Hélène Breschand and Kaspar Toeplitz on tour in Poland

Last week saw a short tour by the duo Hélène Breschand and Kaspar Toeplitz.

Their invitation by superb Cracow’s Sacrum Profanum Festival inspired me to organise a few more performances.

Sławek Janicki, the initiator and organiser of the Bydgoszcz-based Festival Muzyka z Mózgu, and Sylwester Galuschka, who is doing a titanic work in Gdańsk’s Kolonia Artystów club, proved invaluable as usual.

Unfortunately, I was not able to be in Krakow, which I deeply regret, but my regular work and the timetable of all these festivals and cultural events would have meant that I would have had to stop working professionally, which is simply “mission impossible”, because I like my professional work and I hope that it is reciprocated, but only when I perform all my duties there well.

Thus, as far as this performance was concerned, I could rely on the opinion of the artists themselves and their impressions on the following day when we met.

Kasper Toeplitz told me that in Cracow he started the concert with presentation an installation of the variant composition of Eliane Radigue ‘∑ = a = b = a + b’, which can be listened to in countless ways. In the original version, these are vinyl records with compositions filling respectively sides A and B, which can be listened to separately or simultaneously, moreover each record can be played at any speed (33 and 1/3, 45 or 78 rotations per minute). That was just an introduction to the performance by the excellent harpist Hélène Breschand, who performed OCCAM OCEAN XVI for classical harp. This work was published on “Octopus” for Bocian Records.

The following day, the artists performed at the Festival “Muzyka z Mozgu”. This is a festival with a great tradition, which takes place in Bydgoszcz and is organised by the co-founder of the famous Polish club Mózg , which has been open for 30 years and promotes improvised music, visual and performance arts and recently poet slams.

At the beginning , it was an event focused on improvised music, but this interesting evolution and the openness of its organiser, Slawek Janicki (also a musician), led to this year’s performance by Hélène Breschand and Kaspar Toeplitz.
While in other cities on this mini-tour, the musicians played composed pieces by Phil Niblock, Eliane Radigue and Kasper Toeplitz, in Bydgoszcz, in accordance with the tradition of the festival, they went wild and played a 100% improvised concert.

It was a good performance, but personally, I prefer them in the composed repertoire, where everything is very well arranged and the power of sound, its variety, flowing from the stage is extremely suggestive and strongly memorable.

The concert in Bydgoszcz was more of a show of improvisational skills, with a (dis)organising blasts of noise energy than what these artists practice on a daily basis. I can imagine that this is what post-noise concerts might have sounded like in the times when Elliott Sharp’s band Carbon met on stage, especially in the initial phase of their activity. There may have been too many strictly rock accents at times, particularly in Toeplitz’s bass riffs, but I found this concert good mainly because at no point in their performance did they abandon the idea of intricately building up massive blocks of sounds.
Still, in spite of this impetuous and crazy form of free improvisation, this music retained all its qualities (and values) which its performers carry during composed concerts. And these particularities and trademarks of the IRE Ensemble’s music (both performers are core members of this ensemble) , consisting in the superimposition and juxtaposition of various forms taking place in radically different time and sound frames, were happily preserved that evening.

Saturday was time for a quick trip to Gdansk, where, after a nice afternoon exploring the old district of Gdansk-Wrzeszcz, we went to the nearby club Kolonia Artystów (engl: ‘Colony of Artists’), also located in this charming old district.
I have to admit that this is one of my favorite places in Poland. The club itself, a café, is a cross between a concert hall with a capacity of maybe 50-60 people and another smaller room where extraordinary artistic presentations take place, which simply cannot fail to be mentioned on this occasion as well.
The “Black Room”, as this new sound project of the Kolonia Artystów is called, is indeed a black space, with soundproofed walls and a quadraphonic audio system adapted to give the audience the feeling of being in sound. In this small room adjacent to the larger hall of this club, musical pieces of various lengths are presented, creating a new place to listen to a peculiar collection of sounds. New compositions appear there every month, ranging from radio plays and radio programmes to genres such as field recordings or classical music compositions and techno, drone, noise and ambient. By the way, I can say that I find among the guests invited to this unusual project, whom I have had the opportunity to release on Bocian records, such as the duo Katarzyna Podpora/Max Kohyt or Gerard Lebik
This multitude of events best demonstrates the dedication and character of a venue run by Sylwester Galuschka, which is significantly more (and beyond) than just a place for entertainment and weekend drinking. It is a place for everyday work, artistic coworking, friendly and open to new ideas, and the best emanation of this, is the “Black Room” project.

The space where the duo’s performed, was also extremely carefully prepared by its owner. The clouds of smoke and the specific blue light gave a very suggestive feeling that we were in the clouds and the musicians were barely visible, making everything seem even more unreal or acousmatic. Perhaps Galuschka in his diligence and attentiveness for making this performance best, had read an interview with Toeplitz and he was inspired by artist’s words where the composer talked about his music as follows: ‘To me, is like a cloud: from a distance you can tell that it looks exactly like this and that, but when you get close to it, you can’t tell where it begins and where it ends. Everything blurs, blends one into the other. It’s the same in terms of rhythm – we often see a cloud catching up and chasing away some other cloud because they have a slightly different tempo. In a score you can write two, maximum three different tempos at the same time, but that’s the maximum because you need three conductors to do it. And here I have all this freedom, I can think completely differently. It’s a great continuum between rhythm, sound, tone, pitch (…)’.

photo has taken from fb of Marcin Borchardt

The concert, to my great delight, began with a performance of Phil Niblock’s work ‘Noizzz’.
Originally this piece had been prepared for the IRE Enesemble. This version for elctric harp and bass was the new version and ..world premiere of this work.
‘Noizzz’, like many other pieces by this outstanding American composer, is simply a study on the nature of sound and time, or I d rather say, its hypnotic slowing down.
The music of the duo Blenchard and Toeplitz, as well as their solo practice including participation in works with other artists such as Elliott Sharp, Zbigniew Karkowski or the aforementioned Niblock and Radigue, is a dedication in their performance practice to this very idea, which is also an obsession with the reduction of harmonic ornaments, crossing thresholds, smooth transitions and dynamic forms. It is therefore an oeuvre in clear opposition to all varieties of formalism which question the role of time and the classical harmonic-rhythmic progression as the actual basis of all dimensions of a musical work.
How freely they treat the musical course is best demonstrated by the fact that the ‘Noizze’ piece served them only as a starting point for improvisation, which was, however, completely different from the earlier concert in Bydgoszcz.
I had the impression of complete immersion in this mass of sound and surrender to what was coming from the speakers.

Photo taken from fb of Kolonia Artystów made by Sylwester Galuschka

I do not understand people who call this music “noise”. Noise, to me, is something flat. Rather, what we have in this oeuvre is something that is the boundlessness of sound and all its richness. Gradually, the longer I listen to this music, the more I get the impression of something which is a fusion of harmonies and various colours into a homogeneous new quality. Well, it is still a great pleasure to discover, thanks to the artistry and virtuosity of the performers, all these small sonic details and preparations created as if ad hoc, but it is not only about showing off and artistry.
After a short break for the grand finale, the audience got Toeplitz’s piece “Convergence, Saturation and Dissolution” from the album “Octopus”. The composition is probably the most complete of the entire repertoire of this duo, and perhaps it is also the case that the listener’s ear after several hours of live exposure to this music gets used to its form and captures this new form of melody. I know one thing that the concerts of this duo are a unique experience for me and they do not have to be preceded by years of studies or in-depth formal analyzes. It s still about emotions.

Thank you to everyone for these wonderful few days: artists (Helen and Kasper), as well as Sylwester Galuschka (from the Kolonia Artystów), Sławek Janicki and Piotr Grygor (from Mózg) and last but not least Krzysztof Pietraszewski from Sacrum Profanum.


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