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„Der Name des Ortes wird gern mit dem Namen der Meeresgöttin Ran in Verbindung gebracht (was wahrscheinlich völliger Blödsinn ist; Anm. v. m.e.). Rantum als Ort der Ran. Wahrscheinlicher ist jedoch die Ableitung aus der alten Schreibweise des Ortsnamens Raanteem als Ort am Rande.“ (den  Zufall sollte man ebenfalls nicht ausschliessen – random / rantum; Anm. v. m.e.)  (Wikipedia)



„Diese Kompilation zu machen, war ganz schön schwierig. Klar wollte ich (für „Film Music (1976-2020)“; erg. v. M.E.) einige sehr bekannte Stücke dabei haben, weil es seltsam wäre, etwas von meiner Filmmusik der letzten 44 Jahre vorzustellen, und die grössten Hits wegzulassen (lacht) – einige Leute würden das ziemlich enttäuschend finden. Ich wollte aber auch etwas von den weniger bekannten Arbeiten einbeziehen. Aus mehr als 200 Stücken hatte ich schliesslich eine Wahl zu treffen. Es war nicht leicht, es gab bewusste Beschränkungen, und vor alle  wollte ich ein Werk anfertigen, das man als Album von vorne bis hinten hören kann.  Meine einfache Vermutung ist, dass es immer noch Menschen gibt, die sich ganze Alben anhören willen,  statt einzelne Tracks auf Spotify. Und so entstand eine Art Suite, mit der ich ganz glücklich bin.“ (Brian Eno im Klanghorizonte Interview, Dezember 2020)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Kateryna Zavoloka, Ukranian sound artist, composer, performer, and visual artist, who is now based in Berlin. Living in Kyiv in 2006, Zavoloka founded the label Kvitnu with her partner Dmytro Fedorenko (aka Kotra) and designed and curated the visual appearance of the label’s releases, while also releasing her own music through the label. Cluster Lizard is a duo project with Dmytro Fedorenko.

 

I mainly became really aware of Kvitnu and of your visual design work with the release of the Pan Sonic concert album Oksastus – Live In Ukraine. It was released in 2014, but Mika and Ilpo had already ended the Pan Sonic collaboration a few years prior, so for their fans – like myself – it was a great surprise and event to hear some new music from them (and the album had been recorded at the end of their collaborative years). Can you talk a bit about how you approached that album design? An impressive artwork, it’s just as unusual for Pan Sonic as it is mysterious, opening up a really strong atmospheric world, before one actually listens to the music on the album. It’s a peculiar combination of organic, abstract and artificial elements; the image on the front reminds me of a seed of some sort of grain, but also of an egg from the movie Alien. What’s the story behind it?

 

We invited Pan Sonic to play at the Kvitnu_live event in 2009 in Kyiv, and it was an amazing and very powerful concert. We recorded it properly and asked them if we could release it on Kvitnu, and five years after the concert we made the double LP. The first release was on 20th of February 2014, and it was the last days of the Maidan revolution in Kyiv, Ukraine, during the clashes of protesters with Berkut special forces, police troops, and that day the snipers shot protesters. Those were the most tragic days and a transformational period for Ukraine – and of course for us, and I will remember this day forever. Pan Sonic called the release Oksastus – the Finnish word for process of grafting or cultivating of plants. That is why I decided to use some plants in the design for the artwork, I wanted to make it abstract and organic. I found the slide films of different seeds made by my grandfather Oleg Kozlov, who was a biochemist, scientist and inventor. In the 1960s he made the “scanning microscope” that could make very sharp images of very small objects like insects or seeds. So I used his slides, transformed the images and added textures and special print techniques like UV-lacquering, bronze paint and foil to create a metallic effect. The vinyls me made in white for a contrast, and Dmytro then stamped each LP label with the Pan Sonic logo by hand. Real art work.

 

 

Can you talk about the relationship between your visual work as a designer or graphic artist and your work as a musician/composer? Having the mission and the chance to come up with designs for other artists’ musical worlds must be a bit of a challenge sometimes, I guess.

 

I always asked musicians if they wanted anything particular, and most of the time they answered that they trusted me. While I made artworks, I always listened to their music, kind of sinesthesia. Sometimes musicians would give me some image or photo and I would transform it, and we would add some special effects, like hot foil pressing or the glitter, metallic paint, embossing or silk-print. I’d the say musicians have been happy with my designs for them, as we always would listen carefully. But we never compromised our visions of Kvitnu.

 

You grew up in in Kyiv when Ukraine was still a Soviet Republic – so you experienced the changes from the 80s through the challenging years after 1991. Where did your path as a visual artist and musician start?

 

Yes, it was during the Soviet Union, and I hated it. I was a kid when the union collapsed and Ukrainians were very happy to have independence in 1991. It’s true that those were challenging years for us, but it was wonderful; finally, we we allowed to travel abroad, have private property or make business, listen to music in the end! From my childhood I was interested in visual art and music, my father and mother were painters and designers and I went to millions of different art workshops for kids and sang in a children’s choir. Somehow from my childhood I already knew that I would design artworks for other musicians.

 

Then at some point in time you moved to Vienna and later to Berlin, so in a way you are now in between here and there — also artistically?

 

Dmytro and I moved to Vienna because we wanted to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. A year after graduation we moved to Berlin. It was the most transformational period for me. I think it is very important for any person to have such an experience, and especially for any artist. Living in other countries shifts your perception of everything, removes clichés and patterns in your head, causes tectonic transformations in your consciousness; you start to question your reality more and more, and therefore make more right choices for yourself. This is so important for creativity when you have a more clear vision, of what you want, and what you would not accept anymore. This period made me more balanced and happier after all these stormy times, and this first year in Berlin was actually shiny fruitful in my art.

 

Usually it’s rather the other way round: People from stable Western countries like Germany say how transformational it has been for them to live in much more unstable and messy places for a while. In what way have Vienna or Berlin had such a transformative impetus for you?

 

Maybe it was not very clear: I meant that moving to any other country from your own home country and living there would shift the perception and would offer you different perspectives. We moved to Vienna in 2014 to study and we lived there for five years; and in the middle of 2019 we moved to Berlin – actually, not so long before all the lockdowns. I think when you live in your homeland you have some vision of some sort of spherical happiness in a vacuum about another countries, which is not true for sure. For us, living in Austria was not stable and not comfortable at all, as for immigrants with a non-EU passport it has been extremely tough.

Transformational experiences don’t come from the country itself, but rather from extreme situations, more like a shock therapy that wakes you up, like if you plunge yourself into boiling water and then have to pull yourself out of it. My album Promeni from 2018 is about that.

 

So what kind of things – in art – do you not want to accept anymore?

 

In general, I don’t want to accept compromises with myself, I would rather think and meditate a thousand times and ask myself intuitively: does that resonate with me? Does that what I really need? And after that make better and calm decisions.

 

You had already several years of experience, working as an artist, working with music, sound, visuals, as well as, through the label, with lots of different musicians and artist. What caused both of you to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna?

 

I wanted to learn more about video and motion graphics, Dmytro had math and economy educations and wanted to study at an art academy, that’s why we applied. Well, it was my second art education, as I also used to study at Kyiv State Institute of Decorative and Applied Art and Design before, where it was more academical and technical, whereas in Vienna it was more conceptual and ideological. For artists, it is important to be free thinkers, and free from any ideology templates installed in the head by educational institutes, and I am very glad that I don’t need to study anymore.

 

Earlier you worked with vocals on some releases – you even made a whole collaboration album with AGF, who is a well-versed vocal artist, and I also like your remix of Колискова Для Ворога (Lullaby For The Enemy) by Стасік (Stasik).

 

Стасік is a young Ukrainian singer, songwriter, and a veteran of the Russian-Ukrainian war. She doesn’t have many songs yet, but all of them are like the sharpest knife into the heart, very strong. When Lullaby for the enemy came out, I was so strongly impressed that I immediately wrote to her and suggested making a remix. Then we decided with my partner Dmytro to release these two remixes on Kvitnu as an exclusive EP.

 

On my new album Ornament I also worked with my voice, but it was kind of hidden, and I didn’t want to draw attention to it, but rather work with the voice like an expressive sound source, untraceable in the sonic fabric.

 

 

On the last few albums your music on the one hand seems to have become more reduced, compositionally – but on the other hand, sound-wise, also more high-energy“. I often find a curious combination of smooth, or mellow elements in your music – while it is still very energetic, these more recent releases, too. Did living in Berlin have an influence on the new album?

 

I don’t think it’s influenced by Berlin, because the music came from the period of the album Syngonia, which was written around 2016. Just before that, I spent several years looking for the sound I needed. I even wanted to stop composing music, I was not satisfied and thought that I was tired. I think it’s a natural evolution, and it’s natural for an artist to have such peaks of negativity and positivity, and it’s really great to find a middle way and balance in creativity.

 

Right before Syngonia I was going through a difficult period. Syngonia and Promeni were the last two volumes of the series of “Purification by Four Elements: Air, Water, Earth, Fire” and I felt relieved when I finished them. Ornament was written in 2019–2020 and is a stand-alone album with a different concept, where ornament is the coding element for the unique algorithm that modulates an intention, path, state, and a space.

 

Since you commented on your art or process becoming clearer: The artwork of Ornament is probably your most reduced and minimalist cover – at the same time it also seems to be inspired by some sort of extreme contrast, it’s almost aggressive.

 

The artwork of Ornament is more minimalist because I wanted to make it like a colourful contrast of extreme states of consciousness, where balance is the key. As it is contrasting sonically.

 

The album is very contrasting in atmospheres and in sound, it is like travel.

 

And Prophecy, the 2018 Cluster Lizard album, was the last one you recorded in Vienna? What’s the main idea behind it? I notice the tracks are quite long (as are the track titles, which are quotes from poetry). What kind of prophecy does the album title refer to?

 

Prophecy is like a message of revelation. The tracks are as long as their poetic titles, we wanted to create narrative atmospheres, sonic trip.

 

So Kvitnu has been running since 2006 with around 70 releases. So what caused you to start another label, Prostir, in 2018? 

 

Yes, we started Kvitnu in 2006 in Kyiv and made it for 14 years, until 2020. At first, it was only for Ukrainian experimental electronic music, but soon we received so many demos from around the world, so Kvitnu became international. We helped many musicians to release their music, it was truly an honour for us to discover wonderful artists and to help them from the heart. We have decided to close Kvitnu, because it was an art project, like an art movie with a good ending. We already heard several melancholic stories about other labels, and it was extremely important for us to make a positive finale at the highest peak of development. We became friends with our artists, we have a very grateful audience, and the release of Kotra & Zavoloka Silence became the final endless silent loop with the question written on the EP label: What do you hear, how much you hear nothing?“


Prostir me and Dmytro started in 2018 for only our own music and arts with the second release by Cluster Lizard, Prophecy. So it was natural that I wanted to release my solo album Ornament there. We consider Prostir not only as a music label but also as an art space (“prostir” / “простір” means “space” in Ukrainian) for any other art forms and other dimensions we might imagine.

 

Which direction would you like to see your music moving towards?

 

Our plan is to release the new Cluster Lizard album, which will sound different from our previous albums. We already composed several tracks. Dmytro has played on his guitar and bass with various effect processors and pedals, so the new album will sound more bright and fresh. And after we finish the album, I want to compose for my solo work – I have some thoughts already.

 

How is your view on the situation among your friends in Ukraine today? Would you consider moving back sometime, or do you think the political situation is too dire — and you prefer to stay in Berlin?

 

We moved to Berlin for music. Now, of course, it’s a bit quiet everywhere, but I hope it will change soon. Somehow now I play more often in Ukraine than before and love to travel there. And I am very glad that so many very good events and professional promoters have appeared in recent years; it’s wonderful! As any Ukrainian has a cherry-blossom garden in their heart, whenever I will be bored here, I will move back.

 

 

Finally, which music has been the most evocative and inspiring for you in 2020?

 

For me, 2020 has been precious as the most productive and intense year in my own music and I believe for other artists too. I liked the new albums of my friends – Kotra’s Namir and Ujif_Notfound’s Neumatonic. Amazing new album by Liturgy, Origin of the Alimonies, Simon Posford‘s Flux & Contemplation – Portrait of an Artist in Isolation, and Extrawelt’s Little We Know and many others. Of older music, I opened for myself this year Japanese collective Geinoh Yamashirogumi and the last album by Jack White, Boarding House Reach, and Muslimgauze’s Salaam Alekum, Bastard are great.

I think we are currently in a time of beautiful transitions and transformations in music.

The conversation between Kateryna Zavoloka and IJ.Biermann, was conducted in Berlin, in December 2020.

2020 28 Aug

Ein nie wahrgenommener Satz

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Als ich den Text fertigstellte zur Wiederveröffentlichung von „Wrong Way Up“ (s. „From the archives“), las ich auch quer über andere Texte zum Album, und staunte nicht schlecht, als ich über eine Songzeile stolperte, die ich nie bewusst wahrgenommen hatte, obwohl ich das Album unzählige Male gehört habe und dachte, mittlerweile in jeden seiner Winkel gekrochen zu sein. „If It all fades away, let it all fade dancing away.“ Das ist so eine Zeile, die sich mir unter normalen Umständen so tief eingeprägt hätte, wie der eine oder andere Vers von Cohen oder Lennon/McCartney. Aber ist es nicht genau das, was wir an Alben lieben, die uns durchs Leben begleiten: sie überraschen uns nach wie vor, und ihre Tiefenwirkung lässt einfach nicht nach.

Discourses is Jon Balke‘s third solo piano album. With the second one, the wonderfully seductive Warp, sound processing & sound design enter the field – a subtile undermining of the piano‘s purity. The Norwegian composer (b. 1955)  is a member of the „ECM family“ since the early years, with his first appearance on Arild Andersen‘s album Clouds In My Head (1974). Let‘s skip his broad range of works as a leader since the days of Nonsentration (1991) and come to the here and now. When I first heard the new album, I immediately sensed that it was not Jon‘s idea to simply add more colours to the sensual palette of Warp. I felt urgency, anger, ruptures. There is something faithful though, a sense of mystery wrapped around melodic figures. Discourses is a very special record.

 
 
 

 
 

Do you agree when I say, Discourses is the „dark sister“ of Warp? It is a very dense work.

 

I sincerely don´t want to direct how people hear this album, and I am happy to hear totally different and opposite interpretations of the music. But, yes, it is connected to Warp and also to Book of Velocitites (2007) in the sense that it explores the same situation, which is the solo artist and the surroundings (Book of V playing to an empty room, Warp playing to a world that starts to respond). And then I have tried to make Discourses a more focused album than the previous two, in the sense that it explores a smaller field of dynamics and tonal concepts. More focus on micro-details. So a detour into a smaller space, in a way.

 

Of course in these days new albums are often linked with Covid 19. Thus, nearly automatically, when looking at the cover, I imagined some early social distancing exercise. When listening to the album I had the impression of a kind of fight going on between uncompromised self-expression and a threatening counter-force of some kind. Am I wrong?

 

No, you are right, absolutely. I am concerned with society and political developments, and do not make music in a vacuum. And, since this music had language and rhetoric as direct inspiration, the music is a reaction to the deterioration of language in political discourse. In a way the Covid crisis highlights this even more, with the desperate press conferences we see too often by leaders who have made catastrophical choices all the way into this disaster. I took the cover photo on a morning square in Malmo, Sweden, and made a series of the same theme that I the crossfaded with each other into a slow-mo movie, because the light was good and the people moving isolated in their own world.

 

The new album is somehow inspired by language, but words themselves are absent.

 

I am attracted to the music of language in rhetoric, and dayly speech: how we use tonality and flexible, non-metric rhythm to express as precisely as possible what we want to say. We pause, we rush, we punctuate, we climb in pitch. Also how we make a statement, debates it, argue for it, return to it, conclude. The solo speech is a good school for solo piano playing.


Discourses will be released tomorrow. How do all these strange sounds care for additional suspense without interrupting the flow of listening? What has been the role of producer Manfred Eicher in the final mix? How come this „smaller space“ is opening up again and again? You can hear other parts of my interview with Jon Balke during the radio night of „Klanghorizonte“ on June 20, and as part of the „Jazz Facts“ on July 5 (Deutschlandfunk).

 

Music can be a remedy in these times of danger and darkness, in its own peculiar ways. It can offer calm, consolation, and open new gates of perception. Readers of this interview with composer and drummer Sebastian Rochford may know well some albums of artists who did record in vast spaces, from the likes of Paul Horn, or Jan Garbarek moving into the monastery of St. Gerold.  Thinking of albums that have been made outside the comfort zones of modern recording studios, clubs and concert halls, Pauline Oliveros‘ classic „Deep Listening“ may also come to mind, a quite thrilling exploration of natural reverb in a meditative state of mind. „Rose Golden Doorways“ by „Pulled By Magnets“ is somehow a wilder affair, and if anyone would ever write a book about wonderful albums, recorded in caves, churches, pyramids, and other  power spots, the writer should make sure this album will be part of the journey.

 
 

 
 

FEELING THE SPACE, FILLING THE SPACE

 

Michael:  If you are still living in London, what would be a great place for this interview if we would do it face to face. You have a favourite cafe there, or another place with a good vibe?

 

Sebastian: Would probably be the Colombian indoor market in Tottenham, I love that place and has great food and coffee, sadly it’s been sold off to make apartments so don’t know how long it’s going to be there.

 

Michael: My favourite Polar Bear album, „Same As You“,  was inspired, in parts, by your visit at the Mojave Desert. Now, with the new trio in mind, what did you trigger to move into another vast space, The „Old Church“  in Stoke Newington?

 

Sebastian: This album was inspired by energy and creation, what it is that makes us and how our perception of that changes our lives. The  church was for how I could further represent that sonically,  I wanted us to have a place we could fill our sound into in an active way, where Pete could let his saxophone soar and somewhere that would answer back to the sound we were making.

 

Michael: The bigger the reverb, the less you have to play, or was it a challenge to approach the zone of falling apart, soundwise, meaning „conventionally“ soundwise?

 

Sebastian: I wanted to use the church in different ways, sometimes to feel the space and sometimes to fill that space with more volume and density, using the reverb almost as a sheet noise when needed.

 

Michael: If everybody in the band uses electronics to,  at least from one perspective, alter the sound of the instruments, was the intention, to minimalize the expections associated with „nomal“ saxophone or electric bass sounds? Was the adding of electronics a device to further move into the unknown?

 

Sebastian: When we started rehearsing I asked Neil and Pete to have effects all the time and then we go from there, I wanted them to feel that extreme as a seed to grow from.

 

Michael: Did you record at nighttime? Apart from probably being in the zone while playing, how did the atmosphere of the church affect your mood? Was it more dark and brooding, or more on the peace of mind side of things? I‘m asking cause you can easily associate this music with archaic rituals, miles beyond the history of the place. 

 

Sebastian: There’s a certain silence and acoustic in a church that for me, definitely has an influence on your mood, every sound is very much amplified, quieter sounds have such impact, so making lots of noise in there almost felt confrontational to what is perceived as the „right“ thing to do, this is in part of what the album is about, feeling energy as a whole and there being a balance in different elements. There was a passage I read in the Upanishads that said about human beings being a collection of armies that sometimes collide and sometimes work in harmony, this really made a connection with me and was an inspiration. Because of all the stained glass windows, the atmosphere changed during the day into night and I loved it’s presence and influence.

 
 
THE RIGHT TIME FOR A CHURCH BELL TO RING

 

Michael:  Now there are, apart from drone elements, no playful allusions to Classical Indian music. The connection seems to come alive in a different way.

 

Sebastian: My Indian roots are always a part of my creativity as they are a part of who I am, but I did go back to India before making this album to connect again and see family. While I was there I didn’t listen to any recorded music, instead just listening to all the sounds around me, I felt I needed a sonic cleanse. As I write from singing inside me, I wanted to expand my internal sound and this was part of my process. I also studied singing while I was there though none of the Pulled by Magnets music uses any of the raags I learnt there. The Indian influence on this album was more my experience of going back there, my connection and the relationship I have with myself every day around it. My family there are all Catholic and I was brought up Catholic but I’m also descended from Hindus and in recent years was the first time I allowed myself to explore these religious traditions for myself, which I found great inspiration in and allowed me to think differently about who I am on a day to day basis, which in turn helped me to write and play this music.

 

Michael: Did you go into the church with some compositional sketches, and in the mood to see what happens when sound moves its special ways , or was it a  more improvisational approach?

 

Sebastian: We went into the recording with written pieces and arrangements that contain passages of improvisation, the harmony in this music is very particular too, sometimes using 9 and 10 note scales that for me are integral to the sound of the music but as always I want to the musicians to take the music in their way when the ground has been set. I gave myself time before writing the music to daydream about form and sound in different ways.

 
 

 
 

Michael: The last piece of the album is building up to a climax, the sax, the noisy grid, but, in the end, a warm enveloping sound…

 

Sebastian: That’s me playing the church organ at the end and then the church bell which never chimed during a piece the whole time we were there, but went off ten minutes after we finished recording and I asked Sonny to record it. It felt like a natural way to rest the album.

 

Michael: Has there been a book that inspired the new album. Some discoveries you made by reading that opened you up for some of the „reasearch fields“ of this music?

 

Sebastian: I was reading alot The Upanishads, The Isvara Gita and The Mirror of Simple Souls which is essentially a book about Divine Love written by a French Bedhouin named Marguerite Porete who was burned at the Stake for refusing to keep her writings private, I discovered it through a great Dutch band called Turia. All these books greatly inspired me and enabled me to write this music as they gave me different ways to perceive the world and energies around us.

 
 
SYMBOLS, MAGNETS, AND FOOD

 

Michael: Opening the inner sleeve, you see an extension of the cover, a rather enigmatic drawing playing with symbols. Can you offer some information for those who might think they’ve found a treasure map?

 

Sebastian: From all the reading I was doing, I noticed there was an element of my intuitive understanding of these texts, so for the album I created symbolic and written text forms of the music that I hope people can feel and interpret using their intuition while listening to the music, every track has it’s own symbol that is personal to what it’s meaning is for me.

 

Michael: Why calling the trio „Pulled By Magnets“? There surely is a great alchemy between the three players, Pete Wareham  again playing essentials, never entering the light talkative mood, and Neil Charles at the electric bass and electronics adding something wild, too?

 

Sebastian: I was describing the music to someone and they mentioned the feeling of being pulled by magnets, it stayed with me so I asked if I could use it which they said were happy for me to.

 

Michael: Have there been albums recently you have experienced as really immersive experiences?

 

Sebastian: For that experience I love the bands Solar Temple, Hexeth and Entheogen who I discovered after writing the music for Pulled by Magnets.

 

Michael: Did you do another ECM recording waiting for release?

 

Sebastian: No not as yet but I hope maybe in the future, Manfred Eicher is another great inspiration to me.

 

Michael: What are your plans for today or the day you have finshed to answer these questions? I do have some favourite rituals there, like traveling to the north by underground and strolling through Hampsread Heath. I always get into a very special mood there.

 

Sebastian: I started today with my own ritual and also watching two magpies gather twigs and mud for a nest.

 

Michael: What comes to your mind when you think of  the late Jon Christensen on drums?

 

Sebastian: I saw Jon Christensen playing with Jakob Bro a few years ago, I loved watching him play, was at the same time like a master and curious child.

 

Michael: What has been recently, or way back, a TV series that put a spell on you in a good way, on Netflix or wherever, or did the „new  revolution“ on TV did not cross your ways….

 

Sebastian: I love watching Netflix, so many good series, documentaries and food shows! I love watching programmes about food also because it is so connected to culture, history and community so you learn about all these things, one of my favourite ones is Ugly Delicious.

Menschen reagieren auf das Kolossal-Fremde reflexhaft mit Angst. Man hat wenig Ressourcen, dem Unbegreiflichen in ersten Augenblicken couragiert entgegenzutreten. Denken Sie an die Riesenspinnen von „Tarantula“, an Urthemen von Science Fiction und Mystery, an Todesnähe, aber auch, in politischen Dimensionen, an die primitiven Ängste vor „Überfremdung“, die Rechtspopulisten verbreiten. Bei letzteren reicht ein gutes Quantum Antifaschismus, Empathie und Toleranz, um sich zu widersetzen, und ein tieferes Verstehen des Fremden zu ermöglichen. Eine Musik, die eine Zukunft träumt, wie die analogen Synthesizer von Motus, und dabei jeden anheimelnden Retro-Charme vermissen lässt, kann schon leicht eine Ur-Angst hervorlocken: der Blick in eine ferne Zeit, der nicht mit allerlei Vertrautheiten garniert ist, hält allerdings auch eine grosse Bandbreite von Empfindungen parat, Erschrecken, Schauern, Verwunderung, Staunen. Man ist aufgefordert, erst einmal etwas auszuhalten, wenn man über eine solche Schwelle tritt. Und wenn man nicht gleich die Flucht ergreift, kann etwas Neues beim Hören entstehen, etwas, wovon man bei den ersten Tönen von Thomas Köners neuem Album nicht zu träumen wagte.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Erste Frage: Diese Musik wirkt sicher für viele Hörer erst einmal unvertraut, ja, unheimlich. Wie stellst du dir die mögliche Verwandlung vor, die bei einem Hörer einsetzen kann, dass man das, was anfangs leicht fremdartig, verstörend wirkt, auf einmal (ein Kippen der Wahrnehmung) als faszinierend, spannend erleben kann?

 

Thomas Köner: Es gibt ja in der deutschen Sprache  den schönen Begriff der Zukunftsmusik. Was ich mit Motus geschaffen habe, ist Zukunftsmusik, also Musik, die aus der Zukunft kommt, oder vielmehr, Musik, die so klingt, als käme sie aus der Zukunft. Das vibriert und wärmt uns, und ist auf eine Art fremd, bis wir Freundschaft schliessen, es ist ja Musik aus unserer eigenen Zukunft, nichts projiziertes, verdinglichtes, sondern aus einer Zukunft, die selbst eine Zukunft hat, ein endloses Öffnen, Sich-Öffnen, das so WEIT wird, das alle Erwartungen an Musik, Melodie, Formen und patterns immer weiter, immer ferner zurückbleiben, und schon in Vergessenheit geraten sind. Wir geraten also in Bewegung. Motus heisst ja Bewegung, Umwandlung, Fortschritt, Tumult, ein Wort aus der lateinischen Sprache.

 
 

Zweite Frage: Wie kommst du darauf, diese Musik überhaupt in dem Kontext von dancefloor, oder imaginärem dancefloor anzusiedeln. Ist ja schon weit weg von deiner Musik mit Porter Ricks. Das ist schon ambitioniert, con einer Art Tanzmusik zu träumen, die keinen Takt, keinen Rhythmus im engeren Sinne kennt.

 


Thomas Köner: Motus ist (für mich) mehr als nur Musik, die mit analogen Synthesizern gemacht wird, es geht um eine Haltung, eine Art, sich auf den Klang und die Emotion, die er auslöst, zu beziehen. Ein Lebensstil, bei dem Bewegung, Bewegen und Bewegt-Werden in Eins gehen. Es geht um Vibration und Resonanz, es geht um die Haut, um Berührung, um Oberflächen und das gasförmige Medium dazwischen. Ich träume von einem Raum, einem öffentlichen Raum, in dem Motus als Tanzmusik verstanden werden könnte. In welcher Welt, oder besser gesagt, in welcher Gesellschaft wäre das möglich? Und wann würde das möglich sein? Ist das futuristisch? Wird es so eine Zukunft geben? Ich möchte gerne darauf hinarbeiten, Situationen schaffen, durch die sich das Verständnis von Musik erweitern kann, Bedingungen schaffen, in denen einfach glückliche Momente unabhängig werden von einfacher Musik, in der Harmonie aufleuchten kann, auch jenseits von Kadenzen aus tonika – dominante – subdominante. Motus ist Teil dieser Erforschung: Tanz, frei von Takt und Groove, frei von Rhythmus zu finden. Es pulsiert. Der Downbeat verbindet sich mit dem Unten, ein Unten wie in Steinen, im Mineralischen. Der Upbeat verbindet sich mit einem Oben, ein Oben wie in Gräsern, Blumen, Bäumen und Sternen. Und Downbeat und Upbeat zu vereinen – das ist das, was ich unter Tanz verstehe. Die Tänzer verbinden beides zusammen, verbinden Upbeat und Downbeat, Himmel und Erde. Ihre Bewegungen sind rein, es ist die pure Bewegung, der Kuss von Geist und Materie.

 


Dritte Frage: Gab es beim Entwickeln dieser Musik für dich wiederum Bücher, wie früher, bei Alben wie Teimo oder Permafrost, die Lektüre von oft tragisch verlaufenden Expeditionen in arktische Räume? 

 
 

Thomas Köner: Der kreative Prozess geschieht natürlich immer in Begleitung, das ist ja so eine Grundannahme, Grundvoraussetzung, das zur Inspiration immer Zwei gehören, das Inspirierende und der / die Inspirierte, und das trifft auch hier mit Motus zu. Aber, und das ist ein grosses Aber – ich war ständig darauf aus, dass die Stelle der begleitenden Inspiration leer war und leer blieb. Also das heisst, wenn diese Stelle an einem Tag, in einem Moment nicht leer war, dann habe ich gar nicht erst angefangen mit dem Musikmachen oder direkt damit aufgehört. Inspiration ist ja notwendigerweise etwas, das aus der Vergangenheit kommt, und dann würde man es in der Gegenwart reflektieren, mit dem kreativen Akt darauf reagieren. Das war eine interessante Erfahrung, wie rückwärtsgewandt wir sind, alle Emotion, vom Vortag, vom Vorjahr, das stört ja wenn ich mir Musik vorstelle, wie sie aus der Zukunft kommt. Du wirst mir widersprechen und sagen, Angst vor der Zukunft, bedrohlich, das kommt doch aus der Zukunft und ist vorstellbar, begleitet uns, inspiriert uns. Aber das ist falsch. Alles, was wir erkennen und benennen kommt aus der Vergangenheit. Die Zukunft, die wir benennen können, ist nicht die wahre Zukunft. Deshalb klingt Motus ja so fremd, es ist unbeschreiblich, es ist nicht so wie man es erwarten würde oder könnte. Vielleicht mag das Hörer irritieren, aber ist das nicht schön? Insofern, deine Frage nach den Inspirationsquellen: das sind die Leerstellen.

 

 

 

 

Michael: This is a fantastic record, Eivind. Free, floating and adventurous. Have there been, before the days in Udine, conversationsabout the feel of the music, and other preparations?

 

Eivind: Michele and I have performed as a duo on different occasions, we have also played a couple of gigs with Gianluca before the recording. Before we met in studio, we talked about keeping the project open for much collective improvisations.

 

And the producer‘s presence?

 

In the studio Manfred Eicher first listened, and then came with suggestions and inspirations. He would typically ask us to do one more in the same territory if he liked where we were heading, but maybe the version was not quit there yet. He would ask us to move on to something else if we got stuck, and also being enthusiastic when he heard something he enjoyed.

 

The pieces rely very much on texture, atmosphere, a drifting mood – some touchstones come to mind. Did you talk history before?

 

References were never a topic, but for me personally I have spent so much time listening to certain stuff – 70’s Miles Davis, Rypdal and Garbarek, Jon Hassell, Brian Eno, David Torn, they have all been highly influential on me. I think Michele has some of the same references too. I am not sure about Gianluca, but he has a stronger jazz background than me, and he is very into music from the 70´s.

 

A golden age, that decade. You don‘t have to be nostalgic to realize that. The rhythmic anchor of the piece „Flood“ is, in the first part, a pulsating figure of the trombone followed by this immersive watery feel of the whole track, with, well, waves of sound. The three of you make use of additional electronics and „sounds“.

 

This was the first improvisation we did. In the post-production we added delay and some low frequency on Gianluca’s riff, and at the very beginning and very end we also added some a „cloud“ texture from another improv, a combination of trombone, guitar, and I think, some of Michele‘s stuff. The watery feel you mention is mirrored in a lot of the titles. But that „water concept“ first came up when Michele and I listened thru the material and thought the music had a watery floating feel to it. This seemed to be OK for Gianluca and Manfred as well.

 

 

 

 

A recognizable „jazz vibe“ can be detected in the opening track „Nimbus“, in the trombone, and some of Michele‘s percussive patterns. For some seconds, I had a fleeting memory of an old Rypdal recording with guitar and trombone. And there‘s a short Rypdal-esque moment at the beginning of „Styx“. I like to speak of „ghost echoes“ here. 

 

I love Rypdal‘s album Odyssey with Torbjørn Sunde on the trombone! And, yes I agree, the beginning of „Styx“ for sure has some Rypdal in there … He is such a strong influence, so I try to avoid to be too close, but you know, sometimes it leaks thru …

 

A change of scene, the appearance of your acoustic sounding guitar on „What Floats Above“. A very ambient piece.

 

I wrote this one before the studio session. It was nice to explore this two very separate worlds, the very concrete acoustic guitar, and the all the other stuff playing more in parallel than with the guitar. Nils Petter Molvaer introduced me to Michael Brooks Hybrid in the 80´s, and it is one of the records which really changed me. This is also one of my favorite records from the production team of Lanois / Eno.

 

 

 

 

Still a buried treasure, that album On the title track, „Lost River“, the trombone moves through a very special „landscape“, no classifications possible. Is it a cliche to speak of a cinematic feel here and on other tracks, but, so, here we go, what a cinematic feeling!

 

This a another collective improvisation, and I remember that there were some talks about films, although I don’t remember if there was any specific movie mentioned. I actually read about a river which disappeared into a underground canal, and it is called „Lost River“.

 

There‘s a beautiful, melancholic sense of impermanence prevailing on the whole album, but here it comes, on „Night Sea Journey“, a groove!

 

Yes it is a kind of groove tune, and as I said; I know that Gianluca are very much into music from the 70´s so it might be some references for him there. The starting point of the tune was a combination of effects on the guitar; harmonizers and delays, which had a character which we felt would be nice to explore.  

 

Do you see the cover photo as a kind of signifier for the music, or just a more or less typical „ECM design“ suggesting space. And, really, what do I see on that picture: a wall, a floor, a bag? Somehow mysterious.

 

Well I am not sure, the decision on the cover was made by ECM, and we all liked it but I don’t know what it actually is …, so absolutely a mystery …

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


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