Kuba Kapsa Ensemble: Vantdraught 10 Vol. 1

There’s a strange place out there, a place just out of reach, a place that particular music nerds search for and that certain adventurous musicians seek, a place where post-rock and contemporary classical meet, a place where they become one, a place where this peculiar blend of genres doesn’t bland out and dissolve into muzak and background inoffensiveness. Kuba Kapsa Ensemble have found that place and planted their flag. The brainchild of Polish pianist, composer and soundtrack artist Kuba Kapsa (former leader of the weird-jazz outfit Contemporary Noise Sextet), Vantdraught 10 Vol. 1 is written for a mini-orchestra of ten classical instruments – four vKKEiolins, two violas, cello, vibraphone, marimba and piano. It is, in Kapsa’s own words, “largely based on a repetition of individual melodic motifs, which are also quite multithreaded within a given composition. The common feature of every composition is symmetry, which has been applied to almost every aspect – rhythm, harmony, motifs and themes.”

So far, so cold and dry and typical of the minimalist school of contemporary classical music. And such appropriate terms these are for post-rock, as well. However, Kuba Kapsa Ensemble have achieved so much more than just another aloof and intellectual exercise in repetition, layering and symmetry. With Vantdraught 10 Vol. 1, they have broken through the rigid iciness that minimalist classical and post-rock can throw up between themselves and the listener.

Vantdraught 10 Vol. 1 moved me. It made me feel something. The cyclic nature of the layered strings and the repetitive patterns of the vibraphone, marimba and piano never become ends to themselves – they don’t just chase each other around and around as if engaged in some kind of musical game, but work together to create heavily textured soundscapes that overflow with feeling and emotion. Sudden changes in the format/structure of the cycles and repetitions – from major to minor, from staccato and pizzicato to long and drawn out, from fast to slow, from frenetic to gentle, and so on – occur numerous times throughout each piece. Beginning with only one instrument (or sub-group of instruments), these sudden changes quickly affect all of the other instruments and instrumental sub-groups, the musical and emotional change spreading like ripples in water.

It is both jarring and organic. It is somehow right. Perhaps this is due to Kapsa’s background as a soundtrack artist and composer. After all, music for films is all about aurally conveying a specific emotion in a restricted amount of time. However, the real difference between the “usual” type of soundtrack music and the music on Vantdraught 10 Vol. 1, the difference that seems to underlie and serve as a foundation for Kapsa’s intent, is that he has given his ensemble room to breathe and time to explore. What they have created aren’t the small-scale or micro-compositions so typical of modern film music, but are instead lengthy enough that the ensemble can really work through a number of different emotional spaces within each particular piece. The result is beautiful, as if an entire aural film unspools for us, again and again and again and again.

(Originally published on Cyclic Defrost, 19/4/2015)

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