The Latvian experimental music festival Skaņu mežs will celebrate its 20th anniversary from 23-24 September at the Hanzas perons concert hall (Hanzas Street 16a) in Riga. On 16 September at 18:00, a free Skaņu mežs opening concert will also take place at the refurbished Āgenskalns Market (second floor of the pavilion, Nometņu Street 64).
Tickets are on sale at Biļešu serviss outlets and at www.bilesuserviss.lv.
The price of a two day ticket is EUR 30.
Last year, Chicago music critic Bill Meyer described Skaņu mežs as a “world-class experimental music festival”. In turn, his counterpart Estonia-based critic and activist Artemy Troitsky has said of the festival that, “Skaņu mežs is an exemplar that amazes and inspires. […] Latvian music lovers are very fortunate.” For the past 20 years, Skaņu mežs has continually kept track of changes across the most diverse range of contemporary music genres.
Guest performers at this year’s event include Los Angeles experimental hip-hop group Clipping., producer duo Space Afrika, avant-garde composer Peter Ablinger and others.
Skaņu mežs will start its chain of activities on September 3 with free-entry event as part of the White night culture forum. The festival will return to St. Saviour’s Anglican Church, one of the most atmospheric venues in the history of Skaņu mežs. The line-up will feature free impriovising bass player John Edwards, composer and clarinetist John McCowen, veteran of the Lebanese experimental music scene Tony Elieh, alternative pop musicians Mart Avi and Katarina Gryvul, experimental electronics producer Isabella Foriciniti and local noise rock band Stabs.
The Clipping. line-up includes rapper and actor Daveed Diggs, who among other things is also Tony theatre award and Grammy music award winner. The British newspaper The Guardian has described the Clipping trio as “extraordinary”, adding that the trio takes counterpart Death Grips’ staccato noise to the next level. In turn, Rolling Stone Magazine says the following of the group, “Clipping. have long been creating their own provocative, noisy world. As both talented musicians and completely nerdy and voracious students of hip-hop and noise history, they […] explore all the innovative ways they can “tweak pre-existing rap tropes.”
The trio’s album There Existed an Addiction to Blood was included in The Wire magazine’s 2019 Top 50 Releases of the Year, a feat that the trio repeated the following year with Visions of Bodies Being Burned, when the album was included on the equivalent chart not only by The Wire, but also by The Guardian. Almost a committing an oxymoron in genre terms, the online music publication Pitchfork included the group’s album Splendor and Misery in its chart of the 33 Best Industrial Albums of All Time.
Space Afrika is a musical duo based in Manchester and Berlin. It creates expansive and distinctly urban soundscapes fused with ambient music, Detroit techno and even vestiges of Sheffield’s IDM music of the 1990s. Project protagonists Joshua Inyang and Joshua Reid are friends who spent 20 years listening to music together before they formed Space Afrika. Among its various influences, Space Afrika’s music is also informed by the industrial architecture of North West London.
The online music publication Pitchfork gave Space Afrika’s latest album – the 2021 release Honest Labour – an 8 out of 10 rating. “They tempt fracture, embrace distortion, and emphasize delay,” writes critic Hubert Adjei-Kontoh. He compares the work to Wim Wenders’ films Wings of Desire, at the start of which the angel played by actor Bruno Ganz hovers from apartment building to apartment building and from subway station to subway station, like a radio perceiving the thoughts of all the people resident there.
According to New Noise Magazine, Yuko Araki “is one of a number of young, female artists emerging from Japan that are redefining the outer boundaries of noise, post-industrial techno, and experimental electronics.” Araki’s debut album End of Trilogy was released by Room 40, the label run by Australian musician Lawrence English.
Trained as a pianist, Araki switched her attention to non-academic music after being captivated by metal and hardcore punk rock. Her solo project is characterized by samples of traditional Japanese music instruments and idiosyncratic layering of sounds, reminiscent of “a choir of noise”. Listening to Araki’s music, there are times when it’s impossible to tell if the electronic signals are imitating the rustling of a thousand leaves, or if the rustling sounds of a thousand leaves are mixed so that they sound like electronic signals.
Improvised music will be represented at the festival by the أحمد [Ahmed] quartet, which was described in its August edition by The Wire magazine as “one of the most advanced jazz groups on the planet”. The ensemble is led by Pat Thomas, who The Guardian has described as “a virtuoso pianist, who is also a wizard with synths and live electronics” and “a central figure in British and European improvised music”. Although the group draws the inspiration for its fusion of improvised music and Arab music from the oeuvre of multi-instrumentalist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, it reduces Malik’s compositions to fragments of sound repeated with aggression and growing energy. The group also includes saxophonist Seymour Wright, drummer Antonin Gerbal and double bassist Joel Grip.
A special guest at the festival will be German-Austrian composer Peter Ablinger, who has served as a guest conductor for the ensembles Klangforum Wien and United Berlin, and as a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield. Ablinger’s oeuvre is inspired by the desire to prompt the human ear to question what it hears. He accomplishes this through sound art installations rich with cultural references, harshly abstract electronic compositions, as well as almost comical performative works, and, finally, compositions, which listeners quite simply have to imagine in their own minds. The composer asks, “At what point does that which we hear cease to be music and become information or noise?”
Ablinger’s music will be performed at the festival by violinist Biliana Voutchkova, who has previously performed the music of Giacinto Scelsi at the festival. Voutchkova also performs as an improviser, and recently spent a spell in residence at the prestigious concert space Cafe OTO. Voutchkova will perform both her own and Ablinger’s music, and at the culmination of the concert the composer will join her in a duo improvisation. Invited to improvise at Skaņu mežs together with Voutchkova, Ablinger admitted that he’s never done anything of the kind before, “This is clearly an assault… But a welcome one!”
The festival will also feature a performance richly infused with feminist and spontaneous references by the duo of British-Iranian soprano Alya Al-Sultani and turntable improviser and sound artist Mariam Rezaei. Joining them on the programme will be the duo of Indian-American vocalist Amirtha Kidambi and drummer Matt Evans. Kidambi and Evans assert that they were initially drawn together by grief for deceased loved ones, and the duo’s music can be described as a ritual for overcoming sorrow. The New York Times describes Kidambi’s music as “a melting pot of possibilities and non-stop activity that both scares and captivates listeners.”
Peru-born experimental singer M. Caye Castagneto will combine Latin rhythms, new wave guitar, hypnagogia and pagan folk dirges, resulting in intriguing, mysterious and suggestive experimental pop music.
Recalling the festival’s origins in Āgenskalns, on 16 September at 18:00, a free Skaņu mežs opening concert will take place at the refurbished Āgenskalns Market. It will feature performances by Iranian musician Ata Ebtekar also known as Sote, the duo of drummer Chris Corsano and saxophonist Lotte Anker, Ukrainian electronic music producer NFNR (Neither Famous Nor Rich) and César Award-winning film score composer Martin Wheeler.
Last but not least, the event will be graced by a performance of a new work by a Latvian electronic music project, which from time to time has been a feature of the Skaņu mežs programme since the earliest editions of the festival, Andris Indāns’ Gas of Latvia.
Alya Al-Sultani, Mariam Rezaei, Yuko Araki, Sote and the group [Ahmed] will perform at the festival as part of the REMAIIN project, which examines the influence of the music of other continents on the European avant-garde. NFNR and Biliana Voutchkova will represent the innovative music platform SHAPE+. Both projects are supported by the EU’s “Creative Europe” programme and the Ministry of Culture..
The price of a one day ticket is EUR 20, while a two day ticket costs EUR 30. Tickets are on sale at Biļešu serviss outlets and at www.bilesuserviss.lv.
The Skaņu mežs Festival is supported by Riga Council, the State Culture Capital Foundation, the Goethe-Institute Riga, the Danish Cultural Institute, the French Institute in Latvia, the U.S. Embassy, the Ministry of Culture, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, iRobot and Valmiermuižas alus.
The following festival programme has been announced to date:
Kassel Jaeger plays own works and Bernard Parmegiani
Yvette Janine Jackson
Peter Ablinger & Biliana Voutchkova
Alya Al-Sultani & Mariam Rezaei
24 September, 19:00, Hanzas perons
M. Caye Castagneto
Amirtha Kidambi & Matt Evans
Premiere performance of a work by Evija Skuķe