SCHAEFFER (b. 1929)
Assemblage (1966) (second simultaneous version) [18:14]
Electronic Symphony (1966) (performed by Bogdan Mazurek)
Heraklitiana (1970) (Urszula Mazurek (harp)) [20:52]
Project (1975) (Zdzis?aw Piernik (tuba)) [14:32]
Project (Mariusz Pe;dzia?ek (oboe, cor anglais)) [16:24]
M.P. listens to Heraklitiana (Miko?aj Pa?osz (cello)) [21:00]
Electronic Symphony (performed by Wolfram)* [17:05]
Assemblage (first simultaneous version)* [4:14]
o.t. dec. 2011 (Thoman Lehn)* [10:11]
rec. Polish Radio Experimental Studio except *: Project
CD 2, Polish Society for Electroacoustic Music, Warsaw 1994; M.P.
listens to Heraklitiana Foundation 4.99, Warsaw, 2011; CD 2
Electronic Symphony and o.t., December 2011, artists’
DUX 0881/0882 [70:57 + 68:54]
The name Boguslaw Schaeffer was one I carried around for a long time as a student in the form of an enormous volume entitled ‘Introduction to Composition’. Filled almost entirely with examples from avant-garde scores, this weighty tome seemed to typify the scale of investment Eastern Europe was prepared to give to contemporary music in the 1960s and 1970s. As artists we learned huge amounts from musical Poland those days, and with this release of some of Schaeffer’s seminal electronic music we can re-visit those times and make up our own minds as to the lasting value of this kind of work.
The ‘polyversional’ aspect of Schaeffer’s compositions is apparent from a comparison of the titles on these two discs. These are pieces written not as conventional scores which attempt to provide an interpreter with enough information to perform as closely as possible the music the composer has in mind, but instead offer ‘potential aggregates’, or a notation which offers a variety of possible versions. This investigation of open-ended compositional/performance interaction is explored further with this recording. For instance, the piece Heraklitiana for tape and soloist is missing its score, and this was not found even after months of searching – hence the title for the second version in this release, M.P. listens to Heraklitiana. Does a performer attempt to imitate an “original” version based on a recording made when the score was present, or are they left to improvise an interaction with the pre-existing tape? Can anyone tell the difference? Does it matter?
These are all interesting questions, and the kinds of issues which will cement the argument that the composer, having to a greater or lesser extent absented themselves through the accidents of history or careless archiving, has little right to count themselves a true composer at all in this context; providing support for the ‘it’s a load of rubbish’ side. Having taken this stance, the nay-sayer is then given a skip load of reconstructed scores and recordings based on incomplete works by their favourite composers from the Baroque or any other period and told to set light to the lot, as this is the logical consequence of their views.
I would by no means be surprised if the majority of people, perhaps even the majority of musicians would regard the work on these CDs to be ‘squeaky gate’ music. This is the kind of experimental, abstract and a-tonal stuff which still gives listeners the heebie-jeebies even now, 50 years after it was made. As a point of reference, the multi-movement Electronic Symphony is in some ways comparable with Stockhausen’s Kontakte in its purely electronic form. The use of space to move sounds around, the variety of nuance and articulation, sonority and timbre are all highly detailed and distinctive. These qualities added to the interactive way in which the work is performed made this one of Schaeffer’s most important works, and it is still a significant monument today – not just as a figurehead for what was to come later on, but as a powerful piece of music in its own right.
Assemblage appears in two versions. The sounds are recognisable, coming from a heavily tortured violin, and a piano which is approached and made to yield its noises in every imaginable way. This is a kind of ‘de-composition’, and one which, as the booklet states, “is one of many [of] Schaeffer’s pieces that prove his passion for ambiguity.” This is wild stuff, and the second version just cuts off without even bothering to acknowledge a final note or fade-out.
The soundtrack for the previously mentioned Heraklitiana is filled with non-musical, concrete sounds. Wind, fire, water, the cries of birds – later on flute and other instruments, fragments of recorded voices and a variety of other sources. Urszula Mazurek’s harp in the ‘original’ version adds a feel of ancient worlds to this confluence of recorded noises, and the work is certainly fertile food for the imagination. This is the kind of subtle improvisational soundscape from which much can be gained, and which grows on you the more you learn its multi-layered and interactive language.
Project is another interaction between soloist and tape. The first of these pits the magnificent overtones and depth of sonorities provided by Zdzislaw Piernik’s tuba, making for some of the most impressive sounds on the entire collection. The tuba seems to suit Schaeffer’s tape-scapes perfectly, introducing vocal eloquence and imitating and mixing with the expressive electronics so that, on occasion, it can be hard to tell them apart. The oboe/cor anglais version which opens CD 2 has its own unique qualities, and is an apt demonstration of that ‘polyversional’ aspect of Schaeffer’s work, where a concept and even a pre-existing tape can be taken in entirely different directions and brought to entirely different worlds through alternative instruments and interpreters.
The booklet to this release provides plenty of background information and numerous little anecdotes about the genesis of these pieces, and the production in its entirety is a fascinating resource – a kind of deep well into which one can gaze, wondering at the reflections in the water of a distant but living past. The final title, o.t. dec. 2011, brings us to the present, with some of Thomas Lehn’s own ideas introduced to the work he did on Schaeffer’s piece Symphony in a kind of idiomatically sensitive post-retro remix.
A prolific composer for conventional musical forces, if you look at Boguslaw Schaeffer’s Wikipedia entry there are no electronic titles listed at all, even though he was one of the most significant contributors to the output of the PRES or Polish Radio Experimental Studio between 1966 and 1976. This release gives more than just a flavour of the times in which ‘anything went’, but, as in particular the Electronic Symphony shows, provides access to the highly significant and influential avant-garde achievements of one of the 20th century’s most agile musical minds.