You are more likely to have heard of Romanian composer Iancu Dumitrescu than to have heard his music. After Stephen O’Malley of Sunn 0))) dropped his name as a major influence in an interview with The Wire in April, 2009, he received his own full article treatment a few months later in October via Philip Clark. Unfortunately, his music remains difficult to acquire, available only through his mail order label Edition Modern and their distributors and in a few clandestine corners of the internet.
Unphased by his relative obscurity in the West, Dumitrescu has been doggedly pursuing his own thing for years. Born in 1944 amidst the turmoil of war, he discovered the harsh nature of dogmatic Stalinism as a child when his father, a philosopher and scholar, was arrested and imprisoned for supposed ideological infractions in 1949. Released three years later, the elder Dumitrescu was determined to protect his son from similar persecutions and encouraged Iancu to pursue the study of music. Fortunately, the intellectual bug had already taken hold and Iancu found himself drawn more and more to the forbidden and wild sounds of the avant-garde composers coming out of the Darmstadt Summer Courses and Olivier Messiaen‘s famous seminars and the ground breaking phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and his own mentor conductor/philosopher Sergiu Celibidache. Dumitrescu has disclosed the importance of those early influences in a moving statement:
The musics of Stockhausen, Boulez, Nono, Messiaen, Berio, being prohibited, circulated clandestinely, from one hand to another, as copies of tapes which had become almost unlistenable. But imagination continued to hear what, in fact, did not exist any more for the ears. The spirit of modernism, of new worlds…
Because of his progressive interests, Iancu faced his own battles with censorship and the repression of Romanian communism. During the 1970s he had an increasingly difficult time having his compositions approved by the backwards Romanian Composers’ Union and performed in public. In 1976 he gave up working with official channels altogether and formed his own group, the Hyperion Ensemble, to serve as a workshop and stable of performers for his works. Likewise, fed up by Robert Zank’s refusal to switch from vinyl to compact disc during the ’80s, Dumitrescu split with his label Edition RZ and launched his own venture, Edition Modern. Today, he continues to conduct the Hyperion Ensemble and maintain a steady schedule of releases on his label with his wife and fellow composer Ana-Maria Avram.
Dumitrescu’s music is utterly his own. A unique and personal blend of his avant-garde and
texturalist influences from Western Europe and his own philosophical attitude. During his tutelage with Sergiu Celibache in the 1970s his music began to manifest the very ideas of phenomenological reduction and analysis, producing meditative works that seem to be pure studies in sound and perception. These developments have led some to describe his music as acousmatic in the vein of Pierre Schaeffer or spectral after the French school of composition. Many of these compositions are scored for soloists or small chamber ensembles, illustrating his dependence on the Hyperion Ensemble and personal connections. Gnosis for solo bass is characteristic of his chamber music for strings with
long droning passages and the prominent use of harmonics and varied timbres conjured forth by detailed bowing and fingering instructions.
Later, as he gained access to greater resources, Dumitrescu began composing for large ensembles and using more electronic sounds in his work. These compositions are comparably bombastic and utilize a wealth of instrumental techniques and both prerecorded and live electronics parts. This performance of Étude Granulaire demonstrates Dumitrescu’s lively conducting and his proficiency with incorporating electroacoustic techniques into live performance.