Reducing minimalism

Established Polish musicians keep crossing the boundaries of minimalism and furthering their reductionist effort. Mike Majkowski has made the most ascetic record in his career, Lotto have turned towards electronica, and Dynasonic decided to strip their trance repetitions from almost all ornamentation.

Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska

The three albums feature the same names. Apart from his solo work, double bass player Mike Majkowski has for the past couple of years formed part of Lotto. The surname Rychlicki appears both on Pix and on #1 – in the former case we’ve got guitarist Łukasz Rychlicki, in the latter it’s the drummer Mateusz Rychlicki, both of whom played together in Kristen, among others. This may well be a coincidence, but perhaps there is more to the fact that each of these albums is very minimalist in nature.

I decided to listen to the records in reverse chronological order, reaching first for Majkowski’s Between Seasons. I have followed this Australian-born bassist with Polish roots almost from the outset of his career: when, on Tremolo, he explored the title playing style, when (under the moniker Blip) he created an acoustic layer of drones with Jim Denley on Dead Space, multiplied instruments while reducing their form on Neighbouring Objects or supplemented repetitions with subtle, yet evocative details on Swimming in the Light. Majkowski is definitely one of the most talented artists in Europe. His musical path spans reducing the sound of double bass and highlighting its potential through repetitions, multiplying instruments to create a sparse, coherent form and, finally, minimalism. Between Seasons,his first fully electronic album, continues the path of repetitive motifs, created without the use of acoustic instruments, whose ambient, slightly pulsating form is based on a pure, minimalist sound. The signal-like forms, sonic patches and hardly palpable subsurface beats on “Glare” seem almost like background noise, but the high tones and occasional signals irritate the ear. “Hover” is based on an unusual, muted background beat; the narrative seems to be picking up, though ultimately the sea of repetitions and reductions hypnotises the viewer instead of bringing a breakthrough. Majkowski skilfully metes out his tones, plays with forms and builds his narrative in a most radical fashion, sparsely measuring sounds and their constitutive elements. Abandoning instruments to pursue the electronic direction deepens this sensation, proving he can be as skilful and convincing with these new tools as ever before. He remains one of the most consistent and creative artists, always able to bring something new out of the cliched ‘less is more’ method.

Lotto – with Majkowski, the aforementioned Łukasz Rychlicki on guitar and Paweł Szpura on drums – goes a step further, creating an even bigger gap between their latest release and previous albums. After Ask the Dust, Elite Feline and VV, this is not so much the greatest possible reduction effort as a complete redefinition of their music. Pix was made using electronic means only, not in the studio, but on a long-distance basis (a fact that clearly comes across when listening to the record). “Darts” opts for dehumanized mechanics in the vein of a more static Nissenenmondai: the simple beat gets dirty with scratches of noise until the finale, when everything becomes dispersed. “Afa” is all about the bass and single, synthetic spots of beat, occasionally coloured with reverb. “Fat City” oozes a dense atmosphere similar to the tracks on Elite Feline, although the sound quality is entirely different: Lotto again demonstrate that their current focus is an industrial, quasi-ambient background. They seem to have abandoned repetition to pursue lasting, resonating sounds. This brings to mind Majkowski’s solo album, although Pix is clearly a team effort, with a painted, static background and pulsating beats. The breakthrough comes with the final track: “Mud”, a growing mass of noise, is clearly different from the previous pieces. A turnaround, a focus on the timbre and texture of sound. This incarnation of Lotto is entirely different from the meditative Elite Feline or the diverse, yet spatially complex VV. Pix is intriguing in that it opens the trio’s music to new emotions and directions. It also offers a promise, showing that rather than rest on their laurels, the three musicians keep exploring their formula, experimenting with the sound and format of their music.

Likewise, Dynasonic is also composed of experienced musicians: apart from Mateusz Rychlicki, the line-up includes vibraphone player Marcin Ciupidro (previously of Robotobibok), Mateusz Rosiński (aka wrong dial) and bassist Adam Sołtysik (Pogodno). Compared to the aforementioned records, their music – two ca. 12-minute tracks – seems richest and most complex, while still aiming for simplicity and minimalism. Rychlicki’s drumming provides a rhythmical direction for the added repetitions: flowing, reverberating bass and vibraphone flickering somewhere in the background, both of which generate a slightly oneiric feel. This is a praise of rhythm, its simple form, which provides fertile ground for the skilful structuring of narratives – contrary to the two other records, here the form keeps developing. Not just because of continuously added motifs, but also the manner of playing, of diversifying timbres and accumulating tension (marvellous ambient and bass patches around minute 7 on side A, polished in the course of mastering). This grand (given the minimalist form) compositional scale attracts the attention to the very end, in both “D1” and “D2”. The simple form evolves, grows around a single motif and attracts the ear with singular nuances. Both when they generate the main musical motif, or when the added effects manifest themselves in the middle- or background, adding colour and depth to repetitive elements. What we get is a peculiar marriage of acoustic and electronic sounds that unfold on many planes in the time-space continuum. Dynasonic’s suites, albeit seemingly simple, are in fact very colourful and complex. Out of the three minimalist albums, they’ve convinced me the most.

Lotto, Pix, Instant Classic
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Dynasonic, #1, Dym/Don’t Sit On My Vinyl
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Mike Majkowski, Between Seasons, Endless Happiness
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