N° 27 · FALL 2011
w w w. electroni cbe ats . ne t
conversations on essential issues fall 2011
electronic beats · björk · tricky · modeselektor · biosphere · apparat · the gentlewoman
yo u r dig i ta l d a i ly
fantastic man tricky modeselektor brian eno
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E L EC T RO N IC B E ATS SLICES
Electronic Beats SLICES – the first DVD Magazine for electronic music. Presents insights into the electronic music world through portraits, interviews, features and videos. Reports on electronica and dubstep via house to techno.
WATC H N OW ! WWW. E L EC T RO N I C B E ATS . N E T / T V / SLICES
“They treated print like a megaphone for complex thoughts . . .” Max Dax: In last issue’s editori-
al, you and I began a discussion on the future of print. I’d like to continue with a quote from Gert Jonkers, editor-in-chief of the fashion and style bi-annual Fantastic Man: “Paper is an extraordinarily beautiful product, like cashmere or leather. It should be treated like the valuable raw material that it is.”
Hans Ulrich Obrist: As a raw mate-
rial, paper’s value is on the rise, and the Internet has undoubtedly contributed to its disappearance for other reasons. But in many contexts, we’re actually seeing the reverse—a paper comeback, so to speak. Artists, for example, are increasingly focused on displaying their work in book form. For some, it’s become a primary medium. MD: Do you think that books and
magazines should assume a new role in processing ideas and communicating the highly conceptual? Does it make art more discursive?
HUO: It’s clear that magazines and
books are mediums that not only reflect reality, but also produce it. Just look at architects like Rem Koolhaas or Le Corbusier; for them, books were never secondary mediums in terms of expression. MD: You mean their books are
more like manifestos?
Dear Readers, It’s not easy to condense an entire cloud of content into a single drop of editorial. That being said, in the process of putting together our second issue of the new Electronic Beats Magazine, we’ve been struck by how the interviews and conversations create a matrix of references teeming with unexpected connections. It’s these connections between the worlds of art, music and fashion that not only reflect today’s culture of recommendations, but also contribute to it. Bringing together the voices of people like Björk, Brian Eno, Sonic Boom, Glenn O’Brien and Penny Martin (among others) has yielded something greater than the sum of its parts; namely, a larger ongoing conversation. Sincerely, Max Dax Editor-in-Chief
HUO: Yes. They treated print like a megaphone for complex thoughts. You really have to pay attention to detail when what you write and display might last forever . . . MD: Or when it has such a large
circulation. Apropos manifestos: it seems to me that they don’t necessarily have to be one-way streets of communication. An argument can also be composed of an exchange of ideas.
HUO: The artist Tino Sehgal
told me not too long ago that the manifesto, as a male declaration of intent, was a thing of the past; twenty-first century manifestos will be more like dialogues. MD: I think Plato’s dialogues were
also manifestos—back in the fifth century B.C. But somehow it makes sense to hear that from Tino Sehgal, because he’s an artist who doesn’t like seeing his work documented. It’s as if the dialogue, as a means of communicating ideas, makes them less set in stone. Although perhaps that’s why artists who were so obsessed with dialogues—like Andy Warhol, for example—wanted to document everything. After all, that’s why he founded Interview.
HUO: A lot of artists have founded
magazines—FILE by the General Idea collective, or even Art Forum,
which was John Coplans’ brainchild, originally. And curators do it too. I put together my first book with Kasper König, which was an edition of the annual publication Jahresring. I suppose it was somewhere between a book and a magazine, because it had advertisements. But these ads were special. MD: In what sense? HUO: Well, we swapped ads with other artist-run magazines, so we ended up with almost thirty pages worth of ads designed by different artists. In that sense, it was more like an exhibition. Thomas Bayrle designed a whole campaign with them. Things really become interesting when an artist-run magazine is produced in an artist-run space, like with Warhol’s Interview and The Factory. As long as deadlines are met, of course. As Walt Disney said: “Deadlines make the world go round.” MD: I think when magazines docu-
ment not only the ideas themselves, but also the processing and development of ideas, they become truly historical objects—a sort of inventory of the zeitgeist.
HUO: Especially when a network of connections is made between the publications. As Julian Assange once told me: “Publish or perish.”~
imprint Electronic Beats Magazine Conversations on Essential Issues Est. 2005 Issue N° 27 Fall 2011
Publisher: Burda Creative Group GmbH, P.O. Box 810249, 81902 München, Germany Managing Director: Dr.-Ing. Christian Fill
Editorial Office: Electronic Beats Magazine, c/o .HBC, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 9, 10178 Berlin, Germany www.electronicbeats.net/magazine email@example.com Editor-in-Chief: Max Dax Managing Editors: Benjamin Schnitzer and Carmen Wiegand Duty Editor: Michael Lutz Editor: A. J. Samuels Photography Editor: Corinna Ada Koch Copy Editor: Karsten Schoellner Art Direction: Johannes Beck Director Creative Solutions: Ralph Fischer
Cover: Björk, photographed by Jane Brown
Contributing Authors: A Guy Called Gerald, Apparat, Beans, Stefan Betke aka Pole, Chris Bohn, André de Ridder, Brian Eno, Matthew Herbert, Hans-Joachim Irmler, Geir Jenssen, Gert Jonkers, Steven Levy, Arto Lindsay, Armin Linke, Penny Martin, Modeselektor, Glenn O’Brien, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Simeon Coxe, Sonic Boom, Tricky and Anne Waak
Contributing Photographers and Illustrators: Dominic Alves, Roman Bezjak, Beezer, Jane Brown, Simone Gilges, Martin Godwin, Kenji Higuchi, Luci Lux, Hans Martin Sewcz, Andrea Stappert, Miguel Villalobos, Sven Voelker, Andy Warhol and Carsten Windhorst
Electronic Beats Magazine is a division of the Telekom Electronic Beats Music Sponsoring Program Electronic Beats Music Sponsoring: Claudia Jonas and Ralf Lülsdorf Public Relations: Stephanie Binder / Haeberlein & Maurer firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions: www.electronicbeats.net/magazine-subscription Advertising: email@example.com Printing: Druckhaus Kaufmann, Raiffeisenstr. 29, 77933 Lahr, Germany www.druckhaus-kaufmann.de
Thanks to: Nicolas Fritz, Anne Haffmans, Silvana Mayrthaler, Guido Möbius, Gosia Plysa, Barbara Preisinger, Stephan Rothfuss and everybody at .HBC Berlin, Mat Schulz, Radek Szczesniak, Lorraine Two © 2011 Electronic Beats Magazine Reproduction without permission is prohibited
Paper should be treated as valuably as cashmere or leather.
EB EB 3/2011 3/2011
Content Pictures to the Editor ............................................................. 8 Recommendations ......................................................................... 16 Music and other media recommended by Pole, Arto Lindsay1, Hans-Joachim Irmler, Glenn O’Brien, A Guy Called Gerald, Armin Linke, Chris Bohn and Beans; featuring new releases by Zomby, Popol Vuh, tobias., Andy Warhol, Roman Bezjak, Greie Gut Fraktion, Kanye West & Jay-Z and Shabazz Palaces ABC The alphabet according to modeselektor..................................... 28 Mr. Style Icon Tricky on DJ Milo .................................................. 32 6
Counting with… Apparat .............................................................. 35 “Pythagoras saw the cosmos similarly” Hans Ulrich Obrist2 interviews Björk ................................................. 38 “In the forest, birds are louder than everything else” Max Dax meets Geir Jenssen aka Biosphere3 ................................... 48 “I was swimming in an ocean of time” Max Dax talks to Brian Eno ............................................................... 56
Fashion talk: The Gentlewoman’s Penny Martin and Fantastic Man’s Gert Jonkers ......................................................... 64 Two of a strange kind: Producer Sonic Boom in conversation with Silver Apples’ Simeon Coxe ........................... 72 Of strings and street sounds: André de Ridder skypes with Matthew Herbert .................................................... 78 A day in the life: 24 hours in KrakOw ............................................... 84 Neu: Steven Levy on digital estate planning ................................. 98 62
Three of our featured contributors: 1
(* 1958) is a US-born guitarist, singer and producer currently living in Rio de Janeiro. His pioneering, noisy, no-wave guitar style is often emulated, though rarely recreated. For this issue, he recommends Kanye West’s and Jay-Z’s new album. (p. 27)
Hans Ulrich Obrist
(* 1968) is a curator of contemporary art. Since 2006, he has been Co-director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery in London. For this issue, he interviewed Björk. (p.38)
(* 1937) is a photographer from Tokyo, Japan. Since the late seventies, Higuchi’s photography has focused on the dangers of nuclear energy. This issue features his image of beach-goers near the Mihama nuclear plant, taken in 1981. (p. 64)
pictures to the editor Send your photos to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The aquarium is scarier than any horror movie. Rosalia Kullick, Berlin
It took me ages to make the sparrow trust me. Then I shot him. Arthur Rau, Frankfurt
When The Saints Go Machine under rays of light at the Electronic Beats Festival Prague. Matei Slรกdek, Prague
Sundown at this yearâ€™s Melt Festival.
Max Grieb, Nuremberg
I found this in a photo booth at a Berlin tube station. Fashion meets conspiracy theory. Aaron Levine, Leeds 12
An empty factory space in Kรถln-Ehrenfeld. I especially like the tagged crane. Klaus Velten, Bonn
S N O I S S E S O I D THE RA
ELECTRONIC BEATS ON AIR EVERY THURSDAY 10PM
Berlin FM 100,6 Stuttgart FM 97,2 Bremen FM 97,2 or listen to the livestream on fluxfm.de
recommEndations “ . . . the atmospheric quality of analogue production” A Guy Called Gerald recommends tobias.’s Leaning Over Backwards
A Guy Called Gerald is a producer, DJ, and founding member of 808 State. He is widely known as a pioneer of both jungle and acid house. He currently lives in Berlin.
Some people idolize pop stars. For me, it’s the studio technicians who are usually the most interesting people to talk to about sound. I’ve known tobias., alias Tobias Freund, for a while and he’s one of the most accurate technicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. He’s the kind of engineer who can walk into a studio and immediately tell you if your monitors are off in some way or if something’s out of phase. He also has an incredible knack for keeping a track dynamic, even though it’s really, really loud— which is why so many producers and electronic musicians have him master their stuff. Because Tobias has been in the game for so long, he understands the importance of working hermetically within a studio environment and what being sealed off from the rest of the world can allow you to create. His studio work is mostly behind
the scenes, but he’s also engineered bigger bands and DJs. We’re talking about a seasoned veteran of sound and production. The first thing I noticed about Leaning Over Backwards is how incredibly clean it is. The whole thing has been painted with a post-minimal brush, and with incredible precision. At first I had a difficult time finding the common thread between the individual tracks, but after a second listen it all of a sudden became clear how painstakingly arranged everything was. Because lately I’ve been listening to so much straight-up dance music, it was jarring to hear an album that’s so undeniably techno, but at the same time so contemplative—almost brooding, really. For my ears, it comes from the atmospheric quality of the analogue production. From the very beginning, you hear it in the quality of the whisper of the white
noise. The sounds are so smooth and un-grainy—you just can’t fake them. You know, it’s easy to imitate the algorithm of, say, a squelchy bassline, but faking the higher frequencies of analogue synth sweeps is something else entirely. Tobias understands that all too well. I hear the album as a series of journeys where each rhythmic element slowly makes an appearance and then integrates itself into a larger mechanical skip. The 808 sounds aren’t your run of the mill old school kicks and claps, but rather a more tweaked and compressed set of patterns. I know that using older equipment to get a new sound isn’t easy, but Leaning Over Backwards sounds at once familiar and refreshing, which is a delicate balance. It’s Tobias’ superb ear and attention to detail that make the album so easy to listen to—not that the music isn’t challenging; it just feels so good. ~
“A lost utopia” Armin Linke recommends Roman Bezjak’s Socialist Modernism
Next page: Skeletal remains of The Palace of the Republic, Berlin, 2008. From Socialist Modernism by Roman Bezjak, Hatje Cantz, 2011. 16
Despite the fact that Roman Bezjak and I work in the same field, our photography couldn’t be more different. Bezjak, who is originally from Slovenia, is known for travelling through Eastern Europe and taking pictures of socialist modernist architecture—structures that represent a sort of lost utopia. While the images he assembled in his aptly titled new book Socialist Modernism always capture a kind of utopian veneer, they also expose how history has left these structures behind. It’s a strange attraction that radiates from these buildings,
as some of them are half-ruins . . . they’re almost archeological. But the ideological remnants are still visible. It’s important to add that Western capitalist architecture was also “modernist” in the fifties and sixties, but modernism in the West manifested itself differently. Perhaps it was less overtly propagandistic. It’s interesting how Bezjak’s photographs contain more than one temporal layer. You always see both the original building and the additional signs of transformati-
on—modern cars, tram stations or massive billboards—which drastically transform the urban socialist landscapes in uexpected ways. Bezjak also manages to synchronize the images by lightening the colors slightly, which make them look like old postcards from the sixties. Because the photos look as if they were taken when the buildings really were new, Bezjak documents not only the architecture, but also their historical context. Personally, I would have loved to see not only the facades, but also
some of the buildings’ interiors. His exclusive focus on the external structure of urban landscapes ignores an equally important aspect of socialist architecture. Something’s obviously missing. It’s as if Bezjak doesn’t make the connection between the visible and the invisible, which is a dangerous thing to neglect: an integral part of the socialist program was making sure people didn’t ask what was going on behind closed doors, i.e. behind the impressive facades. Unlike other contemporary photographers like Andreas Gursky or Axel Hütte, Bezjak’s pictures aren’t “hyperreal”; the images appear casual as opposed to spec-
Armin Linke is an artist working with both film and photography. He combines these and other mediums to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Based in Milan and Berlin, he is currently working on a visual archive of various natural and manmade landscapes.
tacular, because he uses a normal large format camera—a Linhoff Technika—without any special objective manufactured for architectural photography. More often than not, photographers tend to fail without the “right” equipment. But Bezjak succeeds by substituting technique for detail. He also uses a color layer that reminds me a lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, where a palette of grayish-pastel colors are used for all scenes set in East Germany. The famous German film critic Frieda Grafe wrote an entire book about the use of colors in modern cinema based on the example of Torn Curtain. The
history of colors goes hand in hand with the history of the chemical industry. And as we all know, the chemical industries in the West were very different from those in the East. It’s as if Bezjak is telling us not to trust these colors. I am currently working on a book about the former Yugoslavia and have also photographed some of the same buildings and monuments that appear in Bezjak’s book. It’s clear that he was thorough about his research. Maybe he’s driven by the fact that, at least in the West, socialist modernist architecture has not been subject to serious academic work. Hopefully the buildings will still EB 3/2011
be standing by the time we really start to understand their true value. But I have the distinct feeling many will be destroyed. The most recent example that comes to mind is the demolition of the former East German seat of parliament, The Palace of the Republic in Berlin, which should never have happened. And even Bezjak, whose goal was, in a sense, to immortalize such buildings, only managed to photograph it after the demolition was already in progress. The walls of the “palace” are torn down, and you can literally see through the building to the other side. Interestingly, this is the only picture that allows you to 18
catch a glimpse of an interior. An insightful essay by Inka Schube is also included. I want to quote her, as she points out that there are sometimes very profane reasons for the destruction of such important buildings: “Given the accelerated accumulation of private capital and increasing upheavals, the issues surrounding the usage of these buildings, the complicated situation of their preservation, and the need for energy-efficient renovation concepts, perhaps Bezjak was simply aware that these pieces of architecture would not exist much longer.” It’s important to note that in
Above: Office building and retail stores in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine. Next page: Apartment building in Zagreb, Croatia. This page and previous page: All images taken from Socialist Modernism by Roman Bezjak, Hatje-Cantz, 2011.
almost all of the photographs, the buildings have the look of monumental film sets and the people look like extras. This is less Bezjak’s doing than an actual part of the architecture. The North Korean capital Pyongyang is built like that, and you can find examples in plenty of Western cities, too. For example, Carlo Mulino’s Teatro Reggio, a post-modern baroque theater in Turin’s city center, is so oversized, every visitor becomes both a spectator and a metric of its incredible dimensions. The people become part of the architecture, and the architecture needs the people to appear so oversized. For reminding us of that alone, Bezjak’s book is important. ~
“Leave it to a guy who names his son Jazz” Beans recommends Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up
Beans is a New Yorkbased rapper, producer, DJ and founding member of the avantgarde hip-hop group Anti-Pop Consortium.
I’ve had a hard time coming up with good descriptions or comparisons for Black Up, because the album is just so distinct. I would even go so far as to say that in hip-hop today, there’s nothing that sounds anything like it. Shabazz Palaces have done astoundingly original things not only harmonically, but also in terms of song structure and rhyme style. As a DJ, the album’s second track “Are you . . . Can you . . . Were you?” is something I can drop anywhere in a set and have people just feel it.
It’s a rare and exciting versatility. As you can tell, I’m just a huge fan. Professionally, I’ve also been trying to get something going with these guys—put together a tour or whatever—but it hasn’t happened yet. It’s for sure on the top of my to-do list. It’s obviously not the first time that a group has fused jazz with hip-hop, but Black Up doesn’t sound like a Gang Starr record or something older from the Natives Tongue Posse. That’s probably
because Ishmael Butler, chief creative mind behind Shabazz Palaces, put out stuff like that with his old group, Digable Planets. The album is like an avant-garde evolution of jazz sampling and improvisation, with more electronic elements in the mix, too. It’s visionary. Leave it to a guy who names his son Jazz to reinvigorate hip-hop with freer forms. I don’t know Ishmael that well, but the first time we met was in Las Vegas playing a festival with the EB 3/2011
Flaming Lips and a couple of other bands—Talib Kweli, Blackalicious, Atmosphere, Digable Planets and myself on the main hip-hop stage. I chatted a bit with him then and
I spoke to him on the phone a couple of times later on. He’s mad cool, a guy who’s very comfortable in his own skin. I really respect the fact that he doesn’t do a lot of interviews because he thinks the
music should speak for itself. It’s inspiring. As a musician, he’s gone through so many stages of development and success, while always insisting on making music on his own terms. ~
“Like a long forgotten treasure chest” Hans-Joachim Irmler on Popol Vuh’s Revisited & Remixed 1970-1999
Hans-Joachim Irmler is one of the founding members of the legendary German krautrock outfit Faust. Aside from his solo work, Irmler currently performs together with ex-Einstürzende Neubauten percussionist FM Einheit and Berliner post-rockers To Rococo Rot. He lives in southern Germany where he also runs Klangbad Studios.
It’s difficult nowadays to use the term “krautrock” without confusing people; everyone seems to have a different definition. I can certainly speak for Faust, and because I knew Florian Fricke so well, I think I can do so for Popol Vuh, too. Generally, the term “krautrock” describes an entire spectrum of stylistic eclecticism within German progressive rock in the early seventies. Aside from the prog aspect, I think the main common denominator amongst krautrock bands was the insight that Germans couldn’t compete with the great American or British beat bands. We understood that this wasn’t part of our musical roots—especially because the Nazis had spurned anything jazz- or blues-oriented. No, what we Krauts brought to the table of international musical progress three decades after the war was sonic experimentation and the concept of rhythmic repetition. At least in Germany, krautrock is still waiting to be discovered and embraced by the masses. It’s like a long forgotten treasure chest. I know Popol Vuh’s Florian Fricke suffered terribly from not being taken seriously in his home country. Neither his success in the UK nor his fame with Werner Herzog’s film scores were enough to satisfy his need for broader recognition. In my mind, I somehow link his untimely death to this disappointment.
This posthumously released Popol Vuh compilation will hopefully bring some awareness to some of the finest German music ever recorded. This release comes with a bonus disc of remixes, including tracks by Mika Vainio of Pan Sonic, Mouse on Mars, Thomas Fehlman and Moritz von Oswald, who’ve all done a good job in processing old into new. But far more than the remixes, it’s the original pieces that stand their ground with adamant authority. Take “In den Gärten Pharaos” from Popol Vuh’s 1971 album of the same title. At seventeen minutes long, this song is nothing less than majestic. And it doesn’t sound dated in the least. On the contrary; every single layer of percussion or Moog-III sound is interwoven in the most progressive and elegant possible way. Fricke’s use of melodies—or should I say his deconstruction of melodies— was visionary. I know that when making music, Florian had very specific strategies. Shortly before his death in 2001, he came to visit me in my studio to discuss the possibility of collaboration. He left me with a tape containing the rough layout for a new Popol Vuh piece. I was surprised that there were such straight ahead melodies on the tracks, but he assured me that they would eventually be replaced.
Essentially, the melody lines only served as a guideline for what was later to be spliced, taken apart and put back together again in classic Fricke fashion. To my ear, there’s plenty of Popol Vuh in acts like Aphex Twin or Basic Channel. Listening to this compilation was the first time in several years that I had listened to many of the Popol Vuh tracks. What surprised me was how easy it was to listen to Revisited & Remixed 1970-1999 in one go. At times, I had to remind myself that this was a compilation and not a proper album release— the songs fit together that well. On a final note regarding the remixes: honestly, they’re mostly good. But for me the standout track is Mika Vainio’s remix of “Nachts Schnee”. Vainio is the only artist to stay true to the structure of the Popol Vuh original. From what I can tell, the only thing he seems to have added is what I’d describe as “electronic slaps”, which appear out of the blue to hit you right in the face. Listening to Vainio’s remix, I thought to myself: if Popol Vuh were still around and making music today, that’s exactly what they’d sound like. It was like listening to the continuation of a path Florian had laid out some forty years ago. If only he’d lived long enough to hear it. ~
BY ALL MEANS NECESSARY
“Within a tradition of progress and modernity” Chris Bohn recommends Greie Gut Fraktion’s Rekonstruktion
Chris Bohn is a longtime editor of Londonbased music magazine WIRE. Bohn, who sometimes writes under the pseudonym Biba Kopf, is one of the most distinguished experts of German music and subculture in the world.
Greie Gut Fraktion’s new remix album Rekonstruktion marks a well-executed return of contemporary German music to interesting points in its rich history. The remixes are based on Greie Gut Fraktion’s original Baustelle LP from 2010, the centerpiece of which was a cover of the Palais Schaumberg classic “Wir bauen eine neue Stadt”. Aside from being one of the most memorable hits of German punk and new wave, “Wir bauen eine neue Stadt” (“We’re building a new city”) was itself based on German composer Paul Hindemith’s classic 1930 children’s song “Wir bauen eine Stadt” (“We’re building a city”). Antye Greie—she performs under the moniker AGF—and Gudrun Gut have aptly placed themselves within a tradition of progress and modernity, and the shoe fits. And just as fitting is the fact that Gut, who as an original (albeit shortterm) member of the Einstürzende Neubauten pleaded for the destruction of the modern city, is now intent on building it back up.
Although Rekonstruktion is inconsistent at points, the album works well as a whole—independently of historical context. I recently had the chance to chat with Antye Greie in London and found out that initially, she wasn’t fully sold on remixing the original. At the time, her attitude was: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And 2010’s Baustelle was a well-oiled machine. But Rekonstruktion does exactly what you want from a remix album: maintain a compositional and emotional connection to the original, while emphasizing new, occasionally overlooked aspects. Listening to the album from beginning to end is an energizing experience, because narratively it takes so many unexpected twists and turns, while exuding an air of un-preciousness in the best possible sense. The duo treats their music as a work in progress—an attitude lots of other musicians would be wise to adopt. On a slightly more critical note, the thinness of Gudrun Gut’s
normally rich and deep voice on Rekonstruktion took some getting used to. Apart from Alva Noto’s brilliant remix of “Wir bauen eine neue Stadt”, Gut’s vocals lack their usual robustness, and that’s something I truly missed. In contrast, Antye Greie, whose voice is higher and less powerful, seemed to nail it—a strange role reversal. An intriguing (and positive) reversal can also be heard in the duo’s field recordings, which were taken mostly from construction sites. Instead of being conventionally “industrial”, the sounds are rhythmically smoother, more playful and more nuanced than you’d expect—the result of both Greie Gut Fraktion’s unconventional approach as well as that of the remixers. Ultimately, these two powerful and visionary women and the many female contributors featured on the album (Barbara Morgenstern in particular) blaze a trail straight across various genres of male-dominated electronic music. That’s not just refreshing; it’s also important. ~
“Deconstructions, echoes and cross references” Stefan Betke aka Pole on Zomby’s Dedication
There were a couple of occasions where Zomby and I could have met in person—I’ve played more than one festival where he was scheduled to appear either right before or right after me . . . if only he had shown up. It’s a running gag amongst promoters that when you book Zomby, you better have a replacement act on hand. It should also be known that when you first listen to his music digitally, it should be in a proper format.
My first listen to Dedication was as a low bit-rate MP3 and after around three minutes I thought to myself: I haven’t heard something this bad in a long time. Luckily, my second listen was in CD-quality format and the difference was like night and day. Of course, as a producer and studio engineer, I’m sensitive when it comes to crafting sounds. But with Dedication— Zomby’s second album—almost all of the detail and sophisticated
sound-design disappears when not listened to in the proper format. This was most apparent in regards to Zomby’s complex manipulation of hall and reverb. Together with the effects, the instrumentation and balance in his composition make for masterfully precise and clearly defined grooves. Aside from the fact that I don’t like the sound of gunfire at all—and there’s lots of it on the album’s first track, “Witch Hunt”—Zomby has an
Stefan Betke, alias Pole, is a producer, sound engineer, and the co-founder of the Berlin-based ~scape label. Legend has it that in 1996, Betke accidentally dropped his Waldorf 4-Pole analog filter, causing it to spit out the unpredictable hisses and pops that eventually became the trademark of his idiosyncratic dub techno.
incredible ear. But I can’t emphasize it enough: anybody listening to Dedication on cheap headphones and in MP3 quality will miss the experience this record has to offer. The album is a compact work of no more than thirty-six minutes, with individual tracks clocking in at circa three to four minutes—something you might expect more from the conventional singersongwriter. But Zomby makes his point quickly, sucking in the listener with classic introductions and then leading them to more chorus-like passages. Ultimately, you get shot out the other end with Zomby’s codas, which usually end abruptly. But perhaps the most striking aspect of the album are the refrains, which recur over the course of the entire record—unexpected deconstructions, echoes and cross references of melodies and
rhythmic patterns pop up out of nowhere, but are brilliantly embedded in the album’s narrative. Dubstep tracks are usually the opposite of pop songs; dubstep is about the dancefloor, about neverending rhythms, trance, repetition and hypnosis. Dedication could have incorporated all of those elements, but instead blazes a new and different trail—one that’s not so bass-heavy. What it retains is a moodiness that’s expertly recast within a pop context. That’s a brave and important move, because over the past few years, dubstep has become monotonous and overly self-referential. Some dubstep producers have moved into new territory—Detroit techno, Berlin-style digital dub techno, Chicago house . . . These are all legitimate musical directions, but I don’t see them leading to anything new.
When talking about poppier, postdubstep genres, James Blake inevitably comes to mind. But unlike Blake, who apart from his first two twelve-inches is little more than an overhyped poster-boy, Zomby’s Dedication is the opposite of superficial. I don’t think a typical dubstep DJ would play individual tracks in a club, but there are intelligent, progressive DJs who would gladly throw a Zomby tune into their set—people like Actress, Flying Lotus or Four Tet . . . Speaking of Four Tet: I recently listened to his last album There Is Love In You and immediately realized the incredible similarities between “Angel Echoes” and Zomby’s “Natalia’s Song”. Atmospherically the tracks are like twins separated at birth. If I DJ’ed, I’d definitely put these two together. ~
“And they were pop . . .” Glenn O’Brien on Andy Warhol’s Headlines
I worked for a long time with Andy. I edited his Interview Magazine together with Bob Colacello in the early years, and then eventually became the lone editor. Andy was the boss, but he had a lot of other things to do, so he let us run the magazine. His way of intervening was very smart, very indirect. He kind of set the tone, but we pretty much had the freedom to shape things. When Bob and I took it over, it was still basically a movie magazine; a review very similar to Cahiers du cinéma or Film Comment, but more underground. At some point, we wanted to make it more general interest, so we started including art and fashion and music and other things as well. Probably the most important change was
the conceptual focus; since it was called Inter/View, we decided to make it an oral thing, and have the content be almost all interviews—the interview being the most straightforward journalistic format imaginable. Actually Inter/View was introduced almost exactly to the month that the first cassette recorders appeared on the market. So we knew that we were the first magazine in the world to write oral history—we were hyperaware of that, actually. I felt, at least, that it had an advantage over writing since the narrative could always be challenged in progress by the intervention of the interviewer. It was almost like going back to Plato. Andy always liked famous people,
so when we started getting real celebrities for the magazine, I think he found that exciting. And he was a big draw for people to interview because everybody wanted to come up and see what was going on at the Warhol Factory. In terms of style and the way we presented things, he didn’t specifically comment on what we did very often. We had a very similar aesthetic sense, which I would describe as a tabloid aesthetic— right in the face. I was designing the magazine, and at some point, it became a very intense process, because the most economic way was to do it all in a few days. I was laying out pages at night—at a time when the typesetters had already gone home to sleep. Since I didn’t know how to use a type-
setting machine, I took an IBM typewriter and just blew up the type very large and used that for the headlines. And when Andy saw that, he couldn’t stop saying how much he liked it. “Oh, that’s so much better than using all those other ones. You should just use this.” By complimenting me, Andy was giving me a direction. He could have said, “You’re using too many styles”, but instead he made it like I had done something great. Which I had done, I suppose, but the point is that he wasn’t bossy or explicit in the usual sense. He would wait until he liked something and then he’d let you know. And from that point on we knew that we could go on without asking because we knew we had all the freedom to do whatever we wanted. Of course, we had a great advantage in him. Getting celebrities for interviews was easy since they all wanted to meet Andy. So, if we wanted famous people we would say that it would be Andy interviewing them. And he was up for it—at least for participating in some way, even if he didn’t know what to ask. Other people could ask the journalistic questions and Andy would ask them what they like to eat. Interview Magazine was the closest he got to creating mass media. Owning a magazine with a circulation in the thousands, we had quite a reach. Most of the magazines that have been created since Inter/View have in some way proceeded from it. Even People Magazine. Andy knew Patrick O’Higgins, a wonderful writer who was the biographer of Helena Rubinstein and an editor at People. He told us that Time-Life started People because of Inter/View. Andy was a reader, too. It was interesting visiting the archives at the Warhol museum to see parts
of his book collection. Andy was much more of an intellectual than he let on. His novel, A, is basically a modern version of Ulysses. It’s about what happens to a man in twenty-four hours. He knew all the art theory and everything that was going on but he played dumb because that was “pop”. He liked that I-want-to-be-a-machine pose. When I picture him at the Factory, I can see him sitting in a corner or in his tiny office, reading the news-
papers or flipping through magazines. We had all the New York papers lying around and every magazine out there as well—from Paris Vogue to the Palm Beach Pictorial. But I remember Andy reading the New York Post or the Daily News the most. As we know from his paintings, he loved that tabloid style, the type, the language, the sensational headlines. He would cut out every article he was mentioned in and put it in his
Above: Andy Warhol, 129 Die in Jet, photostat of the front page of The New York Mirror, 1962.
Right: Andy Warhol, Tunafish Disaster, 1963, silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen. This page and previous page: All images taken from Warhol Headlines, Prestel Publishing Ltd., 2011
scrapbooks. And there were a lot of scrapbooks. They were really important. These big black books were his own measure of fame. Of course, he eventually had dozens of these scrapbooks since he was a master of publicity and appeared in so many contexts. Even if somebody wrote something bad about him, he liked it. He believed in the idea that the more your name is in the papers the more famous you are. Quantity over quality. It’s fair to say that the tabloid style—from New York papers like the News and Post to far trashier national papers like the National Enquirer and gossip magazines like Confidential—really set the tone for pop art in so many ways. First and foremost because they represented the most superficial and widespread graphic journalism
imaginable. And they were pop. They were the vernacular, the vulgate of pop culture. You could basically cut and paste the covers or the front pages and turn them into art. And that’s what Andy sometimes did. The print Tunafish Disaster is a kind of poetry. Headlines is a book that deals with Andy’s particular relationship to mass media. There are some insightful essays in it, but first and foremost, the publishers did a good job on assembling images and facsimiles that show the various aspects of this relationship. I’m always happy when I’m confronted with works of Andy’s that I’ve never seen before and almost all of the hand-drawn newspaper pictures are new to me. But biographically, I suppose it makes sense that he would draw so heavily from
magazine and newspaper designs; after all, he started as an illustrator and newspapers were his first venue. The book includes an excellent collection of his early newspaper drawings, which are mostly pencil or ink on paper. As we all know he eventually abandoned the medium for the more mechanical silk-screening—something he also got much more recognition for. But I always liked these frail and delicate drawings a lot. They disappeared sometime in the mid-sixties. It’s interesting to note that at the end of his life, Andy revisited his wonderful draftsmanship and played around with the tabloid style and imagery. I think he was encouraged by the younger artists he admired so much; people like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf. It was a fitting reversal. ~
Glenn O’Brien is an award-winning writer, primarily for fashion, art and music magazines. He served as editor and art director of Andy Warhol’s Interview from 1970 to 1973 and has also written several books. His newest is called How to Be a Man – A Guide To Style and Behavior For The Modern Gentleman.
“Beats and rhymes, big and epic” Arto Lindsay on Kanye West’s and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne There are two production styles I’ve gotten really into these days: the first is the (James) Blakean school of combining dubstep sounds, vocal treatments and strange repetition. The second is T-Bone Burnett’s big, old-fashioned Hollywood reverb thing—huge and fearless. Kanye West’s sound is a combination of the two, which, in my book, makes him the world’s number one producer. After making a name for himself with sped-up samples and beats, Kanye learned old-fashion production skills: orchestration, arrangement and analogue recording techniques. By hiring the best sound engineers around, Kanye vindicates all the good things about the old recording industry. And he’s obsessive about keeping up with the global underground, from dance music and indie rock to every other imaginable sub-genre. I love the grand, excessive, and triumphant things in hip-hop—beats and rhymes, big and epic. Watch the Throne is exactly that. Plus, Kanye can be so personal and intense, which balances Jay-Z’s more technical approach. Jay-Z’s
stories have also become more familiar, compared to Kanye’s highly original observations about life and the world. Take Kanye’s second verse on “No Church in the Wild”: “When we die, the money we can’t keep. But we probably spend it all ’cause the pain ain’t cheap. Preach!” This comes right after he’s laid down the guidelines for a proper threesome. Watch the Throne also features two songs with singer Frank Ocean from Odd Future, whose “Novacane” has blown up over the past few months. It’s an album with a finger on the pulse of the future. Some might think it’s decadent and offensive that American rappers talk so much about money— especially when so many people are out of work. But this record is split in half in more ways than one: half of it is about how much money Kanye and Jay-Z have and the other half is about those who don’t have money and why; about how black people are still suffering in America; about how black women are still not considered beautiful. And of course, the poor want luxury in their entertain-
ment. People like shiny things, and in a sense this record is the shiniest object of the moment, with the faux bas-relief cover by Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci. (DEF JAM/Universal)
On one track Kanye and Jay-Z literally bought both a Curtis Mayfield and an Otis Redding song in order to chop them up and sample them how they wanted. They bought these songs! Crazy! Or as it’s said these days: “Cray!” The results are pretty impressive, too. Kanye uses the actual sound of the song—that is, the sound of the recording, not just the beat. He then builds everything else in detailed fashion around it, like with “Try a Little Tenderness”, where he layers his own singers and percussion right on top. Then he just yanks some of Otis’ vocal sounds—groans, grunts, guttural exclamations—and uses them for rhythm. It’ll be interesting to see how the world rethinks the American dream now that America is no longer the subject of the world’s dreams. This record is beginning to think such thoughts. ~
Arto Lindsay is a US-born guitarist, singer and producer currently living in Rio de Janeiro.
The alphabet according to Modeselektor A
as in AUTOBAHN: Kraftwerk famously sang: “Wir fahr’n, fahr’n, fahr’n auf der Autobahn.” Cruising the German motorways can be a mind-blowing experience and the Autobahn is by far our favorite place to be in Germany. Nothing compares to listening to loud music and whiling away the kilometers. It’s incredibly meditative. If you ever happen to visit Germany, rent a fast car, pop in Kraftwerk, and turn up the volume. (See also: “D” “L” and “P”)
as in BASS: Bass is our religion (see also: “E”). Bass, how low can you go? Bass is maternal. Bass is the place. Bass is an endless universe. Bass is something you can easily get addicted to. By the way: Has anybody coined the term “bass continuum”? If not, you heard it here first. While working on our new album Monkeytown (see also: “M”), we’ve once again discovered hitherto unknown regions of bass that will transport listeners. (See also: “K”)
Listening to electronic music on an incredible sound system in the right atmosphere can be a near religious experience. Watching a DJ spin records or work a laptop, however, can get boring quick. The Berlinbased electronic duo Modeselektor are an exception to the rule. Since 2002, Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary have been creating bleeding edge experimental and dubstep-infused techno—and wooing crowds by dancing and headbanging while twiddling the knobs. For Electronic Beats, Modeselektor agreed to go back to the basics.
Right: Modeselektor, photographed by Hans Martin Sewcz in Berlin.
as in COCAINE: Anybody who’s heard the American country tune “Cocaine Blues” knows how catchy it is—especially the chorus: “Cocaine, all around my brain.” But we’re not country singers. We do electronic music. We don’t do cocaine.
D as in DEUTSCHLAND: Here are our top three Autobahn routes in Germany (see also: “A”):
1. Hamburg, A7, southbound. After entering the Elb Tunnel, you pass under the river and drive about three kilometers before emerging into the best view of
the Port of Hamburg in the entire city—an unforgettable panorama of the docks, container terminals and huge vessels waiting to be loaded. 2. Hof, A9, direction Leipzig. Once you’ve crossed the former inner German border, you’re living in the fast lane (regardless of which lane you’re using). It’s like playing Gran Turismo X, only real. The three-lane highway boasts long, tender curves through an endlessly hilly landscape. 3. Berlin, A100, eastbound. This one’s for the evening: enter Berlin’s urban freeway from the north, pass by the futuristic International Congress Center and then submerge in an ocean of neon light.
as in 8-bit music: An incredible sonic energy emerges when reducing sampling bit depth. Everybody likes 8-bit sounds because they remind you of your childhood. Today, you can pimp 8-bit chips and samples like you wouldn’t believe. But in the end, it’s like an old toaster: you can fiddle with the knobs, but the toast always comes out really dark. Only sometimes it’s the only thing you want to eat. (See also: “B”.)
as in FINANCIAL CRISIS: From the source code of http:// www.monkeytownrecords.de/: <meta name=“description“ content=“On the occasion of the international financial crisis the two guys from Modeselektor, Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary, decided to found their own label, Monkeytown Records, to create a platform for befriended artists.“ /> (See also: “U”.)
A is for Autobahn, B for Bass, C is for keeping seCrets.
as in GENTLEMAN: Ask anybody: Modeselektor are gentlemen. To quote John Walter Wayland: “The true gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will (. . .) whose self-control is equal to all emergencies (. . .) who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty (. . .) whose deed follows his word, and who appears well in any company.”
as in HEALTH: We both take yoga lessons from a Nepalese Kundalini yoga master who smokes sixty cigarettes a day. And there’s nothing more refreshing than a cold beer after yoga.
as in MONKEYTOWN: According to our press release, our new album, Monkeytown, is “fucking awesome”.
as in INDEPENDENCE: As musicians, independence is hugely important to us. That being said, complete independence is usually out of reach. But that makes it even more desirable.
as in JOINING FORCES: That’s what we do all day, every day. We have a truly symbiotic relationship. Gernot is like a Jedi knight: energetic, up-front and loyal. Szary is similar, but can be said to exhibit more self-control. He also stays in closer contact to Yoda. As long as nothing fucks with our system, working as a team always yields better results than working alone.
as in KNOWLEDGE: We’ve recently invested lots of time and energy in increasing our knowledge of bass—specifically by listening to loads of Chicago juke. It’s been enlightening. There are worse things in the world than being lost in bass. (See also: “B”)
as in LIMITS: There are no speed limits on the German Autobahn. (See also: “D”)
as in NINETIES: The nineties were incredibly memorable for our generation, although we’re sure the noughties will be remembered fondly. But it was the nineties that ushered in so many great innovations—along with some pretty bad ones. We fondly remember the techno revolution, the Deutschmark and low gas prices (see also: “A”). On the shittier end of the spectrum were colorful tapered jeans, slow modems and the Love Parade™.
as in OSTGUT: Now we’re in dangerous territory. They had the best sound system in the world, and many a fine DJ played there, too. Everybody knows the Ostgut dance floor was the perfect backdrop for a family photo.
as in PARIS: The Parisian Périphérique motorway is impressive, but not as nice as floating along the Autobahn in Germany’s Ruhr region, pleasantly gliding from one city into the next. (See also “D”)
Modeselektor know more Latin than you.
as in WORLD WAR II: Before World War II, there was the World Wide Web.
RZ as in Quo vadis, Techno?: What do you want? We see a very bright future for electronic music. It’ll undoubtedly include Maurizio, UR, Paperclip People, and Roland Einflugschneise.
as in TABLET-PCS: In the past, we’ve worked with Lemur tablet PCs and expensive controllers. But if you do wild live shows like us, forget about all this Rolls-Royce digital crap. When people started spraying us with champagne in the middle of our sets, we decided to look for other options. Really, you don’t want to ruin your expensive touchscreen computers by drowning them in alcohol.
as in Radiohead: Cool band and one of the few real visionaries from the nineties that successfully changed gears in the noughties (see also: “N”). The common thread that runs through their work is an endlessly innovative approach to music. We’ve got to give credit where credit is due. And, of course we owe the band a lot for their support.
as in SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN: We usually don’t have a plan . . . unless we’re forced to play a really short set. Then we really have to be careful with what we choose and how we drop it.
as in XOXO: LOL :-) This is a good example of the brutalization of language by social media platforms. Someone save our sense of case sensitivity!
as in YOUTH: You can’t judge youth by a person’s age. We’re youngsters. And in ten years, our children will be, too.
as in UNDERGROUND: For some, it’s just a subway system; for others it’s 50 Weapons. (See also: “F”)
as in VINYL: Nowadays everybody expects you to DJ from your hard drive. Sometimes, clubs won’t even provide you with proper turntables. It seems like vinyl has become, first and foremost, a collector’s item—trophy stuff you can show off to your children and children’s children.
as in BERLIN ZOO: There are loads of urban myths about Berlin’s Zoo Station—from Christiane F. and David Bowie to Nick Cave . . . Leaving the subway at Zoo Station used to be a pretty trivial affair: you’d rush through all the riff-raff in order to go shopping at the nearby Ku’damm boulevard for clothes or sneakers or whatever. Sometimes we envy those who lived in West Berlin in the seventies. They were definitely immersed in an atmosphere like no other of its kind. ~ EB 3/2011
TRICKY on DJ MILO
Mr. Style Icon Back when he was still known as “Tricky Kid”, Adrian Thaws had an idol: Bristol’s legendary DJ Milo of the Wild Bunch. Here, Tricky explains how Milo Johnson saw him through his salad days and set him on the righteous path to creating the post hip-hop Bristol sound. I’ve always been skeptical about musicians becoming enormous celebrities, because it usually means that the music falls behind. Having said that, I also have to admit that I love the visual aspect of music culture—I love pictures of artists, and I love good record sleeves. So I guess it’s not surprising that my all-time, undisputed top style icon, DJ Milo, never really became hugely famous. Nevertheless he deserves the most credit when it comes to my musical development and general aesthetic. It was Milo who founded the Wild Bunch Sound System in Bristol, together with Robert Del Naja, Grant Marshall, and Andrew Vowles, who later went on to form Massive Attack. Nellee Hooper was also a part-time member . . . and, of course, myself. I’d been hanging around—or trying to hang around—with Milo since I was twelve years old. I remember seeing him walk around the city and thinking how incredible he looked and acted; he had wicked clothes, an ultra proud body language and all around the best style—not to mention he played the best music. You see, he’s a guy with an aura. When he enters a room, you just feel his presence. Unfortunately, I was too young to go out with him—they never let me in to any of the clubs or pubs. Thank God Milo and the Wild Bunch also did public appearances at street carnivals and whatnot. That’s when he first asked 32
me to guest rap with them. I can’t begin to describe how meaningful it was to receive that kind of recognition from my personal hero. It was actually Milo who baptized me “Tricky Kid”. While I was still in school, my mates always used to call me Tricky. Milo added the “Kid”, which then appeared in my name on the first two Massive Attack records before I started my solo career. Interestingly enough, it was also Milo who helped kickstart the career of Nellee Hooper, who would later produce people like Madonna, Björk, and U2, as well as Massive Attack’s biggest records. It’s ironic that so many people around Milo became that huge, because he always had a healthy disdain for celebrity DJs and rappers. For him, only what was underground was cool. He always equated success with compromise. My parents’ generation remembers exactly where they were when Kennedy was killed. I remember exactly where I was when Milo first played Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise”: St. Paul’s Carnival in Bristol. I was standing next to the stage when he dropped that record, and everybody instantly went berserk. That’s when my whole world changed. ~ From left to right: DJ Milo, Massive Attack’s Daddy G, a very young Nellee Hooper, Willy Wee and 3D, aka Robert Del Naja. Photo by Beezer
So sah das vorher aus. Und so sieht es jetzt aus. Wem das nicht gefaellt, der soll sich doch bitte bei mir melden.
memorable line in a film or song:
“This was the worst show in music history.” (The Mighty Boosh)
decisions I regret:
Doing this interview, for one. It’s pretty damn hard to squeeze your experiences or opinions into a numerical matrix—which is also why I don’t enjoy computer-generated music so much anymore, by the way. Too many numbers. I also regret never learning to play any instrument perfectly. When techno happened to me at age fourteen, I thought nobody would need to play instruments ever again. Embarassing, but true.
Few artists have been able to bridge the gap between electronic music and independent rock as easily as Sasha Ring, alias Apparat. Having reached the top of the heap as a producer of techno and various electronic sub-genres, the self-described sound designer has recently begun to embrace the imperfection only live instruments can provide. Here, the introspective Ring discusses the difficulties of forcing his opinions into a numbered list.
Apparat, photographed by Simone Gilges in Berlin.
people that should collaborate:
Mohammed, Moses & Jesus? That would make one hell of a religious superhero. But seriously: So much crap in this world is caused by narrow-minded interpretations of really old books. Where’s the love?
things I haven’t done yet: 1) Act in a film. 2) Buy (or rather build) a house. 3) Do nothing for a long, long time. 4) Move away from Germany.
things I used to believe:
1) The musical possibilities of a computer are endless. 2) Drugs
are fun. 3) Berlin is the greatest place in the world. 4) Capitalism works. 5) I’m responsible enough.
hours ago. . .
I was having an incredible time in Sicily together with Daniel Mateo. We took our time driving through a bunch of quaint, small towns until we arrived in Scicli, where we talked about the calm before the storm of my album’s upcoming release.
days I barely remember:
That would probably be the last week of production for my new album. I’d never found finishing albums so difficult in the past, but this time it felt like one big, long 168-hour blur. .
p.m. . . .
. . . is when my day usually begins. I used to really enjoy evenings— way more than the daytime. Everything is so much quieter, and the later it gets, the more the city empties out. For me, it’s also the most inspiring time of day.
lives . . .
. . . are over pretty soon, I would assume. I sacrificed way too many in my rave-youth.
years since 9/11 . . .
What a shitty decade. I don’t see improved dialogues or the emergence of more sensible politics. More than anything, I’ve noticed a rise in different forms of “security”, which have turned into big business. It’s getting worse and worse. Sometimes it seems more about making people feel afraid. ~
hans ulrich obrist talks to björk
“Pythagoras saw the cosmos similarly”
In the past, being an ambitious band or musician meant coming up with new and exciting concepts for albums. With Biophilia, Björk has decided to reinvent the concept of the album itself. Her seventh longplayer, available both in classic album format as well as in a bundle of specially designed applications, is an interactive nature- and sciencethemed extravaganza of grand technological proportions. Hans Ulrich Obrist caught up with Björk to find out how the touchscreen has permanently altered the way the Icelandic singer creates and hears music. Björk, your new album Biophilia took three years to make. Both musically and conceptually it stands out from the rest of your oeuvre as part of a larger multimedia project including specially designed apps. Tell me a bit about how you came up with the idea to transgress the borders of putting out a conventional album.
More than anything else, touchscreen technology has completely transformed the way I think about writing music. For the past few years, I’d been using touchscreens exclusively to perform, until one day I decided I wanted to explore the world of touch more deeply, because it’s so intuitive. That’s when I actually started writing music with the touchscreens as well. I had been feeling limited by conventional computer programs with sequencing grids for a while; I felt
like I was being forced into conventional time signatures against my will—even though you can do anything with computers, of course. But I needed to be able to both see and manipulate something that was the opposite of a grid. That’s also when I began writing and developing programs together with programmer and sound engineer Damian Taylor back in 2008. And funny enough, it seem to suggest solutions to issues I always wanted to solve since my music school. When did you attend music school?
When I was a child in Iceland, from the age of five until I was around fifteen. At the time, I felt like the teachers didn’t try enough to tap into my intuitive tactile sensibility. When I first saw the
All pictures: Björk during the rehearsals for the premier of her Biophilia show in Manchester. All photos by Carsten Windhorst.
“Growing up, my formal musical education was much more conservative. I mean, I’m happy I had it, but the focus was on performance, not necessarily on creating.”
touchscreen, it brought me back to my childhood and my experiences with own music. I was so excited to reenter a place where I could map things out compositionally as I experience them . . . while at the same time drawing a connection to nature. So the touchscreen also inspired you to explore biological and cosmological themes?
Yes, strangely enough. The applications we designed connect a musical element to a natural one, like the shape of lightening being similar to an arpeggio, or double pendulums inspiring the relationship between counterpoint and melody. I was thinking about how somebody without a background in music would want to create music, how a child would explore the basic elements of composition. Last time I was in Iceland I met up with the composer Magnús Blöndal Jóhannsson, who passed away not too long ago. He was a real pioneer for electronic music—much adored by people like Karlheinz Stockhausen. Was he at all a role model for you in terms of experimentation?
No, but he was brilliant. Growing up, my formal musical education was much more conservative. I mean, I’m happy I had it, but the focus was on performance, not necessarily on creating. It was about picking an instrument, practicing for ten hours a day, and then maybe in fifteen years, if you’re lucky, becoming part of a symphony orchestra. It certainly wasn’t empowering in the creative sense. And what about performing Biophilia? The project combines so many different types of media that live, it would seem to extend 40
far beyond the conventional concert context. How do you present that in all of its complexity?
A normal concert venue will work, but to show everything we’ve done, a museum might be better. We’ve actually gotten offers from a bunch of different museums after our premier in Manchester. There we did a small, stage-bound version of something that’s actually much bigger and more encompassing, spatially speaking. Since then, we’ve gotten offers from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, The National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo . . . which would all be great fits, I imagine. It all sounds very educational . . .
Nothing’s been confirmed yet, but the idea is to use the nature-related apps and instruments we’ve developed as educational tools for children, and then develop exhibits together with biologists, physicists and astronomers. I’m fascinated by the idea of providing the kids with both the technology and the actual objects being discussed. As you know, the umbrella app for Biophilia contains individual apps for each song. I keep imagining the children getting to hold and play with real crystals, and then working with the app from “Crystalline”. The Exploratorium in San Francisco actually talked about developing a ten-room exhibit—one room for each song. San Francisco has one of the largest collections of natural crystals in the world. So the project would be transformed into more of an exhibition?
Yes, in collaboration with scientists.
The transformation that you describe from one form of presentation to another seems so natural; it’s an almost organic evolution; an organic integrated learning system. Biophelia seems to be less about exact replication and more about changing and adapting to a host environment.
Very much so. I remember about a year into the project I had to stop myself from trying to control the direction the whole thing was taking and just let it start growing naturally. That’s when the best ideas started to take form. Of course, when we met all of the app developers and designers, the project took an entirely different spin. Six years ago, you and I had a discussion about how to introduce your work into a museum context. The plans were approaching an advanced phase, but had to be put on hold because you were coming out with your album Medúlla. Now things seem to be moving again in that direction. What’s changed?
When we met up, I had been really excited about the museum idea, but I think wasn’t really ready for it; I hadn’t thought enough about how to present things in the museum context. But I would say our conversations from back then planted the seed for what I’m doing today—certainly in terms of how to “show” music and how to make it interactive. This is the first album I’ve done that really allows the listeners to actively immerse themselves in it. The touchscreen and the applications encourage a threefold interaction: between myself and nature, between the listener and the music, and between the listener and nature. The algorithms for the Biophilia apps allow you to not only to alter and rearrange the songs superficially, but also to completely mess with the song structure . . . while still maintaining
the connection to the natural elements the songs deal with. The connection to nature, biology and the cosmos is a constant. I remember from our conversations about interactive music that you were interested in doing an exhibition together with the French director Michel Gondry. He was supposed to do the projections for an installation with singers who line a long, dark corridor, I think.
That’s right—it was going to be a labyrinth lined with singers performing songs from Medúlla. The idea came about because, compositionally, the songs and melodies off the album are so interwoven. I was imagining the exhibition-goers wandering around and singing as well. I think that if I had conceived Medúlla as interactive from the very beginning, then it would have been easier to follow through with the exhibition. I’m convinced Biophilia has become what it is because the entire project is predicated on being interactive. After the live premier of Biophilia in Manchester, half the people I spoke to thought they had seen a concert and the other half thought they had seen something else.
I would say that whatever it was, it was a compromise. We maxed out our budget a long time ago and didn’t have the funding to do all the stuff we had originally planned. I wanted the event to be really intimate and have people be more involved, and that’s why we set up the stage in the middle of the venue. Children who came by to test the applications when we had days off of performing were actually using the same touchscreens we were—the ones connected to the instruments. I suppose that made the actual performance area something other than a conventional stage. EB 3/2011
Did you imagine lots of movement and mobility in the interaction with the audience? Was the performance supposed to take place throughout the entire venue?
No, more via the touchscreens. This is actually the first time in my life that I wrote songs sitting down, as opposed to being in motion. It used to always happen while I was walking, with the exception of Sugarcubes songs, which were more collaborative. I only realized recently how uncommon it is to not write songs or melodies with a guitar or piano. In the past, I always relied on the sounds of nature as a form of musical accompaniment for my singing. That’s why combining the songs with elements of nature felt totally natural. It wasn’t a utopian vision or some bizarre experimentation; it was perfectly normal for me to work with these sounds. And live, the touchscreen has allowed me to be able to focus completely on my singing, because the rest of the sounds I’m making are purely intuitive movements and gestures. It’s freed things up for me enormously. I’ve had a chance to play around some with the Biophilia app and was struck by its multi-functionality; it’s an instrument, a game, an educational tool . . .
You mean app builders? Of course. But this entire project was interspersed with some pretty big breaks, because I was so intensely involved with environmental issues in Iceland. Also, shortly before the bank crash, there was a good four-month period where I was over there petitioning against investment in the aluminum industry— which still continues to destroy the Iceland’s geothermal resources, by the way. I was working together with a group called Náttúra on developing job alternatives in rural areas where the aluminum smelting plants would otherwise employ entire towns. We encouraged the people to start small businesses to promote a green economy. We also wrote a manifesto, which I gave to the Prime Minister. I’d love to read that. Where can I get a copy?
It’s online, but it’s in Icelandic. The whole thing is really functional and straightforward. We wanted to avoid doing anything utopian or unrealistic, because people were already calling us idealists and accusing us of being clueless hippies. Were you promoting a micro-credit system, like in India?
Don’t forget the animation. This was definitely a collaborative effort, but I would say most of the collaboration was for the visuals and programming. The music I did almost entirely by myself. I think the older I get, the more idiosyncratic I become in the studio and end up wanting to do the music on my own. I don’t know why, that’s just the way it is.
Not exactly. We were coming up with viable employment alternatives and amendments to Icelandic law in order to make it easier for people to start small businesses. For example, it was our idea to have smaller green business owners be allowed to hire people who were collecting unemployment and would continue collect unemployment even though they technically had jobs. This was actually made legal, back in autumn of 2008 . . .
You’re still continuing to work with programmers, right?
I remember all the international press coverage and how you set
“After the bank crash, there was a good four-month period where I was in Iceland petitioning against investment in the aluminum industry, which still continues to destroy the country’s geothermal resources.”
into motion some pretty big changes in Iceland.
I really wanted to go for it, you know? I felt like it was now or never . . . and then the bank crash happened, which was strange because this was the first time in my life that I’d been hanging out a lot with economists. All around us, people were losing their jobs, their houses, their pensions . . . It was very dramatic. There were all these abandoned buildings at the time because everything had gone bankrupt. And that’s when I had the idea of setting up a kind of music school. It was supposed to have ten rooms, which were to correspond to ten elements of nature. These would then help kids learn music theory and composition . . . Each room would be like a chapter in an interactive textbook?
a record label and wanted me to be their first artist, which I immediately said yes to. At first, I was imagining an unconventional partnership; I wanted them to help me build the music school! But they don’t build buildings, so they suggested we do a 3D movie, which I thought was a brilliant idea. I ended up meeting all sorts of directors and film producers, but at some point the project became so huge and expensive that I retreated in a way. I started doing a lot of the work on my own, really DIY. I moved to Puerto Rico for eight months with my sound engineer and that’s when I really started writing the songs for Biophilia. At first, I was using a cheap little organ, as well as some midi stuff I got off of eBay—cheap touchscreens and a couple of Nintendo game controllers. Eventually, sometime in 2010, it became clear the 3D film wasn’t going to get made . . . But you had already done so much work.
I suppose that’s one way to think about it . . . it was really about using one of those abandoned or unfinished buildings. Then the economic situation took a turn for the worse, and everybody who’d lost their savings gathered outside the Icelandic parliament demanding for the government to step down—which they did. People smashed pots and pans until all the ministers resigned. It was like 1968 in Paris. This happened to be at the same time that I realized that I was free from all of my contractual obligations with record companies, which was very exciting. I couldn’t stop thinking about the Internet and the endless possibilities of releasing my own work . . . in whatever form I pleased. And that’s when the apps were developed?
No, first I was contacted by National Geographic, who were starting
Yes, loads of it. In two years I finished all ten songs, including the application ideas for all of the natural elements. What are the different elements featured on the album?
Let’s see if I can name them all . . . There’s gravity, tectonic plates, the human relationship to nature, viruses . . . Crystals . . .
Yes—crystals, DNA, dark matter, cosmogony, lightning, and lunar cycles. Creation myths play a key role, too . . . What was incredible is that right after I finished all of the songs in spring 2010, the iPad came out. It was perfect timing. EB 3/2011
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“I think people who download music have even greater interest in experiencing it live, because the physical process of going to a record shop to buy this object has been replaced.”
So technology caught up with you!
So there was a huge amount of research involved?
Something like that . . . That’s when we started contacting some of my favorite app creators.
Yes, but it was more fun than anything else.
From what I understand, you sought out a lot of younger developers and programmers who were working on DIY music programs, is that right?
They were all different ages actually. But I contacted programmers who’d done some of my favorite apps—some musical but most not. I was in regular contact with the app designers, explaining the concepts behind each element and what needed to be included. These were then integrated into the “mother app” on “Cosmogony”, where each verse of the song is about a different creation myth: Native American, Sanskrit, Aboriginal, and modern science—which would be the Big Bang theory. After talking to a bunch of scientists I found out that many of them feel the Big Bang, at least as it’s taught in schools, is pretty outdated, very “twentieth century”. The designer and developer Scott Snibbe was also involved, right?
He was the project manager. He oversaw the app development. Were you in constant contact with scientists while you were writing the individual songs?
Not exactly. I wrote the songs first and then eventually contacted some of the experts for details. Most of the research came from watching university-level educational DVD’s and reading books on my own.
I heard you collaborated with Drew Berry for the animation of DNA. He does such incredible visualizations of molecular biology. How was it working with him?
He’s quite an animator. I think our collaboration for the DNA app is the thing that comes closest to a music video. We actually have tentative plans to put together an animated video on brain functions—specifically, what happens in the brain neurologically when people sing. It’s always fascinated me how important science is for art and vice versa. Lots of scientists utilize artistic renderings in order to better understand or visualize certain processes.
That’s true. But I would say that this whole project is about taking things that are kind of academic and transforming them into a three-dimensional, non-academic interactive experience. I’m sure the app descriptions sound complex and esoteric, but when you actually see and use these things, it becomes much clearer. When I saw the premier in Manchester, it was the lightning that really grabbed my attention, but I’ve always been fascinated by Tesla. How did you come up with the idea of writing a song about electrical currents?
It happened during my research. At one point I was youtubing non-stop and eventually stumbled on all these videos of people EB 3/2011
“Pythagoras saw the cosmos like this: every planet being a note. There’s a long history of connecting our solar system to sound, because the music of the spheres is about equilibrium.”
making music with Tesla coils. That was the beginning. More than anything, it struck me as something a child would enjoy, because it’s so dramatic looking. When we did the weeklong course in Manchester, showing children the instruments and asking them about their favorites, the Tesla coil was always at the very top of their list. It’s because it’s the most visceral and spectacular visualization of the sound, I think. It brings the listener inside the sound by bringing the sound outside in the form of visualization. That reminds me so much of our discussions in Paris from a few years ago—having the listener not be an external entity but rather completely immersed in the music itself; an active, not a passive, part of the aural experience.
I think that’s why this current project had gone through so many different manifestations, from music school to 3D film to what it is today . . . At its core, the project is about inclusion. Some people have the impression that the digital world creates only virtual connections and discourages live experience. But I think that couldn’t be further from the truth, and this project shows just that. Having seen the premier, it was clear that the live component is more important than ever when there is an increased emphasis on the visual.
I think people who download music have even greater interest in experiencing it live, because the physical process of going to a record shop to buy a physical object has been made more or less obsolete. That’s why seeing live music becomes the primary way to experience the music non-virtually. But the very idea of what’s 46
physical needs to be redefined. All the record industry pessimism towards the disappearance of the physical is unwarranted, if you ask me. The meanings are merely shifting. You know, people will always hunger for physical experiences. Future generations will all be born with two arms, two legs and a sense of touch. You mentioned before that you felt inspired when you realized that you were out of your contractual obligations for your record company. What kind of freedoms have the Internet and applications provided you with? Has it made you more independent?
Creatively, I can do so much more. Instruments in the form of applications are far less expensive and reach exponentially more people than the physical object. With apps, it feels like anything’s possible. I’ve experienced at least three different album formats, and the app and digital download is by far the least dependent on the music industry. It’s reintroduced something very punk back into music. After we finished the entire project we were able to pick and choose who we wanted to offer it to. All of the major labels were scared out of their wits—they didn’t want to touch something so different from a “normal” album. Then we thought about how welcoming Apple had been to us technologically, allowing us to release an app album in their store without “signing” to any label. They haven’t sponsored me and I’m not advertising them—they simply have a set up which can distribute Biophilia; they combine all of the technology necessary to explore what we had created. Also, in 2010, the iPad was the only proper touchscreen on the market. But I’ve now decided to work with Universal and Nonesuch to distribute the physical CD. In the beginning I thought that no one would be interested in that anymore, but that’s not so.
Your inventions remind me of the work of Fluxus artist Alison Knowles. She’s been creating incredible musical contraptions since the sixties, and they’re all about exploring sound perception outside of an exclusively aural context . . .
Sound is experienced in so many different ways. That’s why I wanted to make both apps and acoustic instruments. It was important for me to emphasize the use of air, water wind and oxygen to create sound. People shouldn’t perceive this project merely as a virtual phantasy world. They should see it as an exploration of the crossroads of electronic and acoustic sound—but from a different angle. How do you fully realize this in a live context?
Live, the music is played on touchscreens connected to acoustic instruments that read digital information. In order to give people a better idea of how the instruments work, we’d actually like to create some short films for the crowd to watch before the concert. Is it true that David Attenborough did the narration for the introduction to the umbrella app?
Yes. The BBC was doing a documentary on the making of Biophilia, which David will probably be involved in. We asked him at the very last minute about the app and he said yes on the spot. We immediately gave him the introduction and then recorded it the very same day—it was all very spontaneous. He has a very calming presence.
Indeed. It always makes me think of the difference between American and British nature documentaries: American nature documentaries are usually much scarier, and the music is much more dramatic—even if the animals are totally harmless and unthreatening. An American documentary on bees would start out with a narrator exclaiming, “If one thousand bees were to sting you at the same time, you’d die!” Do you think that European nature documentaries are generally more benign?
Less threatening, for sure. And David Attenborough always makes the situation seem hopeful and positive—at least regarding the relationship between humans and nature. How did you come up with the title for the project?
I’d been reading a book by Oliver Sacks called Musicophilia, which is a collection of anecdotes about his experiences as a neurologist with sound and treating patients. I felt really inspired, and I then had the chance to meet him personally. But as a general matter, I’m fascinated by the visualization of sound, and how sound waves travel—even though my visualizations tend towards particle, not wave movement. On a macro level, sound moves like billiard balls; or even planets and solar systems. Pythagoras saw the cosmos similarly; he ascribed a note to each planet. There’s a long history of connecting our solar system to sound, because the music of the spheres is all about equilibrium and vibration. That’s why I wanted the website and Biophilia app to be set up like a galaxy. It’s the easiest way to explain how sound behaves in space. ~ EB 3/2011
MAX DAX interviews biosphere
“In the forest, the birds are louder than everything else”
In January 2011, Geir Jenssen, better known as ambient techno pioneer Biosphere, decided to put together an album combining two of his longtime obsessions: Japanese culture and utopias. The result, NPlants, is a spectral, fifty-minute meditation on Japanese nuclear power plants, completed one month before the nuclear crisis in Fukushima. We visited the reluctant visionary in Krakow to learn more. Geir Jenssen, you’re originally from Norway but have been living in Krakow for some years now, where you recently recorded an album of electronic music about Japanese nuclear power plants. What role does physical location play for you in the creative process? Why didn’t you move to Japan to record the album?
First, I live in Krakow because I fell in love with a woman. Second, I don’t think you have to necessarily live in the place of your artistic focus. It’s funny—I know musicians who need a beautiful view from the studio in order to create and record. I don’t need that. The Norwegian word for view is utsikt, which can literally be translated as “outsight”. Personally, I find it more important to work in an environment that will provide some sort of insight to the creative process. I don’t even need windows in the studio; I
could easily record my music in a bunker or in a hotel room. The physical connection to the external world really doesn’t matter to me, all I need is my laptop. My last album I recorded in my new studio in Krakow, which I’ve named after the Polish novelist Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, better known as Joseph Conrad. Being forced to draw from your imagination can do wonders for the creative process—Conrad certainly did. Heart of Darkness tells the story of Captain Marlow’s search for Mr. Kurtz along the Congo River. I think Conrad had also been the captain of a steamer on the same river, no?
Yes, but his experiences only served as the basis of something created within his imagination. That’s part of the essence of a
Max Dax photographed Geir Jenssen in the woods near Jenssen’s Krakow apartment, where in the forties, Polish partisans hid there from the German occupying forces . The woods are also one of Jenssen’s favorite places to conduct field recordings.
fictional narrative. I actually once had a somewhat similar trip to Marlow’s—or should I say to Captain Willard’s . . . It was more like Apocalypse Now in terms of location.
anything like Apocalypse Now. There were no choppers and no machine gun fire; it was all the byproducts of war, and sound-wise not necessarily what I had anticipated.
Your Cambodian project?
You expected more action?
Yes. It’s not finished yet, though. It’s about water and rivers running dry, amongst other things. I rented a boat in Vietnam to follow the Mekong River to the Tonle Sap, one of the biggest lakes in the world. We floated past all these Vietnam War battlegrounds and eventually crossed over into Cambodia, where we rode through the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields. The people we met in Cambodia were incredibly nice, especially considering what they’d been through under Pol Pot.
Maybe subconsciously. All in all, the trip was rather peaceful, except for all the traffic . . .
What did the river sound like?
It sounded like a river. But when you know a bit about the mass executions that took place along the banks, you kind of hear the
Yeah, that was the only unbearable part of the whole thing. There were people living on literally every meter of the river. We rented a motorboat with a big deck, which drove really fast. All the other boats had motors as well, so it was almost impossible to record the sound of the river without the noise of the motors, or of mopeds passing by on land. I had to do most of the recordings in small canals, which branched off from the river, where people mainly used wooden boats without engines. We also did some recordings inside the
“I somehow came across a photograph of the Mihama nuclear power plant, located on Japan’s west coast in Fukui Prefecture. I would say that’s what sparked the entire thing. In the picture, the plant looked like some sort of modernist utopia set on a white, sandy beach next to a beautiful, deep blue sea. It’s truly a wonderful image: all of the energy needed to run multiple factories—entire cities even—all generated by big, beautiful, synchronized industrial machines on the shores of a Pacific island paradise. My first thought was: what would the music sound like for a place like this?” river, uh, differently. You imagine that you hear the sound of a really dark history. Can you be more specific?
The Mekong can be really, really scary. There are still plenty of areas you can’t set foot on because of all the landmines. It’s not dangerous if you have a guide, but I wouldn’t wander along the banks by myself. Not too long ago, a friend told me about a woman who was invited to dinner in a small Cambodian village. At some point she had to go to the toilet and was told by her hosts that she wasn’t allowed to go alone. A small girl—a child—was sent to escort her because she knew a safe path through a field of landmines.
It’s a horrible problem, and it’s something you notice because of all the amputees. But obviously the trip up today’s Mekong isn’t 50
rain forest. That was pretty remarkable because from one moment to the next, all of the people had vanished. It was like you go in one direction for ten seconds and suddenly civilization has disappeared. The Cambodia recordings are actually for a dance project in Belgium, which adds a whole new dimension to an already massive project. Was this an especially time-consuming project for you?
Absolutely. But it’s not always like that. I recorded N-Plants in only two weeks during the winter while my fiancée and her brother were on a ski trip. I started working on it almost immediately after they’d left the house. Without exaggeration, I worked on it every day and night until they came back two weeks later. You like to work fast?
Sometimes things happen really quickly when you’re inspired—I’m sure it’s no different with writing. Of course, before the whole recor-
ding process, I gathered as much information as possible, did a ton of research and, more than anything else, thought a lot about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. It also took me a while to find all the synthesizers and analogue equipment I needed. Preparing the album was a bit like meditation; it takes lots of patience. Does living in a smaller city like Krakow suit your creative needs in that sense?
Yes, I feel really free to think here. Even if I sit in a café or a bar, I find that I can still focus on my task at hand because most of the people around me are speaking a language that I don’t understand very well. It’s true: working in a foreign atmosphere is surprisingly undistracting. I know the feeling of being unable to concentrate because of peripheral conversations when you do understand the language . . .
I think not owning a lot of useless stuff can help maintain that focus as well. What do you mean?
Well, I own some clothes, some books and a pair of roller blades in Krakow . . . but that’s pretty much it. I can focus on my music because I own very few potential distractions. Would you say you lead an ascetic lifestyle?
I don’t know about that, but I don’t need much to be happy . . . You wrote N-Plants before the crisis in Fukushima—what initially inspired you to write an entire album about Japanese nuclear power plants?
For years I’ve been fascinated by the Japanese post-war economic miracle that started in the fifties. Human League was as well, by the way. Do you know the track “Toyota City” off of Travelogue? Very minimal . . . I think it was recorded using only one synthesizer. Anyhow, I had read two or three books about Japan’s economic rise and then somehow came across a photograph of the Mihama nuclear power plant, located on Japan’s west coast in Fukui Prefecture. I would say that’s what sparked the entire thing. In the picture, the plant looked like some sort of modernist utopia set on a white, sandy beach next to a beautiful, deep blue sea. It’s truly a wonderful image: all of the energy needed to run multiple factories—entire cities even—all generated by big, beautiful, synchronized industrial machines on the shores of a Pacific island paradise. My first thought was: what would the music sound like for a place like this? This was before Fukushima became the epitome of the dangers of nuclear energy . . .
Yes—the whole thing was just really strange timing. In the end I decided not to withdraw the album after the disaster took place last March, and N-Plants is certainly not the soundtrack to a nuclear meltdown. Rather, it’s an ode to these powerful machines and to modernist architecture. It’s about technology that’s so powerful that we can’t control it, a fact that is exposed by nature and natural disasters. Admittedly, I’m fascinated by larger-than-life utopian and dystopian scenarios. Kraftwerk have also had a similar ambiguous fascination with technology; originally they recorded their landmark album Radio-
Activity in praise of Marie Curie’s discovery. Years later they withdrew their endorsement by re-recording the title track and adding the word “Stop”, which turned it into a kind of protest song.
I like how the song’s two versions can be seen as a kind of evolutionary process, both in science and in ethics. You mentioned before the special synthesizers necessary for recording N-Plants. How did you know exactly what you needed before you started the project?
Simple: for ages I’ve wanted to record an entire album that begins where Yellow Magic Orchestra’s X∞Multiplies ends. It’s no secret which synths Ryuichi Sakamoto used, so it was easy to recreate their exact musical set-up. And that’s exactly what I did. For many, that particular release wasn’t just an album—it was a vision of the future. It really put Japan on the map in terms of synth-pop, ambient and electronic music. Do you envy people like Ryuichi Sakamoto who were able to not only make great records but also influence an entire generation and write music history?
Envy? No. I mean, I was part of the generation he influenced. I remember being maybe twelve or thirteen when I first saw those short educational films in school about modern Japan in the late seventies. They showed these ultra-clean science labs and pictures of modern industrial sites with these incredibly futuristic soundtracks playing in the background. The electronic sounds paired together with those images was a completely new experience for me. It was all very inspirational . . . You’ve been carrying around Sakamoto and Yellow Magic Orchestra as an influence all these years without finding an outlet for it?
Yes. Why, does that sound so strange? On the contrary—I think it’s similar with writing. I have a kind of mental archive of the poetry and literature that’s influenced me. But it functions more like latent triggers which are only activated when I do my own writing. That’s when the archive sort of comes alive. If I’m looking to parse out a certain idea or searching for a reference, the original impressions sometimes come flooding back.
That’s exactly how it was with X∞Multiplies. Both the album and the educational films were “triggered” in that sense after seeing the photos of Mihama. All of a sudden I felt compelled to do something with influences that were so old and deep-seated. Compelled how?
I just had to get it out—not like an exorcism, because I never felt haunted by the sounds. More like a way of processing or channeling my creative past. But it wasn’t a retro obsession—my approach to Sakamoto is definitely not retro. I didn’t want to create some lifeless homage. I wanted to continue a sonic expedition from the point where Sakamoto had stopped. On N-Plants you use lots of Japanese voice samples. Where did you find them?
Mostly from Japanese black-and-white films from the sixties. Did you use any samples from Kurosawa films? EB 3/2011
Previous page: The three reactors of the Mihama nuclear power plant loom over Japanese bathers. Photograph by Kenji Higuchi, February 1981. © Kenji Higuchi
No, that would have been too obvious. Nobody except for Japanese film geeks would be able to recognize where I took the samples from.
they become the brutal gangster bosses we know of today.
How important are samples and field recordings for what you do?
At that time I was. But I was also watching lots of horror movies, lots of David Cronenberg. I’ve treated Cronenberg and the horror genre in general as a sort of open archive—I’ve sampled so much from them . . .
They’re key—it’s the soul of it all. I’m currently doing field recordings in the forest next to my studio in Krakow, and am having a hard time getting what I want. Field recordings are not as easy as you might think. In the forest, the birds are louder than everything else, and that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m not looking to record the obvious. What are you looking for in the forest?
Polish partisans took refuge in this forest at the end of World War II while fighting the Germans sixty years ago. I believe that the field recordings here, at this specific site, will contain an echo of the events from its history. Alec Empire has similar ideas about samples. When he takes a snare drum from, say, a Prince Buster civil rights anthem, he hears that it’s loaded with meaning. He insists that quotes and samples are imbued with an invisible energy.
Are you intrigued by crime?
Thematically speaking, it doesn’t seem like there’s a common thread to what you sample, except for the fact that it’s all, well, loaded.
I don’t know if I would even make that claim. I would say the samples all have some sort of narrative potential. Years ago I was watching something on TV about Japanese fish farms. I grew up in a region in Norway where they raised salmon exclusively in closed aquaculture farms, so I was really interested when the narrator started explaining that the Japanese had developed a new farming technique where the fish were set free to swim in the ocean during daytime and then drawn back in the evening by means of a special underwater melody. But why did they swim back?
I would agree with that. But samples aren’t the only source of that kind of energy—sonically speaking there are so many different ways to tap into it. I personally like to hear music from a distance. I’ll set up a microphone on a rock in one part of the forest and play a melody on a French horn hundreds of meters away. The end result is a specific kind of field recording; a faint but audible horn mixed with the sounds of the forest.
The melody meant dinner time!
And the specifically Polish aspect?
Has the way you watch movies changed over the years?
Aside from the location, I also started digging deeper into old Polish folk music, taking a bar or two or a phrase from a woman’s voice—a Polish female vocal from the forties—and then reprocessing it into something new. I continue to use the basic sonic architecture, but then loop it and combine it with other samples so that the bits and pieces are too short to be recognizable. But a certain foundational aspect of Polish folk music remains. For me, new worlds open up working like that. Just the idea of a Polish female vocal recorded during the occupation echoing through a forest that once hid Polish partisans send shivers down my spine.
Definitely. Sometimes I’ll just listen to films for samples—occasionally I won’t even watch it at all.
How do you end up discovering the older Polish folk music?
I know you download large chunks of your audio sources. How’s the sound quality?
Some stuff I found through friends and acquaintances, other stuff through Google. But there are also plenty of interesting historical recordings on iTunes. You had already been experimenting with the ghostliness of voice samples on your groundbreaking ambient album Patashnik in 1994. On “Phantasm” for example, we hear a child’s voice saying “I had a dream last night”, and then the voice of another child saying, “I had the same dream”. It would seem to invite a Freudian interpretation . . .
That sample is from the British gangster movie The Krays, where the twin brothers, Reggie and Ronnie Kray, are still kids, before 54
That’s what you might call Japanese efficiency . . .
I remember jumping up and immediately running into my study to find my recording device before the music ended . . . That sample is also on “Phantasm”.
With film especially it seems like there are so many different ways of working with it and processing it.
That’s true. I experienced the broader spectrum of film for the first time while exploring Japanese cinema. For the stuff without subtitles, I couldn’t understand a word, but I could always tell if a scene had the potential as an audio sample.
It varies, but it’s often bad. However, low sound quality often makes a sample more interesting—hissing and noise adds atmosphere. I rarely use perfect Blue-Ray-quality sources. I read books like you watch films; I rarely read more than eighty or ninety pages, but instead try to get an idea about how a given writer uses language—that is, unless the story’s totally riveting. And even then, I rarely finish it.
I don’t read that many books. It’s not easy to find Norwegian literature in Krakow. But when I do pick one up, I really force myself to read it to the end. ~
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max dax interviews brian eno
“I was swimming in an ocean of time” It’s hard to imagine pop music today without Brian Eno. As a founding member of Roxy Music, the father of ambient music and a producer for the Talking Heads, David Bowie, U2, Laurie Anderson, and Grace Jones (among others), Eno has had no small part in catapulting his collaborators to pop-cultural icon status. A firm believer in using the recording studio as a compositional tool, Eno’s penchant for experimentation has accelerated the evolution of pop and taught generations of musicians about the importance of atmosphere. Max Dax spoke to Eno in his London studio about venturing beyond the trusted avenues of making music, analyzing milliseconds of sound, and whether or not Bono has a sense of humor. Good morning Mr. Eno!
Where are you from, Belgium? No, Germany—up north near the Baltic Sea.
ciate it when artists are so transparent about what they do and why they do it.
That’s understandable for a journalist. Do you often go to poetry readings?
I grew up by the seaside too, in Suffolk. Isn’t it strange how your thinking and emotions adapt to the horizon when you live near the ocean? When you’re used to space, you need space to be able to think. Lots of people who grew up near the ocean say they wouldn’t be able to live landlocked in the mountains somewhere . . . Seems like you’re shaped by the landscape you grew up in. At least that’s true for me. That reminds me of some of some of the things I’ve read on Rick Holland’s blog, with whom you’ve also recently been collaborating. As a poet, he very elegantly documents, step by step, his forays into the metaphysics of memory and everyday life. I appre-
No, actually never. I don’t often attend anything, really. And when I do, like it was in Rick’s case, then only because I’m looking for something. I always ask myself: How can I use what I see? How does that fit in with what I’m doing? And then when I like something, I immediately start to analyze it: Why do I like it? What parts did I like most? Is it something that I do better or do they do it better? Is it something they do that I don’t do at all, but should? On the rare occasion that I happen to go out, I’m constantly processing these kinds of questions. What’s so particular about Rick Holland?
Brian Eno, photographed by Martin Godwin.
He’s very fast, and that’s important when working with me.
Then f what happened?
Is it important that he’s not a professional musician?
It was the slowest train I’ve ever ridden. It went from Southampton to London and stopped at twenty-three stations. I didn’t have a book with me, so I thought to myself: why not sit still for as long as you can? I used to be able to do that. I used to fly to America without anything to read and I never used to watch the films they were showing. I just sat still for seven hours. But yesterday . . . Jesus, it was a nightmare! Every few minutes I was checking my phone or texting someone something. I have to discipline myself.
Yes, absolutely. It was very inspiring working with him, because he made me pay attention to music in a different way than a normal musician would’ve done. And also, in some ways, I think I had a similar effect on him. I was interested in his poetry from a musical point of view. I’d say to him: “Can’t you get rid of three syllables in line two?” Or: “Can’t we repeat line four twice?” And he never argued about these things. He’d change the lines or do something totally different . . . which I think is extraordinary, because you wouldn’t expect that from a poet, would you? You mean you wouldn’t expect a poet to be such a pragmatist?
When you miss a flight or a train you’re confronted with time that you didn’t expect to have. I like to think of it as a gift. Sleeping is sometimes an option. But I often let my thoughts float freely. Every now and then something evolves out of such idle moments.
Why spend hundreds of millions of Deutschmarks on building an airport and not think about the music you play in it?
In a sense, yeah. In terms of the project as a whole, I would say that I made all the music and he made all the words. The division is fairly clear. But we still were able to give our input in both directions. Because we were in charge of different domains there was never any clash of egos. There was never anyone saying, “No, that’s my work! You can’t touch that!” It just didn’t happen.
You’ve had lots of experience working with big names and big egos. How did you deal with that in the past?
Look, you just deal with it. People can be quite territorial about what they’ve made and what they think they’re good at. Sometimes rightfully so. Do you think ego and talent and good ideas are inseparable?
exciting—I can do whatever I want!”
I call it “stolen time”—there’s nothing more valuable than stolen time. It happens to me sometimes when I’ve set up a meeting at my studio at a certain time and it gets cancelled on short notice. When it happens, I’m like a giddy child. I think, “Wow, I’ve stolen half an hour. It’s so
Arto Lindsay always asks me: “When was the last time you did nothing for half an hour?” I’m notoriously fidgety and have a hard time not answering messages or multitasking.
The original idea of ambient music was to try to give the listener an excuse to do nothing for some short period of time. Funny enough, the idea started in Germany—in an airport. Which airport? Berlin Tegel?
Not always, but good ideas certainly make the difference between the good and the brilliant. Your work often seems based on strikingly simple ideas and you tend to finish stuff quickly—it’s almost the opposite of a composer who spends weeks or months to finish a piece of music.
Yes. Have you ever studied other people’s methods for producing good ideas and cultivating a creative state?
No, Cologne. I had just come from Conny Plank’s studio and was on my way back to London. I remember it was a Sunday morning and I had some time to kill in the airport, which, by the way, was designed by Paul Schneider-Esleben, the father of Florian Schneider from Kraftwerk. It’s really a beautiful building, and back then it was quite new . . . So there I was, sitting in the airport on a lovely Sunday morning, with almost nobody else around, and all I could think of is: what a fantastic place to be! It all felt so modern, except ... Except what?
My favorite method is stopping everything for a moment. It’s amazing how difficult I find it these days to simply sit quietly. For example, yesterday I ended up on a long train journey. It wasn’t supposed to be a long journey but I got on the wrong train. I was late; I ran into the station, saw a sign saying “London” and just jumped on the train. I tend to do things like that now and again.
Except that there was this terrible music playing—it had just nothing to do with the rest of this experience, and I thought how ridiculous it was that you would spend hundreds of millions of Deutschmarks on building an airport like this and not think about the music you play in it. You know, everything else was so con-
Above: Installation view of Brian Eno’s Speaker Flowers, 2010. Photo by Dominic Alves. Below: Brian Eno, photographed by Martin Godwin.
trolled and so well thought out. Music for a space like this has to match the environment; it has to be designed; it has to be ambient. All I could think is how great would it be to have music which tells you to sit down, relax, and do nothing for the next twenty minutes. Would you say ambient music is functional?
Absolutely. But at the same time it’s sort of the opposite of muzak, which also should be considered functional, you know. Muzak exists to facilitate work, something that lifts your energy level a bit and gets you back on the assembly line doing your job. Like radio nowadays?
Exactly. And I wanted ambient music to do the opposite. Playing ambient music in a place like an airport would seem like a typically German approach to functional music, don’t you think?
Tohwhat extent, then, do you consider yourself a producer?
First and foremost I try to help the people I work for do away with stuff that doesn’t work. I have to do that, because otherwise projects become crippled by indecision; people are often paralyzed by a range of choices when they’re presented to them on a silver platter with unlimited time to explore and process them. You can’t forget: Everybody works better with fewer possibilities. You see it over and over again that good artists end up coming back to the same ideas they’ve always worked with. And with every year that goes by, they get better and better in understanding the chemistry between these ideas. It’s not an argument for stopping or giving up experimentation. In fact, I’ve spent years in my little studio trying out the new tools and gadgets, which happens almost every week. But constraint is a very useful tool in a lot of ways. Constraint also in the sense of: When are you going to finish this? How much time are you going to spend doing it? Where do you think it’s headed? Who’s going to listen to it?
It’s very hard to find a name for what I do, because I’m not really a musician.
BE: It does, doesn’t it. You know the Germans commissioned Kraftwerk to do the jingle for the Expo 2000 in Hanover . . . Yes, Kraftwerk were paid a huge sum for this tiny snippet of music, which sparked enormous public outrage. Aggressive tabloid headlines had the entire country pissed off at them. The tenor was: “Look how the government wastes taxpayers’ money!”
Well, that’s ridiculous. How was it for you when Microsoft asked you to develop a sound design audible every time you turn on your PC? I assume that was also a very well-paid three-second snippet . . .
Are those ideas valid for your production work with, say, Coldplay and U2 as well as with your own stuff?
One of the problems with very successful bands is that they don’t have a limit on their budget or their time—they can just keep going and going and going . . . They also usually own their studio, so for them it doesn’t matter if they spend a day in there doing nothing. It doesn’t cost them money, and maybe they don’t have anything better to do anyway. What else do you consider to be as important as narrowing the range of creative choices when producing?
Three seconds and a third, to be precise. Working on a miniature piece of commissioned music impacted me in a very specific way; it influenced my perception of time. When I started working on normal three- or four-minute pieces again after having spent months focusing on milliseconds, I had the impression I was swimming in an ocean of time. Designing Microsoft’s sonic stamp made me feel like a jeweler, like a diamond cutter. Usually, I feel more like an architect who builds big things, although that’s something I only realized in hindsight. Thanks to the Microsoft job, I realized how big my other projects of the past had been.
I like to break up days and structure them. You have breakfast, work for two hours on a project, check your emails, work on another project for another two hours and then lunch. Your day has to be a measurable process, in order to minimize aimless drifting. Of course, you can have some days on automatic pilot, and there’s nothing wrong with drifting in and of itself. But you can’t do that every day—you’ll never get anywhere.
Actually, you often refer to yourself as a “sonic landscaper”.
Absolutely. I often get completely bored with myself. Then I know I need a holiday . . . from myself.
It’s very hard to find a name for what I do, because I’m not really a musician. For the Microsoft sound, I had to work on an almost atomic level—with atoms of sound.
Do you ever find yourself in situations where you’ve run out of ideas?
I remember playing PlayStation a few years ago and listening to the generic patterns of the endless music and thinking that it was a rip-off of your work. Do you sometimes think: “I invented this!”?
If you’re not a musician, then what are you?
Well, I’m not a producer in the classic sense of the word—or at least I don’t do things a normal producer would do. I’m completely bored by that, actually. I’ve been looking for a term that describes what I do for years, really. “Sonic landscaper” will do for now, I suppose . . . 60
I sometimes think that, but to be honest, it surprises me even more how long it takes for a good idea to get through the system. Generally, when I encounter something in a new context that I had been doing twenty years ago, I tend to think: “I was right.” And that’s a good feeling. I might react different though if someone
wrongly claimed an invention for themselves. I would probably feel the need to set them straight. But people don’t do that. They just use ideas and don’t claim they were theirs, and that’s perfectly all right with me. I’m not poor; I’m not dependent on something I did thirty years ago for my income. So, when you see Lady Gaga in her famous meat outfit, you don’t think: that was my idea!
She probably never heard about my meat outfit with Roxy Music. I think she studied art and popular culture at NYU and when she gives interviews, she always cross-references, so there’s a good possibility she had.
The only thing I care about in ego terms is that I want people to know that it was me who put the flag in first. It’s like going to the North Pole.
Some fpeople might say that Bloom was just an app—what made it so important for you?
The Bloom story really started for me way back in the sixties, when I became interested in pieces of music that could write and create themselves . . . Like wind chimes?
Exactly. But also like Terry Riley’s In C or Steve Reich’s Tape Pieces. These too are great examples of self-generative music to me. They really represented a new kind of composition and way of creating music. I think some of my own stuff—Music for Airports or Discreet Music— were also examples of that. But these records were like fossilized versions of those processes; they were nothing more than examples of the million possibilities of how these records could have sounded. They showed thirty minutes of a process that lasts forever. With Bloom I waited decades to be able to release the process itself— and not only a snapshot of it. The iPhone gave me the possibility to release the source code, and I wanted to be the first. I actually released something like Bloom twenty years ago, but it didn’t work out because technology wasn’t advanced enough. It was called Generative Music 1 and it was sold on a floppy disc. Actually, it didn’t sell at all. I still have an author’s copy somewhere in my studio. It probably is a collector’s item today.
It sometimes surprises me how long it takes for a good idea to get through the system.
Or the moon? In fact, when Peter Chilvers and I did the Bloom app, I was convinced there must be at least twenty-five people all over the world working on something very similar. It was such an obvious thing to create—given how everything had progressed in the past twenty years. When we finished it and presented it to Apple, they loved the idea and wanted to do a campaign for it, which they said needed six weeks to put together. But I insisted that it should be out the following week—I just wanted to be the first one to do it. I wanted the world to know. Why is that so important?
Have you heard of any musicians that used a Bloom sample – in a hit single?
I don’t consider Bloom to be a tool for making music—I see it more as a piece of music that comes to life if you bother to switch it on. It’s always sitting there with all its possibilities and all the ways it could be. I’m sure that somewhere in the world someone is playing Bloom right now and bringing to life one of its endless possibilities.
Two reasons: One is that I sometimes come up with an idea that’s the first of its kind. Why should somebody else get the credit? The other thing is if someone else is quicker than me and comes out with a crappy version of the same idea, then it kills the chances of the good version being heard or seen. I was and am self-confident enough to be able to say that the other competitors just weren’t as good as Peter and I were.
But do you know of any song or record that’s referenced Bloom?
You make it sound as though you have some special antenna which tunes you in to people working on similar things, and that’s why you have to be so fast with coming out with the idea.
There’s supposed to be a Radiohead track called “Bloom” that opens with it, but I don’t know if that’s true. By the way: time’s up—I have to follow my pattern. Anything else you’d like to ask?
I think the ideas that suddenly pop up do so because there are a lot of other ideas in other places that are all pointing in the same direction. Sometimes you only need to wait for the next technological innovation to realize great ideas you’ve had in the past.
I heard this joke the other day: What’s the difference between God and Bono?
Like the iPhone?
When God walks down the street, he doesn’t think he’s Bono.
Yeah, that’s a good example. Suddenly all these ideas that were floating around randomly are realized after some big evolutionary step in technology. If you were following the ideas before, you’re not surprised at all by these inventions because you can anticipate them. You were basically just waiting for them to happen.
That’s great—I’ll have to tell Bono that one.
I don’t know this one—tell me!
Does he have a sense of humor?
Are you kidding? Of course he does. ~ EB 3/2011
fashion talk with . . .
and Penny Martin
Max Dax and Anne Waak interview gert Jonkers and Penny Martin
“If you want to show something, show it”
International style bibles Fantastic Man and The Gentlewoman walk a number of fine lines. The magazines manage to look to the future without jumping on every trend, embrace style and design ideas from the past without being boringly retro, and be taste-makers without being overly conservative. This has made them not only the most important magazines of their kind, but also financial success stories— not bad for publications founded smack in the middle of the largest crisis in the history of print. Here, Gert Jonkers and Penny Martin discuss the finer points of fashion and magazine collectability. Previous page: Great minds dress alike. Gert Jonkers, founder of Fantastic Man, and Penny Martin, editor-in-chief of The Gentlewoman, photographed by Andrea Stappert in London.
Max Dax: Gert Jonkers, why bring out a new fashion magazine in the middle of the biggest crisis in the history of print? Gert Jonkers: What crisis? We
honestly haven’t been experiencing it. Good content, presented attractively and with a healthy dose of self-confidence, will always have
a readership—today maybe even more so than in the past. Strangely enough, it seems like the desire for material things and thoughtful content seems to increase the more ubiquitous the Internet becomes. MD: Hans Ulrich Obrist and I had
a discussion about this in last issue’s editorial. It seems like cer-
tain lasting qualities of print have only started revealing themselves in the past five to ten years. GJ: Well, in terms of print,
Fantastic Man will always differentiate itself from magazines that focus on the newest sneakers and sweatshirts or formal men’s fashion . . . But you’ll never find us com-
plaining about a certain fashion zeitgeist, like the fact that people only wear jeans these days. We pride ourselves on our openness. Personally I think it’s great when people show up at the theater dressed entirely in denim—or even better: in rubber. As a magazine, we’re always motivated to do something that’s never been done before with every issue. We’d probably be out of business within a year if we appeared monthly. MD: So the fact that Fantastic Man
and Gentlewoman appear bi-annually is part of a larger strategy? Penny Martin: Absolutely. It’s often the case with magazines that appear every six months that they are treated as collectables . . . there are even slipcases for them. Lots of magazines produced today are more like books. It seems clear that there’s a demand for lasting content that the reader can refer back to a year later. GJ: It’s not enough for a magazine
to simply look and feel nice; content is key. Sustainability is really about the interdependence of these two factors. But it’s not always easy to push the envelope while at the same time creating something that’s built to last. Achieving both goals involves distinguishing what we do from your average conservative style guide, something we refuse to become. I mean, we’re detail-oriented, but you’ll never find us recommending a silk, ninefold Italian tie. That’s just boring. We leave that kind of thing to GQ. Here in England there’s a sort of fanzine for gentleman culture called The Chap where you can read all about how to carry an umbrella properly and where to find a good top hat. It’s scary to me that people actually take this stuff seriously.
MD: Fantastic Man and The
Gentlewoman tend to treat fashion as only one part of a larger conception of elegance, as if fashion is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of true style. I think it’s most apparent in the way both magazines present not only the models but also the clothes. There’s
immediacy in the images you present. GJ: I would say that first and fore-
Fantastic Man, Issue No. 3, Spring and Summer 2006, featuring the elegantly hirsute YSL designer Stefano Pilati.
most, our photography is known for its straightforwardness. Our fashion spreads are inviting because the reader is being directly addressed. It’s personal. This is how Fantastic Man radiates both a sense of optimism and accessibility. We’re interested in real men with real style and that’s why we’ll often have our models stand up straight in front of the camera with their hands on their hips. We’re not looking to waste paper— we don’t commission overly blurry or characterless photo spreads. If you want to show something, show it.
Anne Waak: But sometimes the most remarkable aspect of the images is what you don’t see, like when the models’ heads are cut out of the image entirely. PM: Headless models are a phenomenon that can be traced back to the second wave of the feminist movement, when the topic was hotly debated. We tend towards a balance; we feature plenty of faces, but also plenty of cropped shots. There’s also a third category of fashion spread that focuses specifically on the details and art of tailoring. We’ve also been working with still lifes, which emphasize the inanimate. Not everybody finds this third category accessible, but it does appeal to a certain readership, and it’s one that points towards the exclusivity of print media, I would say. GJ: It’s true, printed magazines
are becoming more and more exclusive. Gone are the days when people would buy twenty or thirty magazines a month; today it’s more like one or two. In the end it means that we kill fewer trees, and I think that’s something that was always important to us. But independently of environmental concerns, it was also important to create a thin magazine that you can roll up and take anywhere with you—on the bus, on a plane, to bed . . . Fantastic Man is around two hundred pages and
we have no interest in making it five hundred. It’s painful to think about how many trees die to create a newspaper like The Sun. Paper is an extraordinarily beautiful product, like cashmere or leather. It should be treated like the valuable raw material that it is. Quality should be the only justification for printing anything these days. MD: It didn’t take long for
Fantastic Man to earn a reputation as an international style bible. What do you do differently than everybody else?
GJ: Actually, it’s the other way
around; we do everything like everybody else used to do. We appropriate ideas that embody a timeless beauty from magazines that are twenty, thirty, and forty years old. . . and then apply them to what’s happening today. When Jop Van Bennekom and I started Fantastic Man in 2005, we spent ages sifting through Jop’s massive collection of old magazines, entire volumes of GQ, British Vogue, and Andy Warhol’s Interview. Art directors and photo editors back then did such incredible work! MD: You see Fantastic Man in line
with a certain aesthetic tradition— is that a stance against the idea of fashion as a string of transient trends, like your take on ephemera in the world of print? Do good ideas in fashion have no expiration date?
GJ: It’s interesting how many
perfect solutions there were to problems in fashion and design before our time, solutions that were whimsically rejected and replaced with something newer and much less thoughtful. I suppose it’s happened in practically every aspect of culture, but it’s really apparent in print and fashion.
MD: Traditionally, fashion and
lifestyle magazines represented the avant-garde of fresh and new ideas. Isn’t it their responsibility to blaze new trails?
GJ: Of course! That certainly
hasn’t changed. But having avantgarde pretenses doesn’t necessarily EB 3/2011
mean rejecting the avant-garde ideas of the past. Appropriating design elements that worked perfectly thirty or forty years ago, but which for some reason had been forgotten about, can be an enormous help in producing new visions. Combining the old with the old can potentially result in something new. Previous page: A baby photo of Inez van Lamsweerde, one of her collages, Café de la Musique in northern Paris, Meena Pathak and Patak’s Curry Paste. The Gentlewoman’s “Several References” section offers photos and explanations of references from featured spreads in that issue. Art director Jop van Bennekom presents them as a footnote-like cabinet of curiosities.
AW: It’s clear that Fantastic Man addresses the reader in a very specific way. The magazine’s directness is always qualified by an essential distance between the author and the reader. GJ: Absolutely. The general aesthe-
tic and language of British Vogue from the seventies has left a lasting impression on me. For example, the credits for the clothes in the fashion spreads weren’t just a list of labels like they are today. No, these were miniature journalistic gems; they explained how clothes and accessories were to be worn, and how they absolutely should not be worn . . . sometimes in remarkable detail. It’s personal, but it’s also more than that.
AW: Ms. Martin, does the same go
for the design and content of The Gentlewoman?
“I saw that Fantastic Man has declared a fatwa against the bowtie. That’s OK— I’ve never seen those guys wearing ties anyway.” Glenn O’Brien speaks to fashion and style blog A Continuous Lean. 70
PM: Of course. Every major design or editorial decision should be part of a larger vision. Without that, there’s a serious danger of the content becoming arbitrary or just ornamental. When we were conceiving of The Gentlewoman, we wanted to rethink the way in which women communicate with each other, not just with language but also in terms of the imagery. We were really interested in creating something new. AW: In what sense? PM: In the sense of printing real
conversations with real women in a real way. It’s hard to ignore Andy Warhol’s legacy when it comes to featuring discussions between interesting people, and creating an atmosphere of continuous conversation. But when we were designing the magazine, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to make something like Fantastic
Man’s Recommendations rubric. Successful men are almost always eager to show off what they know, often in a really pedantic way. Women do things differently; they tend to expound upon their areas of expertise in personal conversations with friends or people they trust. Ultimately, it’s a question of how to present conversations that are both convincing and attractive to the reader, which is also a design issue. MD: Form follows function? PM: Occasionally it’s not always easy or fruitful to make a distinction. I believe in the idea that all content has its ideal journalistic manifestation, visual language included. When we photograph the women featured in the conversations section, we always ask them to come in really close to the camera to show more of themselves. You can scour today’s magazine landscape but you just won’t find that kind of photography anymore. It’s a big difference to previous decades. MD: What else have you found
exploring the aesthetics and design from the past that appears so new today?
PM: Over the past twenty years, a certain group of women have been shut out from the world of lifestyle publications. Women who weren’t satisfied with make-up and shopping tips alone simply didn’t have a magazine to turn to. We wanted to change that; we wanted to address these women directly and we wanted to do it in a warm and inviting way, all while maintaining a special attention to detail. GJ: I would say the love for detail
is really our guiding principle.
MD: Both magazines also seem to
emphasize the poetic. There’s a Jenny Holzer quote that come to mind from Gentlewoman’s inaugural issue: “Constantly moving is a way to deal with your fears.”
PM: Jenny Holzer is an incredible
interviewee, because her work deals specifically with language.
There are lots of magazines that would edit out such a disturbing statement. For us, it’s just the opposite. We’re happy if the interviews lead to a deeper place. GJ: I would say the language we
use is less poetic and more, uh, polite—but without being oldfashioned . . . Although I suppose politeness these days is considered old-fashioned in and of itself. Deciding for linguistic courteousness was a very calculated decision on our part. We’ll often address the magazine’s protagonists as “Mr.” or “Ms.” or, occasionally, “Mrs.”—even in captions. That’s something only American newspapers like The New York Times still do. They’ll write “Ms. Spears” when talking about Britney, and that really appeals to me. It’s not only respectful – it also involves the kind of humor that I really appreciate.
MD: There’s a clear focus on the
future of print in both magazines. Who’s your readership? Who are trying to appeal to? What role does politeness play in the process?
GJ: Even when I say that we create
Fantastic Man for ourselves, the magazine is, of course, supposed to be read by other people. It isn’t just a picture book that we’ve added texts to in order not to look dumb, and good manners are really, really important to what we’re showing. I think people curse too much on the street. It’s vulgar and not especially nice to listen to, so we don’t do it in our magazine either. Paying attention to the most basic rules of good behavior makes life so much easier for everybody.
PM: I think the tone in which women’s magazines address their readership is often extremely didactic and is often in the imperative voice—especially the glossier ones. Women need something more accessible and more humorous, and they don’t always want to be talked at. MD: Gert, when you brought out
the first issue of Fantastic Man in 2005, you were involved with putting out Butt together with Jop van
Bennekom. How did you go from the brilliant soft-core “fagazine” to publishing an exclusive men’s fashion and style magazine?
like personally, do you ever find yourself torn between a more subjective perspective and one that’s more distanced and professional? How do you maintain your objectivity when producing content for people like yourselves?
GJ: Jop and I obviously love
fashion and style, but we wanted to avoid incorporating that stuff into Butt at all costs, we really wanted to keep it neutral. We had no desire to feature, say, a luxury watch next to somebody’s bare bottom. Instead, we wanted to do something tasteful and exclusive but also unpretentious and open. MD: A magazine you’d read
yourself—is that the recipe for success?
GJ: I suppose it depends on who
you are. You know, there are two types of editors: those that are alienated from their readership and those that aren’t. There are so many fifty-five year-old editorsin-chief out there deciding things for teenagers, figuring out whether some fourteen-year-old girl should read about Lady Gaga or not. We’re the other type; we’re producing content for people like us. I think both types of editing involve different attitudes. I’ve worked for magazines where I didn’t belong to the target audience, and I found it extremely difficult. Always having to ask yourself whether something that doesn’t interest you could nevertheless be of interest for somebody completely different can be really tiring.
PM: That’s also why it’s so exci-
ting to have the time to develop your own identity as a publication, which is something you can do when you produce every six months. It’s a different way of working, sort of analogous to cooking slow food. You could call it slow fashion. But it’s definitely not less work. It just stops being about finding people to write articles within a week, and becomes more about putting together larger pieces that involve a number of steps and are extremely composed. The finished product is potentially of a much higher quality. MD: When presenting your readers
with so many things that you
GJ: It sounds clichéd, but the ans-
Above: Future-perfectin-past. The Gentlewoman, Spring and Summer 2011, Issue Nr. 3, featuring Adele Atkins. While most magazines are busy figuring out ways to improve their websites, The Gentlewoman is devoted to exploring new avenues of print—for example, by using different types of paper for different rubrics.
wer is simple: we’re really, really critical. A fanzine is only about including the things you like. There are lots of things out there that we like, but that simply aren’t good enough to be included in our magazines.
PM: Absolutely. It’s all about maintaining the highest level of quality and criticality, and that should be reflected in every aspect of every issue, from the content to the surface quality of the paper . . . and the connections between the two. For example, we’ll often use different types of paper within a single issue in order to underscore a given sensibility. MD: I think that’s where The
Gentlewoman boasts some real journalistic innovations, especially the “several references” section (see pages 68+69). At first glance it seems like a combination of unrelated images and information, and then slowly it reveals itself as a collection of things referenced by the interviewees. This is like a nod to the hyperlink culture in the Internet.
PM: I think it’s a bit like a cabinet of curiosities created from the references of various interviewees and articles. When the captions are added, the pictures become visual footnotes and cross references for the different texts—a favorite pair of shoes, an album cover, a house, an old car . . . But it’s nothing like the seamless connections made between unrelated things that you find online. Instead of just going from one link to the next, the reader is forced to turn the pages and figure out the reference. It’s a more intentional process. AW: So cross-referencing once again becomes a physical process about touching the paper and tur-
ning the page—something digital media can’t do. GJ: We’re interested in good clothes
and good shoes, but you can only really touch these things in a store or on location at the tailor’s or the shoemaker’s studio. We want to transfer that “Oh wow!” experience of feeling incredible material and experiencing incredible design to the world of print. We feature what we’re creating ourselves: desirable objects. The Internet simply can’t do that, no matter how hard it tries.
MD: Would you say that buying a
magazine these days is making a conscious decision against the speed and immediacy of the Internet?
GJ: Not always, but often. MD: Do you see it as the responsibi-
lity of print publications to adopt a more thorough approach to producing content—to delve deeper into topics, when possible?
GJ: The Internet is a culture on
demand. Online publications are like information containers that immediately have to be refilled, and fulfilling the desires of the consumer is a constant process. You almost always find what you’re looking for and often pick up things by chance along the way. If we’re not careful, we’ll only have the news we want to read delivered to us in the future, with all the undesirable headlines and articles filtered out . . . after all, our interests, desires, and clicks are saved by online service providers as algorithms and we operate within a system of referrals and recommendations. Print is a different story. In every issue of every magazine you’ll find an editor-inchief formulating a declaration of intent to the reader—something that channels the magazine’s information and emanates a certain calmness and organization. The Internet is a loud and frenetic place where you’re constantly being confronted with stuff. A good magazine reverses the principles of the Internet; it’s not a culture on demand. ~ EB 3/2011
Sonic Boom And the Silver apple
“But other than that, the trip was fantastic!”
SONIC BOOM: Simeon, I love the
spoken word aspect of your music; you tell stories so damn well. You don’t notice it so much on the first two Silver Apples recordings, but definitely on more recent output.
SIMEON COXE III: It’s funny you say that because live it always feels the other way round; crowds tend to freak out with my stuff even before I open my mouth. I recently did a few shows in China and as soon as I started playing the intros—especially to “Streams of Sorrow”— people were jumping out of their chairs screaming, like they knew it all. It was surprising, because I’ve never released anything there. It must all be downloads and bootlegs, because there’s not an honest record in that entire country. SB: How did you end up going to
China? That’s a far out one . . .
Musical innovators often fall into one of two categories: those whose contributions are recognized by their contemporaries and those whose innovations are championed retrospectively. The Silver Apples’ Simeon Coxe is a paradigmatic example of the latter—thanks in no small part to innovators of the first type like producer and musician Pete Kember, alias Sonic Boom. Together, Coxe’s and Boom’s visionary electronic minimalism has shown the world how much more less can be.
SC: They just called me up and
asked me what it would take to get me out there and I told them to give me something to eat.
SB: Good one! SC: It was a bit of a culture shock
for me, to be honest. Parts of China are incredibly Third World, and the air pollution is just insane.
SB: I’ve seen pictures of the yellow
haze in big Chinese cities . . .
SC: I sometimes had to wear face-
masks, otherwise you’re just gagging the whole time. I did shows in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou near Hong Kong. The air quality was horrendous. But other than that, the trip was fantastic.
SB: Sounds totally bitching. SC: Yeah, and I also saw the light
and became a Communist; they totally converted me. These days I like to wear the hat and carry around a picture of Mao and a Little Red Book. Back home in Alabama, I go to parks and tell the people what’s up with the workers—let ‘em know where it’s at. But having said that, I’m mostly just focused on finishing the new album. Ideally, it’d be collaboration with all sorts of different people. I’ve been thinking about it sort of like a Batman movie with a whole host of colorful characters, the most interesting being the villains of course. But I’m not close enough to hone in on that yet. SB: I remember when we colla-
borated for the album Lake of Teardrops, it all worked out so symbiotically. The process was beyond quick and easy—I don’t remember disagreeing on a single thing. We both came to the table EB 3/2011
with our ideas and tactics and just managed to weave them all together without any false starts.
Apropos recording studios: What’s your set-up these days? Are you still recording yourself?
SC: I think it was also how we wor-
SC: Actually I use two systems. For
ked; the whole album was done in layers. Somebody would come up with the germ of an idea and then the other person would slide their line on top of that and then came the next layer . . . It really was like a weaving or interlacing process.
my PC I use Acid Pro . . .
SB: How appropriate. SC: Of course, I couldn’t resist.
SB: The track that sticks out for
me the most off that album is “Whirlwind”. The words are so intense—it’s always a snapshot of a moment—something somebody did, followed by the words, “And I’ll never be the same.”
SC: It’s a song about a guy who’s
totally fallen in love with someone who’s just disappeared out of his life . . .
SB: And burned his futon, if I
SC: That too—not to mention burn
his toast to a crisp and make holes in his walls by throwing around big, heavy ashtrays.
SB: I remember being blown away
by those sessions. I never thought we’d have any problem getting along, but musically you can never tell if it’s going to be any good. I recall every time you left the room, the rest of us were just grinning like idiots because we knew we had something that good.
Lately, it seems that the future of rock and roll—from MGMT and Panda Bear to Moon Duo—have rediscovered Sonic Boom’s past, too. Pictured above is Spacemen 3’s penultimate album, Playing with Fire, written according to Sonic Boom’s famous motto: “Three chords good, two chords better, one chord best.”
SC: I remember that we first met
in 1997 when Silver Apples opened for Spectrum. I remember sitting in to play “Pox On You” with you guys for the first time and felt almost immediately that we had to record together. Before the show you came up to me and gave me this little silver apple with chimes in it. I think you painted it silver and sort of ceremoniously presented it to me. I still have it. I usually keep it in my recording studio, but lately I’ve been travelling with it.
SB: Yeah—I did paint the apple
myself, and the chimes are incredibly beautiful. It’s a Fisher-Price toy from around 1968 or 1969.
With my macs I work with Ableton Live, and for the most part I bounce things back and forth— usually with some premastering before I send it off. The possibilities of creating today just blow my mind; as a musician you can be so prolific and with the Internet the audience is so much broader. But I also find the spectrum of people who claim you as an influence can sometimes be really bizarre, if you know what I mean. Have you ever had the feeling of being alienated from people you’ve influenced?
SB: Actually, no. Pretty much everyone who’s ever come up and told me that I influenced their art have been real nice people and make cool music. SC: For me it’s the exact opposite,
although a lot of the things I’ve reportedly influenced are very beautiful. But I’ll often have some guy come up to me and give me his record, do the bow and scrape, and tell me how much my music has meant to them. Then I end up taking it home and listening to the most bloody, god-awful thing I’ve ever heard . . .
SB: But what you did with Silver
Previous page: Simeon Coxe, photographed in London’s Serpentine Gallery by Lucy Lux.
Right: Sonic Boom, photographed by Miguel Villalobos in New York.
Apples in the sixties was just so far out and so different from the norm that I think it was bound, as a work of art, to become a kind of freak magnet, you know?
SC: When I was in China, I
remember some of the opening acts introduced themselves to me before the shows and told me what an honor it was and all that, so I would go out and take a listen to their set. God, you wouldn’t believe the crap I heard . . . I mean, Chinese opera is bad enough with all the screeching and wailing— some of these openers made that sound good. I think there’s a whole
movement in China to make the listening experience as uncomfortable as possible, with lots of shrieking and vocal calisthenics. There are female singers who train by swallowing whole eggs half-way down and then working them back up their throat . . . To me it’s pretty unlistenable. SB: To me, this sounds like ability
SC: I’d say it’s more like an athletic
ability than a music thing.
SB: But there’s also beautiful Chi
nese zither music and what not . . .
SC: On the other hand, it’s humbling when somebody tells you how important you were for their work and then you listen to it at home and think to yourself: I really don’t deserve this, it’s too beautiful. That happens, too. Geoff Barrow and Portishead come to mind . . . SB: I think people are just happy to
be able to be in contact with you, Simeon. It’s a magical thing that the Internet has allowed so many people to hear your music.
SC: Oh, I don’t think I’d have a
career today in music if it weren’t for the Internet.
SB: Same for me, without a doubt.
I think what we do is pretty niche and with psychedelic music, it’s a whole scene and culture of recommendations. People are always passing on the good information. Even though we’re both pre-digital in many ways, I still feel propelled forward by the digital age, and that goes for production duties too. A lot of people have these analogue associations with what I create and produce and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I really enjoy doing certain things exclusively on the computer, especially hunting around for plug-ins. For me, it’s whatever does the job. I have tons of analogue gear and tons of digital gear, both cheap and expensive. Whatever works best, gets used. I think in your case, Simeon, there are certain sounds that just can’t be properly replicated digitally, like your lead
oscillators. Would you agree? SC: Absolutely. I need to be handson with making music. I like making the sounds myself—even if I have to practice two days straight to be able to do it. The quantization of a computer can make things perfect, but then you don’t feel like it was you who made the sound. Maybe it’s pride of ownership, I don’t know—it would certainly be easier to get everything from samples. That being said, if I sample a sound that I created to begin with, I feel differently about it; I feel like I still have that important connection. I remember how impossible it used to be to play live with Silver Apples, because I constantly had to tune the nine different oscillators I was using every time a cloud came by. That’s why Danny [Taylor] and I always did “Velvet Cave” live, because all the notes in the song are randomly chosen. I would just spin the dial on the oscillators and then just have to work with whatever notes I ended up with. I created the melodies based upon a totally random note structure. Now that I perform by myself, things have become simplified, though. SB: But don’t you think performing
alone live sometimes feels like a kind of plate spinning exercise? I usually have five or six machines that are all linked up using the wonders of midi synchronization, which allows me to manipulate the bass elements, melodies and harmonies and also sing on top. I just have to make sure that all the plates keep spinning.
SC: Well, your solo performances
never sounded like multitasking in a bad way. They just sounded timeless. You know, I always felt that Spectrum and Spacemen 3 were also very independent of place and time.
SB: With Spacemen 3 we definitely
had an isolationist attitude and never felt the need to be tied in with a city or scene. It doesn’t really matter to me where I am when doing music. The fewer distractions, the better. In the past, it’s usually ended up being a suburban environment, and the bands I’ve
worked with—MGMT or Animal Collective or whoever—aren’t ashamed to admit where they’re from. They celebrate it. And that goes for influences as well. With Spacemen 3, we were always up front about it, be it The Who or Silver Apples or Suicide . . .
All Tomorrow’s Parties, Noah wanted me to mix his album. It was like going from nowhere to dream in two seconds.
SC: I think you can hear it in your
Collective before. I discovered it through Panda Bear. Perfect Pitch is in my all-time top forty—I got married to that album.
productions, too . . . Although I admit that I have a hard time telling what the producer did and what the artists did on a record—maybe I just don’t have the ear for it. SB: I think producers generally
have a nebulous role. Back in the day, people slapped their name on a record as “producer” without having had anything remotely to do with recording or mixing. A&R executives usually got a production credit for doing next to nothing.
SC: Some guy named John Walsh
produced the first Silver Apples album, but I honestly don’t know who the hell that is.
SB: I think it’s a little less nebulous
Above: The Silver Apples’ now classic second album, Contact, marked the beginning of the end for the band in the sixties. The front cover features Simeon Coxe and Danny Taylor in the cockpit of a Pan Am jet surrounded by drug paraphernalia, while the inside sleeve has the two playing banjos amidst a plane wreck. After being sued by Pan Am, Taylor and Cox went into hiding to avoid having their property confiscated.
nowadays. I would say 99.9 percent of it comes from the band, in all honesty. As a producer, you’re there to record their ideas to the best of your ability . . .
SC: To be the vehicle that presents
the artist’s work to the public in a clear and enjoyable way—that’s an amazing thing. I think a lot of people’s egos get in the way and insist that their stamp should be on the music. Maybe that’s why your production work is so clean and refreshing: because you stay in the background and guide it without any of the bullshit. But how did you end up doing so much production stuff today?
SB: Well, bands like MGMT,
Panda Bear and Moon Duo all knew my work with Spacemen 3 and Spectrum, so it wasn’t like I appeared out of the blue as an option for them. But I’m also pretty pro-active and not at all too shy to contact people. I contacted Panda Bear two or three years ago and told him that I’d love to work with him some time. After Animal Collective chose Spectrum to play
SC: You were a big fan of Animal
Collective before that?
SB: I didn’t really know Animal
SC: Speaking of personal things
good and bad: What about psychedelics? How important are or were they for you?
SB: Psychedelics still play a recreational role in my life, but I don’t feel the need to be out of my head all day every day. They definitely played an important part in aligning my mind and taste in music and have strongly influenced me as a musician. I have fond memories of taking mushrooms for the first time and listening to Laurie Anderson’s Big Science and being blown away by the combination of her incredibly wry sense of humor and bizarreness. SC: I feel like I was just born sto-
ned; I never had to take drugs to get there. It’s kind of a curse actually. I don’t drink or smoke or do any drugs at all. I have, of course—everybody tries things out. There was a time when Danny and I tried to write music on acid, but we just got nowhere. You know, we were not hippies. We were more like the opposite of hippies. We were New York street people, living hand to mouth and making music out of junk we found on the street. I never identified with the flower child, peace and love, incenseburning thing . . . It’s just not me. I also never really understood our music as “psychedelic”. People need a description, so I guess it works. But the music is just me.
SB: As for me, your music is definitely psychedelic, but more in the way that Moondog or Sun Ra are psychedelic . . . which has obviously nothing to do with drugs. “Psychedelic”, in your case, is just fancy short form for really, really far out.~
Moises Micha & carlos couturier / hĂ´tel americano / New York City
madebyoriginals.com A project by Design Hotelsâ„˘
museum of sound manifesto The museum of sound is a place to listen The museum of sound is a place to remember The museum of sound is a place to catalogue The museum of sound is a place to compare The museum of sound is a place to investigate The museum of sound is designed to surprise
The museum of sound is not somewhere to upload music The museum of sound is not somewhere to talk, shout or sing The museum of sound is not interested in dishonesty or fakery The museum of sound is not a vehicle for profit or interested in your money The museum of sound is not a physical place The museum of sound is a place to listen
Some actual things it hopes to be: A place to listen to 1982 A place to hear the sounds of 20,000 different babies being born at the same time A never-ending, simultaneous global piece of music that you write by listening A place to hear the world for the first time A place to hear the assault by the Syrian government on its own people Matthew Herbert September 2011 www.themuseumofsound.com
Matthew Herbert skypes with André de ridder
“There’s only one truly qualified performing pig”
André de Ridder: Matthew, I remem-
ber we met once before at Ian Vine’s wedding a long time ago.
Matthew Herbert: Indeed, that was
a long time ago. Are you still in touch with him?
ADR: Yes, I was at the Manchester
Festival in late July where we had dinner together.
MH: Did you get to see any of the
Björk shows while you were there? The one I saw was spectacular!
ADR: No, I missed them because
our performances were scheduled at the same time. But people have been talking non-stop about her incredible young new drummer. I heard she found him on YouTube —is that right?
MH: Yeah, he’s brilliant, though
he looked a bit confused after the show. I think it was because he’s still getting used to triggering electronic noises with his kit. When you grow up getting acoustic feedback from your set, hitting rubber pads can be pretty weird and abstract.
ADR: I think it’s great that elec-
tronic musicians like Björk are making efforts to give the live
Since Frank Zappa’s
experience back to the audience. That doesn’t always happen . . .
MH: Did you do the arrangements?
collaborations between huge rock bands and symphony orchestras have pretty much become de rigueur. With a handful of notable exceptions (see above), the results are often bombastically boring. But over the past ten years, younger musicians and composers have revived the tradition by infusing it with its original sense of avant-garde purpose. Here, composer André de Ridder talks to electronic musician Matthew Herbert about musical transgressions and the tension between acoustic and amplified sound.
MH: Before I saw Björk in
It was an interesting but also scary process, because the orchestra first met for practice only three weeks before the opening night. I had a period of around ten days pulling night shifts and trying to arrange something that didn’t sound too symphonic or operatic.
Freak Out and The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s,
Manchester, it used to annoy the hell out of me to watch musicians mixing electronics and acoustics. It was like witnessing them having their midlife crisis. And for what? The whole point about techno, from what I could tell, was that there wasn’t any drummer!
ADR: I see. MH: So, what kind of shows did
you do in Manchester? Were you conducting?
ADR: I was working again with
Damon Albarn on his new musictheater piece, Dr Dee: an English Opera. It’s much more serious and melancholy than Monkey: Journey to the West, his first opera. And it’s also completely non-electronic. We used twenty-five musicians from the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and a group playing Renaissanceera instruments—viola da gambas, lutes, stuff like that. We were also joined by African musicians Madou Diabate and Tony Allen, with whom Damon works a lot. It was really an incredible group of people and an incredible world of sound that we ended up creating.
ADR: Yes, I did all the arranging.
MH: Why? ADR: The sound of the Renaissance
and African instruments together was so special that I didn’t want to overwhelm it in any way. I just wanted to put a sparse layer of sound on top.
MH: And then there’s always a
problem with the volume. Volumewise, period instruments are so much quieter than a proper symphonic orchestra.
ADR: We had to mic the
Renaissance instruments, of course, as well as the drums and the singers—Damon included.
MH: I always hated the tension
between acoustic and amplified sound.
ADR: Actually, I wanted to talk
ADR: What about hiring a pig? MH: We tried to get a live pig
for the show, but we discovered there are problems with that in England. You know, there’s only one truly qualified performing pig in the country, and he was already booked for the evening, believe it or not.
ADR: Not to mention all the stress
with animal rights groups like PETA . . .
MH: Isn’t it strange that four
So sah das vorher aus. Und so sieht es jetzt aus. Wem das nicht gefaellt, der soll sich doch bitte bei mir melden.
hundred thousand pigs are killed every day to satisfy the needs of the international food market, but it can only happen behind closed doors? You’re not allowed to kill a pig to eat in public . . .
ADR: But what about performing
MH: Right—it was all about the
dynamics between acoustic and amplified sound. We put a curtain between myself and the orchestra, who were being amplified through my equipment. I could make it sound incredibly loud, quiet, distorted—you name it.
ADR: There’s a moment just before
with you about that. Last year, you put out the album Mahler Symphony X Recomposed for Deutsche Grammophon, which was fantastic. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see it when I was in Berlin . . . MH: [laughing] You were at a Björk
ADR: No, I was at the wedding of
Andy Thoma from Mouse on Mars.
MH: I remember! I was invited too,
but obviously I couldn’t make it.
ADR: I would’ve loved to have
heard that Mahler performance. I was wondering how you’d realize this particular project live on stage
André de Ridder is principal conductor of the UK-based Sinfonia ViVA. Aside from working with symphny orchestras from around the world, the German-born de Ridder is widely known for his collaborations with non-classical musicians, including Damon Albarn, Gorillaz, Tony Allen, and Mouse on Mars. He was photographed by Luci Lux at the .HBC in Berlin.
since you were dealing with similar problems regarding acoustic and amplified sound . . . or at least that’s what I would imagine. MH: John Cage said there is a difference between listening to music, writing music and performing music. Early on in my career, I was confused about these differences, because in pop music you basically record an album and then play the songs live more or less how you recorded them. The problem became clearer for me when thinking about my new album, One Pig. The whole thing was done using the sounds of a pig that died two years ago. So what am I supposed to do on stage? Use playback?
the climax in Mahler’s tenth where the orchestra gets extremely loud, playing all these brassy chords. But on your reworking, this part is very quiet, which makes it almost like a photo negative. Anybody who knows the symphony anticipates this huge peak, and the fact that it doesn’t happen intensifies the whole experience. But playing live, I imagine the symphony was super loud. How thick were those curtains between you and them?
MH: It was an eighty-piece orche-
stra, so the curtains were very, very thick and sound-absorbing. But it’s interesting that you mention the missing climax because you’re the first person to have noticed. This was my biggest intervention in Mahler’s composition. I spent countless nights deciding whether to do it. At some point it just felt right, so I went for it— mainly for reasons of tension and release.
ADR: There’s also something very
lonely about the Mahler album. As
a listener, I sometimes felt sort of excluded from the music because it sounds like it’s coming from a distance. It’s an even more lonely listening experience than the original . . .
MH: I was constantly trying to
find ways to represent a feeling of distance that I had when listening to the original Mahler recording by Giuseppe Sinopoli. Mahler was in the process of writing his tenth symphony shortly before he died, almost exactly one hundred years ago. It remained unfinished. Today’s listeners are a completely new audience, even from Sinopoli’s recording. That’s also what I mean when I speak of a certain kind of distance to Mahler.
ADR: But there’s also a distance
created by using electronic equipment and the control it allows for. I envy that level of control. You can stop the music or a chord for a moment, freeze it, deconstruct it, and then dive back into it. It’s like manipulating music in your mind; you can do practically whatever you want. As a conductor, I can’t always do that. The closest I get is in rehearsal, when I’ll suddenly tell the orchestra: “And now, change the color completely!” Since they’re all classically trained to play beautiful stuff, it’s very hard for them to do anything else. Suddenly changing the color is not the academic way. An electronic musician on the other hand can do that easily—there’s no huge orchestra to bring in line.
MH: I sometimes ask myself: What
does a symphony orchestra mean in this day and age? What would I do if somebody asked me to write a symphony? What can we do that hasn’t been heard yet? Don’t you think about that all the time?
ADR: I constantly try and look for
new developments and new sounds among composers in the realm of contemporary classical music. Also, I’ve always been interested in pop bands and experimental electronica. There’s so much new stuff going on that really excites and stimula-
Matthew Herbert is a DJ, producer and idiosyncratic electronic musician of world fame. For his latest album, One Pig, he recorded the oinks, grunts and squeals of a farm pig, from birth to death—or rather birth to plate. He was photographed by Luci Lux in London.
tes me. I’ve recently worked with bands and musicians who are bringing back orchestral arrangements, like Gorillaz, These New Puritans, Tyondai Braxton and Owen Pallett. At the moment, I’m working together with Mouse on Mars, who are very serious about what they do, especially in terms of refining sounds. They belong to a generation of pop musicians who seem so much more interested in classical modern music than the other way around. One of the most beautiful things about collaborating with the pop musicians is how committed they are to what they do. MH: I will never understand the
classical musicians in an orchestra who play sudoku in the pauses bet-
ween their entrances; or pack up their instruments and leave when the clock turns three. For them, music seems to be like a craft. Their connection to music sometimes is very cold. ADR: The difference between an
orchestra that plays someone else’s music and a four- or fivepiece band is exactly that: in a band, everybody has a sense of ownership of the music, whereas in an orchestra, nobody does. I would give so much if orchestras could work like a band. But there are tendencies—I know small ensembles that work like that. They gather because they feel they’re on the same wavelength. They decide which pieces they EB 3/2011
want to perform and they organize themselves democratically. MH: But technically speaking,
nothing compares with twenty violins playing the same note at the same time when it comes to texture.
ADR: That alone makes it all wor-
thwhile! You just have to respect their approach and their working hours, and you have to be well prepared and give them proper sheet music. Then you’ll be rewarded by an amazing sound.
MH: I’m always irritated when it
comes to group behavior, though. Classically trained musicians often behave like children. They make funny snorting noises or whatever when they don’t want to work.
ADR: You mean as a way to release
some very interesting meditation techniques where you just listen to all the sounds and noises around you. Another important part of the museum is to have it be a living library of collective and personal memories. It’s a place where you can interact with your sonic environment on a personal level. I want to build an interface where sounds can be listened to in any number of ways: by layering them; by playing them fast; by playing them all at once; even by chopping everything up into noise. It’s a place where we actually can work out what relationship we have to sound . . . at the moment, online. ADR: Sound as opposed to music? MH: When we listen to music, we
basically hear something constructed to generate a certain kind of emotion.
tension? That’s been known to happen, yes. That’ll surely be the case if you ever do One Pig . . .
ADR: And sounds?
MH: I always find it very hard
MH: Take a typical movie: more
to explain to musicians why they have to play my music in a certain way—why they have to play something “unplayable”, for example. I probably want to hear how it naturally sounds when musicians play the unplayable. But of course, if you’d tell them your intention, it wouldn’t be natural anymore. Those discussions usually lead nowhere: “Matthew, this is unplayable!”—“Yes, I know. Play it anyhow.”—“But it’s unplayable!”
ADR: There’s a lot of psychology
involved, no doubt. It must be a relief to work on your archive project, museum of sound, by yourself. Can you tell me a bit about that?
MH: First and foremost, it’s a science experiment. I’m interested in how a certain space sounds on a Tuesday at two o’clock compared to five o’clock on a Friday; or what Oxford Street sounds like compared to Regent Street; or what London sounds like compared to Berlin. It’s a science experiment also in the sense that humans are still not used to listening properly. We’ve only been recording sound for a hundred years now. There are
than ninety percent of the sounds are fake. The atmosphere, the dog barking, the footsteps, the punch in the face. All I’m saying is: We’ve got to start listening carefully, and the museum is a place to do that. I’ve recently read a book called The Unwanted Sound of Everything We’ve Never Heard. It basically says that the average level of a conversation in modern society is ten decibels louder than it was ten years ago. The average noise level in a kindergarten is eighty decibels—everybody there should be wearing earplugs. And then again: the more money you have, the quieter the world gets. If you ever travel business or first class, it gets quieter and quieter. In first class you hardly hear anything at all. It’s extraordinary that the people who have so much influence on our lives—be it business leaders, politicians or celebrities—are the ones who are furthest removed from what the world really sounds like.
ADR: You mean there’s a sound
information overload that forces us to ignore the finer textures? The real sonic details?
“It is better to make a piece of music than to perform one, better to perform one than to listen to one, better to listen to one than to misuse it as a means of distraction, entertainment, or acquisition of ‘culture ’.” John Cage on the hierarchy of music-related activities, in Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage, 1961.
MH: Exactly. ADR: You mentioned Cage before.
He didn’t have the same possibilities that we have now to record and to collect sounds. When you play the sounds from the museum’s database using the interface you described, you’re also generating new music—or rather self-generative music . . .
MH: I was thinking about this the
other night and what struck me most was realizing that this will indeed be a giant piece of music in the end. And every possible cut-up will be, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if people would start singing along to the least conventional sounds—say, a choir of fifty-two screaming men. And then, to make the point even more clear, throw a brick through the window just to punctuate the end.
ADR: You’re interested in it being
interactive. Does this mean people will be downloading and uploading their sounds?
MH: Yes. It wouldn’t make much
sense to ask people to contribute and not offer them anything in return.
ADR: You like the idea that every-
body in the music world will have access to this material, so that everybody can use it for his or her own music, right?
MH: Yes. Then we’ll find out
who’s really good at using the new device. That should be fun, wouldn’t you agree?
ADR: It’s interesting, because
there’s this common prejudice among classical purists against electronic musicians that they don’t offer any individual input. For purists, it’s all sound coming from machines, which admittedly, is a ridiculous belief. But if you take a closer look at how composition in any genre works, then you realize that it is all about choices. Composers choose material, choose notes, juxtapose them and combine them different ways. But so does everybody else. The result is always music. ~
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A Day in the Life
24 hours in Krakow TEXT: A.J. SAMUELS AND MICHAEL LUTZ PHOTOGRAPHY: CORINNA KOCH AND MAX DAX
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Krakow has earned an international reputation as the epicenter of cultural life in Poland—thanks in no small part to generous public funding and, bizarrely, the success of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Over the past fifteen years, the city has rediscovered its Jewish and bohemian identities; while the former Jewish quarter of Kazimierz is now teeming with jazz clubs, cafes and reconstructed relics of Jewish culture, the city as a whole has become an amalgam of a dark past and bright future.
Coffee AT kolory cafE ul. estery 10, Kazimierz
Krakow is small, so most of the cafes in the Old Town are filled with tourists who pop in for a quick coffee and then move on. Kolory is a different story. When I want to meet up with somebody in the morning, I almost always do it there. Even though I don’t drink coffee, the rich and pleasant smell of espresso fills the entire 86
place. I usually stick to the French style breakfast, which is good for something small and sweet on the cheap. If you take a look at the walls, every photo and every picture is some reference to Paris, which somehow fits the neighborhood’s Bohemian aesthetic. Poles actually don’t eat breakfast out, so the only reason they offer it in Kolory is because it’s also a B&B. Like so many bars and cafes in Kazimierz, it only opened up a few years ago. But it doesn’t feel new in a bad way . . . There used to be almost no young people in the area—only boarded-up buildings and sketchy-looking guys milling about. But after the fall of the Iron Curtain, more and more people started coming to the Jewish quarter, and everything changed really, really fast. Kolory is a perfect place to take it all in slowly—that is, until night falls. When the bar’s full, shouting is the only way to have a conversation Radek Szczesniak PR and Programming, Unsound Festival
08:30 AM auschwitz Tour, Michalowskiego 11, Old Town I’ve been driving these small electric cars around town for a couple of years now, doing tours of Krakow and selling tickets for attractions outside of the city— mostly day trips to Auschwitz and the salt mines. In Poland, the Holocaust and Auschwitz in particular are still incredibly fresh in our collective memory. Everybody I know, and probably every Polish person eighteen or older, has been to Auschwitz on a field trip. I grew up here and have a special interest in the history of World War II and the Holocaust so it’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but I’ve actually never been to Auschwitz. I can’t remember why I didn’t get to go on my school trip, I was probably sick or something. But the 88
more interesting question is why I haven’t gone to see Auschwitz on my own. I constantly tell myself that it’ll always be there, so I can go and see it whenever I want—it doesn’t have to be now. Clearly I’m putting it off, but not consciously. I know what I’m going to see there, I know how it’s going to affect me. I know myself, and I know I’m going to have a very hard time when I go. I’ll be destroyed emotionally for a few days, so I’m really not in any rush. I will go, because I think it’s an important thing to do. But, you see, it’s not that easy. Some people think it’s strange the way tours for Auschwitz are advertised and that there’s a tourist industry that’s sprouted up around the camps. I don’t think it’s strange at all. For me, it’s normal. You know, when we advertise Auschwitz, we don’t have to tell people what they’re going to see, we just help them get there. Auschwitz should be remembered, but it shouldn’t be a taboo. It shouldn’t be un-utterable, and it definitely shouldn’t be hidden. I
Above: It might be irritating at first to constantly see Disneyland-like billboards offering tours of concentration camps, but after a few days you get used to it.
think most Krakow natives are probably immune to seeing the word “Auschwitz” on tour advertisements. I’m usually only reminded of what Auschwitz is when I see the traces of Jewish life in the city, usually the synagogues. Luczan Klimaszewski Tour guide
meet Bartosz Szydlowski laznia Nowu theatER, os. Szkolne 25, Nowa Huta In many ways, Krakow is a very conservative city—very bourgeois. Not so much politically, but more culturally. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it can be a serious obstacle for developing a creative community outside of the establishment. Nowa Huta is the biggest district in Krakow, with around 250,000 residents. It’s a
district that’s been economically marginalized and written off by many as a cultural desert. Over the past ten years, the feeling of abandonment has only increased; the steel manufacturing plant has been closed down, there’s massive unemployment and people around here are frustrated. We all had big expectations after the end of communism, but the promised land of a “New Poland” has turned into a nightmare for so many. Culturally speaking, the elitism of the educated class only compounds the problems of the poor. Culture shouldn’t be held hostage in an ivory tower and that’s why I’ve moved the theater to this area; that’s what this theater is about. The theater itself is enormous, the biggest in Krakow. It feels like a miracle to have actually convinced the local politicians and municipal boards to support our cause. Slowly people are starting to understand that high art and community activity don’t have to be mutually exclusive. They can’t be!
Above: Lights, camera, camouflage. Nowa Huta’s next generation, conspicuously disguised. Right: You don’t have to wait long for your pierogis at U Stasi restaurant and milk bar.
For me, theater is not only about the performance. It’s not just a meeting between actor and audience. I see it as a stream of activities that should reinforce the connections between art and society. We want to be able to tell the stories of the people in the community, whether through the medium of a more well-known piece or by having the people tell their stories themselves. That idea may not sound so radical today, but here, five or six years ago, this was unimaginable. I think we’ve helped give a voice to the people of Nowa Huta, and I’m infinitely proud of that. I actually grew up here, which may explain my attitude a bit. I was always something of an outsider, because my parents didn’t work in the steel mill—they were philosophy professors. Nova Huta has become a Bermuda Triangle of churches, supermarkets and television. I want to offer people a way out. Bartosz Szydlowski Theater Director, Laznia Nowa
lunch at u stasi Mikolajska 16, Old Town
U Stasi is a typical Polish “milk bar”—a kind of subsidized cafeteria where everybody can get good food cheap. Milk bars are one of the few extremely positive remnants of the communist era. I don’t know how long U Stasi has been around, but I know that my parents were going there when they were students. A bowl of soup will cost you 2 Złoty and 79 Groschen, which is a reduced price because EB 3/2011
the government is paying for part of your borscht. For Polish food there’s really only super cheap or super expensive. There’s nothing in the middle; the middle is Italian food or Chinese or something. Don’t ask me why. One of the special things about U Stasi is that the staff is incredibly fast. The guy running the checkout has been around as long as I can remember. As soon as you tell him what you’ve eaten, he’s immediately able to tell you the sum without using a calculator or computer. The guy calculates faster than the machine can spit the change back at you. I think he also knows what everybody has eaten—not that anybody would want to cheat them out of the pittance they make on the food anyways. Food-wise, I mainly stick to the soups and pierogis. The pierogi ruskie with a white cheese, potato and onion mixture is probably one of my favorites, with the sweet plum-filled pierogi coming in a close second. Karol Hordziej, Director Krakow Photomonth
meet the skaters powisle, wawel castle
We’re skaters—it’s who we are; it’s our identity. The name of our crew, Sprzymierzeni, can literally be translated as “allies”. Most skaters are lazy. When they go to a new town or city, they head directly to the next park and skate the ramps and street courses installed for them. But these places suck because they’re too clean. That’s why we travel around Poland and Europe for the best public areas to skate, because we believe that skating is about using the terrain that’s not designed for skating. Skate videos are rad, and that’s why we make them. But we also think it’s important to document alternative, creative approaches to public space. The police are always hassling us,
because people are always complaining about the noise or about a curb being waxed. It’s true, we’re noisy, but we don’t break anything, and street traffic is twice as loud as we are. We sometimes find it hard to identify with people that don’t skate. What we do is a way of life; it’s all consuming. To be honest, it’s hard to remember what life was like before we started skating. We never played any other sports very seriously . . . But what we do is not a sport, because it’s not about competition. When we get thrown out of a spot, we immediately look for another. But if the first one is that good, then we’ll wait an hour or two and just go back—usually when we’re looking to film one of us landing a specific trick. Getting kicked out of a great spot is annoying, but skating should be confrontational . . . in a good way. People need it drilled into their heads: skateboarding is not a crime. Sprzymierzeni Crew sprzymierzeni.blogspot.com
Above: Piotrek, Kacpar, and Kuba from the Sprzymierzeni Skate Crew travel all over Europe in search of newer, better, and more public skate spots. The group aren’t afraid of confrontations with police or pedestrians. At all.
jewish community center Miodowa 24, Kazimierz
Lots of people have this idea that the Jewish community in Poland, if it exists at all, is only made up of older Holocaust survivors. That’s not the case. But comparatively speaking, Krakow’s Jewish population is pretty tiny. There are only around 120 registered members of the official Jewish community here, but you have to
see this number in context: To become a member of the community you have to be able to present documents proving that you’re Jewish, which is pretty hard to do. So much of the documentation was lost or destroyed when people were sent off to the camps. And plenty of other people just aren’t keen on being officially registered as a Jew, for obvious reasons. Our center has around 370 members, and lots of young people. Slowly but surely, the community is growing. It’s not the 70,000 Jews that lived here before the war, but we’re making progress. I feel somewhat ambivalent about how the former Jewish neighborhood of Kazimierz has been reinvented as a kind of Disneyland for Jewish culture, with the Klezmer music and fake Hebrew fonts and what not . . . to me it’s a bit cheesy. My boss likes to call it “Jew-rassic Park”. But it’s definitely helped to spread the word about Jewish life, even if it’s an antiquated image. We send members of the center all over the city to give talks and
Above: Jewish, Catholic, Communist and Nazi memorabilia are sold side by side at the flea market on Nowy Square, Kazimierz. Left: Anna Gulinska, programs manager at the Jewish Community Center, heads a young staff. It’s also important for her to attract youth membership.
presentations about Jewish culture. We also do lots of work in prisons, believe it or not. In Poland, many prisoners are involved in a program cleaning Jewish cemeteries and tending to Jewish gravestones. With all of the information about the demise of Polish Jewry, we think it’s important teach about about Jewish life as well. It’s incredible how receptive the inmates are to learning about the history of Polish Jewry . . . In general, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easy it’s been for the center to become integrated into the neighborhood. Most everybody has been welcoming, and the majority of the shop and restaurant owners from the area have popped their heads in to say hello. And it says a lot that when we have an open house or put on a festival, we’ve never needed any police protection or extra security. That might be normal for places like the U.S.A., but certainly not for Europe. Anna Gulinska Programs Manager, Jewish Community Centre
korporacja ha!art books pl. Szczepański 3a, old town I think books in general are niche these days—at least in Poland. I’d love to be able to say that there’s something really exciting happening right now in Polish literature, but actually there isn’t. A few years ago, the twenty-somethings were starting to publish and get their ideas out, but those days are over. It’s really hard to find good young authors, although we receive tons of manuscripts from kids and young adults born in the late eighties and early nineties. I know that it’s a worldwide phenomenon, but here it really feels like people have stopped reading literature. You know, for thirtysix straight weeks in Poland, the number one best seller was a book
on how to lose weight. And what little new literature there is has somehow become totally depoliticized. Our last big seller was written by an eighteen-year-old high school girl from here in Krakow. When she pitched her manuscript she told us, “This is a book about nothing.” And it’s true—it’s a book about being bored all the time. Four hundred pages worth. Michal Borecki Korporacja Ha!art Bookshop
dinner at THE olive tree ul. Kupa 6 , Kazimierz
After I served in the army in Israel, I worked on a security detail in Vienna, where I met my wife. We went back to Israel not too long after that and I decided to become a rabbi. The thing is, I like travelling, so we decided to move
to Kiev, where I took a position as a rabbi for a short-term project. When that was done I had an offer from a small congregation in Dortmund, but Krakow seemed the more attractive alternative. This is the only kosher restaurant in the city. I mean, this is Kazimierz, so you have plenty “Jewish style” restaurants and tourists flock here to see the traces of Jewish life that flourished before the Nazis. But there wasn’t a single restaurant where observant Jews could eat proper kosher food until I opened up. I mean, the “Jewish style” places look nice and they draw lots of people with the Klezmer music and all that, but they just don’t smell anything like home, if you know what I mean. Because kosher isn’t just about what kind of food you serve—it’s about how you serve it. What we serve is nothing short of highest quality gourmet food, which also happens to be kosher. But it’s not just normal kosher, it’s the highest possible kosher standard. Rabbi
Above: Michal Borecki helps run Korporacja Ha!art Bookshop and publishing house. The future of print in Poland is in his hands—every day. Right: A typical store window in Krakow’s Old Town: what you see is what you get.
Above: Wawel River at dusk. Right: Unsound Festival founder Gosia Plysa in mid-thought and mid-beer at Miejsce Bar.
Westheim of Manchester issued our certificate, and if you know anything about kosher gastronomy in Europe, you know that it doesn’t get any better than that. It’s an honor. Between here and London, there’s not another restaurant certified by the rabbi. I literally get calls from all over Europe with people asking “Is it true? Did Rabbi Westheim really issue your certificate?” You have to understand: the first question an orthodox Jew asks about a restaurant is not “How’s the food?”—it’s: “Who certified it?” I want the world, and especially non-Jews, to realize how goods kosher can taste. We can promise that every piece of food, every vegetable, every leaf of lettuce has been inspected by my supervisor and myself for insects and other impurities in the most thorough possible fashion. People don’t understand that if you don’t take your time washing the food, you’ll have a zoo in your salad. You can taste the difference. Yitzhak Horvitz Restaurateur, The Olive Tree
meet gosia at Miejsce ul. estery 1, Kazimierz
Before we had an office to organize the Unsound Festival, we would always meet up in the afternoon in Miejsce Bar in the center of Kazimierz to work on scheduling, booking, and PR stuff. We’d
usually start out in the morning in Kolory Cafe, and then move on to Miejsce around lunchtime. At some point we did the math and realized that renting an office and buying our own coffee machine would be far cheaper, so that’s what we did. But going from working in a cafe to working in an office is not as easy as it sounds: peripheral distractions can sometimes make the work a lot easier. To be honest, we kind of miss it. Even though we’ve found our rhythm in the office, we still go to Miejsce almost every night. The first few editions of Unsound were really organized in bars. And when the festival is on, Miejsce turns into an unofficial meeting point for the artists, journalists and festival-goers. Last year, Ben Frost and Adam Wiltzie DJ’ed spontaneously from their laptops, which really got the crowd going. The place was packed. You couldn’t move, but you also didn’t want to. Gosia Plysa Director, Unsound Festival
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meet Radek at unsound OFFICE, unsound.pl/EN
Unsound is all about combining an avante-garde program with more classical techno and house and new sub-genres of electronic music. We like to pair artists who are established with those who are up and coming. People need to know how much incredibly good electronic music there is in Eastern Europe and how receptive our audiences are. Collaboration is extremely important to us—it all circles around the idea of building new bridges between East and West and strengthening pre-existing ones. This goes both for the festival and for the mixtapes and albums we bring out. We had Stefan Betke curate our Connections LP, which was all East-West collaborations. This year we’ll have Ben Frost 96
and Daniel Bjarnason doing a piece together with the Krakow Symphony Orchestra, based on Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris— with Brian Eno on visuals . . . Tarkovsky’s version is based on a novel by Stanisław Lem, who was from Krakow. So I guess it all comes full circle. Radek Szczesniak PR and Programming, Unsound Festival
klub alchemia ul. estery 5, Kazimierz
Alchemia has been around for over twelve years. It was the first jazz venue to move into the district of Kazimierz, and if you knew how derelict this neighborhood was back in the day, you’d know that that’s no small feat. Booking for a good jazz venue is a bit like alchemy, because jazz fans are
Above: Ultra-progressive free jazz has strangely become the norm in Krakow. This avid concert-goer takes a break from the music to strike the thinking man’s pose.
a notoriously picky bunch: some only come for fusion and free jazz; others are old-school purists. We book lots of bigger acts from all over the world. Ken Vandermark was here not too long ago, as well as Peter Brötzmann . . . On the whole the acts we book tend towards a free jazz and avantgarde direction, which bleeds over into the atmosphere of the café as well. I can’t quite explain it, but the atmosphere is, well, free. I wish I had more time to actually see the music that’s being played live at Alchemia. Sometimes it seems like the multitasking that I have to do fits perfectly to a jazz venue, especially when the band gets louder and louder and you can hear it push and pulse from the basement stage. It’s ridiculous what the musicians and concertgoers leave behind after shows—all sorts of random shit. One guy left a massive case for a double bass. How is it possible to forget something that big? Lukasz Rogulski Booker, Klub Alchemia
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people who have no personal relation to, say, a dead celebrity. On the other hand, I’ve seen memorial sites for friends and colleagues who’ve passed away and sometimes find it incredibly enlightening to read condolences from people who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to speak at the funeral or wake. AS: Some Facebook users are annoyed by the fact that the original comments and posts made by the late friend get buried under all of the condolences when the page is transformed into a memorial site. They would prefer to remember the person as they posted, frozen in time. SL: It’s potentially a question of
who’s managing the person’s digital estate. Of course, before you die you can determine who you want to take care of everything that makes up your online identity. But most people might not want to be remembered by goofy comments or silly pictures or other Internet ephemera.
In my time of dying A.J. Samuels: In a recent column for Wired, you wrote about creating a smart-bot that could perfectly emulate a user’s behavior on social networks. The idea was to put the bot to work while you’re on vacation, or even arrange it to continue posting after you die. Would you trust a bot to comment, blog and tweet in your name after you’ve left this world? Steven Levy: Sure, if it were good enough. Who knows—maybe it would even be better than me! If I arranged it right, I could be dead for a long time and people wouldn’t even notice. AS: That would take more than a bot, no? Next year, an estimated 1.7 million Facebook users actually
Most people’s digital identities are a complex and disparate blend of social networking, email, blog posts, and online bank accounts—virtual extensions of personality that live on even after you pass away. Here, A.J. Samuels speaks with renowned hacker-ethicist and technology guru Steven Levy about the future of preserving your digital past. Above: Sven Voelker’s take on Apple’s classic trashcan icon.
will pass away. Some will have memorial sites created in their names as a platform for condolences; others will just have their accounts become inactive. How do you think social networking sites and the Internet in general has changed the way we grieve? SL: I remember back when
Princess Diana died, there was an unprecedented explosion of websites and online networks mourning her loss. With each new site, the ante for expressing grief went up until at one point you had this totally ridiculous outpouring of virtual sadness—everybody wanted to say how much more Princess Diana meant to them. I think having a platform to share your thoughts ramps up the grief for
AS: Even though people often don’t post with posterity in mind, digital estate planning services are on the rise. The fact that the terms of service for different online platforms vary so widely seems to have created the need for a unified organization of digital assets— which is what companies like entrusted.com or Planned Departure provide. How important is digital estate planning? SL: I think it’s very important to
keep copies of your passwords available and delegate who’ll take care of your online banking and what not. But when talking about saving digital assets for eternity, I wouldn’t be so quick to trust some six-month-old start-up. And as a general matter: the usefulness of digital archiving is subject to changes in technology, not to mention the market and production. I have loads of data saved in obsolete formats that’s too expensive to retrieve. If we were to bet on what would still be around in a hundred years—a marble headstone, a book or some website—I’d go with the headstone and the book. ~
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N° 27 · FALL 2011
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conversations on essential issues fall 2011
electronic beats · björk · tricky · modeselektor · biosphere · apparat · the gentlewoman
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