The avant garde planet of Boguslaw Schaeffer

This article is from 2010

The avant garde planet of Boguslaw Schaeffer

An 80-year-old Polish polymath is set to be the discovery of the Fringe, says Mark Fisher

Boguslaw Schaeffer reckons he’s living in the year 2048. It’s as plausible a claim as anything else you could say about this extraordinary Polish octogenarian. His name might not be widely known, yet he has led a breathtakingly creative life. As a composer, he has produced 550 works, primarily in the field of new music but spanning 23 musical genres. As a writer, he has turned out 46 plays.

As an artist, he is responsible for around 400 graphic works; and as an academic, he has taught composition for over half a century and written 17 books.

So when this shy, gentle-eyed old man tells you he is 28 years ahead of the rest of us, you have to take him seriously. His reasoning is that he always divides his day into two, taking an afternoon nap that effectively doubles the time he can devote to his fertile imagination. ‘It is a beautiful thing to compose and to write plays,’ says the composer, who believes that ‘whatever is possible in music is music’, when I meet him in Warsaw. When he takes a tram, this prolific artist regards every stop as a chance to scribble down another musical idea.

Doing justice to his barrier-busting talent requires a singular approach and Era Schaeffera promises to provide just that. An avant garde compilation of Schaeffer’s avant garde works, it is a performance that spills out into the audience, delivering a collision of wry commentaries, orchestral harmonies, hysterical screeching, complex jazz rhythms and unsettling dissonance.

Drawing on the combined skills of conductor Agnieskzka Duczmal, the Polish Radio Chamber Orchestra Amadeus, director Maciej Sobocinski, jazz singer and vocal experimenter Urszula Dudziak and a host of other actors, singers and a dancer – not to mention live film projections – the show will be an essential primer for Schaeffer’s funny, provocative and engaging work.

‘As a director, working on Schaeffer, I was completely free,’ says Sobocinski. ‘When you read the dramas, listen to the music or observe the graphics, it’s very precise. But what is amazing is that you feel completely free building it up. The performance is full of energy because everybody is trying to find the best way of expression through movement, music and words. It is really like a jam session. The idea is that when the performers finish their part they don’t leave the space. They’re still taking part in the performance.’

Responsible for the unorthodox mix of artistic elements, Sobocinski wanted to encapsulate the composer’s pioneering sense of adventure. ‘For Edinburgh, it is definitely the way to understand this world,’ he says. ‘This is the planet of Boguslaw Schaeffer and if you want to go on this journey, then you’re going to be on this planet.’

Era Schaeffera, Venue 150 @ EICC, 0844 847 1639, 20-22 Aug, 7pm; 22 Aug, 3pm, £15 (£12).

Era Schaeffera

An interactive, audio-visual, multimedia performance to celebrate the 80th birthday of Poland's most prolific composer and playwright, Boguslaw Schaeffer, one of the most prominent leaders of the post-WW2 European avant-garde. Featuring the Polish National Radio Orchestra conducted by Agnieszka Duczmal, the Olga Szwajgier…

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