Monika Szpyrka is a female composer who started her career with ‘microscopic’ sonorism and recently converted to relational music. Her works address everyday problems: gender parity, the fashion industry, recycling, and ecology.
Monika Szpyrka was born in 1993. She graduated with a Bachelors in Music Theory and Masters in Composition from the Academy of Music in Kraków, where she studied in Anna Zawadzka-Gołosz’s class. She is currently a PhD student at her alma mater and is studying composition in Aarhus under Julian Hodkinson, Niels Rønsholdt, and Simon Steen-Andersen. She has also participated in workshops such as Donaueschinger Musiktage Next Generation and Synthetis. During the courses, she expanded her skills in individual lessons with Mark André, Richard Ayres, Mark Blaauw, Johannes Kreidler, Zygmunt Krauze, Bernhard Lang, Stefan Prins, Rebecca Saunders, Mark Stroppa, Kaija Saariaho, Jennifer Walshe, and Agata Zubel. Her compositions have also been performed at the Musica Electronica Nova festival, the Young Composers Meeting in Apeldoorn, and Ostrava New Music Days, as well as at the International Festival of Kraków Composers, Festival Aktuelle Musik in Nuremberg, and the International Summer Courses of New Music in Darmstadt. She has worked with bands such as E-MEX, Kompopolex, orkest de ereprijs, Ostravská Banda, W/L Duo, and Vocal Federation 6.
Monika Szpyrka’s recent creative path may resemble the paths of some of her peers: it began with pure modernism and a fascination with sound, then took a turn towards a new discipline, concepts, and relationships. However, a closer look will reveal an individual trait and a common element at both stages: silent dynamics, subtle changes (of timbre and articulation), noisy sounds (bug report), which together could be described as ‘microscopic’ sonorism. The effect requires precise amplification of the instruments, which thus create unprecedented, synthetic colours, in a narrative bordering on sleep (hypnagogic hallucinations). The sound system is also important in creating the spatiality of sound (rotacja pirochloru), which is sometimes so important that it even requires the form of an installation (rzeźba rewersyjna). In her matured style, Szpyrka does not give up this sonoristic attention but adds performative elements, such as the choreographic gestures of the drummers (collect. consume. repeat) or costumes put on or taken off on stage (Ready-to-Wear diptych). The latter works were inspired by the collection of fashion designer Rick Owens. Among the other stimuli of her work are chemical and physical processes, minimalist constructions by Yasuaki Onishiand Bernhard Lang’s loops and repetitions.
Electric Knights, Classics & Abstractionists: A Brief Guide to Polish Contemporary Music
[…] When, in 2017, I was at a workshop organised in Apeldoorn by Orkest de Ereprijs (the composition Count to 10 for 14 instruments and 2 sopranos was created at that time), I talked to the composer and course lecturer, Richard Ayres. Then he asked me why I don’t use regular rhythms if I want to. This conversation and this question opened me up to what I’m doing now, and it has, to some extent, broken down the subconscious resistance I had due to my scientific approach. That is why, among other things, for some time now I have been using simpler structures more and more boldly. And they’ve been within me for a long time. In high school, my playlist was dominated by minimal techno and IDM. I think that, in general, my generation has some kind of sentiment towards regular rhythms, minimal music and techno. This fascination also appears in my works, especially in my recent songs.
Magdalena Pasternak, Jan Topolski, Useful Statistics, Limited Means. Conversation with Monika Szpyrka.'
An important background for this breakthrough was Monika Szpyrka’s master’s thesis titled Feminist Themes Used by Female Composers in Selected Works from the Turn of the 20th and 21st Century, devoted to Pauline Oliveros, Olga Neuwirth, and Jennifer Walshe. Useful Statistics is a work related to her graduation – the piece’s performance sounds different each time, depending on the orchestra’s gender structure: the ‘male’ and ‘female’ parts are written differently.
Szpyrka pursued the theme further in are there hidden figures, where a video is displayed behind the string quartet. In the video, black and white stripes are determined again by peculiarly interpreted statistics and indicators. Another important theme of her recent works is consumerism and its obsession with robotically repeated gestures (collect. consume. repeat). The rebellion against it is the no-waste movement, which Szpyrka treated literally and wittily, encoding musical parts used in her previous pieces on the sampler (zero waste tip 1: don’t waste your music). Another example with a similar sense of humour is a satire on synesthesia (can you hear colors? #1) written together with Teoniki Rożynek, with whom she has a long-standing friendship and a shared interest in beats. In this song, like in many others, playback is an important mean of expression, introducing an additional layer with which the live-playing musicians (de)synchronise.
Music from Poland in 2018: Young Composers Finally Come into Bloom
Monika Szpyrka’s premiere song 'Are there hidden figures?' for string quartet, electronics and video, which was a part of the concert String, Video & Electronics shared with David Bird, started with a delay. The musicians, seated on stage, facing the audience, seemed helpless in the face of technical problems. Undoubtedly, there is a certain irony of fate in this, because helplessness in the face of discrimination and social inequality is in the area of the young composer’s interests. She creates committed music, entangled in feminism, the zero waste movement and criticism of excessive consumerism […]. This time, however, the ideological casing of the musical matter took precedence over the whole. The string quartet, behind which black and white stripes were displayed (another reference to fashion?) shrank during the course of the piece, revealing the disproportions intended by the composer. Such a procedure made the whole thing very literal. The order of performances also turned out to be detrimental. That evening we first heard three compositions by the American. In comparison with them, Szpyrka’s piece, although more interesting and involving the mind in terms of ideology, seemed less innovative in sound
Wioleta Żochowska, 'Festival with Komplexes. 9. Musica Electronica Nova'
Uncovering the Soul of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio – Video
contemporary polish composers
- oscylacje inercyjne for a trio (2014)
- Rozpad engramu for flute, alto saxophone, 2 drums, viola (2014)
- raster1 for organ solo (2014)
- irradiacja for horn, harp, accordion, viola (2015)
- rzeźba rewersyjna for organ, two portable organs and drums (2015)
- sploty krepowe for string quartet (2015)
- linia delimitacyjna pomiędzy bryłą a pustką for two drums and string orchestra (2015)
- hypnagogic hallucinations for drums, piano, violin and bass guitar (2015)
- bug report for bass clarinet, harp, drums and cello (2016)
- adHuc for female chamber choir (2016)
- Cityscape Krakow #5 for tape (2016)
- 301.6/301.8 for bass flute and bass clarinet (2016)
- rotacja pirochloru for drums, 8 double basses and audio-playback (2016)
- instrument fall Ready-To-Wear 2016 for electric guitar, drums, audio-playback, video and costumes (2016)
- count to 10 for 14 instruments and 2 sopranos (2017)
- instrument spring ready-To-Wear 2017 for flute, drums, accordion, audio-playback, video and costumes (2017)
- can you hear colors? #1 for bass flute and audio-playback (2017)
- zero waste tip 1: don’t waste your music for a sampler (2017)
- useful statistics for orchestra (2018)
- collect.consume.repeat for four drums and audio-playback (2018)
- playing like a… for solo trumpet (2018)
- instrument fall ready-To-Wear 2018 v.2 for electric guitar, costumes and drums (2018)
- the problem that has no name: 1 for harpsichord and audio-playback (2019)
- the problem that has no name: 2 for electric guitar, costumes and drums (2019)
- are there hidden figures for string quartet, electronics and video (2019)
Originally written in Polish by Jan Topolski, October 2019, tranlsated into English by P. Grabowski, December 2019