BASED ON A SIGN
an interview with Eugeniusz Rudnik by Zuzanna Solakiewicz*

Let me read an extract from your diary: On 28 October, 1960, on my birthday, I made a decision to jot down these notes, with the use of a borrowed pen, as I don't have my own yet. I want to record important things here that may be of use to someone some day.
Due to my position as a technician in Polish Radio's Experimental Studio in Warsaw, I have had close contact with almost the entire contemporary avant-garde music scene. There has been much discussion, which continues today, as to whether what we were doing could be called music at all. Opinions were varied but even the composers themselves would find it hard to label the end result "music". I have observed the whole creative process from beginning to end and a work would emerge before my eyes (with the aid of my hands). What kind of a work? A novel, interesting one.
I was able to watch the composers I worked with at work. The work was very intensive and demanding, lasting sometimes months, or even years. During these long sessions, I would give the composer's creative ideas some concrete form. In such a situation, even the most polite composer would lose his studied pose and let his human side show through.
My role could be compared to that of the martyred wife who has the opportunity to watch her artist-husband at work. When the husband so required, he could ask her to bring a coffee to the piano, or scribble down notes, calling through the closed door to his room. He could not call upon me in this way. I would always be with him.

Tell me about your role as producer of electronic music in Polish Radio's Experimental Studio? What was so special about it?

Give me another example where an artist is destined to be accompanied by another human being during the creative process? Neither a sculptor nor a writer has to be watched over while at work. Film is a mess of collective activity, as is theatre. However, here I was, one-on-one with the artist for weeks or months at a time. Sometimes during the same hours, day after day. I even have one notebook, called 8-12. This describes the process of composing a work by Andrzej Dobrowolski called Music for Audio Tape and Solo Oboe. The title was taken from the fact that Andrzej would come to the studio every day at two minutes past eight, and would leave at three minutes past twelve. I would describe very precisely what happened from the engineering perspective, as well as closely observe his behaviour.
My notebooks were the response of a man infuriated by empty talk about scientific methods in electronic music. For all of those quasi scientific discussions that we had had during meetings with the studio team were rendered meaningless by the sheer variety and unpredictability of the phenomena and problems that occurred over the many sessions with each composer. If I was ever to succumb, though I probably never will, to attempting to write a book, I wouldn't write either about notation or about the transformation of sound. I would write a book about the psychiatry of creativity.
For weeks I would watch this tortured soul who would come to me as a famous and recognized professional, a composer, whilst I "an experienced cynic" would observe his weaknesses, his upsets and his depressions. Nonetheless, I would sadistically lead him down the garden path, or take him down some blind alleys. Possibly I was bored, or had already managed to solve the problem earlier, and would only egg him on so that I could watch him struggle due to his lack of technical experience. I was supposed to be a collaborator in the creative process, I had to find some kind of defence mechanism in my own psyche in order to be able to stand alongside him. Because otherwise, I would have gone even more insane than I actually did.

Was the fact that they felt humbled before you, with your great technical knowledge, an important element in that game?
I would create such an atmosphere that there would be no reason to feel embarrassed in my presence; I was a friend after all.

But you just said that sometimes you would sadistically lead them up the garden path.
I wasn't doing him any harm! It was just for my own satisfaction. And he wouldn't even know that I was playing such a game. I didn't behave like a lofty technician or sound engineer. After all, at the very first meeting with the artist, I would say that I wasn't providing a "service for people employed outside the farm". If I met someone in the studio because my boss so recommended and he had the right to, since he was paying me ? I was on a full-time contract ? then I would provide artistic services. An artistic service is not a service for conventional folk, such as a baker or a cobbler.
I would only really lead people on in the first period of electronic music?s existence, when I had those oh-so-learned composers who had heard of the Fourier series, harmonics, integer multiples, and would launch into lectures about it, while their knowledge of electro-acoustics was mediocre. I was no super expert myself, but I was an engineer, so it would make me laugh. I would play sinus waves with that "learned composer". He would ask me "Is that sinus 127.048 Hz?" I would say "Yes, that's right." Of course, I was teasing. Or they would ask "Do you have a sinus curve generator?". I would reply that "unfortunately we don't have a sinus curve generator ? but we do have a co-sinus curve generator. I'm sorry" he would say and leave the studio. As you know, the only difference between them is the phase. Those kind of pranks.

Once, you had the idea of making a film about Psalmus 1961. In the film documentation you write: In my collections of precious musical scores, there is a score of Krzystof Penderecki's titled: Psalmus 1961. It is a folder containing seventeen A3 sheets and ten A4 sheets: multicoloured graphs and sketches of detailed sequences of the aforementioned composition. Those sketches, drawn by the composer, were graphic representations of musical ideas that I interpreted, bringing them from the sphere of graphic signs into the sphere of acoustic, musical signs, bringing the work to life. The composer, who was present during the process, deemed my decoding to be adequate. What was the role of those hand-drawn sketches?
They are very beautiful. They have their own unique charm.

But were they important at the time of creating the work?
This is how Penderecki did it: he drew two coordinate systems. In the first, the horizontal axis signified time, and the vertical, frequency, or pitch. The second graph illustrated time and volume. So I would get those sheets where everything was clearly laid out.

Here you use the phrase "I interpreted those pictures". Was there anything undefined there?
Time, volume and frequency are only the basic parameters and those were actually clearly defined. But I could still alter, for example, the tone of those sounds, I could play it backwards. In other words I could create variations on those graphic representations of the structure of matter. The creation of sheet music for electronic music was a German influence, an attempt to take the music into the physical realm. However, most of the time it wasn't really clear what a particular smudge or line really meant. With Penderecki, they were not just sequences of sounds, but also, for example, so-called sound clusters. A continuous sound would be transposed x number of times to form a cluster, a mutual harmony of x continuous sounds. And then a glissando would be added on top of all that. So there were many possible interpretations of such marks.

Can we say that the model of composer-sheet-music-performer, the latter in this case being the sound engineer, didn't work?
It didn't work, but in fact it never existed. The composer had to personally show up every time. The sheet-music alone would not have sufficed. The multitude of meanings was so great that you may as well forget it. In the history of the Studio, sheet music was a very insignificant event, other than Shaeffer?s sheet music, but he is something else altogether.

But you yourself also drew, made artistic collages that were some kind of depiction of your work - why did you do that, if there was no practical, communicative purpose in it?
That's true - I did draw. You see, in fact I worked very intensively: today it's Kowalski, tomorrow it?s Grzegrzółką, an opera here, Guernica there, and soon it will be the Philosophers' Cave, Reconstruction of a Poet, or a play by Shakespeare. I have worked with various people, I have had to fine tune myself to their mentality, to their way of thinking, to use various languages. There were also relationships - sometimes friendly, sometimes official. So I was constantly under scrutiny. And therefore I suddenly felt an urge to draw. I needed to convince myself that I could do it too. I wanted to see if I was able. I wanted to see what would come about if I started drawing.

I found one more of your notebooks, called "Raporto Italiano", and some remarks in it on the subject of the possibility of recording sound in sheet music. At the end, you write: With such understanding and description of an acoustic signal, precise sheet music for a tape should be a structure rather than a flat, two-dimensional system. It is an absurdity, even an impossibility and that?s why composers describe sound using two coordinate systems, with the time axis at the edge.
I thought that if sound is a block, it should be written down with the aid of a block, meaning that the block can be played. Say you?re looking at a residential block, which obviously has three axes and a tree, can you play that?

In fact, you can play a tower block but that will be an artistic interpretation. I can interpret what line represents a given axis. I can, for example, record that segment in the background - the width of the building or the dynamic or the volume. So I have all of the remaining possibilities that are not defined by the shape of the building.
But if we're talking about Penderecki and the production of Psalmus 1961, it was an important event in the history of our Studio. Penderecki asked Ms. Łukomska to come to the studio to sing his quasi sheet music at the microphone. Those were unconventional structures, namely: ddddddd, ttttttttt, ppppppp, or a few consonants one after the other. Or similar such things that were supposed to constitute the main material of the abovementioned work. This was all recorded with great devotion in the presence of seven people in the control room. Well, what can I say? All I can say is that a lot of somewhat laboured-over material ended up in the final work. Because it was me that Penderecki worked with, rough material, namely phonic rubbish lying near the bin that I happened to lay my hands on, went into it. It is an absolute truth that material is important for the composer. But with all the processing, transcribing and transforming possibilities, the source material often gets so massacred that the end result the listener hears is nothing like the cuts that constituted the input material.

In the aforementioned documentation, you also write about the career of the piece Psalmus 1961 in three cinematic interpretations: It is astonishing to me that these three pictures have a clear, catastrophic overtone, dealing with issues of human existence, the senselessness of birth, life and death, while at the same time Krzysztof Penderecki's composition Psalmus 1961 that I produced came about in a charmed atmosphere of almost a boyish game. Certain sequences are the composer's whims and improvisations on a given theme. In the tens of hours spent producing this work, there was not a single mention of death, bombing or suchlike. So nothing of the atmosphere in which the work was created has been preserved in the final work - why is that?
I just said that the human voice constitutes the output material of this piece. The human voice is the most important acoustic signal for us as people, since it is the first of our sounds: it is the cry when we are pulled from the mother?s womb and feel the cold and our last: the last sigh that we offer to God as we travel "across the river, into the shadows". A deformed human voice naturally signifies drama, that someone is either dying, or crying, or is being beaten, or is moaning or screaming out of fear. And we resist it. The sound of an abnormal human voice frightens us. In Psalmus, dddd, pppp is deformed and therefore the listener makes an association with a morbidly-catastrophic otherworldliness.

Is that exactly what you wanted to achieve?
No. We "pampered Ms. Łukomska". I can't repeat exactly what we said. As Penderecki and I were working on Brigade of Death, where the texts are literally taken from a concentration camp, naturally there was what I would call a funereal atmosphere in the studio. Nevertheless, not here. We would have great fun with the voices and there wasn't a trace of martyrdom or of the Thanatos amongst us.

But while making it, were you aware straightaway that it would end up being received that way?
No. I speak for myself - I grew up twenty years later. To us, as humans, there was nothing terrible about it. There was no rape of an individual taking place.

With that method of work you must have produced a lot of material?
There was one quality about Penderecki that surprised me. We would be recording something in one, two, or three takes. Something would come together after the third hour and suddenly he would realise that it wasn't interesting for him, that we had been on the wrong track, a fruitless, meaningless one. Then I would have to destroy it. I would take the reel and cut the tape with a knife to ensure that there would never be the possibility of returning to that material. This resulted in it being cleaner, more sterile - that was a quality of his creativity. But the majority of composers didn't have such a quality. They would laboriously describe and preserve all of the material created along the way, including the engineers' test takes that I made at the console, in case they might come in useful later. After days upon days working in the studio, there would be a pile of envelopes with bits of tapes, which began to overwhelm us both. In trying to come up with something, we would play it for four days, editing it like Benedictine, obsessed with some kind of structure and not achieving anything. I know of cases where the excess of material was like the first nail in the coffin for the composer. Then I would get really cheesed off and say - we're chucking it all in the dustbin. And I would do his entire work in one day, a work which still gives him great fame, let alone bread.
An excess of material - since the lengthy process of creativity is in the shape of a sinus curve. From euphoria and praise for one's talent to: there is nothing more I can do. In other words, from depression to euphoria - cyclophrenia. You have be aware of that, you have to have a distance from the pain of these cyclical depressions. If you can't get over those slumps, you won't do anything worthy.

Depression - euphoria, depression - euphoria, depression - euphoria - you've also been through that, haven't you?
Well yes, I'm an artist after all.

But in what circumstances would your depressions arise?
While producing a work, I would recognise that on a given day I was in bad shape. Then there would be two possibilities: either I would abandon it, or I would carry on, against my will. The second solution was better, because I worked out that if something pleases you in a euphoric state, it means it's a repetition. It's always like that. We always like songs that we have heard before. And after many years, it turns out that what I didn't like in my depressive state, has a trace of something original about it. There would be something novel in it and that's why it aroused such resistance.

What allowed you to create your own pieces?
I had the terrible luxury of permanent access to the studio. I was never commissioned to make my own pieces. If something was fun and exciting, I would drop into the studio for two or three hours on a Saturday after breakfast - but only until one o'clock, because that was when my wife would ask me to come home to make a steak while she made a salad. So I would spend about three hours there. I would take the key, and play tchoo-tchoo-tchoo. And if something meaningful would come out of it, then I would put it on the shelf. I was in a luxurious situation. I received a salary - a small one, because it was always "Gieniu, you'll manage". Well, in fact I had earned a lot, you could say big money, for my film music compositions. I wrote approximately three hundred film scores.

So in a sense you had freedom. You had a job, you produced others' works, you received a salary, but at the same time you had permanent access to the studio.
I could do what I wanted ? I was free as a bird. Nobody ever dared ask me why I was taking the studio key or what I was doing, where I was doing it. There is probably nowhere else in the world where you can do that.

Have you had to pay for the fact that you were a self-made man? For, in fact, you yourself say that the price you paid was the difficulty in achieving recognition.
At a certain moment - perhaps like a boyish rebellion - I would say - Get lost, I'm not going to go through that struggle and all that just to have my music heard by fifteen listeners in a small concert hall in the philharmonic. Bugger it. Can't the artist be the master? - He can. And he should be.

The master of one's life or the master of a situation?
The master of oneself.

The studio was organised in such a way that each composer had a dedicated sound engineer to work with. You didn?t need a producer, so did the lack of technological barriers give you a special freedom?
Extraordinary freedom. Despite my huge technical experience, I forget all the technological procedures. They are somehow beyond me. They enter my subconscious. I am concerned with meaning and elegance of expression. I care about rhythm and flow. Some of my works that have had global acclaim were created on the basis of signs and games.
When you turn the knob on the console all the way up, you can hear the electrons flowing through that device, extraordinary crackling noises and hissings. That distorted silencer, amplified a million times more than it should have been, suddenly became my instrument. I began to make those ear-splitting reverb noises that are anathema to sound engineers, musicians and recording engineers. In addition, I would take all the phonic waste, sounds tarnished with some kind of blemish and would combine them in real time. That was, for example, how the work Kolaż [Collage] came about. This was done in real time and this is what amuses me - I don't know whether it?s testament to something or to nothing. The work Dixi has similar origins. I created that work out of frustration. Actually, I was working with one composer who was showing off his knowledge of physics to me and his superior wisdom on the subject of hertz and decibels, and I thought - oh, go to hell. I went up to the console and fiddled with the knobs and did a Dixi ? which means in Latin I told you so. I needed that then to cleanse my aching soul. To be honest, with you, in fact all of my works are the result of a game: homo ludens.

Do you create just for the sheer hell of it, or do you also create out of need?
If I have access to material from which a work of art is to be made, if I have good working equipment that can shape that material, tweak it, correlate it, if I see that the effort of structuring that material, its textures and objects, yields a form, if I feel that I'm in for a pleasant surprise, or that those two objects will send sparks - then the imperative to do that, after Sunday mass say, and to try to combine all that, is irresistible.

Sometimes you create on the basis of a sign, but some of your works were preceded by solid and detailed instructions. Here is a fragment of the instructions for the Triptych in memory of Franco Evangelisti: Absolute homogeneity of material. There can only be one world and no more than one. Raw electronics. The event has to be set in silence. The work should give an impression of a deformed silence, just like crystal deforms space when you look through it. Therefore, the silence and the pauses should be an integral component. This homogeneity and crystallization also means that you should see a perfectly logical crystal structure in every moment.
The sequential form has to be completely abandoned. No stretch of time in the piece should give the impression of a completed entirety. All the voices are equally important. This is the universal rule.
You can associate the rule with looking at a landscape, for example. You look to the North, and you also see the North West and the North East. In general, this should be a formal concept: movement around the entirety of an axis and observation of a landscape. This rule fulfils the proposition of an aleatoric openness of the whole. So you can begin and end it at any time. If there are fifteen voices, you can see fifteen sides of the world
.

It's like this, you see: when we used the purely sinus wave based, noisy, rectangular-shaped electronics, the sounds were completely out of this world, alien, without emotion or warmth. Because they didn't mean anything. Nobody whistles to themselves in sine waves at home, whether they are happy or sad. But I had an ambition and I made it work. This ambition or concept is laid bare in that rather baroque declaration that you have just read out: I wanted to humanise those electronics, to warm them up and tame them. And there between the lines you can hear those tiny particles, crystals as complete, that cannot be associated with a phenomenon that existed only in the electro-acoustic lab at the polytechnic. But I wanted those sounds to be strictly electronic, impossible to associate with the world of musical and non-musical sounds that surround us, but nevertheless somehow tamed and made beautiful.

What makes you decide which sounds can carry such emotion and which can't?
It's down to my personal imagination of feelings.

You wrote something about how you created from some thought, but it is evident that those associations that helped you come up with how a work should be made, are absolutely indiscernible for the listener of the work.
Yes that's probably the case. That could be true.

On that subject - what do you expect from your listener?
To participate in the vision behind my deduction process, how I arrive at some kind of order and to follow me. To not feel disgusted or surprised by the changes that he hadn't foreseen, but in fact pleased to be able to predict what is about to happen in the piece. Namely, this means that during the concert he takes part in my creation. That's what a composer can hope for from the listener. Of course, I also hope for aesthetic thrill and emotion.

You often say that experimental music is plagued by the fact that it permanently tries to shock the listener and that in fact this is what makes up the dynamic between listener and composer.
A dynamic of conflict

But conflict is the complete opposite of what you are proposing.
I hope for cohabitation.

But surely that predictability or unpredictability is based on the listener's education, listening and music culture?
You're right, of course. In experimental music there were those who wanted to break away from the entire tradition. But you can't do that, because our way of perceiving things is encoded within us. That perception can be verified, adjusted and the listener can be surprised to suddenly find that even a stone can yield music. But you can't omit making reference to the listener's experience because that's a given, whether you like it or not. The listener acquired that experience in your absence in this vale of tears.

What's the difference then between a negative and a positive surprise?
Negative surprises come about during the deduction process: an idyll and suddenly a screech. Somebody wants to give you a slap in the face just for the hell of it. Some kind of nasty, unpleasant, senseless, ear-splitting noise that puts the listener off-balance and enrages him. What I am saying about being surprised, on the other hand, I say in the context of the entire vision of the piece. I wanted to shock the listener and get him interested in a world whose existence he hadn't been aware of - both in terms of textures as well as narrative, motion in sound and development over time.

In a two-dimensional collage, we are struck by mismatched elements all at once. In a musical collage, on the other hand, we have to deal with the element of time; how then do you come up with this key effect of simultaneity?
You are thinking in a linear way - with events taking place one after another. In the sound narrative, some important events or clusters may take place one after another, but sounds in different background layers can also be harmonized simultaneously. While one event is fading out, you can still hear many important sounds in different layers of the background. It-s like three-dimensional space.

A second important tool that you use is non-mechanical repetition.
It's a very simple variation, but it yields extraordinary effects. It's surprising how relentless, clock-like repetition begins to be perceived as non-symmetrical and becomes unusually evocative after some time. Subjectively, time occurs in unequal intervals. What causes this is not particularly well understood. From a simple transformation, I can improvise a work of audio art out of nothing in a relatively short period of time. It's a bit like a magician pulling out a squirrel from a hat, instead of a rabbit. The power of repetition comes from the fact that pulsation, rhythm and repetition are very innate, human activities - just like a heartbeat, or footsteps.

When do you look for materials for the collages?
I have been looking for them all my life.

What inspires you?
I don't have a clue until I actually start working. Very often the very idea for a work or the germ of an idea, is some kind of elation or surprise or emotion triggered by a word or a mistake.
My work generally relies on the destruction of material - meaning that I am constantly cutting up tapes. At the radio, probably out of frugality, I didn-t want to destroy new tapes, so I would go down one floor to the radio theatre productions' bin and take out reels of out-take tapes. I wasn?t interested in what was on those tapes. I would use 5-7 seconds from the beginning of the reel, and record my sinus wave sounds on top of that. Then I would rewind it so I could play it back. Sometimes I would rewind eight seconds instead of seven, press play and instead of my recording, I would hear an odd sentence that would be a revelation; in this world of sounds that I'm submerged in, it would be so strange and shocking. So then I would take those remarkable accidents on that material taken from some unknown origins, those samples that had amused me, delighted me, moved me, and pin them on the wall.
Then a snippet of tape taken off the hook at random would form the germ of an idea. I would then construct an entire nebula from that one atom. I take one step at a time and on the way I come across new ideas for further details.

But surely not every bit of waste will come in useful as input material?
That's true. My waste is not dirty; it's dry. Waste in the sense of something that nobody needs, that was once useful but has ceased to be important for whatever reason. The fact of it being rejected is what interested me, that it had been removed, degraded - recognised as useless.

So what does this waste have to consist of?
Is has to touch me in some way. It has to have a sentimental value. And if it doesn't have it, but I suspect that it once did - then I will classify it as such, through context. By association.

You say that your work relies on the cutting of tape. Was your creativity influenced by the fact that in the case of audio tape, the sound would gain something of a bodily presence?
Something that was once ephemeral - a sound that only existed for as long as it lasted, and was then irretrievably lost ? was suddenly preserved. The sound was recorded on audio tape through a variable magnetic field that determines the density of the metallic particles responding to that field. And suddenly, there I was holding sound in my hands! I would hold it either by the beginning or by the end. Audio tape was an extraordinary miracle that ruled for over half a century. Then, through digital technology, that sound once again become two numbers, either four or six digit ones. It became strange and abstract once again and I stopped liking it.
I prefer to hold a piece of tape with recorded sound in my hands or even to hang it on my Virgin Mary figure than to see two numbers on the screen that tell me that this is the beginning of some sound phenomenon and this is its end. I don't play on computers because I can't take sounds from the computer into my hands. It's a weird thing, or maybe I?m the weird one. But I can't do anything about it and there"s no way of curing me, for there would be no point in that.

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* Transcript of an interview conducted by Zuzanna Solakiewicz, director and screenwriter of a documentary on Eugeniusz Rudnik's experimental music 15 stron świata [15 corners of the world] (production by the Towarzystwo Inicjatyw Twórczych "ę" / Endorfina Studio Marta Golba ["ę" Society for Creative Initiatives/Marta Golba Endorphin Studio]), 2012
www.15corners.com