Martin Janicek (pronounced “Yanicheck”) had just returned from the International Looping Festival in Mexico City when I caught up with him at Malostraske Dvorky, an art and music exhibition in the Malostranske District of Prague. He was showing a pair of sound sculptures called “Sirens,” named after the mythical maidens who lured sailors to their death with their irresistibly beautiful songs.
One of the sculptures is primarily a percussion instrument, played by hitting it. The other is powered by electricity, and contains a number of literal sirens that can be played from a kind of keyboard mounted on it. In this short video Martin Janicek shows us his “Sirens” and explains how they came to be.
Martin explained to me that Malostranske Dvorky is an annual event in Prague that began in 1981, when the Czech Republic was still part of Czechoslovakia, and still behind the Iron Curtain. Private art exhibitions were forbidden under Soviet Communist rule, but artists and patrons organized Malostranske Dvorky as a decentralized event that took place outdoors in the yards of residential homes. Under Communist rule, all homes were considered public property, so residents could not be held responsible for what happened in their own back yard, nor could the public be denied access to them.
Artists used graffiti to alert interested patrons as to the locations of the exhibits by painting the symbol of a top hat on the gate or door leading to the exhibits. Today, Malostranske Dvorky remains a mostly outdoor, decentralized event. A program guide tells patrons a little about the participating artists, and provides a list of addresses, along with photos of the doors or gates behind which the exhibits can be found.
I recorded an interview with Martin Janicek for my radio show, Monday Morning Magazine on KMUD. Martin has an amazing new album on Meteorismo Records called “TOC” available as a limited edition box containing a 12″ vinyl disc, a 12″x12″ book with pictures of all of the sound sculptures heard on the record, plus a CD including all of the music on the vinyl record plus bonus tracks. You can also download a digital version of TOC from bandcamp.com. I love his music, and encourage you to give it a listen.