“Unsound” is dedicated to Dada and AI: The electronic festival in Krakow remains interested in new things. A review of the 2023 edition.
Korean cellist Okkyung Lee at a concert in Krakow Photo: Marcin Murawski
Beata Kędzia-Sowa skillfully moves her feet across the square podium. It stands surrounded by a densely packed crowd of people in the middle of an event hall in Kraków. Metallic sounds fill the room. This clicking rhythm begins slowly – created by metal plates on the soles of the Polish tap dancer’s shoes – and is gradually overlaid by synthesizer sounds until all sound is dominated electronically.
The pedestal is wired to the mixing console of the Ukrainian composer Heinali; he maintains the dancer’s rhythm and uses this as a basis to create his own polyphonic synth work over the metallic tap dance steps. Heinali released the single “Kyiv Air Raid Alarm” in 2023, featuring blaring sirens warning of Russian air raids, as well as the highly acclaimed album “Kyiv Eternal,” featuring sounds from pre-war Kyiv. In his compositions he prefers to mix historical instruments and contemporary electronic sounds, creating an idiosyncratic, timeless soundscape.
Futuristic synth sounds
The performance by the dancer and sound artist entitled “Synthtap” is one of the numerous “In(ter)ventions” (a word play on intervention and invention) with Dadaist references at this year’s edition of the Unsound festival for experimental and electronic music in Krakow. Unorthodox artists like Heinali from different parts of the world and genres came together in Krakow for a long week in October under the motto “DADA” to present their latest works.
The 2023 edition was again artistically directed by the Australian Mat Schulz, who co-founded the festival twenty years ago, and for the first time by an artificial intelligence called “AIAD” (Artificially Intelligent Artistic Director). The AI enters into an alliance with DADA. References to inspiring artists from the past and futuristic synth sounds mix. In keeping with this, “AIAD” writes an “infinite manifesto” over the course of the festival, which – in the spirit of the original Dada manifesto from 1918 – sometimes makes more and sometimes less sense and is repeatedly projected onto screens at the concerts and published in social media. Posted to media channels.
Unsound also means “disturbed”
The KI-DADA motto runs through the supporting program and the concept of the festival, but it also appears in the musical performances themselves: The South Korean cellist Okkyung Lee, for example, accompanies “Blarptangle” as part of the concert – titles for the musical events were also given determined by AIAD – in the huge hall of the “Kino Kijów” (Cinema Kyiv) with their virtuoso, energetic improvisations of film classics of Dadaist silent films, such as Hans Richter’s “Morning Spook”.
There is already a play on words in the festival title “Unsound”: On the one hand it means the negation of sound, but in English “unsound” also means “unserious” or “disturbed”.
So full that it’s difficult to breathe
What makes the festival so extraordinary is the balancing act it creates between unknown and prominent artists as well as between local and global artists. The Warsaw composer Robert Piotrowicz opened the evening slot “Splongeflux” in the Łaźnia Nowa Theater with the premiere of his new, dissonant and rather apocalyptic synth organ work “Afterlife”. It ended with the legendary British electronic duo Autechre, the highlight of the festival for many visitors.
The event hall is completely darkened during Autechre’s concert. It is so full that it is difficult to breathe. “Unsound” is an eight-day music marathon that more than lives up to its claim of being “global-minded” because artists from all over the world actually take part.
Morning bar in the lecture hall
But “Unsound” is transgressive in other respects too: the festival sees itself as explicitly cross-genre, the musical palette ranges from ambient to noise, from hardcore techno to folk, and specifically tries to unite artists in constellations that defy conventional attributions bust.
Eccentric formats go well with this: the musical morning session, “Gorning Mlory” (the DADA interpretation of “Morning glory”, Morgenlatte) opened in the steeply sloping medical lecture hall of Krakow University by the Australian jazz guitarist Julia Reidy, who lives in Berlin, with the sounds of her specially tuned electric guitar. Guitar and melancholic Auto-Tune voice. Reidy now also calls himself Jules.
In addition to the music program, Unsound also offers discussions, workshops and a trade fair at which Polish indie labels present their programs to an international audience. New this year was an “Unsound Fashion Show”, where designs from the DADA collection were shown with representatives of the music scene and the festival as models. However, the entrance fee for this was not covered by the festival pass – to the surprise of some people, here as well as for some other events, you had to pay extra.
Piernikowski just doesn’t rap
In the late evening of the sixth day of the festival, the audience gathers excitedly for the “club” night entitled “Zigglewump” at the alternative venue Kamienna 12 to watch the mysterious new show “Beyond the Echo of Time”. Polish rap icon Piernikowski to experience. The raw synth sounds to classic hip-hop beats have the typical, melancholic Piernikowski sound, as he presented it on his widely praised album “No Fun” (2017). But on this evening, nostalgia reigns supreme, a tension builds up that ends in nothing: Piernikowski simply doesn’t rap.
His set is definitely “primeshit,” as he ironically calls his music, but in the end the fans seem a little disappointed that they don’t get to hear his characteristic voice. The next day, Piernikowski’s old companion 2k88 (formerly 1988) appears at the same location. Together they shook up the Polish music scene with their hip-hop duo Syny, Söhne. 2k88’s set is also nostalgic, but at the same time incredibly energetic – the fan base dances and reacts enthusiastically.
The Unsound Festival first took place in Krakow in 2003 on the initiative of the Australian Mat Schulz and his American friend Stephen Berkley. It has now long since established itself as an institution in the experimental music scene. In addition to the annual edition in Krakow, there are smaller festival offshoots in London, New York, Toronto and even in Adelaide, Australia. Between 2016 and 2018, Unsound organized eleven festivals in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Residency programs, commissioned works and premieres attempt to create a unique musical experience. All in all, it is a very intense and diverse experience in Krakow in 2023, where there is always something new to discover.