Each year in December, the city of Gdansk, Poland hosts the SpaceFest music festival, which showcases the best of the space-rock/post-rock/psych-rock/shoegaze genres. An annual fixture at SpaceFest is the live performance of Pure Phase Ensemble, a revolving-door collective of invited musicians who workshop original songs together to play during the music fest. Pure Phase Ensemble is directed each time by Ray Dickaty, an improvisational saxophonist who was a member of notable bands like Spiritualized, Moonshake, and Gallon Drunk, and current projects like Solar Fire Trio, Infant Joy Quintet, and Noise of Wings, as well as Karol Schwarz of KSAS (Karol Schwarz All Stars), who also runs Nasiono Records and is an organizer of SpaceFest.
This past December, Mark Gardener of Ride was invited to co-direct the fourth incarnation of Pure Phase Ensemble. In previous years, artists like Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab), Chris Olley (Six By Seven), Steve Hewitt (ex Placebo), and Jaime Harding (Marion) have sat in the director’s chair. Joining Ray, Karol, and Mark were several talented musicians from Poland (Jacek Rezner and Kamil Hordyniec of Wilga, Michal Pydo of Hatfnats, and Michal ‘Kostek’ Stolc of Cisza Nocna). Together as Pure Phase Ensemble 4, they created 7 songs in only 4 short days, which were performed at the end of SpaceFest, including the mesmerizing track “Notatki”. As Ray recounts, “It was a joy to be part of this past year’s Pure Phase Ensemble and, really, the songs suggested and almost wrote themselves as we met and started to play together.” Mark concurred, stating “It was a great week! The atmosphere was fun and that was important for me, because what’s the point of making music with people if it’s not a fun and relaxed process?”
“Notatki” is a lengthy song, clocking in at over 15 minutes, which takes its time to build to an intense, post-rock finale, but the total ride is definitely worth it. As can be seen in the video, the live atmosphere is focused and electric with anticipation as the 7 members grace the stage with 3 (and eventually 4) guitars, keyboards, synths, a flute (later switched to saxophone), and drumkit. They tune in at the start with a relaxed percussive groove that slides into a faster pace a few minutes in. Ray’s flute notes hover over the shaken and stirred guitar notes, softly pulsing electronics, and drum beat to then fuse with the emergence of Mark’s lightly drawn out vocal tone.
Karol soon comes in, sing-talking in a more urgent, exclamatory tone, contrasting with Mark’s winding vocal delivery. A hypnotic, pushing rhythm takes over as the song continues, progressively increasing in intensity 7 minutes in with a driving rhythm, more prominent guitar riff, and crashed cymbals. A comedown lull follows quickly and briefly before the song takes off at the 10-minute mark, propelled by a whirling tempo and ringing guitar lines. Mark’s droning vocals materialize again in more dramatic fashion as Ray jumps in with expressive saxophone pulls. The band plays against a projected images backdrop and is bathed in colored lights that flash strongly as the song reaches its peak. The live performance of “Notatki” is highly absorbing and it’s easy to appreciate what the band members have created specifically for the SpaceFest event.