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Sacrum Profanum Festiwal

Curatorial text

18th Sacrum Profanum / November 2020 / Youth

The reality of 2020 is more intense and fluid than ever before, even though time also appears to be at a standstill.This year we are celebrating the 18th edition of Sacrum Profanum.The festival steps into adulthood at an extraordinary time, full of changes and redefinitions.We’re all uncertain as to what the future holds,so we are learning to distance ourselves from events –we head to the forest, the hills, the riverside.The festival is held in a new, slower rhythm.If recent months have shifted our way of thinking, our minds have been turning towards aspects of community.The terms “society” and “solidarity” are gaining ever deeper meaning, especially at a time when prejudice against minorities is at record levels.The inevitable recession will affect us all, even though it will not be felt to the same degree by everyone.We must all look after, support and respect one another.We must take responsibility for our environment and for the final frontier of decency: culture. 

The words “online”, “internet”, “streaming”, “digital” and “cyber” have recently become even more commonplace than before.The situation caused by the pandemic remains highly unstable, and as the year goes on, it’s hard to find things to feel optimistic about.November is still some way off, but we certainly aren’t considering the internet as a lesser option –in fact we quickly started to see these new circumstances as an opportunity.It has been exciting to work on an online version of the festival, and we are thrilled about the incredible potential of the medium while being aware of the challenges it poses.The situation may never be repeated again, which means that we can join forces to test a brand-new format of culture.Perhaps it will be worth repeating in the future – not necessarily instead of but alongside the traditional format!We started developing the programme back in April, so we were already aware of the new circumstances and restrictions.But don’t expect traditional formats simply streamed online!We will play with conventions and the medium;we will strive to be exceptional and reach for solutions designed especially for the online reality. We can already see that the possibilities are almost endless…We want to surprise you, delight you, engage you, inspire you, and maybe even irritate you a bit.We are delighted that the festival is taking place – you need it, the artists need it, the industry needs it, and we need it, too!After all, it is our celebration of new music – we cannot and will not surrender it!

And now it’s finally here!Since the festival is turning 18 this year, it is held under the banner Youth.We approach it from several perspectives: formal, musical, metaphorical and literal.First and foremost, we are presenting music from the perspective of the humanities.This will continue through the next three festivals, bringing them together into a greater whole.Youth is the first instalment of this trilogy, or – to put it in a more contemporary way – the first season of a three-series drama. Formally, it’s mainly a presentation of works by young composers of contemporary music through programmes and performances prepared by young ensembles –a presentation of the “new music scene”.No other festival is bold enough to take on such a challenge.We will discover what young composers and performers are really interested in – what is their idée fixe.Frequently, repertoires are dictated by the organisers and as such they don’t reflect the performers’ true preferences,so we are trying to reverse this trend.Metaphorically speaking, Youth is also associated with physical strength, endurance, sport, rebellion, mutiny, bravado, arrogance, mistakes, popular culture, the internet, pop songs, improvisations, lustfulness, technology, carelessness, fun and oh, so much more!The programme reflects all these attributes:the 18th festival pays homage to Youth.

As well as concerts, the programme also features music campaigns – events offering something different, playing with conventions and engaging participants on a different level.We present the unusual performance ASMR; the sound phenomenon serves as inspiration for many artists who explore it, and continues to be an exciting feeling, even a fetish, for many fans who experience it on an individual level.ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response – a tingling sensation in response to stimuli such as rustling, whispering, crackling or fizzing sounds.The topic is explored by Mikołaj Laskowski, whose Deep Relaxation series features elements intended to be performed by the participants, drawing them into a ritual of regeneration through sound.Rather than addressing the topic directly, Wojtek Blecharz’s Liminal Studiesscrutinises our emotions and strives to reach the deepest parts of our psyche.The Royal String Quartet’s performance is an auditory vivisection,and their sounds hypnotise and intrigue in equal measures.To finish, we will hear a meditation on the sound of a string quartet according to Alvin Lucier.This will help us wind down after a series of auditory massages.The concert opens with Krzysztof Penderecki’s string quartet, paying homage to the Maestro who passed away earlier this year with a composition which is a veritable guide to the sonoristic abilities of string instruments.We can go as far as describing it as ASMR specially designed for instruments.

We also present the Performed Lecture, attempting to answer the question whether it’s possible to shift lectures to concert halls – or perhaps concerts to lecture halls.One of the precursors of this composition, combining music and words and intertwining elements of a lecture and a live music concert, is Matthew Shlomowitz.His cycle Lectures reveals that commentary during classical music concerts doesn’t have to centre around silly stories or amusing anecdotes.Despite stereotypes, it’s perfectly possible to talk about and describe music: our experiences of it, what happens as we listen to it, how we make our judgements about it, how it makes us feel, where our opinions come from.For many years, Sacrum Profanum has been popularising new music through channels including communication and discussion.Shlomowitz’s Weird Audio Guide, in a special arrangement for Kompopolex, is accompanied by two new pieces written for the festival and its format by Jacek Sotomski, leading Polish composer of and commentator on contemporary music, and Monika Dalach whose works intertwine elements of performance and video and which tackle important current topics.Her work CARBON IS THE NEW BLACK explores the topics of environmental protection and excessive consumption.Sotomski’s music drama WALKTHROUGH presents an RPG-style puzzle:“A contemporary music ensemble learns from a mystery visitor that the world in which they live is a simulation generated in their brains by unknown forces.After taking a fistful of sweet pills, they decide to create a walkthrough which allows them to break the simulation.”

There is no game without a solution, but what happens if it has multiple variants?Remember playbooks and their computer equivalents?A recent hit following their convention was the Netflix film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.Piotr Peszat attempts to write an autobiographical interactive composition with an alternative storyline.The public takes on a role of a “young, promising composer from Kraków” – a common cliché and a trap it can take years to escape – and decides on the course of their career.But perhaps certain events happen regardless of choices made along the way, such as criticism from the contemporary music magazine “Glissando”?The composition PEnderSZATch (including the encoded surname Peszat, the popular nickname “Pender” and Bandersnatch) offers an interactive and democratic format recalling recent events from the world of popular culture, politics and social, religious and festival lives.If the principles of a democratic state are under question, let’s test them onlineso that we don’t easily forget and surrender them.The composition is also an unusual tribute to Maestro Krzysztof Penderecki.Join in with entertainment like none other before – help Spółdzielnia Muzyczna play as long as possible and make sure Peszat’s career isn’t over before its time!

Gamification and e-sports are natural descendants of traditional sport and they provide just as many emotional experiences,while the world of sport is no less inspiring than the virtual sphere.Music and Sport is an unconventional attempt to capture the links between the disciplines, stressing the carnal and performative aspects of music.The topic of sport, the ethos of competition, effort, physicality, training, preparation, sparring and focus is focus and thematic axis of the section.We will hear two new compositions penned by Dominik Strycharski and Karol Nepelski.Both pieces are based on their authors’ experiences in sport, translated into the composition process and performance techniques.Strycharski approaches his new work from the ring (the kickboxer is the fifth guest performer of the composition), while Nepelski from the swimming pool.The repertoire also includes Jennifer Walshe’s work dedicated to Anton Lukoszevieze, where learning to skateboard is an immanent element of the process of learning this conceptual text composition.And who better to rise to the challenge than Kwartludium?

Barbara Kinga Majewska and Marcin Masecki also present an unusual take on performance or music as a whole.Their presentation, held in an exercise hall, features a repertoire previously unheard in concert halls.Their Adonis Gamut is dedicated to exercise and toning muscles rather than music as such.But is this about sport, too?Oh, no!According to myth, the beautiful youth Adonis ignores the advice of his lover Aphrodite and goes hunting.He encounters a mighty boar, which mauls him to death.Adonis is punished for ignoring Aphrodite’s warnings against chasing dangerous prey, for his pride and for choosing hunting over time with his lover.Today, the Adonis complex describes muscle dysmorphia in young men – the delusional belief that their bodies are too small and not sufficiently muscular.Majewska and Masecki pose a question on the status of exercise in the hierarchy of compositions, the role of repetition in pursuing the goal of a single, perfect performance and the significance of practice in building an artist’s identity.And so they will practice: scales and arpeggios, ornaments, trills and intervals…Their return to the repertoire practiced by all musicians in their youth is a nostalgic look back at a body which is yet to learn to play music, a “muscle without heart”.This rare opportunity to hear a selection of 18th, 19th and early 20th-century music (including songs by Richard Strauss and Joseph Haydn) at a contemporary music festival is a nod to the early days of the event.

By recalling the ArsAntiqua form, Stefan Węgłowski also reaches for early music.From 1 to 7 is a cycle of songs written for soprano Yeyoung Sohn and guitarist Marcin Dylla.The material also pays homage to the composer’s mother, the acclaimed artist Dorota Grynczel, recalling the painful process of saying goodbye and her death.She reached for textures, colour, light and geometry in her paintings, and these elements are also present in Węgłowski’s music.Although his compositions are imbued with disquiet and gloom, they are also punctuated with light and even romanticism.The album attempts to redefine songs of the Middle Ages, when the vocal line was frequent accompanied by a string instrument. Sounds made by the guitar and amplified with a specially-constructed microphone, treated as building blocks of compositions, are far from the source.Most of all, the performance offers a true redefinition of this classical instrument.Węgłowski can be described as an artist working on the boundaries of composition and alternative; an artist who is equally at home with electronica, synths and ambient sounds and minimalist composition and traditional form.

A redefinition of a classical instrument and its scope, expanding its spectrum through electronics and state-of-the-art technologies and bringing it into the 20th century, is also the aim of two other recitals.This time, the protagonist is the flute.Ewa Liebchen and Ania Karpowicz set themselves slightly different goals, and – most of all – aim to take different paths.Liebchen stresses that talking about expanded performance technique is meaningless – if it has been used for many years and it produces sound, why not just use it?It should be the norm.Dominik Karski’s music, labelled as an “ecology of sound”, abounds with such techniques.Streamforms features secondary ways of creating sound (hitting valves, overblowing) or even human physiology as an instrument (slurping, grunting, snorting).Kupczak’s Halny is a captivating composition for electronica and improvised flute in an attempt to translate one of Poland’s most distinctive and fascinating weather phenomena into music.The “pressure differential” is depicted as a juxtaposition of seemingly clashing sounds and structures of early music, pop, alternative and dance music.The second work in the series (Halny2) was commissioned by Sacrum Profanum for the Radical Polish Ansambl in 2018, so we are delighted to present its predecessor.The final work in the programme, penned by Marta Śniady, features an excerpt from a Justin Bieber song and reaches for the Beliebers’ culture.The composition explores the phenomenon of popularity and frenzied devotion to idols of popular culture by using video and audio materials showing audiences responding to public events.

Karpowicz explores flute practice to find sources of feminine identity and new – immanently digital – forms of expression.The sound of the flute tends to be infantilised and perceived as weak or even sweet, limiting it to pastoral and children’s music.By using the latest performance techniques, the artist finds new sound aspects for the instrument.

The multimedia format of the cyber-recital, prepared for the project before the COVID-19 pandemic, is taking on new dimensions and meanings.Tova (Hebrew for “good, pleasing”) attempts to answer important questions on identity.What does it mean to be a girl in a country which has experienced a political transformation?Who are the role models of young female artists from a peripheral country in central Europe?What does the powerful, Judaeo-Christian standard of “female kindness”, ubiquitous in Polish culture, inspire?We will search for answers with guest composers Teoniki Rożynek, Marta Śniady, Nina Fukuoka and Aleksandra Kaca.

The instrumentalists and composers of Female Forms tackle a similar topic.Monika Szpyrka, Żaneta Rydzewska, Anna Sowa, Teoniki Rożynek once again and Paulina Woś-Gucik, Barbara Mglej, Aleksandra Gołaj, Alena Budziñákova-Palus and Martyna Zakrzewska reach for inspiration to the complex cultures of China, club music, the economy of means and spectral sounds of instruments to find balance in contemporary music circles and in their lives.By seeking their own identities, they want to bring their voices to the debate on parity in music; but instead of taking to the barricades to chant slogans, they simply want to play what they have composed.Simply music… so let us sit and listen to what they have to say.

One of the most important feminist manifestos ever presented at Sacrum Profanum was Série rose in 2017,with Małgorzata Walentynowicz playing an important role.This time she returns with a multimedia project, mainly film-based and filled with humour.Walentynowicz performs Kubrick Studies from Nicole Lizée’s The Criterion Collection.The Canadian composer has been creating her collection since 2010 as a homage to directors who have influenced her own aesthetic.She presents artistic and technical visions of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese and Alfred Hitchcock.Nicole Lizée borrows and deconstructs moments and scenes from acclaimed films.In Kubrick Studies, she reaches for excerpts from the director’s cult works:2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining.Their elements are cut, deformed and repeated, slowed down or speeded up, and distortions are also applied to the soundtrack and dialogue.The resulting glitches and imperfections create a soundscape which is accompanied by live piano, also replicating the features of broken or damaged media.The result is at once unsettling, captivating and entertaining.

We could risk saying that the source of the score was the language of film, so let us look for another unconventional building block.Sacrum Profanum regularly explores graphic scores, so it’s time for their latest iteration: architectural scores or urbcore from urban scores and the language of architecture.Soloists from the Hashtag Ensemble treat architectural forms of urban environments as scores for improvisation.By following the rhythm, order, texture and forms of buildings, they translate them into music.And so the musicians read the iconic and forgotten jewels of Kraków’s architecture.The combination of architecture and soloists (#archi-solos) features Marta Grzywacz performing the Administrative Centre of Nowa Huta (known as the Doge’s Palace), Wojciech Błażejczyk bringing to life Kino Kijów, Krzysztof Kozłowski – Cricoteka, while Hubert Zemler the Płaszów Locomotive Depot.

Translation, transcription and incorporation of unusual material into music is featured in two works presented alongside Bôłt Records.Opera for the Deaf by Robert Piotrowicz, Wojtek, Zrałek-Kossakowski, Adam Stoyanov and Michał Mendyk and Ep for sign-language poet, percussion, double bass and electronica by Kuba Krzewiński, both directed by Zuzanna Solakiewicz and Zvuja Gregory Portnoy, explore sign language, culture, communication and identities of deaf people.An intuitive understanding of the deaf community comes right at the end, after working through essential aspects such as exclusion, culture clashes, violence and emancipation.A shadow of understanding appeared at the point of the greatest misunderstanding: when hearing musicians, directors and librettists and deaf actors, poets and dancers were unable to agree on how to finish the Opera for the Deaf they were all working on.In Ep, two musicians map and study their string instruments: they check their sound and test their own bodies and personal boundaries.Two others sit opposite one another, and recreate the sounds of piano and kettle drum through choreographed movement.The kettle drum is played by another performer who sings, in sign language, a song about strangeness (the titular “Ep”), accompanied by a terribly serious double-bassist…

By selecting Youth as our theme, we couldn’t possibly leave out students from art schools.Over thirty students from the Faculty of Graphics and Media Art at the E. Geppert Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław and the Faculty of Composition at the K. Lipiński Academy of Music in Wrocław have prepared the audiovisual extravaganza Random Check, comprising eight electroacoustic compositions with interactive multichannel visualisations.The music component was prepared by composers (four students, two PhD students, one graduate and one lecturer), while the visuals by groups of students working at the Narration and Interaction Studio at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław.All compositions take the format of live electronics, using an extensive and diverse range of electric and electronic instruments, and the performers are mainly Academy of Fine Arts students trained for the spectacle by the composers.Simply put, the event is the result of a large group of young people coming together to prepare a project which extends far beyond their usual academic activities.

By planning Sacrum Profanum online, we have completely restructured its format.The internet is filled with an overabundance of content, and we want to provide you with the right quantity at the highest possible quality.Starting in the last week in October with a prologue to the main festival in November, events will be held over the course of five weeks.Sundays and Wednesdays feature music events, preceded (on Saturdays and Tuesdays) by Jan Topolski’s Weird Audio Guide podcasts introducing each context and followed (on Mondays and Thursdays) by Marlena Zając’s discussions with composers and performers about the interpretation of their works. Fridays are held under the banner of DIY with workshops on making instruments led by Paweł Romańczuk, workshops for kids and series of compositions to perform at home (Perform It Yourself – PIY?!).Fridays also feature additional screenings prepared with partners.This way you can spend the entire month with us, especially if you want to explore the festival theme in depth!Still, we are quite aware that this requires great dedication from our fans, so if that’s just too much commitment, stick to watching Sacrum Profanum on Sundays and Wednesdays to follow the main events.A utopian slow festival is possible online!

Bearing in mind the importance of meeting and exchanging ideas after concerts, we are preparing an open discussion group to maintain the community atmosphere of the festival.The traditional collection of essays will be replaced by Jan Topolski’s podcasts, whose formula and content recalls our book series, borrowing from one of the compositions presented this year.We will also hear podcasts by Bartek Chaciński on the festival’s history – after all, if we’re celebrating, we might as well reminisce! – and my short introductions to each music event.We have also launched the pan-label album series Sacrum Profanum Archives which we are building with Bocian Records and Bôłt Records, with support fromRune Grammofon, Musica Genera, SIGE Records, Ektro Records and Gizeh Records.So far we have launched eleven publications via different media, and this year you can expect a further five!We are currently working on over a dozen titles.They are frequently studio recordings of compositions commissioned by Sacrum Profanum or recordings from the festival, but they are not concert albums; we think of them differently: when preparing their programmes, we reach for recordings from a range of concerts by different performers.Details can be found on the Sacrum Profanum Archives tab on the festival’s website.

The festival presents music from Poland, Ireland, Canada, Australia and the US.We have commissioned a total of ten works including four from female composers, and we continue to strive for parity in a range of spheres.We will show them in unusual locations in Kraków, frequently inaccessible as part of regular festival events, such as Hotel Cracovia, the Płaszów Locomotive Depot, the Doge’s Palace and Collegium Novum.We also visit the Decjusz Villa, Cricoteka, MOCAK, Kino Kijów and ICE Kraków.

Sacrum Profanum always provides a space for experimentation, creative exploration and combining the old with the new and the mainstream with the niche.If Poland needs a festival which should strive for more under the new reality, we are certainly up to the challenge.

We have taken the risk – will you join us?Let’s test this new formula together: see you in November!


Krzysztof Pietraszewski:

festival curator

Sacrum Profanum