Maja SK Ratkje and Mirt pay tribute to the groundbreaking sounds that passed between Warsaw and Oslo.
The role in the development of experimental electronic music played by institutions such as the Musical Research Group (GRM) in Paris and WDR studios in Cologne is well documented. But recent years have seen a renewed interest in other studios who, from the 1950s onwards, were also stretching the boundaries of sound. In many cases – the UK’s own BBC Radiophonic Workshop being one example – this has led to a wealth of ground-breaking music being reappraised and brought to new audiences.
Eastern Waves, which comes to hcmf// 2015 on Saturday 28 November, is the latest in an ongoing project by Foundation 4.99 dedicated to reimagining and rediscovering the work of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio. Founded in Warsaw in 1957 by Jozef Patkowski, who ran it until 1985, the Studio was the site of more than 200 recordings, including work for film, television, exhibitions and theatre. Together with Bôlt Records, Foundation 4.99 have released a series of CDs dedicated to the PRES’s music, as well as hosting the Polish Radio Experimental Studio Revisited concert cycle.
For Eastern Waves, the project has widened its focus to links between the PRES and Norway’s experimental music, both historic and contemporary. At hcmf// 2015, the Norwegian composer/musician (and former hcmf//Composer in Residence) Maja SK Ratkje will perform a live version of In Dialogue with Eugeniusz Rudnik, a work blending samples of the Polish composer and PRES sound engineer’s tape music with her own voice and electronic manipulations – read more about it here.
Polish electronic artist Mirt, meanwhile, pays tribute to the celebrated Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim with a radical reinterpretation of his landmark 1968 piece Solitaire. We asked him a few questions about what he has in store…
When did you first hear of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio?
I don’t remember, it was probably in high school. When I was a student of the Academy of Fine Arts, I heard works of Rudnik and Penderecki recorded for PRES for the first time. I’ve always had great respect for PRES, but, frankly, it was never an important part of my musical background.
Has it influenced your own work in any way? Where do you hear the legacy of Nordheim’s electronic works in today’s music?
PRES is important part of electronic music, and for sure, every electronic music artist owes something to PRES and other pioneers. Techniques used in GRM or PRES are still present in music, no matter if it is a computer or tape, VST plugin or a bunch of oscillators. It is everywhere.
This is also a legacy of Nordheim, although it is hard for me to point to anything specific. After working on Solitaire I feel he is close to me, I see his works as soundscapes or sound sculptures built from everything – oscillations, field recording, voices. I’m making different music but in a similar way. There is space in Nordheim’s works; maybe this is why some see Nordheim as a grandfather of ambient music. But when you think about the legacy of early electronic music, it is mostly in tools, I think.
Why did you choose to focus upon Solitaire in particular?
When Micha? Mendyk asked me about reinterpreting Nordheim’s work, it was a surprise for me. Micha? heard some similarities with Nordheim in my works – it was even a bigger surprise for me when I started listening to his music I didn’t know very well previously. I was searching for those similarities. His Solitaire starts with this beautiful drone and all parts drifting to and fro like waves, something I loved. I was focused on the meditative aspect of this music, but everything was happening a little too fast for me. I was considering whether to focus on Solitaire or Warszawa and when I listen to both tracks today, I’m not sure why [I chose] Solitaire; both are stunning.
Which aspects of the original recording did you find yourself most attracted to?
I like how it is rising and fading, the contrast of low, warm timbres and high-pitched metallic sounds. How it is organic and sterile at the same time. It is an outstanding track, so rich in details. I like how Nordheim plays with the silence, the contrasts. I was trying to preserve this wide dynamic scale.
What elements from the piece make up your reinterpretation?
I didn’t use any samples from Nordheim’s work, but I was trying to recreate some timbres and sounds. I solely used my modular synthesiser. The modular synth is close to the equipment available in experimental studios, but modern modular synths also give many more possibilities.
I work in a rather archaic way, without a computer. I decided to divide the whole Solitaire into a few parts, and work on each separately: listen carefully, let my imagination find something I can expand and recreate it as it was, as equal parts Nordheim’s and my own piece of work. Sometimes I was just finding some shades of sound I can use, like just a few notes, or something that sounds to me like a fragment of tribal rhythm.
Did you feel a need to preserve and enhance aspects of the original, or to view your version as something completely new in its own right?
I usually try to avoid interpretations of others, remixes etc, also because I always feel it should be democratic and I should keep something important from the original piece and it is sometimes hard for me. I needed time to understand and accept Nordheim’s work, and use it as a sketch for something new. I was focused on the original Solitaire as I was sure that my own ideas would appear spontaneously because it was so different from my own works.
How will the live performance at hcmf// vary from your album version?
This is the fifth time I’m playing Solitaire live, I haven’t been listening to Nordheim’s or my own Solitaire since completing the work on the CD. Every live version is improvised and further from both originals. It is like memories of Solitaire. I’m trying to remember timbres, I have some samples like scraps of memory. I’m trying to recreate parts I remember, but also to find a way from Solitaire to things I do on my own.