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Tibor Szemző

From Unearthing The Music

Tibor Szemzö in 2015

Tibor Szemző is one of the most significant and prolific figures in contemporary music in Hungary. As a founder (along with László Melis, with other members such as László Gőz, Tamás Tóth, Ferenc Körmendy, András Soós joining soon after) of the minimalist ensemble Csoport 180 (Group 180) in 1979, he was instrumental in bringing the music of Frederic Rzewski and Steve Reich to Hungary. As a solo artist from 1983, his output has often combined music with spoken word and visual art. His concerts are usually multi-media events. He has also treated cameras as musical instruments: in the 1980s he rigged up sensors to record the mechanical sounds of his 8mm camera, making it an ‘8mm-fónra’ (8millimetreophone). Szemző has enjoyed close creative relations with visual artists including Péter Forgács, often supplying musical compositions to accompany the filmmaker’s explorations into history and memory using amateur found footage (including Szemző’s 1987 LP ‘Snapshot from the Island’ released in the UK on Leo Records). He also composed memorial works for Tibor Hajas and Miklós Erdély, the central figure in Hungarian conceptual art. ‘A halál szexepilje’ (The Sex Appeal Of Death, 1981) employs an essay by Hajas (a performance artist and poet who had died in a car crash in 1980) on the taboos surrounding death as a libretto that Szemző had his 11 year old daughter read over a single long chime. In 1985 Szemző made Koponyaalapi törés (Skullbase Fracture) an experimental film for the Béla Balázs Studio (BBS) under a scheme that invited musicians and other artists to make films with professional and technical resources. A narrator seated in a restaurant offers reflections on life and the mind, and engages conversation with a character who appears on the screen of the television on his table. Behind him, a gypsy band circles through different musical compositions. This was the first of a large number of experimental films made by Szemző which refuse to yield up easy meaning or simple narrative effects.

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