Ian Maleney chats with Polish electro-acoustic composer Michal Jacaszek about his forthcoming album Glimmer.
The dividing line between acoustic and electronic music has long been a site of contention. The friction between the two methods of generating sound is often a source of inspiration for those seeking to move beyond pop song structures and hooks. Processing acoustic instruments and melding them with relatively unnatural electronic sounds creates a tension, an unease that has not yet dissipated, even as our ears become more used to processed sounds and alternative methods of sound design. Making the weird feel natural, and vice verse, has been a running thread in some of the greatest art of the last century or more.
Michal Jacaszek, an electro-acoustic composer from Poland, picked up this thread at the turn of the millennium and hgas been working with it ever since. Over the course of six studio albums, he has charted his own immersion in the relationship between traditional instruments and cutting-edge sound design. His work has developed a distinct character, a new voice for a new era of electronic music, one which is much more about inclusion and embrace than the often dismissive and pretentious attitude the “avant-garde” was wont to embody in the past.
Glimmer is Jacasczek’s seventh album in as many years, continuing a truly astounding stream of productivity. It sees him dig deeper into improvisation and spontaneity, bringing a new energy to his work. New textures abound as he continues to advance on the instrumentation and compositional techniques he has worked with for the past decade. It works a balance between melancholy and beauty, with its melodies half-hidden behind a veil of noise and sonic dirt. At once compelling and challenging, it may well be the composer’s best work to date. Ahead of that album’s release on December 6th, Michal talked us through what he’s up to at the minute.
Your last album, Pentral, had a very strong aim and theme throughout, is there a central idea to the new record? What were you drawing inspiration from for this album? Glimmer doesn’t have so precise concept behind, but I believe there is certainly some fundamental idea. On each album I’m trying to catch some hidden beauty existing behind the veil of everyday reality – touch something uncertain, feel something invisible. Glimmer is a next step on this path. Beautiful clean melodies comes out from behind dirt, fuzziness, noisy structures. All this was not strictly designed, the whole creating process was based more on intuitive activity.
Pentral also saw a step away from the use of strings and many traditional instruments in your sound. What kind of instruments have you used on the new record? On Glimmer you can hear live harpsichord and bass and soprano clarinets. There are also some processed acoustic guitars and a metallophon.
Your last release was CD + DVD right? What is the plan for this new album? Together with Ghostly guys we plan to release LP + CD + digital as well.
Did you always want to release the album in winter? It seems like your music is often suited to that kind of season. No, the release date is just a result of long producing process, and it is just an accident that it finishes always in winter. But I can say that autumn/winter season has been so far my favourite season for composing my music – the weather is good to sit in the studio, and a darkness, wind, snow, heavy clouds inspire me to work
The interaction between acoustic and electronic instruments is obviously very important in your work so how do you keep challenging yourself to explore that relationship? Has your view of their respective roles changed for your over the years? The number of combinations between acoustic instruments and electronic sounds is endless – I don’t think this path is going to end one day. What I search in this interaction is simply saying an “ideal sound”. Sometimes I try to extend possibilities of acoustic instrument (like lowering it an octave down, or drowning it in huge reverberations) sometimes I’m enriching electronically processed sound with live element because it sounds too “dry”, but all this comes from a utopian desire to find this perfect colour, this most beautiful phrase or a sound.
Your music is very dynamic and I think shifts in volume are a big part of the drama in your work. Does the recording or mastering process affect this at all? How do you feel about people hearing your work on low quality MP3s for instance? Shifts in volume are created during a premixing/editing process. Very often after premixing stage, where I create a basic arrangement and sound, I record live instruments. Sometimes my musicians react with playing a louder note , and then it can inspire me to rearrange the song and make it more dynamic it with a crescendo or something. Those shifts come from my need to input some “life” to my electronically created music. Mp3 compression still preserves those kind of elements, but it is obviously hard to listen to my music on a bus, on the street or in the subway.