The Polish experimental musician and composer Zbigniew Karkowski died on 12 December 2013. Atau Tanaka writes an open letter to an artist of "vision and principle".
Zbigniew, I remember our first encounter 25 years ago, in 1988 at the ICMC in Cologne Germany. Clarence Barlow was organiser so is responsible for our meeting. You performed with your punk band and I had never seen bass guitar interfaces used in such an intense, visceral way. I came up after the gig and introduced myself and we traded phone numbers. The surprise came two years later in 1990 when I ran into you in front of Stanford’s CCRMA with Stephen Travis Pope where you gave a lecture before your gig at the Kennel Club in San Francisco with Phauss, Bilting and The Hafler Trio. Traded phone numbers again. Then the pleasure and third meeting after my arrival in Europe, to see you in the audience at my first gig at STEIM in Amsterdam in 1993. We talked about sensors, you told me about a young guy, Edwin van der Heide at the Institute of Sonology in the Hague, and this time we traded fax numbers. A few months later, you wrote to propose a gig at the Tacheles in Berlin where Karina Mertin and Rolf Biemelt were organising the Sonimage festival. Sensorband was born, and we toured for 10 years, you, Edwin and me. Moving to Tokyo in 1997, the flat we shared on Kanpachi-dori felt like the centre of the world. Farmers Manual crashed all three in the tiny room. We re-soldered Pita’s laptop minijack output. Leif Elggren came back from his gig with a garden rake. In our kitchen we got Merzbow set up with Ionizer on his laptop as he went digital. We shared a classical ear’s perspective on the interest of sine wave and noise musics. After all, you were originally a flute player and composer. But we didn’t need to talk just music. Philosophy, world history, and taking the mickey out of all the countries and cultures, the airports and airlines we encountered on tour. Your favourite French motto, “Il faut avancer quand même!”, had us all rolling on the floor with laughter. After your diagnosis of pancreatic cancer while on tour, you maintained your vision and principle. You played with dignity and strength at your last performance, music for 1984 in London. You accepted a car ride across town and the offer of my flat to rest. But you found the strength to go to Heathrow to collect Atsuko who came to be with you. After that, hospital in Sweden, Berlin, warm days in Greece, then your final journey to Peru, all took place with the rigour, hope and utter humanity that you embodied in your work and life. Salut, mec. Kiyotsukete.
Atau Tanaka is an experimental musician and media artist, and Professor of Media Computing at London's Goldsmiths University.
Richard Whitelaw has compiled a Spotify playlist of Zbigniew Karkowski's music, and has helped organise a party to celebrate Karkowski's life which takes place on 11 January in London: details here. Read his tribute here.