Two Composers on Two Strings

Opus Osm

The raketon was invented by multi-talented Michal Cimala. You can see several camera angles of it in action, in the video (below).


How do you write a piece of music for a two-stringed, plastic instrument that looks like a mixture of ironing board and spaceship? Composer Jakub Rataj and his composition teacher Hanuš Bartoň explain…

“Before I started to think about writing a piece for the raketon,” Jakub Rataj tells Opus Osm, “I had a concept for a composition for a solo instrument and orchestra: The solo instrument gives a musical impulse and causes a reaction in the orchestra.

“After I found out that the solo instrument was going to be a two-stringed amplified spaceship, I started to be curious. I tuned the strings and I started to discover the different possibilities of producing its special sound,” the third-year HAMU (Academy of Music) student explains.

He says that in his Proraketon piece, a world premiere performed with The Berg Orchestra Apr 22, “I was working mainly with the dynamic process, articulation, and instrument division.” (See the excerpt from his score, below.)

“And I started to write.”

Successful Collaboration
Mr Rataj shares credit with his HAMU composition teacher, Hanuš Bartoň (see Opus Osm, Nov 17, 2011). “It is more than correct to say that Hanuš Bartoň is my composition teacher,” his student says. “I think that there was no parameter, such as harmony, articulation, and so on, that we didn’t discuss.”

And Mr Bartoň explains, “I collaborated closely with him from the beginning of the composing until the premiere. During our consultations I heard recordings of Mr Rataj’s experiments with the instrument, so I already knew a bit of its sound possibilities. The result almost exactly corresponds to the idea which I saw from his score.”

Opus Osm

Score excerpt: (1) articulation (symbols giving musicians directions); (2) dynamic process (developing volume of a tone over time); (3) instrument division (sound waves for each instrument)

Jakub Rataj, although still a student in the bachelor-degree program, has already had several successes with composing. Mr Bartoň describes him to us this way: “Jakub Rataj is strongly interested in electro-acoustic music, sound installations, and multimedia performances. But his skill in the field of ‘classical’ composing is also on a very high level.”

He continues, “During our collaboration at the academy he has written both kinds of music, and his compositions are among the best and most interesting in the composition department. His development is quick and always surprising. I find Proraketon very interesting, especially for its sound qualities.” However, he adds, “I cannot say that Proraketon is his typical music, because his language changes with each, next piece.”

And Mr Rataj compliments his teacher, “What I find most inspiring is [Mr Bartoň's] ability to understand ones intention and apply it in a complex way, without deforming the student’s personal expression. I think that he’s in a permanent process of composing.”

What Next for Teacher and Student?
Mr Bartoň evaluates the raketon, explaining that it’s interesting not only for its sound but also as a visual object. “On the other hand,” he adds, “the expressive range is limited. So far, I do not plan to use it. It is closely associated, naturally, mainly, with the inventor of this instrument, Michal Cimala.”

And as for Jakub Rataj? “Right now I’m working on a composition for viola and live electronics,” he says, “and I’ve started to think about the next orchestral composition that I have to finish by the end of September.” He adds, “I’ll also write a piece for shakuhachi, theremin, and ensemble for the Prague shakuhachi festival [in August], then a chamber piece during the summer masterclass workshop in Austria. And I’ll compose music for two short animated films this summer.”

As the interview concludes, we ask Mr Rataj if there’s anything he’d like to add. “Yes,” he responds. “I’d like to add four hours to each day.”

It’s nice to see that such a talented composer also has a quotidian sense of humor. — oo

– Mary Matz

Jakub Rataj will perform his Violator composition at HAMU’s “Skrz na Skrz” festival June 1. The Berg Orchestra offers its next world premiere May 22 at the Church of St Salvatore (Kostel Nejsvětějšího Salvátora, at Charles Bridge), by composer Slavomír Hořínka (see Opus Osm, May 7 & 16, 2012).

Photo Credits: Top and video: Miroslav Setnička; music score, Jakub Rataj

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