Electronic beatS conversations on essential issues N° 30 · Summer 2012
“It was easy to be a pioneer”
GRIMES VCMG Woodkid KRAFTWERK
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“By borrowing from the future, they define our present” Max Dax: Hans Ulrich, your inter-
view with Czech music and performance art pioneer Milan Grygar is central to this issue’s leitmotif: pioneers. Grygar is eighty-six years old and despite having done groundbreaking work in both art and new music, he’s never gotten the credit he deserves. That’s something your interview brings across, which has also made this issue a true “medium for ideas”— like “Musik als Träger von Ideen”, to borrow a term from Ralf Hütter.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Actively putting effort into preventing artists and their pioneering work from being forgotten can successfully bring them back on the map. Milan Grygar, for instance, is now starting to be exhibited again. His show at the 11th Biennale de Lyon in 2011 was a huge success, and his new exhibition at the Today Art Museum in Beijing, Light, Sound, Movement, just opened. His work is undeniably pioneering. MD: In my opinion, what con-
nects the artists we spoke to in this issue is the prophetic quality in their work. By borrowing from the future, they define our present . . . and make music history.
HUO: I have this obsession with pioneers. Whenever I travel to a city— be it in São Paulo, Hong Kong or Prague—I try to meet the ones who live there. I always ask my friends if they know of someone who’s done pioneering work in a given artistic
We didn’t plan it like this, but the rhizomatic gods appear to have been smiling upon us. The monologues and conversations featured in this issue of Electronic Beats form our most inter-referential cultural nexus to date. What we intended as a broader focus on the nucleus of pop turned out to be a web of mutually influential ganglia. All points of entry are valid: Bernard Sumner on Afrika Bambaataa; Afrika Bambaataa on Kraftwerk; Kraftwerk and German Romanticism; German Romanticism and Wolfgang Voigt; Wolfgang Voigt and Stefan Betke; Gudrun Gut on Terre Thaemlitz; anti-religiousness and Marilyn Manson; Marilyn Manson and Grimes. The common thread here is more method than the content: gathering individual narratives and discussions to create a map of electronic music, approachable from any direction. Best wishes, Max Dax Editor-in-Chief
field, anywhere in the world. It all started when Rosemarie Trockel once suggested that I interview more old people. I remember her advice made it impossible for me to sleep that night. So I stayed up and began to think about interviewing as many pioneering artists who, due to age and experience, have seen a lot. In the best cases, they’ve witnessed a whole century. MD: And this is the basis for your interview series Project Against Forgetting? HUO: Yes. Over the years, I’ve gathered over two thousand hours of pure conversation with various artists—true “archives of memory”. Their thoughts and experiences must not be buried in oblivion. They have to be published and made accessible! MD: By talking to people instead of writing articles about them, we’re continuously generating hyper-contemporary documents that reflect the times we live in. For instance, at Kraftwerk’s MoMA retrospective we tried to meet as many artistic contemporaries, collaborators and chroniclers as possible—among them long-time Kraftwerk associate Emil Schult, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and godfather of hip-hop culture, Afrika Bambaataa. The ten monologues that we recorded and transcribed overlap contentwise, providing an alternately story-like and multi-angled, rhizomatic map of Kraftwerk’s adventur-
ous trip to the temple of Western culture—not to mention important historical contextualization. HUO: Indeed, what happened in Dusseldorf in the sixties and seventies was amazing. In addition to artists like Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Blinky Palermo and Joseph Beuys, there was also such an incredible music avantgarde—from Kraftwerk and Can, to Neu! to La Düsseldorf and countless others . . . What’s your explanation for this explosion of musical creativity? MD: I think all of the musicians you just mentioned were well aware of what was going on in the Rhineland art scene during the sixties and seventies. It directly inspired and expanded the horizons of so many musicians, then and now. Ralf Hütter and Gerhard Richter were neighbors, Can’s Irmin Schmidt studied under Karlheinz Stockhausen . . . And that’s only taking into account the Rhineland. There were very, very exciting things happening in both Berlin and Hamburg, too, with Faust and Cluster, to name a few. It’s a pity there was no magazine around at the time to document all the conversations and discussions the artists must have had with each other. That’s something I would love to be able to read and own. Of course, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with Electronic Beats. Hopefully posterity will agree. ~
pictures TO the editor Send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org
When Mike Skinner took the stage at Prague’s modernist Archa Theatre to close the night with some throwback UK jungle, he smoked one cigarette after the other. It’s rare to see performers chain-smoking in indoor venues these days, but in the Czech Republic, smoking laws are widely ignored. Photo: Kai Müller, Electronic Beats Festival, Prague, May 5
Vanishing behind LEDs (Squarepusher) or 3-D projections (Kraftwerk) appears to be a growing trend in electronic music. The most sophisticated and best-synchronized effects usually get the biggest cheers from todayâ€™s audiences. In Prague however, The Whitest Boy Alive made it happen with guitar and synth solos. Photo: Thomas Kaminsky, Electronic Beats Festival, Prague, May 5
A moment of tranquility in the vast backstage of Bratislavaâ€™s Refinery Gallery, where Woodkidâ€™s brass section rehearse for their upcoming performance (see also page 26). Lost in sound, the three musicians delivered a slow and moody atmospheric counterpoint to a space that was buzzing with activity. Photo: Ada Cohen Electronic Beats Festival, Bratislava, May 12
The Hundreds In The Hands have no dogmatic allegiances to genre and instrumentation. They make beautiful music by any means necessary. Photo: Peyman Azhari, Electronic Beats Festival, Cologne, May 24
imprint Electronic Beats Magazine Conversations on Essential Issues Est. 2005 Issue N° 30 Summer 2012
Publisher: Burda Creative Group GmbH, P.O. Box 810249, 81902 München, Germany Managing Directors: Gregor Vogelsang, Dr.-Ing. Christian Fill Head of Telco, Commerce & Utilities: Christine Fehenberger
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 Editor: Thomas Walter Duty Editor: Michael Lutz Editor: A.J. Samuels Art Director: Johannes Beck Photography Editor: Corinna Ada Koch Copy Editor: Karen Carolin Project Manager: Martin Hossbach
Cover: Bernard Sumner, photographed by Andrea Stappert in Edinburgh
Contributing Authors: Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Beans, Stefan Betke, Klaus Biesenbach, Ruza “Kool Lady” Blue, Chris Bohn, Richard Brody, Vince Clarke, Geeta Dayal, Thomas Fehlmann, Grimes, Martin L. Gore, Milan Grygar, Gudrun Gut, Daniel Jones, Justus Köhncke, Simon Le Bon, Steven Levy, Douglas J. McCarthy, Matthias Mühling, Glenn O’Brien, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jason Pierce, Emil Schult, Monika Sprüth, Squarepusher, Bernard Sumner, Alexis Taylor, André Vida, Wolfgang Voigt, Woodkid
Contributing Photographers and Illustrators: Eva Beth, Luci Lux, Torsten Oelscher, Emil Schult, Hans Martin Sewcz, Andrea Stappert, Austin Young
Electronic Beats Magazine is a division of Telekom’s international music program “Electronic Beats” International Music Sponsoring / Deutsche Telekom AG: Claudia Jonas and Ralf Lülsdorf Public Relations: firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions: www.electronicbeats.net/magazine Advertising: email@example.com Printing: Druckhaus Kaufmann, Raiffeisenstr. 29, 77933 Lahr, Germany, www.druckhaus-kaufmann.de Distribution: VERTRIEB MZV GmbH & Co KG, 85716 Unterschleißheim, Germany, www.mzv.de
Thanks to: Rebecca Boulton, Nora Lawrenz Maruca, Erika Neufeld, Thomas Schoenberger, Silvia Baltschun, Jocelyn Miller, Karl Bette, Daniel Schuetz, Stephan Rothfuss and everybody at .HBC Berlin, Noemi Smolik, Faema E61 & Lollo Caffè © 2012 Electronic Beats Magazine / Reproduction without permission is prohibited Goodnight. See you tomorrow.
EB EB3/2011 2/2012
Content Pictures to the Editor ................................................................. 4 Recommendations ............................................................................. 16 Music and other media recommended by Beans, Chris Bohn, Richard Brody, Thomas Fehlmann, Daniel Jones, Justus Köhncke, Douglas J. McCarthy, André Vida; featuring new releases by Actress, Can, Claude Lanzmann, Light Asylum, Terre Thaemlitz and more ABC The alphabet according to Woodkid ............................................... 26 Mr. Style Icon Grimes on Marilyn Manson ..................................... 30 Counting with . . . Simon Le Bon .................................................... 32
“There was a fascination for everything related to the war because it was all around me” Max Dax interviews BERNARD SUMNER .............................................. 36 “Every drawing I see I can also hear” Hans Ulrich Obrist interviews MILAN GRYGAR .................................... 48 “Testing things to destruction is probably the best way to test things” Max Dax talks to SQUAREPUSHER ........................................................ 52 “I mean gone” A.J. Samuels and Max Dax talk to JASON PIERCE ................................. 60
A Question of Format: GUDRUN GUT talks to VINCE CLARKE and Martin L. GORE ................................ 68 Of Trees and Grids: STEFAN BETKE in conversation with WOLFGANG VOIGT .......................................................................... 74 A Week in the Life: 168 hours KRAFTWERK, NYC .............................. 80 NEU: STEVEN LEVY on Live Streaming ................................................ 98
Three of our featured contributors: Chris Bohn
(* 1954) is a music writer and editor of British avant-garde music magazine The Wire. Under the pseudonym Biba Kopf he has written extensively on German music and culture. This issue he recommends Terre Thaemlitz’s Soulnessless. Photo: Keiko Yoshida
(* 1988) is a singer and electronic musician. Live, she often invites bare chested men—some acquaitances, others total strangers—to dance onstage while she performs. This issue she talks about her style icon, Marilyn Manson. Photo: Luci Lux
(* 1958) is a film critic and movie listings editor for The New Yorker. An expert on French cinema and biographer of Jean-Luc Godard, Brody recommends in this issue Claude Lanzmann’s The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir. Photo: Luci Lux
MON OLOG UES EB 2/2012
recommEndations Edited from conversation by A.J. Samuels
“In a healthy relationship with his artistic self” Thomas Fehlmann recommends Actress’s R.I.P
Swiss-born Thomas Fehlmann is an electronic musician and founding member of German NDW legends Palais Schaumburg. Currently based in Berlin, Fehlmann is a frequent collaborator with numerous British and Detroit-based techno acts, as well a floating member of The Orb and co-presenter of weekly radio show Oceanclub Radio together with Gudrun Gut.
Darren Cunningham, aka Actress, began his career as a professional soccer player for West Brom. Thankfully for us, he turned his talents towards music after suffering a knee injury when he was twenty-five. Well, nobody wishes injury on anybody else, but with music he seems to have found his true calling, as there aren’t that many artists or producers out there today who are as skilled at converting their inner sounds, their inner music, to tape. That’s how I hear R.I.P—as a “mind” record that seeps into the body; it’s sensual, melancholic and beautiful without indulging too much in superficiality by being reduced to the essentials. Dark, ambient techno tracks with tuneless synths, breathing compression and bathed in strangely warm pink noise. Actress leaves out all of the unnecessary stuff, both melodically and in terms of production, and sticks to a very specific sonic pallet, avoiding what I would describe as the “safety” elements in electronic music. He dares to be uncompromising and at the same time miraculously
succeeds in making something entirely accessible. Actress rejects the dancefloor appeal, and the songs on R.I.P are more explorations of specific structural ideas. He’s looking at a single musical recipe from a number of different angles, and there’s no listening manual. R.I.P follows the trueschool idea of an album thoroughly reflecting the inner world of an artist at a certain time. From a producer’s perspective, I find artists often get lost in the machines they use, and the result is usually them being more controlled by them as opposed to the other way around. Actress is able to maintain control while keeping the spontaneous feel throughout. It sounds like the sign of being in a healthy relationship with his artistic self. From very early on I’ve been not only buying Actress’s albums and singles but also listening to his remixes, and it was immediately apparent to me that he has his own playful voice, which, by the way, is also apparent in his DJ sets. He’s an originator who’s also not shy at hinting at his influenc-
es—who, importantly, are originators themselves. Take the Derrick May feel from “Marble Plexus”, or the Black Dog-ish references on “N.E.W.”. But there’s also something about Actress and R.I.P that reminds me of Constantin Brâncusi, a sculptor from the beginning of the twentieth century. Aside from Brâncusi’s general minimalism, he created these “endless pillars” which were patterns carved into tree trunks and placed directly into the floor. The pillars had no beginning and no end, and neither did the carvings. You only see a section that implies endlessness. Similarly, Actress’s endless compositions start more or less in the middle of the action, and only build or progress very subtly, if at all. And he has success with it—or at least what you can call success in today’s bizarre music industry. His label, Honest Jon’s, has proven once again to be a rare haven for fresh approaches, giving their artists the necessary space and freedom to explore. I guess it’s success minus the obvious sales figures—which is to say it’s success for my ears. ~
“Well-informed practitioners of dark synth pop” Douglas J. McCarthy recommends Light Asylum
I am sitting in a Neukölln apartment on a chilly late May afternoon. Bruised clouds fly over the Fatherland with a Bomber Harris type menace. It’s a week before my first solo performance to the nuanced variety of Goth and EBM aficionados traveling from around the globe at Leipzig’s Wave-GotikTreffen festival and, with near perfect synergetic timing, I am listening to Light Asylum’s self
titled debut LP. I say this not only because Shannon Funchess, Bruno Coviello and myself were in contact with one another over the course of them recording their album in Brooklyn and me recording my own in Los Angeles, but also because Light Asylum are among a new breed of banner flying, hard hitting electro-GothEBM-fuck-you-warriors. Taking their cue from eighties synth-
and-gloom bands, as well as the long murky shadows produced by the assortment of Goth precursors of the same time, Funchess and Coviello reveal a tantalizing trail of musical history: Here a jittery electro-funk track that would be right at home on Cabaret Voltaire’s Red Mecca, there a powerful guttural call to arms the likes of which has not been heard since Siouxsie and the Banshees’ semi-
nal Join Hands. One can hear the synthetic pop sensibilities of New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies as well as, surprisingly, more than a hint of Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet’s Yazoo especially on tracks like “IPC”. What prevents this obvious obsession with glittery old musical jewels from being thievery is that Light Asylum use these touch stones to launch into their own very distinct style. They join a small but determined number of well-informed practitioners of dark synth pop—their’s being perhaps
darker than most with the possible exception of Dallas based // TENSE//. That said, there are clear similarities within this group of bands, and it lies mainly in their attitude to how they deliver their message. To say it is forceful is an understatement. L.A.’s Octavius and London’s Factory Floor certainly come to mind. But what drew me, and a growing world audience, to Light Asylum is the very same thing that inspired myself, along with Bon Harris, to form a band in the first place. A deep devotion to your own belief
that by virtue of you wanting to produce music there must be others who would want to hear it. It’s an attitude that snarls in the face of popular opinion and refuses to give even an inch on the integrity of what needs to be created. And even before listening to Light Asylum, I knew it was going to be a journey into the minds and quirks of its practitioners. As the album has now been out nearly a month and a half, many readers have probably had a chance to get acquainted with it. And those that have are more
Above: Two sides of the same cover. Detail from Mati Klarwein’s iconic Nubian dreamscape for Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, 1970.
Essex, U.K.-born and L.A. based Douglas J. McCarthy is a musician and founding member of legendary EBM band Nitzer Ebb. EB 2/2012
than likely to be familiar with their 2011 EP In Tension, from which the track “A Certain Person” makes a re-appearance as the closer. Through no fault of their own, the band has quite a job on its hands satisfying an audience and critics who have based their support on a small array of tracks from the last EP—especially in light of such dominant tracks on that release as “Dark Allies”. That will inevitably disappoint some. However, Coviello and Funchess have crafted an imaginative and playful long player with a crisp production and deep emotion that does more than deliver on their potential: it leaves the listener unsure of where they’ve been dumped out into in time and space. ~ 18
“Assorted mandalas, pregnant belly nipples and flaming lattices” André Vida recommends Mati & the Music: 52 Record Covers (1955/2005)
Above: The Last Poets are often considered the first rappers. Here, Mati Klarwein’s design for the band’s 1993 album Holy Terror.
Magic realism is one of my least favorite styles of storytelling. The exaggerated childlike tone wherein anything is possible as long as it’s fantastic usually makes me want to puke—but I never do because gravity might not need to exist. There are of course a few exceptions, like One Hundred Years of Solitude, some Almodóvar stuff and Emir Kusturica. Also I’m a fan of Borges’ fiction, and I firmly believe you can’t blame Borges for, say, Amélie. Similarly, I think you can’t blame
Mati Klarwein for bad stoner poster art, and to be honest, since I’ve been reading and thinking about Mati & the Music, I’ve kind of revised my ideas about the function and value of record covers. I think there is real warfare between sound on its own terms and the images involved in marketing the music, like album covers. My initial position on this was to reject the whole image thing, and for a very long time I was loath to give praise to an album cover art-
ist. However, slowly but surely, I’ve come to believe that’s a silly position. There’s something perversely interesting about the figures in Klarwein’s record covers—especially when removed from the music, silently staring out at the viewer. Is there some resonance of the music in their surreality? Even though I’m not familiar with most of the music he designed covers for, there’s a talismanic power in these paintings turned record sleeves. The assorted mandalas, pregnant belly nipples, flaming lattices, and morphing human figures all seem to reflect aural memories. Bitches Brew, the historical centerpiece of Klarwein’s oeuvre, is one of my least favorite Miles Davis records. The images on the cover are so powerfully tied to the music
that upon seeing it now, I wonder just how much the cover actually made the album successful. It’s just so iconic. In contrast, the music is so . . . ambiguous. Maybe somebody will crucify me for saying that but I really dislike that record; it’s drenched in style and image and musically it’s incredibly over-rated. The recording lacks that mysterious something that, for me, exists distinctly in Miles’ earlier records; a weight and focus on the language of improvisation that outweighs the big sunglasses and flares. Looking at the Nubian beach storm and reflected albino staring serenely into space reminded me of opening the enfolded cassette cover and hearing those moody, meandering jam sessions. The memory of my adolescent disappointment is
engraved on that cover too. I think being an album cover artist is a specifically intriguing job because you become a conduit for translating various sonic impressions and emotional states into image. Having spent a lot of time in between graphic scores and interpreting them, I know the fragile balance between a sound and its visual representation. There’s a voodoo in those symbols. Removed from any influence on the actual recordings, Klarwein’s voodoo also seems to have extended into the lives of his subjects. Several of his covers and portraits supposedly foretold the death of his sitters. According to the book, a haunted Klarwein confides to a friend: “I should have never inversed the moon behind Jimi’s head,” or “Do you think if I had rocks or trees instead of flames, Julia [Anne Robinson] would still be alive?” Anecdotes like these offer a sympathetic view into his studio, inner life, and paint splattered cassette player. From what I understand, most mirrors up until the seventeenth century were made out of polished metals and were quite blurry. That’s why painted portraits partially served as a way for people to see themselves. The idea of seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes has no obvious aural parallel. Wax cylinders, LPs and cassettes are the mechanical ears of the twentieth century. And when I listen to my own recordings, I re-experience the mixed feelings of blood rushing, hysterical laughter, boredom, and excitement. I can only imagine what it would have been like to also see myself through the eyes of Mati Klarwein. I wonder what it was like for Buddy Miles to see his face so beautifully rendered, gold tooth and all. Did he see himself for the first time in the cover of Message to the People? And did it give him ears to hear it for the first time too? ~
Hungarian-American saxophonist and composer André Vida is co-founder of the NYC collective Creative Trans-Informational Alliance and a frequent collaborator with musicians as diverse as Oni Ayhun, Anthony Braxton and Kevin Blechdom. His most recent release is the three-volume retrospective, Brud, put out last year by PAN Records. In the last issue of Electronic Beats he recommended Carter Tutti Void’s Transverse.
“The metaphysical depths of anti-religious experience” Chris Bohn recommends Terre Thaemlitz’s Soulnessless
Chris Bohn is a longtime editor of British avant-garde music magazine The Wire. For the last issue of Electronic Beats, he recommended Oren Ambarchi and Thomas Brinkmann’s The Mortimer Trap.
How to approach listening to the world’s longest album, clocking in at over thirty hours of music, hundreds of pages of sleeve notes and extensive video footage all packed onto an SD card that has to be plugged in a USB stick and accompanied by a small booklet covered with the picture of a burning church? Ideally all in one sitting. If that’s not possible, try seven approximately four-hour shifts. Certainly you’ll need enough time to get into a contemplative listening space, for however long you’re able to maintain it. As the album title indicates and the copious notes explain in great detail, Soulnessless is not an invitation to share in any kind of religious experience—even if the way its fifth canto unfolds over twenty-nine-plus hours approximates a form of devotional music. Instead, the album is a journey into the metaphysical depths of the anti-religious experience— the destructive and superstitious nature of all forms of spirituality, approached from a variety of musical and critical perspectives. The unifying thread here is Thaemlitz’s tightly wound autobiographical and artistic relationship to the disparate themes of gender transitioning, Japanese immigration law and Catholicism. This is the general framework laid out by the first four “Cantos”, incorporating video films that contextualize the music both visually and discursively, with large portions of the sleeve notes displayed on screen and offering their own engaging narrative. Taken together, the first four Cantos function as a kind of deconstruction of gender and religious upbringing in the form of Thaemlitz’s odyssey across Japan, the United States and the
Philippines. Field recordings of Filipino nuns interviewed about their convent’s electronic sound system, conversations with workers seeking a better life, legal or otherwise, in Japan, are cut-up and recombined with the sound of clicking rosary beads, vinyl crackle, digital distortion, American religious AM radio, Hank Williams and papal mass. The appropriation of resurrection classic “I’ll Have a New Body (I’ll Have a New Life)” at the end of Canto I is a particularly striking example of Thaemlitz’s plunderphonic expertise: played almost in its entirety and panned hard left (and low?) in the stereo field, you have the impression of hearing the song for the first time. But Cantos I – IV make up less than 1/30th of the album’s duration, the bulk of which is the twenty-nine hour “Canto V – Meditation on Wage Labor and the Death of the Album”. The “meditation” is almost entirely based on a series of slow-moving chord modulations played on a grand piano, with each new chord played only after the previous one has reached the end of its sustain. Its duration alone makes it a unique listening experience. What remains of the abusive Catholic brainwashing I endured in early childhood won’t let me lie that I listened to it in one sitting. It involved long stretches of contemplative listening, interspersed with “lost” periods drifting between sleeping and waking. And just in case I missed some monumental musical shift during one of those drifting moments, I returned at least four times to the last hour of “Canto V”, and I also randomly dropped in and out for extended periods elsewhere across the length
of the MP3. By now I was coming back for more because I was enjoying it — not because I felt dutybound to do so. Certainly, the somber, repetitive nature and literal “hammering” away of the chords on the piano conjure up images of factory labor, and in that sense, “Canto V – Meditation on Wage Labor and the Death of the Album” justifies Thaemlitz’s claim for it being an act of resistance to the digital world’s filesharers whose belief that all music should be free has made the musician/composer’s labor worth next to nothing. This brings up an interesting point about the conceptual and political implications of not only this album but also instrumental music in general. In the June 2012 issue of The Wire, Jan Jelinek claimed that the “meaning” of instrumental music should only be understood in the context in which it’s heard, and any conceptual value added by titles or notes accompanying it shouldn’t be conflated with the pure listening experience. Well, nobody can force listeners to take on board the thoughts or feelings shaping the work, even when text may indicate how the artist wants it to be heard. But Soulnessless is more than just music. It was conceived as a Gesamtkunstwerk—one which can only be fully experienced as a complex interplay of autobiographical and activist texts, composed and found music, and still and moving images. In Soulnessless, like in much of Thaemlitz’s work, there appears to be as much fascination as angry emotion folded and cut into the various spiritual sound sources, even if their critical deconstruction is his ultimate goal. ~
“There’s nothing pussy about Death Grips” Beans recommends Death Grips’ The Money Store
Beans is a New Yorkbased rapper, producer, DJ and founding member of avantgarde hip-hop group Anti-Pop Consortium. For last year’s fall issue he recommended Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up.
It’s a bold statement in more ways than one, but put me on the record: if Anti-Pop would have an heir apparent, it would have to be Death Grips. At least I’d like to think about it like that. The first track I heard off their new album was actually “Lost Boys” on a YouTube video of them practicing the song, shot from the floor behind the drums and with Zach Hill’s footwork the focus. The loud, hard, live drumming and aggressive production fits perfectly into the hip-hop template—or should I say created a new one? Death Grips, both in terms of MCing and rhythm, have infused hip-hop with a punk aesthetic. In a way it makes sense considering Zach Hill’s background as a punk drummer and a former member of
Boredoms. Nevertheless, so many rock and hip-hop fusions have failed miserably in the past. The same goes for jazz and hip-hop. And nine times out of ten it has to do with a lack of respect and understanding brought to the table by both parties. In contrast, Death Grips exhibit a total mastery of both. You see, a lot of people think hip-hop should sound a certain way and be about certain things. I think that’s a backwards way of thinking. For example, with Death Grips, you can’t understand the lyrics, which is pretty uncommon for hip-hop. But that just adds to an overall aesthetic of aggression, through which you can still gleam some kind of message. Take the album’s title, The Money Store. If you didn’t grow up in America, you
might not know that it’s a reference to a consumer finance company that specializes in sub-prime mortgages. Basically, these are legitimized loan sharks. I don’t want to speculate too much, but I have a feeling the anger on the album is vented in that general direction. In that sense, they’re rawness feels almost like, say, Public Enemy— like It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold Us Back. Death Grips is Shocklee and Bomb Squad raw, production-wise, and they also have something of the dichotomy between Chuck and Flav, that tension in the middle of a cacophony, which explodes into something hard hitting, dirty, un-pristine, and aggressive. There’s nothing pussy about it. And there’s nothing pussy about Death Grips. ~
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” Daniel Jones on Chelsea Wolfe’s Apokalypsis
(Pendu Sound Recordings)
Being a promoter, musician and DJ isn’t always cool. A large portion of big-city transplants tend to accrue these skills to various levels of competence, which means there’s about eight million shitty parties that nobody wants to go to because they’re all doing shitty parties of their own. Still, you try to do your best, and maybe you eventually get to a point where you’re actually producing something that’s legitimately interesting. Congrats, brah: you have a variety of useful party-making skills at your disposal and the world of smelling like cigarettes 24/7 and drunk art school girls are at your fingertips. Sike.
Sorry to disappoint you, sucker, but since you’ve been booking and playing and hustling amongst the music community for a while now, there’s a decent chance that you’ve seen so much that you’re a lot harder to impress than most. You slowly start becoming grumpy and bored with the nightlife around you. You want to feel inspired, alive, but big generic techno clubs just ain’t cutting it. You need something bigger, something revelatory. Why not the end of the world? As a social concept it’s rather global, but in Los Angeles it seems that one mind, at least, dwells on it more than others. Chelsea Wolfe’s music is a religious experience,
and her thoughts have given birth to a sonic Ragnarök. Wolfe’s voice lurks somewhere between Beth Gibbons and a gothic PJ Harvey: fragments of submerged screams erupt from her throat underneath bittersweet crooning, the beautiful turning ugly in the blink of an eye. “Primal // Carnal”, the opening track on her 2011 LP Apokalypsis, is a telling title, as the album is thick with a sort of tensed and hungry emotion, seduction without sexuality: a yearning that doesn’t just prowl, but hunts. Lightlybrushed drums shimmer in an atmosphere of hushed violence while black metal growls guard the gate like a hell hound: abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
If Apokalypsis is a religious listening experience on headphones, the live version can only be described as a hierophany. At her recent show in Berghain’s Kantine in Berlin, there was such power, such beauty unleashed onstage that to speak or think of anything else while it happened felt like sacrilege. Not the cool fun kind, either. From the very beginning, the ethereal strains of “Movie Screen” scraped into a dirty, off-kilter groove, like being drunk at some sinister backwater fair where you can buy a whore as easily as cotton candy. From there it was a downward spiral into an unsure future, sine waves collapsing in on each other amidst Wolfe’s howls. The ebb and flow of emotion was metered out perfectly, never allowing brutal volume to drown out subtle dread. The throb of “Moses” was probably the best example of
that, with beautiful and delicate arrangements exploding into fragments of hazy light in the chorus, all held together by her potent voice. Even at her quietest, Wolfe is never safe. She has the power to manipulate consciousness as much as form. Thoughts whirl with the body, driven to spasms of exultation: you will believe a brain can fly. The ambient, watery textures of “To The Forest, Towards The Sea” sooth the disturbed mind as much as they haunt it. “Demons” acts as catharsis, all churning tribal punk rage with Wolfe shrieking down a sewer tunnel. Both live and on tape, the seven-minute burner “Pale on Pale” is Apokalypsis’ greatest glory; a song for which the word “epic” might have been invented. As the drums pound and the grime-covered guitar swaggers in like a murderous pimp,
Wolfe spits a vocal suitable for the blackest mass. As the set came to a close, I overheard someone’s pinchfaced girlfriend describing the show as “sounding like a graveyard”. I’m sure Wolfe would take that as a compliment. Amidst the vast amount of vanilla albums I’m exposed to daily, the feeling this music gives me is rare. “I was worried that there wouldn’t be many people here,” Wolfe told me after her show, but I wouldn’t have noticed. She took me to a place where I felt like she and I were the only ones there. This is the real magick, the feeling of true musical connection between artist and audience, honest and beautiful. Of the myriad goth-tinged, heavy-vibe records being produced, Apokalypsis shines like the darkest star. If the world must end, let it end with a wail. ~
Daniel Jones is a music promoter and creator of the subculture reconceptualization & aesthetics tumblr Gucci Goth. Since 2011, he’s also been a staff writer and editor for electronicbeats.net
“Filled with German efficiency” Justus Köhncke recommends Can’s The Lost Tapes I’m not much of a career person. In fact, I would say I’ve stumbled into almost everything I’ve done in life—not entirely by accident, but certainly without very much planning. And that’s more or less how I became involved in making film music together with Can founder Irmin Schmidt. But before I tell that story, I’d first like to say that I was never much of a Can fan. Actually, for most of my life, I felt like I never really “got” it. When it comes to German music from that era, Kraftwerk were always far more appealing to me. I first encountered the whole Can cosmos in the mid-nineties in Cologne when I was involved with Whirlpool Productions and doing mostly house music,
which was becoming increasingly poppy. At the time, we only had a MIDI studio and were searching for something more professional to record our album. This is back when labels had money to pay for such things. Anyhow, after a short search, we ended up at the legendary Can studio in Weilerswist outside of Cologne, which was actually an abandoned cinema. This was where the band did almost all their recording and practicing from 1970 until around ’78 or ’79, when they split up and then turned it into a commercial studio run by René Tinner and bassist Holger Czukay. Basically, we fell in love with the studio and ever since I’ve been working with René, Can’s chief roadie and sound
tech. Around 2001, René put me in contact with Irmin, who needed a programmer for the film music he was doing. So I went down to the south of France to meet him and his wife, Hildegard, who runs Spoon Records. We just clicked, right on the spot. And since then it’s been Irmin composing, me programming and René mixing. I always had misconceptions about Can being “hippies” in their attitude towards music, and when I told that to Irmin, he went completely bananas. Can were highly scientific, filled with German efficiency, and insanely hard working. Of course, they had their rockstar fun, but they were absolutely not rock stars in any real sense. Irmin himself is very proud of the fact
(Spoon Records / Mute)
Justus Köhncke is a producer and DJ based in Berlin. A founding member of house trio Whirlpool Productions, Köhncke currently releases disco and krautrock inspired minimal techno on Cologne’s Kompakt label.
that he turned away from a career as a composer at the age of thirty after going to New York in the late sixties and seeing the Velvet Underground and the Fluxus people and listening to Hendrix. Irmin chose rock, but as a student of Stockhausen, he could have easily gone off to do big things in the contemporary and classical world. But that broader understanding of music—that’s what I would consider the “scientific” boundaries within which Can improvised,
sometimes for days at a time and all of it recorded. They were one of the first rock bands to take the good stuff and edit the rest out. And that’s the context in which I hear the Lost Tapes: three pretty brilliant CDs put together by Irmin after wading through something like fifty hours of tape. In my opinion, almost every single track here measures up to Can’s greatest work—albums like Monster Movie or Tago Mago. And it does a really interesting job of putting
songs with original singer Malcom Mooney together with those of Damo Suzuki. But most of all, it just sounds so good. Most of the Lost Tapes are straight up stereo recordings done by Holger Czukay live to stereo while playing the bass, which speaks to the success of their simple approach. “Dead Pigeon Suite”, “Bubble Rap” and especially “Midnight Men” remind me not only why this band was so important but also why the music seduced me as an adult. ~
“Beauty is the sublimation of horror” Richard Brody on Claude Lanzmann’s The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Richard Brody is an author, staff writer and movie-listings editor for The New Yorker. His most recent book, Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, was published by Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company in 2009.
People in America tend not to have seen Shoah for a very silly, practical reason: its unavailability on DVD. You can buy a copy from absolut MEDIEN, but very few people know that this version is code-free. So if you didn’t get a copy when the DVD was in circulation a decade ago, or if you weren’t an adult in the mid-eighties when Shoah was in theaters or on public television, you’re kind of out of luck. We’re talking here about a generation of Americans in their twenties and thirties that don’t even know what Shoah is. Of course, watching the film on YouTube is a literal option, but not an ideal one. I’ve certainly watched plenty of films on YouTube, and I also consider the website to be the cinematheque of the future. But Shoah is a grand-scale movie, and it gains a lot from being projected onto a large screen. Conversely, the smaller you see it, the more reducible it becomes to a mere delivery of information, and devoid of its—how should I put it?—unique beauty. Beauty isn’t the opposite of horror—it’s the sublimation of horror. It’s the transcendental redemption of horror, but certainly not its absence. When you see the beauty
of the Polish forests in Shoah, you realize that only the knowledge of what took place there actually despoils it. Visually speaking, there’s nothing left that evokes murder—a point also brilliantly made in the beginning of Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog. The killing fields, in their post-war state, reveal nothing. In comparison to Resnais, Claude Lanzmann raises the aesthetic risk in Shoah to an even higher level by bringing the actual survivors—his interview subjects— back to these places of indescribable pain and suffering. Simon Srebnik on the boat or in front of the church in Chełmno are images of theatrical daring stronger than any method. They carry with them incredible aesthetic risk and reinforce that what you’re seeing is, in many instances, drama—not a documentary, though entirely the truth. You don’t need to see piles of bodies to know that a colossal crime was committed. And if you do, you’re probably morally obtuse. Every film and every book is actually two films, two books. There’s the work itself and then the making-of. Especially with nonfiction, where the author or director spends so much time travelling,
interviewing, and researching. The experiences that go into the production can’t all be reflected in the results. Also, these experiences, even if related to events of complete horror, don’t have to be horrifying themselves. Lanzmann’s memoir, The Patagonian Hare, is often humorous, and that wasn’t shocking for me in the least. I was more blown away by the life he led overall. Before reading it, I knew next to nothing about Lanzmann’s biography, with only the vaguest awareness that he had been together with Simone de Beauvoir and was a friend of Jean-Paul Sartre. But I didn’t know of his adventurous nature; his involvement in the Resistance; his experiences of antiSemitism in Paris in the thirties; his athleticism; that he would go out of his way to confront physical danger. I suspected he was a tough character because I had interviewed him in 2003 in Paris for my book about Jean-Luc Godard—who had proposed a joint film project to Lanzmann that was never realized. Lanzmann was very generous and it was a good discussion, but I found it very intimidating to talk to him. Lanzmann had an intensity in his gaze when looked at me
that seemed to contain a condensed and extraordinary strength, an amazing moral authority. It was like interviewing Moses. After reading The Patagonian Hare, I realized this strength was built on experience, on the willingness to confront grave physical, emotional and moral danger. Lanzmann has lived his life running the risk of nonexistence, running the risk of death. The Patagonian Hare made clear that Shoah didn’t come out of nowhere. I had always wondered, “Who is this man who made this film in the middle of his life?” I felt as if I understood, because I myself didn’t write professionally until my forties, and Lanzmann didn’t complete his first film, Israel, Why until he was around forty-seven. Waiting that long to undertake his first big work is, in Lanzmann’s
case, an incredible act of bravery— and he topped it by putting twelve years into Shoah, which he didn’t finish until he was almost sixty. Somebody with such an overflowing mind, soul and energy being patient enough to wait to accomplish something so great, is nothing less than astounding. At its core, Lanzmann explores in his memoirs the most basic question of his life: What does it mean to be a Jew? For him, the very idea of the survival of the Jewish people went hand in hand with the promise of resistance: the founding and endurance of Israel, the willingness of Ben-Gurion to fire on the Zionist paramilitary Irgun as they were bringing arms into the country for their own militia—these were integral parts of the promise of a Jewish future, the willingness of Israel to function like a state.
The concept of resistance was also a main theme in the last part of Shoah and one that people don’t talk about very much. In fact, the film ends with the acknowledgement that Jews weren’t only passive victims, but also attempted to fight back as best they could. Or, to put it in Lanzmann’s terms, Jews attempted to “reappropriate violence”. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in Anti-Semite and Jew that Jewish identity is defined by the anti-Semite, without whom Jewish identity would be lost. After Lanzmann went to Israel for the first time in the fifties, he claimed to have found proof of the opposite. Indeed, his life and work are dedicated to fighting against Sartre’s definition. I’m not sure he’s been entirely successful, but The Patagonian Hare undoubtedly succeeds in exposing the paradox of his struggle. ~
Above: Claude Lanzmann (second from right, directly behind hearse) at the funeral of French philosopher and longtime partner Simone de Beauvoir, April 19th, 1986 in Paris. Photo by Raphael Gaillarde/GammaRapho/Getty Images
The alphabet according to Yoann Lemoine aka Woodkid
as in Advertising: Both my parents worked in advertising, so I grew up playing with Photoshop and hanging around their agencies. Of course, it’s continued to be a part of my life with directing commercials, like the new International Lipton campaign for Green Tea & White Tea. I win awards for this stuff. I don’t feel the need to be especially critical of it.
as in Bonjour tristesse: Françoise Sagan’s first novel . . . I like sadness. The best music is sad, and I would say there’s a strong sense of melancholy and nostalgia in what I do. 26
As a director, Yoanne Lemoine is known for creating visceral, uber-stylish fantasy worlds for the likes of Katy Perry, Rihanna and Lana Del Ray. The Frenchman’s dramatic, HD-mythologies have brought budget and narrative back into music video cosmos, which had become a veritable financial desert amidst the music industry’s nosedive and the rise of DIY directing. Since 2010, Lemoine has also been releasing pathos-laden baroque pop under the name Woodkid. “Iron”, the single off of his eponymous debut EP, recently served as the inspiration for Dior Homme’s Fall-Winter 2013 collection “A Soldier On My Own”. It’s a logical progression for an artist whose sound is as aestheticized as the images he creates. Woodkid’s debut LP, The Golden Age, is due out later this year. Right: Yoann Lemoine at home in Paris. Photo: Trago/Getty Images
as in Clubbing in Paris: I don’t go clubbing often in Paris. Not because I don’t like it, but because I usually don’t have time. However, when I get the chance, I usually go to David Lynch’s club, Silencio.
as in Director’s cut: They’re always better.
as in Eiffel Tower: It was amazing: my first show in Paris and it was on the top of it! Well, first floor, actually. The show was supposed to be streamed live on Vice’s new Noisey platform, but an incredibly rare solar flare took place at the same time and put the satellite out of commission a while, so the show only got broadcast the day after.
as in Firearms: People think after seeing the video for “Iron” that I’m really into war, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m inspired visually and sonically by soldiers and war and weapons, but I’m not “pro” any of these things. Just because you talk about something doesn’t mean you necessarily endorse it.
as in The Golden Age: The name of my first album. It refers to the period in childhood when you’re still innocent. The album opens with the end of the Golden Age, the moment when you grow up and have to face society and responsibilities.
as in Hardcore: I don’t know much about hardcore, but my sound engineer listens to lots of it. That means I often end up with a really loud and aggressive live sound, which is cool. Believe it or not, there are a lot of metalheads who listen to my music as well.
Read more ABCs at electronicbeats.net
as in Iron: “Iron” is the single off my first EP. Thematically, it’s like a final sense of destruction that comes after you’ve been building up your character towards adulthood. It’s about when you end up walking by yourself. It’s the journey make where memories become vague and you start developing your own personality.
as in John Galliano: It’s a sad story, but I guess that’s part of the deal when you’re famous. I don’t know if he meant what he said— I hope not. My friends from the band The Shoes have their drummers ironically calling themselves “Das Galliano” ever since. 28
as in Kitsch: Sometimes having bad taste is actually a sign of good taste.
as in Occupy movement: I love the idea. You’re always stronger together, and what’s more disturbing than a silent revolution?
as in Lana Del Rey: Lana is one of the best singers I’ve ever met, her voice is amazing. I directed “Born to Die” from her new album and most recently “Blue Jeans”. She’s really shy and delicate, almost fragile. And that’s something I tried to bring out when directing.
as in Mythology: My favorite myth is of Icarus, although I also love myths about vanity—like Echo and Narcissus. I love adventure and anything about humans dying because of their own greed and vices. The world I create around Woodkid is a kind of modern mythology, I would say. I try to design new codes, from architecture to religion, and clothing to rituals.
as in New Jersey: Only when I have to land in Newark.
as in Prayer: I’m not religious, not in a dogmatic way I mean. I was raised in a Catholic institution and had to pray every night. But this was bullshit. I’m very spiritual and I pray in my own way, because I do believe in something bigger. I just don’t like to think that this very intimate and crucial metaphysical question—the meaning of life—has to be answered the same way for every human on this planet.
as in Tattoos: I have two tattoos, one on each arm. They’re keys which, when put together, represent my family. I love people with tattoos.
as in Xenophilia: I love having sex with aliens. I often find partners that really make me feel this way. as in Quo vadis, music video?: After years and years of having big everything in the nineties—lighting, images, props, costumes, sets, stunts—videos in the noughties became very lo-fi and very conceptual thanks to the Internet and people doing their own thing. The result was a generation of videos where the images were shit, but the concepts were good. Visually it wasn’t stuff you would remember. My videos were always about craft and technical quality, and thankfully, budgets are coming back. Thanks to digital sales, that is. And even if we might hate them, people like Gaga have helped bring back the impact of the video, and production value.
as in Rock and Roll: There’s nothing rock and roll about what I do. There are no guitars and I’m pretty static onstage. It’s almost like a funeral. It’s not like I don’t like rock and roll, but I’m not much of a showman or a hardcore musician. What I do is more intimate. Also, I don’t take drugs or drink.
as in Self-fulfilling prophecy: It’s maybe a little scary, but I truly believe that you can decide, thanks to things you believe in, good or bad, how your life will turn out. It would mean that if I am convinced I’m sick, my brain could eventually create the illness I didn’t have. The power of thought should not be underestimated.
Woodkid, iron man.
as in YouTube: I watch it more than TV, for sure.
as in Utopia: It’s good to want to reach things that aren’t attainable. I have managed to accomplish a lot just by believing it was possible.
as in Video Game Scores: Well, I do play video games, my favorite ones are the Final Fantasy series. I absolutely love Nobuo Uematsu’s work there.
as in Zombie Boy: He’s great, and he’s actually really handsome. I met him once at a Mugler afterparty. I feel a little bit sad for him, because he’s been used so much for the Mugler and Gaga campaigns by Nicola Formichetti. Is it temporary? He’s not going to be a top model that somebody wants for a long time. I mean it when I say I think he’s really amazing, but I think he’s like a trend. I just hope he has the time and patience to get through it all. ~
as in Win-win situation: That’s the best part of being a director as well as a singer: each field informs the other and helps me meet new, amazing artists that help me grow creatively. EB 2/2012
Grimes on MARilyn Manson
Mr. Style Icon
I started listening to Marilyn Manson when I was about thirteen or fourteen, and I had been raised in a really strict Catholic household and went to a really Catholic school. It sucked and Marilyn Manson represented the antithesis of all the things I was dealing with at the time. I know it’s a juvenile way to see it, but when everything is one way and you’re headed in the opposite direction, it can have a profound effect on your life. For my parents, Manson was the epitome of everything that was bad and wrong, which is why I immediately started wearing eyeliner all the time and white face make-up. They were like, “You look like the devil!” They couldn’t stand it. I mean, I don’t know what the devil looks like, but I imagine Manson wants other people to think that he’s pretty much the spitting image—the opposite of what white Christian America thinks looks “reasonable”. I know a lot of the things he does are also in reaction to his upbringing, so it makes sense that he’d have that same influence. In retrospect, I’ve come to appreciate Manson’s stage performances even more. He’s basically an aggressive, violent performance artist who makes industrial and noise music and, in spite of all that, became a platinum selling pop icon. I credit him with introducing the visual and musical aesthetics of Throbbing Gristle and Genesis P-Orridge to a whole generation of people who would never have seen it otherwise. 30
While some artists do their damndest to identify themsel ves with the coolest possible influences and constantly update their carefully curated list of musical fore bearers, Claire Bou che, aka Grimes, just doesn’t give a damn. That’s something she learned from her style icon, Marilyn Manson—a master of popularizing the sub versive. Here, Bouche explains how daring to be an outsider as a teenager gave her the confidence to stay true to her artistic vision as an adult.
Right: Antichrist as a vocation. Marilyn Manson, photogra phed in Los Angeles by Christina Radish/ Kontributor.
Some of it was timing and some of it was just being really smart about what he was doing. I suppose Nine Inch Nails had a similar thing, but Manson took it to another level, another extreme. People today look down on what they consider “shock rock” and Marilyn Manson’s definitely not one of the most “respected” artists right now. I’m convinced he’s one of the most underrated, because I don’t think art and music are necessarily separable, and the visual component of music, the presentation, is something that’s important for people to latch on to in pop. The classical world doesn’t produce the same kind of personalities. I mean, you have like, Yo-Yo Ma, but for the most part classical musicians wear black ties and suits and don’t reveal anything about their personalities. They play other peoples’ music. In contrast, pop musicians sell themselves, which is equally as important as the music they make. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. I’ve never met Marilyn Manson, but I’d love to. I’m just not sure I’m in that “club” yet. It’s not like I don’t view myself as successful, but there are two tiers of success: artistic and commercial. Currently, artistic success takes precedence for me: I get more excited about finishing a track or an album than having my face on the cover of a magazine or people recognizing me on the street. The latter is a measure of success, but I’m not sure how much credit I could really take for that because there’s an entire marketing machine
behind that, thrusting your image into the spotlight. On the other hand, I know a lot of people get really down when they receive bad reviews, but that often has nothing to do with the art. Marliyn Manson was what got me thinking about art and music seriously. Before that, I had been very into ballet and other “normal” things. And then when I was thirteen, I was like, “Fuck it.” I shaved my head and that was the beginning of a decade of being completely ostracized. In school, pretty much everyone hated me and were like, “Claire’s a freak.” I got locked in lockers and thrown in garbage cans. People wrote “Whore!” and “Bitch!” all over my stuff. It was because of how I looked, and I was very extreme about it because I was obsessed with Marilyn Manson. It defined my social engagement with the world. I recognize that it’s silly, but Manson is how I learned that it’s OK to be an outcast; it’s what gave me faith in the things that I was doing artistically. My ability to ignore bad reviews is strongly connected to that. It’s a part of who I am. I just don’t give a shit, and that’s something my parents haven’t made total peace with. They’re still not down with my art and lifestyle because they’re so conservative and I guess they just don’t understand blogs and Internet success. Occasionally, I think my dad would rather see me unsuccessful than have people liking my art with me looking and acting the way I do. ~
Revisiting the eighties has become a veritable right of passage for the retromaniacal. And that’s a good thing too, because as Simon Le Bon can attest, those who were there can’t remember very much at all. Here, the Duran Duran frontman and lyricist shows how to best deal with amnesia: wittily. Photo: Andrea Stappert
memorable line in a film or song: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain . . . Time to die.” Or something like that.
will inevitably turn out just to be somebody with a chip on their shoulder. Nice guys can finish first!
hours ago . . . I seem to have a gap in my memory.
people that should collaborate:
days I barely remember:
Grayson Perry and George Osborne.
things I haven’t done yet: Crashed a helicopter; walked out when someone wanted to present me with an award; sex for money.
. . . was that in the ’80s?
p.m. . . .
Giving it LARGE until the wee, small hours.
decisions I regret: No regrets.
Politicians; fortune cookies; activists; angry young men; anybody with an ax to grind who, by the way,
lives . . .
All long gone.
I wouldn’t touch it with a things I used to believe:
-foot pole . . .
The poisoned chalice that is reality TV, celebrity press and general self aggrandizement in the name of personal vanity. You can all kiss my ...~
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E T IN E I V R S W EB 2/2012
Max Dax interviews Bernard Sumner
“ There was a fascination for everything related to the war because it was all around me”
Bernard Sumner’s simple guitar lines and plaintive vocals are essential elements in New Order’s dark, romantic synth-pop—a sound that helped define Manchester’s musical identity and set Factory Records on the path to immortality. But it was New York City’s electronic mash-up culture in the early eighties that convinced the band that performing live with synthesizers made sense. Machines freed them from the weight of their Joy Division past and allowed them to forge a vision of the future—one they’re still shaping today. Left: Bernard Sumner in Edinburgh. All photographs by Andrea Stappert.
“As far as I understand, you have to aim at a certain point in the sky to destroy a house, because bombshells have a specific ballistic trajectory.”
Mr. Sumner, I was surprised to learn that Stephen Morris, who is not only New Order’s long-term drummer but also your neighbor, owns a tank from World War II.
store them safely. And during his time off, he makes models of World War II aircrafts and tanks. Sometimes I find him painting his models very carefully.
Yeah, he has this little hobby.
Now I understand why Gillian Gilbert says that New Order is a very laddish band.
He told me that he would theoretically be able to destroy your house with it.
That’s true—he told me the same. He sometimes even aims with the gun at my house. Did you know that you only need a truck driver’s license to legally drive a tank in England?
No, I didn’t. And did you know that you only need a shotgun license to shoot with tank artillery?
Oh my God! I guess he could go deer hunting then . . . only that he would destroy the forest, too. But to reassure you: He also mentioned that he’d need a ballistics expert to actually hit your house and not your neighbor’s . . .
Good to know. As far as I understand, you have to aim at a certain point in the sky to destroy a house because bombshells have a specific ballistic trajectory. I wonder if he would ever dare to shoot at me. I probably should pay more attention what I say to him in the future. Buying the bombshells is actually the difficult part of the equation. It’s probably expensive—not to mention illegal.
Stephen invited me once to go for a ride in a tank, and it was a really horrible experience. Once you’re in, the whole thing’s seal locked. These are nuclear and biological proof vehicles with air conditioning. I couldn’t imagine fighting a battle stuck in such a tank, it must be horrendous. I don’t know why he likes them so much. He owns four of these things and even rented a hangar to
Well, that’s why it’s good to have Gillian in the band, really. I can be laddish too, but I also have my intellectual side. Probably we are the way we are because we all grew up in Salford which was the industrial heartland of Manchester. It’s basically a workingman’s city within a city. I grew up there in the sixties and seventies and it wasn’t particularly nice, but it was OK. Salford has become rougher since I left—around Christmas, some innocent guy got shot in the head on the street. Poor Indian guy. I gotta say though that most of the people who live there are really warm hearted. It’s people that used to be employed in the factories of Manchester—back when there still were factories. In fact, my grandfather worked as an engineer in Old Trafford. And when the factories were closed down, they didn’t get offered any jobs. The situation has improved a bit, but for a time it was a decaying industrial environment. What was your childhood like?
I always say I grew up not seeing a tree until I was nine years old. At the end of our street there was a huge chemical factory where there were occasional leaks that were destroying the environment. I still remember the horrible smell. But it was our home, so it was OK, you know? Why are there so many bands from Manchester?
I think there are mainly two reasons. First of all, it wasn’t a visually stimulating place. It actually wasn’t stimulating at all. You were forced to tune into your own imagination for stimulation. Music was an option. Also, the education system wasn’t good at all. If you weren’t privileged, you were just dumped into a pile. No one was interested in you. You were left to your own devices. You found yourself in the pile? Right: Drummer Stephen Morris is not a man to disagree with.
“We were too late for Studio 54. We went to the Danceteria instead. We realized how stiff the clubs were in England, playing only disco music.”
I left grammar school when I was sixteen. The only thing I was interested in was art. I went to the career advisor who pointed me towards two possible careers in the art sector: Hairdressing or working in a photography studio and cut the white borders off the photographs. Obviously that was nonsense. So I was searching for something creative to do. I wrote to every single advertisement agency in the city and finally got two jobs—as a runner at one agency and an assistant for TV commercials at another. I changed back and forth week for week. But at least it was in the creative field. And then punk came along and with it came interesting music. Would you agree that punk, like blues and folk, was special because it allowed people to express themselves musically even if they weren’t expert musicians?
Yes. But we considered folk and blues to be music from the past. Up until punk, you had to be a god-gifted virtuoso to play music. The seventies had progressive rock with thousand-note-keyboard solos and people like Emerson, Lake and Palmer topping the charts. Everybody was impressed—these guys could really play. But for people like me, there was no way into that. And then the Sex Pistols came with a younger sound, and that sound appealed to us when we were about twenty years old. Punk was proof that you could do it with not much virtuosity. Attitude was all it took. To make music—to be creative—seemed possible all of the sudden. Literally from one day to another it became all about the energy and no longer about how well you played your instrument. How did you start listening and becoming interested in music?
Honestly, my family didn’t own a record player back then, so I just listened to the radio all the time even though I soon realized that most of the music that was being played was rubbish. After a while, my mother bought me a record player for Christmas. My first single was “Ride a White Swan” by T. Rex. I liked the guitar riff, but the song only lasted for four minutes. I always had to get up and put the needle back onto the record to hear it again. That’s when I realized: I needed to buy more albums. After watching Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, I went out and bought two soundtracks
by Ennio Morricone: A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. That was a fantastic experience. I must have listened to these two albums a zillion times. The radio and Morricone were my initiation when it came to listening to music. Then I started to go to this youth club in North Salford with two rooms: they had a disco in the basement where Tamla Motown and Stax records were being played, while upstairs was for rock music like the Stones and Free and that kind of stuff. Did you consider yourself part of a specific youth culture?
I was a suedehead; I had really short hair and I rode a scooter. But I wasn’t a skinhead or a mod. The era was post-mod, and I dressed accordingly. So, I guess I should have spent more time in the cellar where they played northern soul and black music. But instead I felt more drawn to rock—upstairs, where the people with the long hair went. I liked the sound of the distorted guitars. My musical education came from upstairs. Let’s jump to the early days of your career when you made music with Joy Division. How did your musical socialization fit into that picture?
With Joy Division we literally were DIY. My mother—again—had bought me an electric guitar for my sixteenth birthday. Initially, I didn’t know what to do with it. I left it to gather dust in the corner of the room. But then Peter Hook and I decided to form a band together. We had a keyboard, a bass and this dusty guitar. We used to sit around in my grandmother’s house together learning with a book how to play. Then we advertised for a singer, and we got Ian Curtis. But we had to go through five drummers until we had Stephen Morris. He came later?
He came last. The others were just assholes. We simply didn’t have the same headspace. But with Stephen it clicked. The first few songs we wrote together were terrible, though—simply because none of us had ever written a song before. We were automatically copying other punk bands we liked, but it just wasn’t us. We realized pretty quickly that these songs were wrong, so we started again. We called the result Unknown Pleasures. I have to stress the fact that these
Left: Founding member, rhythm guitarist and synth mastermind Gillian Gilbert.
What did you do with your findings—play war with your friends?
Of course! We had this game with the helmet. When you wore the tin helmet, the others were allowed to hit you with a club on the head. It was like testing the helmet out, and it didn’t hurt. Yes, the war was definitely all around us. And I remember going to primary school and listening to the air-raid sirens and running to the shelters behind the church. Of course, they were just testing them, but for us boys it was just as fascinating. Aside from the war, German music was also a big influence for you. Do you still remember the day when you first heard Kraftwerk?
Above: Guitarist Phil Cunningham
songs were written out of pure naivety. But then again, that is the best point you can write music from. You’re not questioning what you’re doing. You’re unspoiled. The band’s name was far from naive, though—borrowed from Yehiel De-Nur’s 1955 novel The House of Dolls. “Joy Division” was a common reference to prostitutes in concentration camps.
I can only speak from my point of view. Yes, there was a fascination for everything related to the war, because it was all around me where I lived in Salford. My aunt’s house was destroyed by a German bomb and my grandfather was an engineer during the war. He made compasses for the Royal Air Force. Once, in his house, we boys found bags full of war flags, tin helmets, gas masks and old crystal radio sets. 42
I remember that I didn’t like Kraftwerk the first time I heard them. Next to my grandfather a strange lad was living, his name was Philip. He was really nice, but his parents kept him locked up. Bad things were happening behind closed doors. I remember I would ring the bell, and his mother wouldn’t open the door—she’d tell me that Philip had headache or something and couldn’t meet me. On one of the rare occasions we actually met, Philip played Autobahn for me. And I remember that I was missing the guitars in the song. I simply didn’t get it. A couple of years later, I fell in love with Trans-Europe Express, though. I thought that album was harmonically extremely rich. I especially liked the sound of the Mellotron. I was very aware of the importance of sound in general, so when I’d listen to a rock record, it wasn’t just about the melodies or the arrangement—but also about the guitar sound. And Trans-Europe Express just sounded great—like a dark electronic soup. I didn’t miss the guitars for a single moment. Legend has it that you wrote “Blue Monday” with the intention of composing a song played entirely by machines. That’s a very Kraftwerkian approach.
There’s an element of Kraftwerk in it, for sure. But by the time I
“We definitely had success with unintended usage. Today’s musicians don’t have to do that. It’s the opposite really: the difficulty is to choose from this vast library of possibilities.”
wrote “Blue Monday”, I had already done some gigs with Cabaret Voltaire as well. The early Human League and OMD’s first steps must not be forgotten either. I remember some very non-commercial early gigs in Manchester. Once I had understood that you could make music without guitars, I felt like there were no longer any borders. But also, on a completely different level, I was totally into electronics. I loved technology and tinkering with things. I had properly learned how to solder memory chips on top of each other. There were no computers back then—you simply couldn’t buy one. You could buy a sequencer, but it would cost you the equivalent of a semi-detached house. Suffice to say, we didn’t have any money. So I used to get this magazine called Electronics Today and one day, they had a synthesizer on the cover. At the time I suffered from insomnia, so when I couldn’t sleep, I worked on building my synthesizer.
But aside from the inclusion of technology, “Blue Monday” was also an audible act of liberating the band from its Joy Division heritage.
Absolutely. The difficult period obviously was the time after Ian had died and when we made the album Movement. Everyone was unhappy—not with each other, but because of what happened. We were in a state of post-traumatic shock. When we wrote Movement, we locked ourselves away. As a result, we ended up with a reputation in the press as reclusive. It must have been difficult finding a new sound and avoiding being seen as just derivative of Joy Division. How did that work and what were you feeling during the recording sessions for Movement?
If not esoteric . . . It was actually designed by EMS Synthesizers. And with another issue of Electronics Today they had instructions for building a sequencer. The only thing you needed were some basic electronic skills.
We spent six months in the studio experimenting in an attempt to find our new sound. I tried to sing the songs we’d worked on but it all felt like Joy Division without Ian. Me trying to be Ian, you know? We then spent some time on the East Coast of America. We decided to do a tour there—to play a few obscure dates in small clubs. On these dates, each of us was trying out singing in front of an audience. We were basically testing out which one of us should do it, as it wasn’t an option for us to just cast a new singer with us being his backing band. In New York, we started to go out and to hang out in clubs. We were drinking a lot on free drink tickets and got into dancing in a very natural way. We didn’t only have a wonderful time, we also found an integral element for our future sound by being exposed to New York club music.
Did you use that equipment in the studio?
Did you meet Andy Warhol in New York?
For sure—we used it on a lot of New Order, the most well-known being “Blue Monday”. That’s why it’s so tight. But also tracks like “586” were strongly influenced by the gear we used. They sounded like the machines we used. Don’t forget: this is before you could easily synchronize different machines, which is so easy to do today. Back then it was a real drag. But I had a friend who was a scientist and whenever I had a problem synchronizing my homemade equipment, I’d call him. He basically designed me a little circuit—and it worked! So the trademark New Order sound was partially the result of using your own extra-cheap homebuilt equipment?
No. Unfortunately, we were too late for Studio 54. We went to the Danceteria instead. We realized how stiff the clubs were back home in England, playing only disco music. In New York we’d listen to the Sugarhill Gang and Afrika Bambaataa. They had an incredibly eclectic style back then. After Chic you’d hear a track from The Clash, and this was totally unimaginable in the UK at the time. That’s when we realized we wanted to hear our records being played in these New York clubs, so we started to reorganize and redefine our set-up. We finally knew what we were looking to do artistically. From that point, electronic music was a logical progression. Did I mention that we smoked a lot of pot in Manhattan?
Yeah. I was and still am very technically minded.
What components were you using?
Oh, it was just loads of resistors and capacitors and miscellaneous other components. I ended up with a monophonic synthesizer called the Transcendent 2000. What a beautiful name for a synthesizer, almost poetic.
“My favorite records were the Velvet Underground’s studio albums and Lou Reed’s Berlin. But after Ian died, I just didn’t feel like listening to them anymore.”
I’m not a hippie or a pot smoker. I don’t do it now, anyways. But I went through this brief period being high on weed and listening to electronic club music and hip-hop. Prior to this trip my favorite records were Velvet Underground’s studio albums and Lou Reed’s Berlin. But after Ian died, I just didn’t feel like listening to them anymore.
envisioned the new Reich.
Here we go. Same shit. None of us knew the connotation. When we announced the name, every journalist referred to Hitler’s new order when writing about the band. But by then it was too late to change it again. Of course, nobody believed us because of the Joy Division background.
But what’s smoking weed have to do with the equation?
Well, a friend of a friend—the one who introduced me to pot—also introduced me to Giorgio Moroder and the Kiss FM Mastermixes of that period. The effect of the drug and the precision of the synthesizers went very well together. We wanted to be equally precise with our music. And we realized that the easiest way to achieve this precision was to use electronics. So sound-wise, New Order was basically born in New York?
Yes. New York was the place where our vision took shape. But on the other hand we still wanted to be a live band, so we had to redefine the role of the bass, the guitar and my singing as well. We had to think of a way we could use our synthesizers on stage, too. These were fragile instruments—homebuilt and prone to damage. If one of them broke, we simply would have lost it forever. But nonetheless, we kept on keeping on with it. Who came up with the brilliant name “New Order”?
That’s a funny story. So many people thought we were Nazis because of the name Joy Division. At a certain point, we were sick of hearing the same questions over and over again. So we were really eager to look for a new name that was completely neutral and didn’t have any Nazi connotations whatsoever. We all came up with loads of names but they were all rubbish. Then one day our then manager Rob Gretton came to the rehearsals and waved a copy of The Guardian above his head. He started to read to us an article about the rise and fall of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and how the defeat of Prince Sihanouk gave way to a “new order”. He read the “new order” phrase again and said: “Here we have it.” What we liked most about it was that it sounded so neutral. But of course it wasn’t—Hitler used the term to describe how he 44
The album cover for Movement was a typographical adaption of a poster by the fascist futurist Fortunato Depero.
Yes, but Peter Saville did the cover. I remember that we liked it a lot and that we changed the color from light brown to light blue. Ask him about why he did the cover in that way. I recently read a book in which he said: “The band never asked me about the sleeves. So I don’t think they understand them.” As a band, when we like something, we just like it and don’t question it—be it music, design, or a name. It just has to have this impact. It was the same with Joy Division. It had a negative connotation but it sounded great. I guess you can call it a punk attitude that somehow fedback against us. We thought it was a punk thing to do. And honestly, it’s a great name. It’s a classic name for a band. New Order covers are as mysterious as they are stylish.
That has something to do with my interest in visual art. We keep it in good memory that Tony Wilson came up with Peter Saville one day. We immediately liked his radically conceptual approach. Many people have accused us of somehow hiding behind our covers. That’s not true. We just thought it was boring to have our photographs on the sleeves—especially because we all bought lots of vinyl and we also judged the music by the sleeve. We didn’t like it when we saw the photograph of an artist with just his name on the front cover. We found it unimaginative and boring. It represented the old. For us, the sleeve was one of two pieces of art that you’d get when you buy a record. This, has changed of course. You don’t get a record cover with your computer download. And naturally, not every album with great cover art turned out to be a great record. In the early eighties, people had limited access to electronic instruments and computers. And when they did, they often had to overcome myriad technical obstacles. Generally speaking, there wasn’t
a lot of electronic music around. In hindsight, it seems like the perfect environment for pioneering work.
More often than not, the best ideas are born out of limitations and accidents. We had to use a lot of imagination to get somewhere; we needed a lot of creativity to squeeze every last drop out of what our instruments could offer us. Although the instruments were fun to abuse. You had “wrong” or unorthodox ways of using the instruments?
Absolutely. We definitely had success with unintended usage. Today’s musicians don’t have to do that. It’s the opposite really: the difficulty is to choose from this vast library of possibilities. That’s a whole different approach to making music, isn’t it? Do you ever think of that as a burden?
Yes, for the reasons I’ve just mentioned. We were lucky that there wasn’t much electronic music around us in the early days. It didn’t take that much to be ahead of the game. It was easy to be different?
Yes. And that’s why we were always very careful not to learn our instrument too well. With virtuosity comes the erosion of the naivety. But you need this naivety to keep the music fresh. It’s easy to become famous but it’s difficult to stay that way.
I’d say it was easy to be a pioneer thirty years ago. Now it’s become very difficult. ~ Right: Bassist Tom Chapman
A new limited edition of Electronic Beats Magazine is now available at assorted newsstands and boutique bookstores throughout Germany, as well as in Walther-König museum shops throughout Europe. For 4.50 EUR you can purchase your special copy containing a carefully curated compilation CD, including tracks from artists and content explored in each issue. Electronic Beats CD N°1 is the first in a series of compilations curated by DJs, artists and the editors. Magazine subscribers will automatically receive the limited edition.
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Hans Ulrich Obrist INTERVIEWS Milan Grygar
“Every drawing I see I can also hear” Milan Grygar is one of the world’s first sound artists. Born in the Slovakian town of Zvolen in 1926, he first began exploring alternative forms of musical notation and recording the sounds of his sketches in the late 1950s. These acoustic drawings eventually caught the attention of other notable sonic-experimentalists, including John Cage, with whom Grygar had been planning collaborative performances shortly before Cage’s death in 1992. Hans Ulrich Obrist sat down with the artist to find out more about the lineage of the Eastern European avant-garde. HUO: Who were your artistic heroes growing up? Were they Czech or international? MG: Before I started studying at the College of Applied Arts in
Prague, I didn’t know very much about art at all. That changed pretty quickly when I met the architect František Kalivoda, who was my teacher and who had been a friend and collaborator of László Moholy-Nagy. In 1935, Kalivoda had organized a large exhibition of Moholy-Nagy and put together a magazine called Telehor, of which the only issue that was ever published had been entirely devoted to Moholy-Nagy’s work. That was eye opening for me to say the least. I always found Moholy-Nagy’s Gesamtkunstwerk approach one of the most interesting aspects of his art—his bridges between architecture and visual art, as well as his utopian dimension. What fascinated you about Moholy-Nagy?
It all seemed somehow familiar to me, because I had seen MoholyNagy’s work as a child in a magazine called Žijeme that was put out by the graphic designer Ladislav Sutnar that my father always bought. But I didn’t have very much time to explore art during my studies because they were interrupted by the war. I ended up pretty quickly as a forced laborer in an arms factory in Brno in the forties, so I finished my studies after the war. So what do you consider to be your first work as an artist? Where does your catalogue raisonné begin? [laughing] I would never put together a catalogue raisonné. But can you tell me a bit about your early exhibitions in the late fifties?
These were mostly paintings, some geometrical, some still lifes. In Prague at the time, there was still a historical proximity to the Russian avant-garde of the teens and twenties. I’d be very curious to find out your relationship as a young artist to that era.
The Russian avant-garde is something I have always been fond of. In fact, our information about international art was not quite so limited after all. When did your visionary work with sound begin? Did you have anything like a sonic “epiphany”?
One of the most important moments was seeing American artists at the Biennale in Venice 1964, especially Robert Rauschenberg. This really gave me the confidence to think about creating art in a freer fashion. Of course, Italian futurist Luigi Russolo was also extremely important for me. When did these influences first begin to play a role in your work?
That was in 1965 with my acoustic drawings, when I recorded the sounds of what I was creating visually. Your acoustic drawings look like a form of musical notation.
You see, my father worked for a railway company and I grew up in and around various train stations. I always had a certain sensibility to the sounds I was surrounded by. Pretty soon it branched out to all of the various objects I had been drawing with. That’s when I realized that every drawing I see I can also hear, and so I chose to
Left: A portrait of Milan Grygar from the artist’s archives.
exhibit the recordings of the sounds of the drawings I made. That was also 1965. Everything I make visually, I also record. But how did you end up “inventing” them? You would consider this an invention, no?
Well, it was a process and it took around a year and a half. It mostly involved thinking about the bodily rhythm contained in drawings—that is, contained in their execution. It was part of a longer process, not an epiphany. Does that also go for the visual presentation as a kind of notation?
Yes, developing that was also a process, not a single moment. Erhard Karkoschka actually published the first book on alternative notation, even before Cage. Eventually this led to Karkoschka having my scores performed internationally. John Cage also had the idea of the “open notation”. Was that ever of interest to you?
I did work with open notation and incorporating moments of chance in my compositions. So yes, there was that similarity. But for me, these were certainly controlled moments of chance. Before Cage, I had been interested in Schoenberg’s writings. When I first started my sound drawings, I knew nothing of Cage. Only after Karkoschka had published my work was there a real connection. Eventually I met Cage the year he died in Bratislava. We were preparing a joint exhibition in Prague but before it was finished he passed away. It was actually supposed to be a concert: Cage and Grygar. There was an exhibition and concert that took place in 1993-94, but unfortunately without him. There’s also the connection to birds in your work, which conjures up the compositions of Olivier Messiaen. Can you tell me about that?
Birds actually never really interested me—rather only the birdshaped toys that made bird sounds. I started experimenting with these toys around 1966. I had been drawing mostly by hand with a pen until a certain point when I started branching out, and eventually drawing with the toy birds. I was particularly drawn to the sound the beak made, which I dipped in ink, drew with and recorded. Tell me about the role of collage in your work. It’s very different to the surrealistic approach of, say, Jan Švankmajer, who I’ve also visited while being here in the Czech Republic.
My work is anti-surrealistic. But to answer your original question: collage was never really so important for me. At a certain point, you began incorporating the conventional lines of staff into your notation. How did that come about?
It was a natural progression. For example, I would take a drawing of mine, cut it into pieces and then rearrange them in a totally chance fashion. I recorded the entire process—that’s what the accompanying record is. So the recordings of some of your larger works are almost like soundtracks to your art. Films have soundtracks—is this comparable?
Absolutely. Some of your works look like palimpsests, with their overlapping visual information.
Well, the drawings are really functional. What you’re seeing often are operating guidelines for constructing and manipulating the objects pictured. Do the numbers in your work have a specific function?
They usually denote the order in which the guidelines should be followed. Was the idea to partially remove the art from the object—to have it function independently of or beyond the object shown?
Well, the emphasis is more on the action in relation to the object. With musical notation, you’re dealing with something that musicians are able to play over and over again. It seems to me that art in the twentieth century had been very focused on objects. I’m not sure if you know Marcel Duchamp’s Unhappy Readymade, or Moholy-Nagy’s works with telephones, both of which had a focus of transcending the object.
Creating art “beyond” the object was not really my interest. You know, I had been planning an exhibition of sounds, like today’s exhibitions with prerecorded sounds being played in a certain space . . . Honestly, my work happened very gradually. I was good friends with Iannis Xenakis and he had the idea of polytopes—sound spaces in which you can completely immerse yourself. [laughing] Well, I work with the limited spatial understanding of an
artist. Xenakis had a far more sophisticated and perfect understanding of space.
That’s a very modest way to put it. Personally, I find your conceptualizations of space impressive. What’s also of interest to me are your tactile drawings and performances involving the penetration of the canvas or paper—breaking through the two-dimensionality of the image. To me, they’re reminiscent of Gustav Metzger and Lucio Fontana—but you also recorded them as well. You must have an enormous sound archive.
You can see it as a kind of visual “horizon”. Shortly before Cage died he gave a talk in Bratislava. Someone in the audience asked him what connected the visual arts with music and he replied, “The horizon.” I had actually begun including staffs in my drawings before Cage had said that, so it was a kind of validation of my approach. For me, the staff functions as a spatial element.
There’s a work by Rainer Maria Rilke entitled Letters to a Young Poet where he offers advice to an aspiring young artist. What would be Milan Grygar’s advice?
And how did that turn into collage?
I don’t like giving advice. ~
Yes, I have audio recordings of almost everything I’ve ever done.
Left: Milan Grygar, Tactile Drawing, Recording of Realisation, performance, 1969. Photo: Josef Prošek, courtesy of Milan Grygar/Galerie Zdenek Sklenár
Max dax Chats with SQUAREPUSHER
“Testing things to destruction is probably the best way to test things”
Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, was born in 1975 in British synthrock Mecca Essex, homecounty of myriad classic electronic acts, including Depeche Mode, The Prodigy and Nitzer Ebb. But despite the local lineage, Jenkinson grew up knowing little about band histories and pop cultural contexts; he was too busy building his own radios and obsessing over circuitry. The unabashed electronics geek had a special interest in radio in its entirety: the noise, the interference, the music (all of it), and the ability to jump from broadcast to broadcast by spinning the dial. Today, Jenkinson has come to see radio as “the first instrument I learned to play,” and the beginning of an interest in both content and method—electronic music and how it’s made. It’s an appropriate history for an artist widely considered to be one of the most innovative acts on Warp Records’ roster of digital envelope pushers. On Ufabulum, Jenkinson once again applies his special brand of programming ingenuity and musical ability to create even bigger, more pulsing breaks and futuristic rave anthems, not to mention a live show equally as seizure inducing. In a good way. Left: The texture of sound. Squarepusher’s LED backdrop, photographed at the EB Festival 2012 in Gdan´ sk by Luci Lux
Tom Jenkinson, you’ve created an impressive LED set-up to visually represent your music. How complex was it to realize?
One way to maintain that spirit as an adult is to force yourself to do things on a daily basis that you’ve never done before.
We’re forced to use different gear every night, so there is quite a bit of trouble-shooting every time we build the huge LED screen up onstage. We always have to rent a good chunk of the equipment locally because it would be too expensive to travel by plane with. That’s probably the most complex aspect of the whole experience— to deal with new, unexpected problems on a daily basis.
That’s a good way to keep yourself open minded. Of course, you can’t always live like that. Every now and then I need to get an analytical overview and think about where things are actually heading—that is, when I’m not doing pure research. I guess I split my time between child-like experimentation and figuring out adult-like objectives.
Did you design everything yourself?
Well, I programmed everything that you see. That’s all my work. It’s interesting how much effort you’ve put into staging your show. Instead of hiring somebody to take care of visuals, you seem to spend an equal amount of time and energy on it as on the music.
Absolutely. I guess I must have learned it from Kraftwerk. They do everything themselves, and they let no outsider into their creative inner circle. I hate it when something gets lost in translation, and in my case, I’d literally have to explain a picture with words that someone else would have to paint. It’s obvious that the result would be different than the picture I want. As it currently stands, what you see is like a negative or an inverse visual inspiration of my music. I definitively didn’t want to do something like all the others—to use found footage from TV to illustrate my tracks. I hate random or arbitrary visuals because they tend to draw attention away from the music. If what I’m displaying on stage doesn’t lock-in with and accentuate the sonic experience, then I don’t see the point. Are the visuals triggered by acoustic signals?
Partially. There are two sources of control data: The first is the audio, with each separate signal broken into different instrumental sources. Those sources then get analyzed for pitch, amplitude, waveform irregularity, which in turn function as visual control parameters. So when you improvise, the visuals will be different?
You once said in an interview that as a child you were fascinated by the size and sounds of power stations and big machines like Ferris wheels.
I’ve used noises from both in my music. Would you say your music is like a coded language and you’re the only one who’s able to decipher the origin and history of a particular sound? Is there meaning in the original sound sources?
I’m probably not the right person to analyze what I am doing. But you could describe it.
Well, the Ferris wheel sounds exist for real. The power station I think of more abstractly. You see, from a very young age I was fascinated by electricity, so I constantly read books about it as a kid. One of the books I had was about how power stations worked, and there was a time in my life when I almost lived inside this particular book. I memorized all the pictures and the descriptions of how it worked—how steam rotates the turbines and how the generators produce the electricity that’s being fed into the substations and then into the electric grid. I have this fascination with networks, and the way electricity is distributed is probably one of the best examples of how a network can function. As a kid I was also captivated by circuits. I often thought about electricity going through the pathways, being split here and there and changed into different quantities by various components . . . and then switched into new pathways. Radio waves are also at the intersection of music and electricity.
To an extent. If I affect the audio then obviously the visual parameter it controls will also change. What about the second source of control?
That’s pure code—instructions that tell the screen to strobe at a particular frequency or change the dimensions of an object being displayed. That’s a very technical description, but you could also say that with your stage set-up you’re operating a kind of childhood fantasy. You look like you’ve stepped right out of a yet-to-be-made sci-fi flick with your futuristic helmet and the thick data cable that connects it with your machine. It’s like Matrix come true.
I’d probably say that I’m in a state of arrested development. Of course, I mean that half-seriously because I think children love exploring and learning and playing with things without having any specific objectives in mind. It gets harder and harder to do that as an adult. Doing things without objectives?
Exactly. And that’s why an integral part of my work involves reserving time to carry on with that kind of playful exploration. 54
Yeah, and that’s another one of my obsessions. But I’ve always been interested in both the technique and content of broadcasting—how and what music is projected through space. One of the most basic things to do as a kid when you’re into electronics is to build your own radio. Building a tuned circuit which could decode radio signals and then transmit them to loud speakers so that I could hear them: that was magic. The moment when I could listen to music on my own radio for the first time enthralled me. I never really lost that feeling of wonderment about the discovery of electricity and radio waves. I don’t like thinking that it just exists; I tend to see it as a huge man-made effort in scientific advancement. Discovered by Madame Curie . . . No, Hertz?
Yes, via James Clerk Maxwell. I was always intrigued by tuning the radio, as well as switching it on and off. I suppose the radio was the first musical instrument I played. I used to just go through the bands and listen, less to specific songs and more to the range—that is, where I was being connected to. Especially with shortwave, where you can find stations in Siberia and Asia and all over the world, with all the foreign languages and distorted sounds. That I could flip in no time from a song being played in Gibraltar to another in Moscow strongly influenced my listening habits.
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Previous pages: Squarepusher ready for sonic warfare.
You mention distorted sounds—those also seem to play an important role in your music.
to death. I wasn’t curious. Instead, I thought about being an artist myself. I wanted to know how it was done.
Like I said, I like the artifacts of the broadcasting; the things that are present but not intended. I like noise, chopped up pieces of music, distorted voices speaking in foreign languages. I see it all as one. I see the programs and the noises in between as a single listening experience.
While listening to your new album, Ufabulum, I keep hearing what sounds like church organs beneath all the breakbeats and rhythmic complexity. Just before this interview I was listening to it with the bells of a local church here in Gdansk in the back´ ground—it seemed to fit perfectly.
It sounds like musique concrète.
Absolutely. The radio is like a junior musique concrète development device, like the tape machine. It was an equally defining moment for me when I realized that I could record and play back my own voice on cassette—as well as the sounds from the cars on the street, ambulances, and my mother’s washing machine. I soon realized that I could easily build up a sound archive with my cassettes—the only limitation being the amount I owned. And again, it wasn’t all about the content. It was also about the cassette itself and the sounds you’d get when you played around with the play, the fastforward and the record buttons. There is no easier way to get pitch modulations than fucking with your cassette player. I’ve ruined many with that kind of abuse. But as a kid one rule always applied: testing things to destruction is probably the best way to test things. Einstürzende Neubauten’s N.U. Unruh has similar stories about his unconventional uses of contact microphones, like attaching them to subway ticket machines. Of course, the result was usually incorporated into a song.
I never met him, but I know his work of course. We seem to be likeminded. And in that respect I don’t see myself that much as a musician. I rather see myself . . .
The primary school I went to was affiliated with the local cathedral, so we’d be marched up there on occasion. I’d like to stress that I am not a Christian, but I did go on a weekly basis to take part in church things. I’ve forgotten everything about the services, except the organ. It absolutely annihilated all of the other impressions I might have had. It was the only thing I was interested in in the whole building. And it fascinates me to this day. If you’d ask me who’s my favorite composer, I’d probably say Olivier Messiaen— Complete Organ Works. I DJed once before a Keiji Haino performance at the Berghain. I played a couple of Messiaen’s organ compositions over the Funktion-One system and it was just mind-blowing . . . for me as well as for the audience.
I have so much admiration for Messiaen, but what I also find striking is that the potential of composing for organ has yet to be exhausted. I’ve worked on a church organ myself, and I will say right now: this is not a purely historical machine. It seems utterly conceivable somebody making contemporary music could do it exclusively with a church organ. You called it a machine . . .
It is a machine.
A strange thought occurred to me right now. Every time I apply for a visa and work permit in America I have to describe how I’m earning money. Then it’s up to the border authorities to classify me. When I finally get my visa, it often says: “Tom Jenkinson, Entertainer” or “Tom Jenkinson, Composer”. It makes me laugh when I read it, because it seems like such a horribly limiting description of what I do; I am as interested in the ways of doing things as the things themselves. As a musician, I have always used conventional instruments as much as I have field recordings or electronics or computers. I really don’t care about sound sources or methods as long as it fits to the big picture. Everything for me has musical potential.
One of the oldest machines that exist. I like imagining how it must have been for people living in the fourteenth century; listening to a massive cathedral organ must have been an otherworldly, futuristic experience.
Did you listen to a lot of musique concrète—Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry, Eliane Radigue?
Yes, but not as a child, obviously. As I said before the radio was my first contact with music. But I was never really interested in who was playing the music that I heard. For me it was always this box, not a particular artist or group or composer. It was about the airwaves. Radio was depersonalized. There was no artistic hierarchy. I never differentiated between quality and bad commercial music. But, of course, I became aware of these classifications later on through other people. You were never a fan of specific genres or musicians?
Not as a child. In fact, biographical details of the artists bored me 58
You know, Messiaen’s compositions for organ were composed in the 1940s but could have been written or played hundreds of years ago—technically speaking. I mean, what he did was historically determined, and it wouldn’t have been possible without, say, Bach and what came before him. But in a purely technical sense, the parameters given by the machine were the same at the time when he composed his organ works as they were in the fourteenth century. I sometimes ask myself how these instruments will be played in two hundred years. How will people write organ music in the future? I like to think about breaking conventions, social and logical. I imagine the music I make today like Messiaen organ compositions four hundred years before they happened. A vision of the future from an alternate reality?
With my music I try to steal from the future. I know about the difficulty inherent in claims like that, but sometimes I feel constrained by history. One of the most important things for me is to avoid any redundancy in my music—not only in historical terms, but also within my own work. So if I do something, I have to honestly be able to say it contains something new. Otherwise, I don’t see the point. ~
Max Dax and A.J. Samuels TALK TO JASON PIERCE
“I mean gone”
If consistency is the hobgoblin of human minds, we can all be thankful that Jason Pierce is from outer space. The Spiritualized architect and founding member of Spacemen 3 has regularly cheated death over the past decade, most recently fighting his way through chemotherapy to concoct what’s rumored to be Spiritualized’s final album. The sometimes brooding sometimes soaring Sweet Heart Sweet Light is mature, psychedelic pop with Pierce at his most repentant. [Jason Pierce pointing at a copy of Electronic Beats Magazine Fall 2011]: Ah, Björk. Haven’t had a chance to listen to the new album
yet. What’s the consensus?
AS: Taken as a whole, with the app and interactive elements, it’s certainly innovative . . .
The last time I saw Björk was at Alexander McQueen’s, um, I don’t really know what you’d call it . . . I guess it was a memorial of sorts—a gathering in St. Paul’s Cathedral. She was asked to sing, and she performed a Nina Simone song a cappella. For the occasion, it was absolutely amazing. I don’t know how else to describe it other than moving. [pointing at a stack of vinyl] What did you steal? MD: Well, it was supposed to be a few copies of the last Grinderman record, but I waited too long to pick them up, so I’ve ended up with a few copies of the new S.C.U.M.
I really like that last Grinderman record. MD: I think it’s brilliant.
We went on tour with Nick for a while. We ended up playing a festival he curated in Australia with The Saints and a bunch of other great bands. Nick played, Suicide was out there, Harmonia was out there, Silver Apples were on the date. It was also pretty cool for Australia, and as festivals go in general, kind of uncommon. AS: Sounds like ATP.
That’s exactly what it was. Nick’s one of the good guys, isn’t he? I mean, I don’t own that many of his records but I truly enjoyed some of the classic stuff he played on tour, like “Diana”. When most people play older songs, there’s a sense of revisiting something that they haven’t got anymore. Especially in England, with the whole trend of hailing everything as “classic”. It’s usually music that was created in the stupidity of youth. Come to think of it, you could almost call it the ATP ethos. It can be enjoyable, but there’s also something deeply wrong about it. MD: Figuring out how to deal with your artistic past—archiving or digging things back up—is a big challenge for lots of musicians. Bob Dylan or Miles Davis had been able to wade through their back catalogue and reinterpret it in a fresh and even risky way. I
Left: Jason Pierce, photographed in Berlin by Max Dax.
“The whole reason we do this is because it’s exciting. That’s rock and roll, isn’t it? It’s the most glorious, beautiful, powerful thing around. And it’s so easy to mess it up.”
always find the reinterpretation much more inspiring, because it leaves open the possibility of failure.
The alternative is trying to relive your youth. There’s something very unsavory about middle-aged men and women doing that so publically, especially in England, where it happens so often because there’s money to be had in it. I mean, Spiritualized did three Ladies and Gentlemen shows and we didn’t really earn much from it, because we spent everything on making it bigger and more glorious. But there was money there if we would have pursued that for the next year and a half. But why would we want to do that? Not wanting to make new music as a musician—to me that’s bizarre. AS: I read that you were in tears onstage during a recent performance of Ladies and Gentleman.
It was on a weekend in Scotland, and people properly come out there on weekends. They’d all taken their ecstasy, and the venue was kind of electric. It was like one of those snake handling churches where somebody would just stand up and shout, “I fucking love you!” and then sit back down again. We were playing an acoustic set with three gospel singers and a string quartet. The noise from the audience was actually greater than the noise from the band, but not like talking over the music or anything. It was more excited noise connected to the music. We started playing the title song and when we got to “Wise men say . . .” I looked around and saw all the gospel singers with tears streaming down their faces, because it was so glorious. But not in a hushed reverence—it was properly mad in there. AS: There’s been lots of talk about the ridiculous amount of money you’ve been offered to reform Spacemen 3 . . .
“Original” band members, “original” venues, “original” audience: it’s all an attempt to capture a moment that’s gone. I mean gone. The thing is that music evolves very, very slowly, even though people are constantly looking for something new. Most listeners pick up on big changes in style, but the actual progression is in tiny increments over long periods of time. Either way, it’s important to be oriented towards the future and making music for now, not just regurgitating old crap. MD: Don’t you think changes in music are more like paradigm shifts in science, brought about from the introduction of new technology and new tools to express new ideas within a different conceptual framework. Or at least reinterpret old ones? 62
It can be, sure. I don’t mean progression in terms of “improvement”. It’s more like evolution. But you still want to, like, encourage the change. But that’s perhaps where the comparison stops. I mean, it’s not about making a musical soup with a little bit of Stooges, a dash of Patsy Cline, a pinch of Willie Nelson; rather it’s about appropriating a feeling or artistic spirit. When I was a kid, it was still possible to catch Bo Diddley or Candi Staton playing in some tiny venue with a couple dozen people in the audience. Or I could go to some Motown revue thing at Butlins holiday camp resort. But I wouldn’t do that, because that was geared for people who had been listening to Motown when it came out, and were dead set on reliving something. Bo Diddley on the other hand was timeless. I think that’s the difference to catering to uncritical audiences, between wallowing in the past and moving on. I mean, who the fuck wants to be in the catering industry? Or do professional battle reenactments? It’s like those people who put on fake beards and buy fake guns to go reenact the Civil War on a Sunday. MD: Simon Reynolds wrote a whole book about it. Have you read Retromania?
No, but people have recommended it to me. When I went on tour with free jazz saxophonist Evan Parker, I asked him how much of what he does is “new” and how much is the Evan Parker that people want and expect. Clearly, there had to be a good deal of new, because so much of what he does is improvisational. He said it was fifty-fifty. I believe sometimes you have to force the music somewhere else; somewhere it doesn’t want to go. The whole reason we do this is because it’s exciting. That’s rock and roll, isn’t it? It’s the most glorious, beautiful, powerful thing around. And it’s so easy to mess it up. The difference between truly beautiful, heart wrenching music and crap is fractional. The difference between Patsy Cline and some god-awful bar band is maybe a slight change in tremolo. It’s the difference between Kraftwerk and what you hear piped out of your local shoe shop. AS: You can sometimes draw a line between psych bands that rely heavily on orchestration and those that do things free form. Spiritualized are often seen as doing more of the former, although there are long stretches of Sweet Heart Sweet Light that sound like the latter. How much of what you do these days is improvised?
That would be most of the album, actually. You see, I don’t write songs. I just come in with ideas and then we work it out as a band. Some people that talk about the “symphony in their head”, one
“Beefheart’s Clear Spot or Iggy’s Kill City or even Elvis Country were records that had to be made. That’s what I wanted to make: something that’s more fitting of my age. Though I thought it would be easier to make a pop record.”
that “just” needs to be recorded. That’s a very conceited notion of making music, one that doesn’t allow for mistakes or things going hopelessly wrong. Some of the best bits of music are the product of people seriously fucking up. For Sweet Heart Sweet Light maybe less so because I was really looking to make a classic pop record, but I still didn’t instruct anybody to play parts. Everybody just played into that sound. But that takes time. With the band, communication is like osmosis. It’s like with friends: you learn how to talk around your friends; you learn how to dress around your friends, or whatever. It’s easier to get to the heights without the needle going into the wrong area. A good chunk of the new album was pulled from old bits and ideas that had been rejected from records in the past—you know, bottom shelf stuff. No, not really. But “Too Late” was like that, which I wrote for Candi Staton. I had this bizarre idea that Marianne Faithfull would have done it somewhere down the line. “I Am What I Am” was written with Dr. John almost eight years ago. But this was all stuff that didn’t fit at the time. It was too pop. But they don’t sound now like they did back then. Without trying to sound romantic, I thought of this as the last Spiritualized album, and I wanted to tie up all these loose ends. There was no reason to feel embarrassed by them. I’m talking lots now, but also, in a weird way, you can hide behind abstraction and distortion and always claim that people just aren’t “hip” to something when you make stuff like that. You definitely can’t do that with pop. AS: Sweet Heart Sweet Light certainly doesn’t hide behind any fog of reverb or effect-driven atmosphere—at least not the unfinished version we heard.
Exactly. I thought for all these classic moments in rock and roll that have been written about to death, many of which I own on record, there are equally as many brilliant records that aren’t full of the stupidity and single-mindedness of youth. They have wisdom, musical wisdom. Beefheart’s Clear Spot or Iggy’s Kill City or even Elvis Country were records that had to be made. That’s what I wanted to make: something that’s more fitting of my age. Though I thought it would be easier to make a pop record. AS: Really? That’s surprising to hear from a perfectionist.
Well, I’m not trying to make a perfect record, just something that fits perfectly with where I’m at . . . not that I know exactly where that is, but I at least have some approximation. MD: Do you have any role models when it comes to aging with dignity? 64
I think there are a lot of musicians that age or had aged with dignity, but I don’t really have role models. For me, seeing The Sun Ra Arkestra and Peter Brötzmann have been some of the most inspiring musical moments of recent years. There’s also a lot of “new” music out there that’s just aping stuff from the past. I wanted to make a pop record that didn’t just sound like snippets of things you’ve already heard, but rather had its own identity. This isn’t the record of a young man that was writing on your walls and messing up your floor and kicking bottles over. AS: One of the paradoxes of pop culture is that the things that are embraced by the masses are the same things that people feel speak to them personally—a dynamic Spiritualized seems especially attuned to.
I suppose so, but at the end of this record I realized that I had made something that was almost for a single listener . . . I guess it’s just how pop music works. Whatever your intention, how the work affects people is always out of your hands. I mean, when I listen to “Sister Ray”, I’m not thinking about sailors and prostitutes. MD: Do you remember your dreams?
Some, yeah. But I’m not particularly mystical. I like science. Part of the reason why this record took as long as it did was because I had been doing a chemotherapy type thing, where the drugs they gave me were worse than what I was actually suffering from. The dreams that I had during the chemo were so closely connected to real life that there was a good six months of difficulty in telling the two apart. But dreams for me almost never have any deeper meaning. AS: You’ve told us about crying to your own music—when was the last time you cried to somebody else’s?
I do it loads. I feel myself welling up all the time. Not properly crying though. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage because I don’t listen to other people’s music when I make records, because I can only hear production values; how somebody records a snare or sibilance levels . . . I’ve only just started listening to music again, so I can’t report on any crying in the last couple weeks. But it’s always the same songs that get me again and again. “Day by Day” by Jimmy Scott, for example. I guess that’s an obvious one, but when I play it for somebody else and they’ve never heard it before, I usually get emotional because of their reaction. ~
CONV ERSA TIONS EB 2/2012
Gudrun Gut TALKS TO Vince Clarke and Martin L. Gore
“It’s a question of format”
Martin L. Gore: Hello Gudrun! Long
time, no speak. How are you?
Gudrun Gut: Guten Tag, Martin. MLG: Is it a normal thing for you to do interviews on Skype? GG: When I was doing promotion
together with Antye [Greie] for Baustelle, Skype was our main medium of communicating with the press. Antye lives on an island in Finland, so when I would meet a journalist for an interview or promo in Berlin, she would always be part of the conversation via Skype. I don’t like to travel for the sake of giving interviews anymore, do you?
MLG: To Finland? No. GG: Vince, are you there? Vince Clarke: Yeah, I’m sitting next to Martin. We’re in Bel Air, Los Angeles in some posh hotel. I forgot the name. We’ve been hearing LAPD sirens since this morning ... GG: Martin lives in Santa Barbara,
and you live in Maine on the East Coast. I heard that you guys were constantly exchanging files while recording Ssss, because you were
Mutual influence is a funny thing. Especially across generations. Ideas and methods reinterpreted by their originators through the filter of those they’ve inspired can be a source of creative evolution, but it can also be a recipe for (result of?) creative dead ends. Since their last collaboration over thirty years ago on Speak and Spell, Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore and Yazoo and Erasure’s Vince Clarke have teamed up once again on Ssss to explore an outgrowth of their musical legacy: minimal techno. Here, in conversation with noise/glitch-queen and Monika Enterprise chief Gudrun Gut, the pair offers insight into the process of (re)discovering a genre they helped inspire and instilling it with compositional rigor. Left: Martin L. Gore, photographed in L.A. by Austin Young.
each recording in separate studios. Was it ever an option for you to book studio time together? And would collaborating again after all these years have even been possible without the Internet? MLG: We actually never discussed it because we knew we had the capability to do the file sharing. We started working like that and we soon realized how easy it was, so there was no need to change our working patterns. GG: Sending and receiving audio
files is very convenient, also for seeing how the other person works in a solitary environment. It doesn’t only lead to results; it’s also really insightful.
MLG: And it’s exciting, too. While I worked on a track, I didn’t know what Vince was doing with the same track thousands of miles east. When you work together in the studio, after a while, you know exactly how the other person works. This way, it remained inspiring for both of us. GG: How much did you tweak what
the other person sent? Was there any radical deleting or muting?
VC: I think Martin and I have
a very similar idea of what the term “collaborate” stands for: in essence, it’s about working on something together. As a matter of course, you’re not only allowed but are actually obliged to object when you don’t like what the other person sent. Of course, we had discussions, but they were totally different to the kind of disputes you get when you physically record in the same space over an extended period of time. It’s probably also a matter of age. When I was twenty, I thought I knew everything, and as a result I was sometimes dictatorial. But now I’m fifty and I know that I don’t know anything. When we argued about a track, it was always part of a more openminded discussion. MLG: We certainly came to different results, because working seperately, you end up with a very different form of narration. We were fully aware that we were communicating in a way that was unthinkable only a couple of years ago—as unthinkable, say, as painting a picture together while being in two different cities. GG: What did you do in the mean-
time while waiting for feedback from each other? Vince, when you’d bounce back a file to Martin, EB 2/2012
would you continue working or would you, like, go shopping? VC: I’m constantly working on dif-
ferent projects at the same time. It was an ongoing thing to receive material from one project—like homework that I had to do—and then be transferring another work in progress to Martin. Honestly, I love working like this. I guess you’d call it multi-tasking. It’s a good way to avoid writer’s block, simply because when I felt stuck in a VCMG track, I’d switch projects and work on finding a solution to a totally different problem. MLG: All we knew was that we wanted to make a good old techno record. GG: Hey Mr. DJ! MLG: [laughing] But you are right, Gudrun! I like simple concepts. And for both of us it was the first time that we worked on a dance album. GG: But why right now? The record
sounds—in a positive sense—as if it could have been released in the nineties. You’d not necessarily hear a difference.
VC: What happened was I was asked to do a remix for Plastikman. I had heard of Richie Hawtin before, but I never really listened to his music. Getting into his sound got me interested in the idea of techno. So I dove into a website called Beatport and listened to loads of it. I was amazed by the sounds some of these producers were using and how much attention they paid to even the smallest details. In general, it was fascinating to see how different people manipulated electronic music to maximum effect with an often minimalistic approach. GG: So love to detail and the ten-
dency to tweak the tiniest bits of sound is what attracted you to techno?
VC: In the case of Plastikman, the first thing I noticed was how minimal it was. Honestly, I first asked myself what it’s all supposed to be
about. But the more I researched, the more I was drawn into the genre. So I started to work on some stuff, and then Martin joined in, and then we went on together from there. MLG: When I DJ, I always play techno records. It all started when you took me to the Tresor and the WMF and all the other clubs in Berlin in the early nineties. GG: I remember. MLG: That was my formative tech-
no period I’d say. Unfortunately, in America nobody likes techno, even though electronic music in general is so in fashion right now. The whole DJ culture is big, but it’s not a techno thing. Deadmau5 is huge at the moment. Skrillex, too. I really like that electronic music is now accepted as mainstream. With the exception of the early eighties, it was never considered “real” music. Even with Depeche Mode I remember countless interviews in the US where we had to defend ourselves for not playing “real” instruments. The electronic music boom has made this a thing of the past now, and to me, it feels like an evolutionary process. You probably see it the same: When you did your pioneering work with Einstürzende Neubauten and Malaria!, you accepted noise as part of the sonic architecture. Nowadays, everybody incorporates it into their music— but back then . . . GG: That’s absolutely right.
Right: One band, two studios. One shoot, two portraits. Vince Clarke, photographed in L.A. by Austin Young.
MLG: Where are you recording it? GG: Out in the country, in the
midst of untouched nature. I bought this little country house in Brandenburg just outside Berlin.
MLG: You mentioned this . . . GG: I feel good recording music and being surrounded by nature. Discovering nature has been the new thing in my life. MLG: Do you prefer the daylight situation in the studio where you can see through the window or the bunker feeling with no daylight at all? GG: I don’t care. As long as I know
that I can step out and be surrounded by fresh air, because when you’re working on music you’re in a different world . . .
VC: My studio in Maine is beautiful. I like to look out the window when I need to refocus . . . but that certainly won’t inspire me to write songs about trees. I guess it calms me down. Of course, I know that I’m detached from any “scene” when at work in my studio. But then again, I’m not trying to contribute to any scene with the music I make. GG: I would say the art I make and
the life I lead are pretty intimately connected. It’s never detached. I actually know plenty of producers who listen to a lot of other people’s music when making their own stuff. Do you?
MLG: How’s your label Monika doing?
MLG: Not at all.
GG: Oh, we’re bankrupt.
GG: Good man.
MLG: After listening to a lot of techno, I got this idea that you have to keep it four-on-the-floor. [laughing] That’s the defining parameter when it comes to techno. I don’t need to listen to other people’s music after having understood this simple but important rule.
GG: No, but we’re going through
rough times. Running a record company has become a very expensive hobby, you know. But I use the freedom running Monika gives me to the full extent. We just brought out an album by Barbara Morgenstern, and I’m working on a new record of my own at the moment—and nobody dares to bother me.
GG: Would you say it makes it eas-
ier to produce because functional music is built up on pre-defined
rhythmical patterns? VC: I discovered techno quite late. But yes, it was relieving to realize that I didn’t have to write words or a catchy melody to bring across a feeling or an emotion. From that moment on, I saw techno as a big, huge sound sculpture that allowed me to tweak and twist sounds wherever and whenever I felt it was appropriate. That’s what allowed the emotion back into the music. GG: So it wasn’t functional in the
length on each side and three breaks in-between. I’m actually happy that Ssss works as an album on both vinyl and CD, but I’m not surprised. Let me ask you one question, Gudrun: How do you deal with time restrictions when putting together the dramaturgical arc for your Oceanclub radio show? GG: Funny you ask. I recently
became desperate when I wanted to do a special feature about Richie Hawtin’s M-nus label. It all sounded the same . . .
sense that you wanted to make people dance?
MLG: How did you deal with it?
VC: It’s funny—obviously I like
GG: [laughing] We canceled it.
people dancing, and I was especially happy to see my son dancing to VCMG. He’s actually more of a rocker, but he liked these particular tracks. GG: One of the ideas behind techno
is to offer an “infinite” rhythm and sound experience for dancing—in extreme cases, it can be for days. You could have recorded a thirtyhour record like Terre Thaemlitz . . . even though that had little to do with functionality.
What did you guys do after you finished Ssss?
MLG: I went straight from this proj-
ect to writing songs for Depeche. And, of course, I approached it with the new experiences I’ve gathered with VCMG.
VC: After making instrumental music it suddenly felt very easy to write pop songs again. It felt easy to reconnect with lyrics and singing.
VC: Well, we limited ourselves in that regard. We recorded everything with the idea of putting out a record and not a number of disconnected tracks. We approached it like in the good old days. It’s a question of format. Martin and I come from a generation that grew up with vinyl . . .
GG: I assume you’ve probably heard
MLG: It’s just ingrained in us. I
Martin, you showed me your huge collection of MP3s . . .
but I didn’t have it in mind when we had to present Mute with a name. We settled on VCMG in a ten-minute transatlantic conference call with Daniel Miller. He particularly liked it because it’s also a synth acronym for Volume Control Modulation Generator.
MLG: Of course I do buy MP3s
GG: And what about the album
quite liked it when we were limited to twenty-four minutes for each side with Depeche Mode.
GG: Yes, that’s nice. But come on
on a daily basis. I’m fully aware that these are modern times. But I still fondly remember the beauty of limitation. We always used to record songs knowing that we would listen to them within the boundaries of vinyl: with a break in-between. Or, in the case with VCMG, a double album of equal
childlike snakes. Again, there’s a reason. During the recording process we sometimes had tracks that were pure white noise. Vince would always label them “hissss”. That’s it, really. The only thing we were concerned about was that the snakes shouldn’t look too rock. We all know the iconic quality of snakes in the hard rock context . . . Tattooed snakes, for instance, would have been too much. That’s why we wanted to keep them innocent and childlike. GG: Who painted them? MLG: Honestly, I forgot. Mute took
care of it and we just picked the image we liked most. Same thing with Stefan Betke who mastered the record. We knew what we wanted, and again it was Daniel Miller who suggested Stefan to do the mastering. Of course, I know his work as Pole, so it was again a five-minute decision in a transatlantic conference call. [Skype connection starts to fail, five minutes are spent talking on top of each other. After brief troubleshooting attempts, everyone agrees to one final question.]
of Alva Noto’s and Blixa Bargeld’s collaboration, ANBB? I even thought about calling Antye Greie’s and my project “AGGG”, but she thought it was too detached and too impersonal, so we ended up with Greie Gut Fraktion.
GG: I just read in an American
MLG: I know Alva Noto’s record,
MLG: That’s a funny theory.
title, Ssss? Does that have any connotation to Germany or to the War? MLG: No, no, wrong path. It’s
the sound snakes make, a hiss. To make it even more explicit we chose a snake painting for the sleeve. They’re actually very
Left: Gudrun Gut, photographed in Berlin by Hans Martin Sewcz.
science magazine that humans experience the highest state of happiness just before the age of fifty. Only in hindsight can we classify past happiness as “less” happy. What do you think about that?
Obviously it very charmingly opens up new vistas about aging. When exactly does the state of happiness begin?
GG: Around forty-eight, I think it
was. Of course, some people experience it a little earlier or a little later. The idea is that serotonin— the so-called “happy hormone”—is released in larger quantities to ease the pain that comes with aging.
MLG: They should sell it as a drug
to younger people. Then we’d all be so happy.
GG: They already do: it’s called
Stefan Betke talks TO Wolfgang voigt
“A dense fog in a dark forest”
Wolfgang Voigt: People often ask
me about my relationship towards nature and forests, and because I’m tired of answering these questions, I thought I’d take the chance to ask you about it Stefan: You’ve released two albums with explicit nature references in the titles— Waldgeschichten [“Stories from the Forest”] or Steingarten [“Stone garden”]. What’s your connection to nature?
Stefan Betke: [Laughing] Well,
Steingarten is an interesting example. The photography on the cover is of Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, located in one of the most beautiful regions of the German Alps. Honestly, I would say my love of nature is straightforward: nature is where I can breathe and relax best, and the further I get from the city, the more my thoughts decelerate . . . even though I still love big cities too. It’s the same today as when I was a child. I love the mountains; I love hiking; I love the forests; and I love resting on a tree trunk and observing my surroundings, and I have no problem spending hours in the car or in a train to reach my destination. But to be honest, that’s
From Kraftwerk’s travel obsession and the endless poetics of Manuel Göttsching’s E2E4 to Atom™’s overt Schubert references on Winterreise, German Romanticism has been an enduring presence in electronic music. So too for Berlin clicks and cuts/dubtechnoist Stefan Betke and minimal techno godfather Wolfgang Voigt. Over the past fifteen years, both artists have forged a connection to the sublime in nature and the seduction of the German forests— associations made explicit in lyrical German album titles and cover art. Here, Voigt and Betke discuss the reciprocal reflection of the digital and natural and the pitfalls of merging artistic and national identity. Right: Stefan Betke in Berlin. All photos by Andrea Stappert.
not the only reason why I name my albums the way I do. It’s no coincidence that I use my mother tongue when it comes to album titles. By calling an album Waldgeschichten instead of Stories from the Forest, I define and locate myself and my roots with greater precision. I’m Stefan Betke, a musician from Germany. That’s what and who I am. Bizarrely, some people actually tried to interpret nationalistic tendencies into my music because of that, which is nonsense. I mean, would you suspect an Italian writer to be nationalistic just because he or she writes in Italian? WV: I’ve been confronted over and
over again with accusations like that throughout my whole career. I just tune it out.
SB: It still makes me angry. People
don’t seem to understand that trying to define your identity is partially linked to the language you speak; the language you dream and think in. An incredibly important aspect of making music is about defining an artistic space.
WV: When I released my GAS
trilogy some fifteen years ago, I
“I see a different aesthetic level emerging when I combine the narcotic and the mathematic—one that’s characterized by my new interest in non-nature related fields.” Wolfgang Voigt
WV: I’ve meditated quite a bit on
wasn’t making a political statement. There were two reasons for the name GAS: First, the beginning- and endlessness; the amorphous structure of the music seems to emanate like gas. And second, the association of a dense fog in a dark forest. Of course, I was also experimenting with the romantic cliches and myths of the German forest. Although, in my opinion, the music stands for itself. To me this still seems to be a natural and consistent approach towards music, wherever you’re from. Making music about forests and childhood memories had a lot to do with connecting myself to a world of my own associations and ur-aesthetic experiences—some of the most formative ones.
the forest in the past, but at the moment, I feel a similar attraction towards the Internet. In a sense, it’s like a huge forest too. The Internet also offers its own forms of ecstatic experience and infinity . . . not to mention the pure density of information. I’m currently working on an unofficial follow-up to GAS titled Rückverzauberung [“Re-enchantment”]. Here, my approach to making ambient music has become increasingly abstract—more amorphous and unbridled, rhythmically speaking. I’m trying to infiltrate various kinds of musical and visual material—audio samples, photo scans— imbuing them with a new kind of magic. It’s actually not so different from what I attempted to do with forest themes, but more free and radical than ever before.
SB: Physical places can be
extremely inspiring. I’m sure you know that dub music has also been an incredibly important influence for me. It might sound strange, but I often view the vastness and architecture of the forest as a grid with smaller units defined by particular trees—which is also how I envision the spatiality of dub.
WV: And what do you get from
meditating on the forest as a grid, of being in the middle of it?
SB: I feel like I’m doing something
Wolfgang Voigt’s ambient meditations on the German forest, from top to bottom: Nah und Fern (Kompakt, 2008); Zauberberg (Mille Plateaux, 1997); Königsforst (Mille Plateaux, 1999).
SB: It’s hard to describe, but when
I look into the sky it sometimes explodes . . . All I know is that the forest for me is a space of vital importance—not to mention for the survival of our planet.
Right: Voigt at Kompakt HQ in Cologne.
very similar in terms of reinterpreting a given musical space. It’s important to stress the fact that dub “space”—like any musical or artistic genre—should not be understood as confined to specific elements. The same goes for physical space. I mean, Berlin after the fall of the Wall had empty spaces and places that were extremely important for inspiring new perspectives, new visions, new art. Physical space gets recast, or reenchanted, as you say. Using dub methods to create space—like I do in my music—is inspired by looking at details in an unfinished city
as well as watching a green valley. The beautiful thing about having nature as a point of reference is that art is endless like nature is endless. Like Sun Ra said: space is the place. And since we’re again on the topic of nature: What was the idea behind naming your new project with Jörg Burger “Mohn” [“Poppy”]? WV: First, I agree that dub “space” is unlimited. Also, if you see dub as a science of echo and reverb, then it makes sense to see the mountains as the original dub “space”. In regards to Mohn, let me remind you that I like being seen as a man of the now, and of contradiction and conflict. I love seeing something abstract or digital in nature, and vice versa. I associate “Mohn” with all things slow and narcotic. Of course, I wouldn’t object to the association with opium dens. At the same time, Mohn is about music that’s extremely mathematic and complex. I see a different aesthetic level emerging when I combine the narcotic and the mathematic—one that’s characterized by my new interest in non-nature related fields, especially the digits “1” and “0” that define our digital world. For me using pure Ableton or Photoshop plug-ins can lead to really interesting results without combining them with anything analog. I think it all depends how you use them. It’s not important if I work with analog or digital material. I always oscillate between strictly mathematical structures and wild
“I think the biggest temptation always lies in the music that you’ve already made. There’s something strangely seductive about repeating yourself in order to stay true to your own legacy. But you have to keep that in check—to refine what you’ve done in the past without copying it.” Stefan Betke
unquantized improvisation—playing my sampler with my tongue like Jimi Hendrix his guitar.
that my personal development would have been very different growing up in a smaller German city. Admittedly, my uncle was the janitor of the Cologne Music Conservatory during the sixties and seventies, and he would always let me in when jazz or classical concerts were scheduled—Manfred Schoof, György Ligeti, Mauricio Kagel, Bach, Stockhausen . . . But I wouldn’t call these experiences truly “formative”. Life is what you make out of it, for the most part. It’s the active part, not the passive that defines you.
SB: That’s what the whole digital
evolution is about: adding new instruments and creating new artistic possibilities. I think you can “play” the computer like Hendrix played guitar. Of course, how you work artistically is connected to your specific background. Aside from influence of jazz and the avant-garde, I see myself in the Rhineland tradition of Stockhausen and Can, and I’ve learned a lot from West German musical history. But it’s still only a foundation. Certainly, things would have taken a really different direction if I had never seen Conny Plank’s studio or early DAF performances in Dusseldorf. I imagine I probably wouldn’t have become a musician. Of course, I’m not interested in imitating anybody, but whenever I’m intrigued by something, I try to research and learn as much as possible about it. Music especially.
WV: I’m the same. Everybody has
their own musical influences and I wouldn’t be the person I am without having been obsessed by other people’s music over the years. But at the same time, I’m convinced that techno would have existed without Kraftwerk, Can or Stockhausen, even though some of techno’s older protagonists—myself included—have built up their vision of music through knowledge of their music. But I’d doubt
SB: I would say that, excluding
Above: Pole’s Trilogy 1, 2, 3 (Kiff SM, 1998 - 2000). Pronounced “Eins, Zwei, Drei”, Betke recorded the albums using, amongst other things, a broken Waldorf 4-Pole filter. This was the source of the unpredictable hissing and crackling that would eventually become an important part of his trademark dub-techno.
dub, I’ve been influenced by three main schools of electronic music: Rhineland, Berlin and Detroit. All three were important because they stood for larger ideas. So, when I started making music I always had a bigger picture in mind, even though I try to keep my references relatively inconspicuous. It was more an attitude that I inherited from my freethinking predecessors. More than anything else, they taught me to believe in myself.
WV: I respect my teachers, but I’ve
become a grown-up in the meantime. And that kind of artistic maturity means that I’m responsible for what I’m doing—and no one else. At the same time I feel committed to the vanguard, to the future. It’s interesting to note that today, since record sales have dramatically declined, it doesn’t even make sense anymore trying to go
with trends. Try it out—it doesn’t work. For a couple of years now, I’ve been attempting to free myself more and more from the business side of things simply because artistic truthfulness is so much more important than sales expectations. And to be perfectly honest, it’s been liberating. Envisioning the future is one of the most beautiful things you can do as a musician. I mean, I’m fully aware that I probably can’t invent entirely new sounds or approaches like Stockhausen, because somehow all sounds have been invented already. But I’m sure I can still invent new music by finding new combinations of sounds, or reinventing and re-enchanting them. SB: I think the biggest temptation
always lies in the music that you’ve already made. There’s something strangely seductive about repeating yourself in order to stay true to your own legacy. But you have to keep that in check—to refine what you’ve done in the past without copying it by adding new motifs and getting rid of other pieces. I describe it as a basic vocabulary that I have from my musical socialization and the paths I’ve taken in life. My goal is to add to that vocabulary and find new ways of synchronizing it with enhanced style and method. But the goal always remains the same: to create something new, despite the limitations of what’s already been done. You can’t see that as a burden— you should see it as a chance. ~
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A Week in the Life
hours Kraftwerk, NYC Interviews: A.J. SAMUELS And Max Dax PHOTOGRAPHY: luci luX And Max Dax Installation view of Kraftwerk â€“ Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at MoMA PS1, 2012.
Few bands cast a shadow as long (or wide) as electronic pioneers Kraftwerk. The influence of the band’s trail-blazing retro-futurism, conceptual precision and electronic minimalism is difficult to overestimate, extending beyond numerous genres of electronic music into the broader realm of art and popular culture. And the art world seems to have caught on. This past April, New York City’s Museum of Modern Art presented Kraftwerk Retrospective 12345678, a series of eight sold-out 3-D concerts, one for each Kraftwerk album, beginning with 1974’s Autobahn and ending with 2003’s Tour de France Soundtracks. The result was an audiovisual tour de force that put the “werk” into Gesamtkunstwerk— with peerless kraft.
T U E S D AY Klaus Biesenbach Director of MoMA PS1 and Chief Curator at Large at The Museum of Modern Art Honestly, I don’t really know anything about the music world— I just know a lot of musicians. So when I first contacted Kraftwerk in 1998 for the Berlin Biennale, while I was working with Christoph Schlingensief, I had no idea what to expect. I think at the time, Kraftwerk were at a point in their career when they had yet to decide if they really wanted to commit to 82
the art world. The thing is, 1998 was also the height of the Love Parade in Berlin, and the organizers also asked them to take part, which they didn’t do. But I think maybe they were scared off because we both asked at the same time. It took a while, but they answered our call in 2007. That’s when we first started putting this in the works. What we’ve done in the MoMA atrium is pretty much recreate Kraftwerk’s Dusseldorf-based Kling Klang studio, down to very minute details. Attending every show and being so caught up in the process, I’ve experienced the retrospective in a very specific way: The first night I was completely exhilarated; the second night I was irritated by the rhythm
and duration; the third night I was completely addicted. It was like being on a bicycle, cruising along, eventually having to go uphill, and then coasting back down again and hitting your rhythm. Then it’s in your body. When I did the interview with Jon Pareles for The New York Times together with Ralf [Hütter] the word “tangible” kept coming up. Ralf said that when he speaks during concerts, he does so from inside the music. For the Trans-Europe Express show, they performed “The Hall of Mirrors” which is all about Echo and Narcissus. These are the audio and visual reflections that are both sent and received, like a radio station transmitting and receiving, an artist looking and being looked at. It’s an excellent metaphor of what’s been done here at the MoMA, which has cost a considerable amount of money to produce and involved an incredible amount of building and restructuring. My colleague from the Whitney thought that the exhibition space had already existed. No, this was created to bring people 84
into the image, into the cube. And within the cube, people are inside the cone of 3-D projection, which extends from the screen onstage to the projector in the back. Both the band and the viewers are literally inside the art. You can’t stand on the side. I told people when they watch, they have to be in the cone. During the first dress rehearsal, when the sub-bass came on during “Kometenmelodie 1”, several light fixtures started rattling. We took the frequency out, because I thought the building would collapse—I thought the paintings would fall off the walls. We ended up solving the problem of course, but it gave us a scare. The fact of the matter is that when you’re curating, especially doing a retrospective, you give up your own personality. It’s the strangest thing. When I was doing Marina Abramovic, I had to completely dive into her world and live her speed and velocity. Or better: stillness and duration. It’s an intimate experience with a work of art. It means you have to be completely
MoMA’s Chief Curator at Large, Klaus Biesenbach. Above: Neon Lights, USA. The muted glow of an American flag grid in Times Square.
Previous page: Is that a vocoder in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? Stefan Pfaffe’s neoprene-clad doppelganger bending the matrix in the MoMA’s reception hall.
available. So I’ve been listening to Kraftwerk straight for the past four months. You know, with every artist, there’s a first work where the nucleus of all future ideas is contained. And that’s extremely important to know when creating a retrospective. Here it’s Autobahn, for me. That’s subjective, of course. I think Kraftwerk have been artists from the very beginning, but they were kidnapped by their mainstream success. Of course, everybody is happy to be kidnapped by success, but it makes it more difficult to recognize who and what they are. Still, in the sixties and seventies their studio was right next door to Gerhard Richter’s. They could have drilled a hole in the wall and been right there. But honestly, not a lot of people have understood the extent to which Kraftwerk are and were artists, in Germany especially. Of course, I assume that people like Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke got it. Joseph Beuys got it. Werner Herzog and Fassbinder got it. Katharina Sieverding got
it. But not many others. For me, Kraftwerk are very much children of the BRD, the Federal Republic of Germany. I am like a grandchild of the country, and Kraftwerk are father figures. The BRD, like the GDR, dissolved—it doesn’t exist anymore, but artistically speaking, it was all about Kraftwerk, Heinrich Böll and Joseph Beuys. It used to be that Germany had the first truly active Green Party, and culturally—in art and music—this played an important role. Beuys sang “Sonne statt Reagan”, and there were massive anti-nuclear protests, especially against the stationing of Pershing missiles. Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz featured Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity”, of course. I see all this in a very specific historical context, but also in an artistic one. The incredible thing is how Kraftwerk have been capable of not just updating but upgrading their material over the course of their careers. Somehow it seems like people haven’t understood that the retro-
Juan Atkins, a founding father of Detroit techno.
Above: Transportive in image, transportive in sound. The MoMA reception on the evening of Kraftwerk’s performance of TransEurope Express.
spective is an exhibition and not just a concert. People just don’t get that, and it’s been very hard to get people into a different mindset. It’s like with movies—film was the leading art form of the twentieth century, and it still hasn’t really made it into art museums. Museums can be so slow. With a time delay, art arrives with cinema, which is something I’m trying to push. I did Doug Aitken at MoMA which was big, cinematic images with no sound, then I did Pipilotti Rist, which was cinematic images with sound, then came Marina Abramovic, which was cinematic image with sound and live performance. And now it’s gone one step further. Kraftwerk is the fourth step. But there’s a fifth step, and I’m not sure what it is yet. A few months ago I went to the Cologne Cathedral to check out Gerhard Richter’s stained-glass works. And all I could think is what it must have been like a few hundred years ago to come from some mud-hut, some tiny town with no electricity, no heating,
and see this incredible thing with image and sound. That’s what I imagined seeing and listening to Kraftwerk to be.
WEDNESDAY Juan Atkins Electronic Musician, founding father of Detroit techno The first time I heard Kraftwerk was on The Electrifying Mojo’s radio show in Detroit in the late seventies. This is when FM radio was still young, and there were only, like, three stations. There really was no specific format for FM radio at the time—DJs were allowed to do what they wanted. You heard them play entire albums when they felt like it, which couldn’t be more different from today’s radio format. Mojo used to play “Trans-Europe Express” and “We Are The Robots” pretty regularly, but the first time I heard EB 2/2012
“The Robots” I just froze. My jaw dropped. It just sounded so new and fresh. I mean, I had already been doing electronic music at the time, but the results weren’t so pristine—the sound of computers talking to each other. This sounded like the future, and it was fascinating because I had just started learning about sequencers and drum programs. In my mind, Kraftwerk were, like, consultants to Roland and Korg and stuff because they had these sounds before any of the machines even appeared on the market. Needless to say, Kraftwerk definitely influenced my sound, because when I heard their music I automatically new I had to tighten up what I was doing; I had to make it cleaner and better— though not necessarily more minimal because what I was doing was pretty minimal for the time. A lot of people think that I was copying Kraftwerk directly, but that’s absolutely not the case. For me, they weren’t any more of an influence than, say, funk—P-Funk especially. I actually had a chance to talk to Florian [Schneider] when we played Tribal Gathering together a few years back. We met up behind the Detroit stage and chatted a bit, and I was really surprised to learn that Kraftwerk were hugely influenced by James Brown. Of course, P-Funk was made up of at least half the JB’s first line-up, so somehow Detroit techno was a very natural, even “fated” progression. I mean, there were other funky electronic bands around—Tangerine Dream and Gary Numan and all that—but none were as funky as Kraftwerk. I mean, you could actually play the stuff on black radio, and that wasn’t a small feat. You could go to an all black club in Detroit and when they put on “Pocket Calculator”, everybody just went totally crazy. Kraftwerk’s minimal lyrics were part of their overall concept and definitely contributed to their special blend. I can say for sure that they put Germany on the map for me. When I was a kid in school in America, the only thing we learned about Germany was World War II. Also, I always had this impression—independently of
the war—that Germany was very logical, very machine-oriented. And without a doubt, when I went to the Man-Machine show at the MoMA retrospective, I could definitely hear the way they combined the machine-driven syncopations with a more human take on improvisation. And the visuals were phenomenal. I had only heard after the fact that Ralf Hütter had played an important role in choosing both François K and myself to do our DJ sets for the Kraftwerk exhibit in the geodesic dome at PS1. I’m proud to have been a part of it.
WEDNESDAY Ruza “Kool Lady” Blue Producer, Promoter and founder of legendary club the Roxy, NYC’s first hip-hop venue I originally came to New York in 1981 from London to run a fashion store for Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood called Worlds End 2 in Soho. At the time I had been living in the Chelsea Hotel and fashion and music for me were always intimately connected, something that both Malcom and Vivienne understood very well. In the eighties, the burgeoning hip-hop scene wasn’t really that organized, and there was no hip-hop scene in downtown Manhattan. But there were DJs, MCs, B-Boys, B-Girls, dancers, and graf artists scattered all over the place up in the Bronx, so I basically went up there and brought them all downtown, and organized them. They had no idea where this journey would take them, nor did I. I had first been exposed to hip-hop through watching Afrika Bambaataa and The Rock Steady Crew open for Bow Wow Wow at The Ritz, which was a show Malcom had actually organized. That was when my mouth dropped and hip-hop replaced punk for me in terms of main musical interests. In the early days it was all so experimental, and it was never about making money or bling-bling, or shareholder meetings, but more EB 2/2012
about unity and fun and dancing to incredible music. My contribution was, I guess, combining all of these elements into the electronic dance club context, and it worked. It was mad. You could feel an overwhelming sense that things were shifting into a new era of explosive creative freedom and change in NYC. Mashup culture was born and DIY was the name of the game. You could do anything and no one would judge you. The hip-hop and downtown scenes mixed fantastically; like the perfect cocktail and a brilliant sense of humor. I had this gut feeling it would work and after a short spell promoting parties at Club Negril, which got closed down, I had the idea to move the scene and start the Roxy parties, which ended up being game-changing. I always wanted to open a massive dance club in NYC on the euro-electro music tip— people dancing to the sounds of Kraftwerk, Ultravox, and the like. But I wanted to do it with a twist. I was particularly inspired by the blitz-electro-new-romantic scene in
London and what DJ Rusty Egan was doing, but I didn’t want it to be so exclusive. I think the Roxy was the first racially diverse electronic dance club ever, and it became the blueprint for so many important clubs. We had everyone from punks like John Lydon, to serious couture fashionistas like Carolina Herrera, to Madonna, to twelve-year-old BBoys, DJs like Bambaataa, to Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Mick Jagger, Leigh Bowery, Debbie Harry, Julian Schnabel, and the ubiquitous Glenn O’Brien. And then there was all the people from the Bronx . . . All barriers came down and there were absolutely no age limits. We shunned Studio 54’s elitist policy, and we knew we were on the right track because the juxtaposition of these diverse sets of people was so mind blowing. At the time, hip-hop culture was all embracing: no one cared if you were a tranny, had blue hair or wore spandex or a Sex Pistols t-shirt. This was the party where white people first saw all four elements of hip-hop culture show-
cased in one place in downtown NYC and in a massive dance club environment. There are so many stories to tell, I can’t think of them all . . . I remember booking Malcolm McLaren to perform his hit “Buffalo Gals” at the club, and he went missing the night of his show. He had serious stage fright, but I managed to locate him in a bar somewhere in Midtown and convince him to come to the club and that things would be all right. It turned out great in the end, of course. Prior to that, I managed to convince Malcolm to give me a copy of The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle to show at the club. That was the first time the film was ever shown in America, and what a pivotal night that was; when hip-hop met punk face-toface. The right chemistry was there so I ended up screening the film every other week for a laugh. I felt like a mad scientist mixing and mashing up cultures to create a new conversation. Kraftwerk were very, very important to my club. Everyone danced to
Previous page: Trees with lights in front of the GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza—where else? Above: Kraftwerk’s technological psychedelicism was on parade at the accompanying installation in MoMA PS1. Here a still from the hallucinatory video to “Numbers”. Left: Reflections from the twentieth floor. The New Yorker offices in the Condé Nast Building, Times Square.
Kraftwerk—and I mean everyone. I made sure their songs were played every week, and it quickly became part of the soundtrack. I find it extremely difficult to rate their output, because virtually everything has been so influential and so high quality. But if I had to choose, I would say Radio-Activity, TransEurope Express, and Computer World are my absolute favorites. I’ve also had the chance to see them live a couple of times, most recently at the MoMA retrospective. All I could think is how timeless and relevant this band is, especially in today’s Apple computer culture. And I loved the idea of wearing the 3-D glasses. I attended TransEurope Express together with Afrika Bambaataa, and it brought back a lot of good memories of the Roxy and “Planet Rock”. Of course, “Numbers” and “Trans-Europe Express” were classic Roxy anthems. Musically, I am not sure you can overestimate Kraftwerk’s influence. Like hip-hop, Kraftwerk is everywhere and still miles ahead of their time. For me, Kraftwerk was 90
Above: Showroom dummies, 52nd Street and 6th Avenue.
the perfect mash-up band as far as representing the future goes. And they had a message. Even though their lyrics were minimal, they remain incredibly poignant, even today. “Radioactivity” is perhaps the perfect example.
THURSDAY Afrika Bambaataa Producer, DJ, and founding member of Soulsonic Force and founder of The Zulu Nation It’s always interesting for me to see a crowd dancing to music that’s “foreign”, especially if the lyrics are in a foreign language. Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango, Salsa, Falco—you name it. That’s why when I first picked up a copy of the English version Trans-Europe Express, I made sure to pick up a German copy too. I love the crossing over. That’s what electro-funk was all about in the beginning. I
actually listened to it for the first time on one of those little record players—the ones that have their own speaker. I liked it, but only when I put it on my big sound system was I really blown away. All I could think was, “I’m gonna jam this mother!” The first time I played it was at the Bronx River Center and immediately people understood. I always had the most progressive hip-hop audience. Most of the other DJs waited to see what my audience was into before they played anything at their function. They knew: Bambaataa’s crazy and he’ll play anything, so I was like the one in the laboratory doing the experiments first, and at a special place. In the beginning, Bronx River Center had mostly black and Latino partygoers from the Bronx and north Manhattan. Then as things progressed and we started playing on different systems and downtown and all that, that’s when all the new wavers started coming and it became a whole mixed atmosphere from all over the city. But most,
like, “famous” people came to see us—Zulu Nation and Soulsonic Force—at the Roxy. That’s how the electro-funk spread. But it’s not exactly where it began. To me, Kraftwerk always sounded European. Trans-Europe Express especially. But I understood the train and travel as a metaphor for transporting the sound through the whole universe, and so was their influence and power. Whenever I felt the band’s vibration all I could think of is that this is some other type of shit. This is the music for the future and for space travels— along with the funk of what was happening with James [Brown] and Sly [Stone] and George Clinton. Of course, I was listening to a lot of Yellow Magic Orchestra and Gary Numan, as well as Dick Hyman’s Moog sound, and music from John Carpenter’s Halloween. When you put all that together, then you get electro-funk, which is what we were doing. Freestyle and Miami bass— that’s where it all came from. That’s the true techno-pop. With “Planet Rock” I was hoping to stretch the hip-hop community’s musical spectrum on the one hand, and the new wavers’ on the other. It was about channelling the vibrations of the supreme force, of the universe, to maximum effect, even beyond earth to the extra terrestrials. Kraftwerk, James, Sly, and George played exactly that. But Kraftwerk brought the funk with machines and computers. They might not have thought they were doing funk, but they were doing funk. When you see older movies about space and the future, it’s filled with stuff like spaceships and rayguns. The newer ones like The Matrix or whatever have their own vision of what’s next. Kraftwerk does all that with music. When I met Kraftwerk in a club in Paris in the eighties, there was mutual respect. We talked about doing something together, but that happens all the time. Unfortunately we never got to make that happen. But I did get to record in Conny Plank’s studio with Afrika Islam. It’s interesting to think about how Kraftwerk was reinterpreted in America, and then through a very different filter came back to Germany to influence all sorts of
electronic and techno acts. The name WestBam, short for Westfalia Bambaataa, says it all. I’m definitely glad I had the opportunity to catch them at the MoMA. Of course, I’d seen them play live before and I have all sorts of live recordings from back in the day, but this was a different thing. I really enjoyed it, but to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t the same as hearing them in a club.
THURSDAY Geeta Dayal Author and staff writer, Wired.com I had the privilege of seeing three Kraftwerk shows at MoMA, so instead of writing straight up reviews the whole time, which would have gotten boring, I opted to spend Trans-Europe Express observing other people’s reactions—particularly Afrika Bambaataa and Ryuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame. It was a very different way of seeing and hearing the concert; through the filter of the reactions of two of the most influential Kraftwerk fans in pop music. Sakamoto stood in the front row and off to the side, always near Ralf Hütter. I knew what Sakamoto looked like because I interviewed him for Groove six or seven years ago. The funny and endearing thing was that he kept snapping pictures of the band and singing along the whole time silently. It seemed to me like he knew pretty much every word. He was also really well dressed in a grey wool suit jacket—he had this sleek, elegant appearance with his white hair bopping subtly to one of Kraftwerk’s most dignified tracks, “Europe Endless”. It all somehow made perfect sense. “Europe Endless” is one of those songs that the band never plays live. You’ll hear it occasionally on a bootleg from the seventies, but at some point they just cut it. That’s what made it so special to hear in their obviously updated version at the MoMA. My guess is that the band assumed that all of the hip-hop and
We are standing here, exposing ourselves. We’re being watched and we feel our pulse. We look around and change our pose. We start to move And we break the glass. We step out and take a walk through the city. We go into a club and there we start to dance. We are showroom dummies. We are showroom dummies. We are showroom dummies.
electro kids would be coming to see Trans-Europe Express, so they really put a lot of effort into their set that night. It was certainly a highlight for me, and it looked like for Sakamoto as well. But it was a strange contrast to, say, “Radioactivity” in which the band had yet to “update” the list of nuclear disasters lyrically and visually: Sellafield, Harrisburg, Chernobyl, Hiroshima . . . Where was Fukushima? Sakamoto, who has raised lots of money for victims of the disaster, appeared almost puzzled during the song. When Kraftwerk came to New York last time in 2005, I wrote about it in the Village Voice. I was up near the front row in a sold-out Hammerstein Ballroom, which was very, very different to the MoMA experience. I mean, normal people could go and it was much more mixed, both ethnically and age-wise. There were art school kids and engineers, black kids and white kids, teenagers and sixty year-olds all losing their mind to “Trans-Europe Express”, which the band played pretty close to the end of their set. Everybody was dancing and letting loose. That’s something that turned me off a bit about how it went down at the MoMA: the entire audience seemed like they were from the press or were VIPs, and they definitely weren’t dancing—except a few of the older heads, like Sakamoto and Bambaataa. At a certain point, I was just counting people: here’s the guy from Rolling Stone, there’s Sasha Frere-Jones from The New Yorker, in the back is Jon Pareles from The New York Times, there’s Michael Stipe, here’s Julian Schnabel . . . Where were all the fans? Obviously, people have written about the Kraftwerk-hip-hop connection to death, but it was fun watching Afrika Bambaataa, who stood way in the back with a couple of people from the Zulu Nation that pretty much accompany him everywhere. I actually saw him air-keyboarding at one point and singing along with “The Man-Machine”. Honestly, watching Bambaataa at the MoMA so obviously enjoying himself was as much a highlight as anything else I saw or heard. EB 2/2012
F R I DAY Glenn O’Brien Author, journalist, former music critic at Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine Glenn O’Brien at home in the East Village.
Right: Tickets for all eight of the band’s MoMA performances sold out immediately, much to the chagrin of thousands of Kraftwerk fans, who vented their anger in online forums. Perhaps the most creative venting came in the form of a Kraftwerk Downfall spoof on YouTube: “I should have bought tickets to see them at Tribal Gathering in 1997!” screams an over the top Bruno Ganz as Hitler.
When I started out writing about music in the seventies, I used to get all the new releases form the major record companies. If it looked interesting, I played it and needless to say, Kraftwerk albums always looked interesting—just ask Afrika Bambaataa why he first picked up Trans-Europe Express. The first album I heard was Autobahn, and after that I was completely aware of them. The first time I actually saw them live was in New York in the mid-seventies when TransEurope Express came out, and I had hung out a bit with Ralf and Florian, going to clubs or whatever, which they really liked to do. I remember I introduced them to Dianne Brill, who back then was going out with the guy who owned Danceteria. She’s in Downtown 81 introducing Kid Creole and the Coconuts. At a time when girls were all really skinny, Diane was incredibly voluptuous. And for some reason, it seemed to me that German guys always liked voluptuous women. Ralf and Florian were really taken by her. Not long after that, I happened to be in Cleveland visiting my parents and I saw in the newspaper that they were playing, so I went by to check out the show. At the time, I looked quite a lot like they did, with a slim fitting suit and really short hair, so I ended up getting mobbed at the show because the crowd thought I was in the band. I wrote about Kraftwerk several times and then did a really great interview with them around ’77. We talked a lot about electricity. Kraftwerk were really international, and that moment in music and cultural history was also really international. The stuff that was going on in New York was really connected to things in London and, to a certain extent, in Paris. I didn’t know that many Germans at the time, but I was friends with Dieter
Meier—although I guess he’s Swiss. For a conceptual artist, he’s pretty damn entertaining. I have to say, I don’t like it when people start saying an architect is an artist, and a fashion designer isn’t. Being an “artist” doesn’t make people any better. If Kraftwerk said they were artists, then, OK, fine—but I’m not going to impose that label on anyone. That being said, from the very beginning I considered them highly ironic, because their pose was happy, but in a totally dark way. “Radioactivity, it’s in the air for you and me,”—it’s like when I was growing up they would tell us that in the future our homes will be lit by U-235 and our cars would run on uranium; a kind of visionary futurism that was of course totally false and kind of scary. Kraftwerk always liked to play with that. I remember I asked Ralf and Florian what happens when they leave the German electrical grid—away from 50 hertz, 220 volts of alternating electrical current per second. And they were like “Oh, we don’t feel good.” I wanted to know how they felt about being in different kinds of electronic environments, because the US is 110 volts. They thought that was hilarious. I was totally into it when they had robotic models of themselves “peforming” onstage. Everybody would get excited going to the Kraftwerk show, and then the curtain opens and it’s a bunch of mechanical simulations. At the time, it showed that the music could be played without them there, although I appreciate the controlled improvisation that they’ve done more recently. Ralf Hütter is just really smart and funny and had a really ironic sense of humor. Kraftwerk 2012 is a lot like Kraftwerk 1977, except more perfect. It’s like the difference between a 1977 Mercedes and a 2012 Mercedes. They have never stopped perfecting the old music–almost the way William Butler Yeats continued to revise his poems throughout his career. I remember when I interviewed them years ago, a really interesting exchange got edited out. I asked if their music was experimental, and I got this answer: “All music is experimental.” Think about it.
SATURDAY Matthias Mühling Head of Department Collections / Exhibitions / Research and Chief Curator for Art after 1945 at the Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau in Munich When I was studying, the term “curator” didn’t exist in German. It’s only over the past twenty years that it’s started making its appearance from Anglo-Saxon art circles, and it’s definitely had an affect on the way German curators have begun to grasp their own identities and functions. I would say at the Lenbachhaus, we’re much more interested in serving the artist than curators who ascribe themselves a form of authorship of what they present. To that extent, there was lots of trust in Kraftwerk putting together large parts of the exhibit on their own. They knew exactly what they were doing, and I wouldn’t have thought to interfere with such a huge, technical multimedia installation based on my competency in hanging pictures. In that sense, the exhibit wasn’t a lot of work for me. Of course, convincing people that a Kraftwerk exhibition should take place—that I had to do. At the Lenbachhaus, we’re particularly fascinated by the idea that there is no difference between so-called “high” art and art as entertainment. That’s probably one of the most discussed issues within art history in the twentieth century and certainly part of the great utopian vision of the avantgarde. However many people want to claim that there is less and less of a distinction to be drawn, it’s not something that you see reflected in reality. In museums, you still only find “high” art. Over and over again, contemporary fine art has found itself in crises and hoped to find its way out through some other discipline: fine art and film, fine art and fashion, fine art and pop music, fine art and pop culture . . . But usually it ends up with
classically trained artists who only kind of have one foot in some other discipline. We as a museum are forced to ask ourselves how we can best reflect contemporary, twenty-first century culture. And when we really take that question seriously, we realize we can’t be comfortable with doing, say, an exhibition on pop music exclusively with works by Martin Kippenberger. That’s also a very interesting project, and I guess somehow a connection between the two can be drawn, but Kippenberger isn’t an example of something in popular culture that’s had the kind of massive, significant stylistic influence that I’m referring to—like it changed people’s conception of pop music or had a lasting aesthetic effect outside the art world. In my opinion, the only real example of something so far reaching would be Kraftwerk. They’ve always been devoted to offering a complete artistic package in terms of performance and visual accompaniment—it’s practically synaesthetic in a good Wagnerian sense. But beyond that is the band’s self-reflective nature that we know so well from fine art, one that’s so unambiguously connected to the cultural history of the Rhineland. Kraftwerk makes pop music about pop music. They incorporate “everyday” sounds—trains, bicycles, cars—as a form of self-reflectiveness, like how Gerhard Richter “exhibited” the brushstroke. But Kraftwerk’s art is also intimately connected to a certain “generosity”, if you can call it that. What they do is entertaining, humorous, danceable and thought provoking. That’s an incredibly rare combination. Kraftwerk refuse to accept the notion that doing something serious or profound has to be obscure or difficult to consume. That combination of entertainment and artistic clarity is nothing short of remarkable. At the MoMA performances, the visuals for “Morning Walk” were an excellent example of that. On the one hand it evoked classic German romanticism—small moonlit hamlets—but on the other the very specific historical provincial, bourgeois narrow-mindedness of the Federal Republic of Germany,
which I personally can’t get enough of. Maybe it’s because it’s such a strong reflection of something I grew up with. Kraftwerk’s performance at the Lenbachhaus in 2011 was the first time the band played an entire concert in 3-D, but I should mention that we were also very, very proud to have had the 3-D video and sound installation without the band as well. For us, that aspect of the exhibition was a logical consequence of the disappearance of the performers, with music existing and being played on its own by machines. When we were thinking about how to exhibit Kraftwerk, it was obvious that we did not have to have something “behind glass”, so to speak. We didn’t want to be a local museum that covered the local and generic history and development of the band. We wanted a contemporary exhibition that had little or nothing to do with relics of Kraftwerk’s past—their old synths or vocoders or whatever. That would have really been the wrong approach to something so timeless.
SATURDAY Emil Schult Artist, musician and frequent Kraftwerk collaborator I began my studies at the art academy in the late sixties under Diter Rot, Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter, who had all been extremely influential in terms of my artistic development. That’s also when I first met Ralf and Florian and became involved with Kraftwerk. In general, the art world in Dusseldorf was a pretty competitive atmosphere and it wasn’t always so easy to find people you could work and get along with, especially in terms of feeling comfortable enough to show your art. At the time, both Ralf and Florian were already innovative and advanced, musically speaking, and I had long been fascinated by electronic music. They were gracious enough to allow me to come by and, well, take part. My input with the band was always part of a larger artistic
dialogue, which included visual ideas that were developed together. It wasn’t just give and take; it was also about developing things conceptually in parallel processes. A good example of that is the “music comics” developed for the album Ralf and Florian, where, if you know the group, you can really see what a mix of ideas and input it is, visually speaking. Interestingly, the same was also true for developing some of the musical instruments and electronic sounds. Whenever Kraftwerk wanted to redesign an acoustic instrument to make it electronic or somehow create an electronic simulation, then a visualization, a sketch or a notation was part of the process. Electronic music makes use of a sound spectrum that’s larger than acoustic music. It’s enabled humanity to expand mental processes and to imagine the future, which is why I think there’s always been such a strong connection between electronic music and science fiction. For example, at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964, I saw a pavilion called Futurama that featured visions of the future—cities in the ocean or in the sky, advanced forms of transportation—and these were accompanied by electronic sounds from some of the earlier synthesizers and electronic instruments put together by Raymond Scott. This is the tradition in which my contribution to Kraftwerk can be seen. I think there are two main metalanguages in this universe: music and image. When I create an image and put it into the world, then people understand it non-discursively. You know, people tend to say an image is worth a thousand words, but music is even further along in that sense: when I play a series of notes in a certain order, then people immediately relate to it in some way—they have immediate associations. That’s why progression in music and art is strongly connected to human progress. You can make destructive music, but you can also make music that pushes things forward. Electronic music is the music for modern times, the music that allows us to meet the standards of today’s technology. The Internet and other
Above: Former student of Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter, Emil Schult designed numerous Kraftwerk album covers, including Autobahn, RadioActivity, and TransEurope Express. He also co-wrote some of the band’s most poetic lyrics:
Rendezvous on Champs-Élysées/ Leave Paris in the morning on T-E-E
Left: Kraftwerk perform “The Robots” in the MoMA’s reconstructed second floor atrium. Founding member Ralf Hütter (far left) sang and played all melodies while Henning Schmitz (center left) and Fritz Hilpert (center right) controlled bass, rhythm and assorted filters. The band’s youngest member, Stefan Pfaffe (far right), was in charge of the visuals. Even after the show, Kraftwerk’s unoccupied consoles and fallen scrim were a beautiful use of negative space. EB 2/2012
Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, photographed in Berlin by Eva Beth and Torsten Oelscher.
Monika Sprüth, co-owner of Sprüth Magers, Berlin London, photographed by Dagmar Schwelle.
Ralf Hütter, Man-Machine OG.
forms of digital communication demand a metalanguage sophisticated enough to process and interpret it. Progress in art, music and society are also necessary to balance the madness of excess and greed, which leads to landmines, radioactivity and destruction of living cosmic tissue. You can see the balance and progress in children—especially in their acceptance of electronic beats. They are far less biased than older people, far better able to perceive things intuitively and far more likely to see art and music as a reminder of paradise. For the shows at the MoMA, and specifically the 3-D visuals, I participated by figuring out ways to provide the images with a new dimensionality—especially those for “Autobahn”, “Kometenmelodie”, “Airwaves”, and “Trans-Europe Express”. These we discussed quite a bit and, with the programming skills of Falk Grieffenhagen, turned into material for film projections. I’ve been taking part in Kraftwerk concerts for over forty years, and what was presented at the MoMA was the absolute pinnacle of what I’ve had seen and heard. The sound, the visuals, the amount of people at the shows . . . it wasn’t a normal “concert” experience. In that sense, it wasn’t really a “concert” experience at all.
SUNDAY Monika Sprüth Co-owner Sprüth Magers Gallery, Berlin - London There’s really one central question at our galleristic point of departure: Which aspects of art could be of cultural importance for society? I’m a trained architect and urban planner, so the constant analysis of cultural, social and economical phenomena has always played a role in what I do. When Philomene Magers and I began thinking about Kraftwerk, we very quickly realized that “exhibiting” the band was far too large a project for a gallery space. I’ve known Ralf Hütter since 1968—
he actually lived in the apartment under me in Aachen where we both studied architecture. Of course today, representing them has to do with their colossal cultural relevance and unsurpassed ability to reduce sonic and visual elements to the essentials. Like Alighiero Boetti, Kraftwerk are able to differentiate between important and unimportant in a way that few artists can—which is an important part why their work has become so iconic. It became clear to us that a museum is really the only adequate place to present their Gesamtkunstwerk. And where better than the MoMA? Kraftwerk not only invented electronic pop music, they also managed to give it its visual precision and beautiful form. Theirs is an all-encompassing cultural statement that can compete or even surpass many of the known video works that we see in the museums. It’s both timelessly modern and an embodiment of our era.
MONDAY Alexis Taylor multiinstrumentalist and Vocalist of Hot Chip I think there are a few pop records that will always be important to me—and, in certain instances, an artist’s or band’s whole oeuvre: Prince, up until about 1993, The Beach Boys, and pretty much everything Kraftwerk have done. I’ve seen Kraftwerk three times—quite late in their career but certainly some of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. The first was at Brixton Academy around 2003, with tracks from Tour de France Soundtracks making up the bulk of the show, and then the rest being “greatest hits”. This was also really the beginning of the amazing visuals, and the whole synchronization of the videos with the music. It was a simple, colorful experience, and it was really powerful. I think Kraftwerk’s combination of lyrics and music is endlessly brilliant. There are so few words and so many repeating phrases,
that anybody can connect to it. They treat their videos like a part of the entire presentation, while I would say Hot Chip is first and foremost about music with video being kind of an afterthought. Visual ideas get attached to what we do after the music, which I think sometimes produces a kind of awkwardness to what we do onstage. There are times that I wish we would always work with a single visual artist or video director, in order to have, like, a fancier stage show. But then I think that it’s better the way we have it now because most of the music I really like has nothing to do with any stage show. Actually, it can be really frustrating if the visuals get in the way of the music. Kraftwerk excluded. Of course there’s also a connection because we’ve recently worked with Conny Plank’s equipment. [laughing] I would like to add, however, that we chose to work with the engineer who owns Plank’s mixing board more because of his skills than equipment. But I can’t deny that it was a selling point. I like a lot of the records that Conny Plank worked on, and I like the fact that he hand made this desk and there are only two of them in existence. But nobody will listen to our album and go, “Ah, that’s Conny Plank’s desk!” Honestly, I think Kraftwerk and Hot Chip are pretty far away from each other in many key respects. Most of the stuff we do involves some sort of hand played ethnic percussion, combined with programmed drum parts. There’s an anti-quantization and raggedness in Hot Chip that exists less in Kraftwerk . . . at least to my ear.
MONDAY Ralf Hütter avid cyclist, Founding member of Kraftwerk and consummate gentleman, adressing the crowd after the band’s penultimate performance, the mix Goodnight. See you tomorrow. ~
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want to give up the bandwidth. That’s probably the biggest obstacle at the moment. But I would say Google has the best foundation with YouTube. There’s also Google+’s Hangouts, which has replaced Google’s traditional video conferencing tools that the company used to get from a third party. Hangouts has become the most important part of Google+ and I believe it’s merging with YouTube. To be honest, this is where I’d expect to watch my daughter’s soccer game in the future when I’m on the road. Other platforms like Justin.tv have been geared towards streaming for a while, but they don’t quite have the name or the following to be dominant players.
The Grammar of Live A.J. Samuels: Live streaming has
become commonplace, but a lot of people still like their entertainment with some narrative. Do you think you’re underestimating the importance of scripts and editing in predicting live supremacy? Steven Levy: Streaming encompasses
more than just material geared for a broader public; it’s also as much about customized streams. We’re entering an era where everything we see can be captured and streamed live, whether it’s people holding up their smartphones to stream for friends and family, or something more professional for a wider audience. That said, I also think that we’ll soon have the capabilities of streaming our kids’ soccer games more professionally, with effects and multiple camera angles and all that. Our live editing capabilities will vastly improve and be easier to use—just like with photo editing or the professionalization of amateur recording with new plugins. I’m pretty convinced that there won’t be many family events in the future not being livestreamed.
Historically, prophets have been too holy to bet. But times have changed. Recently, Wired staff writer Steven Levy put his money where his mouth is after a discussion with Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly on whether live streaming would dominate online video in ten years time. Levy made his prediction official through Long Bets, a website promoting “societally or scientifically important” wagers with a minimum confirmation period of two years. Here he makes his case for why life is more live than ever before. Above: Kraftwerk/Emil Schult, Antenne, Courtesy of Sprüth Magers, Berlin London.
AS: Is this just one more nail in the
coffin for network television?
SL: Not necessarily. I think the
bulk of television postproduction and movies will remain as is. But live will have more cache, and as that happens, pre-taped stuff will try harder to capture the feeling of live. Over the past few years you’ve seen network TV do a number of live series episodes—30 Rock’s done it, House has done it—and they’ve been hugely popular. People connect with the immediacy of live action, even if it’s simulated. I would also venture to say that it goes for movies and reality TV too. Shooting with handheld cameras might predate streaming, but it’ll also be bolstered by it. The same goes for reality TV. The grammar of live will permeate all forms of video. AS: Which platforms are at the forefront? SL: There’s still an enormous infra-
structural challenge. Some of the big network providers simply don’t
AS: I recently checked out a few
Justin.tv users’ live streams and was surprised by being interrupted with ads at seemingly random intervals. Imagine missing your daughter’s goal because of a poorly placed VW commercial. Fahrvergnügen kaput. All parties lose.
SL: Streaming is still in its infancy, and continuous observation channels haven’t reached their full potential. Justin.tv was forced to adopt that business model to stay afloat, but randomly placed ads aren’t ideal. I can imagine streamers in the future with the power to block or indicate the right time for a commercial. Like television. AS: Other than personalized streams, what are you interested in seeing live? SL: I’d gladly pay five bucks to
watch a well-shot concert stream with good sound, and soon, all concerts will be live streamed. I’m sure there are plenty of people wondering when they’ll be able to follow the Boss or Best Coast on tour from their computer. Personally, I’d also like to see more politics, on all levels. Oligarchs controlling bandwidth, like Berlusconi in Italy, is a scary reality. I guess it’s the same in the US, but instead of politicians owning it, private companies pay off regulators. Freeing the spectrum for innovation is the real struggle. ~
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We didn’t plan it like this, but the rhizomatic gods appear to have been smiling upon us. The monologues and conversations featured in this...