Seventy or so years ago, Pierre Schaeffer and others experimented with composition based directly on sound rather than on notated pre-compositional structures. Using the then-new technology of magnetic tape, they laid the foundation for a tradition of concrete, acousmatic music. Polish composer Dariusz Mazurowski continues that tradition with neo-acousmatic music that carries some of the outward marks of classic postwar experiments with sound composition.
Mazurowski (1966) was born in Gdansk, Poland. He began composing in the 1980s and after moving to Prague in the 1990s he returned to Gdansk, where he currently lives and works. What makes his acousmatic work “neo” isn’t the sound so much as the methods behind the sounds. Rather than relying on the manipulation of tape or other mechanical means of sound registration and reproduction, his work takes advantage of more recent analogue and digital technologies to sculpt works combining electronically-generated sounds with sampled sounds of acoustic and electronic origin.
Back in Time, a set of ten electroacoustic pieces released last year, surveys Mazurowski’s work for the period 1992-2012. Much of it is sound montage in which the sources are more or less transparent, even when chopped up and mixed together. Mazurowski juxtaposes fragments of speech, shards of recorded music, vintage recordings, electronic tones and stuttering turntables into a kind of mosaic or quick-cutting non-linear narrative. Individual sound elements appear as discrete entities—the audio equivalent of the hard-edged, geometric shapes in a Suprematist painting that collide and occasionally overlap but never lose their distinctive profiles.
Mazurowski’s Non Acoustic Symphony, recorded between 2011 and 2013, is a seven part work for electronics and electronically-altered sounds. In contrast to Back in Time, the Non Acoustic Symphony tends to obscure its sound sources, leaving a residue of sonic qualities that in many cases can’t be traced to their origins. Most may be purely electronic, but some clearly are sampled. From time to time hints of acoustic instruments can be detected, if speculatively: Here could be a note struck on a piano, there possibly a gut string instrument being plucked. Through it all Mazurowski makes generous use of sound manipulation by way of analogue, digital and granular processing.
What both Back in Time and the Non Acoustic Symphony share is a strong sense of linear continuity. Sound objects give way to one another in sequence and with a minimum of vertical organization. Mazurowski’s emphasis on a predominantly horizontal layout makes for a clarity of “orchestration” as individual sounds, functioning as the equivalent of instrumental choirs, come through as distinct, sharply defined objects. This orientation helps to maintain forward motion in the absence of pitch relationships or harmonic implication.
As with any successful acousmatic music, neo or otherwise, this is music of character—a character directly derived from the qualities of the raw materials it contains.