[ELECTROACOUSTIC] The lines separating traditional acoustic music and music that requires laptops, synthesizers or drum machines have been getting blurry as of late. The crisscross has roots going back as early as the 1940s, when the pioneers of the musique concrète movement aimed to bring found sounds and early electronic instruments—like the ondes Martenot—into the symphonic world.
Lately, groups like the Bad Plus and Alarm Will Sound cover Aphex Twin songs on their mostly wooden instruments. British musician-producer Bonobo brings along an eight-piece band, including a string section, to flesh out his computer-born compositions in a live setting.
As fine as those efforts have been, there is no artist finding better common ground between the orchestra hall and the chillout room than Michał Jacaszek. A native of Poland, the composer has spent the past decade bringing, as he puts it, “the delicate, rarefied sound of old instruments” into a modern context.
On his 2008 album, Treny (Polish for “lamentations”), this meant weaving melodies played by a string orchestra and a harpist in with bits of processed vocals and wowing synthetic noise. Jacaszek has also attempted to turn an entire church into an instrument, recording and manipulating the sound of the bells, a choir and ambient sound into new compositions on the electroacoustic masterpiece Pentral.
For his latest full-length, Glimmer (released in the U.S. late last year on the incredible label Ghostly International), the composer has honed his vision to explore his interest in the Baroque period. “The harmonies, slowly repeating phrases of basso continuo, angelic voices of singers, melancholy, elegance,” Jacaszek writes WW via email. “All this made me fall in love with baroque chamber music.”
To achieve what he calls a “state of trance-y melancholy” within these songs, Jacaszek worked with a pair of musicians, Małgosia Skotnicka and Andrzej Wojciechowski—playing harpsichord and bass clarinet, respectively—who improvise over musical phrases Jacaszek creates from samples and looped melodies.
The source material of a trumpet or a piano may flicker in your peripheral hearing, but just as quickly it’s bent out of recognition. Occasionally the end result comes out like the soundtrack to a horror film (the chilling “Evening Strains to Be Time’s Vast”), but more often the effect is beautifully numbing.
What makes Jacaszek’s music all the more stunning is that he is self-taught in the world of sound design and composing. Trained as an art restorer, he says simply that he “started out testing music software and was strongly impressed with what I could do with sound using these digital tools. I bought my first computer then, and soon built a small studio around the unit.”
He has since experimented with glitchy electronica and moody soundtrack work for radio plays before setting his sights on the grander aims of his last few albums. And while this new aesthetic has garnered him invitations to prestigious arts festivals around the world and has him spoken about in the same breathless terms as fellow electroacoustic artists Oval and Fennesz, Jacaszek remains matter-of-fact about it all: “I just hope those who like the album will not be disappointed listening to me live.”
SEE IT: Jacaszek plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., on Sunday, April 29, with Golden Retriever. 9 pm. 21+.