Saturday, January 26, 2013

(Various) - Blanc et Rouge (Bôłt)

A fairly massive (3-disc, 3 1/2 hour) sampler of Polish avant-garde music ranging from 1962 - 1989, all recorded at the Polish Radio Experimental Studio in Warsaw.

CD 1 - Eugeniusz Rudnik's "Lesson II" (1965) combines taped sounds with electronics and excerpts from broadcasts, often containing dire allusions to missile launches, countdowns, explosions and the like, offset with children's voices. Maybe a bit heavy-handed but, for the time, a forceful work. The doyen of Polish experimental music of the 60s, Krzystof Penderecki, is represented by "Death Brigade" (1964), a piece I'd never heard, inspired by the Holocaust, written several years after his Threnody. For speaker and tape, it's a very impressive, dark work. The spoken text is subtly worked, sometimes doubled, slightly reverberated, accompanied by whispers.The electronics (and, I think, taped orchestral sounds)sometimes pulse, elsewhere whine, everything very much of a piece and solid, propulsive though without rhythm. Fantastic piece; would that Penderecki had stayed on this path and visited the sites it opens to rather than fall into that religious morass...Keeping with the theme, the final piece on this disc is another of Rudnik's, "Elegy to the Victims of War" (1982), which uses tapes of Catholic masses interspersed with electronics and orchestral samples. There's often a good, somber tone, but the arrangement of elements comes off as more kitschy than deep.

CD 2 begins with several minutes of radio announcements (in Polish) before veering into a group (Josef Patkowski, Rudnik and Krzysztof Szlifirski) tribute to the 20th Anniversary of the Polish Workers' Party, an interestingly disparate work, flitting from drum rolls to isolated beeps and plucks to skittering vibes-like tones. We then hear the first of two works by Elzbieta Sikora, who so impressed on the KEW set released by Bôłt last tear. "Rhapsody for the Death of the Republic" (1979), takes recordings from atomic bomb trials, slivers of what sound like a military chorus and other ominous sources and weaves an Andriessen-ish hocketing structure, severe and frightening. It references patriotic motifs from various states but never wallows in them--very effective. Her "Janek Wisniewski - December - Poland" (1982-83) is also quite impressive, a bee-swarm of electronics, harsh, hurtling, intended to portray the descent of her country into chaos. Other pieces by Bohdan Mazurek, Rudnik and Maria Pokrzywinska are somewhat more routine, solid if unexceptional.

The final disc includes two works by another KEW member, Krzysztof Knittel as well as one more by Rudnik, "Guillotine DG" (1989), an odd march-based work with French song about the device, piccolo and ersatz "tribal" drumming. Knittel's "Dorikos" (1976-77), for string quartet (the Wilanow String Quartet) and tape is fascinating, the musicians operating in a relatively traditional mode (Dorian with, to my ears, echoes of Shostakovich) while the tape hurls all manner of "everyday" sounds, crunchy noise, animal and children soundscapes, crashing waves, a weary old man speaking, raucous laughter, shattering glass. Strong piece. His "Gluckspavillon for Cathy" (1978) begins with some ferocious tuba (Zdzislaw Piernik) in a generally ghostly ambience, sounding a bit like something George Crumb might have dreamed up. But over its 36 minutes, it ranges quite widely, using speech, traffic sounds, orchestral snatches and much more, concluding with an extended tape from, perhaps, a bar somewhere, with conversation and muted lounge music. Intriguing work, and an interesting, if uneven set of discs.

Corneliu Dan Georgescu - Horizontals/In Perpetuum (Bôłt)

Georgescu, born in 1938, has studied with a host of luminaries, including Kagel, Ligeti, Stockhausen, Wolff and Xenakis. Here, were presented with his second symphony, his tenth string quartet and

Tomasz Kaminski's liner notes compare his music to that of Feldman. I don't hear it particularly, in the symphony (titled, "Horizontals"). There's far too much attachment, in the symphony, to earlier, more Romantic forms. In fact, though this is hardly my area of expertise, I hear something of a mishmash, with nods to film scores, Prokofiev, minimalism and much more. It's very colorful but structurally meandering, seemingly wanting to be more abstract and stasis-oriented, but always veering back into eclat and shiny effects; too much bravura for my taste. The string quartet fares much better, calmer but with just as much color, though more subtly applied (I'm thinking that's Georgescu's forte). Not Feldman, no, more traditional still--perhaps comparable to some of Volans. Often mysterious, sometimes humorous, this work holds together wonderfully, with finely balanced pizzicato and eerie drones, living up to its moniker, "In Perpetuum"

"Et Vidi Caelum Novum" is for orchestra and chorus and, inevitably, with the spiritual haze implied by the title and the extended vocal techniques, recalls Penderecki. Percussion and brass are up front, leading us back into the general territory of the first piece. As with that piece, the sounds here are impressively arrayed and quite ear-friendly, but I still feel the lack of an underlying rigor. I've no idea how representative these compositions are of Georgescu's music, but with only this to go on, I prefer him in his more circumspect guise.

Sławomir Kupczak - Report (Bôłt)

"Report" is a sound text piece, the words provided by Pawel Krzaczkowki, spoken (in Polish) by Irmina Babinska and Jacek Paruszynski, amidst computer-generated sound by Kupczak.

All aspects of the sound-worldvary over the length of the work, the voices altered, warped, echoed, sped up a bit and otherwise processed, the surrounding electronic vortex incorporating taped public spaces but more directly referring to classic 60s tape music. Occasionally, things mellow out a bit, a soft drone offset by typewrite-like clicks, backgrounding an apparent complaint by the male speaker. The text is stylishly bleak, Tarkovskovian perhaps (an English translation is supplied), often enunciated with bitterness. Somewhat past the midway point, a surprising, lounge-ish bass line emerges, with piano accompaniment, a noirish effect that's at once a welcome change but a bit ill-fitting. More than anything else, I'm reminded of those old Heiner Goebbels/Alfred 23 Harth collaborations, though sans the odd excellent musician. The music becomes increasingly straightforward as the disc progresses,ending in a swirl of Roger Powell proportions (look it up).

Listenable, overall, but a bit scattershot for my tastes, not much to really chew on.
Phonos ek Mechanes - C+- (Bôłt)

Trio electronics with Cezary Duchnowski (piano, computer), Pawel Hendrich (guitar, computer) and Sławomir Kupczak (violin, computer). Not to generalize, but if there's a reasonably consistent characteristic about a good deal of the contemporary music feature on this label, it's that it perhaps owes to much of a debt to its predecessors, particularly the strain of electronic tape music prevalent elsewhere in the 60s and 70s that apparently took very strong hold here. There's something of the anachronistic in play that you don't here outside of academe in, say, the US, where the outside world manages to seep in, explicitly or otherwise. Not wanting to be too facile, but if you can imagine the driest Richard Teitelbaum work given some welcome Slavic spice, you'd be close to the music here. It's more interesting than the wan electronic academic work one can often hear but still retains an excess of reverence for a kind of classical tradition that no longer seems relevant. It sometimes sounds as though the musicians have heard nothing else but music in their "field", which obviously isn't the case, but the sense of insularity is strong.

The sounds are solid, well structured and not unenjoyable, just too listless for me, at least now. Maybe I'm missing something.

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