The Physicality Of A Tape

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15 Corners Of The World (BÔŁT RECORDS BR ES19) may be of interest to those who have been following the music of Eugeniusz Rudnik, important composer and sound engineer at the Polish Radio Experimental Studios since the mid-1950s. The Polish label Bôłt Records continues its ongoing campaign to restore Rudnik to a position of prominence, and indeed to remind the rest of the world about the importance of Polish Radio in general; previous releases in the series include the Blanc Et Rouge 3-CD set from 2014, and the selection Sounds The Body Electric from 2013, which accompanied an exhibition of the same name. 15 Corners Of The World is in fact a motion picture film, written and directed by Zuzanna Solakiewicz (maker of documentary shorts and cinematic essays) and originally released in 2014; the present CD is not exactly the soundtrack to said film, but is a selection of sounds from it, edited and re-presented in order to form a satisfying listening experience. The film is not a straightforward biography of the great man, rather it describes itself as “an attempt to hear the vision of his music”, suggesting that its arrangement and editing of images are deployed in an interpretive fashion, in sympathy with the underlying themes of Rudnik’s work. “Following the rhythms of architecture, the human body, and the throbbing pulse of nature we discover a new reality,” is how the movie website describes the process.

Over 48 minutes we hear 22 snippets of music and spoken word; the initial experience of hearing this is not exactly jarring, but it is somewhat disorienting, as though we’re almost hearing a story that doesn’t quite materialise. I do like the essay style; long passages of music are interspersed with spoken interjections from Rudnik, where he talks in a simple and unaffected manner about his methods and ideas. He is enchanted with magnetic tape, amazed that he could “hold sound in his hand”. He is genuinely surprised by his own discoveries when he transforms sound on tape, and asks himself “what is really happening?” While it’s clear that he’s mastered his techniques, a lot of the time he wants to bring things back to a human dimension, speaking of the realities of emotion, the human voice, or the landscape; he doesn’t want to become completely lost in a studio-bound world of abstraction. This may be one of the aspects that makes Polish Radio distinct from the other schools of electronic and tape music, some of whose proponents clearly preferred the coldness of dreary abstraction to any grubby human reality. Rudnik’s quotes are spoken in Polish, but the English-speaking reader is helped by the enclosed booklet with its translations.

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Through the course of this journey, whose trajectory I suppose is largely shaped by Solakiewicz, we’ll traverse many strange aural terrains – and I’ll quote some of the titles here to pique your interest, including ‘Grinding Bird Bones’, ‘Dinosaurs Walk And Roar’, ‘The Golden-Mouthed In The Mist’ and ‘The Typist’s Syncope’. Any one of these could be the title to a modernist painting in some idyllic pre-war European country, before the invention of drip painting and colourfield abstract art which ruined everything. The sonic excerpts are, on the CD at least, arranged under headings which attempt to characterise and describe Rudnik’s experiments and techniques; they include, for example, “Inventory of Listener’s Associations”, “Human Voice Distorted”, and “Repetition”. Along the way there is a train journey, a sojourn in the “Electro Meadow”, and the very evocative “Warsaw Mists – Collage”.

At the end of this one feels a bit closer to understanding something of the mind and method of Eugeniusz Rudnik; both film and CD soundtrack serve this purpose, and are clearly done with warmth and engagement, to provide a sympathetic portrait of the man and his music, even at the risk of being too subjective in its interpretations. One can’t imagine Stockhausen ever having much truck with an ambitious young film-maker approaching him with ideas about buildings and human bodies, but then Stockhausen already did a very good job of controlling just about every aspect of his work and its perception. Rudnik’s open-mindedness and sense of wonder about the possibilities of magnetic tape might be seen as refreshing. It’s also fair to say this release is making a strong bid for the assertion of Polish culture, and the CD back cover carries no fewer than 18 logos of various National Institutes, record labels and cultural establishments, endorsing its value. From 12 February 2016.

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