For this post I have decided to write about another artist from Gdańsk, Krzysztof Topolski aka Arszyn. He is an improvising musician, electroacoustic composer, field recordist and curator from Gdańsk. Key concepts in his work are noise and soundscape. Being a percussionist himself, he explores the area of percussion and live electronic, improvised and electroacoustic music. He creates interactive sound installations, organizes presentations and lectures on contemporary music and sound art and also runs workshops.
In his work with field recordings his main focus is on the process of listening itself. A good example of this practice is his recent „In a Port with a Hydrophone” project, for which Topolski decided to systematically and actively listen and record the same location for a number of days with the use of a hydrophone. The results of the project – with the sound recordings – can be found here.
Field recordings are often a method of sound research. Underwater perspective is completely different – he says when I ask him about his fascination with underwater recordings. – I may not have much experience with hydrophones but the possibility itself, of listening to the engines of a ship too far away to be seen from the shore, is impressive. Water has also got unique aural beauty and musicality. Probably that’s one of the reasons why water elements – like fountains etc. – were so commonly used in parks, gardens and urban landscapes. Water is peaceful and its diversity is huge: it can be a wave of the sea, a white noise, or a melting ice with contact mics inside of it.
Recently I’m most fascinated with the process of listening itself. At a certain moment I felt I was living in a world of limitless sound, the richness of which was overwhelming. A microphone is a kind of a filter, a microscope or a technological ear. Field recording is somewhat like making music by means of listening. In some cases listening is enough, there’s no need to make an actual recording. But when someone is listening to my recordings (not only the field ones), he or she is actually listening to my own listening saved on a CD or other media, listening to my own sound perception filtered with the technology. In fact, it works the same way with any recorded sound. Listening to any recording means actually listening to the listening of the given producer, mixing or mastering engineer.
The most appealing aspect of the acoustic ecology for me were its commonly accessible, egalitarian educational methods. I often use them in my workshops. The critics of the acoustic ecology often emphasize – to an exaggerated scale – the opposition of “bad noise” and “good silence”. I have a problem with that, too, and I believe it’s easy to fall into simplifications here. It’s amazing how clear and fresh can a “hi-fi” soundscape sound. Once, when I was recording by the Wigry lake I’ve noticed that my equipment, completely sufficient in the urbanized area, was not sensitive enough in the Schaferian “hi-fi” environment. We’re living in an environment constantly polluted with noise and we need to be aware of that. I’m not saying that the “lo-fi” urban soundscape is not interesting – it’s outstanding and for me personally, it’s most natural. I’m aware though, that this means a sense of lack, when more quiet sounds cannot get through through the omnipresent noise. This noise is monotonious and tormenting, just like listening to over-compressed song.
How much are the field recordings just a source of sounds for your compositions and improvisations – and how much are they independent, self-sufficient form of expression?
I used to use field recordings for my compositions. It was a natural process of including such recordings to my electronic music, mixes and sound collages. But I am very much interested in the unprocessed recordings, especially the ones which were recorded in an experimental way. For example Patrick Farmer, whom I was happy to work with, used a hydrophone to record photosynthesis. Obviously, it required a number of factors: a proper insolation, a proper depth of water etc. Some plants, when under enough insolation, can rapidly produce oxygen. It really sounds like a good piece of contemporary electronic music. This sort of an approach is most appealing to me at the moment.
I’m also very much interested in physical aspect of sound – sound being a vibration and an energy. I’m fascinated with the idea of sonification of the electromagnetic field, in a way Christina Kubisch is doing it for many years. In her own way, she does field recordings too, but in a completely different context. With the use of technology and sound we can get to know some phenomena otherwise completely not accessible for us.