A profile on Prague based record label and music community Genot Centre and its series of sleepover concerts, hosted in collaboration with Radio Wave and Divadlo Ponec.
“When we’re asleep, hearing is our strongest sense.” Ondřej Lasák and Belgian native Wim Dehaen, the founders of record label and music community Genot Centre, are talking about the effect sound can have on one’s sleep. “If you hear a song you know while sleeping, you’ll usually wake up. On the other hand, the same is not true of smell,” Lasák notes. These are facts the two founders have picked up over the last two years while hosting Silent_Night, a series of sleepover concerts that take place at the Ponec Theatre in partnership with Radio Wave. Despite being best known for these concerts, Genot Centre is more than their coordination of such events suggests, just as Silent_Night is more than just sleeping at a concert.
Genot Centre is associated with drone and ambient music, a genre which, according to Dehaen, they consistently “try to subvert.” By probing and challenging the definitions of what drone and ambient music are commonly thought to be, Lasák and Dehaen are always open to new collaborations. “We’re guided by emotion,” says Lasák, “We always try to find something with some kind of pathos or melody, something that people can hold on to. This way, we make it accessible to those who normally wouldn’t listen to this kind of music or go to this type of concert.”
Indeed, for Genot Centre, this is the audience that most interests them, described by Dehaen as “the curious listener,” for whom context is crucial. “If you just explain a little bit about what the artist is doing, or trying to do, what kind of gear they’re using and so on, people will be more tuned in, because they’ll have some background to understand it,” says Lasák. In the same way, Dehaen notes that it’s important to create “a certain frame” of reference, so that no matter what kind of listener you are, “you’re in the ideal condition to listen to this kind of music.” Silent_Night doesn’t just put people on a bed and play some music, it gives them the opportunity to be comfortable in a way that allows them to focus. “It isn’t that they’re in the office and something is just playing in the background while they make a spreadsheet,” muses Dehaen. “It’s an environment that truly lets you hear the music.”
Photo by Ľubica Martincová
Though Genot Centre is most visible on the Prague alternative scene for its concerts, it began as a label and a vehicle for putting out music. Percival Pembroke, a British musician and producer, was the label’s first release. Most of Genot Centre’s releases, with the exception of Ostrava-based Lišaj, have focused on artists from abroad. Despite this, events and releases hosted by Genot Centre clearly illustrate a desire to combine the international scene with the local one, not only with regard to musicians, but also visual artists. Among those who are considered to be part of Genot Centre’s broader circle are: Nikola Logosová, who has designed all the Silent_Night posters and cover art for two releases; Tereza Bartůňková, the mastermind behind Silent_Night’s scenography; Kateřina Blahutová a.k.a. DVDJ NNS, who has worked on covers and videos for the label; Adéla Kudlová and Šimon Levitner, regular VJs at Genot Centre related events; and Zdeněk Růžička and Daniel Vojtíšek, for graphic and cover design. Most recently, Reaper Death Seal Corporation has created a virtual reality game environment for Genot Centre’s latest release, r.bit by Dane Law.
All of Genot Centre’s releases have been put out on limited edition cassettes, complete with original artwork. Cassettes are, and will remain, an obvious choice for the Genot Centre. “We will never do vinyl,” says Lasák, “We don’t like the nostalgia culture associated with it.” For Dehaen and Lasák, cassettes have an accessibility that vinyl doesn’t. CDs, while accessible, are, as Dehaen puts it, “just data carriers.” Although audio quality can be arguably better on CDs, for Dehaen giving a CD to someone is just like “sending them a link.” For Lasák, the situation is even more serious, “I associate CDs with the downfall of the music industry.”
Arriving at Silent_Night
There have been many experiments involving long term exposure to audio. The Placard Headphone Festival provides listeners with a new level of intimacy, delivering performances to headphones for an experience simultaneously private and shared. The concept even allows for remote performances via streaming. Since its initiation, the concept has grown, with similar concerts being held in Prague. In 2012, The Školská 28 Gallery held its own Le Placard concert event, with 12 hours of live sound performance. Similarly, in 2013 the same gallery held another headphone concert, this time for eight hours, called Meziuchy (Between the Ears).”
La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s “Dream House,” in operation from 1979-85 in New York, incorporated visual as well as auditory stimuli with sound and light installations spanning six floors of an old mercantile building. Although this original dream house came to an end in the eighties, in 1993 a new version has been created. The house remains open from 2 PM to midnight and invites visitors to “floor-lounge, immersively listen and meditate” and perhaps even sleep.
Sleep concerts specifically were pioneered by Robert Rich, an ambient electronic music composer who started hosting them in the 1980s. In 1986, after falling ill and no longer being able to stay up all night, Rich stopped organizing and playing at sleep concerts. Ten years later he was invited to perform sleep concerts over radio at the University of California at Irvine. In 2001, Rich tried to close the project down definitively by producing the Somnium DVD, consisting of ten hours of music, which gave listeners the opportunity to host their own sleep concerts. In spite of this, Rich returned to the scene to host the first live sleep concert in over ten years at the Unsound Festival in Kraków, Poland in 2014. Jarda Petřik from Radio Wave happened to be there and, impressed by the experience, contacted the fellows at Genot Centre about the idea of hosting a similar series in Prague.
In an interview with Fact Magazine Rich talks about accessing that “strange liminal zone between sleep and wakefulness” where “the music becomes a thread of consciousness, where you can sort of guide yourself into a state of half-sleep and notice the way that your brain shifts perceptions into an internal world.” It’s this sweet spot between sleeping and wakefulness that Silent_Night tries to hit.
Although space at sleep concerts is necessarily limited, Silent_Night partly gets around this problem by splitting the event into two parts, a pre-sleepover concert precedes the actual sleepover event. The 40 tickets for the sleepover often sell out, but an additional 30 tickets give listeners a chance to enjoy two acts in the Ponec Theatre auditorium, pouring out each performer’s intricate sounds at what newcomers may find to be a surprisingly subdued volume. Indeed, the whole atmosphere is one of pervasive calm, with experience bringing wisdom as to how to create such an environment. After each sleepover, breakfast is served in the theatre café, and Lasák and Dehaen try to talk to everyone for a sense of what they can do better. After the first edition, a sleep scientist told the two organizers that blue light actually keeps you up, because it is part of the spectrum of daylight, as well as computers and video screens in general. Now Silent_Night is lit by an array of red and pink lights glowing through subtle fog, drifting discreetly out of a machine. For this edition, Tereza Bartůňková, the scenographer for Silent_Night, outfitted the stage with a row of glowing crystals pulsating dreamily in and out of sight throughout the evening.
While no more Silent_Nights are planned for this spring, Genot Centre is by no means going into hibernation. Lasák and Dehaen are on the lookout for special places to create an unforgettable and, above all, appropriate concert environment. Coming up on 25 March, they have nailed a unique new space, a Cubist chapel in Žižkov. Here they will host, in cooperation with Radio Wave, a “séance” concert as part of the multi-genre festival Žižkovská Noc. Headliners include: Organ Tapes (UK), Lišaj (CZ), and iku (DE).
Genot Centre also has a string of new releases coming up, this time with Czech artists such as Jara Tarnovski, Izanasz and Enchanted Lands. This shift towards putting out local artists rather than ones from abroad is a testament to the name Genot Centre has built for itself in the Czech Republic. After two years of event organization and international releases, Genot Centre has built a reputation local artists trust. Through its desire to supersede set labels and stereotypes about drone and ambient music, Genot Centre has created a space on the Prague alternative scene that remains open and continues to expand while promoting a sense of collaboration and community.
by Ewelina Chiu