The year in music had a lot to offer. It was the Kolberg year and Poland celebrated its folk music heritage, Requiem Records revived recordings by Kirkut-Koncept, field recordings became a national obsession and Bôłt records dug up the recordings of Miron Białoszewski plays Adam Mickiewicz Dziady and brought it out.
Even when we restrict ourselves to specific genres, our favourite music labels, the music of a specific country, or to what is on the radio currently, music is hard to keep up with. What's even harder than keeping up is remembering everything and even listening to everything. Listening to bits and pieces is an option, but it's a disgrace to the days, weeks and sometimes years, that the musicians spent on creating the music.
Three minutes on facebook - information about four new albums and five concerts; more than ten minutes reading Twitter feeds - a couple dozen new songs, a walk to a café to meet up with friends - a concert that we decided to go to last minute. And so on, what about work, walking the dog, feeding the cats, listening to our favourite album from 30 years ago, meeting with friends and being social? Well that's the trouble. And after all music doesn't grow on trees but is created in truly complex social/ political/ economic/ ecological/ cultural/ aesthetic contexts. And is rather difficult to understand without understanding the reality around us.
In conclusion, there's little time left to listen to music. Maybe that's not all that bad because constantly listening to tunes composed by people could cause headaches. It's better to use our ears as radars that catch the most interesting sounds - full songs or at least shorter extracts. Below you will find 10 such snippets (in almost alphabetical order) of contemporary Polish music which, according to me, are representative of 2014.
1. Musical Białoszewski
The words, rhythms and sounds of the surrounding. How would I define the audiovisual work of Miron Białoszewski (1922-1983) in one sentence? Those moments in which words begin to replace rhythm and sounds acquire semantic value of the words spoke by the poet. The lighthouse keeper from the concrete monolith bought his first a cassette recorder in 1965, but his voice and his experimental languo-musical sounds are only reaching us now. That's mainly due to the fact that Białoszewski only recorded for his own use, sometimes for friends. Only a small group of researchers knew about his recordings. They only reached the wider public two years ago when Bôłt records dug up the recordings and brought out Miron Białoszewski plays Adam Mickiewicz Dziady.
This year another more of Białoszewski's recordings came out. Bôłt released a six volume set of albums. On the four album anthology Białoszewski do słuchu, for the first time, listeners were be able to hear his improvised but well-thought-out interpretations side by side with recordings by the poets (from Osmędeusze at the Teatr Osobny to Chamowo and his last poems). Also in the radio dramas by Patryk Zakrocki (violinist, improviser from Warsaw) and Marcin Staniszewski (from the band Beneficjenci Splendoru) and at some improvisations by Mikrokolektyw. The latter band is characterised by a search for their own language, inspired by Białoszewski's recordings but not approaching them as the main source of sound.
For the second time during the monumental electroaccounstic soirée and poetry slam written by the Lithuanian composed Arturas Bumšteinas (Wielka improwizacja, they used Dziady read by Miron). For the third time on the mini-album Biało by Asia Mina (Bôłt and Mik Musik cooproduction, brought out on cassette, CD and digital format). On it, the artist reviewed Miron's poetry in her own, rather heavy songs and shabby synthesisers. This last interpretation is particularly interesting because it shows Białoszewski in a new light – the poet becomes a pop singer who could perform together with Scott Walker (interestingly, Asia Mina isn't the only vocalist on her album, she is accompanied by the voice/ singing of Białoszewski).
2. The national mania of Field Recording
Field Recordings (called so because the recordings are done out of the studio) are anchored in 19th century traditions. That's when Thomas Edison invented the phonogram and revolutionised human perception. In the beginning field recordings served as tools of scientific for gathering data – recordings the sound of endangered languages, storing the sound of folk music. After World War II, field recordings became one of the components of electronic music, which was bloseming at the time. At the turn of the 70s and 80s, thanks to the fact that recording sound became easier, such recordings started to creep into popular and experimental music (and widely used in industrial music). Finally, in experimental music, Field Recording became a separate and hermetic musical genre, one that is mainly based of noises recorded outside (best field recording musicians include Chris Watson, Jacob Kirkegaard, Francisco Lopez, Steve Roden, Fennesz).
The genre is not only hermetic but also niche and rarely reaching anyone outside experimental music fans. In recent years, the style has been gaining popularity in Poland (of course the phenomenon is not new, field recordings have been a part of the experimental current in Poland since the 80s). The first field recording hit was Lutto Lento's cassette Duch gór (and his subsequent releases). The narration was based on strange recordings from trips. Then there were the mysterious recordings of Bolesław Wawrzyn. Legend has it that he is a retired miner who hates it when people call him an artist. He records landscape sounds of old military cemeteries, concentration camps, places of mass execution. Wawrzyn recently "came out" and said that his real name is Michał Turowski, he currently lives in Warsaw and has an independent music label. This revelation is for me one of the saddest pieces of news related to music in 2014: why kill the legend?
Among other field recording artists are Tomasz Mirta, who in 2014 released the album Khmer & Siam Recordings – a very dense postcard from Thailand and Cambodia which makes the sounds of nature and culture seem exotic.
3. Kirkut-Koncept, a reminder of history
History began in 1964 and lasts to this day. 1964 is the birthyear of Ireneusz Socha (today he is a compser and head of of Dembitzer Music recording label). He was born into a musical family. He would listen to old vinyls (ones that spinned at the dizzying speed of 78 turns), the bugle-call from St. Mary's Basilica transmitted onver the radio. He would then switch over to another station to listen to Entertainment Replays. A couple of years later he became fascinated by rock music, and the microphone. It became clear to him that he could be recording music as well.
Socha lived in Dębica, a place known to music fans as the birthplace of Krzysztof Penderecki. Apart from Penderecki and Socha, before the war, there were Jews living there – but after the war all that was left was the kirkut, a Jewish cemetary which Socha saw from his window. In fact it was no longer a cemetary but a field with strange sculpted moulds. Local boys and among them Ireneusz would play football there. A couple of time he saw a group of Orthodox Jews who came to visit the graves of their ancestors. And that's how he became interested in Jewish culture.
The first concert the ephemeral group Kirkut-Koncept took place in 1986. The band's members were always changing (Ireneusz Socha, Arkadiusz Franczak, Marek Ciskała). The band's first recordings are very chaotic, practically lacking structure, though with a concept. Socha recalls,
We wanted to audience to hear out anger and disgust of the cultural and social policies of the time. We though that musical deconstruction and psychological attack on the sensed were the best tools to that end .
He was oppressed by the image of people feasting on the kirkut, which he associated with unrestricted consumption, cannibalism. Their music ised the remains of folk melodies, noise, elements of cabaret in the Weimar spirit and improvisation.
In an archival series, Requiem Records revived recordings by Kirkut-Koncept. The music label is well known for bringing back to life independent Polish music from the past. This album is compulsory for lovers of underground music and optional hearing for those taking part in the discussion about Polish-Jewish relations. It's another voice amongst a crowd of works that deal with the topic: Pawlikowski's Ida, Pasikowski's Aftermath, Polin the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, an album by Baksik called Macewy codziennego użytku and Wilczyk's Holy War.
4. Oskar Kolberg, history lives
Oskar Kolberg was born 200 years ago. He remains Poland's best known chronicler of folk traditions and music. He recorded the music of Polish and other regional ethnic groups. According to a survey carried out by the Music and Dance Institute, only 8,7% of respondents knew who Oskar Kolberg was. 85% had absolutely no idea who he was. Some thought he was an actor, a director, a priest or perhaps even a Nobel prize laureat.
In 2014 we celebrated to Kolberg year and revived his legacy. Everyone was talking about traditional and rural folk culture. It turned out that folk culture can be integrated into the contemporary world. "Folk activists" began reviving it 30 years ago. The institutionally sponsored Kolberg year gave the movement new momentum. It's worth knowing however that folk culture is a top-up phenomenon, strongly dependent on the involvement of groups of people interested in the revival of rural culture.
Rzeczpospolita Kolberga – Kraina Południowo-Wschodnia (Wszystkie Mazurki Świata 2014) from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
Many interesting events took place throughout the year. Among the most interesting was the Mazurkas of the World Festival (two editions per year). The concert programme was divided by old geographical Polish regions as described by the forefathers of European folklore. The concerts featured not only Polish but also Jewish, Ukrainian, Slovak, Lithuanian and Lemkos music. A similar, research driven approach was taken by Andrzej Bieńkowski (who some call the contemporary Kolberg) who made the album called Belarus. Ceremonial Songs. Songs from the kolkhoz. Janusz Prusinowski went even further to the East (and direction South) and landed in the Turkish city of Ismir.
Polacy na İzmir European Jazz Festival from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
5. Mike Majkowski, or rediscovering the double bass
Bocian Records released the vinyl Why Is There Something Instead Of Nothing? The titular question is not rhetorical. When I listen to the young double bass player who is of Polish heritage but was born in Australia, travelled half the world and now lives in Berlin, I get the feeling that he's trying to re-evaluate the music world. He touches upon serious topics: time and the essence of sound. But his approach is not dramatic but rather easy going.
To me, the song Why Is There... is about the forming, de-forming and solidifying (or dissolving) of sound. The album is a lesson in patience, a complicated lesson in times of information technology. He shows that not every moments in music have to be clear towards one another, and that lack of clarity results from disposing them in time and space (the lengthening resonance of sound inspissates the music). To add poignancy, the album came out on vinyl and no one will stop the listener from playing it at different speeds. It's up to us how fast Majkowski will pluck the strings of his double bass.
I would also like to mention the album of the band Lotto (Mike Majkowski/ Łukasz Rychlicki/ Paweł Szpura), released on vinyl by Lado ABC. It's journey into the desserts of the United States of America, a journey full of dangers and references to the rich traditions of American music. Side note: the cover picture was taken by Konrad Smoleński.
6. NOON back to the roots
It's been 15 years since Grammatik's debut album. It was sampled by Noon. Noon (Mikołaj Bugajak) changed the way hip-hop was perceived in Poland. He showed that hip-hop could be refined and that it was in no way inferior to other art and music genres (some still don't believe in that but let's leave that alone for now). He proved that sometimes beats and samples could express more that words. Not to mention that his samples are a lesson of the history of pop music. His productions feature samples from Mike Olfield, Millie Jackson, Halina Kunicka, Urszula Sipińska and the Hungarian Solaris.
In late November Noon came back with new material and HV aka Hattim Vattim, from the younger generation of Polish producers. H/V is a clash between two strong musical personalities. Such meetings often don't end up well. One tries to crush the other musically. After all, the world of producers is a world of people who work alone and are most of the time perfectionists.
The most touching songs are Grammatik revived: Wilk with rhymes by Eldo and Heimat with the long missed Jotuze. Heimat is particularly moving, it's the confession of a retired rapper who has peace and luck, he has his "heimat" - his homeland.
7. Paweł Szamburski and unexpected albums
I've been waiting for a solo album by Paweł Szamburski for half a decade. More precisely ever since I first saw him at a concert, one of many I attended. The young clarinet player stoof out from the other improvisers. And he kept on getting better. When did I see him for the first time? I don't remember exactly, but it was a long long time ago. In fact, I even forgot that I was waiting for his album to come out. So I was even happier when I heard that Lado ABC was bringing out Ceratitis Capitata (the Latin name of one of those annoying summer flies). Ceratitis Capitata, or Mediterranean fruit fly as it is commonly known, comes from the Mediterrnean region, it flew into the church in which Szamburski was recording and circulated around his microphone. This is a true story,
For about an hour we tried to get rid of it by waving our sweatshirts around – says Szamburski in an interview for MI Magazine – We couldn't get rid of it. Every time we turned on the mic, the fly buzzed so loud that we couldn't record. Piotr [Piotr Czerny, the leader on the project - editor's note] was about to have a nervous breakdown because he's got a very good sense of sound, he set up about ten microphones in front of me and all he could hear was the buzzing. I finally said to him "Piotr, I'm playing, we're recording, we have to make friends with that fly". And after two takes she simply sat down and didn't move for the next five hours. She took flight again at the end and can be slightly heard in the last piece. You can hear birds humming, trees swaying but we finally managed to record the album we wanted to record.
Every piece is inspired by songs, melodies and harmonies of different religious systems: Catholicism, Judaism, Bahá'í Faith, Sufism and Orthodox Christianity. Szamburski investigates music that leads to mystical elation, esctasy. But he stays on the side and remains unbiased in order to slowly decompose the religious motifs, thus giving freedom to individual sounds that resonate in the peaceful Church. In fact there are three musicians on Ceratitis Capitata: clarinet, the fly and her wings and the Church in Błonie and their entire surrounding.
Every sound on Szamburski's album is fully thought through. The same cannot be said of Wojciech Jachna and Jacek Buhl's unexpected and very interesting album for Requiem Records - Atropina. Uncontrolled chaos creeps in every now and then, sometimes the percussion weighs down on the silent trumpet. That doesn't change the fact that it's one of the most interesting jazz-like releases and I recommend following the endeavors of the Bydgoszcz-based musicians.
8. An awful lot of festivals
World stars, riveting thematic reviews, newcomers next to classics, world premieres of long-awaited pieces and once in a lifetime joint projects. Poland has become a country of festivals, a hub for music and culture tourists from around the world. But is there a way to integrate this unique events into everyday happenings for the wider sections of the populations?
This question is directly not only to festival organisers who already have their hands full and sometimes even forget to promote their own events anywhere else than through social media – this is a question to festivalgoers who attend festivals but then don't go to see the same artists in clubs. It should also be answered by journalists who seem to get lost in the ample programmes and only pick and choose some events without considering the connection between then and their content. Not to mention the officials who generously give out grants (the bigger part of festivals is organised through public money) and don't contemplate what should come next.
9. Michał Wolski and Komendarek's children
The Very Polish Cut Outs, Transatlantyk, Get The Balance Right!, Technosoul – these are all names of new Polish music labels which have released a number of dance music vinyls this year. Also on the list of newly released are a single by Naphta (for the Swedish Studio Barnhus), an album by Błażej Malinowski (for the Swedish label Phorma), an album by Lutto Lento (for the new London-based label F T D) and an album by Phantom (brought out by Silverback Recordings). Polish club music has never been as successful as it is now. Polish producers are making a name for themselves abroad. My personal favourite is Michał Wolski, who released an EP with the New York-based Blank Slate. How did the New York label catch wind of the artist?
Some time ago I heard one of the releases by the label that really shook me - Wolski tells Culture.pl - I'm talking about the music of Rene Audiard. I thought that it would be great to be a part of it - I chose a couple of songs and showed them to Kamal Naeem and Soren Jahan the founders of the label. Luckily they liked my music and after a couple of emails I got a cooperation offer. That was an unbelievable moment! Who knows, maybe I'll get another chance to release something with the New York-based label - it awakens the imagination.
2014 will not only be remembered as a great year for club music, it was also the year that Boiler Room came to Poland. Boiler Room is a platform for organising and streaming small musical happenings. The archive stores plenty of music sessions that can be shared through YouTube and Soundcloud. Until recently Boiler Room events only took place in Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, London and a couple other places. Today they have things going on in the entire world. Warsaw, Wrocław, Białystok are also on the list.
Performing at one such event was Władysław Komendarek, the godfather of Polish electronic music, a wild hippy who was incremental to the development of progressive rock, a magician of synthesizers and a descendant of Michał Kleofasa Ogińskiego, author of the famous polonaise Farewell to the homeland which until recently was played at the Polish senior prom (studniówka). It's a nice gesture to have him perform, I hope that it will broaden Mr Władysław's fan base - perhaps they should organise some re-editions, or new productions? In November GAD Records brought out an album of remastered recordings from the 80s, so far only available on cassette. I hope this is only the beginning of bringing Komendarek to wider audiences.
10. And more
There are many things that I left out but please remember that 2014 was a great year in many respects: for Wojtek Blecharz; Gerard Lebik who already a while ago went beyond jazz (Bocian Records released two albums featuring Lebik); the Silesian band Furia relesead another dark album; the emotion-stirring Project P at the opera; RSS B0YS, who never give up; a new album by 19 Springs; Górecki's Symphony No. 4; the Panufnik year and all its events; Small Instruments who brought out al album thanks to crowdfunding; the Warsaw Dance Combo; The Kurws and their new CDs and dozens of albums released by independent Polish music labels.
Author: Filip Lech, translator: MJ 31/12/2014