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Piotr Kurek
World Speaks Ed Power , February 17th, 2022 09:05

Drawing uncanny inspiration from a gothic painting, Piotr Kurek offers up a stark listening experience, finds Ed Power

The brushwork in Thomas Cole’s deeply ominous 1833 painting The Titan’s Goblet was laid down with such delicacy the canvas remains visible beneath the oils, striated bands glimmering through the gothic fog like leylines under a muddy pasture. But if Cole proceeded meticulously, the impact of the piece was nonetheless unfettered and unmooring. As per its title, the painting depicts a vast goblet dominating a landscape of feral verdancy. Within the vessel is a world in miniature: a lake, across which ships navigate, a Greek temple and Italian palace glittering amidst the moss-lined rim.

Cole, an Englishman who move to the Hudson Valley in New York State aged twenty-two, never explained what The Titan’s Goblet portended. Today, 174 years on from his death, the symbolism of the goblet and its tiny kingdom is lost to the ages.

And yet his art continues to weave a spell. It has seeped into the consciousness of Warsaw-based composer Piotr Kurek during the plotting of his new album, World Speaks. While making the record, described as “a collection of seven vivid paintings”, Kurek had several of Cole’s pieces as laptop screen-savers. Some of that lush weirdness has, he has theorised in interviews, intruded, drip by uncanny drip, into the project, as refracted through titles such as ‘A Source of All Scenery’.

Utilising vocal samples, reed instruments, and organ drones, the LP blends expansiveness and mystery. ‘Chordists’, the first track, is a haunting swell of babbling voices piled high atop each other. A hubbub with no straightforward meaning, its sheer relentlessness has the quality of a nightmare from which you don’t want to wake. Right out of the gate, World Speaks has arrived at an in-between place where beauty and dread intertwine. And where, from the din, emerges a sound simultaneously vulnerable and distressing.

Harmony and disquiet strike an uneasy balance. It’s a stark listen and a departure from Kurek’s previous work in acoustic guitar, synthesizers and field recordings that incorporated everything from bird songs to the distant hum of heavy industry. Here, it’s all about the voices. Interweaving and urgent, they build to a crescendo on ‘Soloists’ while on ‘Montufar’ pastoral flutes combine with a low madrigal shriek that has an almost sacramental solemnity.

As with the Cole canvas from which Kurek took inspiration, these soundscapes radiate a profound eeriness. And yet the effect is ultimately hypnotic. Like a painting that conceals its secrets in its whorls and textures, World Speaks encourages the bystander to lean closer and closer, daring them lose themselves in its self-imagined universe.