Overview of Skaņu Mežs festival activities within the E.C.A.S. realm

This year’s festival marked Skaņu Mežs’ 10th anniversary resulted in a several day long celebration mingling style and individuality into a restorative sound experience.

The current focus of European Cities of Advanced Sound (ECAS) is the interchange within and between genres and branches of music. This theme was also reflected in Skaņu Mežs’ 10th anniversary celebrations in the form of the fusion of sound and poetry, academic composition and alternative instrumentation, film and live performance, popular and underground music, classic and experimental.

The first Skaņu Mežs satellite event of 2012 was a concert by Liz Harris’ Grouper. It was a presentation of Violet Replacement – Harris’ project of dream-like tape music. The warm-up act was thematical  – a drone music performance by Edgars Rubenis who is better known as a rock music guitarist and improviser. The attendance was about 200 people (the Anglican church, as well known, has limited space).


The first concert of the festival this year was presented in collaboration with the Goethe Institute in Riga and the Sound Exchange project. It included performances by Frank Bretschneider and én. The evening was closed by an hour-and-a-half long performance of Your Beard In Space And Time – an audio-visual song cycle, created by cutting-edge Latvian electronic artists Stropu Jurka, Toms Auniņš, Gas Of Latvia and TV Maskava in team with video artist Indriķis Ģelzis. It was a homage to influential Latvian musician and artist Hardijs Lediņš. It was well-attended, even too much for the limited space of the venue. This could be explained by the fact that it happened as a free entry event in the tradition of White Night when most culture event happen at nighttime and are open for attendance of the masses.


The tenth edition’s central block of events started with a concert in the studio of Latvian Radio 1 on October, the 6th. The venue was chosen because it has a reputation of a concert place that is highly appropriate for events of modern academic and classical music. There the festival had the opportunity to present to its listeners a live concert by one of last century’s most under-appreciated composers – John Cage’s friend and colleague Christian Wolff, who performed some of his works together with the avant-garde percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky and addressed the audience with an explanation of his most important musical ideas. This evening also included a presentation of a new project by Skaņu Mežs – the music/poetry project ‘’Vārdrūme’’ (Soundspace). The presentation consisted of three Skaņu Mežs commisoned medium-lenght symphonies made out of words and sounds. The attendance was 200 people – once again, because of the limited space of the venue, there were only so many tickets available.


The following concert took place at Splendid Palace, a restored cinema house built at the beginning of the 20th century. It started with screenings of two works by Jan-Peter Sonntag – the video was accompanied by live music, performed by Sonntag himself and his colleague, Lars Gühlcke, who played upright bass. These two intellectually stimulating and aesthetically compelling works were followed by a fire-filled duo concert by the free jazz heavyweight Peter Brotzmann and Mats Gustafsson, the multi-facedted starlet of the same genre. Their performance was planned to be a trio, not a duet, but the third person – the great Danish saxophonist John Tchicai died shortly before the festival. The Brotzmann and Gustafsson’s set was dedicated to Tchicai.


This evening continued its deliberately eclectic programme with a concert by Francois Bayle – the pioneer of acousmatic music. His presence at the festival was relevant not only because of the historical importance of the artist, but also in the context of Skaņu Mežs – since its beginning the festival has been inviting to Riga the cornerstone composers of electronic music – Bernard Parmegiani, Eliane Radigue and Pierre Henry.  He performed new pieces along with his classics, which – together with its lenght – gave the concert a monumental feel.

After that there was performed a commision by Skaņu Mežs – a new work ‘’Ondulado’’ for five electric guitars by the prize winning Latvian composer Santa Ratniece. After that the ambient music project Machinefabriek performed audio works, inspired by Latvian writer Imants Ziedonis; it was accompanied with visuals, created specially for Skaņu Mežs by the design agency Lesley Moore. The final act was an audio-visual concert by Forest Swords.

The attendance of this evening was about a 1000 people.

The next night took place at the concert hall ‘’Palladium’’ and its program was comprised of mainly dance music oriented projects, including an eclectic DJ set by Kode9, an ethereal  performance by Laurel Halo, a cycle of danceable, yeat abstractly cosmic excursions by Stellar Om Source and some hard-hitting sets of advanced techno – an audiovisual and exotic concert by Ital with Aurora Halal and a hypnotic performance by Container. One of the evenings surprises was The Haxan Cloak’s dark conclusion to this program – it posessed a sound that you could physically feel. Performances by local artists Elvi/Dunian and members of the team of producers Dirty Deal Audio also took place that night. This evening, too, gathered about a 1000 people.


Before the last evening of the three-day party began, Skaņu Mežs held a seminary at the Chomsky bar – the organizers of the festival had a long discussion with artists and personalities from the worlds of art and music – Islaja, Jan-Peter Sonntag, Jenny Hval, Johannes Bergmark, Eric Mattson, Are Mokkelbost and Mārtiņš Ratniks. The seminary was devoted to the theme of interdisciplinarity as well as interesting possibilities of development for a modern festival of advanced music.

The last concert of the central block of the festival concludes on October 13 in the Anglican church. The concert of Nude On Sand (Jenny Hval and Håvard Volden) left the impression of a quiet dialogue between the artists and the audience. One other master of an interesting voice – Islaja – surprisingly gave a mostly instrumental performance, soaked in atmospheric sounds and howls that beautifully dissappeared into reverb.

Since the label Editions Mego (formerly Mego) has since the very beginning had a continuous presence at Skaņu Mežs festival, it was fitting that this evening also included sets by the cosmic floater Bee Mask from Editions Mego related Spectrum Spools and Fennesz, who delivered a wall of sound that was more noisy and techno-like than his latest records. The attendance was somewhere between 300 and 350 people.


Skaņu Mežs’2012 is had its closing concert on November 29 with Julianna Barwick, Robert Lippok at the Anglican church. It was attended by approximately 150 people. An unfortunate thing was that Mr. Niblock, who was also planned to play on this evening, couldn’t come to Riga because of health problems. He, however, promised to come in 2013. This was also a kind of Christmas concert – it happened at the time when most events are centered on the theme of Christmas celebration, near the first Advent Sunday, putting experimental music that Skaņu Mežs usually showcases (in this case Julianna Barwick and Robert Lippok) in an unusual context that not only motivated the audience towards reflection on the usual choices of ways to celebrate Christmas and this tradition as such, but also made the performance of Barwick seem as a healthy alternative for those, who were unsatisfied with the usual mediocre ways of celebrating the coming of this holiday. The concert had a string of warm-up performances by three local live acts that each presented a different take on the themes that are usually brought up with the coming of Christmas and all the traditional rituals that come with it.

This concert evening was later praised on a radio program as one of the most interesting and substantial events of the so-called Christmas period in Riga and gathered positive reviews in local press.