Organized Sound and Experiments in Slovak Music

From Unearthing The Music

Milan Adamčiak Sound Off, Piano Hotel, 1997 Photo: M. Murin

Organized Sound and Experiments in Slovak Music - An essay by Slávo Krekovič for Sound Exchange.


Slovakia was an integral part of Czechoslovakia, a joint state, until the end of 1992. Nevertheless, there were many cultural aspects very specific to the Slovak part of the country that played a significant role in the rich history of experimental music production, which goes back to the 1950s. Numerous interesting activities, which took place in the institutional as well as the unofficial or semi-institutional domain, had an international element to them. Productions by pioneers of electroacoustic music and live electronics met at a confluence of avant-garde manifestations of the New Music (»Nová hudba«), and later combined with influences of American experimental music, Fluxus intermedia movement (happenings, events, and performances), audio-visual arts and improvised music.

Looking back, one can see that most experimental projects in Slovakia originated under a totalitarian system which was restricting free artistic production based on party-prescribed preferences. Political détente (1962–1968 and from 1987 until the collapse of Communism) was rather short, but ranked among the most fruitful creative periods. The development of Slovak experimental music can be perceived as a shift from the first establishment of a classical music avant-garde to a fully-fledged pluralistic setting, but also as a shift from the phenomenon of a university-educated composer through to the character of a creative sound engineer, and then to a general democratization of music-making towards the end of the 1990s.

The Beginnings

The beginnings of electroacoustic music in Czechoslovakia were delayed for several reasons when compared with developments in Western Europe. After 1948, music production was subject to ideological screening by the newly-established Association of Czechoslovak Composers (Zväz československých skladateľov) and by a politically-controlled media. Avant-garde approaches were considered to be in conflict with the officially sanctioned aesthetics of so-called socialist realism. The prescribed emphasis on accessibility and involvement of a popular nature, in combination with suspended contact by creative arts with international developments, restricted encouragement of experimenting with new ideas or approaches. A free creative manifestation, in particular if it came from the musical culture of the capitalistic West, was perceived as a threat to the official artistic doctrine.

Political pressure on art started gradually to relax following the fall of Stalinism after the 1956 Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. At that time a new generation of composers was studying at the Academy of Art who did not identify with the traditionalist, politically-motivated direction of their teachers, and who were finding their own way, inspired by contemporary international developments. Notable representatives of that generation include Ilja Zeljenka (1932–2007), Peter Kolman (b. 1937), Roman Berger (b. 1930), Ladislav Kupkovič (b. 1936), Jozef Malovec (1933–1998), Ivan Parík (1936–2005) and Pavol Šimai (b. 1930). Malovec recalled: »What first attracted our attention was the art by the second Viennese school, and then all contemporary musical avant-garde. Only by virtue of gradual, inconspicuous political liberalization that culminated in the known events at the end of the 1960s, could we survive as universal and versatile open artists. Life then was not very comfortable, but it was creative and free to a certain degree.«[1]

Ivan Parík (1936 - 2005)
Peter Kolman
Ladislav Kupkovič (1936)
Roman Berger (1930)

Students and recently-graduated composers became publicly active, and in order to overcome a general shortage of information about new trends in music, they organized seminars on works by the representatives of the New Music avant-garde (Boulez, Stockhausen, Nono).

Besides limited access to information about new developments from the European centre of electroacoustic music, poor equipment was another restricting factor. Art production was then confined to the state institutions which, however, did not consider investing in the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment. There were specialized electronic music studios in several nearby countries in the 1950s, but in Slovakia the first simple experiments with recording technologies were made as late as 1958 in the apartments of Roman Berger and Ilja Zeljenka. The interest shown by a new generation of composers, later called the Slovak musical avant-garde of the 1960s, in new means of expression can be understood as their response to conservative teachers, and as a need by individual composers to define their expression in the context of what was going on in the world at that time.

The Warsaw Autumn Festival, established in 1956, was not only driving the development of the so-called Polish composition school. It was one of the most important trans-cultural, East-West communication venues for Slovak authors as well. Slovenská hudba (Slovak Music) was a journal that also served as a catalyst, and after 1963 it turned into an important platform for debate.

The Sound Workroom

The beginnings of electroacoustic music in Slovakia were long considered an experiment at the periphery of musical events, and its status moved between being tolerated and being banned. Despite this atmosphere, the Sound Workroom of Czechoslovak Television was established in the former Tatra bank building in 1961. It was the very first studio of its kind in Czechoslovakia and joined the family of a few other similar studios abroad. The sound engineer Ivan Stadtrucker recalled: »The Sound Workroom was the first electronic music studio in Czechoslovakia but it cannot be considered as an isolated phenomenon, separated from the rest of the cultural world. The studio, right from its start till the end, was very hard to digest for the supporters of the official ideology and the aesthetics of social realism. It was a headache and trouble, but it could not be banned since it did not exist under law. Its material substance was just a very well-equipped sound effects studio, unless it was used for electronic music production. The Sound Workroom made quite an impression, especially with its non-traditional sounds for movies and the  television dramas that were just starting in Slovakia.«[2]

The Sound Workroom was the first workplace for team work by composers and sound engineers, which from that point became the working model in Slovak production. In 1961 Ilja Zeljenka, with Stadtrucker’s assistance, made music to »65 miliónov« (65 Million), directed by Miro Horňák, with the original title »Baladická suita« (The Ballad Suite). Stadtrucker gave more details: »The movie ›65 Million‹ was supposed to bear that title. But in order to prevent the film from ending up in a drawer because of its ›pacifism‹, the director had to change its title and add shots of a fighting Fidel Castro! We produced over 20 minutes of music for this feature film by our friend. It can be referred to as electroacoustic only in a broader context, because we also worked with sounds of non-electronic origin (real sounds, prepared piano).« [3]

The Experimental Studio

The idea of having an independent electroacoustic music studio detached from television or film production within Czechoslovak Radio appeared in 1964. The studio Triková réžia (Special Effects Studio) was eventually established, and in June 1965 it became the Experimental Studio of Czechoslovak Radio (Experimentálne štúdio Československého rozhlasu). The studio was managed by Peter Kolman, who remained with it until his emigration in 1977.

The typical feature of the workplace was an emphasis on teamwork, combining the skills of sound engineers with the ideas of composers. The studio, with strong creative involvement by sound engineer Peter Janík, (as well as Ján Backstuber since 1968) could also focus on the production of independent electroacoustic music, and offer composers professional input for the implementation of their ideas. Composers who were interested in electronics moved from the television Sound Workroom, which ceased to exist in 1966, to the Experimental Studio.

The first independent electroacoustic composition in Slovakia goes back to autumn 1966. Jozef Malovec produced the composition »Orthogenesis« using genuine synthetic sounds with assistance from sound engineer Peter Janík, using the foundations of his earlier scenic music. »The material seized my attention so much that I decided to make it into an independent composition. There was no stereo equipment in Bratislava Radio so we had to record the first mix using a commercial (non-studio) tape recorder.« [4] Two years later the stereo version of this composition won an award at the First International Electronic Music Competition at Dartmouth College in the USA. In 1968 the author produced a quadrophonic mix of the composition, which was immediately awarded a prize at the International Congress of Electroacoustic Music in Florence, and attracted much international attention.

The Avant-garde Pioneers

In early Slovak electroacoustic music methods derived from musique concrète were applied, as well as hard to find electronic sound generators which were used in the final sound array. The poetics of a strong fascination with exotic sound structures predominated, but the outlines of the compositions were firmly anchored in rational compositional thought. The different approaches by individual young composers soon developed into varied profiles.

While the first electronic compositions by Jozef Malovec (»Orthogenésis«, 1966; »Punctum Alfa«, 1968) were based on detailed work with electronically-generated material inspired by cosmology, his following works included principles of musique concrète, a collage combining the recorded material with color and semantic contrasts, adorned with a peculiar musical wit. The composer also used live electronics and ironically embedded »found footage« (such as a brass band recording).

The philosophically-oriented Roman Berger first participated in team experimental bricolage in 1958, and composed his first autonomous electroacoustic composition »Elégia« in memory of Ján Rúčka in 1969, drawing on older film music. The concerted and rational use of transformed instrumental recordings predominated in his electroacoustic works, which Berger understood as an expression of a new, non-classical thinking paradigm appearing simultaneously in science and art. Peter Kolman produced seven electroacoustic compositions before 1976 in which he had an interesting approach to using specific sounds and electroacoustic material. He pioneered a new piece of equipment in the Experimental Studio in the early 1970s, namely a modular synthesizer ARP 2115, which offered a more sophisticated and structured use of sound and also brought new principles of rhythmic structuring of synthetic sounds: (»9 ½«, 1976).

Ivan Parík (1936–2005) arrived in the Radio Studio in 1969. His works of the following period included recordings of his own or borrowed compositions or modifications of sounds produced on acoustic instruments (»Homage to William Croft«, 1969). Engaging with, or rather entering into a dialog with, classical traditions and historical musical materials is the strategy taken in the electroacoustic works by composer and mathematician Miro Bázlik (b. 1931). His fascination with the music of J. S. Bach, mathematical rules and the need to develop dialog-like comments on older music in a new medium was reflected in several of his compositions, the most important of which include the series »Spektrá. Metamorfózy a komentáre k I. dielu Dobre temperovaného klavíra J. S. Bacha« (1970–1972). The audio materials used were portions of recordings of the composition by Bach, at times quite easy to identify, and at other times well concealed.

A graduate in composition from the Polish Katowice, Tadeáš Salva (1937–1995), tested electronics in »Rozhlasove oratórium« (The Radio Oratory) in 1965 for the first time, and took an interest in folklore and its combination with avant-garde means of expression. The most extensive of six short compositions using electronic media is the 26-minute radio quadrophonic opera, »Plač« (1976), built up from two layered vocal parts.

Ladislav Kupkovič and Hudba dneška: Event, Happening, Performance

Ladislav Kupkovič (b. 1936), a university-educated violin player, conductor and self-trained composer, is one of the key personalities of the music avant-garde who came to the scene at the turn of the 1950s and 60s. His activities covered an unusually broad scope and were primarily the manifestations of a uniquely courageous artistic non-conformity and free spirit responding to contemporary global developments. They included compositions for classical instruments, electroacoustic music, conducting contemporary compositions, but also organizing concerts and intermedia events. He was the first artist in Slovakia to experiment not only with the use of electronics in concerts but also with spatialization, indeterminism and improvisation in an array of works ranging from chambers to large ensembles.

In 1964 he established Hudba dneška (Today’s Music), which specialized in introducing contemporary works by domestic and international composers and varied participation for the following five years. The first Hudba dneška concert took place in January 1964 and marked the beginning of a series called »Kaleidoskop hudby nášho storočia« (A Kaleidoscope of Music of our Century), followed by numerous later performances at other venues (Bratislava, Košice, Banská Bystrica, Brno, Vienna, Warsaw Autumn, Ljubljana, West Berlin, Darmstadt and Frankfurt). The ensemble made several recordings of contemporary music for radio, television and gramophone records. Kupkovič also established intensive contact with leading personalities of the European music avant-garde (e. g. Karlheinz Stockhausen).

Most of the works by Kupkovič of that period were intended specifically for the Hudba dneška ensemble. The works display conceptualism, an open form and playful search for non-traditional solutions – aiming to break stereotypes in musical performance practice. The composer preferred unusual instruments and borrowed material (»Morceau de genre« – composed of the first six bars from Elgar’s »La Capricieuse« for violin and piano), graphical scores, intermediality and taped music used in combination with classical instruments. He also used improvisation with electronics in concert settings, at times also with a political component to it (such as performing the composition »Preparované texty III« in which was included a recording of a Czech editor interviewing a Soviet soldier at the time of the military invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968).

Spatial compositions and programs with the creative participation of musicians and the audience were very refreshing in the contemporary Slovak and international scene. The author referred to »Dioe« (1968) as »the orchestral games with conducting« since the score has text-based instructions and orchestra players participate in conducting. Many of the experimental concerts by Kupkovič were held after his emigration to West Germany in 1969. He later introduced the title »Wandelkonzerte« for spatial events taking place simultaneously in several rooms. A concert experimenting with remarkable scope and ideas was the project »Musikalische Ausstellung« (Musical Exhibition) of March 1970, held in the West Berlin Art Academy where musicians called »playing exhibits« played on nineteen stages for several hours.

The Smolenice Seminars

Jozef Malovec. Photo by Pavel Kastl

One of the benefits of détente during the 1960s, and also proof of the involvement of the young generation of Slovak composers and theoreticians in active exchange with the international community, were three editions of the Smolenice Seminars for contemporary music. The idea to organize a contemporary music festival goes back to 1965, but it eventually ended up in the form of seminars with papers and concerts for the professional community, held at a castle in the village Smolenice near Bratislava. The first two years were held upon the initiative of Peter Faltin, an active musicologist, as well as Ladislav Kupkovič, with internationally-acclaimed guests. Karlheinz Stockhausen and Józef Patkowski, the founder of the Warsaw Experimental Studio, Ulrich Dibelius, Eduard Herzog, and domestic composers, specifically Kupkovič and Peter Kolman, made presentations at the 1968 seminars. Stockhausen’s »Hymnen« and »Prozession« for electronics and instrumental players with the Cologne interpreters, and the collective composition »Profily« (Profiles) for the Hudba dneška ensemble (Kolman, Malovec, Parík and Kupkovič), were performed in a non-traditional spatial context.

A year later, György Ligeti, Vinko Globokar, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, Boleslaw Szabelski and the Czech theoretician Vladimír Lébl accepted the invitation to give presentations in Smolenice. The Hudba dneška ensemble performed Ligeti’s »Poème Symphonique for 100 Metronomes« and a happening, »Ad libitum«, which consisted of a concert taking place in several halls of the castle in which the audience had an opportunity to play over a hundred instruments under the supervision of the musicians. At that time the musical community was becoming aware not only of the European avant-garde, but also witnessed the influence of Anglo-American experimental music, with its moments of indeterminism, improvisation and performance, which were represented by a semi-improvised performance by Peter Kotík with the quax ensemble, interpreting the graphical score »Treatise« by Cornelius Cardew.

The third year of the event was held in 1970 under the clouds of political change that followed the occupation of Czechoslovakia by armies of the Warsaw Pact. The chief organizers, Faltin and Kupkovič, decided to stay abroad in the long term, and what was to be the last event was prepared by Ivan Parík and his wife. The participation of Mauricio Kagel with the Cologne ensemble for new music, as well as the opening concert including a spatial composition called »Dislokácia II« by musicology student Milan Adamčiak (the event looked like a chess game which was controlling the music being played in another room), made it a memorable event, however.

Milan Adamčiak: Intermedia Artist

The Slovak musical avant-garde in the pre to mid-1960s (and mostly up to 1980s) was mostly oriented towards the European cultural context. The influences from American experimental music, such as indeterminism, improvisation, compositional use of the space, and a consequent intermedia approach, were first present in works by Kupkovič, and only later in the creative and organizational work by Milan Adamčiak (b. 1946), who became a key personality in Slovak experimental music. Although Adamčiak had a musical background (he studied violoncello at the conservatory and later also musicology), he was always interested in the creative combination of several media and art forms including music, experimental poetry, performance and visual art. A characteristic feature of his works was a natural crossing of borders between several genres and media realized in the form of graphical scores, installations and environments including various sound objects, production of non-traditional musical instruments and also various action forms typical of intermedia art (happenings and performance). In 1969 he and Róbert Cyprich (1951–1996) established an art group called Ensemble Comp., whose manifesto of 23 October 1969 was published in the Mladá tvorba magazine, signed also by the visual artist Alex Mlynárčik. The Manifesto [5] included a definition of the new perception of the relationship with music as a participative, creative process in the intermedia spirit of the Fluxus movement, indeterminism and the open form of Anglo-American experimental music, as well as the latest developments in improvised music.

Adamčiak implemented such an approach throughout his artistic career. »Vodná Hudba« (The Water Music) (with Róbert Cyprich and Jozef Revallo), performed in 1969 in an indoor swimming pool in Bratislava, was a memorable event. The concept drew loose inspiration from the title of a composition by G. F. Händel, and took the form of a concert by musicians playing in the pool. Graphical scores by the artist were first exhibited at a joint exhibition »Partitúry« in Prague and Brno (1969), and also at an solo show, Visual Music, in Bratislava (1970). At that time the first compositions were produced that used electronics (»Qu’est-ce que c’est la musique?«, 1970). Adamčiak preferred live performances with acoustic instruments complementing the tape recorded sounds in accordance with the author’s instructions. After graduating from university he took a job as a musicologist with the Slovak Academy of Sciences. Experimental art events were not welcome after the Soviet invasion, and Adamčiak practically withdrew from public life for fifteen years.

Occupation – »Normalisation« – Isolation

The more-or-less free period of electroacoustic music production intersecting with global developments that during the 1960s was abruptly brought to a halt by the invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968, a major turning point in the then-emerging democratization. The following three years were used by the ruling power elite to strengthen its control over art, to close the border, and to cut off lines of communication with the Western world. Many personalities who had been the instigators of musical events and innovation emigrated from the country: Šimai in 1968, Faltin and Kupkovič in 1968, and later also Kolman (in 1977).

The cessation of the Smolenice Seminars, the Slovenská hudba journal as well as Czechoslovakia leaving the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) were just some of the signs of a process that was euphemistically called »normalization«. The 1972 congress of the Association of Composers expelled composers who had represented the progressive wing, including Ilja Zeljenka, Peter Kolman, Roman Berger, Juraj Pospíšil and Juraj Hatrík, as well as certain music critics. The early 1970s ended any continuation of trends and brought a downturn in creative art, the withdrawal of certain authors from the public scene, and an end to public happenings and other non-traditional forms of free art communication. New electroacoustic compositions were made, but they were banned from public presentation for several years.

»Postmodern Generation«

Vít’azoslav Kubička
Martin Burlas
Vapore del Cuore

Electroacoustic music in public was resumed in 1977, and at the end of the decade activities began to evolve around the Electroacoustic Studio (the former Experimental Studio). Juraj Ďuriš became the sound engineer in 1978, and young composer Víťazoslav Kubička became the program director. Members of a new generation became interested in electronic music whose positions could be described as Postmodern, leaning away from the avant-garde tendencies.

Martin Burlas (b. 1955) is perhaps the most universal and productive personality who enjoyed crossing borders between genres and was actively involved in several music contexts, from electroacoustic studio works, pieces for classical musicians, through alternative and experimental rock and alternative pop up to the use of elements of subcultural electronic dance music. Burlas was the first musician in Slovakia whose multiple musical identities can be perceived as a specific expression of the postmodern age. His works possess distinct poetry, lyricism, and melancholy as well as roughness of sound and an ironic view from above the material, all of which are typical of his works, including his electroacoustic compositions (»Hudba pre modrý dom«, 1979; »Plač stromov«, 1981). Starting in the late 1980s, Burlas has also been active as an improviser in various projects (Transmusic comp., later VAPORI del CUORE).

Víťazoslav Kubička (b. 1953) is a member of the postmodern generation that emerged at the end the 1970s. His electroacoustic works have distinct features, such as tonality, use of atmosphere, orchestral sound, pathos, the variation principle and references to pre-modern musical tradition (»Venované Musorgskému« – Dedicated to Mussorgsky, 1981) as well as social involvement (»... a plakal by aj kameň« (... A Rock Would Weep Too, 1982). Sound engineer Juraj Ďuriš (b. 1954), who later (in 1991) became the art director and driving personality of the Experimental Studio and other projects related to electronic music, entered the scene with a short first composition, »Chronos I« (1983), which was influenced by minimalism. At that time artists started using digital technologies in successful works, such as the »soundscape« composition »Zrodenie svedomia« (The Birth of Conscience, 1984). Since the end of 1980s he has been interested in combinations of sound with other media such as video, sculpture and laser.

Climate Change and Centers of Activity

The end of the 1980s brought political détente and a revival of free art experiments going beyond official culture that sought ways to reach the public. This was also happening because of another creative generation that became active and began seeking new inspiration in addition to its historical connection – art exploring the potential of new technologies, Fluxus inspirations, improvisation and indeterminacy, performance, intermedia projects ranging from theater through music to visual art. After 1987 centers of activity developed, and subsequently interconnected, usually surrounding mostly active artists which later began organizing events, festivals, happenings or establishing new art groups.

After the regime change, the years from 1989 to 1993 experienced a strong surge in activities. International contacts were re-established and civic associations resumed their activities. It was apparent that further development was driven mainly by organizational efforts by artists associated under the umbrellas of non-profit associations which expediently, and on their own initiative, were bridging the gap left by absent or inadequate infrastructure, including alternative and unofficial cultural venues. After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the level of state support for art projects was dramatically reduced and, in combination with the political climate, resulted in the diminished vitality of the independent scene, a situation which dragged on until almost the end of the 1990s.

Transart Communication

In 1987, Štúdio Erté was established in Nové Zámky upon the initiative of performer József Juhász, and the next year marked the start of the annual performance art festival Transart Communication. The event was the first significant platform to bring together musicians, visual artists, performers and theater artists after years of an attenuation of artistic activities. Milan Adamčiak recalls his participation: »They invited me to the first festival in 1988, not as a creative artist, but as a theoretician for experimental music, namely electroacoustics. We made a presentation of electroacoustic music at the opening, and right then I acquired a feeling that the scene was opening up. There were people from around the world, not just the locals.[6] Transart Communication has welcomed many world and domestic performers since then, including acclaimed visual artists from the former unofficial scene, as well as artists and musicians who use new technologies. The festival ranked among the key Central European performance art platforms, and was an inspiration for more activities of a similar nature in Czechoslovakia.

Evenings of New Music

Peter Machajdík

One of the most important moments at the turn of the decades was the establishment of Spoločnosť pre nekonvenčnú hudbu (SNEH, Society for Non-Conventional Music) in 1990. SNEH began on the initiative of Milan Adamčiak, one of the collective members of Hudobná únia (the Music Union), a professional association, actually the post-revolution transformation of the original Association of Composers. The founding members were active musicians, performers and theoreticians – Peter Machajdík, Jozef Cseres, Michal Murin, Oľga Smetanová, Peter Martinček and Zbyněk Prokop. That was the first platform ever in Slovakia for the long-term promotion of the creation, presentation and documentation of shifts and developments in experimental music, covering both sound and its combination with other media.

The ambition of the SNEH initiative was to catch up and compensate for the post-totalitarian deficit in this area through strong international involvement in art throughout the following decade. SNEH played the role of an umbrella organization, affiliating collective members such as art ensembles, Transmusic Comp. and Balvan, which were frequent performers at events organized by the society.

One edition of the Konvergencie festival was held in May 1990 with the first public joint appearance of the above-mentioned ensembles and Ospalý pohyb by Martin Burlas. The Intermedia Festival (Festival intermediálnej tvorby, FIT) was held for two years, in 1991 and 1992, upon Adamčiak’s initiative which, true to its name, focused on combining visual art, music, theater, performance and experimental poetry. The SNEH projects covered a large array of genres and were open to a variety of styles, with an emphasis on creativity, free art expression and intermedia drawing from the Fluxus tradition. A four-part series of innovative music concerts called »Musicsolarium« offered presentations at various locations in Bratislava by soloists and chamber projects in this area, as well as new ensembles in Slovakia (e. g. VAPORI del CUORE).

After 1995, SNEH focused on organizing the festival of »contemporary progressive music in intermedia overlappings« Sound Off, on the initiative of Michal Murin and Jozef Cseres, held in Bratislava, Šamorín, Nové Zámky and Nitra. The first two topical years explored non-conventional approaches in music and visual art, and the following two focused on the re-contextual handling of historical heritage and innovative use of classical musical instruments.

The project »Left Hand of the Universe« (1997) included multi-media performances with six left-handed piano players simultaneously playing damaged pianos in Europe, USA and Australia (idea and realization by Ross Bolleter, Michal Murin, Zdenek Plachý, Milan Adamčiak, Stephen Scott, Dan Wiencek and Nathan Crotty). The 2000 event focused on the use of »puppets in art« (Pupanimart) and the final 2002 Sound Off was on the topic of »Typewriter« and focused on the artistic use of the disappearing typewriter technology in various interpretations. 2003 marked the official end of SNEH, but its agents are still active and have begun several new projects.

Evenings of New Music

Daniel Matej, the founder of VENI, a contemporary music ensemble and an intern and program director at the Music Fund in 1989, initiated the first festival of contemporary music in Slovakia, called Večery novej hudby (Evenings of New Music), which existed from 1990 to 2009. The festival program included presentations of world and Slovak contemporary art in various areas (composed works inspired by the Anglo-American experimental tradition, post-minimalism, improvised music), and often witnessed new special projects between domestic and international musicians. The festival also featuring John Cage in 1992, reflected the trend of combining composition and improvisation on the world experimental stage, bringing authors and interpreters together, predominantly improvisers or composers of electronic music (John Oswald, Otomo Yoshihide, Chris Cutler, John Tilbury).


Melos-Étos (Melos-Ethos), the largest (biennial) festival of contemporary music in Slovakia, was established in 1991 by several members of the avant-garde generation of composers of the 1960s. Its principal idea was to overcome the historical deficit through presentations by authors who had been banned under the previous political system, and for that reason were unknown to the public. The idea of having a representative festival of contemporary music which, for political reasons, could not take place in the 1960s became real after the fall of the totalitarian system. The program focused predominantly on 20th century classical composers and included concerts of electroacoustic music prepared in cooperation with the Experimental Studio.

Center for Electroacoustic and Computer Music (CECM)

Marek Piaček
Daniel Matej

The Experimental Studio resumed its original name after the Velvet Revolution and flourished, inspiring cooperation and numerous new works by the younger generation of composers who were interested in electronics (Peter Zagar, Robert Rudolf, Alexander Mihalič, Marek Piaček and others). Juraj Ďuriš became the art director of the Studio in 1991, and together with Andrej Zmeček, they started a civic association in 1992, the Center for Electroacoustic and Computer Music (CECM), to implement projects of electronic music presentation in a somewhat less formal setting than that of a state-run institution.

The Center produced the first CDs with electroacoustic music by Slovak composers and organized seminars for the professional community, namely the International Forum of Electroacoustic Music (IFEM) ’92 in Dolná Krupá, with a follow-up in 1994. The most extensive CECM projects were an interlinked series of events called »BEE95CAMP« and »BEE96CAMP« (Bratislava European Electronic Computer Art & Music Project), which shared the idea of an experimental approach to sound and new media. This network platform was an umbrella for several festivals, presentations and exhibitions held in cooperation with other organizers. CECM drafted the program for the Festivals of Electroacoustic Music FEM ’95 and FEM ’96 and coordinated the participation of other projects, including the festival Sound Off, organized by SNEH, as well as the Transart Communication festival.

Intermediality, Improvisation and Plural Identities

Slovak experimental music had, by the end of the 1980s and especially during the following decade, embraced a multitude of concepts, including studio electroacoustics, live electronics, and improvised music with various degrees of freedom, Fluxus impulses, audio-visual combinations and Postmodern ways of working with various genre manifestations. Numerous projects of international cooperation attest to the desire to be included in the global context. Compositional strategies appeared in Slovakia around that time involving concepts of blurred musical identities in the awareness of falling into a single genre category, or at least an individual style. One of the signs of the second wave of Postmodern musicians of the 1990s was a two-fold genre appurtenance in which an important prerequisite was simultaneously mastering several musical languages.

Transmusic Comp.

Peter Zagar

In 1989 Adamčiak, Murin and Peter Machajdík established a unique performance group, the Transmusic Comp. It had operated as an integral part of the Society for Non-Conventional Music up until 1996, and its members included professional musicians, but also visual artists and non-professional members: the founders, plus Martin Burlas, Peter Horváth, Peter Cón, Zuzana Géczová, Daniel Matej, Vladimír Popovič, Oľga Smetanová, Peter Strassner, Michaela Czinegeová, Peter Zagar, Juraj Bartusz, Zbyněk Prokop and others. Since its first public appearance just before the Velvet Revolution (in October 1989), the ensemble had given several dozen performances during the following years at independent »large projects« at exhibition opening ceremonies or at festivals. The founding manifesto of the ensemble was drafted on January 1 1990, and included the following: »Art ensemble TRANSMUSIC COMP. is an open variable body working in acoustic, musical and audio-visual areas for the purposes of developing, deepening and exceeding the boundaries of art convention [...] The repertoire of the ensemble is open, accepts projects merging various kinds of music, aleatoric and improvised concerts, instrumental theater, projects including non-conventional musical sources, audio art and the like.«[7]

Transmusic Comp. focused on the interpretation of graphical scores, free improvisation, use of electroacoustic components and frequent collaborations with the theater, experimental poetry and strong visual elements. Performers used traditional instruments and Adamčiak’s collection of several hundred home made musical instruments, ready-mades and sound objects. The scope, multitude and extent of the ensemble’s activities are also unique in European terms. Referring to the fading Fluxus tradition, Transmusic Comp. presented the interlinking of various art areas in an intermedia setting. In spite of, or perhaps because of the fact that it was surpassing the established contexts, its existence in musical and visual art history has received little notice.

The Second Postmodern Wave

Ľubomír Burgr

Peter Machajdík left for Berlin in 1992. His activities span electroacoustic works, collaborations with dancers and improvised music (collaborations with David Moss, Jon Rose, Malcolm Goldstein) and numerous sound environments. Intermedia and conceptual thinking have remained a distinct aspect of his works, such as »Zelená hudba« (Green Music, 1993) for an arbitrary cast, in which he used a video camera to record musicians in outdoor setting and the musicians assigned a portion of their earnings for environmental purposes. Michal Murin and the aesthetician Jozef Cseres started the duo Lengow & HEyeRMEarS in 1997, whose performances and other activities range between »discursive and non-discursive ways of expression«, eliminating the boundaries between artistic performance and its theoretical interpretation, between the real and virtual worlds, and also between seriousness and intellectual humor. »Lengow & HEyeRMEarS Meet the Radio Artists« (2000) was the title of the first Internet audio performance in Slovakia: it was a remix of a real-time stream of radio broadcasting from several countries that took place at the Sound Off festival. Daniel Matej (b. 1963), the art director of several contemporary music ensembles with various focuses, developed graphical scores, implemented improvisation with the use of electronics (gramophone, CD players, objects with sound) and implemented a studio-based electroacoustic composition »SATIE-collage« (1995). With the VAPORI del CUORE formation (since 1993) he improvised and composed at the limits of both forms, frequently with visiting international personalities from the experimental scene.

Martin Burlas was highly active in the 1990s. He performed with improvisational ensembles, and in his solo projects he drew sound inspiration from underground dance electronics: he used sampling in his avant-rock project Sleepy Motion and also worked with computer music (»Overload«, 1996; »Untergang des Mindestens«, 2003). Ľubomír Burgr (b. 1964), author of several electroacoustic compositions (»Ogloj Chorchoj«, 1991) and a peculiar violin improviser (later he also used live electronics in the project »Pink Big Pig« with Marek Piaček), is also known for his role in the domain of alternative rock and pop (Ali Ibn Rachid, Dogma). Peter Zagar worked with studio electronics at the beginning of his creative career (»Sen«, 1985), and he later focused on composing for classical instruments. He is a piano player and an active improviser in collective projects (VAPORI del CUORE, Marek Piaček (b. 1972) entered the musical experimental world with the award-winning electroacoustic composition »Flauto dolce« (1991). With the exception of his electroacoustic works, the scope of his projects developed far and wide. Many of his works share certain features, such as drawing from platitudes and pop-culture, transitions between genre settings, creative use of the newest technologies, equality of composition and improvisation, experimenting with new approaches and a specific musical humor.

The artists mentioned, whose work can be mostly included in the second Postmodern wave, are still distinct actors on the Slovak scene. For that reason the above-noted characteristics can only be an introduction to their varied and constantly developing art, which has shaped the image of Slovak music and sound experiments of the end of the 20th century. Yet another creative generation made their voice heard towards the end of the 1990s. They display even more variety in styles, pluralism in genre settings, including subcultures (post-industrial, glitch, noise, ambient, DIY scene), an easy attitude to technologies (computers, both analog and digital electronics) and also do without academic composition education. The official and underground scenes will increasingly overlap, and the »do-it-yourself« aspect will come more to the fore. International networking of activities and musicians, as a matter of fact, has somewhat diminished the risk of a certain discontinuity following upon previous generations.


[1] Jozef Malovec, »Spomienky na začiatky elektroakustickej hudby v Bratislave« (Memories of the Beginnings of Electroacoustic Music in Bratislava), in: Slovenská hudba, 1–2/1996, vol. XXII, p. 64.

[2] Ján Stadtrucker, »Slovenské osudy hudby elektronickej« (The Slovak Fate of Electronic Music), in: Slovenská hudba, 1–2/1996, vol. XXII, p. 35.

[3] Ibid. p. 35

[4] Jozef Malovec, »Spomienky na začiatky elektroakustickej hudby v Bratislave« (Memories of the Beginnings of Electroacoustic Music in Bratislava), in: Slovenská hudba, 1–2/1996, vol. XXII, p. 65.

[5] Milan Adamčiak, »Ensemble–Comp.«, in: »Slovenské výtvarné umenie 1949–1989 z pohľadu dobovej literatúry«, Jana Geržová (ed.), afad press, Bratislava 2006, p. 245.

[6] [1] (25 May 2011).

[7] Milan Adamčiak, »Transmusic Comp.«, in: Avalanches 1990–95, »Zborník Spoločnosti pre nekonvenčnú hudbu«, Michal Murin (ed.), SNEH, Bratislava 1995, p. 35.