In 2017, Skaņu Mežs festival marks its 15th anniversary. The festival will take place at the music house “Daile” on October 13th and 14th with an opening event on October 6 at the art museum Riga Bourse.
The festival will be launched with a free-entry event at the art museum Riga Bourse (6 Dome Square), where experimental vocalist Sofia Jernberg will perform solo and contemporary music ensemble Nordic Affect will play works by such composers as Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Þuríður Jónsdóttir, Hlynur Aðils Vilmarsson and María Huld. Both concerts will mark the closing of „Nordic women in experimental music” – a concert series that Skaņu Mežs has been running throughout 2017 in collaboration with Kulturkontakt Nord. The evening will also feature a special performance by AMM, the British pioneers of „laminal improvised music” in their „classic” line-up – long-time members Eddie Prévost (percussion) and John Tilbury (piano) will be joined onstage by Keith Rowe (guitar, electronics), who, up until 2015, had left the group for more than ten years. The three musicians had reunited few years ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of AMM, which became the special event of that year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival edition.
After a lengthy break, noise music will return to the festival – on October 14, the legendary Masami Akita a.k.a. Merzbow will perform in duo with Hungarian drummer Balázs Pándi, who is known for his work with quite a diverse crowd of musicians, including Venetian Snares, Wadada Leo Smith and To Live and Shave in L.A. Merzbow has been characterized as a „noise-electronics eminence” by Pitchfork and „the highpoint of noise music” by The Guardian. The noise music part of Skaņu Mežs’2017 will also include a performance by Margaret Chardiet’s power electronics projects Pharmakon – Pharmakon’s second album „Bestial Burden” made it into the „best albums of 2014” lists by both Pitchfork and The Wire. This year, Chardiet returned with a new recording titled „Contact”, which, perhaps in contrast to its harsh sound, focuses on the search for humanity and empathy as a core theme.
Continuing the festival’s recently launched exploration of forward-thinking hip-hop, Skaņu Mežs welcomes Seattle-based duo Shabazz Palaces to its stage. The group is comprised of Ishmael Butler, known as a member of the Grammy award winning hip-hop trio Digable Planets, and producer/percussionist Tendai Maraire — son of the famous mbira player Dumisani Maraire. Their two recently released albums –„Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star” and „Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines” – have gathered positive feedback; Pitchfork, for instance, wrote the following: „Gangster Star and Jealous Machines are essential counter-programming against the indoctrination of the screen-based economy — and a refreshing example of art and expression wholly unconcerned with convention.” Before the two albums’ release, Rolling Stone magazine named them among the 24 most anticipated rap albums of 2017, adding that „Shabazz Palaces are responsible for some of the most strangely alluring hip-hop of the 2010s”.
This exploration will be continued by Moor Mother – the viscerally charged output of Philadelphia based interdisciplinary artist, Camae Ayewa. Her music is often harsh and strange, projecting both the cathartic anger of punk and the expansive improvisatory spirit of Sun Ra. Using a variety of machines, field recordings, and analog noisemakers, Ayewa constructs fractured, cacophonous waves for her words of punishing pertinence to ride.
James Dillon is a Scottish composer who is often regarded as belonging to the New Complexity school and is known for particularly expressive works. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Huddersfield in 2003. Honours include first prize in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 1978, the Kranichsteiner music prize at Darmstadt in 1982, and four Royal Philharmonic Society composition awards, the first of which he received for the work “Traumwerk”. After a short foreword by the composer, this very work will be performed at the festival by Duo Gelland. Dillon does not deny the complexity of his works, but always reminds that it is a means of „looking for and endless intensity” rather than complexity for its own sake – to him, music is, beyond doubt, an emotional art form. The Guardian writes that „James Dillon has written some of the UK’s most important music”.
A solo performance will be given by Roscoe Mitchell (1940), renowned musician, composer, and innovator, who began his career in the spirited 1960s of Chicago, Illinois. His role in the resurrection of long neglected woodwind instruments of extreme register, his innovation as a solo woodwind performer, his and his reassertion of the composer into what has traditionally been an improvisational form have placed him at the forefront of contemporary music for over four decades. Mitchell is a founding member of the world renowned Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. „Mr. Mitchell has been a leader in experimental music for over half a century,” write The New York Times. David Gross writes the following: „Even the most cursory book about the history of post-war jazz has to deal with Mitchell’s work.”
New works by Latvian composers Anna Ķirse and Rolands Kronlaks will be premiered – Kronlaks’ work „Akusmātika” is a multi-channel piece of electronic music, while Ķirse’s „Artifex Auditionis” is a composition for nine players.
Improvised string music will be performed by the duo of guitarist and educator Joe Morris, hailed as “one of the most profound improvisors at work in the U.S.” by The Wire magazine, and cellist Daniel Levin, whose most recent record „Spinning Jenny” was called a „marvellous venture” by the same magazine.
The rhythmic music programme of Skaņu mežs will consist of performances by Oliver Ho’s dark techno project Broken English Club, „footwork” innovator Jlin and dub techno legends Porter Ricks, who have returned in 2017 with their first album in 18 years.
With Broken English Club, Oliver Ho, also known as Raudive, delivers monotone vocals and shards of live instrumentation over stuttering beats and bleak synths. The blank-stared, pin-pointfocused electronics and layers of noise betray no/wave and post punk influences, dragging together industrial experimentation and pitch-black techno. His works have been published by Jealous God, Cititrax and L.I.E.S.
Jlin first came to wider public attention with her debut album on Planet Mu „Dark Energy”, which, avoiding genre conventions, placed her in her own musical zone of hyper rhythmic cuts that displayed a tension between anger and colourful euphoria. Embarking on a world tour soon after the album release she grew a reputation as a formidable live act, and the album ended up in the top 10’s and 20’s of album lists for 2015 for lots of music publications, including ranking #1 in The Wire magazine’s “Best releases of 2015”. In 2017 she followed up her debut with “Black Origami”, which already got an 8.8 rating and “Best New Music” title by Pitchfork.
Porter Ricks is the sound project of Thomas Köner and Andy Mellwig, which, in the words of media Resident Advisor, „helped define dub techno”. Their legendary releases on Chain Reaction (1996) and Mille Plateaux (1997) were recently complemented by Anguilla Electrica, a new LP on Tresor Records. Köner has been working extensively as a sound designer and artist – exhibiting at among other places the Centre Georges Pompidou and The Louvre. Mellwig’s other projects include collaborations with Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine and Pete Kember of Spacemen 3. Pitchfork, rating their new album with an 8.0 write: „Mellwig and Köner love techno too much to change it, just as they love techno too much to not to.”
Forming a certain „idyll before the storm”, the duo of harpist Mary Lattimore and guitarist/keyboard player Jeff Zeigler will take the stage right before the extreme noise performance of Merzbow. The duo makes music that is warm but ominous, a strangely organic mixture of conventionally beautiful sounds filtered through outsider sensibilities. „Ambient beds of synthesizer swell beneath Lattimore’s gentle pulls of harp, which alternate between atmospheric and aggressive, melodic and melancholy” writes Liz Pelly of Bandcmap Daily. The two musicians are also known for collaborations with Thurston Moore and War on Drugs.
The SHAPE platform for innovative music and audiovisual art, co-founded by Skaņu Mežs, will be represented by Lancaster pianist Stephen Grew, whose spontaneous compositions have been compared to the works of Elliott Carter or Conlon Nancarrow, Latvian beatmaker Oriole, associated with the Dirty Deal Audio collective, who will play an audiovisual show in collaboration with video artist Linda Konone, and Machine Woman, a Russian-born, Berlin-residing experimental dance music producer, who, in the words of Crack magazine, is currently „well-placed to satirize the conventions of dance music”.
Local acts, playing at the festival, also include industrial music project STROPS, renewed once more specifically for this one performance, and Agata Meļņikova’s ambient music project Sign Libra.
Workshops by Joe Morris, Roscoe Mitchell and James Dillon will be conducted at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music.
You can find a full list of the festival’s artists at the end of this text.
Tickets to the festival can be purchased here: ticketservice.lv. Advance sales ticket for a single concert night costs 15 EUR, while a two-day pass for October 13 and 14 costs 20 EUR.
Skaņu Mežs festival is supported by the Ministry of Culture of Latvia, State Culture Capital Foundation, the Municipality of Riga, Trust for Mutual Understanding, Kulturkontakt Nord, Goethe-institut Lettland, as well as iRobot, Valmiermuiža and Red Bull Music Academy. Skaņu Mežs is also a member of the SHAPE platform for innovative music and audiovisual art, supported by the „Creative Europe” program of the European Union, and I.C.A.S., an international network of festivals, devoted to adventurous sound.
Full program of Skaņu Mežs:
October 6, 18:00 – 22:00, art museum Riga Bourse, Dome Square 6, Riga: