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Étude concrète (Study on One Cymbal Stroke) - Włodzimierz Kotoński

This work, the first Polish composition for tape, was in fact a by-product of the animated cartoon Albo rybka... (A Fish or...) completed in 1958 by Hanna Bielińska and Włodzimierz Haupe, well-known specialists in this genre. The surrealistic images were accompanied by a sort of metamusic by Włodzimierz Kotoński, consisting of electroacoustic effects. During his work on this soundtrack at the Polish Radio Experimental Studio in Warsaw, an effect that particularly attracted the composer’s attention was the transformation of a cymbal sound recorded on tape. Directly after completing his work on the film soundtrack, he returned to this recorded sound and turned a single stroke “with a soft mallet on a medium-sized Turkish cymbal” into a composition of two minutes and forty-one seconds.

In his book Electronic Music (Cracow, 2002), the composer thus describes the composition procedure: “Unlike the vast majority of musique concrète that has been created to date, here the material has been reworked in a very strict manner, modelled on serial electronic compositions. The cymbal sound was filtered into five bandwidths and transposed to eleven pitches according to a preconceived scale. A special eleven-degree duration scale (based on the ratio of tone duration to the following rest within the unit of time assigned to the given sound) with six types of articulation, as well as a parallel eleven-degree dynamic scale with six ADSR envelopes (3 rising and 3 falling) were formed. The whole was composed according to the principles of total serialism.”

Włodzimierz Kotoński’s composition was presented at the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1960, and later at new music concerts and festivals in numerous countries. In 1963 PWM published the score under the abbreviated catalogue title of Etiuda na jedno uderzenie w talerz / Study on One Cymbal Stroke. Today, the piece is often presented and referred to in English as the Study on (or for) One Cymbal Stroke.