Poland’s Unsound Festival Returns to New York
By Kendah El-Ali on April 8, 2011
This year marks the second time that Poland’s Unsound Festival has descended upon New York City, filling venues from the Lincoln Center to Williamsburg clubs with mind-blowing and genre-bending electronic, classical and pop music from around the world. The festival’s opening night was Wednesday, April 6, at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, presenting the North American debut of “We Don’t Need Other Worlds. We Need Mirrors - Music for Solaris,” a re-imagined scoring for the legendary sci-fi film. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the novel upon which the film was based, written by Krakow native Stanisław Lem.
Featuring Australian, Reykjavík-based composer Ben Frost, Iceland’s Daníel Bjarnason and Orkiestra Sinfonietta Cracovia (Krakow Symphony), the performance was a sparse, deeply moving piece performed in front of film manipulations by Brian Eno and Nick Robertson. (Eno is also currently working with Frost in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.) Composed for 29 string players, two percussionists, guitars, electronics and an opened (often hammered) piano, Frost conducted the piece from his piano bench while beguiling imagery—ranging from human busts to intricate, 3D geometric structures—projected behind the orchestra.
The night did not start with this stunning performance, however, as the symphony also played pieces by New York’s Steve Reich and Poland’s Krzysztof Penderecki, curated by Krakow’s highly respected Sacrum Profanum Festival. Lead by First Violin Concertmaster Robert Kabara, the symphony’s bold performance was not only conducted from behind Kabara’s music stand, but it also had plenty of surprises in store, such as ferocious, lead viola solos and a triple quartet setup to perform a 1999 composition by Reich.
The avant-garde, yet rigorously professional opening evening set a certain standard for the music that lays ahead of it, featuring artists such as Cleveland’s ambient drone band Emeralds, DJ sets by Bristol’s Appleblim and Detroit’s Erika Sherman and the NYC debut performance of atom™ (perhaps best known as Señor Coconut), who hails from Germany and Chile. The festival also warmed up with “Unsound Labs,” featuring performances by Gang Gang Dance’s Lizzi Bougatsos, Sweden’s The Skull Defekts, among countless other creative performances, scorings (Nosferatu) and collaborations. For those looking to expand their musical ears, minds and eyes, look no further. Krakow is at your aural service.
Unsound Festival is presented by Fundacja Tone, The Polish Cultural Institute in New York and the Goethe-Institut New York. Information for Unsound Festival New York can be found here.