Boomkat Product Review:
Piotr Kurek scientifically examines the human voice on 'Peach Blossom', extracting and galvanizing rare textures and tones and pairing them with inverted jazz and post-TikTok renaissance music, basically taking choral/early music and adding autotune. Mad, uncomporomising brilliance - essential listening if yr into Wojciech Rusin, James Ferraro, Elysia Crampton.
The intersection of theater and contemporary music is a precarious one. All too often, artists keep themselves at arm's length from the stage in fear of being labeled pretentious or artsy. It's a treat to witness Polish composer Kurek throwing a middle finger up to the naysayers with this lavish and thoroughly histrionic experiment. He takes core elements from music he wrote for a performance at Bavaria's Münchner Kammerspiele of Tian Gebing's "Heart Chamber Fragments", using vocals from actors Komi Togbonou and Martin Weigel alongside spoken word from Chinese performer Xiangjie. These parts are augmented with MIDI and live recordings of various instruments, purposefully obscuring the line between the real world and the digital. It's a concept and pool of ingredients that's so fraught with danger that we were almost sold before we even hit play - and Kurek doesn't disappoint.
Plenty of artists are fascinated with the avant-garde possibilities of AutoTune or pitch correction. It's a facet of the majority of modern pop music, so it stands to reason that its sound is destined to be reshaped by artists who have had their own minds rewired by its ubiquitousness. Kurek makes it his own by approaching with outsized skill: 'The Art of Swapping Hearts' is literally just processed vocals emoting robotically over perfect silence. We're all familiar with the sound, but hearing pitch corrected voices without any accompaniment is chilling and resonant. When the title track swells into being, adding another voice, it's like a mischievous reinvention of early polyphonic choral music. Kurek teases us with both his concept and his palette, and is able to resist theatrical fireworks by being slow, intentional and even-handed.
The album's centerpiece is 'Martin is Crying', a lengthy experiment that finds Kurek playing a voice as if it was a keyboard, using syllables like synth tones and allowing them to cascade against marimba hits. More expressive voices scream around the edges, splitting the difference between contemporary schoolyard emo whining and a ramshackle Shakespearean chorus.
Kurek's a studied listener and adventurous composer who's been able to advance ideas that have been ping-ponging about the edgiest edges of the experimental pool for at least a decade. On 'Peach Blossom' he reduces his sound aesthetically while simultaneously pouring in more intellectual input; the music is stark but incredibly complex, demanding the listener zoom in and marvel at tiny obsessive details. Like the ancient Chinese fable it was named after, the album is beautiful and idealistic, but might just be a utopian delusion.