On December 6, Michal Jacaszek released Glimmer, an unexpected siege of contrasts: frailty and force. Stillness and momentum. Ancient baroque instrumentation, and up-to-the-second processing methods. Expectations had been high, and Jacaszek did not disappoint. By all means Glimmer earned near-unanimous praise from the more familiar outlets, but the NPR review was unexpected, and rousing: “It pulls back the curtain so you can step into music that is at once of its own time and, seemingly, timeless.” BBC concluded that Glimmer was “an immediately immersive work” with a “twilit core.”
Very few reviews failed to notice the binary quality of the work. Indeed, the artist’s statement was clear on the point: “All my artistic activity is based on the intuition that there is a hidden reality existing behind or beside the material world.” So it should surprise no one that a dialogue with the composer shows a much different side to Michal Jacaszek and his creative process.
Hopefully you’ll take this as the highest compliment, but it sounds like your psyche is a pretty noisy place. Are we on to something?
My head is full of musical ideas, possible sound combinations, art challenges. I’m also extremely busy with things connected to everyday life: family – three kids! – earning money, house and car maintenance, et cetera. So in this sense I feel really full of noise. But also in deeper areas there is a realm of quietness and silence. It is not emptiness, rather a delicate slow melody going on.
How did you manage composing when you had three young kids in the house?
It is not that hard as I have my own isolated place to work. A while ago I worked on music in the house – kids knocked at the doors, shouted, cried. Headphones were my rescue.
You also mention earnings: what is it you do for a living?
In my studio I work on different aspects of music and sound: I compose scores for films, theaters, installations, cartoons, and commercials. I also play gigs.
You seem to draw great inspiration from non-musical sources, particularly poetry. Could you explain why, and how you channel these sources into your music?
Besides poetry, I could also point to visual arts (painting, architecture), nature, and a few other things as factors influencing my work. These sources can impact my music directly or be just a kind of stimulator driving me to work. Pentral (2009, Gusstaff Records) is an example of direct inspiration – I wanted to create a musical equivalent for a Gothic church interior.
Another example would be my current project: I am recording the sound of trees and plan to make music out of it. But very often just simple contact with a landscape, great painting or moving piece of poetry causes some kind of excitement, a state ecstasy which drives me to do something with sound.
You’ve mentioned that your music should balance the narrative with the cinematic, “but still atmospheric, a bit like with a prayer.” Would you expand on that conclusion? “Like with a prayer” seems even more pertinent now, given the subject matter of Glimmer.
“Soft but hardly touching, monotonous but keeping you awake, filled with emotions but controlled, … repetitive and trancy … a little bit like a prayer” That was the full text of my little aesthetic manifesto from the Headphone Commute review. For people who pray this description sounds familiar I guess. Listing to all those characteristics I noticed some aesthetic associations. I do pray, but it does not mean that my goal is making sacral music, being a prayer itself.
Glimmer nods in many ways to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Would you describe how you came to choose his verses as inspiration for Glimmer?
Glimmer does not have very deep association with Manley’s poetry. When I finished the music, I was simply looking for proper titles, that could somehow reflect the associations I had in my mind whilst listening to the finished tracks. Glimmer generates some “visions” in my head: some tracks remind me of golden patterns, some sound like the wind in trees, some were like flashing sun rays … Manley’s sensual expressions were really close to what I imagined.
You were familiar with Hopkins’ work already?
He drew my attention when I saw an excerpt from his “Wreck of the Deutschland” poem on Philip Jeck’s last CD cover. The fragment sounded really interesting, so I found Polish translations, and started reading his works. The opposition of sensuality and spirituality is something that I like about his poems.
But the poetry did not directly govern the compositions in any way?
Not in this case. But I am working on another project with singers, and will be using poetry as lyrics. The poems’ mood and structure of verses determine the composition.
While the contrasts between instruments is clear, they all seem cut from the same sound fabric. The electronic processing is also perfectly cohesive with the acoustic instrumentation. How did you achieve this cohesiveness?
Hard to say, really. Maybe because most of the sounds are immersed with deep reverb? I have been working on proper, satisfying sound for many years, searching for the right balance, studying sound relations, making lots of experiments and trials. So this is just the result.
So you have added more effects to your arsenal, at least since the Morpheus interview in 2008?
I guess I rather tend to limit effects usage. Distorted lo-pass filters and reverb are the only effects I use at the moment.
Would you share your thoughts on noise and music? Something tells us you’re quite philosophical on this point.
An interesting thing happened to noise in 20th century music: It was rehabilitated by composers, and included in their creative process as ordinary musical elements. I like this idea. Noise is for me a sound with no precise tone, but it can still have rhythm and timbre, and therefore could be a wonderful means of musical expression. I use different aspects of noise, for different reasons: sometimes to increase an emotional aspect of my music, sometimes to build a kind of contrast or opposition to clear, traditional instrumentation. It is a process based on intuition rather than any philosophic strategy. I work a lot to shape it, manipulate, edit and process it in many ways.
You have said before that you don’t perform any instrument, although the Glimmer liner notes credit you with the guitar performance. How have your technical abilities progressed since then, as well as your collaborative efforts?
Nothing has changed in that area I am afraid. I have always had trouble with instruments, but thanks to samplers, sequencers, loopers I can always improve parts that I record live. I mentioned this on the cover credits just to provide info about instrumentation. I find it important to draw people’s attention to the acoustic aspect of Glimmer.
You’ve disclaimed region having much impact on your work, but there nevertheless seems like an eastern European je ne sais quois to your composing. Do you notice the same, and is this unintentional?
If you suggest that there is some eastern spirit, unintentionally present in my music, I agree. It is possible, as my favourite composers are Polish, Ukrainian or Estonian; my favourite painters were born here in Poland, and my favorite place for holidays is Eastern Poland. Some consequences of these fascinations may be present in my music.
I don’t recall any Ukrainian composers you may have recommended. Would you care to do so here?
I was talking about Valentin Silvestrov. His “Silent Songs” cycle, or “Sacred Works” are fascinating.
And when you mention Estonian composers, do we assume Arvo Pärt is your first example?
Yes, Arvo Part – my old love. A lot of air and silence in his music. Very modern, contemporary, minimal music with religious and spiritual content.
How about compositional control? Do your pieces develop on their own, or adhere to a strict blueprint?
I do not work on partitas; my method looks more like building collages out of sounds, like composing a picture through the selection of colours and rhythms. Working this way, very often some accidental sounds or texture combinations can surprisingly build very interesting musical phrases. This “accident” can sometimes become a foundation for the complete arrangement, which as a whole is controlled, but is founded on a kind of coincidence.
Your frequent mention of color makes us wonder if you experience any form of synesthesia, however mild. Care to comment?
A mild form of synesthesia was for example an attribute of French composer Olivier Messiaen – he could easily translate any kind of tone into colour and vice versa. He did it in a very precise way, and his “observations” were objective – meaning anybody with this kind of “ability” had the same colour experiences. My “visions” are rather subjective impressions.
What are your plans for 2012, including any live performances?
I plan to work on an EP for Ghostly, and in the meantime together with my band we are going to play several gigs all over Europe and the U.S. So far, our plans include New York (Unsound Festival 2012), Boulder, Colorado (Communikey Festival of Electronic Arts), Uppsala in Sweden (Volt Festival), and some gigs in Portugal (Porto and Lisboa).