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Sacrum Profanum Festiwal

SACRUM PROFANUM #17: DARKNESS, PLEASURE AND IMPROVISATION

2019-09-30
If you hear rustling of plastic packaging right before a Sacrum Profanum concert, you know that it does not mean that people are grabbing their crisps, candy or popcorn – it’s earplugs. And this time around, they were required, since Patrick Higgins, American guitarist and composer, a restless spirit exploring the dehumanised darkness of our modern times, played really loudly.

One could say that he even played with our minds. The artist presented a programme based on Dossier, his album from last year, where he subjected the guitar to all kinds of complete electronic transformations. At the same time, he used these sounds to control his visualisations, which were no less aggressive than powerful low-frequency blows or post-minimalistic noise-sounding ostinato. All in all, it was more hallucinogenic than Pseudacusis presented on the first day. Feeling the vibrations in my knees and spine, I succumbed to a state of half-sleep, similar to the one I felt last year during the performance of Éliane Radigue’s Elemental II, in spite of the fact that she and Higgins are from two completely different and distant worlds. The single player stream started with shock and hypnosis.

The Holy Presence concert provided a completely different impression. For the first time the audience could enjoy fully analogue music, with the magical circle of cello players on stage led by their guru, Anton Lukoszevieze. I wish we could commission songs for the pleasure stream from Lithuanian composers Rytis Mažulis and Justė Janulytė; unfortunately, there is no such thing. De plus en plus, Mažulis’ perpetuum mobile on cello is also a riddle of sorts: “What will you hear if I repeat the same sequence (with some modifications) several dozen times?” Psalms_cellos by Janulytė is a piece suspended between a chant and a vocalisation stretched to its very limit, in a way that makes it difficult to avoid associations with Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.

Julius Eastman was an outstanding personality, a gay black man, an uncompromising experimenter who stood in opposition to the people and the world as a whole. The festival significantly contributed to bringing him back to light; however, the Holy Presence of Joan d'Arc, based on pop guitar riffs, left me unconvinced. Given the choice between Eastman and Moondog (SP 2017), I choose the latter. The prelude to Holy Presence… for solo voice was a completely different thing – a suggestive study of a persistent thought in one’s head. Black Swedish jazz vocalist Sofia Jernberg gave a phenomenal performance, signing with a raw and rough voice, exclaiming “Speak, speak!” If somebody ever releases an album with Arnold Schönberg’s Pierrot lunaire, which she performed with the Helsingborgs Symfoniorkester in 2018, I'll be the first to get it.

The day ended in the Radio Krakow Concert Studio, which hosted the Festival for the first time to celebrate the premiere of the debut album by the IPT (Improvising Piano Trio) entitled Diffractions. In Poland, improvisation ensembles don’t have it easy – it is difficult for them to win over audiences and sometimes they have to deal with being misunderstood by cultural authorities. Fortunately, this case was completely different. Three musicians – violinist Jakub Bańdur, cellist Jakub Gucik and pianist Szymon Wójciński – present an outstanding level of mutual understanding and ingenuity, which results in a repeated concert with improvisations on themes by Krzysztof Komeda, illustrating texts by Marek Hłasko read by Andrzej Rozmus. Diffractions is a new concept based on the transformation of broken sound. In varietas delectamus – the trio used their whole range of styles in one improvisation, which lasted for about 40 minutes, from which I picked out a wonderful combination of Rhodes and the piano, which unexpectedly sounded like Debussy and twisted Mussorgsky. The album has even more to offer. Listen to improvised music. It's really worth it.

Mateusz Ciupka for the Sacrum Profanum Festival