Eugeniusz Rudnik entered the avant-garde music scene in 1955 with characteristic eloquence: ‘I became a pioneer of electronic music because I had just got out of jail and I was looking for a job’. As an artist, he was inclined to take risks and had an erotic audacity towards sound matter.
A new wave of interest in art created in Poland under the communist regime brings with it increasing acclaim for Polish Radio’s Experimental Studio. The Warsaw Museum of Modern Art is currently reconstructing the Black Room, one of the world’s first centres for electronic music, designed by Oskar Hansen, and the artist most often in the spotlight is Eugeniusz Rudnik.
This author of electronic music was previously known only to connoisseurs. This fact is a perfect example of the orthodox hierarchy according to which only composers of scores performed by philharmonic orchestras deserve wide recognition, and the rest are marginal curiosities. And Rudnik has been truly marginalised, it seems – in nearly half a century the famous Warsaw Autumn festival of contemporary music played his compositions just twice.
He has received more recognition abroad. Rudnik created a composition for Arne Nordheim over a period of six months, which was presented at the World Expo in Osaka. Rudnik once revealed that ‘I recently found out that a fragment of my piece is sold in Mexico as a phone ringtone’.
A day in two days
Born in 1932, Rudnik studied at the telecommunications department of the Polish Army’s Technical Academy in the 1950s. He got into a fight with a military superior and was sentenced to work in a mine for over a year. He worked off his sentence using the ‘day in two days’ method, and after being released, he signed up for a post at Polish Radio. He was given the post of manager of plumbing, carpentry, and painting. He became a technician in the Experimental Studio, which was founded in 1957, and he completed his education in electronics in 1967. Meanwhile, composers were in need of an assistant familiar with the testing and measuring devices used.
The electronic music created within the group of composers and radio technicians had the air of something cold and unattainable – even within the radical context of 1950s modernism. In Paris, Schaeffer and Henry created rough, noisy collages from sounds that nobody considered musical, known as musique concrète. In Koln, Stockhausen and Eimert composed music with measurement signals according to serial rules, which proved to be a controversial concept. And although this programmatic breaking of psychoacoustic rules became obsolete very quickly, the odium remained. This is the musical landscape that Eugeniusz Rudnik entered in 1955.
Rudnik’s stance towards the dominating trends of the avant-garde was unbending. Michał Mendyk describes the Polish Radio studio in the following way:
The label ‘experimental’ was not merely a declaration, due to the non-dogmatic thinking presented by two sound engineers: Eugeniusz Rudnik and Bohdan Mazurek. Their tendency to take risks and their erotic audacity with respect to the matter of sound set them apart from the majority of ‘musicians’ who came to the radio. These ‘musicians’ often tried to subordinate the acoustic reality to some a priori ideals, and very rarely did they allow these ideals to surface in the creative interaction of the researcher with his matter.
Eugeniusz Rudnik opened up the catalogue of his own pieces in 1965 with the composition Collage. The titular technique would become his trademark. He was always clear and legible: even in moments of the most primal, sonorous avant-garde, he would triumph by using familiar solutions, even if the sound employed was surreal. Rudnik saturates his music with warmth and emotion and thanks to his tonal sensitivity, he creates the atmosphere of his music perfectly. In the second Poemat from 1976, the noises, creaks, and signals all sound like metal birds. The thumping of bass is evocative of dance music, and his echoes and rhythms sound like dub (like in the 1989 Gilotine). Abstract structures actually mimic a human voice which is reconstructed from phonemes in Mobile (1972), and a terrifying sci-fi kind of breath animates Korzeń (The Root) from 1965.
A return to the future
That science fiction makes an appearance in Rudnik’s music is no coincidence. As the author of soundtracks for numerous films, Rudnik helped co-create the genre, because electronic music was in fact a key device of these futuristic visions. According to Mendyk, it’s possible that our ideas of mankind’s future have been shaped by composers of the Experimental Studio to the same degree as they were formed by the writings of Stanisław Lem and Philip K. Dick.
The futuristic Black Room no longer exists. The small studio itself, which opened in 1962, was transformed into a government functionary’s office during the period of martial law in Poland in the early 1980s. The studio was granted a larger room, but after losing its founder Józef Patkowski, it never regained its initial momentum.
And what about Eugeniusz Rudnik?
He is still composing in a room on Woronicza Street, in the so-called ‘Rudnik dungeon’, equipped with tools from before the computer era. Rudnik still uses the tools that he has known and mastered for years: a tape recorder, and a monumental console – more of a ‘hipster’ than any of the young composers.
Author: Antoni Beksiak, November 2012, translated with edits by Paulina Schlosser, 3/03/2014