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Sacrum Profanum Festiwal

SACRUM PROFANUM #17: PANOPTICON

2019-10-05
Karate master Masutasu Ōyama once said that training cannot end with a cooldown – the most intense exercise needs to be saved for the end. That is why after seven days of listening exercises, the listeners were in for a four-hour marathon of solo sets with complimentary earplugs. Electric guitars and laptops saw some use, and the stage was taken over by various artists with one thing in common – they all work outside the boundaries of classical music and they intensively flirt with electronics. The House of Low Culture concert turned the MGA into a panopticon.

Anja Cheung in Seven Are the Veils poured out an ocean of drones and massive sounds straight on all of us, making things a little bit sensual. In line with the title – in Richard Strauss’ Salome, the eponymous protagonist dances, taking off seven veils covering her body in order to bring Herod to the state of ecstasy. There was something ritually erotic about Cheung’s singing, although the images changing behind the back carried this slowly developing story in the direction of nostalgia, the disintegration of memory and identity rather than pleasure. Heather Leigh, on the other hand, presented a programme from Throne – an album presenting her noise-style, deconstructed love songs (such as “Days Without You”) accompanied by a guitar. And that was the end of nice things.

The scene was taken over by Mick Barr, the Paganini of electric guitar, known from black metal band Krallice. I can definitely appreciate a virtuoso at work, and Barr’s performance was virtuosity embodied, reminiscent of playing Czerny’s etudes or beating a record in the fastest performance of the Flight of the Bumblebee. The clash of this atmosphere with Aaron Turner’s Repression’s Blossom resembled a speeding truck crashing into a roadside tree, accompanied by adequate sounds – brutalistic-apocalyptic distortions and unbearable noise that he produced by moving closer to the speaker with his guitar (in Interminable Conniption, both pieces came from albums released this year).

In terms of music, the best song of the evening belonged to Mario Diaz de Leon, composer, performer and professor, creating “classical”, electronic, metal and improvised music – we all had the opportunity to listen to his Gated Eclipse on Wednesday during the Inescapable Spiral concert. Body Pulse Prism is based on a tried and proven idea, which was in vogue since the 17th century – a bass ostinato, which in this case was of course electronic, with rhythm determined by the body pulse and emphasised by light effects, with striking sound of electric guitar dominating over it. It would seem boring if it weren’t for the fact that de Leon skilfully worked with this “modest” material, masterfully building up tensions. Apart from that, it was definitely worthwhile to synchronise your breath with the rhythm of music and feel it pulsating in your head. Physiological sound experience – whoa!

Eight concert days have passed. Sacrum Profanum took over our afternoons and evenings. Together with Maryla, we tried to describe something that cannot really be described – music. In my first piece, I promised that I would definitely check if the festival’s motto, “See how noise turns into music…”, is indeed true. I kept my promise. People who are afraid that contemporary music is a “regular broadcast from steelworks” can rest assured – that is indeed the case, but if we learn to listen to it well, we will discover music that broadens our horizons and talks about things that the past has not been able to convey. Be sure to come back next year!

Mateusz Ciupka for the Sacrum Profanum Festival