The main focus of Unsound 2021’s dəəp authentic theme is the shift back from online to IRL events. It’s a phrase that involves a questionable binary—the online world is also ‘real’, and the IRL has long been digitised, distributed and mediated—and yet last year’s online festival left us unsatisfied, as if we’d consumed a meal that left no flavour in the mouth. We remained hungry. It wasn’t that the projects and music fell short: what we missed was the physical space. The musicians in the room. The sound system. The audience.
Although scaled back, Unsound 2021 again takes place in Kraków spaces, raising the question of what it will feel like to gather with other bodies to enjoy music again, as well as share thoughts and ideas in person. We’ve commissioned several A/V shows, but for the most part we’ve concentrated on a program where music and sound are of paramount importance. The reason? We’ve spent the majority of the last eighteen months glued to screens, so it feels almost ludicrous to hang giant ones in front of an audience.
In the context of a music festival, the word ‘deep’ conjures up Pauline Oliveros’ notion of deep listening, a state of radical attentiveness. We’ve also programmed work where the act of listening is paramount. Again, you can listen in a room on your own, but it feels different when you are surrounded by hundreds of other ears, a communal moment, where each person seems to heighten the others’ senses and focus. We activate one another.
The wider context, of course, is that the pandemic has left us more virtually connected than ever. Relationships, money, art and governance are contained inside our laptops and on digital tokens. Social bubbles spawn speculative ones, and vice versa. Unsound 2021 investigates this via the discourse program, as well as tensions between the synthetic and organic, the fake and the real, body and machine, and yearnings for authentic experiences or an authentic self. Might an embrace of the inauthentic liberate us from the binds of dichotomies that no longer serve us?
It should also be said that as we lurch back into physical spaces, there is the feeling that nobody has entirely grasped our current situation, the way the pandemic has changed things, including those of us who organise festivals. The old models have been reanimated, even though they feel, in some ways, to belong to a different, pre-pandemic era. It seems the very act of producing events is so fraught with difficulty right now that the idea of creatively looking at ways to weave together the online and IRL worlds has not yet been fully explored. This raises the question: once we experience the relief of coming together again, where do we go?
Over the past several years, Unsound has ended with a party, a hedonistic moment. This year we’re presenting Annea Lockwood’s Piano Burning, engulfing a piano in flames on Błonia Park, the vast meadow in Kraków’s city centre. It’s an event loaded with new symbolism: for lost time, lost events, the precarious state of the music industry. While this year we’re in survival mode, the burning piano beckons us towards the 20th edition of Unsound in 2022, to consider what aspects of the festival might be further taken apart, reassembled, done differently.