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Music Unlimited Festival 2014

Music Unlimited Festival 2014
Eyal Hareuveni By

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Music Unlimited Festival
Wels, Austria
November 7-9, 2014

Nothing about the appearance of the town Wels, in western Austria, suggests that this sleepy old commune located in the middle of a vast agricultural area is a Mecca for adventurous music aficionados. Every year, hundreds of people habitually gather from all over Europe to visit Wels' annual Unlimited music festival. This cosmopolitan tribe of like- minded people don't care much about conventional definitions of genre or style, as as long as the music is performed with total commitment, uncompromising intensity and healthy doses of imaginative freedom.

The festival atmosphere encourages a close, friendly bond between performers, label owners, agents, promoters, professional photographers and the audience. The festival's main hall, Alter Schl8hof, featured an exhibition by Slovenian photographers Žiga Koritnik and Petra Cvelbar while most participating musicians and most of the audience stayed in Wels for the festival's duration, enjoying a unique communal vibe. That vibe was strengthened by the musicians who concluded their nights as DJs, leading the varied, colorful flock of attendees toward a new morning full of new sonic experiences.

The 28th edition of this well established festival offered a program of 17 performances, emphasizing different left-off-center angles of improvisation, free jazz, alternative rock, contemporary music and out of this world sound experiments of the 21st century. The festival's artistic director Wolfgang Hermann balanced wisely between new, intriguing acts and returning guests who had appeared more than once at the festival. All performances offered different energies yet demanded close, sensitive attention and all eventually delivered plenty of inspiration and uplifting fun.

First Day: Friday, Nov. 7 2014

Dutch performance artist Peter Zegveld, together with guitarist Terrie Hessels (from The Ex) opened the festival with a theatrical performance revolving between the eccentric, frightening and hilariously funny. Zegveld operates a vast set of industrial sound machines that literally make sounds visible. He structures these mechanical devices on his own, including a noisy compressor that was outside the hall. There were metal barrels, megaphones, and weird objects that produced explosions, torrents of smoke, bursts of flame and varied metallic humming and gargling sounds, all rigged to a console of electronic effects.

This massive apparatus may sound like a definite recipe for sonic mayhem, but the charismatic Zegveld, with the ever experimental and provocative Hessels, succeeded in creating a moving, often dramatic and comical experience. Zegveld orchestrated chaotic noises with the attitude of an eccentric opera singer, with utmost pathos in gibberish Italian, adding elements of surprise and danger. Both Zegveld and Hessels were totally attentive to each other and didn't shy from contemplative, poetic pieces. Their short encore, presented by Zegveld as an "experiment in improvisation totale," featured him carrying a smoking wooden box, in a typical dadaist act. Zegvald entranced the front rows with a dramatic wordless speech while spreading smoke around himself, Hessels and, eventually, the enchanted audience.

The second set—by Brooklyn-based drummer-composer Harris Eisenstadt's Golden State Quartet, in its European incarnation with partner and bassoon player Sara Schoenbeck, clarinetist Michael Moore and double bassist Pascal Niggenkemper—presented Eisenstadt's ambitious musical vision. His wise compositions suggest intricate, haunting textures that blur distinction between the composed elements and highly personal, improvised interpretations. Eisenstadt's assured, non-hierarchical leadership emphasized a delicate balance between subtle, economical polyrhythmic pulse and loose skeletal forms. Exploration of the acoustic instruments' timbral range and generous freedom enabled each musician to expand on their own unique language.

The next group, with Dutch acoustic bassist Luc Ex (one of The Ex's founders) and his new group Naked Wolf, featured a different kind of energy. This cosmopolitan, Amsterdam based sextet —Australian trumpeter-vocalist Felicity Provan, Brazilian saxophonist Yedo Gibson, Finnish guitarist Mikael Szafirowski, French vocalist Seb El Zin and Austrian drummer Gerri Jäger—just released their self-titled debut (El Negocito, 2014).

The album's front sleeve promises a sonic spectacle including "the room shaking with demonic orchestras, the snatches of fearful sleep, the voices outside the window." The group delivered a similarly infectious, demonic set charged with wild, hypnotic rock energy and clever improvisations with rapid changes in mood and pulse, poetic rap lyrics and danceable tight grooves. This ensemble didn't rest for a second, bursting with uncompromised joy and playful creativity that highlighted the strong personalities of each musician. There were highly arresting solos by Provan—both as a trumpeter and vocalist, Szafirowski, Gibson and El Zin.

The first night concluded with a roaring set by Brazilian power trio Chinese Cookie Poets (guitarist Marcos Campello, electric bassist Felipe Zenicola and drummer Renato Godoy). They began with a hypnotic, ear-shattering drone that was just the introduction for brutal mayhem in the most extreme and loud terrains. There was no attempt to ease or slow the uncompromising onslaught, that only got fiercer and wilder but exploring more layers and colors in the dense, tight textures.

Second Day: Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014

Day two began with free afternoon concerts. The first took place in the impressive Stadtpfarrkirche (Parish Church) and featured a solo, church organ improv by contemporary Austrian composer Christoph Herndler. He structured a long piece beautifully, wisely employing the church's high space and resonant acoustics. He exhausted the pipes' full sonic spectrum to create almost endlessly rich tones with echoed overtones. A constant flow of resonant gentle sounds, formed ageless, slow- morphing architectural textures.

Immediately after the end of this concert, the audience moved to the historical Minoriten building, for the duo of Greek vocalist Savina Yannatou and British double bass master Barry Guy. The duo have recorded one acclaimed album, Attikos (Maya, 2010). Their performance relied on some pieces from that album, but as could be expected, especially from such creative masters, the set offered a much more profound experience of the art of the two.

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