Ableton Live Gets Its Own Polish Radio Experimental Studio
default, marcin_staniszewski_w_swoim_studiu_1.jpg, Marcin Staniszewski in his studio, photo: courtesy of the artist
A free library of samples from the legendary Polish Radio Experimental Studio has arrived in Ableton Live. Millions of electronic musicmakers can now use them however they like. What future hits will feature the sounds of 1960s Poland?
The Polish Radio Experimental Studio was established in 1957 to record sound and music for theatre, video art, animations as well as TV and radio programmes. More than 300 soundtracks for films made in Poland and other Eastern-Bloc countries were recorded there. Its engineer-composers were the pioneers of sound production, one of the most important fields in the contemporary creative industry.
The sound design of western radio stations had a great impact on contemporary pop and electronic music. The Beatles were inspired by the experiments of Karlehinz Stockhausen, British electronic music producers used to listen as children to pieces by Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. But how can one ensure that the Polish Radio Experimental Studio (PRES) can inspire future generations of producers and fans of electronic music?
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The Adam Mickiewicz Institute in collaboration with the music producer Marcin Staniszewski (frontman of Beneficjenci Splendoru and member of the band Pustki) has created a free library of samples for the best-selling Ableton Live that contains original sounds created at PRES. The users of Live, which has been the most popular software for editing and producing sound and music for many years, are now able to use samples cut out from the compositions of Elżbieta Sikora, Krzysztof Knittel and Ryszard Szeremeta.
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Ableton Live is used by a huge variety of people: composers of contemporary music, creators of commercial jingles, techno and hip-hop artists, popstars and teenage producers from all over the globe. Among the people who have created chart-topping hits in Live are Armin van Buuren, Diplo, Flying Lotus, Grimes and Skrillex. Live is also used by many niche and experimental artists who create their music for just a handful of fans. What is the reason for the software’s success? Marcin Staniszewski, creator of the Experimental Studio samples, explains:
Ableton Live is not perfect software, but it has revolutionised the world of music production. (…) All the tracks in other programmes were arranged in a linear pattern. In other words, you could compose a piece, but everything had to follow something else. Ableton Live introduced the idea of a ‘matrix’, the so-called Session View, which, to put it very simply, means that every phrase can go with any other phrase. This allows you to sample hundreds of combinations in a very short time. Additionally, all these phrases are automatically synchronized with each other.
Live allows producers from every corner of the Earth to work together. Or, at least from every region of Poland. This is the case with Radek Sirko, a culture studies specialist, a music producer and a publisher, who runs independent workshops in Ableton. For the last couple of months, he has been working with creators representing the new wave of Polish electronic music: ehh hahah, nadziej and paszka.
They're still teenagers, but they are amazing Live veterans. As part of a remix project, we shared entire recording sessions with each other so that we could analyse every part, edit each other’s tracks and add effects. We learned how every one of us works.
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What are the limitations of Ableton Live?
The production capabilities of Live aren’t infinite, although this is something that we’ll only be able to say in a couple of decades, when we’ll be able to create music without the help of interfaces. But if we think of Max/MSP, which allows us to programme the sound (and not only the sound) from scratch, then Live really starts to look like a complex mechanism. You can create the sound from scratch, sample it, or process it in thousands of ways. You don’t really need a specific idea on how to record your piece. You start with a couple of sounds, stretch them, flip them around, add effects and eventually you’ll create something interesting.
Paradoxically, this is off-putting to many creators. Instead of using software, they prefer to use actual instruments, such as synthesisers, drum machines, samplers and other electronic musical instruments. The possibilities offered by Live appear overwhelming to them, so they decide to use analogue effects that they have collected or sometimes even constructed themselves. This influences the end result as their music achieves a consistent sound. The creations of ‘young Abletonians’ are characterised by eclecticism and over-exaggeration, which can be seen by many as a maniacal mess or a lack of control over the musical form. It has to be noted that many electronic artists who focus on specific hardware still use Ableton later to record or edit sound.
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So will fragments of pieces composed decades ago appeal to contemporary producers? Radek Sirko thinks so.
Nowadays, we don’t have access to the analogue machines that were used to record this. Converting these sounds is the only way for them to exist in the contemporary digital world. However, there are thousands of similar sound repositories, so it takes some effort to have them reach a broad audience.
That is why, in 2019, there will be a competition for the best tracks created from PRES samples. Some pieces will also be commissioned from famed musicians that make contemporary independent electronic music.
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Creating samples is not the easiest of tasks. Staniszewski had to pick them out of several dozen hours of material.
It’s easier to look for samples in the more minimalistic compositions. I had to look for the moments that could work as loops or as independent one-shots [editor’s note: such as drum sounds]. A good sample is a unique sample – a piece of music that does not resemble anything else. These are the sounds that work in many contexts, even ones that are not at all similar to the original piece. From a technical point of view, it is important for the samples to sound natural so that they don’t have any unwelcome noises within them. The less evident that a sample used to be part of an original piece, the better.
Staniszewski divided the samples into special effects, drum sounds and loops (ie. short phrases that can loop infinitely).
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The last group is interesting. There is no place here for square four-on-the-floor rhythms, which is the four-by-four structure that dominates dance music. These are rather labyrinthine, often polyrhythmic structures. I had a lot of fun looking for riffs in this sonic magma. The recordings produced at the studio have a very consistent texture, they are exceptionally well-recorded and have unique tones. This is probably because most of this material was put on tape by well-qualified engineers.
Polish Radio Experimental Studio
contemporary electronic music
The library has already proven hugely popular in the electronic music community. You can learn more and download the samples from Ableton Live’s website. And if you happen to be in Łódź on 27th October 2018, Staniszewski himself will present the capabilities of the library during the Sound Edit festival!
Originally written in Polish, translated by MW, Oct 2018