On Saturday April 7, Romuald Fogolin (aka Romano Krzych) organized the first Placard Headphone festival here in Prague. It was a great day, bringing together people from some of the various experimental music scenes in the city into one place to lay on the floor and listen to each other perform as broadcast over a network of thirty sets of headphones.
Prague is a small town, and yet like many places, various groups of people who could work together to share resources and build a larger audience for experimental work do not normally speak so freely. I was quite happy that this event seemed to cut through the social awkwardness, anxiety, or whatever it is (defensiveness) that separates individuals and groups of artists. It was relaxing.
I took the above images from the Skolska28 website, Skolska being the venue where the festival happened. I think really, it was the perfect place for this, and yesterday, it really expressed its potential as a “Komunikacni Prostor” (Communication Space). Oddly enough, it is also where my Czech language lessons are held, so yeah, communication and all that.
I planned to link to the streams from people’s sets because there were some really amazing performances, unfortunately I do not think these function, or at least I cannot get them to function (but maybe you can) – here, try it
if I am just stupid, and you figure out how these work, let me know.
I was only able to arrive at 15:00, so I missed all the morning sets, like the one that this image documents. I think this is Ken Ganfield:
There were no “highlights” for me. I enjoyed all the sets that I heard, they were all very different, very personal, and creative. Here is what I saw:
Graeme Smith – tinfoil and spoons
Graeme is a poet from Edinburgh, who last year organized a performance/reading at the Globe bookstore here in Prague, with myself and Euan Currie of Unverified Records. I showed up just in time for Graeme’s performance, which was good because we had decided at 6am the night (morning?) before that I would accompany his reading with sound effects and vocal processing. I did that, sort of badly, but I think it worked and we had a good time. Tinfoil and spoons, robot birds and the North Sea.
R != L
This “dual mono experience” consists of Iveta (formerly of Victoria Svate Tipfin) and Romuald Fogolin (aka Romano Krzych , formerly of Bulanz Orgabar), the main organizers of this event, who also form the project IR. Their set was one of my favorites I have heard them do. The beginning proved that Romulaud can kill you with his trademark high frequencies even when listening through headphones at a low volume. The ending was especially interesting for me, I guess they were having some technical problems with a keyboard but I don’t know…there were these amazing bass drones over which was layered a texture of scratchy sounds from the dirty potentiometers on some device. It reminded me of when you see through something, say a fence with an irregular hole in it for example, and are able to see what is going on behind it.
No Pavarotti “season of the weak”
No Pavarotti has really embraced their new instruments are once again re-invented their sound with a completely new vocabulary. I also feel that this was one of my favorite sets of theirs. Really serious vibrations from Lubos’ Crumar organ. That thing is heavy to lift, and sounds just as heavy, but these sounds lift. The organ vibrations were punctuated, torn, danced around, and spasmatically celebrated by Jan’s vocals and swirling whirlpools of liquefying electronic colour.
Black Wigwam Possession
Everytime I see Seymour play I am blown away. I always forget what this sounds like. The textures prepared and then recombined live using sampler and effects seem to me to have the hand of a sculptor involved with them. Really fantastic, and I look forward to hearing his solo record, should be feel like making one. I would really like to see a show with this band and Wigwam, from San Francisco.
I missed the next two acts due to the fact that I was on next. Originally, there was not going to be space for me to play, but since Girl Therapy cancelled, I was able to do my first Core of the Coalman set since January. Actually, it was also the first one I have done really solo in a while too, haveing had helpers for the last few performances (the “at their own rates” performances). I had just arrived back from Berlin, and I wanted to play songs. Love songs. I thought also it would be a funny challenge to sing in the space when other than my acoustic viola sound all the “music” would really be only audible in the headphones. So it could be interestingly awkward to be singing into the space with no music audible “out there” if that makes any sense. It reminded me of a kind of reversal of Gavin Bryars‘s early headphone experiments. So I played songs for the first time live in a long time, in this abnormal concert setting and it felt really great. I think it worked pretty well, even though there was some distortion in the headphones (I guess do the signal chain, running the sound through several mixers and that). I played three songs. The first was “let your hair down” a song we played with Tape Guts last year. The second song was completely new, and was written really fast. The lyrics are from a poem I wrote for a certain special girl, who lives far away – in every sense – and who at this moment I miss so much that I feel like taking off my skin and jumping up and down. The song is called we are the developing countries and the text is under that link, if you are into that kind of things. Anyway it seemed very funny and appropriate, maybe, that I took the place of “Girl Therapy” to do this set. I guess I will get back to doing “serious experimental music” for the next show. But who knows.
After my set was Hans Svoboda, that is, George Cremaschi performing a contrabass solo called Acquire and Debase. I missed the beginning because I had to get out of there after my set, but I heard more than half of the piece. I wish I ha heard the entire thing, because it was totally amazing. I have heard George play often lately, mostly using his circuits to create electronic music. Although I enjoy his use of electronics very much, I was happy to hear him get back to the bass, with which he expresses mastery. The results reminded me quite a lot of one of my favorite composers, Horatio Radelescu, and oddly not so much in the spectral sense, but in terms of harmony. George’s decisions of how to structure the flow of time harmonically were extremely interesting to me, and reminded me of the choice of pitches used in some piano work by the afforementioned Radelescu. Unfortunately, I am not eloquent enough today to describe in more detail, but if you hear that Mr Svoboda will be performing contrabass near you, have a seat and listen (in this case through headphones).
Patrik Pelykan and Petr Vrba where next and they completely blew my mind. Pelykan has a new soprano sax, an instrument that many people find particularly reprehensible due its use by certain “jazz greats” of the 80’s who will be left unnamed. However, in capable hands such as those of Steve Lacy or Andrew Dewar, it can become a channel into various dimensions of natural magic, and Patrik was able to open that portal, along with Petr, whose silver trumpet tones seemed to increase and decrease in weight and mass. Both musicians were fed though electronic devices that added their contribution to the set, however, the acoustic and electronic elements where perfectly balanced, and the acoustic sound was in no way disregarded or covered by the process.
I went then for food, and came back in time for Dan, from Guma Guar‘s electronic set.
Dan is a samurai and a master of disguise. At times one thinks one is hearing techno with a path leading down the nebulous road to house-beat monotony, but here is a trap he has carefully laid for us. No sooner do we enter the mind numbing cycles of repetition than a layer is removed, added, or shifted in time, and like Luke Skywalker and friends at the Ewok village, we find ourselves swept up a tree, to hang there in a net and swing back and forth (rhythmically).
Ah, but I have made an error! Anders Gronlien‘s solo music, Green Lion, was in there, actually before Dan. Anders is one of my absolute favorite visual artists, and I recently performed with our band Rouilleux at Anders vernissage in Galerie Chodovska Tvrz recently (Anders made the poster for it above, and his project Green Lion, can also be seen there). In these performances, Anders plays guitar. It is very steady and mantra-like with a sort of bluesy violence creeping in from time to time. The structure of the music is evolving over the course of these different performances, and Anders seems to have evolved modular sections of strummed or picked motifs that he repeats in different combinations, often slowly accelerating throughout the section until the texture breaks apart, revealing often a held note, that Gronlien then uses to begin to construct the next section. One persistent question I have when listening to these sets is whether or not Gronlien feels that the presence of the moment, in this work is something that distinguishes it from his visual work. To me, Gronlien plays guitar like a sculptor, and that physicality carries through. I wonder if the necessity of a different approach to time in musical performance (as opposed to the process of painting) is something that this music is addressing. At least it seems to be for me.
All in all the day was great, very positive, and I hope it happens again, or more events to bring our community here together happen. It would be nice to see more women involved as well, as during the entire time I was there I saw only one act with a woman in it. There were women in the audience though, and the process for participation in the event is extremely voluntary and open. Perhaps anyone who initially had misgivings about participating would later find that the openness inherent in the event dispels these, and we can next time enjoy and even greater diversity of artists and people.
more images here