Combination, surprise, coincidence: An interview with Piotr Kurek

PK by Wojtek Sobolewski

Piotr Kurek is a Warsaw based musician known for his numerous aliases, albums released for Digitalis, Cró nica, Sangoplasmo records, Dunno Recordings, collaborations (most notably with Sylvia Monnier as Suaves Figures, Hubert Zemler as Piętnastka and Francesco de Gallo as ABRADA) and rather peculiar DJ-sets (as one of the founders of Brutaż and Smutaż parties in Warsaw). From his usage of tape and organ patterns to synthesizers and loosely improvised guitars he firmly established himself as one of the most diverse Polish musicians with an entirely unique approach. He was nominated for SHAPE by Unsound Festival.

You have been involved in the music scene for quite a while.

I started in Lublin, my hometown in the east of Poland. Later I moved to Warsaw where I collaborated with local musicians and it kind of grew from there. All those collaborations never really lasted long, I like working alone.

Your breakthrough record was Heat which came out on Digitalis in 2011 and received critical acclaim.

Actually this album came about by accident. I think mistakes and failures are at the heart of what I do. It’s how my creativity usually is triggered. The Digitalis album was originally meant to be field recordings from the Amazon. I’d always been interested in field recording, but I never really had the equipment for it. So I thought that instead of that maybe I could try to do this “recycled field recording” – look for sounds from old records. I was digging through lots of Brazilian music from the 1960s, and when I was editing it, I chose different parts than I’d initially planned – which were recordings of instruments rather than sounds of the exotic nature. In the beginning, I thought of it as an imaginary musique concrete piece, but in the end it was totally structured and melodic. Most of the stuff I’ve done has some kind of anecdote attached to it.

So you work in a way that you have it prepared in your head rather than improvise?

The most important part is trying to make excuses for making music. I don’t really record music when I sit at home just to kill time. I only do it when there’s something that sticks in my head for long enough that I could make an album out of it. I never do a single track, it’s always a finished series. It starts from a bigger sketch to a more detailed one. Everything at once: with an album cover, titles etc. The longest process is actually the work on all those concepts. Working on music basically doesn’t take up that much time..

Do your albums have a narrative?

I would say they are separate stories but never in a cinematic or storytelling sense. For me, the sound is almost enough. I can repeat the same pattern over and over and not have an urge to develop a narrative around it. I’m for a combination, surprise and coincidence when it comes to sound. If it works that’s all I need. It’s hard to describe it, but I work as long as needed to reach this point.

You’ve had several guises and projects – from the more dance-oriented Heroiny, through Pietnastka to your own name and beyond.

And probably a few more that never came out.

Why don’t you release everything under your own name?

Most of the time I release albums that are musically or conceptually diverse. It’s still my music, but for some reason I feel it should not come out under my own name. Maybe it’s also because I work alone and at some point, you need to develop multiple personas to have fun.

And these different personas also have different personalities and characters.

When I perform live, there’s also different equipment involved and I play it differently. It’s interesting to observe what happens between all those releases. After all, they might develop some kind of continuous story but it’s never really intended at the beginning.

Are you influenced by your environment?

Yes, but probably never in a clear and direct sense. For example I spent three months in South Korea, but it’s hard to say if being there influenced me to work on music differently. But at the same time it’s also true that Heroiny started there during my sleepless nights to kill time with a drum machine that I got from the Gyongee Creation Center where I was staying. It’s probably something I would never have done anywhere else.

So these accidents and contingencies play an important role in your work.

Everything that I do with music is hardly about controlling it. Maybe that’s why I spend so much time on the ideas. Because later, when I’m doing it, I can hardly control it. I’m just an observer.

What are you observing?

It’s interesting to talk to people about my music because sometimes I have the feeling that we are talking about something completely different, as if I never did it. When people ask me about my music, I can hardly remember doing it. It’s an uncontrolled process.

Which project are you concentrating on right now?

I’m working on an chamber opera with six musicians. It’s two voices and four instruments – trombone, trumpet and percussion. It’s based on Alan Weisman’s book “World Without Us”, and I’m trying to develop the ideas for the percussion parts. It’s a book about how the world will be preserved after we are gone. I want to work with gravity laws, the laws of physics, and how to combine them with drumming. I’ll also be doing a new theatre piece later this year and some other more or less confusing releases and projects.

Do you think theatre work influenced your own production?

Generally, I think it did, yes. Maybe the fact that each of my albums was a little bit different is because the preparation was like working on a play. You have various characters and issues that have different results.

Are you involved in the local music scene in Warsaw where you are living and working right now?

I’ve always been trying to stay a bit aside but it’s true that I’m still a part of what’s happening in Warsaw. I used to do an event series called Brutaż which is now run by Jacek Plewicki and also another party called Smutaż with a few other friends. It’s an annoying version of Brutaż, known for being a dance party while not having any dance music at all. I was also involved in a few clubs in Warsaw like Eufemia, Powiększenie and Pardon To Tu playing concerts or doing events. But recently, the venues have been closing in Warsaw.

Is it because of the recent political development in Poland?

It’s basically because of the rising rents and issues with neighbours. Warsaw nightlife doesn’t have a very long tradition, especially in residential areas. People are not used to having people talking loud outside of their flats and concerts after 10pm. They complain and sooner or later, the places are shut down. Anyway, it still needs to be said that Polish culture is probably facing a few weak years after the recent political changes. But it definitely won’t stop people from doing their own stuff.

(Photo: Wojtek Sobolewski)