Name: Piotr Dang Cichocki
Occupation: 1000HZ label curator / anthropologist / producer
Current Release: WILD/LIFE "Maloto/Dreams" (as musician); Doctor Kanuska Group "Mutende Mizimu. Vimbuza from Mzimba North" (as producer); Ethnologia Polona thematic issue "Ethnographic Ear" (as anthropologist)
Recommendations: Because I mentioned the anthropological side of my work, I recommend some anthropological works: Steven Feld on the sound, Tim Ingold on the environment, Louise Meintjes on the social aspect of music production. Last but not least, wonderful films of Jean Rouch, who decades ago introduced the shared method of ethno-cinema production, very inspiring also for the work with the sound.
Website/Contact: Piotr and the team at 1000Hz have a Facebook page where you can keep up to date with releases and news.
When did you start with your own label - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My involvement with music started with pre-discursive fascination and playing with a tape recorder in my early years. Then it went through almost all stages: teenage bands, first electronic productions, demo releases, a little bit of music journalism, being a concert organiser, pop musician, experimental musician, touring musician and so forth. However, starting the label was the effect of a wider reflection connected with my anthropological background – the social science is my second (or first) profession.
The start of the label resulted from the willingness to experiment with the role of music. I thought about the possibility of publishing music and questioning its role as a commodity at the same time.
The label started almost at the same time as my research project in East Africa. So, it was crucial to find other ways for publishing African music apart of its exoticization and exploitation of artists. It was also a way to create a social relationship with artists from Malawi, Tanzania, where I am doing research. So, I found the label in search of the experiment and the community.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as a label curator and the transition towards your own approach? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
This is even more evident in anthropology, while it is mostly based on other authors' texts with added polemics, supplements and a certain portion of own thoughts. It relates well to curatorial and artistic activities. For many years it seemed to me that I was inventing completely new things, but with time I began to see my activity in relation to others. I believe that most of the things we creatively produce are closely related to our environment, and the concept of creativity is being misused a bit as part of capitalist marketing and exaggerated individualism. Anyway, the advantage of 1000HZ Records is that we combine two different methodologies - artistic and anthropological, and thus - the methodologies of the European and African approach to what music is or can be.
What were your main label-related challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I can't complain, I think everything has been going quite smoothly so far. The only restriction is the financial aspect, but from the very beginning, the activity is intended as non-commercial. The label operates as a non-profit NGO, and the revenues from the sale of albums are in the majority (70-85%) transferred to artists who, I am sure, work in a much more difficult economic environment than central Europe, where we operate.
How do you see the role of labels in the creative process? What is the scope and what are the limitations of what you are capable of doing?
We do not interfere with the way artists perform music, well, sometimes we like to discuss, but rather for the exchange of ideas, than to suggest any necessities.
There are also some records in which I take part as a producer, but again, I combine my musical and ethnographic competences. I intend not so much to realize my concept of sound but to collectively build a new space in between.
The curatorial work, the communication, especially in its inter-class or inter-continental aspect, is an art in itself. I do not mean marketing, but rather the presentation of the context in which music was created through various media. The presentation can also concern the nature of connections between there (like Africa) and here (let's say, Europe). It can even attempt to redefine what music is in the various environments between which we mediate. This task is performed by artworks, videos, mastering, even press notes, but of course, it is not only about selling well.
Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the buyers, your own demands in terms of quality?
On the one hand, it is a matter of the adopted economic and ethical assumptions that we do not create an illusory exotic image of the artists, that we act primarily for their economic benefit, which in Malawi's conditions can be a matter of survival. On the other hand - and this is related - there must be an element of negotiated beauty, or whatever we call it, a deep impression that the sound gives to the listeners.
Last but not least, political obligation is important. The populist, neo-fascist or fundamentalist politicians become a voice not only in Poland, where we run the office. In this context, promoting music that challenges cultural and political boundaries is a commitment to work on chances for a better world.
But perhaps it is easier to answer negatively, that we do not feel obligated to the standards of the centralized part of the music market (laugh).
What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the music-, music-PR- and music-journalism landscape? How do they affect labels in general and your own take on running a label in particular? What role do social media play for your approach?
We live in an era of constant shift, so I don't even know exactly which particular changes I should address. But in fact, the Internet has changed a lot. It affected both positively - as a tool for decentralization and dissemination, and negatively - contributing to the economic decline of music-making, except for a small select group. I prefer to focus on the first aspect. There is a vast space now for the music created outside of the western, high-social-class context. I understand that all the tools and changes that you mentioned can work further for this decentralization. But it has a counterbalance. There are attempts to capitalize on other identities. This can be the case of the music of African artists, for example.
So, I believe that this musical landscape is not homogenous, it has diverse, contradictory voices and attitudes. I am clearly in favour of its open form.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Unquestionably, if we had operated several decades earlier, it would simply not have worked the same way as it does now, in the era of easy contact with artists living on another continent, linking with fans and journalists all over the world.
An example is the legacy of Hugh Tracey, who worked in Malawi (then Nyasaland) in the 1940s and 1950s. Some recordings - commercial - he produced for Gallo or Decca, others - for ethnomusicological archives. Despite the undoubted romanticism of these efforts (at least from a European perspective), there were great enterprises behind him, including a colonial empire. Nowadays, technology – like portable mics, WhatsApp, DAWs - allows us to tread our own more independent paths, not ought to ask anyone's opinion apart from local people, practising intercultural culture jamming and musical guerrillas.