It may have taken about 600 years and countless jokes, but it seems Poland may finally be cool. In the last decade Poland has emerged with cutting edge festivals (Unsound), artists (Jacaszek), labels (AudioTong, Few Quiet People) and now musical hardware.
Naughty neighbors Germany have long dominated the hardware and software market for music, from early synthesizers to Revox tape decks to Waldorf, Abelton Live and Native Instruments. Design studio PanGenerator might just put Poland on the map, with the Dodecaudion, their latest piece of innovative hardware. This collaborative project between Wesolowski + Kaliski was envisioned to publicly demonstrate the capabilities of this apparatus at a concert at Culture 2.0.3 at the National Audiovisual Institute. The resulting CD, in an extremely limited edition of 50 for the Few Quiet People label, documents that performance (on 28 October 2011) and the months of work leading up to it.
When one thinks of the tape experiments of Pauline Oliveros, or late Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, what is striking is the way an aesthetic framework emerges from unintended use of their chosen equipment. Aesthetic and conceptual ideas take center stage, not the devices they finessed to achieve them. What is relevant is not a stated aim, but an engrossing result, a widening of capacity. It should come as no surprise that the most creative and sophisticated results of Wesołowski + Kaliski’s experiments have arisen from using the device in ways unforeseen by PanGenerator when the device was designed.
The Dodecaudion is essentially a spatial audio-video controller. Rather than the more traditional controllers we might be familiar with, with knobs and buttons and pots, this 12-sided device makes use of sensors to transform a performer’s gestures into controls for tone and frequency. Though operationally one might think of a Theremin (which is, by the way, a Russian invention) for the way the apparatus functions, particularly watching the gestures in the video below, at least in this case the device functions more like a sampler with additional gestural parameters. Addtionally, a very cool aspect is that the entire project is open source, and the exterior can be printed using a 3-D printer, details of which you can fine at the PanGenerator site.
For these compositions, Kaliski played laptop and electronics while Wesolowski played violin. Kaliski designed a max/msp patch that used the Dodecaudion to control volumes and panning of prerecorded samples and effects.Both performers used loops of varying lengths to build complexity. The efficacy of the Dodecahedron as an innovative controller/instrument is then, in a real sense, critical to evaluating this release. Other than track #2, which was produced by Kaliski drawing on the duo’s raw material, the remaining six tracks have a way of bleeding into one another. This makes some amount of sense as the sonic raw material they are working with is limited, but the heart of what’s interesting here is in how the compositions take subtly different shapes.
This release is somewhat analogous to those aforementioned earlier experiments, with the aesthetic emerging from digital controllers and software. Dodecaudion and max/msp patch, the “action” is generated as the samples- violin, drones, field-recordings, wavering chords, – are swelled in and out and panned to create a convincing soundscape. As a whole, the release is thoroughly enjoyable, particularly as background music – a man-made crashing of the waves- but it might not beg repeated close listens. T The performer must function like a conductor who simultaneously generates the composition while calling forth the sonic material. The violin adds a sort of gravitas that balances the electronically manipulated drones and other sounds.
Though the sonorities are relatively limited, there is enough variation in how they’re brought together and, particular the violin parts, enough dynamic range and texture to produce enticing results. If you’re looking for a compelling sense of narrative direction than you are in the wrong place, but for mood and intrigue, 281011 succeeds in showing the compositional effectiveness of the said equipment. I am certainly anticipating future projects from these two, but I’m just as interested in seeing how the Dodecaudion develops. (Joseph Sannicandro)