Bohdan Mazurek was a composer, sound director, and educator associated with the Polish Radio Experimental Studio. He was born in Warsaw on 20th December, 1937, and died in May 2014.
Composer, sound director, and educator associated with the Polish Radio Experimental Studio.
He was 7 years old when the Warsaw Uprising broke out. Living in the centre of the city, he became a scout, stationed on the rooftops to look out for German snipers. His generation's experience of occupation had a lasting effect on the artist’s personality. As he recalled, he was lucky enough to have generous parents who provided him with the opportunity to become acquainted with various musical instruments.
During that period, he learned to play the grand piano, trumpet, clarinet, violin, viola, and accordion. Later on, he started playing the harp, which he apparently discovered thanks to his wife, Urszula – a prominent interpreter of, amongst others, contemporary music. Unrestrained improvisation with all the instruments he had mastered became a significant factor in Mazurek’s creative practice.
The Experimental Studio
Mazurek graduated with honours from the Fryderyk Chopin Higher State School of Music in Warsaw. In 1962, he began working at the Polish Radio's Experimental Studio as a sound director, composer, performer and producer of electronic music. This was a time when the status of producer, whose role was initially limited to being technical support to a composer, was gradually changing. Performer – a term proposed by Józef Patkowski, the Studio’s head in the 1960s – was becoming increasingly adequate, standing for both a performer of the author’s intended composition and its independent creative interpreter.
Special permanent posts were created for Mazurek and Eugeniusz Rudnik at the Polish Radio – they both became ‘specialists in electronic music production’. Patkowski recalled in a conversation with Marek Zwyrzykowski:
Back then, we would think of a producer as someone whose task was to translate composer’s ideas into the language of the studio and its current capabilities. This role has always been very important. In 1957, Rudnik took over this position, and in 1962 was succeeded by Mazurek.
Mazurek produced important electroacoustic and electronic pieces by a whole range of well-known composers, including Roman Berger, Andrzej Dobrowolski, Włodzimierz Kotoński, Andrzej Markowski, Krzysztof Penderecki, Bogusław Schaeffer, Tomasz Sikorski, Zbigniew Turski, and Zbigniew Wiszniewski, as well as Benno Ammann, Herbert Brun, Vittorio Gelmetti, Lejaren Hiller, Benjamin Johnston, Kare Kolberg, Arne Nordheim, Teresa Rampazzi, Tamas Ungvary, and many others. Whenever composers from abroad came to visit, Mazurek hosted them at his own apartment – one of them was Kåre Kolberg, who visited in 1972.
Barbara Okoń-Makowska, a well-respected sound producer and educator who accompanied Mazurek from her very first days of work at the studio, recollects:
As a producer, Bohdan was open to the ideas of the composers collaborating with the studio, he helped beginners in defining their expectations, at the same time refraining from being too intrusive; his productions always demonstrated a great care for the culture of sound, thought-out spatial arrangement and revealed his solid musical preparation.
Bohdan Mazurek composed music from 1966. Many of his 30 compositions were awarded at international contests. He conducted his own piece Alla Rustica (1980) for brass instruments and tape. He also performed music in his film Divertimento (1997), playing percussion instruments and introducing various sound effects (e.g. pouring water). He often created sound projections for his own and others’ compositions for tape and electronic media. He also produced microphone recordings – not just for his own pieces. He recorded, for instance, boys’ vocals for Bogusław Schaeffer’s famous Missa Electronica.
Mazurek composed music to dozens of feature films, and to over 100 short, documentary, and animated films, as well as for TV and radio programmes, including some by the Polish Radio Theatre and Television Theatre. Moreover, he created numerous sound effects, intermissions, and intros that were aired for many years.
Between 1968-71, Bohdan Mazurek and Roman Różycki, created, in cooperation with Wojciech Makowski (a prominent collaborator of the Experimental Studio), a number of audiovisual micro performances and installations at the Współczesna Gallery in Warsaw and other venues. Events and multimedia installations organized by Mazurek made him surpass the role of a regular composer. Having a strong interest in live improvisation and experience in live performance, he was the perfect model of a performer emerging from the art of the 1970s. At that time, the Experimental Studio was a meeting place for artists and thinkers alike. Thanks to Józef Patkowski, it became more than just a site for production and research. It was then that Bohdan Mazurek encountered Krzysztof Wodiczko, nowadays a world-famous multimedia artist, whose work Personal Instrument was created at the Studio.
In the spring of 1975, the exposition Warszawa XXX was presented at Plac Zwycięstwa (Victory Square) – its aim was to document the process of changes in the capital since its liberation. The show was accompanied by a spatial illustration of music created by Bohdan Mazurek. One element that seemed to stand out was the object titled 44, devoted to the Warsaw Uprising – upon walking into it, one could listen to an extremely emotional composition.
The artist also created some collective compositions – a rather rare form. These included Shozyg (1968), produced together with Eugeniusz Rudnik and John Tilbury. In this piece, Hugh Davies’ experimental instrument comprising several contact microphones, was used.
Mazurek was also an initiator of a unique encounter of five composers in a mutual instrumental improvisation on stage. Kåre Kolberg, François-Bernard Mâche, Bohdan Mazurek (who coordinated the entire performance), Arne Nordheim, and Eugeniusz Rudnik (who used self-made electroacoustic instruments) performed altogether – without an audience, but in the presence of cameras – at the Polish Radio’s M-1 Studio (nowadays the Agnieszka Osiecka Studio). The performance of this exceptional improvised composition was the musicians’ way of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio, to which each of them was tied in one way or another. The film Divertimento (produced by the Polish National TV 1997), which documented this unique event, was created thanks to Mazurek’s energy and ingenuity.
In 1972, the artist took part in the International Summer Course for New Music Darmstadt. In 1974-1990 he lectured at the Composition, Theory, and Conducting and Sound Directing Departments at the Higher State School of Music in Warsaw (PWSM, later: the Academy of Music). In 1980, the left for the United States, where he taught Composition at the State University of Illinois, Urbana, and later, in 1987, at Mühlenberg College, PA (as artist-in-residence), as well as at Leigh University, Moravian College, and Lafayette College.
Propagator and theoretician of music
Bohdan Mazurek was an editor and host of the Panorama Muzyki Elektronicznej (Electronic Music Panorama) broadcast, promoting contemporary and electronic music, and of a series of programmes about folk music and music inspired by folk culture, titled Od Chłopa do Bartoka (From Peasant to Bartok). He started the children’s programme Muzyczne Hokus-Pokus (Musical Hocus-Pocus), and authored a number of articles, essays, and other texts on the theory, aesthetics, and production of electronic music
In one of his written works, titled Problem planu akustycznego w muzyce eksperymentalnej (The Issue of the Acoustic Plan in Experimental Music, published by PWSM, Warsaw 1963), he exposed his interest in the potential of designing concert halls, especially in the context of electronic music performance. He was interested in the movement of sound and its layers within the imagined acoustic space, i.e. one generated in an artificial studio environment. In the text, Mazurek discussed the plasticity of sound in a highly interdisciplinary fashion. In addition, he described various experiments he carried out – constructing acoustic rods, springs and pipes, an ultrasound container, and use of magnetic coupling.
One ought not forget about the extensive text accompanying the score for Bogusław Schaeffer’s Electronic Symphony (Symfonia elektroniczna), published by the PWM – the Polish Music Publishing House. Mazurek was the first producer-performer of this piece, endowed with a massive interpretative and performative freedom by the composer. In his essay, he laid out his stipulations and technical solutions implemented during the one and half years of work on the Symphony, a detailed description of his concept, as well as his thoughts on the status of a performer-producer. The composer indeed treated such a figure as a full-fledged performer, especially according to the definition formulated by Patkowski.
The producer – in this case, Mazurek himself – became the co-author of the final, calculated work in an unprecedented expanded framework. His function may be compared to that of an instrumentalist interpreting a piece of music, or perhaps even building his own complex structures and thus complementing Shaeffer’s general idea. The conventionality of notation, and scarcity of technical instructions, but also surprisingly rich, descriptive, almost poetic mapping of individual symbols included in the score, allow, according to Mazurek, to “free one’s imagination and musical concepts.”
Bohdan Mazurek was also the author of numerous entries in the Great Encyclopaedia of Music (Polish Music Publishing House).
Mazurek left the Experimental Studio in rather dramatic circumstances, although here is not the right place to discuss them. In January 2008, on the occasion of the Studio’s 50th anniversary, he was rewarded with a diploma for special contribution to its development and for his creative achievements. It ended up being the only sign of appreciation from this institution in the 40 years of his career.
Mazurek’s artistic output is nevertheless significant and strongly embedded in the history of experimental music in Poland and abroad. Julian Antonisz devoted an episode of his Polish Non-Camera Chronicles (no.9) to Bohdan Mazurek.
In September 2010 the German band Zeitkratzer, specializing in original interpretations of contemporary music, performed (as part of the series Półwysep Nowej Muzyki / The New Music Peninsula in Sejny) several instrumental versions of electroacoustic pieces composed at the Experimental Studio, by such names as Denis Eberhard, Krzysztof Knittel, and Eugeniusz Rudnik, as well as presented a stirring performance of Bohdan Mazurek’s Canti.
Alla rustica for brass instruments and tape, 1980
Ballada / The Ballad, 1976
Cztery pory dnia / Four Times of a Day, 1979
Daisy story, 1979 (Hounourable Mention at the VII International Competition of Electroacoustic Music, Bourges 1979)
Epitafium na dzień 31 sierpnia / Epitath for August 31st, 1982
Epitafium na śmierć Jana Palacha / Epitath for Jan Palach's Death, 1969
Epizody / Episodes, 1973 (Hounourable Mention at the II International Competition of Electroacoustic Music, Bourges 1974)
Etiuda / Etude, 1965
Kromka chleba / A Slice of Bread, for vocals and tape, 2000
List do przyjaciół / A Letter to Friends, 1986
Mała symfonia elektroniczna / A Little Electronic Symphony, 1979
Miniatury/ Miniatures, 1994
Moment musical, 1974
Muzyka na deszczowe popołudnie / Music for a Rainy Afternoon, 1990
Pensylvania dream, 1987
Phantasma, 1969, composed as a sound illustration for Roman Różycki's exhibition of paintings
Polnische Lieder ohne Worte, 1982
Preludium wiosenne / Spring Preludium, 1991
Shozyg , with Eugeniusz Rudnik and John Tilbury, 1968 (with an instrument designed and constructed by Hugh Davies)
Sinfonia rustica, 1970
Sny dziecięce / Children's Dreams, 1976
Suplikacje / Supplications for soprano, vocals, percussion instruments and tape, 2000
Sześć preludiów elektronicznych / Six Electronic Preludes, 1981 (Hounourable Mention at the X International Competition of Electroacoustic Music, Bourges 1982)
Trzy etiudy / Three Etudes, 1963
Z dnia na dzień / From One Day to Another, 1984
Z notatnika / From a Notebook 1983
Zaduma / Deep Thought 1989
Author: Bolesław Błaszczyk, 2013, transl. with edits AM, May 2014