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Magnetic Tape as Instrument: A Rare Selection of Electroacoustic Music from Poland

The first concert of Polish electroacoustic music, also often called “music for tape”, took place in 1960. It was as if the magnetic tape itself was the instrument. On arrival, the audience encountered an almost-empty stage, and in place of live musicians with their string, brass or percussion instruments - they found only loudspeakers. The concert included the premiere of Włodzimierz Kotoński’s Study for One Cymbal Stroke (1959), whose 2 min 41 seconds were based solely on a single, pre-recorded sound. “The sound material of this study has been produced” – as the composer later explained - “from single sound obtained by striking a medium-sized Turkish cymbal with a soft stick”. Kotoński then filtered this material into 5 different bandwidths and transposed it into 11 pitches, as well as methodically regulated the length, for the complete Study to emerge.

The concert was held at the Warsaw Autumn Festival of Contemporary Music, whose program favored experiments. Born out of the relative loosening of strict cultural policies in the Soviet Block around the year 1956, the festival attracted and welcomed renowned international composers. It was there that in 1958 Karlheinz Stockhausen presented compositions of his elektronische Musik to the Warsaw audience five years after it premiered in Cologne, and where Pierre Schaffer gave a concert of his musique concrète in 1959. Polish electroacoustic music was the effect of the marriage of these two techniques, which merged the purely synthetically-generated sounds of Stockhausen’s electronic music with the pre-recorded, “concrete” sounds from the real world, employed by Schaffer.

Composers who visited Warsaw on the occasion of the Festival often used the facilities of the Experimental Studio at the Polish Radio. It was there that over 300 autonomous pieces of electroacoustic music were produced since its inception in 1957, in addition to numerous film soundtracks and music for radio broadcasts. The composers worked closely with Bohdan Mazurek and Eugeniusz Rudnik, the sound technicians employed at the Studio, whose extraordinary music production skills – cutting and pasting of music tape as well as transformation of the pre-recorded sounds – led them with time to create their own compositions.

Here you can listen to 23 music compositions (some in multiple versions) created at Polish Radio Experimental Studio by both the foreign and local composers. Starting with Kotoński’s Study, the first autonomous piece of music for tape produced at PRES in 1959, the presented selection leads through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The first decade at the Studio was marked by experiments similar to Kotoński’s: Most prominently, with multiple compositions by Andrzej Dobrowolski that employed magnetic tape together with traditional instruments: the piano, violin or oboe (Music for Magnetic Tape and Oboe Solo, 1965; Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo, 1972). As well as the only electroacoustic piece ever composed by Krzysztof Penderecki, for which the composer used recordings of sung and pronounced basic elements of speech - single vowels and so-called “whistling” consonants, typical for the Polish language (Psalmus, 1961). In 1966 Bogusław Schaeffer, a composer as well as artist and playwright, created multiple versions of his Assemblage. Keeping up with the Zeitgeist both in the work’s title and the openness of its structure, Schaeffer recorded 3 versions, each with the same number of elements, recorded at a different speed.

The Studio’s production over the next decades was marked by the introduction of new equipment, especially the 1970 acquisition of the Moog synthesizer (available commercially since 1964). It was often used by the KEW group – Krzysztof Knittel, Elżbieta Sikora and Wojciech Michniewski – three young composers, who debuted in Warsaw in 1973. In Orpheus Head (1981) Sikora – who had studied with Pierre Schaeffer and Francois Bayle at Groupe de Recherche Musicales – used just one concrete, pre-recorded sound in addition to the synthesizer. It was the sound of a female voice, used to evoke the scream of Eurydice’s reverberating in the depths of inferno.

In order to popularize compositions written for magnetic tape, PRES published seven sets that included the music’s original score and the record. Most interestingly, at the time when tape recorders were not widely used, the music composed for - and produced with - magnetic tape had to be circulated on vinyl.

Audio recordings presented here come from the archives of Polish Radio in Warsaw, where they were transferred from tape into digital files. Courtesy of the Polish Radio.

The music files play best on Safari and Firefox.

Author

M moskalewicz

Magdalena Moskalewicz

Former Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral C-MAP Fellow at The Museum of Modern Art In 2012-2015 Magdalena Moskalewicz was a postdoctoral fellow for the C-MAP research initiative at MoMA, where she conducted research and organized academic programs for... Read more »
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Magnetic Tape as Instrument: A Rare Selection of Electroacoustic Music from Poland

The first concert of Polish electroacoustic music, also often called “music for tape”, took place in 1960. It was as if the magnetic tape itself was the instrument. On arrival, the audience encountered an almost-empty stage, and in place of live musicians with their string, brass or percussion instruments - they found only loudspeakers. The concert included the premiere of Włodzimierz Kotoński’s Study for One Cymbal Stroke (1959), whose 2 min 41 seconds were based solely on a single, pre-recorded sound. “The sound material of this study has been produced” – as the composer later explained - “from single sound obtained by striking a medium-sized Turkish cymbal with a soft stick”. Kotoński then filtered this material into 5 different bandwidths and transposed it into 11 pitches, as well as methodically regulated the length, for the complete Study to emerge.

The concert was held at the Warsaw Autumn Festival of Contemporary Music, whose program favored experiments. Born out of the relative loosening of strict cultural policies in the Soviet Block around the year 1956, the festival...

Show More

The first concert of Polish electroacoustic music, also often called “music for tape”, took place in 1960. It was as if the magnetic tape itself was the instrument. On arrival, the audience encountered an almost-empty stage, and in place of live musicians with their string, brass or percussion instruments - they found only loudspeakers. The concert included the premiere of Włodzimierz Kotoński’s Study for One Cymbal Stroke (1959), whose 2 min 41 seconds were based solely on a single, pre-recorded sound. “The sound material of this study has been produced” – as the composer later explained - “from single sound obtained by striking a medium-sized Turkish cymbal with a soft stick”. Kotoński then filtered this material into 5 different bandwidths and transposed it into 11 pitches, as well as methodically regulated the length, for the complete Study to emerge.

The concert was held at the Warsaw Autumn Festival of Contemporary Music, whose program favored experiments. Born out of the relative loosening of strict cultural policies in the Soviet Block around the year 1956, the festival attracted and welcomed renowned international composers. It was there that in 1958 Karlheinz Stockhausen presented compositions of his elektronische Musik to the Warsaw audience five years after it premiered in Cologne, and where Pierre Schaffer gave a concert of his musique concrète in 1959. Polish electroacoustic music was the effect of the marriage of these two techniques, which merged the purely synthetically-generated sounds of Stockhausen’s electronic music with the pre-recorded, “concrete” sounds from the real world, employed by Schaffer.

Composers who visited Warsaw on the occasion of the Festival often used the facilities of the Experimental Studio at the Polish Radio. It was there that over 300 autonomous pieces of electroacoustic music were produced since its inception in 1957, in addition to numerous film soundtracks and music for radio broadcasts. The composers worked closely with Bohdan Mazurek and Eugeniusz Rudnik, the sound technicians employed at the Studio, whose extraordinary music production skills – cutting and pasting of music tape as well as transformation of the pre-recorded sounds – led them with time to create their own compositions.

Here you can listen to 23 music compositions (some in multiple versions) created at Polish Radio Experimental Studio by both the foreign and local composers. Starting with Kotoński’s Study, the first autonomous piece of music for tape produced at PRES in 1959, the presented selection leads through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The first decade at the Studio was marked by experiments similar to Kotoński’s: Most prominently, with multiple compositions by Andrzej Dobrowolski that employed magnetic tape together with traditional instruments: the piano, violin or oboe (Music for Magnetic Tape and Oboe Solo, 1965; Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo, 1972). As well as the only electroacoustic piece ever composed by Krzysztof Penderecki, for which the composer used recordings of sung and pronounced basic elements of speech - single vowels and so-called “whistling” consonants, typical for the Polish language (Psalmus, 1961). In 1966 Bogusław Schaeffer, a composer as well as artist and playwright, created multiple versions of his Assemblage. Keeping up with the Zeitgeist both in the work’s title and the openness of its structure, Schaeffer recorded 3 versions, each with the same number of elements, recorded at a different speed.

The Studio’s production over the next decades was marked by the introduction of new equipment, especially the 1970 acquisition of the Moog synthesizer (available commercially since 1964). It was often used by the KEW group – Krzysztof Knittel, Elżbieta Sikora and Wojciech Michniewski – three young composers, who debuted in Warsaw in 1973. In Orpheus Head (1981) Sikora – who had studied with Pierre Schaeffer and Francois Bayle at Groupe de Recherche Musicales – used just one concrete, pre-recorded sound in addition to the synthesizer. It was the sound of a female voice, used to evoke the scream of Eurydice’s reverberating in the depths of inferno.

In order to popularize compositions written for magnetic tape, PRES published seven sets that included the music’s original score and the record. Most interestingly, at the time when tape recorders were not widely used, the music composed for - and produced with - magnetic tape had to be circulated on vinyl.

Audio recordings presented here come from the archives of Polish Radio in Warsaw, where they were transferred from tape into digital files. Courtesy of the Polish Radio.

The music files play best on Safari and Firefox.

     
Scores cover thumbnail limegreen

Etude for one Cymbal Stroke

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail orange

Psalmus 1961 – Magetic Tape

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail limegreen

Mikrostructures – for Magnetic Tape

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover red

Music for Magnetic Tape and Oboe Solo

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail blue

Collage – for Magnetic Tape

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail purple

Assemblage I – for Magnetic Tape (Master Version)

Scores cover thumbnail purple

Assemblage II – for Magnetic Tape (Master Version)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail purple

Assemblage III – for Magnetic Tape (Master Version)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail purple

Hommage a Strzemiński – film score (Concert Version)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail magenta

Bozzetti - for Magnetic Tape (Version I)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail magenta

Bozzetti - for Magnetic Tape (Version II)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail darkblue

Phonomorphia I - Etude for Magnetic Tape

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail blue

Dixi – for Magnetic Tape

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail magenta

Epitafium – for Magnetic Tape (Version I)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail magenta

Epitafium – for Magnetic Tape (Version II)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail magenta

Epitafium – for Magnetic Tape (Version III)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail limegreen

Aela. Electronic Music

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail purple

Symphony (1966) – for Magnetic Tape (Version from 1970)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail purple

Heraklitiana – harp solo and magnetic tape

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail violet

Lux et tenebrae (Osaka impression) – for Magnetic Tape

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail

Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail orange

Ekecheirija – for Magnetic Tape (music composed for the opening ceremony of the 20th Olympic Games in Munich in 1972)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail orange

Ekecheirija II – for Magnetic Tape (music composed for the opening ceremony of the 20th Olympic Games in Munich in 1972)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail orange

Ekecheirija III – for Magnetic Tape (music composed for the opening ceremony of the 20th Olympic Games in Munich in 1972)

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail green

Concerto for piano and magnetic tape

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail kleinblue

Robak zdobywca – for magnetic tape

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail red

Orpheus’s Head – for Magnetic Tape

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail blue

Homo ludens – radio ballet, not without autobiographical elements

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail yellow

Diario ‘87 – electronic sounds with spoken text

Courtesy of Polish Radio
Scores cover thumbnail blue

Ptacy i ludzie – etiuda koncertowa na 4 artystów, 3 skrzypiec, 2 słowiki, nożyczki i garncarkę ludową (concert étude)

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Etude for one Cymbal Stroke

Duration: 2'40". Eugeniusz Rudnik – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1959, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Psalmus 1961 – Magetic Tape

Duration: 5’05”. Eugeniusz Rudnik – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1961, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Mikrostructures – for Magnetic Tape

Duration: 5'20". Eugeniusz Rudnik – sound production, Bohdan Mazurek – sound production, Krzysztof Szlifirski– sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1963, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Music for Magnetic Tape and Oboe Solo

Duration: 9'00". Janusz Banaszek - oboe, Eugeniusz Rudnik - sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1965, Warsaw, Studio S-2.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Collage – for Magnetic Tape

Duration: 5'01". Eugeniusz Rudnik– sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1965, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Assemblage I – for Magnetic Tape (Master Version)

Duration: 8'31". Bohdan Mazurek – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1966, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Assemblage II – for Magnetic Tape (Master Version)

Duration: 4'07". Bohdan Mazurek – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1966, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Assemblage III – for Magnetic Tape (Master Version)

Duration: 18'01". Bohdan Mazurek – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1966, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Hommage a Strzemiński – film score (Concert Version)

Duration: 5'48". Bohdan Mazurek – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1967, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Bozzetti - for Magnetic Tape (Version I)

Duration: 4'59". Bohdan Mazurek – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1967, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Bozzetti - for Magnetic Tape (Version II)

Duration: 5'02". Bohdan Mazurek – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1967, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Phonomorphia I - Etude for Magnetic Tape

Duration: 4'10". Eugeniusz Rudnik - sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 14 Jan 1967, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Dixi – for Magnetic Tape

Duration: 4'45". Eugeniusz Rudnik – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1967, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Epitafium – for Magnetic Tape (Version I)

Duration: 6'35". Bohdan Mazurek – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1969, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Epitafium – for Magnetic Tape (Version II)

Duration: 6'38". Bohdan Mazurek – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1969, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Epitafium – for Magnetic Tape (Version III)

Duration: 6'39". Bohdan Mazurek – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1969, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Aela. Electronic Music

Duration: 10'32". Eugeniusz Rudnik – sound recording maker. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1967, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Symphony (1966) – for Magnetic Tape (Version from 1970)

Duration: 17'24". Bohdan Mazurek– sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1970, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Heraklitiana – harp solo and magnetic tape

Duration: 20'45". Mazurek Urszula – harp, Bohdan Mazurek – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1970, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Lux et tenebrae (Osaka impression) – for Magnetic Tape

Duration: 19'30". Rudnik Eugeniusz – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1970, Experimental Studio.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo

Duration: 11'55". Dutkiewicz Andrzej - piano, Mazurek Bohdan – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1972, Experimental Studio.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Ekecheirija – for Magnetic Tape (music composed for the opening ceremony of the 20th Olympic Games in Munich in 1972)

Duration: 3'11". Józef Bok – conductor of the National Philharmonic Choir in Warsaw, Jerzy Dukaj – declamation, Zygmunt Listkiewicz – declamation, Bernard Ładysz – bass, Włodzimierz Press – declamation, Mieczysław Voit – declamation, Tomasz Zaliwski – declamation, Andrzej Żarnecki, Eugeniusz Rudnik – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1972, Warsaw, PWSM.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Ekecheirija II – for Magnetic Tape (music composed for the opening ceremony of the 20th Olympic Games in Munich in 1972)

Duration 2'39". Józef Bok – conductor in the National Philharmonic Choir in Warsaw, Jerzy Dukaj – declamation, Zygmunt Listkiewicz – declamation, Bernard Ładysz – bass, Włodzimierz Press – declamation, Mieczysław Voit – declamation, Tomasz Zaliwski – declamation, Andrzej Żarnecki, Eugeniusz Rudnik – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1972, Warsaw, PWSM.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Ekecheirija III – for Magnetic Tape (music composed for the opening ceremony of the 20th Olympic Games in Munich in 1972)

Duration: 3'06". Józef Bok – conductor in the National Philharmonic Choir in Warsaw, Jerzy Dukaj – declamation, Zygmunt Listkiewicz – declamation, Bernard Ładysz – bass, Włodzimierz Press – declamation, Mieczysław Voit – declamation, Tomasz Zaliwski – declamation, Andrzej Żarnecki, Eugeniusz Rudnik – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1972, Warsaw, PWSM.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Concerto for piano and magnetic tape

Duration: 28'10". Szabolcs Esztenyi - piano, Eugeniusz Rudnik - sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded on 7 July 1973, Warsaw, Studio M-1.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Robak zdobywca – for magnetic tape

Duration: 12'00". Krzysztof Knittel– sound production, Barbara Okoń – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1976, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Orpheus’s Head – for Magnetic Tape

Duration: 17'08". Barbara Okoń-Makowska – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1981, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Homo ludens – radio ballet, not without autobiographical elements

Duration: 32'29". Eugeniusz Rudnik – sound production, Barbara Okoń-Makowska– sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1984, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Diario ‘87 – electronic sounds with spoken text

Duration: 7'31". Jerzy Kamas – declamation (voice-over), Barbara Okoń-Makowska– sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1987, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Ptacy i ludzie – etiuda koncertowa na 4 artystów, 3 skrzypiec, 2 słowiki, nożyczki i garncarkę ludową (concert étude)

Duration: 15'49". Eugeniusz Rudnik – sound production. Producer: Polish Radio. Recorded in 1992, Warsaw, Studio PR.

Courtesy of Polish Radio

Latest discussion on:
Magnetic Tape as Instrument: A Rare Selection of Electroacoustic Music from Poland

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Mk c map

Posted on 8 Oct

Such amazing materials! I'm currently planning a course at Boston University on "Music and Electricity" for 2015, so these pieces are definitely on the list of things to talk about. Thanks so much for making these super rare sounds available.

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Such amazing materials! I'm currently planning a course at Boston University on "Music and Electricity" for 2015, so these pieces are definitely on the list of things to talk about. Thanks so much for making these super rare sounds available.

Show more »

Great

Posted on 19 Oct

Great

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Posted on 5 Jan

Great material, many thanks for the text and for making these accessible. Any records published? Felipe

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Great material, many thanks for the text and for making these accessible. Any records published? Felipe

Show more »
M moskalewicz

Re: records

Posted on 20 Jan

Hi Felipe, The Polish label BOŁT RECORDS, New Music From Eastern Europe has been in the past few years consequently publishing remastered versions of many of the sound pieces produced at PRES, together with their contemporary reinterpretations. You can review their CDs and listen to some samples on their website.

Show less »

Hi Felipe, The Polish label BOŁT RECORDS, New Music From Eastern Europe has been in the past few years consequently publishing remastered versions of many of the sound pieces produced at PRES, together with their contemporary reinterpretations....

Show more »
This Curated Selection is part of: Polish Radio Experimental Studio: A Close Look