It’s not strange to find music that turns the mechanical into the organic. It’s also not strange to find noise acts which utilize an assortment of found objects to produce a collage of sound. What is unique about Łukasz Szałankiewicz’s act Zenial is how methodically he builds a rhythmic swarm of insects from mere cell phones, cameras, and digital relics. He steals the souls of these haunted devices and runs them through convoluted circuitry until they hum and buzz. In Chimera, nature and machine devour one another in perfect symmetry.
Szałankiewicz is an audiovisual artist based in Poznan, Poland who has received international attention for both his musicianship and his contribution to the electro-acoustic community. Zenial is his pseudonym and primary project. He began producing demos of the act in 1995. Other projects by Szałankiewicz include AABZU (a glitchy dub duo with Maciej Szymczuk), Dizzy Kinetics (sample-heavy soundscapes with Marek Choloniewski), and Das Oder-Projekt (rustic audiovisuals with German experimental composition collective Blackhole-Factory). Zenial’s style of composition is as diverse as his various side-projects allow, from the abstract Dizzy Kinetics to the almost techno stylings of AABZU. Szałankiewicz is a member of the Polish Society for Electro-acoustic Music, a co-founder of the Audiotong label, an interviewer and journalist, and curator of large experimental festivals, particularly in Poland. Zenial and his coterie of musical accomplices and visual artists have brought their creative energies throughout the inhabited world.
In previous works under the moniker of Zenial, Szałankiewicz was constantly experimenting. His work in the 1990s was aborted turntablism with cut-up drum machines and ambient love. Zenial’s focus in the mid-2000s was in consistent, electro-acoustic walls in the minimal vein. It seems he began playing with networked electronics around this time as well. His contribution to Untitled: A Tribute to Zdzislaw Beksiński is gnawed together with seething phone and telecom sounds. More recently, his act has picked up a louder feeling and a return to the crowded, zipping sound of his early work. Now with Chimera, the techno side of this work has almost disappeared, replaced by drum-machine-surrogate hums and an abstract plodding of noisy bloops. His work sounds much like the Detroit, Michigan-based artist Cotton Museum (though notably less diseased and squishy).
This album, released through the Polish Zoharum, starts and ends with a natural field recording of nature; crickets are heard in the opening track “Chimera” and birds are heard in the closing track “Rosora 28 : Wymiar 4, 5”. These tracks are bridged by an increasing wall of furious cyber-audio. Where the title of Chimera comes in with this record is up to the listener to decide. Perhaps the devices which roar in these tracks, connected by wires into a single networked entity, could be such a beast.
Chimera flips ambient to harsh industrial, natural to artificial, and rhythmic to abstract. Yet the album grows steadily towards a central crescendo. The first and title track has a spritely dance in the background that is covered by a throbbing machine and ended in a bizarre natural-sounding sample set–a machine that pretends it’s an insect. The album reaches its peak with “Unclean/Clean”, a song which starts as drone, but descends slowly into the most brutal cistern of noise—obfuscated netherworld screams that turn melodic as they surface. The final track, “Rosora 28 : Wymiar 4, 5” consists of two parts: a music composition and a sound installation in tribute to the life and work of František Bardon, a Czech healer and stage magician. The dirge pulses with direct industrial intensity before fading back into an organic atmosphere. Zenial builds these unique chapters of noise with assorted bits of technology and contact mics which are fed into a laptop. His act is a blend of the digital and physical.
Zoharum’s promo video for the title track “Chimera” features a strange juxtaposed atmosphere. Black and white video of an early 20th century street market and community festivals seems at odds with the inorganic and aggressive feeling of Chimera. Perhaps this is the first impression of some cold-blooded alien being among the darkly clothed Earthling bodies. “Chimera” has the squelch of a manipulated music box, perhaps the interpretation of music in whatever input format this foreign being receives. The CD comes in a plastic sleeve and features labyrinthine album art by Wiktor Jackowski.
Chimera is an unsettling and pulsing trip that longs for an appropriate visual complement. After being familiar with Zenial’s work from the 90s like Zombie Front and Inside Time, it almost feels disappointing this style of composition hasn’t found its way into this most recent release. While Chimera is certainly more artful and academic, appropriate for higher-end exhibits, the hints of a wider exploration with Zenial (a la “Mario/Angst78”, “Baltic Telling Stories”, or his techno remixes) keep the album from reaching the full potential of Szałankiewicz’s genius. As strong as Zenial’s creations are, his collaborations with other artists (like Mikolas Chadima) are even more intriguing. Perhaps there will be more ambient or more techno in the future, but there will certainly still be the unpredictable sound of haunted digital beings lurking just behind the composition.
03) Unclean, Clean
04) Rosora 28
05) Rosora 28 : Wymiar 4, 5