PRES Cheatsheet: Four Giants from Poland's Legendary Music Studio
Looking to understand the big names from the Polish Radio Experimental Studio? Below you'll find short summaries by music journalists about Penderecki, Schaeffer, Rudnik and Mazurek that'll make you a PRES know-it-all in no time.
Krzysztof Penderecki: History Has Come Full Circle
A look at the famous Polish composer’s erratic yet prophetic relationship with electronic music.
In the 1960s, Krzysztof Penderecki, one of the most distinguished composers of our time, was a frequent guest of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio. In the ‘black room’ (as its headquarters were popularly called) on Malczewski Street, he met a young sound engineer, his contemporary Eugeniusz Rudnik, with whom he quickly made friends. Rudnik turned out to be an irreplaceable buddy, but also the de facto musical realiser of Penderecki’s ideas. The latter – though aware of the possibilities for experimentation afforded by the studio – at first kept his distance from it.
Having suffered an electric shock in his youth, Penderecki had a fear of electricity, so he stayed far away from tape recorders. It was Rudnik who was his guide in the world of electronics. When the composer, busy with other commissions, did not have time to finish one himself, he would dial the studio’s phone number, saying the magic words: ‘Genio, help!’
Penderecki never hid the fact that he treated his work at the Experimental Studio as an income source, though he was curious about what technology would contribute to his ideas. In the first half of the 1960s, he created nearly 30 illustrations for film (documentaries and animated films, as well as Wojciech Jerzy Has’ The Manuscript Found in Saragossa) and for theatre. In 1961, he wrote his first independent electronic work entitled Psalmus. In 1963, he wrote a radio opera – panned by the critics for its literalism – entitled Death Brigade, based on the diary of a Jewish man named Leon Weliczker.
In 1972, Penderecki wrote electronic music for the opening ceremony of the Munich Olympics. He prepared two works – Aulodía (not utilised) and Ekecheíria (Greek for ‘peace’; to the text of Pindar’s ode to Apollo about Olympia and the first games), which was heard on 26th August at the Olympic stadium.
Penderecki flirted with the Experimental Studio: he threw himself into a whirl of work, and then abandoned it. This was no limitless admiration of technology, but rather rational utilisation of the means given to him. The sessions with Rudnik, which would be difficult to call ‘just work’, were of colossal significance to his scores from the 1960s. He transferred his experiences – with multitracks, oscilloscopes, rough montage, electronic voice transformations, and sound processing of acoustic instruments – to his writing of works such as Threnody, Polymorphia, De Natura Sonoris and Passion.
In the 1970s, Penderecki loosened his ties to the Electronic Studio. His move toward Neo-Romanticism and return to tradition were at cross-purposes with radio experiments. But in turn it was young DJs who decided to return to them. In 2012, the duo Skalpel (who work with the Ninja Tune label) made use of samples from early Penderecki to prepare sound collages for the Sacrum Profanum Festival. From their laptops, Igor Pudło and Marcin Cichy launched something on which Penderecki and Rudnik had spent weeks.
History had come full circle.
Written by Jacek Hawryluk, Polish Radio
Bogusław Schaeffer: What We Do Here Is Not Experimentation
When a visionary polymath joined forces with the Polish Radio Experimental Studio, the results were more than just an experiment.
A Renaissance man, a humanist, a representative of the post-war avant-garde of all persuasions – Bogusław Schaeffer’s circle of interests included music, literature, philosophy, theatre and visual arts. If that wasn’t enough, he was also a teacher, music writer, essayist, stage director, and publisher. In his own way, a complete artist in whom numerous fascinations intersect (especially theatre and music).
Schaeffer arrived at the Polish Radio Experimental Studio in the mid-1960s and worked closely with the studio for ten years. In Warsaw, he created seventeen stand-alone works, as well as many theatre and film illustrations.
What was the studio to him? He explained:
A workshop for extraordinarily interesting compositional work, for – the name (Experimental Studio) notwithstanding – what we do here is not experimentation, but simply creation. In writing a work on paper, we don’t ‘hear’ everything; working in the studio, I am always monitoring by ear not only the result, but also the path leading to it; here, what we do is both composition and realisation at the same time – an impossibility in other fields of music.
So Schaeffer listened – to himself and others. In Assemblages I–III (1966), he himself recorded 150 pre-notated ‘emotivographs’: that is, sounds of an 8-string violin – nota bene of his own construction – and piano, in order to later subject them to electronic processing. In Electronic Symphony (1966), he left room for the sound engineer (Bohdan Mazurek) to display his skills, thereby becoming not only its performer, but indeed its co-author. In his work entitled Heraklitiana (1970), musicians of various specialisations play – in over a dozen versions – for the prepared tape (the composer also drew up variants for an actor and a painter). In Schaeffer’s work, everything was to be fluid and ambiguous. Music was a peculiar sort of theatre. A play between its creator and the performer.
A visionary, Schaeffer ran well into the future with his concepts. He felt that his experiments would have a second life. He was not mistaken. If ‘polyversional compositions’ could evoke astonishment and incomprehension in the 1960s, today they appear to be something obvious. For Schaeffer did not enclose his ideas in the musical staff; quite the contrary, he encouraged performers to reinterpret and make variants of them. Instead of a final, closed ‘definitive structure’, he gave permission for freedom and creativity.
Thus Schaeffer found at the Experimental Studio what he liked the most – complete creative freedom. He composed and immediately deconstructed; he combined and broke down into prime factors. In his case, however, these processes did not result from negation – quite the contrary, from intoxication with technology. An incorrigible optimist, a man of many talents for whom the studio was a tool of which he made very conscious use.
What links him with Pierre Schaeffer is, concretely, musique concrète.
Written by Jacek Hawryluk, Polish Radio
Eugeniusz Rudnik: Hip-Hop Country Boy
Was hip-hop actually invented in 1950s Poland? Here’s a look at the cut-and-paste music one straight-talking man started creating out of sheer boredom.
It could seem to the creators of hip-hop that they invented the formula for recycling in music, utilising ready-made sound material. Not true. A large part of the oeuvre of Eugeniusz Rudnik (1932–2016) from the end of the 1950s was based on the reuse of various types of archival materials to build characteristic text-sound compositions which he himself called ‘sound shows’ or ‘sound-word’.
I became possessed by the physicality of the tape. I suddenly held the sound in my hands.
This was how Rudnik described his point of departure as an artist. Having previously been a soldier and miner, he started out as an administrative employee at Polish Radio only to go on to become a co-creator of the legendary Experimental Studio. It is here that he, a self-taught country boy from Nadkole (he finished his degree at the Warsaw University of Technology much later in 1967, already a known producer) introduced his contemporaries, great composers including such luminaries as Krzysztof Penderecki and Arne Nordheim, to the world of new possibilities brought by technology.
At the same time, he was constructing his own collages – full of emotion and juxtaposing a plane of childlike, down-to-earth naïveté with the brutal plane of history (as in the pioneering Lesson, 1959-1965), and avant-garde means of expression with an idyllic vision of the countryside (as in his later work Dzięcielina Pałała, 2010). It was out of boredom, he claimed, that he created his first multi-version and quadrophonic compositions.
Rudnik’s oeuvre brings in references to Dadaism, but he often progresses from sound play to the world of language creation (so, too, does he catalogue short fragments of tapes with sounds). His work contains a bit of the atmosphere from Stanisław Lem’s literature, in which everyday triviality often rubs shoulders with philosophical genius, and tales of technology turn into humanist reflections. They were brought together – at the beginning of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio’s history – by Rudnik’s work on the film Silent Star (1959), which was an adaptation of Lem’s Astronauts, and later on Pilot Pirx’s Test (1978).
Breaking through the stereotype of cold, inhuman technology seemed to be one of the primary intentions of Rudnik, who on the one hand treated himself as an automaton (he mentioned having been a ‘tapecutter’, having cut up 15,000 kilometres of tape over his lifetime); on the other, in a documentary film by Zuzanna Solakiewicz entitled 15 Corners of the World, he said, ‘I wanted to humanise, warm up, tame those electronics.’
Through his life story – through his continual distance, his simple approach to life (as a country boy, he grew potatoes with a passion) and modesty – he certainly did exactly that.
Written by Bartek Chaciński, Polityka
Bohdan Mazurek: Realisation & Creation
Despite often being associated with childhood fairy-tale nostalgia, Bohdan Mazurek’s music was inspired by the real events that surrounded him.
Bohdan Mazurek (1937–2014) arrived at the Polish Radio Experimental Studio as a meticulously-educated sound engineer with skills in playing many traditional instruments. His work no doubt remains the closest to a certain global experience of the generation that had contact with experimental music in their childhood. Just as British youth grew up on the music from Doctor Who and the sound setting prepared by BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Polish youth would years later, on a wave of sentiment, return to Mazurek’s sound effects from the Mr. Kleks film series from the 1980s. They also knew various interludes and sound signals from radio and television programmes composed by him (analogous work in the United States was performed, for instance, by Suzanne Ciani, and in France by Bernard Parmegiani).
Mazurek, holding the post of ‘electronic music realisation specialist’ at the Experimental Studio, took upon himself – as did Eugeniusz Rudnik – a part of the creative process during the preparation of works by the various composers who worked there, initially creating his own works after hours. Mazurek’s extraordinarily expressive works – similarly to, for example, the output of Morton Subotnick or Ciani – give the impression of contact with living matter. At the same time, these refined textures drowning in echoes are confronted with raw noise (for instance, in one of his oldest works – Bozzetti, 1967). In both areas, these compositions have practically not aged, despite the fact that the instrumentation available at the Warsaw studio differed strongly from the one available in the 1960s, for instance, to composers at the San Francisco Tape Music Center (where Subotnick was active), which was equipped with Don Buchla’s first modular system at the time – the creation of which the California studio had been involved in.
In Mazurek’s work, one can hear the imagination and sensitivity to timbre that impressed his more popular contemporaries who created synthesizer music, as well as artistry in utilising effects and building of sound planes, and even psychedelic elements. His original compositions were often accompanied, at the same time, by inspirations flowing out of concrete images and events – on the one hand, the atmosphere of his beloved Tatra Mountains (Sinfonia Rustica, 1970); and on the other, the death of Czech student Jan Palach from self-immolation after the armed suppression of the Prague Spring (Epitaph, 1969).
It seems that beneath his original concepts and craftsmanship are hidden human stories and emotions.
Written by Bartek Chaciński, Polityka
All four texts were translated by the Polska 100 programme & edited by AZ, Nov 2017
To learn more about Poland's incredible electronic music legacy, take a look at our Multimedia Guide to Polish Electronic Music by clicking the image below: