With contemporary Polish sound artists at the Venice Biennale - Katarzyna Krakowiak in 2012, with Konrad Smoleński invited in 2013 - creating a sonic impact at home and in the world, Culture.pl traces back the origins of these exiting forms. Originating in the first Polish studio of electroacoustic music, set up in 1957 and evolving into creative uses of technology and composers who have gained international acclaim in the field.
The invention of instuments in the early 20th century such as the theremin in the 1920s, the ondes Martenot (1928), Trautonium (1929-1930) and Hammond organs created sounds that were new and distinct. And Poland was among the first nations to embrace the new music that developed as electronic technology advanced through that century, and into this century.
Though the new instruments used both electric and acoustic elements, the music being made on them was simply called "electric music" by the artists themselves. Composers who worked extensively with what is now termed "electroacoustic" music include John Cage, Darius Milhaud and Paul Hindemith. Milhaud and Hindemith experimented with the phonograph from 1928 to 1931, playing records with altering speed and imposing sounds from different recordings on each other.
In John Cage's piece from 1939, Imaginary Lanscape No. 1, the composer used generated sounds, recorded on an acetate disc and played with altering speed, next to a prepared piano and phonograph. It was the first "electronic" musical piece. That name was adopted for music created in the studio of the Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk radio station in Cologne. "Elektronische Musik" in German was initially translated into Polish as "electron music", but soon "electronic music" came to be widely accepted. Today we refer to "electroacoustic music", with the reel-to-reel and cassette recorders replaced by synthesisers, live electronics and later by computers.
A Polish studio of electroacoustic music was set up in November 1957, and its production began the following year. Other important facilities had opened, including the Studio di Fonologia Musicale of the Italian Radio in Milan (1955), where composers Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna worked, and the Philips studio in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Henk Badings worked in the latter, and Edgar Varèse created his landmark piece Poème électronique there, commissioned by Le Corbusier for the World Exhibition in Brussels in 1958. The spatial piece was emitted by some 400 speakers beneath the exhibition pavilion's ceiling, with specialised equipment moving it around the interior.
When the Philips studio closed in 1960, the University of Utrecht took the equipment to help establish the Instituut voor Sonologie, which became an important research centre and computer-music facility (their first computer was installed in 1971). The NHK Japanese radio in Tokyo also founded a studio of electronic music in 1955, where Toru Takemitsu created work before working at NHK's Karlheinz Stockhausen studio in the 1960s.
Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio
The Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio, founded in 1957, became the fifth studio of electronic music in Europe and seventh in the world. It was an unusual phenomenon in the Polish People’s Republic, its exceptionality matched by the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, which began in 1956 and continues to this day. These two institutions became close collaborators and formed cornerstones in Polish contemporary music.
The Experimantal Studio’s opening had been preceded in 1957 by tape-music productions by several composers. Andrzej Markowski composed the score for Carlo Goldoni’s play Servant of Two Masters for the Folk Theatre in Nowa Huta, the newly built worker city outside Kraków. Włodzimierz Kotoński wrote music for Jerzy Pelc’s documentary Barwy radości i smutku. More tape scores were created by 1958: by Markowski for Tadeusz Makarczyński’s film Życie jest piękne and for Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk's animated film Był sobie raz, and by Włodzimierz Kotoński for the Lenica and Borowczyk film Dom.
These works were produced at the Documentary Film Studio in Warsaw without specialised equipment. The starting material was instrumental and vocal recordings, with the Dom soundtrack including material generated by Institute of Electroacoustics members at the Warsaw University of Technology. Acousticians Andrzej Rakowski and Janusz Piechurski also created sound shorts in the recording studio of Warsaw's National Academy of Music. This interest in new sound material and composition was occurring as the Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio was created.
The Studio was a project of musicologist Józef Patkowski, an enthusiast of avant-garde and new music, and chairman of the Warsaw Autumn committee. Patkowski visited electroacoustic-music studios in Europe, and with support for the Polish Radio administration, he began organising the new Studio. A selection of basic studio equipment was assembled, starting in November 1957: a tone generator, a rectangular-pulse generator, an oscillograph, low- and high-pass filters, two East German tape recorders used by the Polish Radio, and a console with four inputs. The studio was used for electronic and concrete material, though these definitions were losing their distinction. Perhaps that explains the name Experimental Studio, a term then used for the range of avant-garde music, instrumental, electronic or concrete.
"Despite the name, we don’t do experiments here – we just create", said Bogusław Schaeffer, one of the important composers working at the new facility. "The name itself is misleading: when writing an orchestral piece, none of us have any idea what it’s going to sound like, notes are abstract. […] working in a studio, I continually control with my hearing not only the result but also the path that leads to it. The studio is a workshop for me, it's here that I clearly hear what happened to the arranged material and how it 'behaves' in different situations [...] That's why I consider studio work to be lively, not experimental by any means (an experiment assumes an unknown – yet here everything is clear as one simultaneously composes and produces, and that’s impossible in other music genres)."
Located in the main radio building in Warsaw, the Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio began its activity with the soundtrack for Hanna Bielińska and Włodzimierz Haupe’s animated film Albo rybka, which included experimental music by Włodzimierz Kotoński. Etiuda konkretna (na jedno uderzenie w talerz) was the first Polish autonomous musical composition on tape: a 2:41-minute composition that took as its basis one of many previously recoded strikes on a medium-sized cymbal, subjected to complicated transformations that created rich material with a precisely planned structure. Kotoński’s short piece merged various trends of electroacoustic music, starting with material created with the use of electronic equipment. Kotoński’s composition was performed at the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1960, then appeared in events in Poland and abroad, and was featured in textbooks, with Kotoński presented as a representative of tape music and a leading Polish composers of new music.
Another composition of historical significance, Db-Hz-Sek by Zbigniew Wiszniewski, was produced in the Experimental Studio in 1962. It was Wiszniewski's first fully "electronic" piece, with starting material only from generated sounds, structurally processed in terms of basic musical elements: dynamics (volume), height (frequency) and rhythm (time). This allowed a level of precision which was impossible to obtain in instrumental music. Wiszniewski's piece was performed at Warsaw Autumn in 1962.
Other composers dedicating themselves to electroacoustic music at the Experimental Studio included Andrzej Dobrowolski and Schaeffer. Dobrowolski created a series of pieces called Muzyka na, compositions for tape as well as pieces for instruments with an electroacoustic element played from tape. In contrast to compositions with uniform sound material such as cymbal and generator sounds, Dobrowolski used diverse materials: generated tones, piano chords, vocal sounds and a resonance effect of piano strings reinforced with vowels yelled into the piano box. Due to electronic processing, however, the piece is characterised by its "electronic" tone, and was constructed in line with a strict serial concept. Tape music no. 1 (1962) was included in Warsaw Autumn in 1962 and 1963. Dobrowolski's Music for Magnetic Tape and Oboe Solo (1965), Music for Strings, Two Groups of Brass Instruments and Two Speakers (1966), and Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo (1971) merged traditional instruments with electronic sounds, a characteristic of the "American school".
Bogusław Schaeffer became a prolific creator of electroacoustic music, associated with the Experimental Studio since 1966, when he composed Symphony for Tape with its classical, four-part arrangement. The piece was not a music tape with a compositional concept, it was a score in which specific instructions for the performer took the form of a diagram and charts. Bohdan Mazurek played Symphony for Tape without Schaeffer's participation. A graduate of the Music Directing Department of the State Higher School of Music, Mazurek began his Experimental Studio career in 1962 as a sound engineer. Starting material for the Symphony performance included electronic signals, with the composer planning to include violin and piano sounds in the last part. Playing a score without the composer's input was unprecedented in electroacoustic music; Symphony for Tape, published in 1968 by the Polish Music Publishers, was so popular that a second edition was released five years later.
Another important piece of early electroacoustic music in Poland is Krzysztof Penderecki's Psalmus (1961). It was Penderecki's only autonomous electronic composition, and he also scored many short films in the Experimental Studio. The starting material in Psalmus, vocal sounds, was very uniform, and in the composer’s concept, sound colouring played a major role, as did the search for new colour qualities. From the early stage of creating sound material, Penderecki used effects including recordings of spoken vowels (long sounds), plosive consonants (very short, impulse sounds), and rustling and whistling sounds. In contract to Schaeffer's precisely planned Symphony, Penderecki's Psalmus was created by trial and error using the studio's typical operations: editing, transposition, filtering and the use of artificial reverberation. Psalmus was played from tape at Warsaw Autumn in 1962.
Special concerts at Warsaw Autumn featured pieces produced in the Experimental Studio, alongside outstanding works of foreign composers, beginning in 1960. The festival's first electroacoustic concert had taken place in 1958 - "electron" music, as it was described in the program - presented by Karlheinz Stockhausen. A "concrete music concert" was included the following year, with a lecture by Pierre Schaeffer. Etiuda konkretna (na jedno uderzenie w talerz) by Kotoński was among the Polish electroacoustic pieces at Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1960.
Live electronic music in the Experimental Studio
Voltage-control technology was introduced around 1970, heralding a new era for Polish electroacoustic music. Work in a studio had required manual editing of previously recorded sound effects. Voltage-control technology led to synthesisers and live electronic music, allowing for the creation of complex sound structures, in much shorter time-periods than with manual techniques, and then in real time with use of synthesisers, thus permitting electroacoustic music to be made more like traditional instrumental music in terms of effort and time.
This had been desired by many tape-music creators from the beginnings of the form. They had attempted to "humanise" electroacoustic music, both in composing tape music and in "live" performance. In concert and recital settings, performers took to the stage as a traditional intermediary between the composer and the listener, and often the composer was the performer. With the performer's return to the stage, other elements of performance returned as well, including flaws eliminated in the studio thanks to the technology of tape composition. On stage, composers lost this ability to precisely control each element, and had to consider performer invention and the limitations of electroacoustic equipment. The rapid development of electronics decreased those limitations promptly, a process accelerated as digital technology and computers became available (which poses composers of selecting only a few of the many tools now at their disposal).
The Experimental Studio introduced its first Moog synthesiser in 1970, joined in 1973 by a Synthi AKS synthesiser. Krzysztof Knittel began working at the Studio, and is now regarded as among the most interesting creators of electroacoustic music. Knittel created Robak Zdobywca, a composition based on electronic sounds with electronically processed violin and trombone. Warsaw Autumn Festival held the premiere of Knittel's electroacoustic piece Resztki in 1978. Its base is the sound of Niagara Falls, processed through a Moog synthesizer (and created at the studios of the University of Buffalo and at Polish Radio in Warsaw). Knittel played synthesiser at the festival's 1978 edition, on Muzyka wiosenna by Włodzimierz Kotoński. In this piece, for flute, oboe, violin and synthesizer, the composer used computer sounds programmed in the MUSIC V computer language at the University of Buffalo, one of the first cases of a composer using a computer. Knittel used a computer two years later in a pair of pieces he referred to as "computer music": Norcet 1 and Norcet 2. He has increasingly utilised "live electronics", and is today a main representative of this style in Poland.
Krzysztof Knittel and others
Knittel, Elżbieta Sikora and Wojciech Michniewski founded the KEW composers' group in 1973, and presented the electroacoustic piece Drugi poemat tajemny at Warsaw Autumn in 1974. Groups of composers such as the Independent Studio for Electroacoustic Music took form, created by Andrzej Bieżan, Krzysztof Knittel, Stanisław Krupowicz and Paweł Szymański, among others.
Krupowicz became a computer-music pioneer in Poland, following his studies with a period from 1983-84 at the Centre for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics of Stanford University in California, under the direction of John Chowning. Paweł Szymański produced two pieces in the Experimental Studio: La Folia (1979) and ...pod jaworem (1980). He later collaborated with the Electronic Music Studio of the Academy of Music in Kraków (1983) and, during his DAAD scholarship in Berlin in 1987-1988, with the Electronic Studio of the Technische Universität there.
These composers graduated from the State Higher School of Music where a requirement, begun in 1967, has students take a two-year electroacoustic-music course under Włodzimierz Kotoński. The purpose of the course is mainly didactic, but when the studio received computers in 1990, Paweł Mykietyn, Jarosław Siwiński and Marzena Komsta created pieces there.
The Electroacoustic Music Studio at the State Higher School of Music - known today as the Academy of Music in Warsaw - was founded in 1973. The studio received new equipment in 1989, and hosted composers including Bogusław Schaeffer, Marek Chołoniewski, Magdalena Długosz and Hanna Kulenty, as well as foreign guests. The Academy of Music in Katowice set up its own studio in 1992, with Eugeniusz Knapik as its head. The Computer Composition Studio at the Academy in Wrocław was established in 1998 with Stanisław Krupowicz and Cezary Duchnowski as teachers.
The decline of the Experimental Studio
The Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio started losing some its significance following the delivery of its first synthesizers in the early 1970s. New digital equipment arrived at the studio in 1986, including Yamaha instruments, Apple and IBM computers, but computers soon became accessible, with composers establishing computer studios at home.
Józef Patkowski, the founder of the Experimental Studio, lost his managerial position in 1985. The case of political oppression is distinct in communist Poland—unlike other Soviet Bloc nations, Polish authorities had allowed electronic music to develop freely. Patkowski had been suspended as president of the Polish Composers' Union by the authorities during the martial-law period in the early 1980s. Acting in defence of freedom and civil liberties, he then fell afoul of the authorities and was removed from the Polish Radio. His successor was Ryszard Szeremeta (born 1952), a composer strongly involved in electroacoustic music. Under Szeremeta's directorship, a new generation of composers made its way into the studio: Magdalena Długosz (born 1954), Anna Zawadzka (born 1955), Edward Sielicki (born 1956), Hanna Kulenty (born 1961), Jacek Grudzień (born 1961), Krzysztof Czaja (born 1962) and Jarosław Kapuściński (born 1964).
The studio was taken over by Krzysztof Szlifirski in 1998. He later filed for bankruptcy of the studio, and the Experimental Studio ceased to exist as a separate unit of the Polish Radio in 2004. The Radio's Program 2 took over its archives and other remnants, with Marek Zwyrzykowski promoting electroacoustic music on the radio in the years that followed.
The first Musica Electronica Nova International Electroacoustic Music Festival was organised in Wrocław in 2005, with its founder Stanisław Krupowicz as artistic director. The city of Wrocław established its leadership in electroacoustic music in Poland, with Krupowicz and Cezary Duchnowski raising a group of young electroacoustic-music composers who have created several smash hits.
The Polish Society for Electroacoustic Music (PSME) was established in Kraków in 2005, promoting Polish electroacoustic art - electroacoustic music, video art, sound installation, interactive and audiovisual art - around the world as part of the international network of festivals, concert series and electroacoustic-art projects coordinated by the International Confederation of Electroacoustic Music (CIME) in Bourges.