As you’ve probably heard, Electronic Beats’ festival returns to Prague‘s Divadlo Archa on April 13th, and this time we’re bringing Lana Del Rey, Karin Park, and Roosevelt with us. Tickets sold out in less than two days, but we have managed to set aside a lucky bunch for fans that are dying to go, but just weren’t quick enough.
To win a coveted pair of tickets to this event, join our competition on Facebook. It’s open until 8pm CET, March 14th, and we’ll notify the winners by email the next day.
Meet Vít Masare, urban activist and extremely nice guy, Auto*Mat. For this feature he is one of seven voices in our series of monologues on the city of Prague. Read more here.
Auto*Mat was founded in 2003 in response to the city government’s growing support of individual car traffic in Prague. As one of the team leaders, I’m responsible for external communication, lobbying, foreign relations, and, last but not least, the Critical Mass rides. Over the past ten years, the city’s efforts regarding transport have been focused on building the largest urban highway tunnel in Europe… right through the neighborhood of Blanka in the center of Prague. Construction of the massive, over-priced 6.4-kilometer behemoth has elicited allegations of corruption and completely stalled the urban development in the city for the past seven years. Indeed, it’s a twist of irony that in Czech, the word “to tunnel” means “to corrupt”. But perhaps even more ironic is that highway construction and car traffic will be the city’s main investments over the next few decades, despite the fact that we have one of the most developed public transportation systems in the world. The government’s focus on historical traffic patterns from Western European capitals is anachronistic—especially considering that most of these cities have begun to focus on the damage of car traffic, not its advantages.
Artists are at the core of Auto*Mat, with the initiative founded by filmmaker Martin Marecek in 2003. The whole idea sprang out of a documentary about public space and transport issues in the city. But of course Marecek wasn’t interested in merely documenting what was going on: he also wanted to change things. Auto*Mat the film was shot between 2003 and 2009, with artists, musicians, graffiti writers, painters and actors performing and creating in public spaces in order to call attention to the destructiveness of Prague’s transport policy. Aside from having won the Czech Documentary of the Decade Award, the film and our organization have effected real change over the past two years, with public opinion having risen from the bottom rung of political representation and a handful of new civic associations and initiatives sprouting up in its wake. As a result, we think the future in Prague is looking brighter.
This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 31 (Fall 2012).
Photo: Luci Lux
The juxtaposition of Prague’s Gothic fortresses with the concrete behemoths of socialist realism tell the story of a culture that has served multiple masters over the centuries—a history of dispossession that, in a sense, continues into today as an unrelenting surge of tourism. But despite the fact that city space and government funds often cater to the needs of visitors, Prague’s sub-cultural practitioners have found innovative ways of keeping the homegrown artistic pulse alive. There’s a long history here of both resistance and producing works of genius in the face of cold adversity. This creative current still runs through the city’s art and music scenes today. This is the first in a series of monologues, you can read the subsequent installments here.
05:45 am: A Moveable Feast—Breakfast on the train with Josef Kaltenecker, dining car head cook, Budapest – Hamburg
My name is Josef Kaltenecker, and for the last forty-five years now I’ve worked for the Hungarian railway’s catering company MÁV Utasellátó. I was a chef in various train stations in Hungary, but for the last twenty-seven years I’ve been working in dining car kitchens. At the moment, I’m the dining car chef on the route from Hamburg to Budapest, one of the main connections of West and East. Every time the train stops in Praha hlavní nádraží—Prague’s main station—I know that exactly half of the distance is behind us. My shift lasts fourteen and a half hours, during which I prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything on the menu I cook with my own hands in the small and extremely hot steel kitchen.
In the morning, one hour before departure, I prepare all the dishes that have to be ready during the lunchtime rush. I mix the dough for the egg noodles—Spätzle—and whenever an order comes in, all I have to do is rub the dough a bit and then place it into the boiling water with a noodle grater that’s served this kitchen for decades now. Plate for plate, I prepare everything individually. The same goes for the pancakes, the menu’s various omelets, the rice, the goulash, the pork chops, the soups, the coleslaw and the dumplings. Everything is done fresh and on the spot. If you’re well organized it’s not a big deal to offer this palette of food in a train kitchen—even if it’s more difficult to cook when the train is traveling at one hundred forty kilometers per hour with more than occasional bouts of turbulence. I’ve actually had to learn different ways of contorting my body to wedge between the cupboards and the workspace. Especially when chopping parsley or vegetables or when handling pots with boiling water you have to be sure that your body is fixed and immobile in the kitchen. You don’t learn such things in cooking school, but I consider it a tradition worth documenting. I’m not surprised how many guests always tell me that they appreciate our efforts to serve freshly cooked food. Of course, one of the reasons why they can tell me how much they appreciate their food is the fact that they can look into the kitchen. That’s a huge difference to, say, cooking in the restaurant in Budapest’s Nyugati Pályaudvar station, or “Budapest West” for short. There I would be stuck in the kitchen all night and wouldn’t see the face of a single guest.
As a dining car chef I’ve also learned that traveling by train can be a hypnotic experience. The repetitious rhythms of the train can lull you into daydreams. I also love the ever-changing sounds of the tracks. But the dining car is what I love the most. I would even call it an old European tradition. With my colleagues, I have professionally traveled fourteen countries and dozens of cities—Paris, Venice, Basel, Zurich, Hamburg, 87Berlin, Dortmund, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Salonika, Istanbul, Budapest . . . you name it. It’s a great gift to be allowed to travel to Greece and Turkey just because you serve or cook in a dining car. Of course, it’s a huge difference if you’re traveling to a country for holidays or if you get a day off in Istanbul after a long and exhausting train ride. For me, a day off in a foreign city always feels like the greatest reward.
I know many people for whom traveling with the train is like a philosophy. Especially within Europe where the distances are short, train travel can be a kind of calming experience. For instance, taking a train from Vienna or Munich or Berlin to Prague seems to be the only sensible thing to do. I wouldn’t even think to consider taking a plane. It’s all about pace and how you experience distances. If you leave the train and enter Prague’s main station, you are in the heart of the city. If you arrive with a plane however, you’ll find yourself at an airport some fifty kilometers outside the city.
I don’t understand why they don’t cook the food anymore in old-fashioned dining car kitchens nowadays. In large parts of Europe, you will only get precooked, standardized convenience food, warmed up in a microwave without any love. Honestly, I could cry when I think of this. It’s such a different, inhuman concept, and, regrettably, I fear that this old tradition of serving freshly cooked food on the tracks will one day even disappear along the eastern European routes. In Hungary, if you’re lucky, you can even find old dining cars where the chefs still cook with gas stoves. Sometimes it even happens that there’s a power failure—a total blackout. Usually when this happens, you can smoke a cigarette in the kitchen and wait until the electricity is back. But with the old trains it’s different: you might be forced to light a candle to see, but you can still cook on the gas stove.
Another important difference to cooking in a restaurant is that you have to not only beware of how the train is moving, but also how you’re stocked for supplies.You can’t simply send out someone to get you a pack of salt if there’s none left. You have to anticipate everything, because the train’s going to keep moving. That’s why I’m permanently jotting down notes. The last thing I always do before the train approaches its final destination in Budapest Keleti, Berlin Hauptbahnhof or Hamburg Altona is pick up the phone and place the order for the next day. And then, when I’ve shut down everything, I walk out into the night to the hotel where I stay with the crew. Except in Budapest of course, where I will drive home in my car and sleep in my own bed. I imagine that this lifestyle wouldn’t suit everybody.
This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 31 (Fall 2012)
Photo: Luci Lux
It would be fair to say that Tomáš Dvo?ák, aka Floex, is one of a doyens of the Czech electronic scene. He started playing and composing 15 years ago combining his love for music with an affinity for visual arts and multimedia performance. A graduate of the Academy of Arts in Prague, Tomáš Dvo?ák has created a wide array of soundtracks and installations. His sophomore album Zorya – ten years since his debut LP Pocustone – was released this September.
You have a new album out. Can you describe the idea behind it?
Actually it’s a pretty long story since my previous album Pocustone was released ten years ago. In the meantime I mostly worked on some of my multimedia art performances and two soundtracks. When I’m going through the album it is a very special feeling because of the memories and emotions associated with it. I like to tell stories trough my tunes. Not surprisingly these often come from my life.
Could you tell us more about some of these stories/songs?
For example ‘Veronika’s Dream’ is about the dreams of my friend Veronika who is also the person behind the album’s artwork. She has an incredible imagination and always tells me about her dreams. This one is about very dark, kind of subconscious forest where the main character is chased by dogs. Eventually she flies away to a silver meadow where she hopes to have some rest but the dogs find her again. Maybe she will be able to tame them?
‘Forget-me-not’ draws from the time when I lived in Hungary. I remember the gray streets and old houses of Budapest, the very specific atmosphere of the city and the people. The song is melancholic but ends rather ecstatically.
‘Casanova’ on the other hand alludes to the time when I fell in love with a girl and was trying to seduce her. I’m not very good with these things. I went to a library and accidentally found Casanova’s biography there.
The album’s title Zorya is inspired by old Slavic mythology.
I found the character Zorya Polunochnaya in Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods about gods who live among us. I named one short song after her on the album.
In particular, there is a story of two sisters who come to speak to the main character but you never see them together. Only later I realized that the whole thing comes from Slavic mythology. This god changes her identity through day and night. I believe the album has a melancholic, deep atmosphere. Something what I feel when I look at stars or the moon. Also I think it is quite “Slavic” in terms of emotions. So the name is particularly inspired by the night metamorphosis of Zorya – Zorya Polunochnaya.
In terms of sound – how did you integrate electronics and acoustics and how did you record it?
I think microphone is one of my most used tools in the studio. I like to combine both elements – the acoustic and electronic together whose borders are often not apparent.
You have been around for many years on the Czech music scene. How do you perceive its development in time and your place in it?
I think there was a kind of empty space four or five years ago, but now interesting things are happening again. Often the new projects originate in the visual art scene. It’s a shame that there is not more recognition from the cultural centers like Berlin or London for the Central and Eastern European scenes. That’s what I find good about the EB initiative as it is trying to give some space to these places. I guess we are still fighting with the syndromes of cultural periphery with all its pros and cons. The scene is small, it is more of a domain of “solitairs” which has a tradition in our cultural history but you may be surprised by how interesting the music being made is here at the moment. Check out acts like DVA, Dikolson, Juanita Juarez, Fiordmoss, Table, EOST to name a few.
What about the development of electronic scene in general over the last decade?
This has been a really exciting period, hasn’t it? I haven’t ever really looked for certain styles and general tendencies in music. I’ve always rather looked for individualities or people who work with certain styles and current trends but turn things upside down, like Burial or Vladislav Delay. However I can see an important movement towards performance and musicality – the technology is just viewed more as an instrument than something that should bring salvation on its own.
Can you say something about your art and multimedia activities?
I like to experiment with other possibilities of how music can be made and performed. Especially during the time that I studied at the Academy Of Visual Arts here in Prague I made several multimedia performances and installations. In spite of the fact that the context was quite different, for me it was always about music in the first place.
One of the works “Crossroad” used colours of cars on the crossroad to generate music in real time. In the other I used special flashlights, which could emit basic colours of the spectrum – red, green, blue – to let people shine on the stage screen, mix the colours and create new ones. In this way they could create music together with us.
Right now I’m focusing more on the music in its “classical” form, however I’m planning some new shows in the beginning of next year – a performance called Live Score – a cooperation with Czech artist Tomáš Van?k. We basically use big pieces of paper, sprays and stencils or even bubbles to work with live electronics. ?
What about your imminent and long-term plans?
At the moment I’m working on the concert version of my new album and I formed a small band. Our first concert is on October 27th at the Akropolis in Prague. The show will be based around possibilities of monophonic instruments in live performance.
I’m also working on a remix for the Scottish band Hidden Orchestra which will be released on 7th of November on Tru-Thoughts, and a special EP with the aforementioned Prague-based project Dikolson as well as a collaboration with Amanita Design.