Unsound Intermission


On Covid-enforced hiatus, the brilliant Unsound festival releases a peach of a compilation, feat. Moor Mother, Ben Frost, Tim Hecker and a collaboration between Jlin and SOPHIE

Unsound Intermission is a rare treat. Compiled by the acclaimed Polish outsider music festival Unsound, with music recorded by many of the festival’s regulars at the beginning of a global crisis and with a single goal in mind: transforming panic into meditation. As a festival which has persistently explored unusual and offbeat spaces for its performances in the past, the enforced remoteness of the pandemic feels like a particularly cruel interference. But, typical of the minds behind Unsound, this album is a statement every bit as striking as those physical gatherings.

It helps that the featured artists are a veritable who’s who of modern electronic, experimental and classical music. Amongst them are Ben Frost, Nicolas Jaar, Moor Mother, Tim Hecker and a treasured collaboration between Jlin and SOPHIE; the latter’s tragic death early this year rendering the song’s very existence precious.

It also helps that the first downfall of many mediocre comps is vanquished, with a great deal of mind clearly being paid towards the flow of an album boasting several dozen musicians’ idiosyncratic styles. The album starts with the palette-cleansing sound of birdsong by English field-musician Chris Watson, before melting into the mournful woodwinds of Warsaw jazz trio Bastarda, whose reinterpretation of a chant from Valentin Triller’s 1555 Silesian Songbook is an ode to the springtime we associate with that birdsong.

A mournful but poignant humanity is the essence of the first suite of the record. ‘Happy, Healthy, Safe’ by Slater, Guðnadóttir, Grisey reworks the Berlin-based musician’s son singing away in the first weeks of lockdown, turning his voice into a haunting refrain. The following ‘Section 1’ is the album’s most remarkable achievement, the work of ten musicians recorded over Zoom in spring 2020, arranged by Nicolás Jaar into a balladic piece which grips with a tension-filled stillness.

If the first half of the album haunts, the second captures the anger which spilt into a summer of protest. ‘Project for Revolution in New York’ uses an AI to wrap mournful strings around field recordings of Black Lives Matter protests, while ‘This Week’ has Moor Mother reciting a poem about the death of a young boy with typically eloquent rage.

A musical time capsule, it’s this distillation of the year gone by which makes Unsound Intermission such a special document, and not just another ramshackle compilation. By collating broadcasts from some of our greatest compositional minds in such a cohesive way, it’s music which seems destined to acquire potency as it ages, as these pieces become vignettes from a time we hope will one day feel quite distant.

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