Composers' Festival interview: Philip Przybylo on the harmony of diverse identities in his composition

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‘I want to express my feeling of being torn between different identities, not really belonging to a single culture, but a mix. I want to communicate this feeling in a positive way, how it is something that is not only a struggle but also a blessing, something that allows the creation of connections between different layers happening simultaneously in the real world.’ - Philip Przybylo

For the Composers' Festival, master's graduate Philip Przybylo presents "Ekloga - Jest Biel - Ekloga," a multimedia composition blending electronic music, live instruments, and video. Philip's work delves into the richness of existing between cultures, illustrating how this multiplicity can be both a challenge and a blessing, fostering unique artistic connections and narratives. 

For more information on the festival and the timetable of the festival please click here.

Philip, can you explain to us what you’ve created for this year’s Composers’ Festival, and the story behind it?
“The work I composed for this year’s Composers’ Festival is called “Ekloga - Jest Biel - Ekloga,” and it is an hour-long multimedia piece. It will be staged in the Theaterzaal at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and will include a quintet of musicians (tenor, percussion, cello, tuba, and keyboard), an electronic tape, and a video created by my lovely partner Ping-En Hung, for which the dancer and choreographer Ming-Jou Chen created a choreography. The text I chose to set is by the Polish poet Rafał Wojaczek (1945-1971), a very significant writer for me as my grandfather introduced me to his poetry. Having grown up in Canada within a Polish family, I wanted to create something that connects to both of my roots. That’s why I selected three poems that share a cold nocturnal atmosphere and the image of snow, although each deals with different themes (creativity, political repression, love, fear, the body). Another important aspect of this piece is that I wanted to involve my close friends in the project, so all the parts are written with specific people in mind, and the video is made by my partner Ping-En, who is from Taiwan, the furthest possible place from both Poland and Canada, yet who was able to connect to the piece through her unique sensitivity and complete it simultaneously.”

What inspired your composition for this festival?
“Having been trained as a classical composer since the age of 15, when I arrived in Amsterdam I discovered the world of electronic music and took a three-year excursion into the territory of industrial noise music and techno, taking a hiatus from composition or writing for a classical context. When I was graduating from my bachelor’s degree (also at CvA) two years ago, I renewed my bond with composition by writing a piece combining my two directions as an artist. It included a low string trio and electronics and a network of loud and noisy feedbacking amplifiers on stage. The piece I wrote this year is a continuation of the thoughts and ideas from that piece, mixing electronic approaches to sound production with a physical approach to live instruments. The result is, however, a more intimate piece, with very rare loud moments. It focuses on many layers developing at once and how they relate to the central theme of the piece. Some parts of the piece are also inspired by Alexander Scriabin and Karol Szymanowski, hinting at some kind of early modernist decadence which fit really well with the text in my imagination. Another crucial model and inspiration for this piece was the music of Gérard Grisey, who is definitely one of my heroes, as I keep coming back to his music and discovering more and more depth in it every time. I especially looked into his treatment of tempo and rhythm to create the sense of an expanding and contracting feeling of time.”

Can you describe the challenges you faced while creating your piece and how you overcame them?
“In a compositional sense, the biggest struggle I experienced with the piece was its length. I decided from the start of the process to stick with the idea of writing an hour-long piece, and it is the first time I have approached writing something of this size. Given that my music tends to grow rather gradually, it was a real challenge to imagine the flow of time and how it will affect a listener. I had to choose timings that wouldn’t make the music move too slowly and become boring, but also not too quickly as to burn out the spirit of the piece too fast. I think being a DJ has been a lot of help in dealing with such questions, since when you DJ (for let’s say two hours) while remaining very conscious of the energy of your audience, you start to develop a certain intuition for large-scale form in my experience. Another challenge was dealing with the technical side of the piece without making it too distracting for the musicians; balancing technical rehearsals with rehearsing the music itself can be quite challenging when there are so many little things to think about.”

How do you hope your music affects the audience, and what message do you want to send out with your piece?
“The main goal of my music is to show the listener sounds I find beautiful. My ambition is to compose in a way as to take the listener by the hand (metaphorically) and lead them to a well-framed beautiful sound and let them enjoy it for just the right amount of time. I hope the audience can enjoy how individual sound objects morph and come to life; that’s why I often like to play sounds at loud volumes, letting some things be directly communicated to the listener through physical sensations in the body. On the other hand, there is a more poetic and intellectual aspect to the music, which I hope can also affect the listener. I like when these two dimensions coexist in a piece. I don’t think I have much of a central message in my work; each piece has its own thing to say. In the case of Ekloga, I want to express my feeling of being torn between different identities, not really belonging to a single culture, but a mix. I want to communicate this feeling in a positive way, how it is something that is not only a struggle but also a blessing, something that allows the creation of connections between different layers happening simultaneously in the real world.”

How has your experience at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam prepared you for this festival and your future career in music?
“First of all, my teachers have always been extremely supportive and helpful when it comes to musical issues and professional advice. I feel very hopeful to leave the department knowing there is a web of alumni and a remaining contact with the teachers in place to support us through our first steps in the professional world. Secondly, I have been very fortunate to meet many like-minded colleagues who have helped me grow and understand how the scene works in the Netherlands. Since I studied for many years during the pandemic, I treated my studies a bit like an experimental lab, having a lot of time to truly experiment, allowing myself to make whatever I felt like and knowing I would receive constructive criticism. This also extended to business ventures, as I was lucky to find people I could create a label with, which is now nearing its one-year anniversary, organising events in Amsterdam and releasing experimental electronic music from the Netherlands and beyond. I’m very happy to say goodbye to my department with a piece I’m satisfied with, involving my friends and my loved ones.”