck liminality means. It’s like a postmodern word, in that way. Liminality comes to down to moving between worlds, shamanism, and we have legends about monsters, warlocks, witches… That’s a kind of archetypical capability, like a shaman who’s an adept of a liminal space, and this is where shapeshifters came about. That’s where we got the idea about the masks that could give you access to different realities. That’s what we were thinking about.
There were a lot of masks in the performances.
Yes. The Englishman, Thomas Meyer, is actually a mask maker. He did a mask workshop, and everybody started making them. He was talking about how you feel the mask, what it wants to say, and what kind of personality it seems to embody. That’s why participants were quite delighted by that, and incorporated it naturally into their performances.
Will you continue working further in the form of hacklabs?
I’m interested in doing more of it. I wouldn’t do it on my own initiative. I’m quite a loner by instinct. I’m very happy to ride on the waves and the structures that CTM and Peter have put together, but I rather doubt that I would set up the same in Manilla. It’s a lot of work, looking for funds, and I rather hate that.
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More on Club Transmediale’s MusicMakers HackLab