A couple of weeks back I wrote here about the first in a series of releases on the Polish Bolt label that revisited the work of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio, an organisation still just about active today but which had its heyday in the sixties and seventies, producing a large number of electroacoustic tape works that were somewhat ahead of their time. For that first 2CD release in this series, a disc of the original Polish pieces was offset against a further disc of the same tracks re-envisioned by a group of improvising musicians. The disc I have been listening to quite a bit over the last two or three days is the third in this series (I’ll get to the second when I can!) and is a similar, if not identical project in which the established European ensemble Zeitkratzer Â perform what are effectively cover versions of six early tape/concrete/electronic works by various PRES composers. Zeitkratzer are an instrumental group, on this occasion ten people strong, with Ralf Meinz becoming a tenth member credited with “sound”, presumably some kind of live processing or mixing role.
In the sleeve notes to this album there is a lovely thought about the music from Michael Libera, the man behind making the project happen. He explains how the term “covers” fits what Zeitkratzer do with this music perfectly, if perhaps you think of the word “cover” quite literally, as if a cloth had been thrown over the original work, so muting it, but still containing the contours and shapes of the piece below it. Of the six pieces covered here I think only a couple also appeared on the other PRES release, so much of the music here is new to me, but knowing that the works here began life as electronic pieces before they were transcribed for acoustic performance, only for it to be then recorded and amplified back into something more electronic is enough to change how I think about the music here.
So the process of how this music came into being affects how I hear it, but because I don’t know the original pieces I find myself wondering how they might have sounded, wondering about how different the originals were to the acoustic reinterpretations here. How accurate has Reinhold Friedl and his Zeitkratzer ensemble been? All of the pieces here sound like they belong together, inhabiting a kind of muted grey aural space, mostly free of tonal elements, instead blending timbre and textures from a similar palette together. Were all of the original pieces so close in style and feel? How much of what we hear here is Zeitkratzer and how much the original works?
I can’t answer any of these questions, but I can describe the music here to some degree instead. Apparently all six pieces were performed and so recorded live, using, according to Friedl’s liner notes only roughly prepared ideas that the group reworked into what appears on the CD through a process of listening a lot to the original Polish works. From what I can tell, the new works resulting from this process were not precisely scored at all. There is a sense of grandeur to the music. For reasons I can’t quite pin down I am reminded of Celibidache’s realisations of the late Bruckner symphonies- all very slow, heavy, resoundingly rich recordings with a sensation of sluggish time running throughout. The music slips into droney territory from time to time, as I guess the musique concrete that inspired it did also, but when it does the drones are dense, layered strata made up of several acoustic sounds then filtered by Meinz to some degree to produce the almost monochrome studies here. Its not all flat though, often little flurries appear from the texture, sprinklings of piano from Friedl, traces of Marc Weiser’s electric guitar, the rumble of Maurice de Martin’s percussion, there is plenty to listen to here, and listen into as well.
The overall impact then is one of beauty, but of a grave, intense kind. This is music that worked really well for me 9and is working well right now) late in the evening when all is quiet, the roads outside are lit by streetlights and the volume is kept quite low. This is easily the best thing I’ve heard from Zeitkratzer, though I only own a handful of their many albums. Part of me now wants to go back and here the original PRES compositions, but part of me, taken with these new realisations, is happy to leave them covered…