In its heyday, the Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio was a testing ground for composers engaged in the quest for a radical language of musical expression. One of them was Penderecki, who created his musical illustrations for puppet theatre and for film in the Studio, with the support of its sound producers. This part of the composer’s output is now largely forgotten, though his soundtrack for the Wojciech Jerzy Has film The Saragossa Manuscript has recently been rereleased by OBUH, and his Polish Radio commission Brigade of Death was performed at the Warsaw Autumn festival in 2011.
The composer’s only work from this electronic period written with studio or concert presentations in mind was Psalmus 1961. It was a continuation of his experiments with the voice, following his experience with Dimensions of Time and Silence. For his vocal material – later transformed by means of analog electronic devices – the composer selected the voice of soprano Halina Łukomska: sung or sustained vowels as well as short consonants, variously articulated.
The score – one of only seven in the Studio’s history – was composed independently from the process of preparing the initial acoustic material. Its function and status were different than in the case of Bogusław Schaeffer’s legendary Symphony. The Symphony was produced at the studio on the basis of a notated score, without the composer’s further interventions, whereas the Psalmus score was only a working draft, supporting the process of track synchronisation. Penderecki was present in the studio during production and he closely collaborated with Eugeniusz Rudnik, the producer. The sounds were filtered, edited, transposed – at times Łukomska’s voice sounds like a baritone – and an echo was added. Full advantage was taken of the qualities of the human voice. The narration was built on repeated juxtapositions of pointillist and waveband sections as well as of strata varying in texture.
The product of Penderecki and Rudnik’s collaboration still sounds fresh, even when presented alongside the new 17-minute Psalmus by Lionel Marchetti – or has at least it aged beautifully and acquired an appealing “retro” flavour.