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Sacrum Profanum Festiwal


The main theme of this year’s edition of the Sacrum Profanum Festival is neighbourhood, and thanks to the artistic residence of Anton Lukoszevieze, this concept is associated with our eastern neighbour – Lithuania. Although the excellent cellist appeared on stage in Cricoteka, the first day of the festival was not dominated by Polish-Lithuanian relations, but by the neighbourhood of body and sound – perhaps even their inseparable relationship.

This relationship was referred to in a symbolic way by Natasha Anderson, who said that Nor Girdling Gnaw for viola d'amore and six-channel electronics features “multiplying reflections (…) fleeting, bleeding and circling, like a hysterical, repeating attempt at suffocating death.” The Baroque instrument competed with electronics in a quite traditional concert, which led to a trance of repetitive figures, which made the sound palpable. Also striking was the dualism of ways of obtaining the sound, with the soloist’s body movements – traditional, as well as new – with clicking. Simultaneously, we experienced something that was mentioned by Kasia Głowicka (whose Farewell River will be presented on the 1st of October), who said that her vision of a contemporary composer is a musician with a computer on stage.

The impact of sound on the body was directly referred to by the Australian composer Anthony Pateras, whose Pseudacusis was supposed to evoke hallucinations with carefully selected frequencies and pitch. Perhaps the concert rituals and the atmosphere of the opening made this a bit more difficult, but on the other hand, they helped us focus on other qualities of the composition – an interesting beginning, showcasing the composer’s prowess, a beautifully sounding piano with outstanding piano sounds in upper registers, as well as perfect combinations, for example, with a tremolando of a big drum – all of this gave the impression of a cohesive musical idea; however, leaving an impression that it was a bit too long and too busy at the end. Or… perhaps not? Perhaps it was the second half of the piece, which put the collisions between points and straight lines, contrasting tones, singing of birds and the sound of water on the forefront, that was the most attractive about Pseudacusis? This, of course, required a lot of effort from artists, who – like in the case of Górecki’s latest works – had to play single sounds at a slow tempo for a long time, especially saxophonists. I cannot help it but admire Krzysztof Guńka, who covered for sick Gerard Lebik on the day of the concert. I have to say one thing – that surely required some lung capacity! While I did not experience any hallucinations, I listened to the microtones and overtones, and – as it turns out – it can be quite pleasant.

Zbigniew Karkowski’s music evokes a completely different response of the body – the music (yes!) by the Krakow-based composer causes stress, anxiety, uncertainty, shaking knees and weird vibrations in your stomach. If anything, his pieces will definitely make you “enter your discomfort zone.” Last year, GGR Betong presented it in an analogue manner, yesterday we could listen to the digital rendition. Although let’s be honest – “listened to” is quite an understatement, given that things in offices on the upper floor supposedly fell from shelves during the event. Interestingly enough, the first piece – Nerve Cell_0 – referred to a neuron, which conducts electrical impulses. Conducting is associated with movement – something that was mostly absent from this piece. Instead, it resembled a static bunch of noise with varying intensity controlled by Lukoszevieze, using a rather impressive amount of various means of articulation, including surprising and unexpected ones, such as a vibrato played using nothing but a bow. Wolfram and Zespół Wokalny Gęba, which performed Encumbrance, which they also recorded for Bôłt Records, won over the hearts of the audience. The piece does not have a clearly defined shape and each performance is unique – the draft sent via e-mail to Antoni Beksiak also contains a note about adapting the performance to a given venue. In other words, we had a chance to hear (through earplugs) something unique. The concert experience suggests that the audience can certainly appreciate effort – and this piece surely required a lot of it. Ranging from low tones to the highest registers, murmuring, growling and whispering, the composition featured a wide variety of vocal exercises, a true “vocal workout,” as Karkowski himself put it. Seeing sweat dripping from musicians’ faces only made the applause stronger; however, it took much longer to shake off the feelings caused by low frequencies.
While going home from Cricoteka, I saw an ad for the festival, saying “See how noise turns into music…” After the first day, I have to say that I am definitely going to see… and if you are curious about what the result, be sure to attend the upcoming concerts and read my next reviews.

Mateusz Ciupka for the Sacrum Profanum Festival