Experimental Studio Bratislava: An interview with Juraj Ďuriš

From Unearthing The Music

Ján Backstuber and Peter Janík. Photo courtesy of Experimental Studio Bratislava

By: Zuzana Husárová Published on: October 2013 Abridged version translated by Lucia Udvardyova

From the perspective of the development of electroacoustic music in Slovakia, 1965 can be considered as a breakthrough year. It was then that a centre officially designated as the electroacoustic studio under the name Experimental Studio of the Czechoslovak Radio (Exs) was founded within Czechoslovak Radio. During the many years of its existence, the studio underwent several staff and technological developments. The experimental studio is a hub for creativity and presentation in the field of new art, and as such, is a crucial part of various domestic and international contexts in autonomous arts in Slovakia.

This remarkable institution became a hallmark for creation, evolution and archiving of electroacoustic music in Slovakia. The studio's current head Juraj Ďuriš is a composer and radio sound engineer. He started working at the studio in 1978 after studying experimental physics. As of 1992, he's become the programme director of the studio as well as an expert on electroacoustic and computer music. He attended private composition classes taught by composer Víťazoslav Kubička and Milan Adamčiak. He teaches at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava and is a jury member of several international competitions.

Juraj Ďuriš: Life also brings about certain mistakes, and I could be considered one of them. Perhaps time shows that aberrations later become standards. I have a degree in nuclear physics which doesn't have anything to do with music. Then I started working at Slovak Radio. Having been placed in the Experimental studio spawned the chaos. I got used to it. I entered a creative environment with a completely different language which I gradually learned and within three to five years, started composing myself. I began to like it and became very active. I've received several international awards and currently am a jury member in this field. I'm trying to mediate this experience and knowledge of mine to the youngest generation.

Zuzana Husárová: The history of the Experimental Studio Bratislava implies that a certain branch of quality culture managed to survive for the last fifty years in Slovakia, even despite the communist regime and its pressures. Some of the first primitive experiments with sound technology were recordings and montages made with tape recorders. This trend arrived after WWII, as tape recorders became accessible to composers. Thus, they could record and replay sound, create montages and experiment with sound in various ways. This didn't take place at official institutions, but in private - in the flats of Ilja Zeljenka and Roman Berger, for instance. Electroacoustic sound creation later became popular in cinematography. In 1961, Zelenka and engineer Ivan Stadtrucker composed the soundtrack to the film 65 Million at the Czechoslovak TV. We can consider this date as the beginning of the first electroacoustic studio in Slovakia – the Sound Department of the Czechoslovak TV. Czechoslovak Radio's Experimental Studio was established 4 years later. The composer Peter Kolman became the studio's first programme director.

JD: It denotes a historical development and a need of a generation – generations – who wanted to explore new media, the realm of music in particular. We talk about electroacoustic music. This composite consists of two terms - electro and acoustic - and draws from both of these realms.

ZH: Experimental Studio Bratislava was inspired by foreign experimental studios, especially the one in Warsaw founded in 1957. There were other studios at that time in Cologne, Milan and Paris. Information about the development within this other music abroad arrived via certain personalities, such as Jozef Patkowski. Patkowski was a Polish musicologist and film score composer. Thanks to the efforts of composers such as Peter Kolman, Roman Berger, Ilja Zeljenka and others, the foundation for electroacoustic music in Slovakia was laid in the mid-1960s. It's remarkable that the roots of this other music are connected to Experimental Studio Bratislava. More composers became interested in working with electroacoustic music: Jozef Malovec, Ivan Mačák, Ladislav Kupkovič, Pavol Šimai, Svetozár Stračina as well as the German composer Paul Dessau.

JD: We have to mention two aspects, in particular, which encouraged the establishment of this unique institution. Slovak music became part of a European context. This reflected global happenings along with the search for a unique character of new creation. Even though we were isolated in terms of the contacts, there was a potential which we wanted to show. The space gradually developed and in the 90s faced a certain crisis. This spurred on the third generation of composers, who are actively involved in this field.

ZH: Since its inception, Experimental Studio Bratislava focused on the creation of experimental electroacoustic and concrete compositions - concrete sounds, sound effects, and other manipulations, as well as spoken word editing and electroacoustic scenic music for radio plays. Alena Čierna in her article about the history of Slovak electroacoustic music in Slovakia wrote that “a knowledge of foreign languages, high music professionalism, enthusiasm for avant-garde work – all these features coalesced in Peter Kolman and led to an established artistic-technological line of work and positioning of the Exs within the European experimental context. Soon, it became one of the most progressive European studios whose artistic production and idiosyncratic artistic programme represented characteristic electroacoustic schools.” According to Alena Čierna, “the primary role of the Exs collective was to catch up with the existing electroacoustic studios as soon as possible, what pertains technological equipment and creativity.”

How did the listeners react to the works of the Exs studio, what was the feedback?

JD: It was primarily the interest of a group of talented composers from the realm of classical music who wanted to develop it through experimentation. They were searching for the new – not only in terms of sound, but also form. The response had several levels. There were intimate concerts, then also so-called dead shows, where music would be played from tape recorders only, but it was still interesting. Today, we play interactive live concerts. There was a community behind it. Once I asked the radio's survey department about listeners' acceptance of experimentation and exploration. The results were fascinating: 9.5 percent was for, around 15 percent accepted it and the rest either didn't know or was uninterested.

The survey also revealed something remarkable: we have at least 10 percent of people who are interested, 25 percent if taken in a wider scope. I was shocked by these numbers because I had thought it would be 5 percent or less. When it comes to the age, these are people peaking at 26 – university graduates and more mature listeners and the curve falls again by around 45 years. Thus, the community is strong enough and these are fans of the exploration that we want, or have been developing for decades.

Photo courtesy of Experimental Studio Bratislava

ZH: Jozef Malovec's Orthogenesis is considered to be the first autonomous Slovak electroacoustic composition. It was produced in 1966 and originated from the scenic music for the vinyl release Moderná svetová básnická tvorba v slovenských prekladoch (Modern World Poetry in Slovak Translation). The activities of the experimental studio strongly developed and strengthened its international network since its inception in the first half of the 70s. Even though the development of the studio wasn't stopped by the “normalisation”, composers were forced to leave the Association of Slovak Composers – figures such as Pavol Šimai and Ladislav Kupkovič even left the country. In 1976, the artistic director Peter Kolman moved out of Slovakia and Jozef Malovec became the director. At the end of the 70s, the studio started to focus on individual creative work. The Exs studio had to change its name to Electroacoustic Studio in 1977, and was only able to use it again in 1990, after the fall of communism.

What can be considered as the long term contribution of Exs to Slovak culture?

JD: A certain focus, or manifestation of the two, or even the third generation. They were able to stick to a certain common theme, an execution of a certain idea, which I call exploratory. We are explorers. This resulted in an archive of remarkable compositions which we can dare to call some of the treasures of Slovak culture gaining acclaim at home and abroad. There were expectations from abroad - we seemed closed, not wanting to notice certain things. Provided the new generation remains focused and the inter-generational rapport is sustained, we would be able to maintain this trajectory and demonstrate that there's a huge potential in Slovak composition. This already concerns the third generation of composers. The first generation included such figures as Ladislav Kupkovič, Jozef Malovec, Pavol Šimai, Svetozár Stračina, Ivan Parík, Miro Bázlik, Roman Berger and probably more. The generation that followed included Víťazoslav Kubička, Robert Rudolf, Peter Zagar, Alexander Mihalič, Martin Burlas, Svetozár Ilavský and I might add myself here too. And another generation came thereafter.

ZH: The Exs had a regular radio show in the 80s and the 90s. As of 1992, listeners are able to listen to the radio show on Radio Devín. It's called Ex Tempore and is broadcasted once a week as a 60 minute show. Ex Tempore reports about trends in experimental music and news in intermedia and conceptual art. Between 2000 and 2010, it had its own dedicated website at (now Listeners could find out about experimental music at home and abroad. Through the activities of the website, Exs' reach broadened. Currently, Slovak Radio doesn't run the website anymore (nowadays it's Aside from the regular broadcasting, fans are able to witness the activities of Exs live at dedicated events entitled radioART CONCERT. As part of this cycle, several happenings took place and there were also live broadcasts between various European countries.

JD: Subsequently, everything changed with the arrival of microchips, processors, the dawn of a new world. We have laptops and are able to do a lot of work alone – a composer doesn't need a theatre to realise his vision. It seems as if he or she was carrying their composer's world in their suitcase, able to connect from wherever they are and send the composition any time. We realised this gradually and started to focus on promotion. We've been organising concerts since 1965, later adding the internet, where we also published and informed the community about our activities. Such large institution should transform from an executive as well as media respect.

The objective is to become a reference, set a standard, because listeners or inhabitants of this country expect the “truth” from such institution. We can be one of the representatives of this truth, since we have the historical context behind us as well as experience. The question nowadays is money though, isn't it? Everyone claims there's none, but paradoxically, we don't ask for any. During socialism, we thought we would be shut down at any moment, each two years having to defend why we need to experiment, work, stay focused. Then capitalism arrived and we were slapped in the face in another way, and this we are dealing with to this day.

The Slovak label 4mg has recently released a three-part compilation of music created in Experimental Studio Bratislava to celebrate its 50th anniversary. You can listen to it here.