Lecturer in Music Dr Jane Stanley writes about her experience of writing music for a specific space: the Królikarnia Museum in Warsaw.
I am very excited to be composing a piece for Emilia Sitarz (piano), Barbara Kinga Majewska (mezzo soprano), and Magdalena Kordylasińska (percussion) to be performed in the Królikarnia Museum in Warsaw later this year. The invitation to write this piece came from Emilia who, together with Bartłomiej Wąsik, performed my piece for piano duo Pentimenti last year at ISCM World Music Days in Wrocław. The name Królikarnia translates to “rabbit house” which is a reference to the royal rabbit warren that existed on the site in the 17th century; and these days it is a sculpture museum which frequently hosts contemporary music concerts and installations.
My brief was to compose a piece bringing together all three players. Emilia asked if I might base my piece on the idea of each performer being based in a different room in the museum. Immediately this sounded interesting to me. It offers a potential means to explore questions about space, ensemble communication as well as challenging conventional notions of a classical concert. At the same time, I was aware that there would be numerous practical issues that need to be explored and addressed, such as whether amplification would be required, to what extent might the performers move during the piece, and where will the audience be situated?
With these thoughts in mind, I visited Warsaw in April to meet with the Emilia, Magda, Barbara, along with Robert Migas (sound engineer) to discuss plans for the piece, workshop some material, and to explore the interior of Królikarnia museum. I was eager to experiment with some different configurations (both in terms of performer location and audience position), as well as to develop an understanding of how sounds in this particular space might blend and balance in different locations.
The museum director Agnieszka Tarasiuk kindly allowed us to visit the museum on Monday when it is normally closed to the public. I had familiarised myself already with a number of floor plans of the museum, and was curious to experience first-hand the space’s acoustic properties. The ground floor comprises a marble-floored rotunda with a high vaulted ceiling, leading to a number of smaller wooden-floored rooms.
Working with some ideas that I had sketched for voice, claves and small bells, we experimented with various configurations in terms of positioning the audience and performers. We tested out a three different scenarios: 1) the performers positioned in three of the rooms surrounding the central round room with listeners located in the rotunda, 2) listeners positioned in two different surrounding rooms, the performers processing slowly clockwise throughout the rooms, and 3) listeners situated in the rotunda, the performers moving independently in throughout all rooms surrounding the rotunda, but waiting until the end to enter the rotunda.
Of these options there was a clear consensus that the third option was most pleasing from a listener’s point of view. Based in the rotunda, an audience will hear the three different parts drifting mysteriously into this central space, mediated by its resonant acoustic. The second option seemed to be the least satisfying as a listener, due to partly to the drier acoustic but also for the reason that we were able to see each performer as she processed through our room in turn.
I felt very inspired by what I heard during this visit. This experience has provided me valuable information that will inform the material that I compose. In particular I will be considering the impact that my decisions concerning instrumentation, phrasing, pacing of material, dynamics, and textural density will have in the context of the museum’s acoustic and movement of performers between rooms.