Pianist Joanna Duda’s Keen (CD on Amazon) is described as “an electro-acoustic collage composed of long-maturing layers of prepared acoustics,” and that might prepare you somewhat for the sounds you are about to hear. I went in blind, or more accurately deaf, but I’ve listened to enough experimental music to know that the sky is the limit and there’s nothing that should prompt a provincial response such as “What is this supposed to be?” Duda carefully composes each layer of sound through both analog and digital techniques–she plays the piano, which often grounds these odd and ethereal sounds, but she also accentuates those foundations with sounds generated by computers and beat machines.
From this description you might surmise that you’ve heard this sort of thing before, but there is a surprising element, one of special interest to the audiophile. The sonic landscape in Keen is pristine, expansive and, at times, breathtaking. This is electronic music for audiophiles with open minds and well-worn shoes, ones have listened to enough electronica to know that there are frontiers to cross and minds to expand when you walk far enough. Heck, we knew that back in the ’60s when psychedelic rock first flowed out of our FM radios, or when free jazz exploded onto the streets on New York City a few years before that. But modern recording techniques have added a new wrinkle to these excursions, and that’s an astonishing level of realism.
Joanna Duda, who is based in Gdynia, Poland, understands all of this. She often puts these collages together with the attention to detail you’d expect of a modern art installation in a museum. Her focus is on “the border between electronics and acoustics,” and Keen straddles that imaginary line with precision. Her compositions aren’t necessarily about a clean sound, one generated to flout purity. The liner notes express it best: “She does not avoid the black tape and the apparent ugliness of dilapidated instruments.”
Joanna Duda’s Keen, therefore, is nearly an exercise in Taoism, reflecting the lesson of the uncarved block. It’s not an ordinary endeavor to consider computer-generated sounds as natural, but there is a wonderful random quality to Duda’s music that suggests she didn’t compose it. She found it as is, on the ground. She scooped it up in her hands and didn’t even bother to brush it off, because the uncarved block is still dirty as well. If you can look at Keen in this way, as a natural discovery in the computer realm, it makes sense. This one of those albums that, if you’re in the right mind, will open your eyes to a lot of new ideas in the world of music.