With Stories of an Old Man, Grzegorz Bojanek introduces us to a market for instrumental music that’s so obvious, we can’t believe we hadn’t thought of it before. The music began as the soundtrack to an audiobook, and the album presents re-worked, wordless versions of these tracks. For comparison’s sake, here’s what they sound like together:
Of this track, Bojanek writes:
Poraj, my village is (or was) an important station on the Warsaw-Vienna railway track. There were iron ore mines around and therefore we have a big railway junction. After the II WW there was a long train with the unused bombs and mines there. One guy accidentaly blew one car at the end of the train. The explosion was so big that the pieces of rails landed everywhere in the village. But luckily there were some brave railwaymen who disconnected the cars which were on fire. So in my village there was ony one casualty. Than the train was transported to the next big city and there it blew again – 48 people died there!
The photos which you can see on the film were taken by me. It is the same place where the story took place, but of course the photos were taken not long ago. Still the building with the name of the village PORAJ is the original building which was present during the times of the II World War.
And here’s what they sound like without narration (the above track now rendered in English as “A Huge Explosion After the War”:
Which do you like better?
At first, readers of this site may be drawn to the instrumental version. But we recommend giving the audiobook version a second or third play. For those who don’t know Polish, the repetition will soon produce a strange effect. As the piece unfolds, the lyrics begin to produce a tonal impact; knowledge of the story lends the words a worldweary aura. Now the instrumental version ~ already foreboding and strangely sad ~ seems even starker. The rare percussive echo, occurring only a few times in the track, seems like a momentary motivation, overruled by lethargy ~ hope defeated by weariness. The quiet end of the piece ~ 30 seconds of soft crackle ~ is a striking coda, reflecting the silence after the explosion. They were warned.
Bloody reminiscences wind throughout the album: “murders, breakouts, arrests by Communist regime”. The old man’s stories are violent and raw. But even though we don’t hear them, we intuit them through the music. “The History of Mining Industry in My Village” is a benign title, but a foreboding track, with ghostly bells, lurking drones and a sense that life in the village is haunted by death. While listening, one thinks, yes, there’s space enough in here for narration. But one also thinks of the audiobook in general, a somewhat ignored segment of the publishing industry known primarily for its guest readers. But what if it were otherwise? What if renowned artists appeared in audiobook scores, as Bojanek has done here? Might this not breathe new life into two industries at once?
Bojanek adds techno pulses to three of the tracks (“A Famous Singer”, “An Old Factory” and “Names of the Villages”, lending them an ominous vibe. The middle one is especially striking due to the contrast between texture and tempo. The tension thickens, imitating the progression of a club track; add a kick drum and a 4/4 beat, and yet another market may be breached. But the most effective track is the album’s shortest. We need no narration to understand “She Painted and Therefore She Was Imprisoned”, only the mournful guitar, reminiscent of Porl Thompson. The pauses allow the reverberations to settle softly and the wind to rush in like a lonely breeze through a solitary prison window. “Wartime Memories” is similarly effective, calling on the framework of techno without ever toppling into tempo. The sonic field is dominated by a series of buzzing drones, reminiscent of airplane rotors: the fear of the enemy making yet another pass. Late in the track, a wind chime sounds: an echo of human life, even if the bodies are strewn about the ground.
By the end of the album, the sounds swiftly wind down like an old man’s memory. In this case, we can be happy that they have been preserved. (Richard Allen)