I first stumbled across Alen Ilijić’s work on YouTube (the installation/performance piece, “NOISYGENES”). I have no idea what search term I was using at the time and I’m a little afraid to speculate. Let’s say that as far as artistic vision goes, there’s wasn’t a lot of compromise in evidence!
Wikipedia describes Alen Ilijić as an, “…avant-garde composer and multimedia artist…” and that description is probably as good as any, given that any handful of mere words will inevitably be insufficient to describe exactly what this guy does. Drawing on influences from Stockhausen to John Cage to Marcel Duchamp to Immanuel Kant, Ilijić studied film music, composition, orchestration, electronic music, and sound engineering in both London and Belgrade and the distilled output is uncompromising, bludgeoning, and impressively disturbing (see the video clips below).
With a combination of visuals, written music, improvisation and chance, Ilijić’s musical philosophy appears complex. To use his own words in relation to the recent live set at the Noise Mobility Festival:
“It’s written work, but as you’ll see and hear, I do improvise over the material, so it can be seen as an aleatoric piece, or as Stockhausen would say, I do go intuitive, but intuitive with rules that I’ve created as well as material and structure too. At the same time, the piece is a connection of probably two totally different languages: integral serialism and Reich’s minimalism.”
However the process is defined, the results are both idiosyncratic and individual. Let’s go to Munich…
The first clip from the festival is titled, “Zealot’s time is here”
Between the fractured riffs, the angry and anguished vocalising, and the twisted loop of what might well be Death’s own kalimba this is pretty intense stuff. In a bizarre fashion, the vocals vaguely remind me of Jim Morrison; maybe it’s something about the delivery (and maybe I’m just outing myself as an old hippie) but I guess Jim didn’t bother much with compromise either.
It’s also noticeable that at no point does Ilijić face the audience. Stage fright? Disdain? Modesty? Or a deliberate anonymisation to reduce distraction from the audio and visual overload?
(Incidentally, Zealot is the name of the experimental rock group Ilijić formed in London in the 90s. I’m going to assume there’s a connection – Ilijić may embrace ‘chance’ in his performance but not, I suspect, ‘coincidence’.)
Number two is the obliquely-titled, “Red Faces / Stockhausen’s Dream”
A touch more minimalist – a series of eruptions for piano and unamplified voice with the exaggerated arm movements adding to the unrestrained atmosphere. There’s a sense of a man totally absorbed in the moment, freely expressing. But expressing what, is the question. Unlike the first clip, this feels to me to be more about playful abandon, even verging on the joyous; it’s harsh and angular, to be sure, but it’s not anguished.
The third and final segment is, “Let’s rave in a F grave”
This is practically a song – although not one you’re likely hear on Top 40 radio anytime soon… The mood is defiant, celebratory even, in its refusal to bow or be cowed. It’s aggressively rebellious and as with the other two clips, it makes for compelling and uncomfortable viewing/listening.
Just based on these three snippets, there’s no doubt that this is extreme stuff (enjoyably and excitingly so) and possibly not for everyone. The repetitive loops are overlaid with noise, both human and mechanical. The excess, the anger and alienation, the whimsical refusal to conform to traditional notions of a concert performance… you probably wouldn’t play it as wallpaper music for your next polite dinner party. But in terms of sheer experience, we all need shaking up every now and again and let’s face it, based on this evidence, Alen Ilijić will do the job!
To lift a quotation from Arnold Schoenberg,
“If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art”