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Spirit of Eden und Laughing Stock sind Meilensteine. Die beiden letzten beiden Talk Talk-Alben liessen John Lee Hooker und Miles Davis anklingen, Elvin Jones und Ligeti, Robert Johnson und Gil Evans, als Stoff der Verwandlung, als Spurenelement. Und sowohl Mark Hollis wie Tim Friese-Greene hatten einige alte ECM-Platten als Quelle der Inspiration ausgemacht. 

 

Die Entstehung beider Alben ist legendär. Sicher wurden die Grenzen der Belastbarkeit öfter überschritten, bei dem Nachfolger Laughing Stock noch um einiges mehr. Soundmeister Phill Brown erinnert sich an The Spirit Of Eden:  

 

„I recall an endlessly blacked-out studio, an oil projector in the control room, strobe lighting and five 24-track tape-machines synced together. Twelve hours a day in the dark listening to the same six songs for eight months became pretty intense. There was very little communication with musicians who came in to play. They were led to a studio in darkness and a track would be played down the headphones.”

 

Das letzte Werk von Mark Hollis  erschien im Januar 1998, und hiess schlicht Mark Hollis. Es gehört In die einsame Klasse zeitgeistferner Aufnahmen jener Jahre, in dieser Hinsicht vergleichbar mit Robert Wyatts Shleep, Scott Walkers Tilt, Brian Enos Nerve Net. All diesen Alben ist etwas Überfliessendes zueigen, sie sind zerrissen und vollkommen zugleich, in ihrem Furor, ihrer Sehnsucht, ihrer Melancholie. 

 

Was für ein Liederzyklus: „The Colour of Spring“ handelt von Krämerseelen, die sich als Naturromantiker gebärden. „The Gift“ ist inspiriert von dem King Vidor-Film The Crowd, und erzählt vom Verschleudern natürlicher Begabungen. „The Daily Planet“ umreisst das Eindringen der Medien in die Privatsphäre. Mark Hollis war zu der Zeit in Deutschland, als Silke Bischoff beim Gladbecker Geiseldrama auch das Opfer einer zynischen Medienhatz wurde. Die hoffnungslose Lage im Palästina-Konflikt findet genauso ihren Widerhall wie eine Episode aus der Zeit der  „Depression“ in den alten USA. 

 

Die Musik des letzten Werkes von Mark Hollis ist der Endpunkt einer langen Reise, ein Gespinst von Klageliedern, die von einer Vergänglichkeit in die nächste stürzen, und dabei kein Verfallsdatum tragen. Eine gute Handvoll Interviews gab der Mann aus Tottenham damals, rund um die Jahreswende 97/98, es waren die letzten seines Lebens,  bevor er sich ins Privatleben mit seiner Familie zurückzog. Ich traf ihn im Hamburger Hotel Atlantic. Es war ein herzliches Wiedersehen, sieben Jahre nach unserem Londoner Treffen, nach dem Erscheinen von Laughing Stock. Mark Hollis ist am 25. Februar 2019 gestorben.

 
 
 

 
 
 

Michael: Mark, deine neuen Songs scheinen zu einer anderen Art der Ruhe gefunden zu haben. Weniger Wildheit und Wildnis als auf den beiden Vorgängern, und doch höre ich ich eine enorme innere Spannung heraus.

 

Mark Hollis: Ich wollte zurück zur einfachsten, grundlegendsten Aufnahmesituation. Ich wollte die Klänge so berühren, dass sie nicht gesäubert oder poliert klingen. Der Sound sollte den Charakter der Instrumente wahren. So nah wie möglich wollten wir herankommen an den realen Klang der Instrumente im Raum.

 

Michael: Kannst du etwas mehr von diesem Raum erzählen?

 

Mark Hollis: Der Raum, in dem die Musik entstand, ist diesem hier sehr ähnlich. Es beginnt immer mit dem Raum. Als erstes hörst du auf dem Album den Raumklang in aller Stille. Dieser Sound ist ein bedeutender Teil des Albums und immer wieder hörbar. Jeder Musiker hat eine klar definierte Position. Ich höre mir die Musik am  liebsten mit dem Rücken zu den Lautsprechern an. Dann kommt  es mir so vor, als wäre ich mitten im Raum. Wenn du intensiv genig lauschst, kannst du die Positionen der Instrumente genau lokalisieren. Du kannst hören, wo das Piano platziert wurde, wo genau Piano und Bass in Schwingung versetzt werden, und wo sich im jeweiligen Moment die Spielhand befindet.

 

Michael: Wie wurde diese leise Musik von den Mitspielern wahrgenommen, so weit weg vom traditionellen Gestus der Rockmusik? 

 

Mark Hollis: Wir fahren die Instrumente auf eine so niedrige Stufe herunter, dass der Nachhall so bedeutend wird wie das Erklingen der Instrumente. Es ist schon verblüffend, wieviel Raum auf dem Band zu hören wird, wenn man das Volumen so weit zurücknimmt. Für einige Musiker war das eine Überraschung, die waren so sehr an grössere Lautstärke gewohnt, und meinten anfangs, nur laute Töne könnten einen Raum vergrössern. Aber das ist überhaupt nicht der Fall. Wenn du die Ohren auf solch feine Strukturen einstimmst, kann sich ein faktisch kleiner Raum sehr gross anfühlen.

 
 

KLEINER AUSFLUG ZUM TONMEISTER NACH LONDON 

 

Ein paar Tage nach der Begegnung mit Mark Hollis sprach ich am Telefon mit Phill Brown, der Mann, der hinter den Reglern Geschichte geschrieben hat, und auch bei den beiden letzten Talk Talk-Alben dabei war, bei monatelangen Sessions, gnadenlosen Löschungen des Materials, auf der erschöpfenden Suche von Mark Hollis und Co. nach der idealen Synthese von freier Improvisation und finaler Gestalt. 

 

Phill Brown: Im Vorfeld hatten wir drei Studios zur Hand, die brauchbar schienen für Marks Vorstellungen für sein Soloalbum. Das eine war das „Air“, das andere „Land‘s Down“. Wir hatten eine hübsche Sammlung von Mikrofonen, das Telefunken-47, das Neumann-48, und viele andere, wir probierten sie alle aus, und hörten, wie sie klangen, wenn eine akustische Gitarre oder Perkussion zu hören waren. Wir entschieden uns für zwei Röhren-Stereomikrofone, zwei Neuman M-49s, sie kamen am ehesten an das heran, was wir wollten. Wenn du bedenkst, dass wir für kein Instrument Equalizer einsetzten, dann liegt es allein an den Mikrofonen, das ehrlichste Bild des Raumes zu vermitteln. Nach einiger Zeit fanden wir das Air-Studio zu lebhaft, „Land‘s Down“ war akustisch zu tot, also wählten wor das dritte Studio. Wir haben keine Klangfilter benutzt und keine Kompression. Das Studio war für einen bestimmten Sound hergerichtet, und das galt für alle Instrumente. In der Abmischung benutzten wir lediglich „spring reverb“ für die Stimme, eine historisch sehr frühe Form eines Hallerzeugers. In den Sechzigern gab es das „EMT-echo-play“, das einen sehr natürlichen Nachhall hatte. Das „spring reverb“ ist, wie gesagt, viel älter, und es bekam den Vorzug. Wir versuchten, eine Aufnahme zu machen, die den Jazzprodukrionen der frühen Fünfziger Jahre nicht unähnlich ist. Damals waren die Musiker sitzend um ein einziges Mikrofon gruppiert, und wer ein Solo zu spielen hatte, musste aufstehen.

 
 

FORTSETZUNG IM HOTEL ATLANTIC

 

Mark Hollis: Was den Sound angeht, dämpften wir das Studio noch, weil es anfangs etwas harsch klang. Die Optik des Raumes war nicht besonders einladend. Oft schalteten wir das Licht runter. Wenn aber die Holzbläser spielten, musste das Licht voll aufgedreht sein, damit die Noten zu lesen waren. Die Musik hatte viel mit Konzentration zu tun, die optischen Reize der Umgebung verschwanden beim Spielen. Ich glaube, die meisten spielten mit geschlossenen Augen.

 

Michael: Viele traditionelle Rockkritiker sind hier überfordert, die bevorzugte ihre Urstoffe hören wollen und sicher elektrische Gitarren vermissen. Dabei ist diese Musik sehr, sehr intensiv.

 

Mark Hollis: Ganz sicher. So war es sehr anstrengend, für Mark Feltham die Mundharmonika so zu spielen, dass sie sich in den vorwiegend leisen Gruppensound einfügen konnte. Bei anderen Instrumenten ist das leichter zu erreichen, aber bei der Mundharmonika musst du dich wahnsinnig anstrengen und enorm viel Kraft aufwenden, um einen ruhigen Ton zu produzieren. Ähnlich verhält es sich bei nahezu tonlosen Phrasierungen einiger Gesangspassagen.

 

Michael: ich glaube, daher rührt auch die seltsame Intensität einer  nur  an der Oberfläche so ruhigen Musik. 

 

Mark Hollis: Ich wollte drei Areale der Musik einbeziehen, das klassische Feld, den Jazz, und eine Art von Folk. Ich stellte mir ein kleines Kammerensemble vor, oder eine Folkgruppe. Welche dort gebräuchlichen Instrumente könnte ich da hernehmen? Ich wollte, mit Blick auf die Farbenskala, mit etwa fünfzehn, zwanzig Instrumenten arbeiten. Zugleich wollte ich immer nur eine kleine Anzahl von Instrumenten einsetzen. Stets eine sehr begrenzte Gruppe von Tönen, bei Wahrung der Vielfalt. So hast du die Möglichkeit, in diese drei Areale hineinzutreiben, und wieder hinaus. Für einen Augenblick scheinst du dich inmitten eines klassischen Ensembles zu befinden. In der nächsten Minuten bewegst du dich durch eine jazznahe Stimmung. Diese Vorstellungen bestimmen die Auswahl der Musiker, beispielsweise die Holzbläser. Der Klarinettist musste für micn ein Jazzmusiker sein mit einem ausgeprägten Verständnis fürs Klassische, und beim Oboisten war es umgekehrt. Laurence Pendress spielt das Piano und das Harmonium, er hat einen wichtigen Anteil an der Wirkung des Albums, er ist einer der wenigen, die mühelos durch die drei Zonen gleiten können. Seine  Art, sich den Klängen zu nähern, war so unglaublich zurückgenommen, du konntest fast nicht den Anschlag hören. Ihn zu finden, war ein Glücksfall, er ist der Musiklehrer meiner Kinder in der Schule.

 

Michael: Ich finde es faszinierend, wie die Holzbläser an einigen Stellen auftauchen, sich entfalten, und wieder verschwinden. Wie ich las, ist die Musik weitgehend auskomponiert, allein das Trompetensolo auf dem Anti-Heroin-Song „The Watershed“, und der Harmonika-Part auf der „bridge“ von „The Daily Planet“ waren nicht im Vorfeld geschrieben. 

 

Mark Hollis: Du weisst, wie  bedeutend für mich die Alben „Sketches of Spain“ und „Porgy and Bess“ von Miles und Gil Evans sind, über zwanzig Jahre hat die Verbindug zu diesen zwei Schallplatten schon gehalten. Ihre besondere Stärke ist die Balance zwischen sehr sorgfältig gestalteten Arrangements, und der sehr offenen, freien Ausführung. Bei „Laughing Stock“ und „Spirit of Eden“ jatten wir eine ähnliche Haltung. Nur dass damals nichts im Vorfeld arrangiert  wurde – es war alles frei improvisiert, bis wir in der zweiten Phase die Musik aus stundenlangem Material montierten und destillierten. Für dieses Album ist zwar nahezu alles im Vorhinein notiert worden, aber in der Interpretation wirklich offen.

 

Michael: Das Lied „A Life (1895-1915) erzählt vom kurzen Dasein eines Menschen,  dem erst grosser Fortschrittsglaube begegnet, dann unheilvoller Nationalismus, bis der Erste Weltkrieg sein Leben auslöscht. Und da  taucht auf einmal ein ätherischer weiblicher Chor auf.

 

Mark Hollis: Als ich die Musik für diesen Chor schrieb, wollte ich eine Tradition ländlicher Folklore aufgreifen. Eine elementare Struktur, ein Lied der Leute, und doch nahezu ein Mantra, in der Art, wie sich die Verse im Kreis drehen. Eine Melodie, die durchaus freudvoll vorgetragen werden könnte, wird hier zu einem Chor von Menschen, die an einem Grab stehen, ein leiser, murmelnder Klagegesang.

 

Michael: Und auch wenn hier viel Geschichte anklingt, die Kompositiomen lassen sich nie als rein „politische“ oder „historische“ Lieder fassen. Keine lineare Story, keine eingängigen Refrains. Es dreht sich stets um die tieferen Schichten von Leiden, von Schmerz. Nur das Wort, das schon im Gesang zerfällt, scheint  gültig zu bleiben.  Man ahnt den emotionalen Kern, auch wenn die Worte  nur bruchstückhaft bewusst werden. Wie etwa auf „Westward Bound“…

 

Mark Hollis: “Westward Bound“ begann mit der Idee, einen Song in der Tradition von Johnny  Cash zu schreiben, aber ihn dann in einer Weise zu realisieren, der für die Denkweise von Country & Western völlig fremdartig ist. Nur von der Basismelodie und der Intrumentierung her könnte er sich in das Genre einfügen. Das Lied ist angesiedelt zur Zeit der amerikanischen Depression. Ein Mann und eine Frau, sie erwartet ein Baby, die wirtschaftliche Lage ist deprimierend. Zwei Dinge gehen gleichzeitig durch seinen Kopf, die Freude über die bevorstehende Geburt, und der extreme ökonomische Druck. Auf das Singen übertragen heisst das: er hat dieses Leid in seinem Kopf, möchte aber auf keinen Fall seine Frau damit belasten, und verstummt innerlich. Der Druck ist aber so gross, dass er über die Lippen kommt. Der Mann versucht, dass die Stimme nur Denken ist, kein Gesang.

 
 

 
 

Mark Hollis sitzt gerne in einem stillen Raum.

 

Ich schaue mir das Bild auf dem Cover an. 

 

Mark Hollis: In Sizilien gibt es viele Osterprozessionen. Zu diesem Anlass fertigt man Gebäck an, welches das Lamm Gottes darstellen soll. Der Fotograf hat dieses Bild gemacht, weil die Augen auf diesem Teilchen so vollkommen jenseitig wirken, als stammte das Geschöpf von einem anderen Planeten. Der Glitzerschmuck auf der Stirn erschien mir  wie ein Symbol für das Strömen von Ideen.

 
 

NACHKLANG 1

 

Das Strömen von Ideen in kleinen, unendlichen Räumen.

 
 

NACHKLANG 2

 

Das ist das Paradoxe, die Lieder umkreisen Verlöschen, Versagen, Verschwinden, treiben die Töne an den Rändern des Nichts entlang. Und doch ist jeder sich bildende Klang noch Hoffnung, noch Schönheit, noch Bewegung. Als ich immer mehr in den Sog dieser Lieder geriet, fiel mir eim Gedichtband in die Hände, wie ein fernes Echo dieser Lieder, „Dreizehnte Vertikale Poesie“, von Roberto Juarroz. Ein Gedicht darin lautet so: „In jede Lücke ein Bild legen: / ein Flügel, aufgelöst in Licht, / oder eine Stille, umgeben vom einem Blitz. / / Und wenn man bei der letzten Lücke ankommt, / es für alle Fälle leer lassen. / Es könnte das schönste Bild sein.“ 

Nearly everybody has a story to tell with „field recordings“, that will always trigger the knowledge about some of the most adventurous sounds being „out there“. Some of those albums became famous, some very much stayed under the radar (very much like the spaces they had been exploring). Even the so-called well-known can easily turn into stranger things. By  chance, I once discovered an old album named „Trains in the Night“ beautifully capturing the sounds of old locomotives in England‘s vast hinterland, and the nature around. Listening to the compositions of artists like Jana Winderen or BJ Nilsen, is always a special experience. Is the howling of the wind real, or enhanced by electronics? How can someone „document“ sounds that cannot be be heard within our „normal“ range of perception? In a way the act of „cartographing“ distant areas includes sharpened senses, adequate tools – and inventiveness. When I was sinking, literally, into the „music“ of Jana‘s new record, I couldn‘t help but remember, in moments passing by, old sci-fi movies and books, but from minute to minute I was more and more drawn into the sounds themselves and forgetting my sepia-tinged nostalgia. Where-am-I-music of a rare kind. 

 
 
 

 
 
 

Michael Engelbrecht: There is quite a spectrum of records that look for an “underwater experience” on the open sea, from the famous whale singing albums to the virtual / imagined feel of Gavin Bryars‘ „The Sinking of the Titanic“, from new age to neo-classical, field-recordings… Can you speak about your early listening experiences that were somehow related with a topic you would explore later in your life? 

 

Jana Winderen: First of all, the experience of spending a lot of time alone in the forest when I was very young had profound influences on my relationship to listening and to what I am working on now. I also spent many hours with my grandfather out by the sea, and learned to appreciate and notice the smaller creatures and the ecosystems of which we are a part. Also the awareness of the algae overgrowth of the largest lake in Norway, Mjøsa, made a huge impression on me at an very early age. Later I decided to study to become a Marine biologist, though changed into visual art after 4 years and then later got into sound. 

I met Mike Harding, one of the directors in Touch, about 15 years ago, and I remember he gave me a pile of CDs to listen to over the summer. I particularly loved listening to Philip Jeck, BJ Nilsen and Chris Watson, which all later became good friends and colleagues. Through the use of sensors and contact microphones I became aware of hydrophones, and started to listen inside ice, ants’ nests and trees, under the ice and deep in the ocean. 

Listening and recording are preferably solo activities, since I need to concentrate and focus on finding the various species of fish and crustacea, and to listen to the variation in current, the distant roar of the water and to form a relationship with the environment. Lately I have also been recording with fishermen in the south of Thailand, who immediately start whispering when we turn off the engine, and do not send out stress vibes when we are recording for a long time – on the contrary suggesting to stay longer… I will go back and spend more time with them.

 

All these unheard sounds… generations of synthesizers have been striving for sound beyond the well-known. So, listening to your album, one is thinking from time to time: come on, this is at least shaped with electronic instruments… True or not? 

 

I have never claimed that I am not processing some of the sounds, but I am not adding sounds originated from the computer or instruments. All the sound I use is originated from recordings I have done. The sounds of the creatures themselves, the different species of fish, crustacea, seals and whales I try to clarify and make as good, clear and audible as possible. I would never start to tune a fish for example. 

But when I collage the sounds together, I would sometimes use the sound of rowing, the sound of wind and waves and stretch it in time and use some equalisation. There are also some manmade sounds in the compositions, like the seal-scarer audio device – it sounds like metal against metal. I included that since I want to talk about issues concerning the destructive use of these dangerous machines. I have included the sound of research ships, of military sonar and industrial sounds, even radio and morse signals I have recorded under water.

In recordings above our audible range, such as ultrasound, I slowed the recordings down, time-stretched them to make them audible to us; they will of course then sound very different than they do in the original frequency range, but it is to show us that there is also sound outside the reach of our perception, both above and below our capability of listening where other creatures are operating.

 

 

 

 

 

I think the recordings at the Barents Sea were not located to a single place or clearly defined frame of time. That said, you had to make artistic choices for the arrangement of the collected recordings. Is this the point were the composer takes over?

 

Sometimes I have been strictly using only sounds recorded from a particular river, or a particular glacier or site, for example ‚The Listener‘, which is from recordings from the River Orne in Normandy, or the piece I did for the project ‘Rivers’ at the AV festival in Newcastle; ‚Spawning Ground – from Coquet Head to the North Sea’ or ‚Rats – Byens hemmelige lydlandskap’ for Muchmuseet on the Move/Ny Musikk in Oslo – all related to particular places and recorded there. Other pieces are more imaginary travels but with recordings relating to that story, for example ‚The Wanderer‘, ‚Energy Field‘ or ‘Ultrafield‘. But they are based around a theme or an issue I wish to focus on and bring into the light. ‘Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone’ is recorded mostly in the Barents Sea and Arctic regions and the creatures you find there. The Bearded Seal´s hauling sound is recorded right there under the Sea-ice in the Barents Sea.

I would say that already out in the field when pushing record the composition process has already started; you make choices when you place the microphone or hydrophones, or ultrasound detectors in a certain place and start listening long before you record anything. Ideas start to form at this early stage. Its all down to the choices you make; even if you choose to leave the recording gear out by itself in the field, where you place it is a compositional choice.

 

I‘m quite sure you have seen BLUE PLANET 2, with the narrator David Attenborough and you have listened to the way Hans Zimmer has soundtracked the underwater scenery in the second episode, I think it had the title “The Deep Blue“. Too much “Hollywood“ in the score?

 

I wish that it had been more based around the very rich soundscapes you find underwater. Not just from all the crustacea, fish and mammals, but also of the distant waves, the movement of the water far out at sea – it sounds fantastic, when you are really listening. What sounds like there is nothing at first, after concentrated listening, move to several positions, listening at many different depths, you will experience  so much variety. And it will never sound the same. It would have been great if they dared to use this material, instead of composing with instruments from very different environments, like violin, brass and piano recorded in air. And what’s the point of talking specialised sound recordists at great expensive out into these places if you then drown their work with ‘music’?

 

There has been quite a development between the days of Cousteau and modern day technology to dive into the depths of the ocean. Working on this project, were there dangerous moments? Or what has been your state of mind while working so far out. From early expeditions to arctic regions to science fiction movies, angst, utter loneliness can be part of the trip. Is it more fitting to bring a clear scientific mind into play and leave behind the “Jules Verne-state of mind”?

 

I do not tend to feel lonely when out in the field, i feel at home and calm. There had been incidences, like when I lost the car key in a far away lake in a National Park, and it dropped a meter into the mud, and my mobile phone was locked inside the car, or when I realised I was far to close to an icefjord and risked being washed away any time or when I recorded too close to an avalanche on top of a glacier; I knew I was risking too much to get a good recording… that was stupid.

Usually I am with local people who know the environment or on expeditions where there is a very competent crew, so I would say more dangerous situations have been closer to home in the local forest when I have fallen into mud holes, or stepped through the ice, with only my dog accompanying me. But I learned from experiences at an early age to respect the forces of nature; I remember the struggle of walking on skis downhill in a snow storm to reach our cabin, or be out alone on a windsurfing board when suddenly the wind stopped and it started to thunder and I had a metal mast, or being stuck in a cabin for 4 days because of the wind. It is part of growing up. I guess I carry this with me. 

When working on Spring Bloom project my trip to the North Pole was quite scary though. Most of all because the people around me were so drunk. It was not, in my mind, a place to be unfocused and drunk, when the sea ice could rip open right through the tent at any moment. You need to be alert and awake. Another time I remember being in a zodiac among the ice flow in the Barents sea, when the fog came in and we no longer could determine if there were hungry polar bears nearby. Later that day I saw seal intestines on an ice flow full of seagulls and a huge polar bear slowly leaving the area.

I remember once, in Panama by the way, in a tropical environment, when trying to record in the virgin forest and a huge wasp came towards me; I quickly moved my gear out of the way, and stupidly distracted by a swampy area, I failed to notice the freshly-made large crocodile foot and tail prints in the sand right where we stood. I am not used to reading signs in a tropical environment as I am more accustomed to colder climates.

 

 

 

 

 

You have been documenting a zone of the ocean where the climate change already does its work, not for the best of our future. Is there a split between the trained scientist who delivers a scientific document of a dramatically changing part of nature and the adventurous sound searcher who can easily be overwhelmed by the “strange beauty“?

 

In 2006 I first recorded a glacier, Vatnajøkul in Iceland and I became aware of the massive sounds they make constantly when moving. Right after I went to Greenland to listen to the moving Icebergs in the Icefjord Kangia by Ilulisat, these recordings later became part of the release ‘Energy Field’ [Touch, 2009]. ‘Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone’ [Touch, 2018] is from an installation commission I did for Sonic Acts in Amsterdam in 2017. It was a 6 channel installation outside of the Muziekgebou. It is concerned with the Sea Ice, and the importance of the Spring Bloom in the area which the Norwegian politicians like to call “the Ice Edge”. And they like to think it is moving north so oil drilling can start in those higher latitudes.

Both scientist and artist working in this field often have the same engaged involvements, we are just looking and listening from slightly different perspectives. Of course with my science background it doesn’t feel like a split at all; we are working in the same direction, hoping to engage and awaken curiosity and knowledge. By the way – I feel more at home in those environments than I do in the centre of a city, where I get much more overwhelmed. Outside in the field I feel much safer and at home. I will say that the effect of the climate change is also very apparent in the tropics. For example, it has become harder to predict the weather conditions. I recently spoke to a very experienced fisherman in south of Thailand who told me it was becoming harder and harder recently to trust old signs of weather changes. It is shifting much faster these days.

 

What has been the intention of the “headphone mix“? It‘s not Kunstkopf, but obviously seems to broaden the stereo panorama, kind of …

 

This piece was originally made for and mixed on a 6 channel installation outside, at Muziekgebou in Amsterdam, I was sitting outside for 4 days to make it work there, so to make it into a stereo mix also on lower resolution, became something very different. When I was talking to Mike Harding about developing the idea for album release, he came up with the idea of doing two different mixes, which seems to have been appreciated. Its so great collaborating with Touch in this way; I think its been a huge advantage in developing my career and opening up ideas and opportunities. So we decided to make two different versions in stereo; one is mixed on speakers and one is mixed on headphones. In some ways this was the most time-consuming part of the production process; it took a lot of work to get it right where we were both happy.

 

Jana Winderen‘s website: janawinderen.com

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!


 
 

When I had a first glance on Kurt Wagner’s telling essay on the making of FLOTUS, the word „Mancini“ popped up, and I immediately thought of Henry Mancini, the composer of unforgettable soundtracks. After having channelled Frankie „Boy“ Sinatra into ghost town territory, after having composed a new soundtrack for a German silent movie from the 20’s, after some Curtis Mayfield falsetto highs on NIXON – why should the man who, similar to Robert Wyatt, has always been able to give well-known sources a personal touch, not get away with some Henry Mancini mood? I was wrong, Mary Mancini is the name of his wife. A politician. Democratic party. And she plays her part in the album, that’s for sure.

To be honest, I would very much prefer to get lost in a Scottish whiskey bar instead of following the ups and downs of a long-time marriage by reading canonical middle class novels by Updike or Ford (to make a long list short) that were quite obsessed with midlife-crisis-drama and long-term relationship-matters.

But there are exceptions. BLOOD ON THE TRACKS (to name a prize-winning writer), or one of the long Neil Young-songs on PSYCHEDELIC PILL – or Lambchop’s FLOTUS: though there are a few songs here (you could ad hoc call love songs), a lot of the tracks carry you away from any kind of conceptual exloration of the modus vivendi of people who know one another for half a lifetime. And the love songs, by the way, are brilliant.

FLOTUS Is a multi-layered beast, on par with Lambchop masterpieces like IS A WOMAN or DAMAGED (you, dear reader, might have other ones in mind). But here he is, Mr. Kurt Wagner, playing with „auto-tune“, doing „the two-step-hustle“, spending some time in Spain, just a few days before the release of one of the great song albums of 2016. Album of the month in MOJO, album of the month in UNCUT (December issues). So, take your time, and do yourself a favour, read – and listen!

 
 

Michael Engelbrecht: Where are you just now, Kurt, any hip-hop to be heard in the neighborhood?

 

Kurt Wagner: I’m in Castelion, Spain, on my off day which happens to be a bank holiday in Spain. Last night was Halloween. Not much hip-hop in this town this morning but it has yet to wake up.

 

Michael: To open this album with IN CARE OF 856309, is a courageous decision. A slow burner, the vocals quite deep in the mix (sometimes the deep range of your voice placed close to the bass). Words become sounds, and the listener is not forced to do semantics in the first place. An „ambient song“, kind of.

 

Kurt: Making this the first track on FLOTUS seemed to be the only logical place for this track to go. For this particular record I think it introduces the vocal distortions in a confident way, almost relentlessly. The flow of the words and the almost ultra wordy prose makes the case for a certain amount of drift by the listener much in the same way great dense hip hop words work. But also Dylan.

 

Michael: Additionally, you cannot always distinguish exactly between the real voice and the manipulated one.

 

Kurt: It is true that the vocal processing does balance between the more natural voice and the processed. My hope is by the end of the experience you have either accepted the notion, or turned the track off. It gives you the space to decide.

 

Michael: Speaking of „Auto-Tune“. What is it that attracts you here, from besides of paying attention to your hip-hopping neigbourhood, and the distorted sound of their ghettoblasters? 

 

Kurt: In my case, this machine enables me to to go beyond my limitations as an artist. It can suggest and infer possibilities, it can open up ideas by virtue of its design. And it happens in real time as the source is presented, it’s like a performance enhance for but the mind and the mouth.

 

Michael: I have big fun when reading the lyrics of JFK (“ … We must build a culture of understanding / just shy of the radio: I’m a pharmacist … „) – and simultaneously listening to the song. What has been the inspiration to a song that may have some sad undercurrents. But then, yep, the dancing groove of the second part, me oh my …

 

Kurt: When I was helping my parents move a few years back I was cleaning out their basement and I came across a drawing I made when I must have been 6 or so. It was a picture of JFK at a desk in the oval office with the presidential flag behind him. (the same flag that’s on the FLOTUS record cover). It now sits in my office and I see it everyday and i move it from place to place not knowing really what to do with it. I even made a crude wooden frame for it back then and signed it on the back. I must have been quite proud of it I suppose. I do remember that when I was very young we went to see the eternal flame at JFKs grave in Washington DC and that I am told I broke away from my parents and slipped under the rope that protected the area and made a break for the grave and flame. A U.S. Marine guard had to run me down and return me to my parents. The song was written while looking at and contemplating the drawing.

 

Michael: You often used your small orchestra as a kind of paintbox carefully chosing musical colours, so that it resulted in a kind of chamber folk, maybe with the exception of NIXON. Now starting these songs alone with some new electronic devices allowed you to build up songs from scratch, with no prefigurations by favoured or well-trusted guitar lines. But it still sounds intimate and colourful. Even when a „club feel“ enters. And the long last, most „groovy“, most electronic track of the album sounds so much more contemplative than switching on fireworks-mode.

 

Kurt: With the help of technology I’ve been freed up to realize a song idea in a fuller more complete and complex way. But that said it still needs the human touch to be a Lambchop record or performance. It is that intimacy that Lambchop has with the listener that is one of the cool things about this record. I feel it’s still there in the sound and the songs.

 

Michael: I know that many of your songs start with everyday observations. So, looking at a song like OLD MASTERS, what (the hell) has inspired it? A good example that you don’t need to have the faintest idea of anything to love a song.

 

Kurt: Stay hungry, my friend.

 

Michael: I have been listening to the whole album just about six, seven times now, and I’m very sure that this whole thing is a damned tricky beast. You are never trapped in a formula, e v e r y song has a different and distinct atmosphere. I think you like downplaying this sophisticated element by presenting yourself as a man of certain age looking at the younger generation for doing a bit of trial-and-error stuff.

 

Kurt: I’ve indeed been convinced that in order to move forward through a creative life one has to look to younger generations to see where things are heading. Most but not all people my age tend to settle into a place that is more about the past than the future. Partly because the future for my generation is pretty fucked in a broad sense. So let the children play so to speak and interact with their sounds and ideas. I am in no way a complete idea but rather one that is in need of learning and refining the ideas that are out there and the ones yet to be thought of.

 

Michael: Some lyrics seem to refer to dream activities, at least daydream activities (the scene in the laundry, the special imagery of HARBOR COUNTRY.

 

Kurt: Sorry, no dreams in Harbor Country.

 

Michael: THE WRITER is witty, funny, thoughtful, dark, everything. Shades of a self portrait? Or some musings on polarities?

 

Kurt: It’s a bit of both really, I was playing with the folk form of style and verse and placing it in an electro setting with horns.

 

Michael: Your favourite TV-series of the last years?

 

Kurt: „Last Week With John Oliver“, the best comedy show on current events in the USA right now. No one else comes close.

 


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