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Jacaszek's Ghosts in the Machine

Poland's Jacaszek performs at Montreal's Avant_MUTEK on April 19th, alongside Pole, Demdike Stare, and Miles

Michael-Oliver Harding - 17 avril 2012
Jacaszek's Ghosts in the Machine
Polish electro-acoustic musician Michal Jacaszek has seven albums under his belt already, but it was only with 2008's Treny that he began gaining attention on North American shores.  Listening to the sublimity of his work, one wonders how this could have not happened sooner.  Jacaszek is in many ways heir to a beauty and boldness in ambient music first initiated by Harold Budd.  But the Polish composer has found ways of taking tried forms and making them new again, marrying the soul of his sounds - and here we mean this in all its religious connotations - with the modernity of technological manipulation.  
 
Jacaszek arrives in Montreal for April 19th's Avant_MUTEK soirée courtesy of the Polish Cultural Institute New York, as part of a partnership with the ICAS Network, and the Communikey and Unsound festivals.  He'll be performing at the new Satosphere dome, accompanied by two classical musicians.  Also on the bill that night, Demdike Stare, Pole, and Miles.
 
Advance tickets are available here.
 
 
Whereas some electronic musicians struggle to describe their music, you speak about very precise moods and feelings. Do your pieces spark from specific emotions or impressions?
 
Maybe I am talking too much and annoying my listeners a little bit, but I do not believe in “no idea” art. I think each single piece of art or ambitious music should have some deeper foundations. And I think it’s right to share those ideas with people as a kind of introduction, while at the same time respecting their own feelings and interpretations. 
 
You’ve said that the tonal nuances found in acoustic sounds can’t be topped by any digital apparatus. Are the electronic tools you use a way to expand the possibilities of your original source material?
 
In fact, the way I work with electronic tools is an act of despair. Having no formal education with instruments, I had to find an alternate way to compose and play music. Digital tools help me to create sounds and arrange them into musical forms. This method infected acoustic sources along the way, transforming them in interesting ways. Lowering sound pitches, looping, reversing, distorting, was in fact expanding sound’s possibilities – those effects were surprisingly nice and intriguing, but unintentional. My main priority was to compose acoustic music using alternative methods.
 
You’re renowned for creating intricate sonic pastiches that balance out classical, baroque sounds and instruments such as bass clarinets and harpsichords with fuzzy electronic textures. Some would see those two worlds coming together as a collision, whereas you seem to find harmony. How do you strike that balance?
 
I don’t know really – it is a matter of intuition. Art (and music) has this great capability to turn conflicts and oppositions into a homogeneous composition. I take it as a great artistic compliment if you find this phenomenon present in my music, but it is really hard to define the way I achieve it.
 
Your album Pentral (2009) was based on field recordings taken inside Gothic churches. What drew you to those spaces at the outset?
 
Sacred space has always been familiar to me – since childhood I have gone to church for religious  reasons.  Gothic interiors as they were built in times of  great faith, carry a special kind of spirit present in architectural details and the acoustic conditions. You can feel it every time you enter a Gothic church from a crowded street. Dark space, silence and reverberations, coloured light filtered by stained glasses, golden decorations – it is all like an oasis of an alternate world full of inspiring elements.
 
Your electroacoustic body of work could be described as sonically challenging. Your work is at times exploratory, at other times deeply cathartic, often filled with tension, and yet always very complex. Are editing and manipulating layers of sound essential components to making music for you? 
 
Yes – at the moment I spend much more time on editing, then on recording and prerecording preparation. But I also think that it can be a transient state. There is no need to be stuck to one method of work.  A constant challenge and a promising attitude is for me more proper .
 
In an era where synths are about as commonplace in pop music as guitars, is it a very conscious decision to avoid them altogether?
 
I do not think the pop realm determines my work in any way. I am not a big fan of pop music, but also I’m not fundamentally an enemy of pop music. The decision to use only acoustic sources is autonomous and comes from my need to explore this limitless, fascinating world of lively created sound. But still, I think that it doesn't have to be  a program for a whole life. Why not try synthetic sources in the future?
 
You’ve always said that your live performances are adaptations of what you’ve created in a studio. Concretely, how do you translate those finely crafted studio sessions into a live concert setting? How much improvisation comes into play?
 
Basically, I bring my studio session to the stage, and execute it as multi-track playback. All layers go through mixers and different dynamic effect processors. Live parts are played by musicians and are also mixed into these layers. The improvising element is present in my manipulations: loops, samples, and the manipulated effects are always different, as are the clarinet and harpsichord parts. 
 
You’re invited to perform at numerous electronic music festivals and events, and yet your biggest influences all stem from classical music, whether Georgian choirs, chamber baroque pieces, or modern Polish composers. Do you enjoy knowing that certain festivalgoers might be appreciating these types of compositions for the first time through your work?
 
Yes, it is exciting, but also demands a great responsibility. It is so easy to profane this beautiful, advanced music.
 
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