Editor’s Note: This post is part of series previewing the 2014 New Music Festival at the University of Louisville School of Music.
Agata Zubel (b. 1978) has been described as ‘a rarity’ in the world of musical composition. A native of Wrocław, Poland, she studied percussion and music theory at the Karol Szymanowski High School of Music. Her studies continued at the Karol Lipinski University of Music in composition under the tutelage of Jan Wichrowski as well as vocals with Danuta Paziuk-Zipser. She is an active performer, composer, and music professor at The Academy of Music in Wrocław. She formed a vocal and electronic ensemble with Cezary Duchnowski, and together they perform under the name ElettroVoce. She has won numerous awards for her compositions, including the Polityka Passport Award for classical music (2005). Agata Zubel has received a special award for the duo ElettroVoce at the Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition in Amsterdam, and First Prize at the Krzysztof Penderecki International Competition of Contemporary Chamber Music.
The listener might think of calling her style “percussive vocalism” – beatboxing comes to mind. She has created a musical language that places the process of sound production in a place of equal importance to the sounds themselves. Her music is full of surprising contrasts, such as the pairing of long, lyrical violin playing with shouting. Zubel is a gifted performer and often performs the vocal part to her own compositions. Sound collages are created by making syllabic vocal sounds, for example, purposeful stuttering to begin a phrase; continued by stretching out the process of making the word or phrase come out of her mouth, and resulting in an overall statement. Her timbral requirements are daunting for the vocalist: pops, clicks, hisses, growls, and moans are included as part of the text. Sometimes these vocal acrobatics are paired with electronics to create loops or reverberation. The sounds are often stacked in layers to create complex and fascinating webs during the climactic moments of her music. Although instruments are often used in her works, they tend to play a secondary role to the vocal line. Her music is at once sensual and unpredictable, dynamic and unforgettable.
Zubel will be featured as a visiting composer and performer on the University of Louisville School of Music’s 2014 New Music Festival. She will be performing her pieces Cascando and Parlando during the festival. The following week she returns with the Illinois Modern Ensemble to perform Not I based on the monologue by Samuel Beckett, winner of the top award at the 60th UNESCO International Composer’s Rostrum and 2014 “Polonica Nova” Prize.
Michelle Gilfert, Jon Hodge, Matt Wetmore and Samantha Holman contributed to this article. They are students of Dr. Rebecca Jemian, a member of the music theory faculty at the University of Louisville.