Responses to the Hejnał at Unsound Festival, Kraków

Hejnał Mariacki is a traditional melody that has been performed on trumpets hourly from the spire of St. Mary’s Church in the Polish city of Kraków for century. Recently, as part of the city’s Unsound festival for underground, experimental and electronic music, sonic responses were made by musical and sonic artists such as cornetist Rob Mazurek and composer Tim Hecker (from the top of the tower of the Ratusz, the old Town – see video above). As the LA times put it:

Unsound mounted four “responses” to the “Hejnal.” None of these performances were made specific until afterward, meaning that the audience was largely tourists and natives strolling through the rainy square, looking up and wondering where the weird sounds were coming from.

The theme is traditionally played on trumpet four times in a row, once in each cardinal direction. On Sunday, electronic musician Tim Hecker set up a speaker in a tower of the old town hall facing the church. Every time the trumpeter played the Hejnal theme from St. Mary’s, Hecker responded with a slow pattern of bell tones that sounded like a sedated music box. It was as free as music gets. No names, no faces, no stage. It was just signals in the air, tied to no physical event. If you want an inverse of the stadium rock spectacle, this was it.

Pitchfork wrote that ‘Tim Hecker played glinting ambient music for unsuspecting tourists below; in the other, the Chicago cornetist Rob Mazurek played melancholy riffs and runs… Tim Hecker’s church-tower performance turned a misty city square into a performance space.’ Clips of Hecker’s performance from the tower can be seen here and here. See Mazurek’s performance here and below:

As part of the festival, musical performances were also held hundreds of meters underground in a nearby salt mine. More information, as well as reviews of the festival, can be found on the Unsound Facebook page.

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