Founder and singer-songwriter of Swans, Michael Gira has been confirmed to perform an acoustic solo show at Riga, Latvia’s Skaņu Mežs festival for adventurous music on October 11, alongside legendary Swans guitarist Norman Westberg, who will play a concert of ambient music. Skaņu Mežs will happen on October 11-12 at concert hall Hanzas Perons (16a Hanzas street). First 100 two-day passes to the festival can be purchased for 22 EUR at www.bilesuserviss.lv.
Best known for his role as founder and co-leader of avant-garde rock band Swans, Michael Gira has made a point not to work very much under his own name (at least musically — he has published and regularly done spoken word shows), preferring instead to create and lead various projects as well as produce other musicians. Gira has had a few releases billed as solo efforts. Unsurprisingly, such releases demonstrate, as much as his band efforts, Gira’s skill and power at creating emotionally intense music and lyrics.
Gira most often writes songs for Swans (and previously Angels of Light) on guitar, so his acoustic live shows offer a glimpse of some known works in their „initial” form. Currently, Michael Gira has written new songs for the next incarnation of Swans – the previous one emerged in 2010 and disbanded in 2017 – and many of these new compositions can be heard in his solo shows this year. While the solo performances cannot be compared to the notorious volume of a Swans show, they are not exactly soft either – Gira has said they have a „full” sound, describing them as „Howlin’ Wolf accompanied by Bela Bartok”.
Gira describes his solo playing in the following words: „Sitting there alone on stage with a dead piece of wood and some wires and just my voice is a challenge I set for myself a number of years ago, trying to fully inhabit the same thread that’s run through the music all along, with the simplest of means. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it over time. I play the guitar my own way. I’ve never really learned how to play it conventionally and I don’t care to do so. I could just as easily be hitting two rocks together. It provides a context for the voice and words, and just as in the music of Swans, when all the elements (known and unknowable) combine, it can lead to something beyond itself, which is always the place I’d like to go: somewhere else. I hope to see you there.”
Swans have been described as the loudest and heaviest band ever by The Guardian and as „the most formidable and influential rock band today” by Electronic Beats. Music criticism platform Pitchfork have rated two of their recent years’ albums – „The Seer” and „To Be Kind” – with 9 out of 10 points, labelling them „best new music”. Swans have travelled through a variety of incarnations and sounds, including proto-industrial rock, noise, musique-concrete, drone, country blues and folk. Still, their music defies genre categorizations. Swans performed in Riga in 2011, at a concert organized by Skaņu Mežs.
Michael Gira has also published a collection of stories called „The Consumer”, and has published several spoken word recordings, such as „The Egg” and „The Somniloquist”, where he reads his writings.
Norman Westberg is perhaps best recognised for his truly individual approach to guitar with the band Swans. His playing with Swans has influenced a generation of musicians across genres. His particular approaches to that instrument, in creating both harmony and brute force, have challenged and ultimately informed a great many players.
His most recent solo record „After Vacation” is his first full length to come in the wake of the final Swans outing in its previous configuration. More importantly it is also the first record to see Westberg move beyond a more performative mode of single take composition.
„After Vacation” sees Westberg significantly expand his sonic palette. He opens up the tonal and harmonic possibilities of his instrument in unexpected and profoundly beautiful ways. His guitar, as the singular source, becomes transformed through a web of outboard processes. He transforms vibrating strings completely, taking singular gesture and reshapes it through webs of delay, reverb and other treatments.
Moreover, he finds a new sense of space and dimension with these recordings. After Vacation has a decidedly more topographic sense. It charts out the dark contours of places unseen but imagined. It traverses a divergent range of places in search of a ever opening compositional approach.
“I like my music to fall into the more meditative world. Let the listener be able to tune out, or engage in the listening experience,” Westberg summarizes his current solo activity.
Stay tuned for further announcements of Skaņu Mežs 2019. Tickets to the festival can be purchased here: ticketservice.lv. Advance sales ticket for a single concert night currently costs 15 EUR and will increase in price. Meanwhile, the first 100 two-day passes are available for 22 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, Danish Cultural Institute 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.