Zbigniew Karkowski | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Zbigniew Karkowski

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In 1992, Swedish-Polish composer Zbigniew Karkowski, a one-time student of Iannis Xenakis, accused his peers of having lost touch with reality: "The so-called art music written today must be taken in a large cultural setting as a revolt against certain kinds of tradition. It doesn't have any intrinsic meaning and as a consequence in order to understand it a listener has to have an extensive knowledge of Western culture and particularly of the trends in Western art music over the last few decades," he wrote. "Composition has become an intellectual game with systems and the formal manipulation of material as its most prominent quality." While his own work is unapologetically experimental, marked by a curious approach to technology, pure sound, and, yes, process, his method isn't his message. Most of his music is electronic; sometimes he builds it from previously collected sources--ambient sounds recorded at a temple in Kyoto, the noise produced by digital data transmission--and sometimes it's purely synthetic, but the five recordings I've heard are all unremittingly abstract and, to an extent, physical. Function Generator (Sirr), a collaboration with Xopher Davidson, is dominated by heavy, superlow bass tones; when I played it at home, each low-end rumble forced air out of the back of my speakers in puffs forceful enough to move the drapes. IT, a three-inch CD released by Mego, is a dentist's drill to Function Generator's earthquake, a wild high-end squall with passages that seem to flutter about the ears like an insect swarm. Karkowski performed in Chicago in 1999 as a member of the experimental trio Sensorband, but this is his first solo gig here; he'll perform a two-part piece featuring live digital signal processing through a quadraphonic sound system outfitted with two big subwoofers. Saturday, February 9, 10 PM, 6Odum, 2116 W. Chicago; 312-666-0795 or 773-227-3617.

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