Poland Fulbright Experience

September 10th, 2013  |  Published in academic, art, sound, thoughts

In 2010 I applied for a Fulbright Grant to research aesthetics and techniques of performance and composition in Kraków, Poland.  I was born in Kraków and left there as a young child.  I was curious what was happening musically in my home town, and longed for the ability to live in Poland and experience its culture as a resident rather than tourist.   Through my project I was hoping gain a deep understanding of Krakow’s role in the ever evolving electro-acoustic and multimedia fields as well as become involved with the future development of emerging art forms in both sound and visual media. Through Marek Chołoniewski, a very active organizer and artist in Kraków, I was able to establish an affiliation with the  Electro-Acoustic Music Studio at the Academy of Music in Kraków.  He is the current director of the studio and teaches many of the electronic music classes at the academy as well as teaching multi-media at another institution.

To my surprise and delight I received the Fulbright and was off to Poland for the 2011/12 school year and hopefully beyond.  My departure was tumultuous: a short-sale, a beautiful wedding, and packing and moving from my home of 13 years.  I was also putting a lot of extra time and energy at my job at Ex’pression College to make sure that I left everything functioning well in my department.  That year I led the collaborative redevelopment of the curriculum for my courses, created an interactive syllabus, and spent a lot of time writing new programs for the Research & Development committee.  I was incredibly overworked and frantic in the first half to 2011, but I feel that I left the Bay Area on really great footing.

Arriving in Poland:

I arrived in Kraków in mid-August with my husband Norman Teale (aka The Norman Conquest) who would be joining me for my Polish adventure. The school year was to start in October so that gave us month and a half to explore and adjust before any activities at the Academy began.  I was glad to be there in the summer because Kraków is a very touristy town and ideal for warm summer nights.  It’s a storybook setting with lots of outdoor courtyards and patios all in a medieval-castle atmosphere.  Norman and I were having a hard time finding good music, but of course we didn’t know anything about venues and we hadn’t established a social circle outside of the contacts I had from my family connections.  Also, finding music events in the summer in Europe can be a bit daunting, everyone is on vacation usually well into September.

Two people we met early on in Kraków that are involved with experimental music are Marcin Barski and Michał Szostało.  When we met with Marcin Barski, he told us that he had just quit organizing shows and that his label was really slowing down and possibly shutting down.  Audio Tong was created to showcase local and visiting experimental artists in Kraków.  Marcin had started the organization and label with Łukasz Szalankiewicz (aka Zenial).  Here’s a link that has them talking about the shows and the label with examples of artists affiliated with the label.  Marcin was not a musician himself, his goal was to curate and showcase, but as timing would have it, he felt like he needed a break from it all.

Michał was about to start a series at Alchemia – a very popular venue for jazz music in Kraków.  It was one of the few venues I had heard about prior to coming to Kraków.  The series was called Bezdroża.  There was another experimental series Muzykotherapia which was run by Konrad Gęca.  For various reasons, he was not putting on shows at the time.  It was unfortunate some of the other experimental activity had halted just as we arrived, but Michał Szostało booked dokuro to play at his series Bezdroża at Alchemia and he also booked myrmyr, which was a great start for getting involved.  Norman and I were working on new material as Dokuro when we performed in Kraków, and our set was clunky, random, and not quite our sound yet.  I don’t think we were well received.  We developed tremendously as a band while in Poland, mainly due to our two European Tours, which I will describe later in this post.  Videos of our live sets are also later in this post.

Kraków Festivals Fall of 2011:

 Sacrum Profanum  I learned a lot about the patience and openness of Polish audiences by going to a few of these concerts.  This festival wouldn’t really be viable in the States.  What was interesting was the number of people who would attend a Steve Reich or John Adams concert.  The Reich concert I went to had to have at least 5000 people in attendance.  I really enjoyed seeing Alarm Will Sound from NY playing John Adams. Each night they showcased a Polish composer, but that was not a focus and the composers were not necessarily local.  Some of the venues were amazing.  This picture is from a post-industrial chemical tinning plant converted into a huge venue.

Unsound  There were a few really great local acts and a few from Eastern Europe, but overall the festival was a bit of a disappointment for me.  I was realizing at this point that it might be a bit harder to hear Polish and Eastern European music than I thought.  Obviously  my objective was totally different than those of local Kraków youth who probably want to see Western acts way more than local Polish acts. I really enjoyed a couple of shows at Klub RE which featured Eastern European artists – one of my favorite acts was Kotra from Ukraine, whom later I got to meet because he did a residency at the Academy.  He runs the successful label Kvitnu which features artists like Zavoloka who also played a great set that show.   Another act I really enjoyed was seeing Denis Kolokol and Tomek Chołoniewski.  Denis was a resident at the Academy working primarily with voice and SuperCollider.  He was a great performer and asked Tomek, a local percussionist to improvise with him. Both these musicians were among the most interesting performers I encountered in Kraków.

I spoke with a some people from the experimental crowd and their take on the festival was not very positive, they also wanted to see more Polish acts.  I was excited to see more poppy acts, but I think I missed some of the really great nights and went to see some of the less strong performers.   Many of the other acts seemed like they came straight from The Wire reviews and unfortunately weren’t very experienced or good live performers.   I did appreciate all the buzz and excitement the city seemed to go into, and I did end up hanging out with the crew and organizers during and after the festival.  I have heard from many people that it has been a pretty strong festival in the past.  There’s definitely some better and worse San Francisco Electronic Music Festival years and I understand how difficult it is to run everything.  Regardless of what the performers did on stage, this was a very well organized and professionally executed festival, and I loved this display of Polish postcards that were playable on a phonograph.  There were all sorts – animals, pictures, folk designs and patterns.

Both Festivals were obviously well funded with top of the notch audio and visual equipment.  From what I learned the two festivals were really well supported by the city.

Audio Art  was a really fantastic festival to be involved with.  I met most of the performing artists, and was able to attend most of the concerts and installations.  Looking back I wish I had reviewed the performances, but playing in the festival, going to all of the shows and socializing actually took quite a bit of time and I was only able to review the installations.

I feel like the festival gave me a nice window into various experimental european acts.  It also had a totally different atmosphere from the other two festivals in Kraków, and showed me how audience and community play into what is happening in Kraków.  Audio Art had little local government support and ran on a really small budget much like the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival.  SFEMF is a more professional festival with acts that are more well known, but the general atmosphere and focus on experimentation and diversity is similar.   Marek Chołoniewski organized and ran the festival almost entirely himself.  I had offered my help, but I think he didn’t quite know how to utilize my help, especially since I didn’t know anything about Kraków.  As a result of one person trying to do everything and the lack of funds, this festival suffered professionally and lacked the large audiences of the other two festivals.  I guess it’s debatable whether more people would come see acts that are not well known, but I’m not experienced enough to make that judgement.  I do remember that at the time I felt more could be done.

Here are some of the acts I enjoyed the most:

Cremaschi/Fagaschinski  – I found their performance really evocative and tuned in.  It was an all acoustic set with Fagschinski on clarinet and Cremaschi on upright bass.  There was also one piece with Cremaschi playing electronics but that was far less interesting than the acoustic pairing.  Honestly, I was completely captivated by Fagschinski’s playing.  His incredible attention to detail paired with incredible ease on his instrument was quite masterful.

Zenial – is Lukasz  Szalankiewicz who currently resides in Poznań.  He used various noise generating objects such as Walkmans and mixed and captured their electromagnetic signals.  I thought all of the sounds coming from electromagnetic fields sounded amazing and he did a great job mixing them, but he also had a stereo track playing back what sounded like heavy granular synthesis and reverb and in my opinion that resided in a very different sound world.  It took me out of the performance a bit.  Everyone makes their artistic choices and I’m sure that most of mine were questioned while I was in Poland, but I approached a lot of these performances as if I was reviewing them.

I particularly enjoyed Ensemble Marijan.  Ensemble Marijan was founded in 2000 and it is focused on playing music on the borderland between improvisation and original compositions by its members, who all graduated from Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno. In a lot of compositions they also use electronic and electric-acoustic music and stage acts creating a multimedia character of their performances.

Other performances of note were Simon Phillips, KalekaAlejandro VelezMarko Ciciliani, Paul Devens whom I befriended, Daniel DavidovskyNick Collins,  Stelios ManousakisMelanZKonrad Gęca, and ZetKwadrat.  I also enjoyed Kacper Ziemnianin‘s set and ended up becoming friends with him and visiting him in London.  He interviewed me for the radio station that he works at in London, the show is called Polish Deli and features many Polish artists.

 

MY WORK

Fog Bow, Halo and Glory and Cluster:Fissure:

Artistically the Audio Art Festival forced me to create a couple of new solo pieces.  At the time I remember I was still very much trying to rest and be still, so the pieces ended up a bit forced, but motivation to create new work is always good to some degree.  One of the exciting aspects of being away from my community in the Bay Area was the potential to have a new space for work creation that was not encroached upon by deadlines and other musical influences, but what I ended up learning in Kraków is that you can never create a perfect space for work, that you cannot plan what will be happening with you spiritually and energy-wise, and that above all you must remain flexible and open to how things play out.  My expectation to create my genius opus while in Poland is now seen for what it was, an expectation that I simply could not live up to.

I debuted two new pieces, Cluster:Fissure and Fog Bow, Halo, and Glory  both of which were written in the couple  of months leading up to the festival.  Words I had written about the pieces “Uprooted and destabilized as an artist, these two pieces reflect that sentiment and fit into a body of work named ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’.  In this time of searching, many things are on the table for reconsideration such as western modes and scales,  structuralism, and representation of meaning.”

In order to explore the possibility of sound as transmission of vision, I created video scores for myself with which I performed on electric cello, voice, percussion, and electronics.  My initial idea was not to follow or build a narrative, but instead respond and compose in the moment to abstract forms.  Lines, geometric and abstract shapes, color and light would be translated into sonic gestures and shadowy melodies.  Of course once I started practicing for the show, it was really difficult to not repeat gestures that I thought worked well with the visuals.

Fog Bow  was probably the most minimal thing I had done up to that point, both visually and musically.  The challenge I set up for myself musically was to play a solo set, but not to use playback or loops.  I would only allow myself a long delay.  For an electroacoustic artist, that is really difficult when you are playing solo.  It leaves you very bare.  In the end I realized that kind of limitation is unnecessary, but it was a good challenge.  I think there were performative consequences especially for the second piece – Cluster:Fissure.  My work was so much more vulnerable compared to what I saw in the festival coming from solo artists.  Just the fact that I actually played an instrument really separated me from many of the acts.  One of the aspects of the festival that made it less appealing to me were the lap top acts, and their lack of performative gesture and transparency.

Describing the piece I wrote “Cluster:Fissure questions additive and subtractive modes of solo performance as well as stripping an image of its meaning.  Fog Bow, Halo, and Glory explores the relationship between light and musical rhythms and patterns.”

I struggled with Cluster:Fissure both times that it was performed in Kraków.  The idea was rooted in these beautifully fall-colored leaves I had collected all around Kraków.  I kept them for a long time and took a picture of every leaf. I was hoping to use these Processing patches that I had from working on Aphasia and morph the leaves into one another, but once I got all of the images into the computer, it just didn’t turn out to be very interesting.  I was glad I had recorded video of leaves falling.  I enjoyed the process immensely because I sat in the park for hours just recording leaves falling from trees and people watching.  Musically it was extremely difficult to successfully sample hand bells I was using and have them play back in a way that was conducive to vocal improvisation on repeated text.  I have yet to upload a youtube of this piece.  I feel that it was never realized so I am reluctant to share it.

Electro-Acoustic Music Studio Academy of Music in Kraków:

Classes started in October but students didn’t really stick to their schedules until mid-November.  At the suggestion of Marek, and I do think it was a great suggestion, I propositioned a workshop for the students to attend on top of their normal classes.  Since I was not on a teaching Fulbright it would help me engage with the Academy.  Initially, the students that attended changed weekly with a few coming consistently.  In the first couple of meetings I gave the students an option of what we can focus on – installation and sound art, or a workshop on improvisation and composition.  To my surprise the students chose the latter.  It was good timing for me as I needed a break from programming and sitting on the computer and was looking forward to playing and improvising.

Every week I prepared a 2 hour session on improvisation and composition and every week the group got more consistent.  By December we had a regular group of students who were very committed to the workshop and a few that would float in and out.  We always began the session with a deep listening meditation and a deep listening exercise.  Then I would try to get the students engaged in improvisation games and exercises.  It definitely took some coaxing and explaining initially especially since many of the exercises I had them do involved using their voices, which of course the instrumentalists were not comfortable with at first, but over the span of the school year, I did see a distinct change in comfort and ability.

I used exercises I learned CPE with Fred Frith, Deep Listening with Pauline Oliveros, and ones I had learned in working on Univited Guest with Gwendolym Warnock, as well as exercises I had learned in performance and theatre classes.  Some I made up myself.  Eventually, I invited students to create improvisation games themselves, which led to composition, and I talk about that below.  Following exercises, I would call on people to play as duos, trios, quartets and of course the whole group.  After each improvisation we would have a short discussion about what we just heard and played, what happened, how it felt, what we perceived and if there was relative success in the happening.

As the workshop members became more comfortable around each other, the depth of discussion and playing improved tremendously.  I suggested that we become an ensemble and play some shows.  One of the things I was trying to get academy students to do is invest in the local scene and create a community, or at least understand the necessity for one in order to develop their playing.  There was a big cultural gap between the Academy and what was happening locally.  Marek Chołoniewski was a key figure in mending this gap, but in general the Academy and the local music scene were different worlds. Some of my students had performance experience outside of the school setting, but not very much, and I felt that could be the most valuable experience for them in this workshop.  The interesting thing was that most of the committed students in the group were not Polish, they were Erasmus students who were visiting students at the Academy for a year.

Next on the agenda was to relate our playing and what we were creating together to composition.  Initially we really had to dissect the idea of what composition is, and talk in depth about authorship and group creation.  Where does group improvisation fall into composition?  Having the students create exercises was a first step to getting them to think about musical result.  What kind of instruction or action would create a situation where a sound or sequence of sounds happened in a way that they envisioned or intended?  It was clear that was not a topic in their composition classes.  Many of the students also told me that the workshop was really the only place where they actually got to play music.

Due to my weekly workshop I created a collection of short lectures and exercises that I hope to one day create into a course on Composition, Improvisation, and Performance.  I also started writing a course on Listening.

In their other classes, many of the students were writing traditional scores and some of them were making electroacoustic works.  When it came time for them to start creating scenarios and “scores” for the ensemble, it really helped that the members knew what to expect from each other because they seemed intimidated to make work that was going to be tested and brought to life.  With some of the initial scores and exercises, I’m not sure if the students were using knowledge of each other’s playing to the full extent (nor was I really), but they were experimenting with symbol, image, and gesture.  I had given them a few lectures on graphic scores in which I broke down the idea of symbol, graphics, representation, and also talked about language and various ways of communicating your ideas.  We talked about creating scores that are:  unique to the ensemble, written for specific players, and leaving room for player autonomy or at least playing with this relationship.  I was pleased at the different ideas they were bringing to the table.  There were a few video scores, and one interactive video score that we experimented with.  In the end, after what I thought were enough rehearsals, we performed four scores, and recorded five of them professionally.  Unfortunately, Jonas was out of town during the recording.

KAE Recording of Individual Pieces from Graphic Scores, May 2012

The other major thing we accomplished as an ensemble (or got pretty close) was to make a “direct” music, taking what we are doing as players together, trying to tame it and shape it into something.  How do you do that?  The closest I had ever gotten to that with a large ensemble was Oakland Active Orchestra.  In that situation, I believe it took about a year for the 15 player band to improvise and create really fantastic music.

On the prowl for great art as usual, I had been going to art shows at galleries, basements, and people’s apartments and trying to find a potential visual collaborator in Kraków.  I really didn’t see too much local collaboration happening between the arts, and it’s not only something deeply meaningful to me, but I also wanted the students to experience that process.  Luckily, one of the members (a fellow Fulbright researcher) in the group was a visual artist, so we were going to work with him anyways, but I wanted to encourage collaboration with local artists.  I also really wanted that experience for myself – it was one of my goals coming to Poland.

Creating and playing in Kraków ensembles:

Kraków Active Ensemble (Jonas Gruska – computer, The Norman Conquest – electric guitar, Agnes Szelag – cello+voice+electronics, Ayane Yamanaka – sax,  Paulina Rónaiova – oboe, , with occasional appearance by Barbara Bogunia -voice).  KAE  is what I named the ensemble that I started at the Academy with the students from my workshop.  We also had two people join that were not students – Jolanta Wietewska, (aka the Gong Lady) – a percussionist from Katowice (I met her at a workshop on voice given by Olga Shwajger) and Barkev Gulesserian – a fellow American Fulbrighter, performer, and visual artist who played electronics in the ensemble.  Once I converted the workshop into a working ensemble the members attitudes changed.  Some students seemed invigorated and empowered by this change, while others seemed more worried and pressured about performing and creating pieces.

The two most important things I set out to do was create an ensemble for which the members 1. Compose and 2.  Collaborate with visual artists or dancers.  Our time was very limited, but we accomplished both of these things before my departure from Kraków.  The ensemble was only in existence for the first 6 first months of 2012.  I had hoped it would continue after I left, but most of the members left Kraków that summer as well.  We rehearsed weekly at the Academy and in my apartment.  I organized a few concerts and we had something to work towards.   Here’s the details of the two main things we accomplished:

1.  Everyone in the group was to create a graphic score – and most members did make at least one.  The intension was that we would perform these graphic scores at a concert on May 21st at Alchemia, but also do a professional recording of each piece at the recording studio at the Academy.  We were rehearsing and refining these scores throughout Jan-May and finally went into the studio on May 6th. That time frame may seem long, but bringing that many peoples’ schedules together is difficult to say the least.  Also, Norman and I took a three week trip in February to South America and went on tour with Dokuro in April.  That May day we recorded Paulina’s, Ayane, Barkev, Norman, and my score.  Unfortunately Jonas was not at the session so we did not record his.  I initially thought I would release this material as a CD, but I’ve been surprisingly backlogged since I got back to the States as far a releasing material.  There’s still much to work through.

We then performed Paulina, Ayana, my score, and Barkev’s score on May 21st at Alchemia.  It was a concert that included KAE and the two solo pieces I had written in the fall.  I asked Tomek Chołoniewski, a local percussionist, to join me on my pieces, and he did an excellent job.  Below are images of the graphic scores, audio from the studio recording, videos from the performance, and pictures from the May 21st performance.

"Waking" by Agnes Szelag

 

KAE Performance of Individual Pieces @ Alchemia, May 21, 2012

2.  I finally found some appropriate local artists to collaborate with and AS A GROUP(I will expand on this) we created graphic scores and improvisation schemes for their visual pieces.  The reason I thought to collaborate with these artists is because they were creating a show and a book that involved many different kinds of visual artists and was itself already an agency for collaboration and interactivity.  My main contact was Katarzyna Wojdyła, a local graphic artist and organizer.  I found this group when I went to a gallery opening at AS gallery in the town center in Kraków.  Later, I found that many local artists were involved including a painter I had met and befriended, Mikołaj Małek.  The theme they were working with was named Index Errorum Dziecieciorum.  I could relate and appreciate their overarching theme and found them to be enthusiastic and positive.  Their project was a collection of theorems written in the voice of what a child would say/think.  Artists then chose which theorem they would represent visually.  We as musicians and composers were not only responding to what we saw visually, but also to the meaning of the theorem.  One example of a theorem translated into English is “Before the War, there were no colors.”  Having these kinds of word based associations allowed for deeper investigation as well as aligning us with the process of the visual artists.

Composing as a group – I felt that it would also be interesting to create something as an ensemble – to do the unthinkable – compose as a group!  I’ll admit that I don’t remember every detail of this process, but I do recall that it actually went very smoothly.  I think it was extremely helpful that we had spent many months of 2011 in the workshop developing a musical language, and way of talking about our musical intentions.  Our first step was to pick the images we were the most drawn to.  After that we discussed each image/theory and thought of some initial sonic ideas that we could try.  Next, as a group we would improvise on these ideas.  Once we did that, we had some clarity on what was working and what wasn’t, as well as being inspired with new ideas and how to shape each piece.  We wrote all of this down on a big piece of paper – words, instructions, illustrations that demonstrated either a specific sound or the arch of the piece.  Each week we met we would project the image, remind ourselves what we discussed as our playing material, and then we would play.

We then performed these pieces on March 26, 2012 at Solvey, a cultural center in Kraków as a part of a Cage Year Concert Series.  I felt that our concert went well.  Some of the students were performing in their own pieces so there was a bit of nervous energy in the air, but I was happy with the results.  In the video below you can see a visual installation from an early show of Index Errorum Dziecieciorum is in the front of the stage, but unfortunately you can’t see inside of it because of the lighting. However, there are a few pictures.

We performed these pieces plus a few more again on June 1st at their final project gallery opening.  In Poland they celebrate “Child’s Day” and it was on this date – it was perfect for the Index Errorum Dziecieciorum theme. There were actually quite a few children at the opening and performance which was really rewarding and something I don’t actually get to experience very much.  The organizers had planned a whole day of activities for the children.  In the video documentation of our performance, I skipped the newer pieces since we had less time to work on them.  You also cannot see the projection, but I put the artwork at the beginning of each piece as well as a translation of the theorem.  In the video you can’t see Jonas Gruska and Jolanta in the frame.  Also, Barkev was unable to perform with us and we were joined instead by Barbara Bogunia – a vocalist who had attended many of the workshops.  My regret is that we didn’t get to rehearse with her as much as I had hoped, and while I’m happy with how the pieces turned out, I feel that the voice might have been a bit too dominant at times.  Overall there was a very positive response to our performance and collaboration.

 

INVOLVEMENT WITH OTHER ENSEMBLES:

While in Kraków, I also became involved in two other ensembles – Niespiewający Chór (Unsinging Choir) and the Kraków Improvisors Orchestra.  After moving to Warsaw in the fall of 2012 I became involved with Chor Eksperymentalny.

Nieśpiewający Chór

This was led by Bartosz Wrona – a Kraków improvisor/vocalist working with non melodic sounds.  I don’t know much about his background.  From what I observed, he was not trained musically and picked up a lot from working Phil Minton.  Many of his exercises and warm ups were similar to Phil’s.  I joined this workshop/group because I love singing in improv choirs and wanted to meet some more people.  I liked Bartosz’s confidence and attitude and I sincerely enjoyed going over there and engaging with whoever the cat dragged in that week.  He was good at getting people enthused and involved and I enjoyed watching him jump into leading and signing regardless of his musical abilities.  I wish I had written down some of the exercises because there were some warm ups that I don’t do.  Unfortunately, many of the people that came to the workshop were not singers and it was difficult to get really interesting things going.  After I performed with them a few times I stopped going to the workshop due to touring and lack of interest.  I wanted to do more with composition, structure and melody, and as much as I love making wacky textural sounds with my mouth, it’s only a part of the picture for me.

Kraków Improvisors Orchestra:

This ensemble was pretty much open to every improvisor in Kraków. They were very ambitious at first with rehearsals multiple times a week.  I went whenever my schedule permitted and that seemed to be the way it worked.  At times 4 people showed up and at other times as many as 15.  People emailed back and forth about which days will work and when the most people were available – we rehearsed.  I wish this had started in 2011 because I feel like I met some really cool people and potential collaborators in this ensemble.  Unlike Oakland Active Orchestra, no one composed for this ensemble.  This ensemble was based on memorizing different gestures and the conductor leading the orchestra through an improvisation.  We had three different conductors – Paulina Owczarek (a local saxophonist), Bartosz Wrona, and Marta Dramowicz – who was an actual trained conductor.  I enjoyed her conducting the best and felt that the pieces were more interesting, but all three styles were very distinct and each brought something different to the table.  I got to perform with them one time before I left which I was really happy about.

Installation:

Although I was not helping the students work on installations, I felt that it might be great to create a couple myself.  Again the use of technology was a conflict I had to deal with.  I decided to try to create something using only the leaves that I had collected.  It was finally time to let go of them in May.  I put it up in the first few days of spring, when the city came alive with people and everything blooming.  This is Leafheart:

 

Phasolume

I also decided to collaborate with a very talented young man I had become great friends with – Jonas Gruska.  He was one of the Erasmus students who was in my ensemble, but he and I spent a measurable amount of time together outside of the ensemble.  He and I collaborated on a few musical projects and then decided we should create an installation before we both leave Kraków.  I felt that we would be a good team because we seemed to share a lot of the same values and interests.  We both loved animals and nature, and Jonas was still very good and enthusiastic at programming.

The conceptualizing and building of this project was a very positive experience.  We decided to use a room in his apartment for the location and showing.  Previous to this I had only installed pieces in galleries and public places.  It presented a number of new challenges, but gave us unlimited access to the space.  The showing was humble, but gave me a lot of new ideas about private and public space.  I had written my thesis on the use of space and this situation presented all sorts of new ideas about public and private space and how space can be used.  In the end I felt that this project was very object driven which is not what I normally do, and much less about the space that we had installed it in.  Jonas installed the installation somewhere else after I left Poland, so the piece was not about the space we were using.

It was really important to us that we reuse waste materials  that the theme have some sort of connection to a biological/natural process.  We worked with the idea of lightening bugs and their inexplainable ability to synchronize their lights when put together as a group.  Our “fireflies” would play magical sequences until they synced together.  We used cellphone motors that we actually tore out of old phones, LED lights, a programmed arduino chip clone, a power converter that we wired into the ceiling, and glass bottles.

Touring Europe:

Norman and I wanted to go on tour while living in Europe with our band Dokuro and we managed to do so twice in 2012 – a Spring Tour, and a Fall Tour.  In the Spring we went to: Warsaw, Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover,  Lieden NL, Tilberg NL, Paris, Bratislava, and Vienna.  Our best shows were in Hannover at Oberdeck, Paris, Bratislava, and Vienna – great organizers and good people.

In the Fall we went to: Lucerne CH, Basel CH, Bellinzona CH, Innsbruck AT, Graz AT, Zagreb HR, Torino, Brescia, Bologna, Roveretto, and Prague.  Our best shows were in Innsbruck, Torino, and Roveretto.  I really loved Northern Italy, I can’t wait to go back.  We especially loved staying at the country home of our friend Stefano Giust who runs the Setola Di Matale label.

We had recorded every show of the Spring tour and created an album – Avalon from that material.  We made a self-release version of it and sold it on our Fall Tour.  The album is officially going to be released on Monotype Records in early 2014.

Both Tours were an incredible amount of work because we didn’t have a booking agent and had to organize the tours ourselves.  The pro to the con is that we could make sure that the route we traveled made sense chronologically, and we weren’t zigzagging back and forth across Europe.

We met some wonderful people, stayed in interesting places, and learned a lot about the realities of touring.  I was pregnant the second tour and that was really difficult.  I loved the ritual of performing every night.  I thought I would love nights off, but I actually missed playing music.  I was in  a different mind set when touring – I did’t really care to be a tourist; it was a lot less enjoyable for some reason.  Financially, we broke even.  You have to really love what you’re doing to tour at this level.   It’s not easy on the body, it’s not a money venture, and it requires a lot of patience.  I’m glad I got to do it and I wonder how things will pan out in the future.

Other projects of note:

I collaborated with three wonderful Kraków musicians – Viktor Krzak – bassoon and electronics, Ernest Ogórek – double bass, Paulina Owczarek – saxophones for a live score to Jean Epstein‘s La Chute de Maison Usher and La Glace a Trois Faces.  Screening and performance @ Club Migawka, Kraków as a part of a series named KINO i WINO.  The Norman Conquest recorded it.

Norman and I also created a pop album while in Kraków, we are hoping to release it at some point.  It will be under the moniker Kokuro instead of Dokuro.

Warsaw:

During my stay in Kraków, I visited and performed in Warsaw a number of times and developed a deep appreciation of the city, and the art and music scene.  While on a trip up to Warsaw for a Fulbright meeting early in fall of 2011, my friend Jozef Van Wissem was performing.  We met the organizer – Michał Libera and a wonderful relationship began.  That fall Michał asked us to perform with Miya Masaoka and others.

It was a really fantastic performance because we met some key players in the Warsaw scene like Jacek Mazurkiewicz, Julia Kubica and Sean Pom Palmer.  The whole show was improvised with different configurations of entire ensemble to trios and duos.  I noticed a spark with me and Julia Kubica – a screenwriter by profession, but also a great improvisor and musician.  In the spring 2012 Michał Libera booked dokuro to play a show with Chris Cutler.  The show consisted of two sets of our trio.  Once again it was a packed show and a great audience.

In June I came back again to participate in a theatre reading written and directed by Dara Weinberg another Fulbrighter in which we would be improvising and composing on the fly.  I asked Julia to join and the three of us with Norman rocked it!   There were quite a number of people performing from German and Polish stage actors to students from the American school in Warsaw.  https://www.facebook.com/dara.weinberg.3/media_set?set=a.10150817327497820.385173.669012819&type=1

Through these wonderful experiences, I started to see a side to Warsaw that I had never seen as a tourist and felt a wonderful energy there. It was clear to us that if we were going to stay in Poland, we wanted to move to Warsaw.

In the fall of 2012 we moved to Warsaw.  Almost immediately I joined a vocal ensemble.

Chór Eksperymentalny – Gre Badanie – Warsaw choir led by Sean Palmer – a British expat.  It was really great to participate in another experimental choir while in Poland.  There were incredible differences between this choir and the one in Kraków.  Sean was very much into storytelling and working with melodic and harmonious material, as well as mixing textural sounds and improvisation. We primarily worked on a piece named Bajka o Uchu Polany (the fairytale of the eared glade) – Text: Marcin Gokieli, Music/Arrangement/Direction: Sean Palmer.  http://www.plasterlodzki.pl/muzyka/aktualnoci-muzyczne/5563-bajka-o-uchu-polany-w-willi-gromhana-foto

I was also asked by Libera to perform two solo pieces for the Playback Play Festival as well as joining in the other acts.  The two solo pieces were Tenney’s Cellogram and Volker Heyn‘s Blues in B Flat.  I decided to play the Tenney piece on my electric cello.  I felt the beating aspect of the piece would be amplified and with a sub.  The difference between the two instruments is massive, not only the actual instruments themselves, but also how I play them and what other tools I use with them.  I would love to write a paper on this one day.

 

 

The Heyn piece was a bit overwhelming at first, but much like the Tenney piece, once I started playing with the extended techniques, everything started making sense.  I decided the piece would benefit from another voice so I asked Julia to perform with me.  I communicated my vision to her and she and I decided on some additional violin parts.  The performance went well, though I hear that the acoustic Heyn performance was underwhelming after my amplified Tenney performance.  “Szeląg solo zagrała kapitalny utwór, operujący głównie dronami, tembrem i natężeniem dźwięku. Zaskakujący barwami wydobywanymi z instrumentu i hipnotyzujący swym lodowcowym tempem. ”

I had a blast playing a couple of duos with Pete Simonelli and David Grubbs; they music came very naturally.  There were also a few group pieces that were successful.  It was wonderful to share the stage with mixture of American and Polish musicians and composers.  Here’s a third-party review of the whole festival written in Polish with photo documentation.

I started to write pieces by creating scores by visually interpreting a 3D object.  I was using seashells.  Those are in the works, I still have to finish this project and record it.

In November 2012 I did a recording project a with Julia Kubica.  She composed two pieces and I wrote two shell pieces.  I am currently backlogged but hoping to get these pieces finished within the year.

In December we decided to leave Warsaw.  We had hoped to stay longer but we were expecting our first child, and we decided we needed to be closer to family.  Norman had really found a niche for himself, and was getting a lot of work as an audio engineer.  We fell in love with Warsaw so the departure was bittersweet.

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The year in Poland gave me time to reflect on many aspects of my professional and artistic life.  It gave me insight into the culture of the city that I was born in, and helped me discover and fall in love with a city I had never felt connected to.  I had the opportunity to travel in Europe, and I have learned a great deal about playing music/touring in Europe.  Lastly and surprisingly, it had become a transition for residing in Poland.

When I was preparing to come to Poland, I knew that I needed my pace to slow down.  I had been extremely busy and productive the past six years, and needed some time to think back and assess – input  and stillness instead of output.  I expected that eventually I would create my magnum opus while in Kraków since I would have so much more free time, but that certainly did not happen.  Instead there were many projects I wrapped up as well as asking myself what had artistic, and philosophical meaning in my life, and what I wanted to do next.  I did create new pieces but I would say that year was one of finishing work, reflection, and creating space for new work.  While the pace of everyday life was slow, time still flew by  quickly.  I feel like I needed another year to really dig in to my artistic work – I don’t love anything I created that year.

I had set out to research aesthetics and techniques in performance and composition in Kraków, and found many of the same uses of technology and applications I was already familiar with.  I can’t say I was surprised – US and Europe are very synonymous in that way, but I feel that as Americans we don’t realize it.  Aesthetically, I learned tremendous amounts about what’s coming out of Eastern Europe and really appreciated most of the acts I saw at Audio Art, and the Eastern European acts at Unsound and various concerts in Kraków.  One of the most valuable aspects of my experience were the many conversations I with artists, musicians, critics, teachers, students, fellow Fulbrighters, and Polish lay people on all of these topics – the exchange of ideas, politics, world-views.  That kind of knowledge is deep inside of me and difficult to quantify, and certainly difficult to summarize without generalizing.

As a part of my project I started researching the history of Polish and Eastern European “sound art”.  Needless to say, documentation and information is sparse, hard to pinpoint, and for me, difficult to contextualize.  Institutions like Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek UjazdowskiMuzeum Sztuki in Łódż, the Electro-Acoustic Music Studio in Kraków, and various individuals were helpful in finding information.  I interviewed some organizers and scholars, but not nearly enough.  My main problem is finding images and/or sounds.  The fact that many of these countries were behind the iron curtain and much of this activity was outlawed does not help as far as documentation is concerned, but it certainly makes for interesting art by adding a dimension that simply is not present in western art.  As far as ingenuity and timing, I was surprised at how in line the art was with what was happening in the west, and feel that it should be brought to light.  It has been frustrating my whole life how little we learn about the world in American classrooms (history classes only cover certain countries and rarely mention any Eastern European, African etc… history) and this is yet another example.  This part of my project alone would require at least another year of research in Poland, however, I do feel like I gained enough information for a introductory lecture or paper.  I hope in my lifetime I get the chance to give these works another voice in the western world, ideally through some sort of exhibition.

The most valuable aspect of being affiliated with the Academy was being around Marek Chołoniewski, seeing all the many things he has his hands in, and meeting and working with the wonderful students and resident artists.  The electroacoustic studio didn’t necessarily offer any gear that I was dying to delve into, and my desire to attend lectures waned after I had a few disappointing experiences.  My pedagogical approach was very different from what was happening at the academy.   I had never attended a music academy and had been teaching at an art college so I am not sure if some of the differences I experienced were cultural.  I gave a few lectures and they seemed to go pretty well.  I sincerely enjoy writing new material and presenting it, but I also realize a departmental feedback mechanism is necessary for new content.  I know that if I go back to teaching, I want it to be at a college that considers how classes work together, and that the material taught is helping students create work of their own.  I am deeply concerned with what I am teaching and why.  I wasn’t on a teaching Fulbright, but am glad that I ran a workshop because I had the freedom to try things.  It was like writing for a TV show instead of a big-budget movie.  I would have had a more technology-based year if my workshop students had requested it, but they wanted to play music (I realize the two are not necessarily exclusive), and some students incorporated the electronic instruments they were building into the improvisations.

The community aspect of my research had a slow start but by winter was flourishing.  I was playing with a vast variety of musicians in Kraków.  I think that I really improved as a player that year; oddly both my experience at the Academy and in the community led to a delving into improvisation.  Even though that is a big part of my background, I hadn’t planned that, or foreseen it, and I learned incredible amounts about improvisation and listening.  I have many thoughts about my two instruments and the difference between playing on an acoustic instrument and an electronic one with various electronic devices.  I didn’t compose as much as I thought I would, but I was constantly playing one of the cellos or singing.  In some ways, it made me realize that the key to my music is to stay active.  I get inspired by people.

I’d like to add here, that overall my experience with the Academy of Art in Kraków, instructors there, and artists was a very positive one.  Many of the artists I met in Kraków had gone there or were working there.  Joanna Kaiser was Assoc. Dean at the time and she and I became friends.  I went to a few of her showings and really loved what I saw.  The afore mentioned Katarzyna Wojdyła and Mikołaj Małek were Academy ex-students and graduate students.   In some ways I had wished that my affiliation had been with that institution instead.  I wouldn’t have had access to the music students which would have shaped my year completely differently, but based on my teaching experience, my pedagogy lies much closer to an art and design institution over a conservative musical institution.  I am hoping to get closer to finding where I fit as an educator in the next couple of years, since my skill set and approach are so unique.

I fell in love with Warsaw and was really impressed with the art and music scene there.  Not only were there amazing experimental events happening, but artists and musicians were getting paid.  I wish we could have stayed there longer after we moved there in the fall of 2012.

While away from my job I’ve realized that I thrive while collaborating and coordinating things.  I would like to play a role where I am the glue to a department or project.  I’m a big picture thinker and over the years have acquired the skill set to realize my ideas.  Upon reflection, working with people as a team and improving communication are two aspects of my professional life I don’t think I can live without.  Prior to leaving Ex’pression I had delved into Design Thinking and applying it to problem solving and curriculum development in my department.  Recently, I found a link online – Design Thinking for Educators…I guess it’s catching on!!

If I had more time in Kraków I would spend it trying to find dancers to collaborate with.  I didn’t get to see any experimental dance performances while I was there aside from the Melanż performance at Audio Art.  I personally love to dance and have taken years of modern dance classes and hope to collaborate more with choreographers in the future.  While in Kraków I did have a weekly release by going to the 5 Rhythms sessions led by Joanna Hussakowska.  Towards the very end of my stay I started taking classes at Hurtownia Ruchu, but ran out of time to make any permanent connections.  I went to a few of Iwona Olszowska’s classes and was very impressed with her.

There is so much more for me to research in Eastern Europe and Poland.  If I went now I would have much more clarity on my approach and execution.  I feel like I was just starting to get my bearings, and I had set out with too many goals.  Now I would get to the part of my Fulbright proposal that had to do with folk music.  I have become intrigued with ritual, oral tradition, and paganism in that region of the world and hope to have another chance one day to go back and study it.  As far as my own personal relationship with making music and art is concerned, it is a part of my spirit so it’s not going anywhere, and hopefully it will continue to develop in an interesting way.

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