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Clearly composed

img  Tobias

Thousands of years of musical history and nothing much has changed – sound is just a tool, a resource to shape compositions, not an end in itself. Which may be open for debate. It can actually hardly be disputed that the process of sculpting and treating sound is different from the arranging of melodies and harmonies. The sorry state of affairs is that this had lead many to believe that every piece, which focusses heavily on sound, can not be characterised as a composition, but must be treated as something else instead. Much to the grief of artists like Pawel Grabowski.

Grabowski’s reception must be a bipolar one: On the one hand, he has found it easy to connect with “the scene”, whose heart he has quickly stolen and who has been happy labelling him as one of their own. On the other hand, he admits not really being in touch with it and builds his music from the same emotional states as a rock or folk act. Actually, when hearing him talk about the motivation for his tracks, one would hardly imagine the deep and dream-time-drenched drones his releases have to offer: “Strangely enough because I use electronic set up and field recordings, found sounds to compose music I'm very often mistaken with sound artists, therefore being asked questions about my ideology towards sound etc. I am actually as far from being a sound artist as it is possible. I write music, very often about my very personal experiences, emotions. And it just happened that for that I use field recordings, found sounds etc. But to me it's the message that's important, sound only carries this message.”

And the message has most often been a seemingly gloomy one. Already the albums of his first band Miastoniespalo (meaning “the city wasn’t sleeping”) would have been a hot candidates for the band with the saddest melodies ever. Polish-born Grabowski played double-bass in a line-up.which he characterises as “Ambient Chamber Music” (alongside Cello and Accordion). Their first disc, a live recording of the band in 1998, must have been a mindhshattering experience for all who thought new music to be exclusively academic and cerebral. Again, he found himself in between two worlds: The proponents of “serious” composition and an experimental scene, which slowly moved away from the imperative of electronics and embraced “acoustic” instruments. The album also vividly displays his ideology with regards to improvisation: The latter merely being the cherry on top of a set of home-arranged loops: “I do not improvise, so I probably seperate composition and improvising very strictly. I went that road once with the "Glitch Letters" album, but even though I was improvising, I'd still have some parts pre-set and I'd still try to plan, structure the whole thing before playing it. So I basically decided it's not for me, I get more satisfaction from composing.” Piesni Zalobne I-VII” was the projects’s final release and ostensibly introduced the theme of death in Grabowski’s work: “Two of three members lost family members at that time, so that kinda influenced us a lot..."

Private lessons with Professor Krzysztof Olczak ensued for two years and in this time, Pawel became heavily interested in field recordings, and the use of electronic sound sources - an interesting fact, considering Olczak is actually a Classicaly-trained accordionist. Two terms start taking on an important meaning for him: The drone and its physical and emotional effect as well as microtonal music. Microtonal experiments can be found on “Glitch Letters” , which he releases on his own “Silence is not empty” imprint. The first component, meanwhile, features on three releases from a period of loneliness and desolation: “Cirr’s Songs”, “But I’m not” and “Arh” – closely connected by their motives and date of conception, between Jamuary and August of 2004.

“Cirr’s Songs”, released on Drone Records almost exactly a year later, is one of these little treasures kept to a select crowd lucky enough to make the discovery – if only for the fact that it is limited to a first run of 300 beautifuly packaged copies. Merely featuring two pieces of around seven minutes’ length, it marks the beginning and the end of an opaque and cloudy cosmos. Pawel’s introduction already points a great deal towards what to expect musically: “’Cirr's songs’ are about drowning. At that time I had this dream over and over again in which I was drowning in deep waters (it was very strong feeling since I can not swim). The dream lasted for about a month, then dissapeared completely, but that feeling remained..." Simple dream analysis will tell you that this means that the subject has entered a phase in which he appears to have lost control of his life and his actions. As to the why of this state, we can only guess, but it is a certainty that “Cirr’s Songs” takes listeners into the same strangehold as did Grabowski’s innitial dream: Side one feels like the opening scene of Tarkowski’s “Solaris”, thick water plants swaying randomly and without will in graceous, yet ghostly motion. Side B is even more ghoulish, with the creaking of wooden planks above eary pads – a ghost ship, the doors to the dark cellar opening by their own accord? Nothing is for certain on this frighteningly reduced 7’’ Vinyl.

“But I’m not” deals with leaving one place for another, a single track about letting go and starting something new. “Arh” meanwhile, which has already been praised on these pages, marks Grabowski’s first full-lenght. Again, the album conveys unreal or surreal visions and expands his language to a longer lament and a still sparse, but slightly more lavish palette. Two things become apparent, already at the early stage of his career: He prefers a policy of small steps over the pursuit of one grand “magnum opus”: “I just want my next record be better than the last. In other words I want to develop my musical language, learn new ways to express myself through music....” And, secondly, that developping his own musical language is more important than “reinventing the wheel”.

Listening to the mentioned releases, this musical language can be best characterised by the use of reduced, concentrated and highly effective field recordings (which lends them a strong structural and emotive purpose) on the one hand, sometimes only featuring short stabs, like thumbs of a wooden peg. And secondly, the brooding harmonic plates moving beneath, regularly allowing for minimal melodies. For an artist in constant flux, his sound is amazingly recognisable and both excitingly foreign as well as disturbingly familiar. Already, this sound has come under the challenge of change, with “Notes from the House of Dead”, his new, free for download, ep on his own label. In three tracks, lasting a mere ten minutes, he redefines his handwriting, while still remaing true to himself: Accentuated contrasts between deep and high frequencies, weird choral fantasies and “hollow” structures topped with organic sounds thrown into heavy reverb.

We can hardly wait to listen to this new handwriting in album format. After a short hiatus from writing, he is back in the saddle and ready for two new releases on Dark Winter and Cohort. The internationality of his “business partners” (Drone Records from Germany, Mystery Sea from Belgium, Portuguese Cronica Records and the aforementioned American outfits) is mirrored by the fact that he moved from Poland to Dublin four years ago and in the diversity of his influences: “I absolutely love theatre.  Also literature, Dylan Thomas, who's my favorite writer. German philosophy of the end of 18th and start of the 19th century.... History, WWII especially. German history as well.” Will his work help in convincing listeners that the worlds of sound and the worlds of composition do not exclude each other? It probably doesn’t really matter – what matters most, is listening to the music and finding access to an artist that still has a lot of unheard-of things to say, despite his own pessimism regarding “the new”: “I do not spend much time on listening to music. And very rarely I discover something new.”

Homepage: Pawel Grabowski
Homepage: Drone Records
Homepage: Mystery Sea Records
Homepage: Cronica Records

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