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Bocian – the hero of the day

Published July, 2013
by Easterndaze


Thinking about the sacrifice in the name of music, it’s ever so hard to imagine a publisher, not being a musician at the same time, as a person willing to give it all away. Grzegorz Tyszkiewicz is heading Bocian Records, one of the strongholds of experimental sonorism these days…

…actually, it’s Grzegorz who’s the stronghold itself. He runs the label on his own, chooses artists, suggests particular recordings and possible collaborations, refuses to give his ideals up even with his back to the wall. Those elements – sonorism, guardianship and uncompromising attitude – makes up for the now-proclaimed Bocian sound .

Bocian [an innocent stork in Polish], a label focused on vinyls (!) and CD’s is a thunder-bringer, showing how many escape routes are there to be discovered before we actually pronounce free improvisation and electroacoustic music dead. Sure, it’s based in Poland and the distribution isn’t working too well, but perhaps it’s exactly about this peripheral quality affecting the way the experimental music itself is perceived.

Take arguably most influential Bocian release – Crowded by Kevin Drumm – a record mastered flawlessly by Russell Haswell. It was released almost simultaneously with Drumm’s LP on Editions Mego, Relief – a “hypnotic rollercoaster […] of his unique vision” (according to Mego’s website) – which is interesting, however, it needed an apparently dark, brutal cover and “demands repeated listens” is advertised as something to be put on your bookshelf, next to your favorite Scruton.

Crowded, however, is promoted as (and in fact is) a stab of sonic attack. Something be listened to with one’s eyes closed. To compose the listener’s reaction, to arrange it – this seems to be Bocian’s mission – which doesn’t necessarily mean shocking. Ear-splitting quality of Repetitive Algae from Crowded in fact refers not to its (unprecedented) brutality but to the fact that it plays with your sense of hearing.

It’s about the way sounds are perceived, not about their arrangement.

The actual relation between one sound and another is the topic of one of the first Bocian releases – Rurokura And Eastern European Folk Music Research Volume 2 by Robert Piotrowicz. What seems to be a selection of choir recordings bears little resemblance to anything relevant to folk music. It takes a minute or two, thanks to Piotrowicz sonic mummery, before you work your way out of the context of experimental-field-recording-with-uncanny-voices. A road to oblivion, if you like.

The opposite process takes place in the case of John Tilbury’s For Tomasz Sikorski. Here we have an example of coming to a point. In his youth, Tilbury, a British pianist, member of AMM and M.I.M.E.O., one of the best interpreters of the music of Morton Feldman, was a friend of Polish minimalist composer Tomasz Sikorski. Then they went their separate ways, with Sikorski falling into mental illness and Tilbury becoming the master of piano preparation and one of the best modern pianist around. 25 years after Sikorski’s death Tilbury performs his compositions, trying to understand a friend he missed for so long. The CD ends with Improvisation for Tomasz Sikorski, a record of coming to terms with Sikorski’s fate. It’s up to the listener, whether he or she follows the Tilbury’s way of sounding out Sikorski’s emotionality expressed “literally” while performing his pieces and indirectly, through Tilbury’s closing piece.

If you take Sikorski, you may think about his numerous instrumental works but the most striking ones are those based on drone and reciting voice. “Diario ‘87, For Tape & Reciting Voice”, recorded shortly before his death is a trippy excursion into twisted metaphors and the uncanny (“nights drilling into marble”

The mixture of drone and voice is also the setting for a recent Bocian CD by Wojciech Bąkowski /download his track on our compilation here/, Polish video artist and poet, known also for his work in the band Niwea. In the vein of Sikorski, he’s trying to deliver a certain message, bearing resemblance to something intelligible, at least to some extent. Words are based on a street slang and delivered in a cold, ruthless way but you can’t really observe any kind of linear narration. The key is to hypnotize the listener, using as little means as possible. It’s the effectiveness of sound that counts yet again.

The voice is also present in the June LP by Ikue Mori and Maja S. Ratkje, this time devoid of any meaning. Always appearing and disappearing, Ratkje’s voice mingles with Mori’s computer sounds, reminding about the fact that the proper electroacoustic improvisation (EAI) should resemble a fixed organism attached to the stable inorganic surface.

A certain electronic substratum is needed. Which is actually a political statement. Such point of view allows to treat rhythm, melody and the whole timbre equally, as modules of the compostion, not as its aspects. It leaves the listener with a very limited framework to interpret the sound. Which is to be experienced and not understood. Luminace Ratio’s LP issued by Bocian this month seems to follow the path, yet it’s more of a flirt with ambient music than a sheer liberated sonorist experimentalism, a trademark of Bocian.

Such an attitude is maintained thanks to the help of one of the best sound engineers around – Bocian releases are mastered by James Plotkin, Russell Haswell, Giuseppe Ielasi, Lasse Marhaug, etc. And here lies the actual connection with the legacy (graciously called spuścizna in Polish) of Polish school of sonorism – mixing and mastering should be conducted in such a way to result in the maximum dynamic of sound possible. Rhythm and melody are treated here not as aspects of sound but as certain kinds of sound itself, a different modules. Assembling them is the work of a sonorist composer/performer.

It’s hard to believe that the label which develops and constantly shifts towards the new, having strong roots with the ideas of the past, is not only run by Tyszkiewicz alone but is also about to shut down. Tyszkiewicz uses Bocian Facebook account mostly to inform about his sales misfortune, yet he still manages to push the label forward.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

by Jacek Plewicki