While Friday night’s sound system may have added an extra oomph to the show, it was the location of Saturday’s show that provided it unexpected transcendence. Even the idea of seeing several ambient artists in the sanctuary of a church had my curiosity piqued, but that piqued curiosity didn’t have me prepared for what was coming Saturday night.
Upon my arrival at West Park Presbyterian Church, any skepticism in my mind around the whole idea was quelled. No, we weren’t about to watch some dudes sit around on laptops in the basement of a run down church. The laptops were instead set up on the altars and an exceedingly large screen loomed behind it all. As Poland’s Jacaszek took to the stage to perform a trio off of 2011’s Glimmer, it was clear that this was a spectacle to behold. Though Jacaszek’s music crawls at a snails pace, building to crescendo in the most laborious way possible, it felt exceedingly appropriate for the setting. Sitting in the pews and simply absorbing the sounds presented before me would’ve been enough to make for an interesting performance, but with the psychedelic visuals that backed them the set became something entirely moving and transfixing. It was peaceful, welcoming and utterly uplifting, and certainly nothing to anticipate the set forthcoming from Biosphere and Lustmord.
Though the next set was similar in mechanics, featuring two men seated at their laptops for about an hour, there was something so deeply unsettling about the whole atmosphere that it became something really special. Perhaps it was the location, I mean it isn’t everyday you get to see a show where the performers are seated at an altar, but it seems more likely to me a testament to the audio/visual experience presented to us. Biosphere and Lustmord’s piece was equal parts beautiful and disconcerting. The dark ambient legends created waves of noise, strings, and more noise (seriously, the photographer in front of me had his fingers in his ears at any moment he wasn’t taking a picture) which paired with post-apocalyptic footage on the large screen behind them functioned to mildly disturb everyone in the room. Where Jacaszek was floaty and peaceful, the piece constructed by Biosphere and Lustmord was dark and brooding. Ambient music often functions to fill a space, to create a peaceful environment for all the listeners around, and while Biosphere and Lustmord certainly fulfilled the first function, the second seems far from their m.o. Both visually and of course aurally, the piece was unlike most things I’d ever seen. It was unsettling without feeling like horror movie music, without resorting to cheap shock tactics of ear-curdling screams. This was truly dark music and provided another interesting turn of Unsound Festival.
Though I wasn’t really intending this to be the last night of Unsound that I covered, it turned out that way after age restrictions prevented my admittance to Sunday’s show. That aside, it might be a more fitting ending. Unsound brought together an incredibly diverse lineup from across the world and slammed the acts together in billings across New York City, so seeing two ambient legends duke it out on stage at a church really feels like the only way such an event could end. It was yet another special night, and perhaps the most emotionally moving of the bunch, a true testament to the outstanding lineup that Unsound put together. Here’s to hoping they get together something just as great next year.
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We talk with Josh Berwanger about a few of his favorite records.
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