World Music Days 2014 Wroclaw, Poland Report

WNMD Festival:

World Music Days 2014 Wroclaw is my second WMD experience and presented a breadth of programmed works with aplomb. From Ryoji Ikeda’s brilliantly ostentatiousaudio-visual piece Datamatics, to pieces performed on multi-coloured children’s toys (amongst other instruments) by Małe Instrumenty, through to operas performed in gilded rooms, there was “something for everyone”.

That “everyone”, more often than not, though, tended to be reconfigurations of the delegates of the ISCM and IAMIC assemblies, so it was refreshing when occasional events were staged as part of wider festivals such as the aforementioned Ikeda piece (Avant Arts festival) which was presented in a cinema to audiences of blue-haired hipster art students, presumably more local than many of the other concerts audiences.  

The flipside to the wealth of programming meant that you could not physically get to all the performances nor have a clear sense about the running times of concerts, enabling one to be strategic about what you could viably see, when (I had a few instances of needing to quietly sneak out of one performance to make another). It was a pleasure, however, to have so many options each day, showcasing the range of international contemporary music. 

For me, highlights of the festival included performances by aforementioned Małe Instrumenty as well as some pieces from the Electronics+ concert. One piece that I still recall one year later was Thierry De Mey’s Silence Must Be performed by Jean Geoffroy in a dark room from under a white spotlight. He proceeded to “conduct” through various time signatures, with amplified arm gestures, leading the audience – or myself at least – to extrapolate rhythms in my imagination until at one moment a track coincided with these movements in perfect synchronisation. I found this a compelling work and it brought to my mind artists work from the Fluxus movement who playfully deconstructed the definition of music , particularly using  visual prompts (like Le Monte Young’s Fluxus event Composition 5 which allows one or more butterflies to enter – and escape – a performance room).

The same night, I saw British Section representative composer, Jobina Tinneman’s piece Shakespeare And Hedgeshear. I was looking forward to seeing this truly unique piece performed. Written for a string ensemble, two pairs of table tennis players and four hedgeshearers, the piece amplifies the concrete music of the hedge trimmers and table tennis players alongside a string ensemble (although not in this production, which had electronics accompanying). There were disappointments with the production of this piece for the composer in terms of the space, players available and other factors predominantly lead by production budgets. The composer stated that “an experimental piece like this is ‘make or break’ with its execution. My point of using non-musicians and their concrete sound is to show the musicality and validity of these sounds within a composition, equal to conventional instruments.”  Nonetheless, the British Section was pleased that this risk-taking piece was selected alongside Julian Anderson’s The Discovery of Heaven, even if it might have benefitted from Jobina’s involvement in its production from the outset.  

Another aspect that I believe would make a big difference were if there could be an informal-yet-official event put in place to aid composers’ networking whilst at ISCM World Music Days, rather than relying solely on the delegates to make introductions and take care of the composers whilst they’re attending the festival, which may not come naturally to some composers, nor delegates!  I feel we could really maximise the opportunity of having so many wonderful composers and delegates in one place by organising a simple networking session as standard practice at each World Music Days festival.

Further highlights of the festival in Wroclaw included the aforementioned piece by Ryoji Ikeda. I had moments of ambivalence about it, feeling it was rather imposed upon me both with its flashing lights and sheer decibel levels of accompanied beats (through my earplugs) vibrating my body.  Ultimately, I found the work a captivating piece of sensory escapism.

On October 7th we had an interesting day alongside IAMIC delegates, leaving Wroclaw to go to the fairy tale-like Książ castle in Wałbrzych for a joint conference. It was interesting to tour the building and find out about how it had changed hands and seen many transformations since its opening in 1292, including being seized by the Nazi government in 1944 when many of its artefacts were stolen.

The day consisted of conferences about “Tradition in New Music” which was a broad and ambitious topic to cover in twenty minute presentations, although Sound and Music’s composer-in-residence with the British Music Collection, Martin Scheuregger rose well to the challenge (if I say so myself!) who feature among these. We had a concert presented to us following this theme involving traditional instruments, which was cut short due to the ISCM delegates being pressed to leave, meaning we left the final two composers to perform to a near-empty room as we were whisked off to dinner and further performances.

There did seem to be a concerted effort to programme a real breadth of work throughout the festival but it was remarked upon by others that it could be more interesting to programme concerts that mixed up forces, so as not to see multiple accordion solo pieces back to back and to avoid siloing the different styles of music, allowing further discovery and curiosity in audiences.

My final night in Wroclaw included the other British Section’s piece The Discovery of Heaven by Julian Anderson, which was performed well by NFM Symphony Orchestra and followed by some very interesting pieces by Yair Klartag Background Music for a Fundraising Event and Enno Poppe Market. One – I forget which, I’m afraid – finished with a fantastic instance where the entire orchestra, no longer playing, look out directly to confront the audience head on, a very striking moment.

I enjoyed the stark contrast of going from the Concert Hall to Eter Club, munching a quick sandwich en route to see Peaches (also part of Avant Art festival). She was someone I admired in my teenage years as a somewhat crass feminist icon. She put on a great show from the outfits she wore (including dressing as a penis and wearing a jacket which was made up of a multitude of breasts!). As you can probably imagine, her performance was in stark contrast with the formal atmosphere of the concert hall moments earlier and took me back ten years whilst I recalled her rap-like lyrics over repetitive beats and riffs. This was a powerfully provocative concert for me to end the festival on, considering how far I think ISCM could go with representing a more diverse group of composers (and thus works) at World Music Days, whether we consider gender, race, disability, sexuality or other under-represented demographics.

More reports from 2014