Name: Wacław Zimpel
Occupation: Producer, sound artist, multi-instrumentalist
Current Release: Massive Oscillations on Ongehoord
Recommendations: 1. Marcel Peres, Ensemble Organum - Chant Corse: Manuscrits franciscains des XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles. Long ago I came across Ensemble Organum - vocal group performing early music lead by musicologist Marcel Peres. They reveal here an amazing heritage of the authentic music of Corsican sacred chant. This music was forbidden by the church as it was not in the dogma of Gregorian chant and women were part of the liturgy, which the pope didn’t like. This music was saved miraculously only by oral tradition and manuscripts from XVII and XVIII century with the notation of this music miraculously preserved. This is a stunning insight into the sacred polyphony in the Mediterranean region.
Somehow this music came back to me recently.
2. Babel by Brazilian sculptor Cildo Meirelles at Tate Modern. This is a tower of 800 whispering radios. Amazing conceptual installation, fantastic for deep listening.
If you enjoyed this interview with Wacław Zimpel, visit his personal website for a wealth of information on him and his work.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I think my first composition which I was performing with other people for a longer period of time was from the late high school. I was trying to write in sort of “third stream” way, as I was very much influenced by Jimmy Giuffre and Carla Bley. Also, I was learning classical clarinet at that time, so I was trying to compose in between jazz and classical music.
I started learning music on violin when I was 6. So music was with me since very early time. From this period I remember a concert of double bass classical virtuoso Gary Karr which blew my mind! I wanted be like him for some time, but soon I forgot about that and was more interested in football. Later on when I was around 14 I started to listen to old blues music by artists like Son House, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin Wolf, Sonny Terry … Because of this music I wanted to become a musician. Blues was the first form of improvised music which I learned. And it lead me to jazz. I was psycho fan of John Coltrane for a very long time.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
There are recordings which are super important to me, but I was rather playing along with them than copying note by note what for example Coltrane played. Maybe I was just too lazy to do this. But also I felt that I preferred to build my own language from the beginning.
However, I had to learn the rules of different styles to be able to play with other musicians but I always wanted to adapt them in my way. Recordings like “A Love Supreme” or “Journey in Satchidananda” were like beacons to me. But maybe less because of their tonal content, but more because of the vibe I was getting from them. By listening to this stuff I understood what kind of vibe I wanted to bring on my records later on. I am still trying to do this.
To copy literally the achievement of some artist who put a whole life into her/his work you also need a lot of effort and energy. You learn skills this way, but finally you have to ask yourself what you want to say. A personal message always has a unique shape. You can not use somebody’s ideas to express yourself. It might be a very difficult process as eventually you need to get rid of a lot of tools which you were working on for very long to find your way.
I don’t know which path is better. Probably for some people one works better than the other. What I know for sure is that the world does not need another Glenn Gould or Prince. I think that everybody has something special to say and discovering it is the most important thing for an artist. If you know that, you can find tools to do this.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think it was always about the same thing to me - capturing the moment when something comes to my head and then developing this idea using tools which I have at the moment.
Basically at different stages I had different sets of tools. In the beginning I was writing music using piano and clarinet. Later on, I started using other instruments to do this. Since a few years, I work a lot with electronics. So I switched from pencil and music paper to a DAW. The most difficult fpr me is entering new territories - going out of my comfort zone. But it is also the most interesting thing to me. I don’t like to stay too long in one place as it feels boring to me.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
For most of my life I was playing acoustic music, so my studio was wherever I was with my clarinet or sitting at any piano. Sometimes I was practising and writing in trains when alone in the compartment. I was recording mostly concerts or studio sessions which were 100% live.
But since I started working with electronics, very soon I understood that I need to build my own studio to develop my ideas and not to lose a fortune on renting spaces. Right now I have a nice roof top of an apartment house in Warsaw where I have all my instruments and studio equipment.
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?
I get inspiration from everything I can and machines are super interesting to me at the moment. Because of my classical background I was thinking about composition in a very traditional way for a long time - like putting down on music paper what I hear inside. But I got bored by acoustic sounds and that's why I started using electronics, understanding that I can learn a lot from them. But in the end, these are all just tools for me - super interesting, but still just tools. Most important to me is the intention to capture a vibe which hopefully makes someone feel a bit better. And this is a human aspect.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
When I start working with an instrument or piece of gear which I don’t know, I am trying to understand the logic of it. Once I get that, it is very easy to come up with an idea. So very often, I am trying to extract tunes out of new instruments. But as well I like a lot my connection with the clarinet which is kind of part of my body after all those years. I don’t have to think about it while playing and it allows me to bring ideas which are not based on technology, but only on what I hear.
Right now I am trying to combine my experience as an improviser with what I have learned as a producer. Basically I am trying to make machines working a bit like a band. I am trying to give them some kind of human aspect - thinking mostly about randomising different factors which can surprise me while improvising.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Most of the time it is combination of everything. My favourite way though is to start the process by working together from scratch. To start together from point zero. Then music has a chance to be very organic. But on the other hand, there are no rules. I work also very often by sharing files and building on top of someone's ideas or letting somebody look at my idea from a different angle. The most important thing is where those processes will take us.