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Zbigniew Karkowski - One and Many

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Artist: Zbigniew Karkowski

Album: One and Many

Label: Sub Rosa

Review date: Jul. 13, 2005

True to his beliefs that socio/geographical exile and the cognitive dissonance of new encounters are valuable to the creative process, Polish-born Zbigniew Karkowski emigrated to Sweden before living throughout Europe, and as far away as Los Angeles. Today, Karkowski lives in Tokyo, where he is a continuing participant in the musical underground of the city. Though he studied composition in Sweden, and still writes for orchestras, it’s Iannis Xenakis that more readily informs much of his work. Karkowski’s view of modern music calls for the abolition of the over-intellectualized musical rebellion that he sees as the trend in modern composition, in favor of music rooted in the corporeal. This more instinctive sound creation, which ignores the border between music and noise in hopes of enlightenment, is immersed in and an extension of the sound that Karkowski believes constitutes the universe.

Karkowski often uses field recordings as source material and has been known to use architectural ruins as the basis for his scores, but there’s no documentation as to what served as the genesis of this album, and even if it were human (or, more generally, animal) in nature, evidence isn’t readily apparent. The electro-acoustic squalls can be surprisingly harsh for music that’s to be inherently organic, but Karkowski's humanity consists of the pulses and vibrations that form the core of innate processes. In this sense, One and Many, might be more human than we realize.

The album’s sheets of static and ambient electronic emissions make no concessions to cultural forms or conventional musical systems, and while an argument that the electro-acoustic sounds pioneered by Xenakis have begat a whole new system of rule-followers and sonic conventions could be made, it’s safe to say that One and Many meets the composer’s aims. There’s not much on the disc that is far removed, though the Japanese noise community is an obvious influence. That One and Many can be considered mundane at times is, oddly enough, a small sign that Karkowski’s aims have been met, that listeners no longer immediately shrink in horror when confronted with such “noise.”

Karkowski’s not some nth-generation imitator, though, and while many of his techniques and ideas are no longer revolutionary, One and Many remains an intriguing listen. It’s the quieter segments that often get the most mileage, the subdued hums and drones that threaten to explode into heavily treated shrapnel at any moment. Karkowski uses such shifts in dynamics parsimoniously, and while the album is not homogenized to a fault, it could benefit from added diversity. But One and Many isn’t a treatise on restraint, and Karkowski’s goals are aided by acridity. Those who aim to destroy the old guard rarely do so meekly, and Zbigniew Karkowski’s no different.

By Adam Strohm

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