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Gaika performs The Spectacular Empire II: The Time Machine in Berlin

The South London based musician tells The Wire about his new commission for MONOM's 4DSound system

“The project is about spatial dislocation, my internal conversation and very fast machines,” explains Gaika when asked about his forthcoming project The Spectacular Empire II: The Time Machine, which he has adapted for a performance at MONOM this week. Commissioned as part of Berlin's CTM festival, this extension to Gaika's Spectacular Empire series makes use of the venue's new 4DSound system; a spatial and immersive sound environment that houses 48 omnidirectional speakers and nine subs.

In September 2017 Gaika’s story The Spectacular Empire: A Future Imagined was published by Dazed. It starts from a familiar scene of civil unrest, but culminates in the mass redistribution of power and a New London run by a collectivist militarised cult called The Spectacular Empire. Experimenting with time travel, they eventually disappear into folklore, perhaps heading for Africa in 2062. Is The Spectacular Empire II: The Time Machine, then, a continuation of this? No, states Gaika. “It's more an interpretation of, then a linear continuation,” he declares. “I tend to be fairly indirect about such things.

The Spectacular Empire II: The Time Machine is an audio visual performance piece where I'm doing some really interesting things with my voice,” he continues. “The Time Machine is performative, and it’s immersive as well as ‘viewed’. It is about presenting inner worlds and asking the audience to enter themselves fully and believe.

“This work is about imagination. I believe we have the power to write history with our imagination. I’m someone with a fairly elastic grip on time as a notion, partly due the amount of travel I do, and an overactive imagination. I guess The Time Machine is a pretty arcane attempt at warping the mechanics of a commonly perceived reality.”

When asked about a political drive to his work, Gaika responds, “I feel like these people – Trump, May, Putin et al – they really mean to kill us all. As an artist I feel like it's disingenuous to pretend we are in some sort of separate bubble where none of that matters.”

The concept of The Spectacular Empire was based on a screenplay (yet to be finished) that his brother, the film maker Kibwe Tavares, is currently working on. It also draws inspiration from neo-noir anime and brutalist architecture, says Gaika, who continues, “It’s an aesthetic thing mainly. A large part of The Spectacular Empire and therefore The Time Machine, is about the art and its context, namely how changes to the built environment affect the behaviour of people. High density housing in London is a key starting point for this as a thought experiment.”

Indeed, in previous interviews this Brixton, South London based artist has referenced the sounds of the city as a major inspiration for a lot of his artistic output. He expands on the theme: “The sonic palette and also the way we experience sound in many dimensions – bouncing sound off of materials, real or imagined is a large part of The Time Machine. I think it’s quite alien to experience performed music this way but not alien when we think about how and where we actually hear everything else.”

But is there a friction between an urban landscape and the glossy, high definition approach of the 4D system? Yes there definitely is, luxury things like 4D are inaccessible to 90 percent of urban artists and sadly not really relevant to many people living in high density housing. To be honest the elitism does grate. However I think the only real solution is participation, subversion and demonstration thereof. I hope by doing this I can show that is what is possible.”

The Spectacular Empire II: The Time Machine takes place on 30 & 31 January at MONOM, Berlin, with support from TCF and IOANN. Also commissioned is Pan Daijing, who will be supported by FIS and IOANN, on 1 & 2 February. Gaika appeared on the cover of The Wire 388.