Pop Pick & Mix

Enticing curio from Piotr Peszat on the Polish Bolt Records label…his Music for Culture Wars: Songs from PenderSZATch (BR 2003) was recorded at the Cracow Sacrum Profanum festival in 2020, which organisation also commissioned the work. The Spoldzielnia Muzyczna contemporary ensemble are credited – there’s strings and woodwinds, everything you’d expect from a chamber group, although mostly what we hear on the record is a confusing melange of samples and electronic music, including many fragments of disembodied voices, and it’s only by track 4 do proceedings settle down – more or less – to take shape as art songs performed to wistful musical backdrops.

Composer Peszat is trying to create his own take on the “choose-your-own” adventure format, apparently inspired by the Netflix movie Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, and possibly by modern television culture where viewers cast votes on competition participants (who do everything from dancing to baking cakes). He’s also thinking of those interactive video games where you can choose weapons, superpowers, costume, physical characteristics and such like from a menu, until you not only overpower your enemies and conquer the imaginary virtual world, but also meet the virtual partner of your dreams and live happily ever after. Even the title of this modern opera PenderSZATch is part of the scheme – it’s a compound of his own real name, his stage name Pender, and the Bandersnatch from said movie. Besides the voices, samples, weird electronics and chamber music, there are attempts at hip hop music, references to Eurovision in the 1990s, and social media hashtags…apparently all of this content is autobiographical, referring directly to the creator’s own life as a modern composer in Krakow, and (assuming he is somewhat uncertain about his career choices) it invites the listener to choose the outcome of his life’s story. Along the way, there are scraps of quotes regarding “pop culture and politics, as well as social, church and festival life”.

Mostly in Polish, so I can’t say for sure how effective all of this is, but you certainly sense he is managing to tell a story in sound across these 12 episodes, each track titled like a chapter, and he works efficiently, with the economy of a miniaturist. Intriguing and unusual, intelligent work. From 12 April 2022.