on life, music etc beyond mainstream


„At Home“. Der Klavierspieler geht spät abends regelmässig ins Dachgeschoss, das Fenster weist zum Fjord. Da steht sein Flügel, ein Nachtmöbelstück par excellence. Spärliches Licht. Es ist 1996 oder 1997, Jahreszahlen bedeuten wenig in diesen „blauen Stunden“. Mikhail Alperins radikalstes Werk! Die Kargheit dieses Solo-Piano-Albums ist kaum zu steigern, und dass den Stücken so viel Gesang innewohnt, ist das schöne Paradox! Alles, was Effekt ist, Ausschmückung, Triumph, ist verschwunden. in ihrer Reduziertheit, ihren aus wenigen Klängen entwickelten Essenzen führt die Musik jazznahe und jazzferne Traditionen fort; man kann At Home in einem Atemzug nennen mit dem Sparsamsten von Paul Bley (Open, to Love), dem Pausenreichsten von Erik Satie, dem Minimalsten von Dennis Johnson. Man kann dieses Werk der Stille in seiner Rigorosität mit Thelonious Monks Alone In San Francisco vergleichen, dieser weltverlorenen Träumerei in einem leeren Ballsaal, oder auch mit Keith Jarretts The Melody At Night With You, diesen Destillaten von Melodie und Atem.  Ich erinnere mich an spannende Gespräche mit Misha Alperin, in Oslo, Bremen, und auf Lanzarote.

The Guitar (1) – I have a Martin 12-string that my father gave to me. (…) It’s an old guitar, now. It has a peculiar internal resonance, as though it has a small concert hall inside of it. I try to bring that quality out by stringing the guitar in double courses. In other words, instead of stringing the 4 lower strings with octave courses, I string them in unison. It makes it a lot harder to play, but with double courses I can draw out overtones if I’m willing to really physically engage the strings.


The favourite guitarists? It’s not a discovery often made, no matter how much guitar music hits your ears. Neil Young, wizard – electric. Ralph Towner, wizard – acoustic. Yes. And when I heard Steve Tibbetts for the first time, it was a revelation: Northern Song (1981) followed by Safe Journey (1984). All those singular albums, among them Big Map Idea (1989) and The Fall Of Us All (1994). 

I’ve been returning ever since. Always returning.

Tibbetts‘ albums only appear sporadically. You wait in anticipation for the next one. Some very interesting side projects pop up on other labels along the way, while in the meantime ECM always offer a kind of constant companionship. (It’s worth noting here that Northern Song was the only album produced by Manfred Eicher – no introduction necessary.)

A unique sound-world created from St. Paul, Minnesota. A guitar sound you recognise after seconds, never formula. The thrill comes from just listening, and letting  go. And now, LIFE OF. Steve Tibbetts, Marc Anderson, Michelle Kinney, the inner circle. What made me quite so addicted to this music? Honestly I’ll never really know. This confession of not-knowing puts a bigger smile on my face than evocative pictures of distant worlds. 



Michael Engelbrecht: Steve, at first, this photo with the turkeys … a walk through the woods?


Steve Tibbetts: This is my back yard in Minnesota.The turkeys arrive around 9 in the morning and cluster outside, gobbling. They are out there right now, talking to each other. There is a bird feeder above them, hanging off of a balcony, so they scratch around in the snow and leaves looking for bird food. The turkeys are quite tame, and they associate our bipedal primate family with food, so they sometimes come running and making sounds when they hear the back door open. Sometimes rival gangs of turkeys go to war in our back yard. It is really something to see and hear. At those time their raptor past is revealed. 


Michael Engelbrecht: LIFE OF is vintage Tibbetts, all compositions are credited to you, I think, for the first time ever. It is more on the quiet side, like NATURAL CAUSES, but with its own darknesses and edges.


Steve Tibbetts: Yes, it’s of a piece with the last album. They’re relatives. 


The Guitar (2) – The frets on my guitar are worn almost flat. There are some tiny intonation issues and places where strings buzz against frets. I took the twelve-string to Ron at St. Paul Guitar repair. He looked the guitar over. He picked up the guitar and sighted down the fretboard. He said, “The frets are flat. There might be some buzzing or intonation issues. Do you like the way it sounds?” I said, “I love the way it sounds.” He handed the guitar back over the counter to me and said, “Then I won’t fix it for you.”


Michael Engelbrecht: Looking at the titles, they seem like a collection of people from your life and times. What made you combine the pieces with certain names?


Steve Tibbetts: A lot of the songs have a similar feeling to them. I let them cross-pollinate. In order to more easily distinguish them I gave them names a few years ago, and I used the names of friends and family.  Some of those names started influencing the music.  It was a little spooky, but I played along with the process. Some names have more than one reference in my family. For instance, there are several women named „Alice,“ two named „Joel,“ and so on. One of the Joels died last year, another is still living. This sort of thing can give the music a peculiar resonance. „Half of ‚Joel‘ died,“ I might think to myself. This is typical of the managed insanity inherent in the artistic process. It is good to use any upwelling of meaning and emotion you can find, but you have to maintain due diligence and stay sane. 


Michael Engelbrecht: „Life of Carol“ – is there a story?


Steve Tibbetts: No story, I’m afraid. It’s just another guitar circling, circling.  


The Guitar (3) – I try to play the guitar for one or two hours before recording. Something needs warming up. Maybe the back of the twelve-string needs to be physically warmed up, or my fingertips need a certain pliability. At some point the guitar settles down and the little concert hall inside opens for business. I like the physicality of playing 12-string. I don’t use a pick. If I’m drifting off to sleep at night and feel my fingertips throbbing I know I had a good day.


Michael Engelbrecht: There‘s a kind of discreet tension between some more introspective moods, carefully developed dynamics – and the haunting picture on the cover with the „army of cats“. 


Steve Tibbetts: Yes, just open up the back door at the right time of day and you’ll see turkeys and ghosts waiting and staring. 



Michael Engelbrecht: Are you making use of meditation or other tools to stimulate creativity?


Steve Tibbetts: The process of creativity is really hard to talk about: where does creativity come from? How does artistic vision and inspiration arise? It is a nearly tangible experience when inspiration finally does come to visit, but it’s still very ephemeral and vapor-like.  To go one step further and talk about a meditative influence on the creative process would be a bridge too far, I think. One can only speculate. An interesting thing however: sometimes an apparent spiritual or creative awakening is not at all meditative or serene in its manifestation. Look at „A Love Supreme“ or, especially, „The Inner Mounting Flame.“ There’s a kind of violence there that seems exactly right. Be leery of anyone who speaks with authority about practices of meditation and their impact on the creative process. Be afraid, be very afraid.  


Michael Engelbrecht: The music seems to be more centered around sound and texture than around melodies, for example. It seems to circle around an invisible center …


Steve Tibbetts: Part of that is my being easily satisfied with circular musical logic. When I worked in Southeast Asia I got used to music that didn’t really go anywhere. It always folded back on itself and it seemed right that it did so. I wish I could compose a piece of music with real changes and progression but I don’t really know how to.  


Michael Engelbrecht: Your love for your acoustic 12-string guitar is a life long affair. It is a familiar sound that never gets too familiar …


Steve Tibbetts: I remember an interview many years ago with Nana Vasconcelos where he talked about the berimbau which is, as you know, a 1-stringed instrument – a bow, a wire, a stick and a shaker. He said he found new sounds every day on the instrument. I feel the same way about this 12-string. There’s always something new, or something old that refines itself. I can’t take credit for a good sounding instrument.  


Michael Engelbrecht: There‘ s such a special balance between the rhythmic parts of the music and the drone fields (of sampled sounds, Michelle‘s cello sounds etc.) Remember Miles Davis, in his electric period 69-75, also had, inside the whirlpool of energy, those stop-and-go passages inside the music. Of course it is a very distant parallel, but in your pieces here, one can also observe a lot of moments where the music seems to hold its breath, stand still, before moving on, and back again …


Steve Tibbetts: Yes, I have a copy of „Get Up With It“ at the studio; „Rated X.“ Badal Roy plays tabla. I think that may have been more Teo Maceo than Miles. It’s always special when a great artist works with a visionary producer.  


Mixing – The small concert hall in the guitar encouraged me to seek out a large concert hall to mix the album in. The Macalaster College music department kindly let me bivouac in their concert hall for an evening. I set up two pairs of mics: one in the center of the hall, and one pair in back. It worked well to allow a room’s ambience to settle around the piano and percussion. The natural acoustics of the hall helped the guitar settle into the piano.



Michael Engelbrecht: Apropos piano, you have played that instrument on „Natural Causes“ for the first time. Was the reason for that to keep the spirit of the beginner awake who has, according to Zen teaching, at times more fresh choices than the highly virtuoso & professional „approach“?


Steve Tibbetts: I just wanted to be able to read music a little bit. I read a review of a book about Bach’s „Musical Offering.“ As I recall, the book titled „Evening In The Palace Of Reason“ concerns a challenge from the King of Prussia to Bach. The King presented Bach a theme, a melody, and tasked him with improvising a fugue from it. Bach took up the challenge and played a 3-voiced fugue. The King’s request to create a six-part fugue ex tempore could not be fulfilled by Bach, because the Royal Theme was too difficult for that. The „Musical Offering“ contains a 6-part fugue, elaborated on desk. When I read that, I thought, „Even if I saw the music I wouldn’t be able to understand what Bach had done.“ I wanted to understand. So I began studying with Susana Pinto and she taught me Bartok‘s „Mikrokosmos“ and Bach’s „Inventions.“


Michael Engelbrecht: I keep circling, too, a bit. Listening to „Life Of“ you can easily feel something brooding, some darkness, a certain twilight zone. Is the origin for these sensations unknown – or somehow graspable? Echoes from all those „stranger things“ you experienced in Asia?


Steve Tibbetts: There is sometimes a sort of credulous enthusiasm to believe in „stranger things“, as you say, especially in Asia. Nonetheless there does seem to be a certain permeability to the fabric of reality in some places in the world. A friend of mine called it „thinness.“ You can look for that in music and art as well. You listen and there is a quiet collapse of duality, self and other. This might sound terribly exotic or over-thought, but if you watch your mind when you listen to music you might witness a kind of melting.



Michael Engelbrecht: After all these years, you and the percussionist at your side, Marc Anderson, did develop a kind of „secret language“ in the studio, not always easy to understand for people you start working with. But Michele Kinney is long enough part of your „inner circle“, I think.


Steve Tibbetts: No secret codes. Michelle can make her cello sound like a distant electric guitar feeding back through a Marshall amp. Tony Iommi-style.


Michael Engelbrecht: Haha, echoes from Bach and Black Sabbath within a minute. Now, Steve, living in Minnesota: did you follow those cold winter chills that were part of the three seasons of „Fargo“ (I love them!), and the original movie by the Coen brothers? Do you have a favourite TV series at the moment?


Steve Tibbetts: Yes, there is definitely a Minnesota way of being that I have grown to love. Very Norwegian, taciturn, reserved. I moved here from Wisconsin in 1972 and this is my home now. I like the way people are here, and I like the devotion to arts, education, and the liberal politics of this state. Some great political figures have come from Minnesota: Al Franken, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Eugene McCarthy, and especially Paul Wellstone. And, mhmm, Favorite TV series: politics and the Scandinavia mindset probably figure into my enjoyment of „Okkupert.“


Michael Engelbrecht: I know you have quite a big ECM collection. What was the last discovery or re-discovery inside the new or old ECM releases? I personally re-discovered that wonderful Shankar album „Vision“ with Jan Garbarek and Palle Mikkelborg. When I played it on air, the needle died a slow death and added weird distortions to Garbarek‘s high notes.


Steve Tibbetts: I don’t have to re-discover the first 300 albums in the ECM catalog; I’ve never really left them! I have „Dis“ on now, as I write this. Brooding, dark, just the way we like it.


Michael Engelbrecht: Wow – this is a lovely synchronicity. Yesterday, on the day you wrote this, I felt the urgent need to listen to an ancient ECM recording, I haven’t heard in years and that didn’t leave my turntable for weeks when it had been released deep in the last century. „Witchi-Tai-To“ from the Jan Garbarek-Bobo Stenson quartet. On the opening track, the Carla Bley-composition „Air“, his sopranino sounds sharp like a tool for cracking ice. Listening to that record now, I‘m still stunned, and not so much on memory lane. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Steve!


The End – I still think in terms of albums, even in terms of album sides. I lined up the songs, left to right, and worked with the running order until it seemed to hang together or make some sort of story. I played the ending of every song with the beginning of every other song until a plot started to reveal itself (this is what happens when you work alone—musical plots reveal themselves). Here’s how it ends: The kids went to college. Their parents were sad for a little while, then fine. Ellen lived and is in remission. Grandma died. Grandpa was sad. Everyone else lived as happily ever after as could be expected.


The End (2) – The texts about the guitar, the mixing process, and „the end“ were taken from Steve Tibbetts’ Life Of-page. Steve’s landscape photo belongs to the „thin places of the world“ he’s talking about, and is from Ramagrama, near Lumbini, 2015. This assembly is a truely manafonistic work: thanks to „Joey“ Siemer for fighting the devil in the details, and his sensitive, delicate and tactful design that allows linear and non-linear reading. Thanks to Ian McCartney for giving my small introduction the right groove and sharpness. Thanks to my late English teacher Dr. Egon Werlich who inspired my love for English language and culture (I still have in mind what he told us about the Beatles song „When I’m Sixty-Four“ – and I never got a better introduction to the works of Samuel Beckett (on an existential level, no smart-ass knowledge). Thanks to Hans-Dieter Klinger for cross-checking the Bach anecdote – Steve asked for this. Hans Dieter, former music teacher, once invited Keith Jarrett to play a solo concert in his school in Kronach (German hinterland), and still remembers well how carefully Manfred Eicher had placed the microphones. A week later music history was in the making – The Köln Concert happened! And, to be circling one more time: thank you for LIFE OF, Steve – „Where-am-I-music“ of a rare kind!


Hills, woods burning. The genre of catastrophy movies has its obvious limitations, heroes are born, and heroes die. At first there is peace, and then everything turns to dust and crumble. This American movie is different, it is exceptional. Certain great works of cinema don‘t need the experimental touch, even the soundtrack (with some ass-kicking rock’n’roll, overflow and dignity in right measures) moves along well-known parameters. The camera work is incredible, the acting superb, the story told with much love for details – and big panorama. Jeff Bridges is the good spirit in the background – when he picks up his guitar and sings a beautiful song, you could start to believe in happy endings. Get lost, dear reader, you might have a lesson to learn – and don‘t tell me you have a problem with „heroes“, they are all flawed and cursed – nothing to bless but fading memories, and the will to love!




THE AMERICANS is one of the best American TV series ever. Located in the time of Ronald Reagan when the world was threatened to be set on fire (with some different circumstances and a slightly different agenda compared to today‘s scenarios of worst possible cases), there were Russian spies, of course, on American soil – and what could unfold as another decent spy story, turned out to be outstanding in every way. Even the vast majority of the critics were stunned (and some possibly wrote their best, inspired reviews, starting from season one onwards to season 6 and maybe 7) – and though I often trust my minority opinions, in this case I’m happy to be part of a general consensus, and hereby just want to share my uninhibited and, well, well-judged, enthusiasm. So just as reminder here, in „Joey style“, my favourite TV series of the 21st century (and, gosh, what do I have to leave out, from VIKINGS to HAPPY VALLEY, from highly inventive retro STRANGER THINGS (great soundtrack choices!) to nearly instant classic LITTLE BIG LIES (even better soundtrack choices!), from THE OA to RAY DONOVAN :)) – some may call „Banshee“ a guilty pleasure, but that‘s the gist of lists, to be utterly sincere and don‘t deliver cultural correctness whatever the fuck that is …



01) LOST

















Linda Fioretino is a hot shot in John Dahl‘s brilliant and quite low-budget thriller The Last Seduction (1993). A true amazon on the dark side of things, cold humour, cold heart, extremely manipulative and hot sex. The  company wanted a sexploitation movie, but what they got was an art movie with thrills and long goodbyes. A role model for assertive behaviour Linda surely was: if women forget about the sociopath aspect, she can really encourage boldness. I saw one of the „behind the scenes“-shootings: as everybody was preparing for a scene, Linda Fiorentino was just kissing young Bill Pullman. Really pressed her lips on his for quite a time. Out of the moment, just for fun. No instructions – by instinct only. She laughed. Impressive.



01.Brian Eno: Music for Installations ***** (my choice of number one is free of personal taste) 02. Steve Tibbetts: The Life Of ***** (aural bliss) / 03. The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland: Standards Vol. 4 ***** (In another year without records by Robert Wyatt, this is the ecstasy of understatement!) / 04. Jon Hopkins: Singularity ***** (everybody’s talking about psychedelia here, but it’s certainly the work a sharp mind) 05. Yo La Tengo: There‘s A Riot Goin‘ On **** 1/2 (we‘re going in the underground, underground, underground – now all of you!) / 06. Jakob Bro: Returnings **** 1/2 (producer Manfred Eicher never loses it – blue, blue, blue, and free) / 07.  Fire!: The Hands **** 1/2 (killer album) / 08.  Nils Frahm: All Melody **** 1/2 (makes me believe in new age, fucking heavenly music) / 09. Christina Vantzou: No. 4 **** (oh my gosh, if she would have been my math teacher, I would have reached for symmetrical skies) / 10. Sly and Robbie with Nils Petter Molvaer et al: Nordub **** (minor quibble: the title) / 11.  Dave Liebman / Adam Rudolph / Tatsuya Nakatani: The Unknowable **** (so it sounds, when jazz is a mystery and not a style) / 12. Venetian Snares & Daniel Lanois: dito **** (beware, if this record is a dog, it really bites, impossible music of highest order) / 13. Gas: Rausch **** (always different, always the same, the music „rocks“ inside) 


2018 4 Mai

Just Thrilled!

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Seeing that brilliant neo noir movie on DVD, The Last Seduction (1993), with Linda Fiorentina and Bull Pullman. About thirty actresses turned down the offer to play that female sociopath. Reading the last chapters now from that fantastic thriller by Laura Lippman, Sunburn – second femme fatale in a row. Totally deserved its high ranking in the third edition of the Mana Thrill Factory Prize. Writing of the highest order: „I’d like to get to know you. Sing it, Spanky. Sing it. Polly’s eyes are closed, her head on his shoulder. They dip and swoon through the restaurant. And when the song ends and the jukebox is silent, they stand there a long time, swaying to the songs in their heads.“ Reading, parallel, the book of Gaito Gasdanow, living in exile in old (very old) Paris, and writing about his life as taxi driver, now finally out in Germany, „Nächtliche Wege“. Lots of pimps and whores, god seekers, lost lovers. Hypnotic reading. Good job, Hanser Verlag. And finally, never ever finally, I will be, from now on (and additionally) thrilled and absorbed by Brian Eno‘s „Music for Installations“ (DIVE IN UNRESERVEDLY!).


Ich habe diese Story vielleicht schon ein- oder zweimal erzählt, aber es sind, anders als in der Bildenden Kunst, die Versionen, die zählen, nie die Originale – niemand besitzt originale Erinnerungen. Sie hiess Julia B., und einmal war sie mit einem Jazzschlagzeuger zusammen, und ich war neugierig, mehr von ihm zu hören, als Verteter einer Spezies, der den Jazz aktiv gestaltete. Ich erinnere aber nur, dass er wohl sehr sensibel war, und irritiert, weil kleine Glaskörperchen quer durch sein Sichtfeld segelten. Es kümmerte ihn, obwohl es harmlos ist, meine segelnden Glaskörperchen kannte ich seit Jahren. Es war die Zeit nach dem Ende meiner ersten grossen Liebe, und Versuch und Irrtum waren alles, zu dem ich in romantischen Dingen fähig war. Trotzdem hätte ich gern, all meinen ungestillten Sehnsüchten zum Trotz, den Hebel der Zeit gefunden, der die Siebziger Jahre noch eine ganze Weile verlängert hätte. Ich weiss, dass manche jetzt die Augen rollen: – „Ah, es geht hier wieder los mit den tollen Siebzigern!“. Aber nennt mir ein Jahrzehnt seit dem 12. Jahrhundert, und den Anfängen der Polyphonie, dass musikalisch aufregender war (dreiundzwanzig Arten des befreienden Lachens an dieser Stelle)! Julia holte mich noch einmal ins Bett, nachdem ich eine meiner beliebtesten Nummern als Lover performt hatte, in der ich es zu beträchtlicher Meisterschaft gebracht hatte, das Brötchenholen nämlich. Marmeladebrötchen im Bett, Kaffeeflecken auf dem Teppich, Glasköperchen, die durch mein Sichtfeld flogen – aber keine Musik. Julias Erregungskurve war ein feiner Erdton, der sich an Kakteen und kahlen Wänden brach, kurz durchs gekippte Gerbrunner Sonnenfenster entwich, und von einem wohligen Gurren abgeschlossen wurde. Als Musik genügte das vollauf, damit das Klingeln des Postboten nicht durch Neil Young, Keith Jarrett oder „Abbey Road“ übertönt wurde. Es waren Tage freudiger Erwartung. Als es klingelte, dauerte es noch eine schmerzhaft lange Weile, bis das Paket aus Unterlüß in meinen Händen lag. Brian Enos „Music For Films“. Und was mir da beim ersten Hören klar wurde, trotz all der fragmentierten Stücke und schwebenden Sphären: ich würde ewig zu diesem Album zurückkehren, und hatte endlich einen Hebel gefunden, den Flow der Siebziger zu verlangsamen. Ich sah aus dem siebten Stock, ich hörte „Sparrowfall 1“, ich brachte Julia noch ein Brötchen ans Bett. Heute erscheint Brian Enos „Music for Installations“.


2018 29 Apr


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Knowing Me, Knowing You


This video is brilliant. As is the song. These deceptively light sounds at the beginning, nearly triumphant, and the light-filled sky. When, a few moments later, the message is delivered, and theme and bridge come up, we won‘t witness the art of wrapping bitter truth into something lovely (hope, this makes sense, I love broken English), the keyboard sounds carry enough weight of the world. It‘s the lyrics that are performed in a very tricky way. You see faces of regret, last gestures of tenderness, real life criss-crossing with memories. You see and hear everything breaking, probably the story of the performers. ABBA did it close to the end, revealing all those goodbyes, like Fleetwood Mac did, once upon a time when big success and emtotional drama were twin-like companions. And, please, don‘t believe in comebacks! Last night, I saw this small video about ten times in a row, then I switched to headphones when the rain came tumbling down the night sky (with lightning and thunderous murmuring) and listened, all senses open, to  Sly and Robbie‘s „Nordub“. Now I‘m part of the „Nordubbers“, too!


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