30. March 2020

Work in Progress

Due to the current situation, our Monday Concert which was set for the 30th March, could not take place. For this program, curator Marco Blaauw and the ensemble’s brass section worked closely with composer Marcin Stanczyk. They prepared two of his new pieces collaboratively – as work in progress. Here on the blog, Marcin Stanczyk  gives insight into his work and answers some questions about the program, as it was originally planned.

At the next Monday Concert entitled “Progress”, the ensemble’s brass players planned to perform pieces that are still in development. How did this decision to present work in progress come about?

Me and the members of Musikfabrik brass quartet have talked several times in the past about a possibility to write a new piece for them. Their double-bell instruments have a very distinctive specific. You can’t learn about them from books because the development of these instruments is relatively new, so for now they are completely unique, made differently for each individual musician. The only way to understand them is to get to know their specifics from live experience, listening and working with the players. I have worked with the before, but rather as a part of a bigger ensemble. I thought if I wanted to write a  quartet for double-bell brass instruments, I needed more experience. I told this to the musicians and a few months later Marco Blaauw, the curator of this Montagskonzert, suggested to build the material for a new piece by working with prepared sketches, different ideas, trying their potential of further development and preset a work in progress. This way, we could show how a composer and musicians work together, develop new ideas and possibilities of the double-bell brass instruments.

What is the method of working to make Progress?

Progress is both the title of the concert and the temporary title of one of my pieces – a duo for Moog synthesizer and „electric” trumpet (equipped with a guitar amplifier). I connected this term with grès porcelain stoneware which has a high abrasion resistance. This made me think of solid sound blocks consisting of rough noise, which can be easily achieved with a Moog synthesizer, but in case of the trumpet unique skills (and amplificaton) are needed to control them.

But metaphorically speaking, I would say: I believe that to make progress in music, in composing and experiencing it, we need to go back to the real listening experience, which can still rise our imagination. I feel like now we are too obsessed with perceiving music “like computers”, as a succession of subsequent events built from more and more mixed and diverse elements, especially visuals which more often kill the music and only sometimes extend it. I am wondering why so many visual art directions from the XX century were directly and widely translated to music with one exception – surrealism. Does it mean that musicians had less imagination than painters?

Following this lead, for the double bell quartet I planned to prepare a multichannel recording of all four instruments in a resonant space and mix them with the music played live by those same musicians on those same instruments, while walking through the blindfolded audience. This would be a sort of metavirtual brass quartet built from two quartets and two different room resonances mixed up in hope of creating a kind of surrealistic experience. I believe that if we find in ourselves a kind of childish naivety, we can enjoy the music as a pure experience of space and sounds, and our imagination will create amazing surreal images, almost like a film, where the “story” will be projected not on the screen, but on our closed eyelids, and more than this – each “film” will be unique and different for every recipient.

One piece of the program is called “Aftersounds”, a concept which you were inspired by the optical phenomenon of “afterimage”. Can you explain what aftersounds are and how one can find them in your music?

I have been inspired by the idea of aftersounds or afterhearings for several years now. Over time, depending on the piece, the concept of “aftersounds” became to slightly differ, however, it is still based on a reflection on the sound itself, its possible meaning, and perception of the phenomenon of perspective. It can be considered on the level of pure musical material (resonances, reflections, contrasts), as well as metaphorically (when the composition becomes an afterimage of an external phenomenon). I am still trying to figure out what else an aftersound can be, how else can it be understood? In case of the new piece for Musikfabrik, I planned to refer to the original definition of an afterimage. In optics, “afterimage” is an image stored on the retina remaining longer than the duration of the viewing process. After transferring one’s gaze to another object, the eye superimposes and mixes the stored and the current images, utilizing a principle of complementary colors. I thought that in case of music, an aftersound could also be understood simply as the sound „stored in eyes” (or rather ears) remaining longer then the actually played sound – so the reverberation of the sound. The reverb can be produced in a natural way with the concert hall’s acoustic, or can also be reproduced with electronic sources, and finally can be mapped artificially with specific compositional processes. All of these methods interested me especially in case of double bell brass instruments, which have this unique possibility to create different sounds from each bell. I don’t want to talk too much about the specific technical solutions, which partially come out during the performance.

Thinking about the new piece, I also wanted to apply another way of understanding aftersounds by giving the audience an impression of a multiplied and spatialized sound, similar to the acousmatic music, however produced entirely by the instruments, not computers. I have used this idea before in some of my previous pieces and called it „musique acousmatique instrumentale”.

I am a little tired of the progressing visuality of musical art; I don’t see great musical progress in this trend and in most cases I found it rather worrisome. My musique acousamtique instrumentale seems to deny the traditional François Bayle’s concept of acousmatic music as music produced in the studio, which is then propagated through the loudspeakers and the listener doesn’t perceive the original source of the sounds. In fact, in the very beginning, acousmatic experience was an acoustic experience, practiced by Pythagoras’ students called akousmatikoi, who listened to him from behind the curtain to better focus on the content of his lectures. Much later, the term was used by poets, ex. Guillaume Appolinaire, followed by musicians Pierre Schaeffer and François Bayle, who created a new meaning of acousmatic music, excluding the live performance. And that, in my opinion, was a mistake. After the initial curiosity, the concerts of acousmatic music at the end of the 70s did not gain a great popularity, the audience did not accept concerts without the participation of the live musicians. I decided to go back to the origins of “acousmatique” and try to keep some of their advantages. The most fascinating element of acousmatic music is for me the possibility to track the trajectory of the sound, where I am constantly surprised by the movement of sounds in space. These impression were impossible to achieve with a acoustic performance, where we see the musicians and we can easily predict the sound movement in space. This is why I decided to invite the public to wear blindfolds (or just close their eyes) and unleash their fantasies and imagination. This will also be the case of the new piece for the Musikfabrik brass quartet.

You have already worked with the ensemble several times, can you tell us a bit about the collaboration?

We have worked several times before, first time for the piece “Blind Walk” commissioned by the Venice Biennale in 2015. I was amazed by the excellent musicianship and open-mindness of the Musikfabrik members and tried to invite them to collaborate on other works. This way “Some Drops” for trumpet and ensemble was created and played during polish “Sacrum Profanum” Festival, as well as Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. More recently, the brass quartet accepted my invitation to take part in the multimedia one hour long show “Afterthoughts” composed on the occasion of 100 anniversary of Polish independence and performed in Szczecin Philharmonic. Now we are working on the next two pieces and I hope that this collaboration will continue and bear fruit again.

Besides the works for the brass quartet, what else are you working on at the moment? What are the sources of inspiration for these pieces?

I am working on a concerto for 6 solo saxophones and orchestra planned for March 2021 to be played by the National Polish Radio Orchestra in Katowice, and a flute solo piece which will have its premiere during Das Internationale Flöten Festival organized in September 2020 by the Deutschen Gesellschaft für Flöte in Freiburg. The sources of inspiration still revolve around the concept of aftersounds, afterhearings, afterthoughts and „musique acousmatique instrumentale”. I have already written many pieces entitled or connected with the idea of aftersounds and I still see a great potential in finding it or rediscovering it all over again.