Rough Techno & Pianos

Sultan Hagavik are a Polish duo who malarkey around with cassette tape players and dictaphones, using found recordings as well as their own tapes in their crazy bricolage method. 9 Symphonies (BOLT RECORDS BR K001 / NIKLAS RECORDS n/008) is the highly entertaining result, where in just 9 tracks and 37 minutes they speedily exhibit a variety of inventive approaches with mucho good humour and mild surrealism: layers of juxtaposed recordings, odd music fragments, wacky sound effects, slowed-down voices, and many other unidentifiable elements in an atmosphere of carefully contrived insanity. Some pieces are like détourned ambient or easy-listening music, the saccharine melodies transformed into a diabolical blob of garbled filth by these interpolations; on other tracks, the duo arrive at a tongue-in-cheek version of modernist atonal composition, such as on ‘Piano Trio’, where the arbitrary clusters of notes resemble a parodic take on the seriousness of the highbrow conservatoire. The subtitle of this one also tips its sardonic beret in the direction of Górecki, one of the most famous Polish composers, and flippantly remarks that he is “fairly unknown”. Mikolaj Laskowski and Jacek Sotomski allow all the physical characteristics of their chosen medium to work in their favour: distortion and rough sound quality is one element, spontaneity and chance accidents is a second, and a third strong component has to be the way that tapes are manipulated (perhaps by hand) in real time, using controls and buttons to introduce random speed variations and crazed tape wobbles. There have been several composers and improvisers who make free play with these techniques and source materials (just the other night I was wondering whatever became of Stock Hausen & Walkman, those UK zanies who used random found tapes as grenades to throw into their irreverent and chaotic live improvisations), but Sultan Hagavik claim to be the first and only band in Poland “which performs music using tape decks”. Either way, there aren’t many musicians who do it in such a spirited and lively manner, and evidently have a great deal of fun while doing so. That sense of fun may not be immediately obvious from the very sober front cover, but the walrus drawing on the back cover (by Katka Niklas) is a brilliant stroke of incongruity which will connect listeners to John Lennon’s ‘I Am The Walrus’, itself a masterstroke of tape juxtapostions, editing, and happy accidents in the studio, hence a perfect precedent for this album. From 28 November 2012, this is the first in a series of records called “Kikazaru Pleasures”.

Phonos ek Mechanes are a trio of Polish composers, all of them graduates from various music academies, experimenting with computer generated music. On C+- (BOLT RECORDS BR 1016 / NIKLAS RECORDS n/010) they play their instruments – piano, electric guitar and violin that are often themselves prepared or retuned to a microtonal tuning – and feed the signals directly into computer processors. We never hear a single second of “natural” music from the source instruments, and these performances are exercises in computer signal manipulation, using devices to mangle and transform the sounds in real time. The trio of Cezary Duchnowski, Pawel Hendrich and Slawomir Kupczak all have an interest in electro-acoustic composition and advanced computer composition, and are making manifest their faith in the power of the machine with as much fervour as the Italian Futurists – except where the Italians fell on their knees before the motor car and the airplane, our Polish friends worship the pre-determined actions of the microprocessor. Well, it’s not uncommon now for improvising groups to experiment with this methodology, and to my mind one of the best (and most radical) performers to get exciting results with real-time manipulation in a live situation was the great Kaffe Matthews, who produced some remarkable documents of her live sampling work in the late 1990s. More recently, there’s Han-Earl Park and his “machine musician” io o.o.1. beta++, a most remarkable automaton capable of adding its computerised contributions to a live collaboration. Our three Polish friends are probably interacting as gamely as any live improvising combo, but I think for the most part this record is about the sound they make – often a very strange and fluid melange of highly unusual sounds, which resemble neither the instruments they were sourced from nor any form of electronic music you or I would recognise. In short it’s more like electro-acoustic compositions produced in real time – and in spite of Duchnowski’s avowed support of improvised music and his frequent collaborations with jazz players, it lacks some of the sizzle and snap you normally get from live music, emerging as rather gloomy and turgid mixed-frequency droning. Then again, the threesome do manage to get very agitated on ‘Pianolenie’, which is like hearing Cecil Taylor and Max Roach being force-fed through a gated reverb device with a plastic dragon roaring and snorting in the background. It would also be a mistake to dismiss anything involving Slawomir Kupczak, whose Report CD for this label won resounding cheers in this house. The other odd thing, given that the group name simply means “sound of the machine” and how determined they are to turn the computer into an instrument and vice-versa, is how non-mechanical it all sounds. Most music played by sequencers has the simple repetition of a sewing machine, but there’s none of that on offer, nor the sort of over-processed thrice-filtered bilge that emerges from most contemporary laptop music. Instead, the music is quite unpredictable and has a living, breathing presence, with very “glorpy” and organic notes of great bendiness, shiny fluidity, and shapes as tactile as coloured dough. If this is a battle between the man and the machine, then the humans are winning. From 28 November 2012.

Bolt Records
Niklas Records
Distributed by Monotype Records

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