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MUSIC FOR SOLARIS
BY BEN FROST AND DANIEL BJARNASON WITH SINFONIETTA CRACOVIA
FILM MANIPULATIONS BY BRIAN ENO AND NICK ROBERTSON
Plus pieces by Krzysztof Penderecki and Henryk Górecki, performed by Sinfonietta Cracovia.
Foyer, DJ: Martin Hossbach.
"Music for Sólaris" is an ambitious project that celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Kraków writer Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris, which tells the story of a man who arrives at a distant planet to study the ocean covering its surface, a mysterious gigantic intelligence that brings painful and repressed memories into physical being.
Written for twenty-nine string players, two percussionists, prepared piano, guitars and electronics by Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason and performed with Sinfonietta Cracovia, "Music for Sólaris" also draws inspiration from the Andrei Tarkovsky film adaptation, to create a narrative of sound that is an exploration of an interior cosmos. The performance features film manipulations of Brian Eno and Nick Robertson, drawing on moments from the original Tarkovsky film to create a visual parallel to the music composition process. "Music for Sólaris" was has been released as CD and vinyl as an album by the Icelandic label Bedroom Community.
This is a unique opportunity to see and hear this piece performed with Sinfonietta Cracovia, Krakow's Royal orchestra, which features on the album and developed the work with the composers from the very beginning.
"Music for Solaris" was commissioned by Unsound Krakow 2010, and has already been performed at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York, the Bela Bartok National Concert Hall in Budapest, and the Reykyavik Arts Festival.
The Berlin presentation is a collaboration between Unsound and CTM, and supported by ECAS – European Cities of Advanced Sound, The Culture Programme of the European Commission, and The Polish Cultural Institute Berlin.
ON THE ALBUM
Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason are two composers used to shrugging off the distinction between experimental sound-art and deeply felt melodies. Frost’s vast, blackened post-industrial works often crystallize in moments of quiet beauty before disintegrating in pure visceral noise; Bjarnason’s orchestral music marries brutal modernism to classical aesthetics one moment and soaring ethereal harmonies the next. And yet here, on the tail of two widely acclaimed releases; Bjarnason’s Processions and Frost’s By the Throat, we are given something altogether new. A unique collaboration, Sólaris is a quiet, stilled and all consuming symphonic suite at once as affecting and uncanny as the science-fiction classic that inspired it.
The power of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris is not in its futuristic sets, or in the hypnotic shots of the alien planet’s weird, fluid surface, but it’s in the way he juxtaposes his alien, futuristic elements against the intimately familiar. This is a future not just of flashing lights and video screens, but of wood and wool and leather, of dogs and horses, books and photographs. In Frost & Bjarnason’s Sólaris we do find the futuristic, gaseous atmospheres and pulses one might expect from a sci-fi soundtrack. Yet here they are carved instead from the warm, fragile sonorities of a string orchestra – Poland’s Sinfonietta Cracovia – a gently prepared piano whose harmonies warp and melt before transforming again – and waves upon waves of guitar.
Created through a unique series of processes, Frost & Bjarnason’s initial sketches – improvised to the film – were fed through software designed to correct music which tried to turn their dense and distorted sonic input into a digital sequence of raw musical data. Working from data riddled with error and misunderstanding, a human score was orchestrated; the whole process deftly mirroring the core of the film’s own narrative of memory and loss, alien doppelgängers and emotional feedback loops. Brian Eno – who consulted closely in the creation of Sólaris – also used the same film to create a video accompaniment to this music in another strange loop of computer-generated distortion.
But here the score stands on its own. Sólaris; a journey into an internal world, into the self, a flux of wonder, horror, sorrow and tenderness, and a ravishing sensory experience.
THE PRESS ON THE ALBUM:
Lem's novel and Tarkovsky's film are both undoubtedly outstanding works, though different in their focus and perspective. Now Frost and Bjarnason's collaboration can be thought of as such, filling a gap with a suitably powerful addition. The artistic context is not a prerequisite, as the forever gripping and occasionally terrifying sounds are universal. It is also not an outwardly sci-fi album and, for its ambition and execution, Sólaris should sit very highly in the curriculum vitaes of both its creators.
Drowned in Sound
They clearly revel in the possibilities of working with an orchestra, inducing the 28-piece Sinfonietta Cracovia to replicate, in acoustic "reality", the effects of digital decay and delay, and contributing their own arsenal of electronics to the brew. The beautifully sculpted results are subtle, sensuous and often majestic.
Tarkovsky’s film — in which memory dances with metaphysics and the intimate circles around the utterly alien — is fertile ground for numerous intellectual and emotional evocations. For the most part, Frost and Bjarnson are up to the challenge: there’s a richness here, a sense of clashing moods, that calls to mind the music of Johann Johannsson and Tim Hecker (with whom Frost has worked). Even without having seen the film from which this piece takes its inspiration, the rush of sensations and almost tactile quality make this album a worthy entity in its own right.
Solaris is an unsettling, albeit wondrous achievement. It is the perfect way to further expose the world to these wonderful minimalist composers, and an expertly crafted record in its own right. Not only have they captured the complex emotions of Stanislaw Lem’s masterwork stunningly well, but they’ve created a dark, beautiful, and captivating piece of music in the process.
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