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Experimental Studio Bratislava Series 1 (4mg, 2015)

Published April, 2015
by Easterndaze

Experimental electronic music in Slovakia may be overlooked by the public, but its scene is not only quite big, but such a music has quite long and rich tradition here. During the socialist era in the Eastern Bloc, possibilities for creating such music were very limited. In some countries you couldn’t even officially produce such music at all, or in the later years for very limited purposes, such as the film music. Possibilities to create and record such music were very limited due to the lack of necessary equipment, which had to be imported (or often smuggled) from the West. Some other countries, however, had at least their own specialised studios for making electroacoustic music – the most important could be the Warsaw one, which also inspired those in Czechoslovakia. 

One of the first systematic approaches in electroacoustic music in Slovakia could be the work of composers Ilja Zeljenka or Roman Berger, and their home experiments. Because Zeljenka composed film music, he soon started to work in the Czechoslovak television studio, where he had access to better equipment to experiment with. Due to the increasing demand for such music from TV and radio, in 1964, the Experimental Studio of Slovak Radio in Bratislava was established. It was the first such studio in Czechoslovakia – the second one was established in Pilsen few years later, but did not last very long. 

The Bratislava studio was small, but technically on quite a high level, including multi-channel sound or ARP Series modular studio system, a sort of electronic mini-studio. What was more important, the studio was dedicated not only to create film music, but also served composers who wanted to experiment with new technologies – the founders of the Experimental studio were avant-garde composers Peter Kolman and Jozef Malovec. Soon after the studio was opened, more Slovak composers got interested in creating electroacoustic music, and the “scene” could slightly grow. The aforementioned Jozef Malovec is also credited as the author of the first stand-alone electroacoustic composition in Slovakia, Orthogenesis (1966-1968), which was, of course, also created in the Experimental Studio. The composition was being created for quite a long time and it was almost “handmade”, because there were no synthesizers yet in the studio at the time. 

The first version from 1966 was monaural, but in 1968, a four-channel mix was created, which was met with quite a success abroad (including 3rd place at worldwide Darmouth College competition in the US). The Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 terminated most of the cultural movements in the country. However, the Experimental Studio survived, and it was even still available for composers, though some of them were forced to emigrate (including founder Peter Kolman), or banned from composing. “Some time in 1971, the experimental activities of the new arts were officially declared by Ministry of Culture as anti-state, anti-communist and anti-Soviet, abusing the culture to promote the evils of the West”, as remembered by composer Roman Berger. 

Fortunately, electroacoustic music was mostly out of sight for the censors, and the studio was still used for compositional work. “Paradoxically, unemployed composers expelled from official institutions were creating their new works illegally in the radio studio, the very centre of state propaganda, without the chance that anybody would ever hear it” (Vladimír Godár, 2004). At the end of 1970’s, the situation got slightly better, and a new generation of electroacoustic composers working at the Experimental Studio came to life. Gone were the times, when this studio was one of the more advanced electroacoustic music studios in Europe, but quite surprisingly, it survived until this day, and last year celebrated its 50th anniversary. 

And as if this was not enough, this year the building of the Slovak Radio building, the famous “inverted pyramid” and one of Bratislava landmarks also celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Iná Hudba: Experimental Studio Bratislava Series 1, a compilation was released as a part of this “birthday party”, with the iconic Slovak Radio building on the cover and some rare recordings from the Experimental Studio inside. The first part of the series was prepared in collaboration with VŠMU (Academy of Performing Arts) and the Bratislava-based alternative label 4mg Records focused on experimental electronic music, and was released in limited edition on a vinyl including a free CD. Because of the limited capacity of vinyl, some longer compositions had to be edited out, but on CD they are present in their original length. 

This compilation includes eight compositions created between 1961-2005. It begins with a relatively short and probably home-made tape-collage piece from 1961, Žaba! (“The Frog!”) by Ilja Zeljenka, Pavol Šimai and Roman Berger, the very founders of electroacoustic music in Slovakia, who would meet at their home studio and experiment with the portable reel-tape recorder Tesla Sonet. On the recording you can hear tape edits created with the “stop” button, backwards sounds and some bits of truly lo-fi recordings made with a cheap mic. 

The second track is a composition Ideé Fixe by composer Ivan Hrušovský. In his work, he would mix music traditions with a modern approach, writing mostly vocal works. He is credited with four electroacoustic compositions only, mostly based on various manipulations with recordings of Slovak folk music. This isn’t the case of Ideé Fixe (1977), which has a slightly ambient mood with some muffled moody string loops in the background mixed with various sound effects occasionally popping in. 

The third track is Theorema (1971) by aforementioned Jozef Malovec. Inspired by Pasolini’s “Teorema” film, this five-minute composition mixes electronic bubbling noises with various random excerpts of music and sounds in order to associate random memories from the past or confrontations between (day)dreaming and reality. It was one of the last Malovec’s electroacoustic compositions before his work as a composer got hindered by the new “Normalisation” regime. 

Iná Hudba: Experimental Studio Bratislava Series 1 by 4mg Records

Motus Vivendi by Miro Bázlik is by far the newest track in compilation (2005). However, Miro Bázlik has been active as a composer since 1950 (interested in both mathematics and music – some of his works were even based on the calculus) and in electroacoustic music since 1970. The twelve-minute long composition Motus Vivendi was originally created in a 5.1 surround sound. It possesses a continuous and ever-changing flow of synthy, mostly bubbling chimey sounds, sometimes with even steady rhythms, which makes it quite accessible for the unprepared listener. 

Elegy In Memoriam Ján Rúčka by Roman Berger was his first electroacoustic composition for tape (1969) dedicated to Ján Rúčka, a great sound engineer and assistant of Berger or Zeljenka for their first electro-acoustic compositions for TV. However, don’t except some moody film music, instead what you’ll get is twelve minutes of noises, drones and bleeps with bits of spacey or sci-fi feeling. 

 Vežová Hudba (Tower Music) by Ivan Parík is unique on this compilation, because it is not pure electronic music, but a composition for 12 wind instruments, two magnetic tapes and church bells. Its original name was a bit more poetic (“Nocturno for five towers and 12 breathes”). Originally premiered live at an annual workshop of electro-acoustic music in Smolenice in 1969, this recording is the reworked version from 1971. 

Next up is a composition by Peter Kolman, Pomaly ale nie príliš (“Slowly, But Only a Bit”), one of the few composers mentioned here who is still alive. The ten minute composition is rich and diverse, varying between all kinds of sounds, from ambient sci-fi soundscapes and various synth sound or bleeps to string ensembles. It looks as if the founder of the studio explored its possibilities to the very maximum. 

 The last track was composed by Tadeáš Salva, who liked to combine Slovak folk music with the latest technologies. The track Vrchárska (1975) can be considered the most accessible from the sampler – it consists of only violin recordings playing melodies with a touch of Slovak folklore, but variously mashed up, mixed and multiplied. The result sounds a bit like a typical Slovak film score of that time (not surprisingly, Salva was also author of the first Slovak TV opera – Margita a Besná), which only reminds of the fact, that the Experimental Studio was destined mainly to provide music for the radio or television (and occasionally also to record pop-music), but also became a relatively free creative home to some of the most important Slovak music composers of the time.

By Samčo, brat dážďoviek