Extended Play
[Triptych for the child survivors of war and conflict]
installation : Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival : 2007

Winner of
The British Composer of The Year Award, for Sonic Art 2008
Winner of The Paul Hamlyn Award for Composers 2008

"a piece to return to again and again... haunting and lulling" [The Wire]
"so inspirational, and in many ways very spiritual" [Gerry Turvey]
"I was so deeply touched by your piece" [Mandeep Kaur Samra]

“If you want to experience the thrilling interface where music, visual art, theatre and digital technology meet,
hasten to Glasgow where the sparky new Sonica Festival has taken over venues across the city.....
....Best of all is Janek Schaefer’s Extended Play, haunting, elegiac and beautiful.” [Richard Morrison - The Times]

............Born : Warsaw 1942................................. Born : Walton-on-Thames 2005

 

I started my own family in late 2005, and have been very aware of how very lucky we all are in our own situation.
I have been constantly comparing this to the fact that my mum was born in Warsaw in 1942.
They say your first few years on earth sets the tone for the rest of your life.
How opposite can two beginnings be.
It dazzles me and inspired me.

At the end of our garden is a large derelict WWII bomb shelter. I used to think it was a nuisance,
until I appreciated what it represented. On the far west edge of greater London,
the first residents here were worried about being killed by bombs,
they actuaslly lived in terror at times I'm sure.

As I turn on the TV, most of what we see reported is the never ending cycle of war, terror and
conflict of one sort or another. I'm not convinced though you could make a news channel about
only the 'Very Very Best' things that are happening globally, right now.

So, Extended Play continuously & positively celebrates hope, survival, and new beginnings.

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CD LINE records US LINE_036 : 64:00min SOLD OUT
DVD/Download : audiOh!22 : PAL : 06:42min

Play Preview track
[5mins] [with Real Audio]

1 : Extended Play - Vinyl Cello Duo 12:00
2 : Extended Play - Vinyl Piano Trio 14:00
3 : Extended Play - Vinyl Violin Duo 10:00
4 : Extended Play - Acoustic Ensemble 24:00
5 : Extended Play - Radio Jodoform 4:00

a limited edition in DVD case available at the audiOh! Kiosk
hand crafted CDr with DVDr £13.50 inc p&p worldwide


OR
Audiofile Album Download £5.99 [inc film]


******* Watch the Extended Play film below *******


Click here to dowload the luscious full size film free as a .mov file
copy to desktop and give it to a friend if you like

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Extended Play - The Installation

For the installation/composition, a cello, a violin, and a piano were recorded playing their individual part of a 10-minute composition.
Each part was then edited and extended with extra silences to last 15mins and cut onto vinyl.

Multiple copies of each intrumental EP are then played on 9 especially modified record players.

 

A trio of Crosley Record Players are set to repeat play at different speeds.
A movement detector kills the power when you pass in front - as we all make a difference.
This randomises the evolving composition through the 'passive interaction' of the audience.
The audience have to stand still if they want to hear and then absorb the experience.

Each instrument is cut at 45rpm onto its own 12" EP and played at a combination of speeds - 33 & 45 + 78 for the piano.


 

 

composition concept

 

During World War II, the BBC World Service used to broadcast a short piece of music after the mid-day news to be
heard by the Polish Underground. This was called 'Jodoform', and each piece of music had a specific meaning.
On a trip to The Polish Underground Movement Study Trust, I discovered the Jodoform log book [below*]
which revealed the piece of music that was broadcast on the day my mum was born. This turned out to be
the Polish folk song 'Tango Lyczakowskie' which strangely related to a Ukraine/Polish conflict in 1918 where
children had to go to war to defend their town in South East Poland!


above : Jodoform log book of music broadcaast by the BBC World Service to be deciphered by the Polish Underground
[courtesy of The Polish Underground Movement Study Trust, London]

 

The basis of the score is a short phrase taken from the jolly Polish Tango song. Play the Polish Tango song [with Real Audio]
This was developed extensively over 4 months with my arranger/collaborator Michael Jennings. Quite a technical task in fact.
We endeavoured to create a piece that works at the various record player speeds all playing at once at any point in the score.
Glissando is used to evoke an echo of air raid sirens, but a little more uplifting here as the notes rise and grow in random relationships.
Recording the piece was also challenging - trying to record seperate parts and keeping the strings in harmony etc... Minimalism can be hard.

Listen to the 'Hear & Now' BBC Radio 3 interview about the project
[with Real Audio]



below : The Score



Download the official Score & a MIDI recreation track of the 10 minute score
Arranger
- Michael Jennings - Piano
Simon Hewitt Jones - Violin
Thomas Hewitt Jones - Cello

The result I hope is beautiful ... a contemplative, emotional, optimistic & uplifting experience of

continuously unfurling sound ...
a bitter sweet tribute to the child survivors of conflict and war.


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*******EXHIBITION DATES*******

Huddersfield Art Gallery 16th Nov to Saturday 5 January 2008

{ by chance this follows an exhibition about Anne Frank ! }

 

Red is the colour of Life, of Death, and of Love.

 

Many thanks to all those who helped me in realising the finished work.
Catherine, Mary, Scarlett, Theodora, Sofia, Barbara, Robert, Michael, Thomas and Simon,
Graham for the commission, Nikki and all those at The Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival,
Hannah and Christopher at The Polish Undergerground Movement Study Trust,
and the support of Crosley Radio USA who make the most wonderful old style equipment -
in fact Mr Crosely invented the first car radio - called the Roamio !

 

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The Installation has toured widely including:

Image from the show at The North Wall space in Oxford

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Image from the show at CCA @ Sonica Festival Glasgow

 

 

 

 

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Awards

The British Composer of The Year Award, for Sonic Art
2nd December 2008, The Law Society, London

Short Extract from BBC Radio 3 Coverage of The Awards Announcements for Sonic Art
[with Real Audio]

"As he chattered away, there was a magic tremor of Turner-ish excitement in the air" [The Telegraph on my awards speech above]

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The Paul Hamlyn Award for Composers 2008
November 2008, RIBA, London

Short Extract from the BBC Radio 3 programme about the importance of the Paul Hamlyn & British Composer Awards
[with Real Audio]

 

 

 

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CD Album Reviews

Reviews:

Vital (Holland)
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On 12K's sub division Line, a new CD by Janek Schaefer, based on his sound installation 'Extended Play'. Like with many other things by Schaefer there are many ends to this: his mum's Polish background, the secret musical messages of the BBC in World War II (the 'Jodoform'), Polish music, old vinyl and old turntables playing records, nine in total. They play three cello ep's, three piano ep's and and three violin ep's, in varying speeds. The music was taken out of a 1918 song and re-arranged and recorded on the vinyl, so it's new vinyl with new composition
from old music. The CD is what it sounded like. The first three pieces are a cello duo, a piano trio and a violin duo, whilst the 'acoustic ensemble' takes up twenty-four minutes. Since this deals with war, death and also life, it's all quite solemn, slow music. It has nothing to with electronics, processing or field recordings, but it's gentle, minimal music. Music however that is not composed but rather rather re-composed and played by itself. The stop/start of the record players that happens every now and then is part of it, and adds a strange element to it, one that works well. This music, had Schaefer been born 50 years ago, could have been easily part of Brian Eno's Obscure Music series and has a similar, great quality to it like Gavin Bryars 'Sinking Of The Titanic'. Similar free form modern classical approach, great conceptual edge and great execution. Highlight all around in Janek's career. (FdW)


Dusted Magazine (USA)
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A great concept for an installation, Schaefer’s Extended Play documentation of his gallery piece ended up becoming a pretty great high-water mark for the intersection of experimental electronics and modern composition. Delicate and spare in a way few of his recordings have ever been, this is easily Schaefer’s best work to date.

Smallfish (London)
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Janek Schaefer's work has got better and better over the years in my humble opinion. Following on from last year's release with Stephan Mathieu he's produced an album of some substance for Deupree and Chartier's Line imprint. Using his trademark turntables to create a series of compositions that are nothing short of beautiful. Layering piano, cello and violin recordings together at various speeds he's summoned up a sound that's haunting and incredibly atmospheric. Starting with cello on track 1 through to violin on track 3 and then into a simply gorgeous ensemble using all 3 on track 4. There's a naturally classical style that comes through, but it's much, much more than that. The final track, is a wonderful collage recorded uing a 1940s radio. A timeless and lovingly crafted album that gets a big thumbs up from me.

Other Music (NYC)
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Schaefer has created a consistently engaging body of work that, more often than not, focuses on the relationship between sound and the spaces it both inhabits and creates. For Extended Play, Schaefer created an installation that focused on a score for piano, violin, and cello, with each part recorded separately and pressed onto to vinyl to be played at varying speeds throughout a gallery on record players that would stop in accordance with foot traffic throughout the space.

The first three tracks here wind through the individual instrumental passages themselves, allowing plenty of open space and warm vinyl crackle in between each sparsely placed note and chord. It's beautiful, haunting stuff, but the real keeper here is "Extended Play -- Acoustic Ensemble," a stunning reworking of the original gallery installation that presents the three instrumental components in context, with each melodic phrase doubling back on itself while dropping in and out of the mix. More than one of Schaefer's best works, Extended Play is easily one of 2008's best releases to explore the intersections of experimental electronics and modern composition. Highly recommended. [MC]

Boomkat (UK)
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Janek Schaefer's illustrious career as a sound artist, turntablist and composer has seen various standout moments over the years, from his postal travelogue 7", Recorded Delivery, on the Hot Air imprint to his collaboration with Stephan Mathieu, Hidden Name. Extended Play ranks alongside Schaefer's very finest works, and one of his most overtly musical, in the traditional sense. Originally conceived as an installation, Extended Play consists of piano, violin and cello each playing a predetermined score, recorded separately, edited and then cut onto vinyl. The three instruments each had three vinyl EPs cut which were then played back at 33rpm, 45rpm and 78rpm, continuously repeating and pausing briefly according to the traffic of gallery visitors. It all sounds a bit convoluted, but this album makes sense of it all, dividing the work into three individual instrumental studies, plus one 'ensemble' recording of the finished installation, which is breathtakingly beautiful, and remarkably composed sounding given the slightly aleatory aspect of all its variables coming together over its twenty-four minute duration. The final piece on the album makes the most explicit reference to the concept that drives Extended Play, tapping into wartime musical codes: the appearance of a scratchy old Polish song during the closing track serves as an example of how the English secret services would furtively communicate messages with the occupied Poles, via song lyrics. Schaefer completes the image with a double exposure of sorts, playing BBC broadcasts over the top of the song, bringing a truly memorable album to a close. Seldom has sound art sounded as enjoyable as this.


White_Line (UK)
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L-NE have chosen a somewhat challenging path to walk, in that it sets out to audibly document installation work that very often encompasses physical and visceral elements that can only best be appreciated within the environment they were designed for. It’s a little like looking at one quarter of a painting, and trying to discern it’s overall meaning and physical presence. I have taken issue with this with other labels, and in most cases would have preferred to have seen or experienced the thing live, or certainly as a DVD document to accompany the recording.

Having experienced some of Schaeffer’s work live, I can testify to his ingenious and often startlingly simple approach, most of his work being based in or around the use or misuse of turntables, and to be around this installation must have been like confronting a Mark Rothko painting for the first time in all its elemental, vital richness.

The cover image certainly confirms this, with a set of turntables iconically set up, bathed in red light, a spiritually incandescent glow around them that visually evokes a stark, sombre, yet highly charged atmosphere even before a sound is encountered. Extended Play sets out to celebrate the spirit of hope and renewal taking as its central theme the wartime “Jodoform” cryptic musical language that was broadcast by the BBC world service, and interpreted by the Polish Underground. Schaeffer, alongside Michael Jennings, developed a score based on Cello, Violin, Piano, Acoustic Ensemble, and the Jodoform, and cut each segment into vinyl. These recordings were then played at alternating speeds that were triggered to stop playing as the audience moved around them. From this breathtakingly simple premise, emerges a deeply evocative set of atmospherics, charged with melancholy, each piece can be heard “winding down” as the audience move around it, then springing back to life, to restore the continuity of the piece, and rejoin the ensemble. This is an inspiring, and poetic recording that celebrates and commemorates the life and energies of Schaeffer’s newly born daughter, and the birth of his mother, born as she was at a significant point of the conflict in Warsaw..Schaeffer poignantly posits the question, “how opposite can two beginnings be?”

Extended Play is a worthy listen in its entirety, and I was struck with the same sensations that I was when visiting the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, that within that deep sense of fear, and almost claustrophobic silence, the strength and triumph of the human spirit can only serve to humble and inspire us all, and resonate through time. A fine piece of work for a fine label..essential.


star-eating sun
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This CD by Janek Schaefer, which has the full title Extended Play (Triptych for the Child Survivors of War and Conflict), was just recently released on the 12k sublabel Line. I don’t consider myself to be especially familiar with Line, but I have a few albums they’ve put out — all of them bigger names like Alva Noto, Mark Fell, and Richard Chartier. The label is a lot like 12k, especially in their earlier years, but learning in a much more “academic” direction. One of their stated goals is to document sound installations by experimental artists, and that’s exactly what this album does.

The installation here has a long story behind it, so I’ll quickly try to summarize: It was inspired by the birth of Schaefer’s mother in Warsaw in the middle of World War II and a type of secret radio communication called Jodoform in which information is transmitted through songs that are played. On the day his mother was born, a particular folk song was played on the radio, and from a passage of that song Schaefer developed a composition for piano, cello, and violin. Three records were cut for each instrument, then nine turntables were set up and played at different speeds. In the installation, as people more around, the records will start and stop playing, always producing a different piece of music.

The album is divided into five tracks. The first three tracks consist of only three simultaneously playing turntables, and each track is dedicated to a different instrument: first the cellos, then the pianos, then the violins. Everything being played on “retro” equipment, the vinyl crackle is purposefully present in the records. In fact, you can even hear the needles drop at the beginnings of each track. Each recording is at least ten minutes long, and all three are very sparse, most notes being sustained for long times and spaced far apart. My favorite of the three is the piano piece, which runs for 14 minutes and actually reminds me a lot Ryuichi Sakamoto’s melancholic style when collaborating with experimental electronic artists. Everything really comes together on the absolutely beautiful “Acoustic Ensemble”, which makes use of all nine records and turntables playing at the same time. The fifth track is a fun little bonus, in which Schaefer uses that Polish folk song that was played on the day of his mother’s birth.

I had previously only known Schaefer from his noisy turntable experiments on the album Out. Extended Play is such a contrast to that album I doubt that anyone would be able to tell they were both by the same artist. Even those who might have been put off by either the harshness of some of Schaefer’s previous work or the ultraminimalism of other artists on Line would be wise to check this one out, it really is a beautiful document.


Dusted Magazine (US)
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Documenting an installation on disc can’t be easy. A total experience that makes sense within a particular space – in this case, a red-lit room in the Huddersfield Art Gallery – may be diminished by the act of reducing it to mere sound on a CD. And when, as in this case, the piece is interactive, there’s no recreating the audience’s experience of actually participating in making the music. Janek Schaefer’s solution has been to create a special CD version that uses the installation’s sonic elements, but makes several unique and unabashedly constructed pieces out them that downplay the original installation’s chance qualities. It may not be the same as being there, but it has the best possible chance of standing on its own, and in this case the result is a strikingly emotional work.

Extended Play’s initial inspiration came from a fairly ordinary, yet life-changing moment in Schaefer’s life. When his first child was born in 2005, he got to thinking about the circumstances of his mother’s life at the corresponding age; one infant was born into the weird mixture of safety, comfort, economic insecurity, and random political terror enjoyed by contemporary residents of London, the other into the decidedly harsher and more immediate threats of Warsaw, Poland during WW II. Schaefer’s favorite means of manipulating sounds is the turntable, but he is less performance-oriented than Philip Jeck or your average hip-hop DJ. Rather, he collects sounds, tethers them to ideas, and sees where the two take each other. For the raw material for Extended Play, he lifted some melodies from “Tango Lyczakowskie,” a patriotic Polish folk song that was broadcast by BBC World Service to Polish resistance fighters in order to convey encoded information on the day that his mother was born in 1942. Schaefer and co-composer Michael Jennings fashioned this material into a 10-minute piece of chamber music for violin, cello and piano, then Schaefer pressed each instrument’s part onto a 7” record.In the installation version, three record players set to different speeds each play a record of each instrument; motion sensors cut the power to each turntable as a person passes, thereby making each observer a participant in the creation of something they can’t foresee and can’t really control. Of course, such an experience is impossible to create on record, so Schaefer has instead focused on the records themselves. The first three tracks isolate single instruments. Intermittent groove crackle, the occasional thump of a needle picking up and restarting, and the shudder of records stopping when the power’s cut reinforce the inherent melancholy of “Vinyl Cello Duo.” This is minimalism, both in sound and method; not only does Schaefer work with minimal resources (two records), he makes the most out of a few long tones and simple phrases. “Vinyl Piano Duo” is sparser, placing silence on a nearly equal footing with the slightly distorted, generously reverb’d piano figures. This could almost be ambient music for a rainy day in a room with a hissy radiator, but the slurs generated by turntable stops and starts disrupt any sustained reverie. The ascending melody reminds me a bit of the licks Robert Wyatt played on Eno’s Music For Airports, but the built-in disruption and heaviness of mood make this the perfect soundtrack for the realities of modern air travel. It’s great, but don’t expect it to come to a terminal near you anytime soon.

“Vinyl Violin Duo” is of a piece with what has come before; the penultimate track, “Acoustic Ensemble,” which was crafted using the original recordings of the instruments played at different speeds. Although it eschews the use of turntables, it might come closest to the installation experience on account of its greater density of event. It’s certainly the most deeply involving and demanding piece of music. 24 minutes long and none too hasty, it requires you sink to into what is essentially a long, oddly cyclic piece of chamber music. The fuller sound and more intricate instrumental interaction also impart a greater emotional complexity. As strings and keys sweep up in pitch, they dispel the duos’ dolor and usher in an aura of hope as well as gravity. The record closes with a collage of the source tune, radio announcements and vintage shortwave noise that gives the whole thing a decided Conet Project vibe.

Schaefer has previously conveyed his anti-war sentiments via song titles, but here it is the music’s evocation of dignity that makes the point. It reminds me of the line in the movie The Lives of Others where a character muses that Karl Marx once said that he couldn’t listen to Beethoven’s “Appassionata” anymore because it made him want to pat people’s heads rather than beat on their skulls. Add this to the music that not only dissents from such methods; it offers visions of gentler way to change hearts. By Bill Meyer


Squidsear (US)
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To the eyes of Janek Schaefer, "Tango tzyszakowskie", a Polish folk song once enlisted as a pigeon carrying secret messages through the radio-waves for members of the Polish underground during World War II, played no less a magnanimous role in another, admittedly markedly different, event: that of his mothers birth in the year 1942. The circumstances under which his mother was born being as different as they are from those which his own daughter now enjoys brings Schaefer to wonder at this notion of 'beginning' and all of its subtleties of gradation.

Schaefer finds in "Tango tzyszakowskie" a short rising musical phrase, and in bringing it to term in numerous ways, enables it to enjoy the possibility of a return. This it did as a part of The Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2007. Schaefer's score was emitted into the room through three retro record players, which were set at 33, 45, or 78rpm, and which would briefly pause in response to audience members as they passed through the exhibition. Apart from achieving a sort of historical significance owing to its origins, with this last point in mind, and the fact that all the while the medium itself can be heard, time passing through the grooves of the record player like rain tracing furrows through the dust, this sound-event also clearly occurs on the surface of the present age.

Both realms are clearly heard, and, in fact, they also interlace to fine effect over the course of the album. The former, that of history and its mournfulness, is heard in the slow, stylized gesture and motion of the instruments, as the nervy edge of the piano furls around the reflectiveness of the strings. But the picture is also a good deal more rich and intuitively complex than such stereotypical roles suggest. The formal poise of each piece contains remarkable fluidity of musical identity, continual transformations of mood and material that defines rather than jeopardizes coherence. The deflections, supple deviations and abrupt interruptions offered up by the device on which the music is played, and through which it is rehabilitated, not only makes this a more eerie, ambiguous experience — the sound so exhibited is now personal and impersonal, fluid and mechanical, disciplined and random — but, at least in part, it brings the music to another plane, a more contemporary one, wherein the medium trumps and ensnares the subject in the empty and functional place which was originally reserved for it.

Indeed, the device levers itself into the unfolding dialogue between piano and strings to such an extent and, similarly, on tracks four and five, the looping and layering of the mix is such that the distinction between triumphant return or arid recurrence is more or less blurred. To be sure, even divorced from it context, the album is quite simply beautiful, but just as for the Polish Underground "Tango tzyszakowskie" harbored a welter of encrypted messages beneath its refreshing refrain, so to does Schaefer's rendition for us today.

 

Textura (US)
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Extended Play is another marvelous audio work from British installation artist Janek Schaefer who here deepens his conceptual artistry by infusing it with a powerful emotional core. Some background is necessary to fully appreciate what he's accomplished on this recording. The birth of Schaefer's child in 2005 intensified his awareness of the fact that his own mother was born in war-torn Warsaw in 1942, and thus inspired him to create the Extended Play installation in honour of world-wide child survivors. Relatedly, he learned about the “Jodoform” system used by the BBC World Service during World War II, which involved the embedding in music of secret messages that were then decoded by The Polish Underground, and about the Polish folk song “Tango Lyczakowskie,” which describes how children in 1918 were forced to take up arms to defend their town. Having selected a short phrase from the tune, Schaefer, aided by his arranger Michael Jennings, developed a ten-minute score which was performed and recorded as solo parts by pianist Michael Jennings, violinist Simon Hewitt Jones, and cellist Thomas Hewitt Jones that were cut to vinyl. In the installation, three sets of three retro record players played the EPs (a grouping for each instrument) at 33, 45, or 78 RPM. Those same players were used for the recorded version's first three tracks, which are followed by a twenty-four-minute nine-part ensemble where the instruments' recordings are layered at various speeds, and “Radio Jodoform,” a collage wherein the “Tango Lyczakowskie,” recorded using a 1940s radio, appears. Though it would still be captivating if heard purely on its own terms, Extended Play assumes a stronger resonance once the listener is familiar with the project's background.

It's noteworthy that the first sounds heard are the click of the turntable and the arm dropping onto vinyl, erstwhile reminders that we're hearing sounds generated within a specific context and environment as opposed to ethereal sounds emanating from some hypothetically abstract sphere. The omnipresence of vinyl noise too is critical, not so much for the textural dimension it adds but as another reminder of the music's physical origins. Schaefer leaves pregnant pauses between notes, content to let the quiet drift of crackle resound in the absence of instrument sounds. Exemplifying the turntable's central role in the process are the physical adjustments—pitch-shifting, and the sudden wind-down that halts an instrument in its tracks and the wind-up that follows moments later—that likewise remind the listener of the material's “manufactured” character.

Though minimal instrumentation and pitches are used—each of the opening three pieces is reserved for a single instrument in duo and trio formations—Schaefer's constant manipulations keep listeners on their toes, so to speak, and consequently attention never flags, even when the opening pieces are ten to fourteen minutes long. The “chamber group” approach to the lengthy fourth part makes for a sonically rich experience that helps prevent it from seeming overlong too. The concluding collage is naturally ear-catching for the contrast its vocal-and-accordion folk song adds to the recording. In a time when despair is so prevalent and resignation so appealing, how refreshing it is to be presented with a project that so imaginatively celebrates, in Schaefer's own words, “hope, survival, and new beginnings.”


Tokafi (Germany)
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Schaefer has long put his three-armed turntable aside: If hope could become music, this is what it would sound like.

Most people will think of Janek Schaefer as the “guy with the gramophones”. Even Wikipedia open their article on him with the assessment that he is “known for his innovative turntablism” and hardly an interview goes by without somebody mentioning Schaefer’s three-armed record player, which allows him to simultaneously draw different sounds from a single disc. Annecdotes of Vinyl saving his concerts when his laptop break down add to this popular medial image.

On the other hand, aesthetics are less an issue for Schaefer. Rather, he is interested in the immediacy and tactile qualities of the format, allowing for direct manipulations. His background in architecture plays an even more important role. Space is sound to him and after finishing his studies he subsequently went on to research this relationship in various projects, always holding on to his personal creed that “we experience space through our ears”. His music, meanwhile, is an attempt at proving that the reverse is also true.

With regards to these two discs on two different labels, it makes sense to keep this aspect of his oeuvre in mind as a unifying link – simply, because they are so utterly individual that it is hard to believe they were composed by the same person. On the one hand, there’s the diversity of “Alone at last”, which collects commissions from between 1997 and 2007. It contains some of the earliest material Schaefer ever realised, as well as some of his most recent tracks, a studio album in its own right as well as a comprehensive portrait of his musical personality.

“Extended Play”, meanwhile, is the audio document of an installation premiered at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival last year. Drenched in intensely enigmatic, darkly-orange light and residing on three islands of sheet paper, nine retro turntables play vinyl records containing solo parts for Cello, Violin and Piano as well as a segment for “Acoustic Ensemble”, where the individual voices merge into a long, floating piece of airy atmospherics. At times, the gramophones briefly pause to allow for the audience to move from one island to the next, changing the parameters of the composition and adding an organically oneiric feeling to the music.

The tranquil and timeless mood of the installation contrasts sharply with the playful mood swings of “Alone at last”. Incoporating elements of musique concrete (minutely arranged field recordings and concrete noises), sound art (granular synthesis and fields of crackle), drones (both of the dark and light-filled kind), collage (counterpointing seemingly unrelated materials) and even dark ambient and flamenco, there is not a single uninspired moment to be found on the disc.

Schaefer creates a universe, in which every single element contains the potential for radical change. Acoustic Guitars dissolve and turn into stretched-out sheets of resonance before concretising into held chords on an organ again. Calm and composed purity takes turns with complex and chaotic quasi-orchestral convulsions, magnified microsounds are inflated into intimate macronoises. Everything is possible here and this complete freedom works to the album’s advantage, as it swallows the listener whole in a vortex of associations. At the end, even the silence between tracks seems to be a part of the composition.

It is a feeling mirrored by “Extended Play”, even though the music could hardly be more different. Transformation is essential to a piece reflecting on the relative happiness of the children growing up in 21st century Europe compared to those born in times of war and conflict. In the beginning, the timbres of the instruments are essential to the music, with especially the “Vinyl Cello” and “Vinyl Violin” duos mainly highlighting single, stretched-out tones with a palpable degree of inner tension.

In the “Acoustic Ensemble” segment, however, the three voices come together in a piece of epic proportions and sonic majesty. Working with deep layers of Piano-reverb, droning Cello-palpatations and bittersweet Violin brushes, this is a 24-minute long, slowed down dream of meditative exhaling. Melodies never come full circle, but their sense of yearning and incompletion is not a dark one, but rather a moment of complete detachment from all worldy demands. If hope could become music, this is what it would sound like.

In which way is the idea that sound can be space important to these two albums? In the case of “Extended Play”, the notion is certainly more obvious: Three small-scale recordings combine into a work of borderless outlines by subtle use of reverb, a nonlinear choreography of musical events and slow, almost casual gestures. On “Alone at Last”, the techniques are more transparent, but this does not prevent them from being just as effective. Here, discreet transitions from one set of contasting spatial characteristics create the illusion of moving through different rooms within a fairy tale castle of dreams.

Sound is space, because the ear is genetically programmed to interpret audio-information in relation to visual stimuli. What biologically no doubt constitutes a survival mechanism, though, turns into a powerful basis for artistic associations in the hands of Janek Schaefer. Even though Vinyl still plays a vital part on “Extended Play” (and in some short but seminal passages of “Alone at Last”), it does so more as a beautiful backdrop of breath for the perfomers to play with – and less as a main musical property. Schaefer has long put his three-armed turntable aside, tired of the circus-like ambiance surrounding it whenever he takes it with him. It’s about time critics and audiences of his work did the same. By Tobias Fischer


Blowup (Italy)
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Più complesso ed ugualmente spirituale il nuovo progetto di Janek Schaefer, pubblicato dalla Line in contemporanea con "Alone at Last" su Sirr-ecords. Documentazione dell'omonima installazione commissionata lo scorso anno dallo Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, un set di nove vecchie fonovaligie Crosley le quali non solo riproducono vinili incisi per l'occasione ma grazie a modifiche con sensori di movimento captano anche i minimi spostamenti dell'audience e rispondono di conseguenza (l'intero dossier sul progetto, con dettagli, foto, video, suoni etc. è visibile alla pagina, l'opera rappresenta una tappa significativa dell'aspetto più colto del lavoro di Schaefer. Le musiche eseguite in origine da Michael Jennings (pianoforte), Simon Hewitt Jones (violino) e Thomas Hewitt Jones (violoncello), una partitura di dieci minuti elaborata a partire dall'isolamento di un frammento del tradizionale polacco Tango Lyczakowskie e posta su EP opportunamente approntati, vengono automaticamente riprodotte a velocità variabili dai nove giradischi creando di volta in volta fittizie combinazioni strumentali - rumori di meccanismi in azione inclusi - in duo, trio e ensemble allargato (la composizione finale è un collage che impiega la citata canzone popolare registrata con l'ausilio di un apparecchio radiofonico degli anni '40). Esattamente come i differenti passaggi di una vera e propria sonata cameristica oscurata da imprevisto materismo tattile, un fascino compunto in cui l'idea di eleganza non corrisponde per forza a quello di bella grafia. (7