Echofluxx 14 had a whole different vibe from the preceding year, even though it was in the same place and many of the same people were there. This is a tribute to Dan Senn’s ability to keep everything fresh and new from year to year. It is a festival about which very little can be predicted. A big plus to my thinking, having been to many festivals over the years that were cookie-cutter versions of themselves, even though different people attended and different pieces were played.
This one, the fourth annual, opened with well-known Prague artist Phaerentz, whose set was as solid as you might expect. So you might have been able to predict that much at least. His set was almost forty minutes long, and, after some noodling at the beginning (factory-type sounds, as was appropriate for that space) settled down to a throbbing drone that made me think at the time, “I hope this goes on for quite some time.” It did.
This was the first time I had heard any of his music, and I trust it will not be the last. The next person up on the first evening was an artist who had been there the year before, Lucia Vitkova. Interestingly enough, although there is a strong interest among both Echofluxx curators and musicians alike for visual arts, everyone was in agreement that Lucia, who had teamed up with a visual artist last year, needed to be invited back for a solo set. A wise decision. Lucia is another supremely confident musician. Her music is simple and simply gorgeous. Various, too. She did several short “pieces,” each quite different from the others and including vocalizations as well. I used the word “simple” advisedly and descriptively. Her obvious technical proficiency on the accordion is never for the purpose of showing off, always for the purpose of making beautiful music.
Another returnee was the very talented Australian composer, clarinetist, and visual artist Brigid Burke, who brought three more solid fusions of sound and visual art, two from an at the time as yet unfinished polymedia event entitled Escapee Gloss, and one new piece, Instincts and Episodes. The music wasn’t all that much different from that of the year before, so it surprised me at how differently I felt about it. I had been impressed the year before, and had enjoyed the ride. But I really felt this year like the visuals and various musics (live and pre-recorded and electronic) were much more tightly integrated than I had remembered. Burke’s music is wild but never messy—it’s very carefully put together without ever being predictable. And it is always unmistakably her music, too, in spite of the not being predictable part.
Burke’s visuals are very much visual. They are powerful images, made for looking at. I am always intrigued by how distracting they should be and by how organic a part of the whole experience they always actually are.
Although Brigid was on several evenings after John Keston, an American composer from Minneapolis, I was of course able to watch the clips of John’s set after I had watched Brigid’s clips. To go with the order of the paragraphs here, you see. And something very interesting come out of that, for John’s set gave us visuals treated as if they were music, that is, a sort of visual musique concrète. At first, it seemed simply as if the images were doing, visually, what the music was doing—looping, stuttering, juddering—but what becomes clear after watching the clips several times is that the music is doing something musical and the visuals are doing something visual and playing them at the same time reveals some fundamental similarities in sound and image.
Mark Zanter was another composer from the U.S. (West Virginia) to come to Prague this year (John being the other). He played two pieces, one that I have written down as Untitled 9 (though it may simply be “Untitled”) and one called Blues Connotation. The first starts out with some deceptively naïve guitar playing which gradually changes into some really ear-filling electronic richness. The second starts out with the electronic richness and just keeps that going throughout its brief length. Really gorgeous music that I wanted to go on much longer than it did.
One could almost also say that Dan Senn is a composer from the U.S who came to Prague this year. But Dan has been going back and forth between the U.S and Prague from even before he started the Echofluxx festival there. In any event, the terrific flautist Lenka Kozderková was on hand to play a new piece by Dan for solo flute. The set-up looked suspiciously like that for a Berio Sequenza, of course, but the sounds were anything but. Immediately the music starts, the visual parallel (which is merely a practical solution to where to put the pages) fades completely away, and your find yourself in a unique sound world—I’m almost tempted to say that your awareness of the flute fades away, too, but that wouldn’t be strictly true, though I did notice that I was not so much listening to “a flute piece” as I was listening to “a piece.”
Darius Mazurowski from Gdansk brought a really gorgeous and spacious piece of music. Very beautiful sounds that filled the room as if they had been made to be played there. This was a conspicuously dramatic piece, with sudden and startling changes, many quite loud. It was almost an hour long, too, and never flagged.
The Echofluxx Ensemble performed again this year, a much longer and more involved set than last year. I hestitate to say “better,” because last year’s set was so strong. And improv is improv. It’s whatever it is at the time. So perhaps I should only say that whatever it was this year was very much whatever it was. And it was apparently very satisfying to listen to as well as to play, judging from the spirited applause. (I of course tested this theory out by playing the recording I made of the whole set. Yeah. We were good!)
The festival closed with Hana Zelazna’s tape piece called NOISE, a half an hour of t.v. and radio programs cut up and reassembled into a vastly entertaining piece of music.
It’s almost time for the 2015 Echofluxx. It’s in a new place this year, so I’ve included not only a clip of the installation by Diana Winklerová and Dan Senn in the Galerie Puppenklinik, which you can reach from the Trafačka Arena, where the concerts took place, through a subterranean corridor, but also one of walking back into the Arena and looking around at it for one last time. I hope you can all make it to the festival’s new digs this year. If not, at least tune in to the live feed.