The artistic collective panGenerator’s APPARATUM is an interactive installation in which a digital interface meets the analogue sound of magnetic tape. It was inspired by Oskar and Zofia Hansen and Bogusław Schaeffer’s work for the Polish Radio Experimental Studio.
Krzysztof Cybulski, Krzysztof Goliński, and Jakub Koźniewski – panGenerator’s members – combine design with innovative technology in works inspired by sound’s role in modern culture. In APPARATUM, they confront the heritage of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio (1957–2004). The installation draws inspiration from the graphic score of Bogusław Schaeffer’s Symphony – Electronic Music (1964) and the Experimental Studio’s Black Room designed by Oskar and Zofia Hansen.
The Polish Radio Experimental Studio was established by Włodzimierz Sokorski – the president of the Committee for Television and Radio and a former Minister of Culture for the communist regime. He was responsible for introducing socialist realism to Poland and he ferociously condemned artists who possessed different aesthetic inclinations. After the premiere of Witold Lutosławski’s Symphony No. 1 he said: ‘The composer should be pushed under a tram’. Later on, this anecdote was used in Andrzej Wajda’s film Afterimage, however, Lutosławski was swapped with Władysław Strzemiński.
The Musical Milestones of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio
Józef Patkowski – professor of music, acoustician, composer and long-time director of the Polish Composers Union – was the founder and the director of the studio. After him, electroacoustic engineer Krzysztof Szlifirski was the studio’s senior figure. It was a pioneering institution throughout the entire Eastern Bloc, as Patkowski had travelled to similar facilities located all over Western Europe – in Cologne, Paris, Graveson, and Milan. Even though the studio produced its own projects, it wasn’t its main goal. Among other things, it created sound effects for radio broadcasts, music for theatres, filmmakers, and choreographers. The studio was located in the famous Black Room, designed by Zofia and Oskar Hansen. The 6-by-6-metre room was square, and its walls were made up of black and red rotating panels – one side being a flat surface (to reflect sound) and the other perforated (to absorb sound). The Black Room was itself an Open Form experience.
Jakub Koźniewski, one of APPARATUM’s authors, says:
Uncovering the Soul of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio – Video
Hansen’s minimalistic style really inspired us. We don’t currently have to deal with storage issues, as we can store all our data on computers, which doesn’t take up a lot of space. Yet during the times of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio they had to fit a large amount of equipment into a very limited area. Hansen came up with the idea of a framework that could fit different elements of the studio’s machinery. It’s not a coincidence that our installation is black and white: it’s a reference to the studio's distinct monochromatic style. The generators that produce sound refer to the style and arrangement of the Black Room.
Sound generators used in PRES (1962-1971), photo: Andrzej Zborski /MSN and APPARATUM, photo: press materials
Bogusław Schaeffer’s Symphony – Electronic Music is one of the most ground-breaking pieces of music of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio’s output. The composer and graphic designer, instead of independently experimenting with the sound itself, prepared a graphic score including detailed instructions specifying how to implement certain steps. The composer made it possible to conduct this process in studios of any sort and did not specify which instruments should be used, as he only defined the parameters.
How did panGenerator incorporate Schaeffer’s music score? Krzysztof Cybulski – musician and sound artist – provides the answer:
8 Game-Changing Film Soundtracks By The Polish Radio Experimental Studio
In Symphony – Electronic Music we deal with a certain set of modules in the record. Schaeffer used a specific symbols to signify parallel sounds. This allowed us to pick distinctive symbols and their sound equivalents. Based on that we created an interface and analogue sound generators. Bohdan Mazurek, who was the symphony’s first producer, made some suggestions, among others about sinusoidal frequencies. It’s more difficult when it comes to the composer’s notes, regardless of how interesting they are. For example a phrase of ‘periodical sounds’ can be interpreted in various ways, but it leads us to a certain fractured sound matter. You have to keep in mind that it’s one thing to complete a piece recorded in a music score, which means laborious work for numerous days while secluded in a recording studio. It’s a whole different story to create a device – a platform – for the spontaneous creation of electronic music. We had to simplify Bogusław Schaeffer’s symbols and their sonic equivalents. For example: the composer created an entire scale made out of rectangles – it varies according to length, representing various sounds. Instead, in our project a rectangle just represents one group of sounds.
Taming the Machine: An Interview with Elżbieta Sikora
Detail of APPARATUM and a piece of Bogusław Schaeffer's notations, photo: press materials
The creators of the installation highlight that both Hansen’s design and Schaeffer’s score were the starting points of their project. Their main inspiration was the atmosphere of the Experimental Studio. APPARATUM is a simulator that allows one to become a composer. At first glance, the device is the size of a jukebox, but it looks more like a modern digital toy. However, the inside is analogue – it has analogue sound generators that are modelled on those used by the Polish Radio Experimental Studio.
The Future Sound of Warsaw: An Introduction to PRES
Paweł Romańczuk, założyciel zespołu Małe Instrumenty, opowiada o duchu eksperymentu wywiedzionym z działań Studia Eksperymentalnego Polskiego Radia (SEPR) i porażkach, które nieuchronnie czekają na eksperymentujących artystów.
What were the biggest difficulties in creating APPARATUM? Krzysztof Goliński answered:
ERdada for Tape - Eugeniusz Rudnik
The biggest challenge in creating this installation was putting all the elements together – the mechanism, the construction, and the software – so that everything would work smoothly and sound good at the same time. The device can be used by an eight year old as well as an elderly person that’s not familiar with a haptic interface. Using APPARATUM is like using a tablet app and yet what one can do with it goes far beyond just the interface. The physical sound generators are the core of this project, the end product is a musical composition recorded as a downloadable mp3 file and a thermal print of the score.
Opowieść o Studiu Eksperymentalnym Polskiego Radia (SEPR), ''czarnym pokoju'' działającym w latach 1957-2004. O swojej wizji spuścizny SEPR opowiadają: Bolesław Błaszczyk, Marcin Lenarczyk, Monika Pasiecznik i Ewa Szczecińska.
Polish Radio Experimental Studio
Musically-inclined or tech-savvy readers are probably wondering how this thing actually works. Krzysztof Cybulski explains how:
APPARATUM is made up of two parts. The bottom box is the user interface – the digital interface refers to the fact that we’ve become so used to interacting with on apps. The top part contains electromechanic sound generators, most of which work due to rotational or linear movement. Five generators use an electromagnetic tape. Two generators are classic 2-track loops. At the control panel one can change the pace of their spin or the pitch of sound. The three remaining generators are built in a playful way: instead of moving the tape along the head, we created a tape that remains still while the head is moving. We wanted to show the movement associated with the creation of sound. We also have three small generators which have ‘static snow‘ printed onto them – a type of noise compiled from randomly generated black and white squares. While, most people think that’s just for aesthetics, it actually generates sound. The device also has optical generators to produce sounds which originate from the way it is recorded on tape, with bright and dark stripes that obscure the source of light. On the other side of the tape is a photo resistor, which measures the intensity of the light and produces a variable electric current which directly puts the membrane in motion. This method wasn’t used at the studio, but it was quite popular among other studios at the time, it seemed to be in line with the studio’s atmosphere. The spinning discs have different graphic patterns printed on them, which directly translated into sound. Black and transparent stripes pass before a diode, and after exceeding 20Hz become a square wave, a sound that’s rich in harmonics, which allowed us to visually depict sound.
Originally written by Filip Lech, translated by Hanna Szkarłat
Mazes, Notes & Dali: The Extraordinary Life of Krzysztof Penderecki