By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
Although most avant-garde music tends to be either American or European, there are parts of America and Europe that one might not necessarily think of as hot spots of the experimental. Missouri, for example—and, yes, Poland, a country whose immediately apparent impact on the avant-garde is inversely proportionate to the high volume of tasteless jokes you've heard about it.
Such is the stateside perception of Poland—until now. Since 2003, Kraków's Unsound Festival has offered lineups that mix neoclassical, experimental, clicks 'n' cuts, and drone music, turning a whole other world on while here we wonder if Andrew W.K. is really "real" and fret over the latest freak-folk/concept-core hybrids. For the U.S. premiere of Unsound, producer Mat Schulz delivers unto you, for starters, the trio Groupshow—Jan Jelinek, Hanno Leichtmann, and Andrew Pekler—performing their musical interpretation of one-third of Empire, Andy Warhol's show about nothing, which features a static filmed shot of the Empire State Building for more than eight pulse-pounding hours of zzzzzz.
Beyond that, there's various ensembles, including ambient Montréal sound artist Tim Hecker, Thrill Jockey electronicats Radian, and psychedelic Brooklyn band Mountains; the usual stellar panel discussions with the usual geniuses (Alan Licht, Lee Ranaldo, Morton Subotnick); and classical interpretations of the music of Górecki, Ravel, and Mussorgsky. In an Eastern European vein, there's Zavoloka (the hottest thing out of the Ukraine since Mila Kunis), Polish minimalist composer Jacaszek, Belarusian dub electronician Pavel Ambiont, and Polish drone maestro Zenial. When was the last time you met anyone from Belarus?
Further on the Warhol tip: nsi (featuring Max Loderbauer and Tobias Freund) and Carl Craig score the films Kiss and Blow Job (call home, Naomi Levine!), while German video artist Lillevan whips up a series of Warhol-inspired screen tests. For once, all those people who aspire to what they think Warhol represented can finally entertain a slightly less vague understanding of that chapter in pop-culture history. Slightly more intriguing: the awesome majesty of dub maestro Pole, the lecture by Dave Tompkins about the history of the Vocoder, and Random Industries' Sebastian Meissner leading Ensemble Kwartludium's classical chamber interpretations of the music of...punk/hardcore label SST?!
Unsound's avowed aim is a "commitment to forms of music and sound art that involve experimentation and risk," but you can get that in New York just by stepping outside. No, the purpose of the Unsound Festival is to repel the baseless, spectacle-heavy notion that only a few states in the U.S. and a few countries in Western Europe are capable of making great, weird music that is riveting, outrageous, and thought-provoking. As you may discover after taking in the exhibition of historical Polish Soundcards or the documentary screening about the life of BBC Radiophonic Workshop member Delia Derbyshire, the artists you love now were once the artists about whom you had no clue at all.