ELECTRONIC BEATS CONVERSATIONS ON ESSENTIAL ISSUES N° 32 · WINTER 2012/2013
“Sounds like Prince!” , HOT CHIP S ALEXIS TAYLOR TALKS TO JUSTUS KÖHNCKE
MADLIB GERALD DONALD DEPECHE MODE GRIMES
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“Stimulated by avant-garde concepts of the past”
Max Dax: This winter issue fea-
tures interviews and conversations with artists who, broadly speaking, make electronic pop music. Asked about their influences and interests, more often than not they explain something about digging deep both into the avant-garde as well as popular culture. Take Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor who, in conversation with producer Justus Köhncke, underlines the influence European improv protagonists like Peter Brötzmann or Han Bennink have had on Hot Chip’s recordings and live performances. That is, next to Prince, Can and Scritti Politti. Also, Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, stresses that Andrei Tarkovsky and Hildegard von Bingen have led her onto a different path, musically speaking, with the multilayering of her vocals and ethereal quality of her songs. Both Grimes and Taylor are part of a new generation of electronic musicians who use the Internet and the mind-blowing availability of information as a constant source of inspiration and recombinable information. Would you agree? Hans Ulrich Obrist: Well, I recently met Roberto Calasso for the first time. He is what you might call a true “polymath”, blessed with encyclopedic knowledge of numerous intellectual and artistic fields.
In today’s post-categorical music landscape, drawing strict borders between genres doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Not that it was ever that fruitful a practice. Stylistic bleed also appears inseparable from references to the avant-garde within pop and electronic music— detectable in sound or merely mentioned by artists in interviews. Of course, swearing allegiance to the less pop is nothing new: Bob Dylan had Bertolt Brecht and Woody Guthrie, The Doors had John Coltrane, David Bowie had krautrock, and the list goes on. The difference today however is online accessibility. How does instant access to a broader, interhyperlinked avant-garde change the way artists and musicians process it? We hope this issue will offer some insight. Kindest regards, Max Dax Editor-in-Chief
Born in 1941, he became a novelist and one of the most influential publishers of modern literature in Italy. In his latest book-length essay, La Folie Baudelaire, Calasso points out that today, we all think and conceptualize the ephemerality of the world like Baudelaire. His book is important because he reminds us that many ideas in today’s culture are stimulated by avant-garde concepts of the past. MD: I agree. And I attribute the fueling, or rather augmentation, of today’s dynamic artistic impulses to the availability of online information. Of course, other things drove it in the past. Not so long ago, you had to go to a library or a video rental shop to access the works of those who inspire you. Now you can watch Tarkovsky’s Stalker on YouTube, and if you’re interested, read endless amounts of background information, reviews and essays on it from a vast variety of online resources. I think it’s undeniable that this leads to a different way of digesting and analyzing the work, as well as to new practices among artists. It has certainly reshaped pop. But also it’s interesting to see how many artists who grew up with the Internet work in palimpsests, shifting layers of historical avantgardes and obscure material.
HUO: I worked closely with Alain Robbe-Grillet in the last five years of his life, and he once told me that the goal of the avant-garde in the fifties and sixties was to be both the most advanced and yet most acceptable. There were moments in pop culture when everything came together. The films of Godard were both experimental and highly complex reflections of then current events which were discussed outside the world of film experts. Or take Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad from 1961. This is a perfect example of a work that was informed by the avant-gardes of other disciplines, such as fashion and literature. MD: I notice that in the field of
electronic music, more abstract works such as the science-inspired albums of Gerald Donald as Arpanet or Dopplereffekt, or Alva Noto’s experimentations with extremely high frequencies are good examples of an accessible and widely accepted contemporary avant-garde. And with changing art and artists comes changing listening habits on behalf of audiences and consumers, not to mention music journalists. People feel less and less like they have to swear their allegiance to a certain fraction or style, and this makes the world more open-minded. ~ EB 4/2012 3
PICTURES TO THE EDITOR Send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org
Having cultivated more of a partner look on early album covers such as Please and Actually, Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe eventually morphed into the consummate complimentary odd-couple. Pictured here are the duo in classic contrast at the exclusive concert premier of Elysium, hosted by Electronic Beats at HAU 1 in Berlin. Photo: Monique Wüstenhagen 4 EB 4/2012
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Since finishing college, ivy-league grad Nicholas Jaar has found work touring the world and doing BBC Essential Mixes. The twenty-two-year-old son of acclaimed visual artist Alfredo Jaar was one of the highlights at this yearâ€™s Electronic Beats Festival in Budapest, where he elegantly reinterpreted tracks from his 2011 debut, Space is Only Noise. Photo: Attila Masa
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I Heart Sharks guitarist Simon Wangemann also hearts crowds. Here he is riling one up in Vienna at the Electronic Beats Festival this past October. After a few drinks, they hearted him right back. Photo: Oreste Schaller EB 4/2012 9
Security at the Electronic Beats Festival in Zagreb was really, really friendly. They didn’t have to get snippy, because everyone knows Croatians don’t play. Photo: Stephan Goltour
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The ever-congenial Anne Haffmans from Mute Records directs German Depeche Mode fans at the band’s recent press conference in Paris. Read more about German fans’ acts of faith and devotion on page 84. Photo: Tim Dobrovolny EB 4/2012 13
IMPRINT ELECTRONIC BEATS MAGAZINE CONVERSATIONS ON ESSENTIAL ISSUES Est. 2005 Issue N° 32 Winter 2012/2013
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, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 13, 10178 Berlin, Germany www.electronicbeats.net email@example.com Editor-in-Chief: Max Dax Managing Editor: Thomas Walter Duty Editor: Michael Lutz Editor: A.J. Samuels Art Director: Johannes Beck Graphic Designer: Inka Gerbert Copy Editor: Karen Carolin Project Manager: Martin Hossbach
Cover: Alexis Taylor, photographed in Zagreb by Luci Lux.
Contributing Authors: Chris Bohn, Dennis Burmeister, Andy Butler, Drew Daniel, Jeremy Deller, DJ Monty, Gerald Donald, Tim Exile, Thomas Fehlmann, Mate Galic, Grimes, Laurel Halo, Heatsick, Alfred Hilsberg, Daniel Jones, Justus Köhncke, Sascha Lange, Arto Lindsay, Armin Linke, Madlib, Zazralt Magic, Katarina Markovic, Daniel Miller, Gary Numan, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Sebastian Oertel, Pantha du Prince, Karin Park, Shantel, Alexis Taylor, Horst Weidenmüller
Contributing Photographers and Illustrators: Frank Bauer, Tim Dobrovolny, Stephan Goltour, Luci Lux, Attila Masa, minus, Traianos Pakioufakis, Elena Panouli, Ben Roberts, Oreste Schaller, Oliver Schultz-Berndt, Mathew Scott, Hans Martin Sewcz, Monique Wüstenhagen
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: Kruger Media GmbH—Public Relations & Brand Communication, Torstraße 171, 10115 Berlin, Germany Jens Wernscheid, firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions: www.electronicbeats.net/subscriptions 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: Eothen Alapatt, Louise Brailey, Florian Hadler, Anne Haffmans, Sonia Jouini, Thorsten Naeser and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics, Sarah Poppel, Hili Perlson, Thomas Schoenberger © 2012 Electronic Beats Magazine / Reproduction without permission is prohibited “If I dare to love you, would you become like them?” (Hildegard Knef)
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CONTENT PICTURES TO THE EDITOR .......................................................... 4 RECOMMENDATIONS................................................................... 18 Music and other media recommended by Chris Bohn, Andy Butler, Drew Daniel, Heatsick, Alfred Hilsberg, Arto Lindsay, Pantha du Prince; featuring new releases by Lee Gamble, Palais Schaumburg, Schneider TM, To Rococo Rot, Vatican Shadow, Scott Walker, Jessie Ware and more ABC The alphabet according to Laurel Halo .................................... 32 MR. STYLE ICON Gary Numan on Trent Reznor ............................ 36 COUNTING WITH . . . Karin Park ................................................. 38
“It’s liberating” Max Dax talks to GRIMES ............................................................... 42 “Beta and Gamma tested comprehensively” A.J. Samuels interviews GERALD DONALD ...................................... 48 “What am I seeing?” Max Dax interviews ARMIN LINKE ................................................. 56
“A kind of hybrid” MOSTLY ROBOT & NATIVE INSTRUMENTS & !K7 ..................... 68 “You got to pay your dues” MADLIB talks to THOMAS FEHLMANN......................................... 72 “Sounds like Prince!” ALEXIS TAYLOR in conversation with JUSTUS KÖHNCKE ............. 78 DEPECHE MODE in east(ern) Germany......................................... 84 NEU – SOUND OF SCIENCE: Neutrino Programme .......................... 98
Three of our featured contributors: Elena Panouli
(* 1983) grew up in the former Soviet Union and Athens, Greece before eventually settling down in Berlin. For this issue she traveled all over eastern Germany to photograph Depeche Mode fans in their natural habitat. Photo: Max Dax
(* 1973) is one of the most celebrated producers in hip hop history. Known as a man of few words, for this issue he agreed to talk to regular magazine contributor Thomas Fehlmann (right) of The Orb and Palais Schaumburg. Photo: Michael Lutz
Steven Warwick aka Heatsick (* 1981) is a British-born musician and visual artist interested in “ersatz” notions of dance music. His latest album Convergence is out now on Rush Hour. In this issue he recommends Lee Gamble’s Diversions 1994 - 1996. Photo: Traianos Pakioufakis
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RECOMMENDATIONS Edited from conversation
“It may not be immediate enough for America, but that’s our loss, because there’s a lasting quality to Jessie Ware” Andy Butler recommends Jessie Ware’s Devotion
Andy Butler is a DJ, producer and creative mastermind behind NYC house/disco collective Hercules and Love Affair, who recently performed in Amsterdam as part of the Electronic Beats Presents series. Butler is also curator of the latest installment of !K7’s DJ-Kicks, released this past October.
Right: In a key scene of Boardwalk Empire’s second season, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, played masterfully by Steve Buscemi, makes an executive decision. With every new gangster role, Buscemi seems to be making advances in cinematic criminal hierarchy, from freelance diamond thief Mr. Pink in Quentin Tarantino’s Resevoir Dogs to capo Tony Blundetto in The Sopranos, to his current incarnation as all-powerful Atlantic City political boss and racketeer. Photo: © 2012 Home Box Office, Inc. 18 EB 4/2012
Jessie Ware really couldn’t have come from anywhere other than the UK. Sound-wise, the country has a history of creating a very particular kind of R&B, and that’s something I can’t help but notice coming from an American perspective. Listening to Devotion for the first time I was reminded, in a very specific way, of when I first heard Massive Attack. As a kid, this attitude-laden but still subdued quasi-hip-hop represented an intriguing alternative to the gaudy home-grown rap I was used to. When Tricky first came out in the US it was nothing short of startling to hear a British rapper make a really dark, grooveoriented record borne of a completely different life experience—a different sense of race relations, even—to US hip hop artists. The difference between Tricky’s blunted, insular angst and the P-Funk-sampling of L.A. rappers like Dr. Dre and Snoop is radical. Even back then I remember thinking to myself, “Why aren’t the hip hop producers over here doing this?” It may sound strange but I see Jessie Ware as emerging from the same broad British tradition as Massive Attack, Tricky or, to give another, more conventional example, Sade. It’s smart music from an outsider perspective that has afforded the artist an opportunity to really ruminate on the art of R&B, as if being one step removed from a particular historical context has liberated divergent potential for the genre. I was talking to one of my co-producers just yesterday about how with Hercules and Love Affair, I always attempt to incorporate
singers from a genre outside of house music. “It’s a weird idea,” I said, and he looked at me and replied, “Isn’t that the whole idea?” And it’s true: very interesting things happen with outsider participation and perspective. On a more simplistic but no less important level, Jessie knows how to handle that most clichéd of pop forms: the love song. She performs her emotions on Devotion in a sophisticated fashion. Her maturity as a twenty-seven-year-old manifests itself in her restraint: she doesn’t strain to be a pop diva and despite having a great R&B voice, her vocals are never allowed to overshadow the rest of the production. Unlike Mary J. Blige—to take an obvious example—where the voice dictates the mix, the elements in a Jessie Ware track are far more synergetic. This holistic approach works particularly well because the production is so attention-worthy, and it’s clear Ware’s attuned to the developments in bass music happening around her in the UK. Bristolian producer Julio Bashmore produced “110%”, and you can hear his boisterous house hallmark embedded beneath the track’s soulful veneer. “Still Love Me” is another example of standout, ultra-contemporary production, with its rough-grained and glitchy touches, loads of space between the musical components and a thick sounding and muscular bass line. It doesn’t require a great narrative, because that’s not where the focus is. And some of her lyrics are actually very poignant, at least to me: “Maybe in our wildest moments / We could
be the greatest, we could be the greatest / Maybe in our wildest moments / We could be the worst of all,” from “Wildest Moments”, is an interesting articulation of what it’s like to be in a certain type of relationship. Perhaps this directness and turn of phrase comes from her experience as a journalist? It’s certainly a rare quality in pop music where the main currency is sentimentality. The way that Ware handles relationships on the record chimes with Hercules and Love Affair to a point. There’s an overpowering theme of longing, of yearning. She often writes about being put in a compromised position in a relationship, which is the central thrust to one of the albums biggest tracks “Running”. The fact is, a mirror is held up to you when you’re in the midst of a difficult situation with someone you really love. You get to see all your flaws and you can see all of who you really are. Identity is formed through your interaction with other people and, while I think it’s a great source of creativity, it rarely survives being translated into music, because it usually collapses into triteness. This has turned people off love songs, particularly within the R&B format; it’s like, I don’t want to hear another slow jam, you know? However, Ware is doing something that demands more of your attention than traditional hip hop. It may not be immediate enough for America, but that’s our loss because there’s a lasting quality to Jessie Ware. For many of us, she’s not going to be someone we forget. ~
Above: James “Jimmy” Darmody (Michael Pitt) and his wife Angela (Aleksa Palladino) celebrate a night out on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. The Princeton educated Jimmy starts out as Nucky’s driver and bodyguard, but eventually becomes his underworld nemesis. Since Hurricane Sandy, images of the now destroyed historical promenade have gained new meaning. Photo: © 2012 Home Box Office, Inc.
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“Further into the psychohistory of the American dream” Shantel on Martin Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire (HBO) There has always been a nebulous relationship between the representation of La Cosa Nostra in the American literary and cinematic traditions and its reality. The romanticism at the core of our image of organized crime is, in a sense, misleading. But it’s also undeniable that the history of the Mafia is nebulous in and of itself, because it’s a history of immigrant subcultures—strangers in a strange land trying to survive. Certainly, the Mafia is a brilliant backdrop for the explanation of the American Dream, and a subject matter that director Martin Scorsese has a deep understanding of. The historical beginnings of American
gang activity is at the center of 2002’s Gangs of New York, while Scorsese’s other films, including Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Casino and The Departed, reverse the focus, observing organized crime in the context of specific moments in American history. In both instances however, finding accurate or even any sources on which to base his semi-historical narratives was supposedly not a simple undertaking. That said, fiction has often been integral to the construction of national myths and national identity, and this is where Scorsese’s strengths lie as a director. I would argue that our collective vision of La Cosa Nostra has, over time, been strongly
influenced by Scorsese’s hyperreal narrative vision—both historical and imagined. Not that it’s always easy to tell the difference. With Boardwalk Empire, Scorsese has created a masterpiece together with former Sopranos writer and executive producer Terence Winter, whose knowledge of New Jersey and ability to surprise viewers with a contemporary take on “historical” events is nothing short of astonishing. This is the kind of historical Mafia storytelling I can relate to. When I was doing research for my project Kosher Nostra about the history and music of Jewish-American organized crime, I quickly found out how difficult it was to find
information on the subject matter. Contemporary witnesses simply weren’t very willing to talk, and I really had to do some digging. To a certain extent, I was used to the research, as I had written my masters thesis on the Mafia. But now my intended result was an album, booklet and exhibit—not an academic work. What I was doing was not only historical but also, if not primarily, artistic and entertaining. I suppose that’s usually the case when it comes to tales of crime and intrigue. And that’s one of the reasons why I am so fascinated by Boardwalk Empire. The show’s vivid take on the twenties and thirties is almost vulgar in its hyperreality, fully committing to a detailed vision of “how things were”. The focus in the first three seasons is not only organized crime in Atlantic City before the Great Depression, but also the Mafia’s relationship to American politics—and specifically to former political boss Enoch “Nucky”
Thompson, played masterfully by Steve Buscemi and based on the historical figure Enoch L. Johnson. The series follows Nucky’s relationships to various underworld types and state and federal government agencies, painting a broad picture of the interconnectedness of these spheres of influence, as driven by Prohibition and corruption. Without a bedrock of morality, every character not only appears flawed, but is also constantly sidestepping an existential abyss of human evil in the byzantine political-criminal network—from the self-castigating, ultra-Protestant FBI agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) to Nucky’s former mistress Lucy Danziger (Paz de la Huerta). In Boardwalk Empire, everyone’s guilty and all webs are intertwined. As Greil Marcus famously argued, there are two kinds of significant historical narratives, particularly in America: official history writing and oral history.
Boardwalk Empire is an excellent example of the intertwining of both, with the dialogue intimately portraying the thoughts and feelings of gangsters real, imagined and composite—not unlike William S. Burroughs creative interpretation of Dutch Schultz in the closet screenplay The Last Words of Dutch Schultz. While researching for Kosher Nostra, I conducted numerous interviews with Meyer Lansky’s driver to gain some insight into the gangster’s personal life. And even though much of the information couldn’t be independently confirmed, his stories and highly subjective perspective was the closest I could get to the source itself; and specifically to finding out about the songs that Lansky liked to listen to while in the car. Like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire is an important step forward in the evolution of Mafia narrative, because with every season, it delves further into the psychohistory of the American dream. ~
Stefan Hantel, aka Shantel, is a DJ and producer best known for his Balkan electro-pop project Bucovina Club. Max Dax spoke with the Frankfurt native in the Summer 2011 issue of Electronic Beats about his meticulously researched compilation of American Jewish mafia music, Kosher Nostra.
“Think of your God, or lack thereof” Daniel Jones recommends Vatican Shadow’s Ornamented Walls and Silent Servant’s Negative Fascination Rome, October 19, 2012. I sit in the shadow of the Vatican, listening to Vatican Shadow. Those passing by either ignore me or stop briefly to glance at the pale kid dressed in black, sitting crosslegged and swaying to a rhythm they cannot hear. A woman screams at a man, her arm outstretched as he walks away quickly to the slow-churning pulse of “Cairo Is a Haunted City (Mythic Chords)”. A nearby Armani store vomits forth a bevy of bros. As they leave their spawning vat, one looks back toward the doorway yearningly. A single tear falls
from his eye, and by the time it hits the ground it’s already a diamond. I become aware of some aspect of myself changing; it’s some time before I realize what it is: I have become a fan of techno. As a post-goth, my formative tastes were shaped by a scene that, despite pretensions of openmindedness, is extremely rigid in a lot of ways (as are most subcultures). In the goth scene, there’s a lot of nonsense about designating yourself a certain kind of goth based on which kind of boots you wear or how much you like cats or elves or whatever. A goth
picnic is a bit like a comic convention, only slightly less depressing. One thing is for sure, however: if you’re a proper gothy-goth, you do not like techno. It’s illegal. There’s sort of a good reason for that. Most of the EBM that gets pushed at goth parties is, essentially, either Eurotrash hardstyle with bad goth poetry over the top or some jock in black covered in fake blood, making the same songs over and over about different swear words. Many goths refer to fast, repetitive electronic music of any kind under the blanket term “techno”, in the same way
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Daniel Jones is a music promoter and creator of the subculture reconceptualization & aesthetics tumblr Black Black Gold. In the last issue of Electronic Beats he reviewed Lauren Bousfield’s Avalon Vales.
that Marilyn Manson and Bauhaus might be the same thing to the average person on the street. It’s foolish, of course—especially when you consider how many goth idols like Alien Sex Fiend, Psychic TV and Fad Gadget were never afraid to advance their sound through new dance mediums. Then again, nobody has ever accused the goth scene of being forward-thinking. By the time I bothered to learn what “proper” techno was, I was in my late-twenties and past the point when two-day Berghain parties could have drawn me in. To me, techno has always been boring, and I didn’t see that changing. Hospital Productions has, to a certain extent, adjusted that view. The trick was attaching the structure of techno to industrialized aesthetics and trusted names, which I admit is somewhat of a cowardly approach to a new genre. But who doesn’t love the comfort of the familiar? Names like Prurient, Whitehouse and Tropic of Cancer were already ingrained inside my musical soul as trustworthy; all keywords to open the doors to Vatican Shadow, Cut Hands and Silent Servant. Each new aspect of these artists brings with it an old one, while expanding the aural horizons
to something even more menacing and trance inducing. With its minimalistic synths and infectious dance patterns, Silent Servant’s Negative Fascination LP was the easiest pill to swallow, and, in a way, an entry to why I found myself returning to Vatican Shadow’s latest release. Ornamented Walls is Dominick Fernow’s grimmest release to date and every bit the equal of July 2012’s masterful September Cell. His driving rhythms are more introspective and harsher than previous twelve-inches and EPs sounding like transmissions filtered through a military field radio that sits abandoned in the mud and gristle of a battlefield. It’s every bit as cold as I’ve always felt techno to be, but it’s a coldness born of a cruel reality rather than apathy or the apolitical. What makes his approach to Waron-Terror-themed soundtracks so fascinating is their focus not on the fighting itself, but the moods to either side. Here is the creeping, bladder-loosening stillness just before (or after) military engagement. The dread of expectation or the quiet of the freshly slaughtered. Here is the stark desolation of a field post-battle, shell-shocked ringing and distant sobs. Fernow’s
message is clear: there are no victors here, only fear. There can be no War on Terror because war is terror, in all its facets. In contrast, Silent Servant brings a modernist take to the horror-heavy synthesis of yesteryear. Think John Carpenter on MDMA, with scattered vocals providing a human foundation closer to early industrial pioneers. Yet it’s also a techno album, and traces of producer Juan Mendez’s Sandwell District associations are clearly evident throughout. Perhaps that genre-transcendence is the sign of a truly good album, and an indication that there are others who see potential in the darkness techno has to offer. If techno is something that you, too, view in a rather dim light, perhaps the key isn’t to illuminate, but to darken further. Listen to Vatican Shadow, Cut Hands, or Silent Servant, and think: Industrial. Ritual. Magick. Bleak. Beautiful. Night. Think majesty. Think of your God, or lack thereof. Just think, and you will find something in here to take away your expectations. It might not make Boys Noize any more bearable for you, but it might just be the key to unlocking further worlds of sound. ~
“Refuses to offer the listener a shortcut” Matmos’ Drew Daniel on Schneider TM’s Construction Sounds
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Electronic music, especially rhythmically predictable, warm, analogue sounding electronic music, has become a way to keep everybody working. You put a record on to push back the sounds of the outside so that you’re able to focus. Whether that record is Burial, Andy Stott or Pye Corner Audio, it doesn’t actually matter; the point is that there’s a nice and predictable structure that
serves to increase your workflow. In contrast, Schneider TM’s Construction Sounds effectively functions as a critique of this modern, functional and occasionally mindless way of listening. Choosing to have the sounds of manual labor, the sounds you usually try to blot out, be the noise coming out of your speakers subverts the very idea of music as buffer against the real world.
It refuses to offer the listener a shortcut to feeling “contemporary” while avoiding real issues. In fact, you could argue that it makes real world issues the point of focus, and it’s a coolly critical thing for Dirk Dresselhaus to attempt. That doesn’t mean that Construction Sounds isn’t beautiful or complex. I was reminded of the record Sleeper Awakes at the Edge of the Abyss by Merzbow
and Christoph Heemann, where Heemann sculpts these new age melodies underneath Merzbow’s collosal wall of noise. You have to listen through the noise to find another layer that taps into a very different emotion. Having this turbulent feeling buried deep within and somehow obfuscated by the real world is actually a Romantic trope, and by using melody as a counterpoint to the grating sounds of industry, as on “Grinder in the Sky” or “Container”, Dresselhaus takes the listener to a similar emotional plane. I see it as a strategy for producing a certain kind of longing, similar to how My Bloody Valentine would bury their drums almost beyond perception—the direct result being an almost unplaceable sense of yearning stirred up within the listener. Dresselhaus has also thought a lot about tuning because there’s something strangely harmonious about the interlock that’s happening. Indeed, many machines are based on the same kind of cycle. In the US anything that’s electrical—fans, fluorescent lights, you name it—have their hum tuned to B-flat. This makes me curious as to whether engine cycles also emit the same tone. Certainly, Dresselhaus exploits the innate musicality of those sonic by-products that we refuse to categorize as musical. Accordingly, it would be foolish to talk about Construction Sounds without mentioning musique concrète. This record both relates and breaks with Pierre Schaeffer’s conflicted theory of creating a disconnect between sound and source. Schaeffer always sought to create objet sonore that would float free of reference, whereas most other artists and musicians who made compelling musique concrète actually did the opposite. Here
Dresselhaus has given clues in the titles—“Grinder”, “Container”, “Pneunisch”—in effect, stressing the relationship between material and music, as well as prompting us to think about how we perceive raw matter. But what I find most dramatic is the level of restraint he shows; if Matthew Herbert had done it, or even me and Martin [Schmidt] as Matmos, I’m sure
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we would have drawn upon the syntax of sampling with rhythmic chops and edits. Dresselhaus has gone elsewhere, tracing a path more closely resembling that of kosmische musik and the German electronic continuum, with the ambition of transcending the sampler to something more abstract. The titular track opens the album with fourteen minutes of industrial grind. It’s a risk, but it also offers an option: you can hear it as invasive background sound or you can choose to carefully enter inside its world. By foregrounding the industrial harshness of that first track Dresselhaus takes a risk, and some people may not make it past those fourteen minutes. But those
that do are intrigued; they want to really follow the whole journey. Of course, historically machine sounds are also closely linked to industrial music, and what intrigues me is the strenuous effort put into fighting the genre’s father figures. The press one-sheet requests reviewers not to compare Construction Sounds to Throbbing Gristle or Einstürzende Neubauten—a defensive, almost Oedipal gesture hinted at in the title: this is an album which, at least in one sense, is about building, not destroying. And it’s a partial rejection of industrial-sounding pop music for a much more conceptual schema. Listening to the record I thought I detected a political narrative, and Dresselhaus openly describes that he was responding to sounds of gentrification and real estate speculation in Berlin. That’s a salient topic in a city with so much empty property. What can justify building something new in 2012 when there are so many buildings ripe for repurposing? Construction as a sound is an index of prosperity. This is certainly the case in Baltimore, where Matmos is based. It’s a poor city filled with abandoned buildings, and I’m astonished every time I see a construction site. Why build when it’s already there? I heard this record as reinforcing this viewpoint by pulling what’s outside into the interior domestic space and forcing you to confront what’s happening beyond your window. My partner Martin [Schmidt] hears the record in a much gentler register, where it’s about transforming rawness into something beautiful simply by staring into it and carefully working with it until it becomes therapeutic, improved, and ennobled. Or maybe Construction Sounds is just a sonic Rorschach blot. ~
Drew Daniel is best known for his work with avant-electronic duo Matmos, together with partner M. C. (Martin) Schmidt. The couple make toe-tapping, conceptual electronic pop from unusual sound sources. For their most recent release, The Ganzfeld EP (Thrill Jockey), they conducted their own version of the famed parapsychological experiment by putting test subjects (mostly friends) in a state of sensory deprivation. They then played them white noise and attepted to telepathically communicate “the concept of the new Matmos record”. The subjects’ impressions were then used as a compositional guide for both the EP and the band’s upcoming LP, The Marriage of True Minds, scheduled for early 2013.
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“Residing in a liminal zone between a social and an altered state, the samples on Diversions are as warped as the drugs used to open the nervous system” Heatsick recommends Lee Gamble’s Diversions 1994-1996 (PAN)
Steven Warwick, aka Heatsick, is a British musician and visual artist based in Berlin. His work encompasses technology, hybridization, performance, sculpture and film. His most recent EP, Convergence, was released this past September on renowned Dutch imprint Rush Hour.
Right: Irish immigrant Margaret Schroeder (Kelly MacDonald) has a penchant for pretty hats and red lipstick, and can hold her own with powerful men. Her role is one of the Boardwalk Empire’s most multilayered: she is wife and widow, mother and companion to Nucky, and an outspoken proponent of women’s suffrage. © 2012 Home Box Office, Inc. 24 EB 4/2012
I first met Lee through a mutual friend and also from sharing a bill at the now defunct Electronic Church on Prenzlauer Allee. It was 2008 and Lee was still very much still into his rule restriction computer music pieces, which are well documented via the London musique concrète label Entr’acte. We went for dinner before the set and discussed our shared enthusiasm for Xenakis light shows, rave strobes and dance music. It was refreshing and reaffirming to meet someone with one foot simultaneously in the experimental music scene and the other in the electronic dance world. Over time I would see him sharing a bill in London with Roska, dancing at a Hyperdub night at Berghain, and hear him recall DJing at drum and bass nights at West Indian clubs in Birmingham. Indeed, these are the interests and experiences that inform his latest release, Diversions 1994-1996—a reedit and morphosis of drum and bass taken from live sets and mixtapes. However, this is not mere revisionist deconstruction. Gamble himself sees the work as dwelling within the context of the edit as opposed to commenting from the outside. Having spent his formative teenage years immersed in the drum and bass scene, he soon got to know the local DJs and would play at the parties. The pieces on the album are based solely on the anticipatory moments before a climax, and in that sense, Gamble’s approach is comparable to the extended disco edit: drawing out the ecstatic moment, smashing the spatial-
temporal order, and prolonging a passage into bliss. Focusing on the build up, the music is based on longing. But instead of being retrospective, it looks forward in anticipation. It’s a pre-ecstatic exhilaration, if you will. Gamble’s “cued recall” is a far more scientific approach than any spiritualist claim on nostalgia per se. Any notion of hauntology or occult spectralism is eschewed by his interest in the scientific response to drum and bass signifiers. Like 60’s composer Maryanne Amacher who worked in the field of psychoacoustics, Gamble is concerned with the body’s response of processing a sound, and specifically with how the brain produces “release hallucinations” in order to process and recreate a source of stimulation that it has become accustomed to. For example, the pulsing bass bins heard on a sample from the penultimate track “Dollis Hill” explore how we process language, only the language is made up of edits of jungle cassettes. The effect is mesmerizing and comparable to William Bennett’s neuro-linguistic programming on the later Whitehouse records, or the recent Chimerazation LPs by Florian Hecker, or even the afterhours feel of Rhythm & Sound. An inevitable comparison is of course the video work Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore by the British artist Mark Leckey, with its slowed down frames of a Northern Soul dance hall in full swing. It’s a form of hypnosis by using sonic memory. Having recently seen Gamble’s pieces performed live at this year’s Unsound Festival in a club atmo-
sphere, I realized how they function just as well in a late night dance setting as they do at home upon afternoon consideration. The extended looping of floating synths evoke images of oxygen tanks refilling a comatose body; or the airbag cushioning in a Ballardian car crash. The disembodied bleeps prefigure a smashed narrative like that of the cut-up motions of filmmaker Nicholas Roeg. Gamble is re-animating in the sense of animism, instilling sounds with a cinematic consciousness and spirituality. It’s as if he’s cast a net on locked emotions and yanked them back from rarefication, only to further catapult them into inertia, as heard on “M25 Echo”—a twenty-first century update on the PiL classic “Careering”. Residing in a liminal zone between a social and an altered state, the samples on Diversions are as warped as the drugs used to open the nervous system. It reminds me of when I woke up one night as a teenager with the radio on to hear a broadcast on the BBC I ambient comedy show Blue Jam by British artist/prankster Chris Morris. The slow, warped dialogue left me wondering what was being said and what I was imagining. In a similar vein, Gamble reconfigures essential elements of bass culture, which he was involved with firsthand. By smashing them apart, he’s created a far more relevant sound sculpture than most so-called “bass music” around today. Diversions is a conceptual exercise in both rewiring drum and bass and, as a result, questioning how we remember or receive it sensually. ~
“Positively Joycean in its dirty celebration of the body” Chris Bohn recommends Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch The last of the modernists, Scott Walker has been fighting a lone rearguard action to reverse the twentieth century’s vanishing hold on the popular memory since (4AD) 1995, when he came out of hiding to release Tilt—his first new Chris Bohn is a record in eleven years. It took him longtime editor of just as long again to follow it up British avant-garde with The Drift in 2006. Now on music magazine The a roll of sorts, Walker wrote and Wire. In the last issue recorded his latest album, Bish of Electronic Beats, Bosch, in just three years. Its he recommended release completes a loose trilogy of Project UNDARK’s late-period Walker works, over the Radium Girls 2011. course of which he developed and refined a whole new kind of art song, constructed from a discredited modernist blueprint. OK, I know that describing Walker as a modernist—indeed the very last of the modernists—is only so helpful and not a little problematic. Modernism has so many faces, and it’s near impossible to find a perfect match. It’s difficult to imagine Walker answering Ezra Pound’s 1934 call for modernists to “make it new”, as his mind just doesn’t move that fast. Instead, Right: Gillian Daron the jacket of his 1969 album mody (Gretchen Mol) Scott 4, he quoted Albert Camus: is Jimmy’s scheming “A man’s work is nothing but this mother. She’s pictured slow trek to rediscover, through here with Richard the detours of art, those two or Harrow (Jack Huston, three great and simple images nephew of Angelica), in whose presence his heart first Jimmy’s muscle and opened.” In the four decades a WWI veteran who since, Walker has journeyed even covers his war injury further back in time to find a with a primitive facial meaningful way of addressing prosthesis. Capable of the horrors unfolding all around shutting off his empa- him: specifically, the collapse of thy if need be, Harrow communist Eastern Europe, the is also an excellent breakup of Yugoslavia, and still marksman—the dead- unresolved issues passed down liest of sociopathic from the Second World War. At combinations. © 2012 last he found in early twentieth Home Box Office, Inc. century modernism both a philo26 EB 4/2012
sophical model and an analytical tool for transforming trauma and alienation into song. Walker’s new music is much closer in spirit to James Joyce’s time-stretching stream of consciousness prose, capturing all that unspools before his eyes in everyday life, than Pound’s injunction. As Joyce’s alter ego Stephen Dedalus says in Ulysses: “‘History’ is a nightmare from which I’m trying to wake.” Walker has firmly stated that there’s nothing at all intentionally avant-garde in his music. The words always come first, and he shapes the music around them, each song according to its own needs. If the contents of a song require a Mantovani theme, he’ll write one for it. Tilt observes a more formal trade-off between word and sound, with electric chamber arrangements fencing Walker’s single-malted baritone, here ranged slightly higher to strangely discomfiting, haughty effect. On The Drift and Bish Bosch, he underlines his narratives with non-musical sonic mimicry, just to be double sure that the music stays true to his words. Especially on Bish Bosch, the music sometimes gets so literal and bleeding obvious, it’s just plain silly. Yet the very silliness of it all serves to open up this difficult music. Walker is far too uptight and controlling to fully take on Joyce’s stream-ofconsciousness methods, but Bish Bosch is positively Joycean in its dirty celebration of the body. On “Corps De Blah”, he sings, “Ah, my old /Scabby Sachem / a sphincter’s tooting our tune” just after a chorus of farts breaks the song’s somber tone. Of course, it sounds horribly juvenile, and quite
shocking for nice, well brought up types like myself. And it’s the last thing you’d expect to hear on a record by Scott Walker. But such scatological and absurdist humor ameliorates Bish Bosch’s otherwise bleak panorama of hell, with recurring images of decaying flesh, naked bodies, testicles and sphincters exposed. Of course, it has its purpose. Bish Bosch reflects on the extent to which the twenty-first century is still so informed by the wars and carnage of the twentieth. The album’s closer, “The Day the ‘Conducator’ Died (An Xmas Song)”, is about the execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu on Christmas Day, 1985. Can’t say I was sorry to see them go, but Walker’s evocation of their final moments is immensely poignant. The bare narrative is built up from the multiple-choice answers of a questionnaire and a recurring accusation about the firing squad not waiting for the command to fire. Without endorsing or praising the regime, Walker has stretched the boundaries of empathy, as good art should, taking you inside the minds of great dictators after they have been left looking small, greedy and vain, but also very human. The album’s standout track is the twenty-one-minute epic “SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)”. Here, Walker makes massive leaps across time to interweave overlapping narratives about an astronomical brown dwarf (sub-stellar object which revolves around stars) and Zercon, a historical brownskinned jester in the court of Attila the Hun. The latter’s embarrassing vaudeville routines
are interspersed with mysterious cosmological events in a dream warp of surrealism. Much of the song is given over to the jester’s jokes and one-liners, which are
truly terrible, and each is greeted by a deathly silence as they die on the vine. How does Scott Walker make this succession of bad jokes, ugly sonics and baffling nar-
rative leaps all work together? Brilliantly, if you’re prepared to plunge to the depths of his music and find out just how much weight a song can really carry. ~
“When the band first appeared on the scene, there was an incredible desire in Germany to hear something new” Alfred Hilsberg recommends Palais Schaumburg’s Palais Schaumburg
Alfred Hilsberg is a German music journalist and founder of the influential label ZickZack, which released music from the likes of Abwärts, Die Krupps, Einstürzende Neubauten, Palais Schaumburg, Die Tödliche Doris and FSK. He also coined the term “Neue Deutsche Welle”, (“New German Wave”). He currently lives in Hamburg.
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Palais Schaumburg’s debut album from 1981 is not just a simple rerelease. For the first time it includes all tracks previously released on 7-inch and compilations on my Hamburg-based ZickZack-label, as well as some live recordings. Especially with the early, rough, energetic tracks and album artwork by painter Albert Oehlen (for the “Rote Lichter” single) the band established themselves almost immediately as one of the most innovative and influential bands from Germany. For those with mediocre taste, Palais Schaumburg was considered too “intellectual”. For me, the music is as exciting today as it was when I first heard it in 1980, even if the live recordings here don’t really come close to capturing the band’s energy in concert, and even though the original recordings weren’t handled properly in post-production. For sure, when the band first appeared on the scene, there was an incredible desire in Germany to hear something new, because in the mid to late seventies there was a serious musical vacuum in this country. Krautrock and Kraftwerk only partially filled the gap. That started to change with the arrival of punk, which was a breath of fresh air, particularly when the Einstürzende Neubauten first came out. The Neubauten were determined to make new music and break with previous traditions, but with their “anti”orientation,
they were still somehow connected with the traditions they supposedly rejected. They also still wrote “songs”, albeit with a very different approach and purpose. Palais Schaumburg on the other hand, was something else entirely. People often emphasize that there was something particularly “German” about Palais Schaumburg, but that’s not an argument I would make. The band was never interested in placing Germany or, God forbid, “Germanness” at the forefront of pop music. Of course they had their idols, which surely included German expressionists and Dadaists from the twenties and thirties, as well as avant-garde composer Paul Hindemith, who originally wrote the band’s hit, “Wir bauen eine neue Stadt”. But I also heard a tenuous connection to American avant-rock like The Residents or Devo, as well as to dub and disco. These were all influences the band masterfully reassembled in their own way, as on standout tracks like “Gute Luft” or “Deutschland kommt gebräunt zurück”. And the timing was perfect, because, to use a phrase from then chancellor Helmut Kohl, German music at the time was a “blooming, spring-like landscape”—fitting for a band who named themselves after his official residence in a gesture of radical appropriation. Chris Bohn mentions in the
liner notes that the combination of Palais’ incredibly tight rhythm section and layered blend of synth, guitar and trumpet was truly unique. To me, it’s important to stress that this is a result of the fact that these were four individuals of equal creative prowess. Still, Holger Hiller and Thomas Fehlmann properly stood at the helm. As a lyricist, Hiller is not to be underestimated, particularly in relation to the words’ political undertones. Unlike German bands like Slime from Hamburg or Male from Dusseldorf, where it was more about yelling punk slogans and working with clichés, Hiller used incredibly imaginative images to describe what wasn’t working in German society—words taken from postcards or newspaper headlines, reinterpreted as cut-ups and reassembled into poetry. I can’t say yet exactly how I feel about how the more live and authentic sound quality of the original has suddenly disappeared. On the one hand, the remastering helped bring out structure and detail of jazzier tracks like “Eine Geschichte”. My only fear is that that the more category-oriented listening habits of today’s younger audiences might not be able to pick up on something that falls between them all. Grace Jones said that when she heard them for the first time, the U.S. wasn’t ready for music like that. Hopefully they and the rest of world will be now. ~
“I would describe what they do best as a kind of highly practiced amateurism, and it’s something I really value” Arto Lindsay recommends To Rococo Rot’s Veiculo, The Amateur View and Music Is a Hungry Ghost reissued in Rocket Road. 19972001 box set I first saw To Rococo Rot perform at a club called Tier 3 in New York in the late nineties. I remember them sitting onstage and playing repetitive electronic music by hand, note by note, beat by beat. The description makes it seem elementary, but what Stefan Schneider, Robert Lippok and Ronald Lippok did was a revelation: electronic, minimal and repetitive dance music that instead of being sequenced by a machine was played by humans. This, among other things, gave the performance a sort of heavy-handed pathos; what I always saw as an attractive, East German romanticism. That To Rococo Rot was “aligned” with the electronic music scene despite using acoustic instruments appeared to me to be both a major insight and their essential contribution. Everything else was a consequence of that. At the time, there was also an entire whole generation of producers from Germany and Austria who were closeted romantics (although some of them eventually became more open about it): Markus Popp, Fennesz, Tosca, Kruder & Dorfmeister, to name a few. Their romanticism came close to but somehow always avoided sappiness. I also detect a similarity between To Rococo Rot and the East German artist and musician Carsten Nicolai. In fact, the first time Carsten came to New York, I booked his show: a duet with New York turntablist
I-Sound, who would eventually go on to join To Rococo Rot on the third record in this box set, Music Is a Hungry Ghost (and my album Prize). To my ear, Carsten, To Rococo Rot and I-Sound share a fascination with irreducible electronics; sounds you can’t break down into component parts because they’re already subatomic—like small, bright and hard bits of indivisible digital distortion. I especially hear I-Sound emphasizing this aspect on tracks like “Pantone”. The musical sensibility on these three reissued albums reminds me of Another Green World by Brian Eno, which is the record that made me aware of how electronic music could be used in an expressive way. Suddenly I could really feel somebody’s hands manipulating the effects. I could sense the person behind the machine, altering the parameters of the electronics. Until I had that experience, most of the electronic music that I’d been exposed to was either repetitive dance music or electro-acoustic and based on a logic I couldn’t quite grasp. In contrast, To Rococo Rot and I share a non-musician’s approach to music, and I love the basic concept behind the band; the way they take one really simple idea and worry it, manipulate it, turn it over and look at it from a few angles before abandoning it. Listening to earlier records like Veiculo, it’s almost as if they don’t know
how to change chords, or that they only have enough musical knowledge to play something constant and unwavering . . . after which they don’t know where to go. Perhaps I hear a bit of my own frustration. Either way, I would describe what they do best as a kind of highly practiced amateurism, and it’s something I really value. They’re not professional musicians, but they use their limitations as a means to create interesting music. Or maybe I’m just reading all of this into it because there’s something about To Rococo Rot that makes them difficult to evaluate; something ineffable, something slight. It’s intriguing to note that these albums are not particularly old and yet are being reissued. Why? That’s a good question. It’s increasingly common in the age of streaming to encourage a reading of an album as “classic”—to imply weight when everything feels so weightless. At first glance, To Rococo Rot may seem like a minor band in the same way that literature written in a “minor” language was often dismissed before it was championed. I don’t want to force the comparison, but look at how long it took Fernando Pessoa to be recognized as a great poet writing in Portuguese, as opposed to English, French or Spanish. You could say the time is ripe for the value of lots of so-called minor artistic works to be reappraised. ~
Arto Lindsay is a musician and producer who helped define a new generation of brutal, primitive noise music in the late seventies with legendary no wave pioneers DNA. He is also a regular contributor to Electronic Beats. In the last issue he reviewed Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE. EB 4/2012 29
How Pantha du Prince spends 100 euro Giorgio Agamben: The Man without Content (Book, Suhrkamp, German Edition)
Agamben wrote this first book in 1970. It’s a wild and engrossing ride through the history of art and philosophy. If you need inspiration, this book will provide you with it. Agamben says that the artist is a man without content, permanently stepping out of the nonentity of expression. The ways of the artist cannot be explained. He has to create his own reality and therefore is beyond conceivability. The body of the artist is his body of work. With this book, Agamben showed me that both music and poetry are driven by rhythm. Bought at b-books, Lübbener Straße 14, Berlin, EUR 14.00
Inuit: 55 Historical Recordings of Traditional Greenlandic Music (CD, Sub Rosa)
I love the chants of the Greenlandic Inuit because they 30 EB 4/2012
Hendrik Weber, better known as Pantha du Prince, describes his deep, chimey, Detroitinspired sound as “sonic house”. In the Spring 2012 issue of Electronic Beats, he reviewed the first of Clone Records’ three-part Drexciya rereleases, Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller I. And like the enigmatic Drexciyan Gerald Donald, Weber’s music is inspired by science, with his upcoming release Elements of Light (Rough Trade) conceptually created around photons, waves, particles, quantum mechanics and spectral splits.
always leave me thinking about something. What’s especially fascinating is that these are probably the only existing historical field recordings of Inuit rituals of spiritual self-reassurement and safety. They don’t sing words but only sounds, putting themselves into a trance. For me as a techno producer, listening to the Inuit opens a door to a very different world. I have started to work with voices over the past few years, and this collection of recordings is sure to inspire some of my future work. The shamanic chanting is a raw excursion into microtonal experience. The voices vibrate. I’ve never ever heard such chants before. It’s like entering new musical territory for me, the absolute adventure. The Inuit sing with fervor and in a drone-like fashion, oscillating between an atmosphere that’s either more liberating or more oppressive. But more than anything else they define moments of serenity. The individual voice becomes clear and self-assertive. Some of these recordings are more than one hundred years old, so it’s a bit like the Greenlandic equivalent to Alan Lomax’s or Harry Smith’s blues and folk recordings. Bought at subrosa.net, EUR 12.50
2 Carsten Peter: Alpendämonen (Book, National Geographic, German Edition)
When I recorded my last album Black Noise in the Swiss area of Schuttwald Atzmännig in 2009, I attended a New Year’s celebration in a nearby village. The ritual started at 5:00 a.m. in total darkness. You’d hear the bells ringing and hundreds of people singing to cast out demons. I was so fascinated by this archaic ritual that I immediately bought this book by National Geographic photographer Carsten Peter.
3 5 All photos: Oliver Schultz-Berndt
essay by composer and visual artist Christian Marclay documents a multimedia installation featuring the irreparable cracks in both Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass). It doesn’t get much more conceptual than that. Bought at amazon.com, ca. EUR 20.00
John Cage: Empty Words (CD, Edition Wandelweiser)
Even if I am more interested in the sonic phenomenon of inner Switzerland than in the photos, I still find the book inspiring. Bought at nationalgeographic.de, EUR 39.95
Christian Marclay: The Bell and the Glass (Exhibition Catalogue, CFA)
My new album, Elements of Light, was recorded together with The Bell Laboratory and I compose for bells, too, so I guess the connection is obvious. This photo
I was stuck in New York during Hurricane Sandy after I finished my last US tour. As was shown on the news, all cafés and restaurants were shut down, and the subway was completely flooded. Nobody was able to meet up with friends, and nobody dared to walk through the empty city streets. As terrible as it was, it happened to be the perfect situation for music, and particularly to open my mind for Cage’s ten-hour-recording of voices and noises. In a single listening session it became clear to me that Cage must have had the idea of music as a piece of furniture, like Erik Satie before and Brian Eno after him. Empty Words is basical-
ly a marathon meditation on a text by Henry David Thoreau. Cage dissects the original words, transforming them into a new shape. For me, this recording represents something one might call a totalitarian form of modernism. I am fully aware that this recording is just one possible interpretation of many, as Cage only wrote instructions how to perform Thoreau’s text. But I doubt that I would have listened to this recording in its entirety without the context of Hurricane Sandy. It was by definition a calming experience to listen to music in the eye of a storm. Bought at Gelbe Musik, Schaperstraße 11, Berlin, EUR 12.60
Heinz Ohff: Der grüne Fürst (Book, Piper, German edition)
This book about nineteenth century Prussian prince and dandy Hermann Pückler-Muskau is only available in German. That’s a pity because Ohff masterfully describes how this eccentric nobleman originally wanted to pursue a literary career, got rejected and then became one of Europe’s most brilliant landscape designers. ~ Bought at amazon.de, EUR 0.32
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The alphabet according to Laurel Halo
as in APHASIA: A and B are about the gray areas—in particular the cusp between thought and language. I get this thing where my mental Rolodex becomes blocked and I can’t recall specific names and words. It’s as if I never listened to music, read books or seen films in my whole life because even though those are with me forever, the hard evidence fades for whatever reason. For example, I can remember phone numbers and pins better than I can album and track titles. I’m not the best with words and yet here’s a feature for you.
This past June, Brooklyn-based singer-tweakstress Laurel Halo released her debut LP, Quarantine, becoming the latest gem in Hyperdub’s eclectically bejeweled crown. The album’s upfront vocal styling and beatlessness was a departure from Halo’s previous EPs, though it retained her distinct vision of electronic music and synthesis as a medium of fantasy. Indeed, Halo wears her fascination with the aesthetics of digital culture on her albums’ sleeves, with Quarantine featuring florescent manga images of Japanese schoolgirls committing hara-kiri. Here some insight into a dark world lit only by monitor glow, from Aphasia to Z machine. Left: Laurel Halo, photographed in Berlin by Hans Martin Sewcz.
as in BANGER: It’s problematic when people create divisions in music in order to understand it better. Take the exclusive modes for body and mind, where functional club tracks or bangers become aesthetically suspect, discarded for bluntness or devoid musicality or crude adherence to specific BPM/rhythmic requirements. Alternately, beatless, abstracted, concept-oriented, culturally arcane music is heralded for elevating the brain and senses in a supposedly freer, “pure listening” context. This extends to the even more idiotic conceptual division of “male” and “female” sounds, to me instantly segregating them by gender, wherein only aggressive/hard/punishing sounds are male and lush/ambient/ethereal ones female. This disables a more basic, simple enjoyment of music itself. I love both functional and abstract music, and I’m inspired by music that defies categorizations and can come correct in a number of listening situations and doesn’t fit easily into words.
as in C.U.N.T.: My favorite American reality television show is RuPaul’s Drag Race, in which drag queens need to demonstrate Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent in order to become America’s Next Drag Superstar.
as in DISSONANCE: I love music that increases anxiety or uneasiness in the listener.
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as in ECHO: Arthur Russell got me hooked. Love how the sound reflects decaying memory or time passed.
as in FERMI PARADOX: A source of humility is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of extraterrestrial civilization and humanity’s lack of contact with or evidence for such civilizations. The nature for intelligent life to destroy itself and others is among the potential reasons why we haven’t met them. Or that they are monitoring our behavior silently (zoo hypothesis), but communication is impossible because they don’t want to make contact. We must be some lousy temporary jerks if they’re deliberately avoiding us.
as in HAWAIIAN SNOW: Excellent haze.
as in ILLNESS: Illness is a source of inspiration in my music. There’s a history of suicide and mental illness in my family. I like making music that sonically addresses the state of being ill or out of balance.
as in LAZINESS: Astounded that music journalism feels like it has any foothold in shaping cultural discussion or progress. Folds into the larger problem of dying hierarchies of aesthetic distribution and the inevitable quick grabs for content, cool points and ad space. I personally hate reading music websites and magazines because to me the language around music today serves only to dissect and trivialize, and I doubt you will get a remotely accurate picture of this music from a melee of 26 words or phrases that are meant to categorically trace the origins and future projections of something that is changing and I can’t even predict. See A+B and the inadequacy of language.
as in MPC and MACHINEDRUM: Machines that make me happy.
as in J DILLA/JEFF MILLS/JUAN ATKINS: Some Detroit heroes . . .
Read more ABCs at electronicbeats.net 34 EB 4/2012
as in GEORGE CARLIN: Carlin once talked about relating to the stars more than people. In isolation, people are compassionate and good, capable of love and infinite understanding. But as soon as group thought occurs, hatred and separation becomes the standard. Carlin said he had more kinship with the stars because they don’t know the process of social stratification. They can look at him as equals, just more matter in the cosmos.
as in NEARSIGHTED: I’m about halfway to legally blind. I can see clearly less than an inch from my face.
as in KLABUSTERBEERCHEN: Possibly my favorite German word.
as in ORGASM: Apart from music one of the fundamental perks of life.
as in PAREIDOLIA: I constantly see faces in non-faces, electrical outlets, clouds, etc. Creating patterns that aren’t there. I also hear my phone ringing when it’s not and people talking to me when they aren’t. I am constantly hearing ghost harmonies from machines/industrial sources, planes, trains, air conditioners and ventilation systems.
as in SHOWS: Growing up I hated performing in front of other people but at some point the switch flipped and now I love playing live shows for the most part. It’s fun figuring out how to maximize the music for a system, for the body listening experience. I also never go out when I’m home except for going to shows. Now, being on tour for six weeks, the party has gone on for a while, but hopefully a balance of healthy headspace, recording time and shows will work itself out.
as in VOCALOID: Would you date a virtual Hatsune Miku?
Laurel Halo constantly hears her phone ringing when it’s not.
as in WILL: No one’s gonna believe it for you.
as in XENOPHILIA: Into foreigners/strangers though I’m embarrassed by my American accent.
as in QI: Currently reading Kode’s Sonic Warfare and how he describes the vibrational transduction of individuals and how the spaces they occupy have, despite the silent military context, this overtone of past, present and future synthesis. It’s like this cute fantasy in which every human on the planet is but another manekineko, swinging paws back and forth for all non-linear eternity.
as in RESOLUTION: I have a habit with music where I feel the need for a track to wrap up—to tie up loose ends, make it feel resolved and complete. That generally requires a cyclical structure or the appropriate harmonic/melodic/ percussive comedown. It’s fun to experiment with tracks that feel more like cliffhangers and which end on a completely different note from where the track started.
as in TIME: I love how music can simultaneously reinforce and breakdown linear understandings of time.
as in YOLO: You Only Live Once captures the very digital feeling of I’m Living My Life Now and Telling You About It. YOLO is both positive and empty and abstracts living in the present to a hashtag or status update.
as in UBIQUITOUS: Superstructures of organization and distribution like air ducts, public transportation and networked media all are mindblowing for their emptiness. People organizing and shuffling, instructive sounds and visual cues, manholes and water sanitation plants. Civil engineering isn’t wrong for its blankness but harbors a terrifying sense of isolation.
as in Z MACHINE: Living science fiction, the Z machine is the largest X-ray generator in the world and is designed to test materials in extreme temperature and pressure. It gathers data for computer modeling of nuclear fusion and weapons. The electromagnetic pulse discharged for that split second looks like the trippiest, most beautiful lightning. ~ EB 4/2012 35
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GARY NUMAN ON TRENT REZNOR
Mr. Style Icon I have always believed in the importance of image and that performers should strive to present themselves in a way that their music demands and deserves. Whether it be onstage, in a music video, or in the stills from a photo shoot: you must embody your music. To me, the visuals are no less crucial than the sound. When I first saw the now-famous Nine Inch Nails show at Woodstock on television in 1994, I understood immediately that Trent Reznor had a similar approach to performance as I did. The image is, of course, well known: Trent Reznor standing on stage, covered from head to toe in mud. But the gig it’s taken from manages to surpass even that. It was such an aggressive and powerful performance; perhaps the greatest performance I have ever seen. The initial effect it had on me was quite obvious: I started wearing big boots and other items that represented a complete departure to what I was doing before, sartorially speaking. And beyond these superficial developments lay the music, and it’s really this aspect that has endured throughout the years. That said, without that image of Trent Reznor—filthy and at one with a festival crowd suffering from the fallout of intense rainfall—I would never have been hooked. I’ll be a lifelong Nine Inch Nails fan, traceable back to that first exposure to Trent Reznor. There have been a number of bands over the years whose music I’ve really liked but where my admiration has died when I’ve seen them live. They may sound great,
Gary Numan belongs to an elite group of electronic musicians, including Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra and Cabaret Voltaire, who were extremely influential in the development of first-wave Detroit techno and Chicago house. Over time, as the influencers eventually became influenced by those they influenced, a special hermeneutics of pop music was born. Today, pioneers seem to constantly be reinterpreting themselves through the filter of artistic progress they helped create. In Numan’s case, this would be the music and image of style icon Trent Reznor. Here, Numan candidly discusses rediscovering himself in the sound of Nine Inch Nails and their frontman’s primal scream.
Left: His mane is mud. Trent Reznor getting filthy during Nine Inch Nails’ legendary performance at Woodstock ’94. Photo: John Gaps III / ddp images / AP
but their image is weak. Or alternately, they might look aggressive, but their music doesn’t follow suit. Wherever the disconnect lies, it ultimately contributes to a weakening of your art. The way you look, the persona you project, the album art, and the way you move are all different parts that have to work in concert for the whole machine to be operational. Trent Reznor has always been extremely adept at keeping the machine well oiled, and I did it pretty well too for my first few albums. However, from the mid-eighties, I lost it really badly. I had a spell, maybe eleven or twelve years, where I changed the way I looked simply to change it, and the careful balance between music and image that I had previously struck fell away. My look no longer reflected the music, the album covers didn’t suit my persona, and the whole artistic entity came crashing down. By about 1992 nothing was working: the music was terrible, the lyrics were terrible, and the way I looked was terrible. Then in 1994 I started to get it back together again. But there’s no denying that I had a period where I went against all of my own original feelings about how to present pop music, which, in hindsight, was probably related to pressure. When I originally started making music there was no expectation. Everything was an experiment. I was writing short stories as a kind of build-up to my early albums and my appearance was a composite of these characters that I’d created. In the early days there were no ideas or planning
up front. I was new to synthesizers, so the act of simply switching one of these instruments on and listening to what came out of it was a very haphazard and chaotic process of creation. I didn’t know how to program, so I would just turn the dials and wait and see what interesting sounds would emerge and then build songs around them. It was an accidental means of progress and, because of this, I always knew that I was restricted and that my music could go somewhere far better. When I heard Nine Inch Nails in 1994, it was as if they were realizing the potential of whatever tiny ideas I originally had, except Reznor seemed to take these ideas so much further, sculpting them into a huge, professional sounding onslaught. This was the grown-up version to my naive experimentalism. Years later, a friend of mine named Alan Moulder, who was a producer of many of the big Nine Inch Nails albums, told me that when they were working on The Downward Spiral, Trent was listening to my 1980 album Telekon every morning on the way to the studio. I was blown away. Then, in 2009, Trent invited me onstage with them in London when they were doing their last British show as Nine Inch Nails. When he introduced me, he talked about how he listened to The Pleasure Principle at the very beginning of the band’s genesis when he was trying to shape their sound. To find out that you’ve had a meaningful influence on a band that you’ve admired so much for such a long time—that’s an amazing experience that you can’t replicate. ~ EB 4/2012 37
You can’t throw a stone in Sweden these days without hitting an avant-pop chanteuse. Not that you’d want to throw one at Karin Park. Her latest release, Highwire Poetry, proudly takes its place at the forefront of the country’s biggest cultural export boom since chocolate covered Surströmming. Bowie’s a fan.
memorable line in a film or song: “I don’t give a damn what men find attractive. It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.” – Fabienne, Pulp Fiction
hours ago . . . I tried to raise a flagpole in my dad’s garden. After near death, we conceded failure.
After decisions I regret: I don’t regret decisions. I just deal with them. It’s part of my survival instinct, for better or worse.
I’ll be going to the big, outdoor public baths even if it’s fucking freezing outside. The water’s hot, around forty-one degrees Celsius. It’s Sunday, a good Sunday. And I just got home from a two-day studio session in Stockholm.
people that should collaborate: Vladimir Putin, Lydia Lunch and Eddie Izzard . . . in a musical. That would be one hell of a show. All three fascinate me in different ways, and I truly believe they have the potential to bring out the best in each other.
things I haven’t done yet: - Made friends with Dave Gahan and Martin Gore. - Been to Istanbul. - Headlined Coachella. - Collaborated with Gareth Pugh. - BONUS: Had le boeuf with Nick Cave and Blixa Bargeld.
records everyone should own: Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert (ECM) Tricky – Maxinquaye (Island) Burial – Untrue (Hyperdub) Arne Nordheim – The Tempest (Aurora Records) Scott Walker – Tilt (Fontana) Whitney Houston – Whitney (Arista) Fad Gadget – Under the Flag (Mute) Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros.)
lives . . .
Cats have nine lives; I have as many as I have twangs in my throat
things I used to believe: There’s really only one important thing: That grown-ups know better.
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I wouldn’t touch it with a -foot pole . . . True! I prefer touching it with my hands and my body. ~
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A.J. SAMUELS INTERVIEWS GERALD DONALD
“Beta and Gamma tested comprehensively” There isn’t a lot of information on Gerald Donald. And that’s how one of the most important figures in Detroit techno would like to keep it. As one half of the aquatic afro-futurist duo Drexciya (together with the late James Stinson), Donald’s paradigm shifting musical vision and fantastical liner notes on sci-fi waterworld mythology spoke for itself. More recently, under the guises of Dopplereffekt, Arpanet or Heinrich Mueller (amongst others), the mysterious producer has moved away from science fiction towards science fact, recording a series of albums inspired by cosmology and stellar evolution. A.J. Samuels emailed and spoke on the phone with Donald to find out more about his thoughts on sonic efficiency and techno as a form of upward social mobility. Left: Gerald Donald. All photographs taken by Frank Bauer in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, Munich.
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Gerald, anonymity has always been an important aspect of your image, as well as for electronic musicians in general. Paradoxically, it’s also had the effect of making your person even more intriguing. Did you know from the very beginning of your career that you wanted to avoid drawing attention away from the music, or did this develop together with Drexciya’s identity?
Well, I will not directly indicate my involvement in any project. I will leave this question open to observer interpretation. The most important thing has always been the music and concept itself. I adhere to this philosophy. People spend way too much time engaging personalities rather than the music that’s accompanying that personality. Thus, a proportionally inverse relationship is established and in most cases the personality acquires the larger value. Just out of curiosity: Do you have any special connection to a specific body of water?
No. Have your albums’ powerful graphic designs been a way of letting images speak for you without having to further stoke people’s obsessions with personality?
There has to be a conceptual one-to-one correspondence between the visual and sonic. The graphical component has to manifest the concept musically and thematically. This is very critical in conveying a concept comprehensively. The ambiguous and somewhat mystifying cover of Dopplereffekt’s Gesamtkunstwerk from 1999 features a white hammer and sickle on a black background. Also, one of the few well-known pictures of Dopplereffekt feature yourself and partner To Nhan Le Thi in front of Soviet and Chinese flags. What is your relationship to communism and socialism?
Socialism is an ideal political concept in theory. However, in practice, no one followed Marx’s or Engel’s instructions and visions to the letter. Therefore it became corrupted. We’ve seen the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, which had lasted nearly a century. This political theory was designed to place all men in an egalitarian position, and hence create a utopia for the working classes. The purpose of the connection on the album cover was to pay homage to the ideal of this political idea. Music is a communicative medium to represent concepts of any kind, political or otherwise. Dopplereffekt have music data planned for publication soon with the imprint Leisure Systems which will continue in the line of conceptual representation. How can instrumental music be political?
Mainly in the structure of the data, it’s level of aggression and so forth. Usually we associate a particular set of tones, rhythmic patterns and timbres with certain emotions, conditions, ideas or environments. For example, a very rigid pattern and rapid percussion sequence can give the aura of a totalitarian state, as can industrial music. All music structure is reflective of its surroundings. Underground Resistance is known for preaching a gospel of tech-
nology as a savior for the black American underclass. Do you also see technology as an important rung in the ladder of upward social mobility?
Yes. Technical devices allow the rank and file to express their ideas and to move forward in the socio-economic continuum more effectively. There are many demonstrations of this, including mobile communication, social media sites, the Internet in general and especially the production and publication of one’s own musical data. These advances have allowed many common men to be free of brokers and corporate monopolies on certain industrial processes and services. But do you think there are any negative aspects to technical advances in music technology—say, cheap digital production and MP3s? What about an over-saturated music market fueled by the Internet?
This has connections to upward mobility. Yes, the Internet has allowed an infinite number of non-specialists without years of the needed skill development to instantaneously become film producers, music specialists, authors and so forth. But I have no condemnation of people without training, because actually many are quite gifted. My opposition is against those who want to appear profound without proving their value beforehand. Such individuals must first pass through initial steps and gain the required proficiency prior to pronouncement. With his bailout plans, Barack Obama saved Chrysler and General Motors, but Detroit still has one of the highest crime rates in the US and extremely high unemployment. What kind of effect has electronic music had on the city’s economy and cultural landscape?
To be candid in response, the electronic music scene there in particular is a response to urban decadence and the entire spectrum of the socio-economic condition. It’s an expression of a dystopian condition. This is why music that emerged there carries a certain atmosphere and depth. Are there other cities in the world that you feel have a special kinship with Detroit, both musically and industrially speaking? Berlin, or perhaps Rotterdam?
Berlin more so, as there are many similarities between the two metropolises. If you compare and contrast them you will discover this immediately. Do you see yourself and your work with Drexciya as part of the lineage of American afro-futurism in America—next to artists like Sun Ra, Parliament, electric-era Miles Davis or Afrika Bambaataa?
I do not wish to specify any particular ethnicity. I would state that all variations of humanity have contributed to the evolution of electronic music. Electronic music is the only music type that is global in scope and not specific to any particular culture. Granted, if a variety stems from a particular culture, then it will apply its own idiosyncrasies to the form. But in general it’s a universal sonic medium with endless contributions. However, as an external
Right: Attophysics is the study of pulses of electrons or photons at durations of 10-18 of a second—some of the fastest events and the smallest increments of time measurable in science. Gerald Donald is inspired by the speed and precision involved in this particular area of scientific research.
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observer, I can safely say that what we did was not the same. Our concepts took more stimulation from the world’s oceans and its marine life than any musical entity. This is the fact of the matter. The marine domain was the central axis upon which all other elements hinged. Of course all musical techniques influence one another, but in this case it was mostly nature itself. Aside from the ocean and marine life being a reoccurring theme in almost all of your projects, science has also come to play a central conceptual role in your work—from theoretical physics to computer science. How do you understand the relationship between science and electronic music? Does it go beyond the utilization of new technology to also influence composition and an aesthetic sensibility?
Well, keep in mind that the apparatus used in the production process are the results of many technological breakthroughs in computer science, electronics and physics. It’s only natural that the sound created is of a technical kind. So yes, you can accurately state that the world of natural philosophy plays a role in the conceptual development of the sonic and visual aspects. For example, a certain sound or arrangement attempts to emulate nuclear fission or the Schrödinger wave function. It’s imperative that the soundscapes faithfully represent the natural phenomenon in question as much as possible. But the observer can also form his own interpretation. Speaking of interpretation, what about interpreting the future of science in science fiction? Do you read science fiction?
Well, I like to study science in general, and there is no certain author that captures my attention more than another. If I am getting solid knowledge about various concepts, then it’s all acceptable. One has to be careful when bifurcating fact from fiction because the fiction is a projection of what may one day become fact. The only reason it is fiction is because certain technologies have not come to pass and matured. That is, critical understandings of nature remain open. Keep in mind that many technologies and discoveries that were once in the realm of fantasy, such as lasers, nuclear fusion and nanotechnology, are now commonplace in our society. We also have a new project entitled Neutrino Programme, which is a synthesis of cosmology, stellar physics and electronic music data—essentially a manifestation of this relationship in the four dimensions of spacetime. We plan to further extend this concept. Looking back, is there an earliest memory of science or technology that sparked your interest?
You could say it was the beauty of the scientific method and the wonder of discovering a new law or natural principle. When observation has a one-to-one correspondence with theory, it’s quite mind bending. The entire scientific process is fascinating indeed. What about formative musical experiences growing up? What was your introduction into the world of electronic music?
Going back to environmental stimuli: If you are enveloped by a large diversity of sounds and ideas, this will most likely have an
effect on your psychology and future course of musical actions. Did you grow up playing an instrument? Were your parents at all an influence on your musical development?
My musical development was an evolutionary progression from a primitive state to a more advanced state, sonically. It was more or less an interest independent of environmental stimuli. One fascinating aspect of your live performance is the way you move when you play your Korg Triton. For almost the entire Arpanet set I recently saw at ://aboutblank in Berlin, one hand was frenetically tapping the air double-time, as if you were conducting an orchestra of interweaving syncopation and arpeggios. How would you describe the relationship between your body and the rhythm when performing live?
The brain and body are synchronized by motor neurons and our multitude of senses— visual, hearing and so forth. When one controls apparatus for musical interaction, he or she must align mind and matter to ensure that all forces—intellectual and anatomical— are synched or programed for one objective: to operate efficiently in a musical context. This is the binary system and anthropomorphic system in symbiosis. What about adapting your sound and set-up to a live environment?
A live environment is certainly more perilous than a controlled environment. There are many things that can and will experience the law of Murphy. Holger Czukay of Can famously proclaimed that restriction is the mother of invention. Certainly there’s a minimalist aesthetic that runs through much of your music. What kinds of restrictions do you place on yourself when you compose?
I wouldn’t say “restrictions”. It’s more of a philosophy of sonic efficiency. One should include only what is musically essential—that is, that only “x” amount of elements are required to express a musical idea fully. Anything beyond is excess. In a previous interview with Red Bull Music Academy you mentioned the importance of ergonomics in hardware and software design—ensuring that the musical set-up allows for an immediate ability to produce the sounds you want. How customized is your musical set-up for the effortless control of parameters? Do you manipulate or tailor your equipment to your musical needs?
Yes, and I think efficiency in production processes is key to successful sonic exploration and expression. If one has to do extensive, non-essential computer programming and program navigating in the midst of a creative process in sound, it will definitely retard the sonic exploration process and absorb creative energy. This is because you are doing two distinct technical procedures simultaneously: programming the machine and sculpting a sound. Software as well as hardware should have all the basic system errors fully removed or dramatically reduced before the technology is put to market. Beta and Gamma tested comprehensively. ~
Left: Science as meditation. Previous page (left to right): Gerald Donald conducts an experiment with Katarina Markovic and Zazralt Magic from the Max Planck Institutes for Astro- and Extraterrestrial Physics (respectively). Markovic and Magic are currently collaborating with Donald as speakers for the multimedia project, Neutrino Programme, which focuses on the beginning and end of the universe. Find out more on page 98.
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MAX DAX TALKS TO GRIMES
After a year of constant hype, nonstop touring and progressively larger shows, things have finally settled down again for Claire Boucher, aka Grimes. The sudden spotlight thrust upon her following her 4AD debut Visions has shone brightly, but also, from her perspective, glaringly. Now in the process of rediscovering her solitude in the dark forests of British Columbia, Boucher has managed to shrug off the creative restraints that have accompanied her unexpected indie popstar dasein and reenter the introverted world of production and songwriting to which she’s accustomed. Whether the result will be branching out further into the realm of ethereal, wallflower-pop or a percussive noise album (rumors abound), depends on what she finds in the woods. Or what finds her. Claire, I heard you are seriously ill and had to cancel your European tour this November and December?
No, I am not seriously ill. But yes, I have problems with my ears. My doctor says if I’d be doing concerts right now, I’d risk serious and lasting hearing problems. Taking a break was an obvious decision. Glad to hear it’s nothing too serious. We met once in the lobby of the Prague Hilton prior to your show at the Electronic Beats Festival. You seemed a bit like a fish out of water. The whole building felt like a fortress to protect the wealthy tourists or arms dealers or whoever was staying there from the people outside. And there you were with your punk haircut and tattoos.
I remember. Actually, I think that my Prague show was one of the
best performances of that tour. Don’t you sometimes wonder, “How the hell did I get here?” Not too long ago you were giving free concerts for your friends at La Brique or the Torn Curtain in Montreal—both simple, DIY venues.
Well, one thing’s for sure: at the moment, it’s hard for me to write songs for my new album. It’s not easy for me when I get to thinking about other people’s opinions and how they might comment on what I do. I have trouble thinking about fulfilling expectations. I’ve even started fake bands with no specific intention of doing anything with the result. But at least it’s allowed me to work somehow. The situation in Montreal at La Brique was different to how my life is now. For almost a year now, I’ve been on tour non-stop. There were people around me twenty-four-seven. Being
Left: Grimes in Prague. All Photos by Luci Lux.
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able to write again requires me to really be detached from social life, I guess.
But a lot of former artist-run spaces have become pretty commercial. Things have become more difficult in Berlin.
Did you write Visions in seclusion?
Berlin reminds me a lot of Montreal in a positive sense. Montreal is a pretty poor city, so its art and music scenes aren’t that big. Although with music it’s getting a lot bigger. I mean, Berlin isn’t rich, but its creative scene is so much bigger than Montreal’s. Both cities look back at a certain kind of DIY past that was formative in music history. We don’t have a club like the Berghain in Montreal, though. I mean, the Berghain seems so well organized behind the scenes. It’s pretty mind-blowing. I guess you could call it German efficiency.
Yes. I often do my best work when I can be completely absorbed by it. It was the same thing in high school with math. It’s always been about losing myself and losing track of time. I remember meditating on a math problem for over four hours, and only snapping out of it when I had to go to the bathroom. Those were the times when I could really feel the progress. It’s always a good sign to realize that six hours just disappeared. To see how time dissolves can be a powerful experience, and it’s one I miss. Because it’s one thing to talk about stuff and it’s another to actually commit to doing it; to solve a math problem or make music. Not being too self-aware in the process is also really important. So it’s in a trance-like state that you get your best results?
Probably, yeah. In a recent interview with The Guardian you mentioned that you didn’t sleep, eat or meet people for nine days in order to gain a more intense connection to your subconscious, which made it easier for you to write the lyrics for your last album Visions. Would you call that a spiritual experience?
“When I compose I consciously try not to overly reference the pop world. You can evoke a spiritual level within your music when you allow yourself to be inspired by other things—Hildegard von Bingen for instance. All the layering of vocals in my music comes from the experience of listening to her liturgical songs. When I pile up twenty vocal layers it’s reminiscent, at least for me, of medieval or Renaissance chorales.”
I don’t know if I would call it spiritual. I’m not religious, even though I was raised in a religious household. I know a lot of younger people who just take some of the ceremonial aspects of religion and use them like some kind of backdrop. Especially when you look at the Canadian noise music scenes these days. They are very ceremonial, almost cult-like. You mentioned La Brique and the Torn Curtain in Montreal. In these places, when people would gather for a noise show, it would be for, like, seven hours. That can get pretty intense, you know? I guess these happenings serve as a substitute for a kind of religious experience they were missing otherwise. A seven-hour show? That’s intense.
And don’t forget the temperatures in Montreal. It can get very, very cold in winter. Once you meet somewhere, you tend to stay there. Knowing that, musicians relate to it in a special way. It’s funny though, because the more successful I get, the less I find myself in places like that. There are a lot of spaces in Berlin like that too, right? Absolutely. There are still some spaces that aren’t spoiled yet. 52 EB 4/2012
How big a step is it from the small experimental set-up to the skillfully staged concerts this year?
Skillfully staged? It’s a bold statement performing your live shows as a onewoman band together with dancers. Without a band to handle you were in total control of the music, whereas the dancers got the crowds going. It’s a simple but very effective set-up.
First of all, there wasn’t much “staging” involved. I just contacted my friends in any given city and convinced them to dance live during my performance. The dancers weren’t choreographed—they were drunk. In Prague I had three dancers, at the Berghain maybe ten. It seemed like everybody wanted to come and dance. It sort of got out of hand but I think it was a good show nonetheless.
Apart from the fact that your dancers animate the crowd and provoke a reaction, they also come across as a kind of protection: you’re not alone on stage. Do you find that more comforting?
I improvise a lot on stage. For instance, I record my voice while I sing and layer one voice recording on top of the other until I have a choir of sorts. And I do it on the spot. I sing, I sample, I arrange, I play. Having the dancers working the crowd relieves a lot of the pressure. It gives me the freedom to breathe and focus and dance. Having dancers onstage is good for my mental health. So, yes—they do help me feel comfortable. I mean, theoretically, I could perform the same music without them. But I doubt I could do it as easily. I probably couldn’t improvise that much if I felt uncomfortable. Are the avant-garde or European improv scenes at all on your radar? People like Peter Brötzmann or Oren Ambarchi?
Less so, but I’m aware of the history of improvisational music, and I have spent time listening to music like that in the past. Because what I play is improvised, it’s actually easier for me to perform somehow. It makes it harder for me to “screw up”, because I’m never
destroying a carefully planned and rehearsed set. Nobody notices mistakes but me. Audiences assume it’s part of the show. But also the songs I perform live aren’t perfect replicas of the ones on record. All of my shows are different, to a certain extent. I mean, that should be the nature of any live performance by any performer, be it Madonna or be it some improvisational free jazz thing, no? At a Madonna concert nothing is improvised.
Because she depends on a lot of other people, musical and otherwise. For me, playing alone is a luxury. If there were other musicians, it would certainly be much harder to keep that improvisational level up. With six people performing together on stage I couldn’t just change the set list just because I think it would make sense. But changing a set list could be essential when it comes to the dynamics of a live show if you ask me.
Russian in college and had this intense desire to watch Russian films. I like his total approach to film as art, especially when it comes to music. And how does that relate to what you do?
When I compose I consciously try not to overly reference the pop world. You can evoke a spiritual level within your music when you allow yourself to be inspired by other things—Hildegard von Bingen for instance. All the layering of vocals in my music comes from the experience of listening to her liturgical songs. When I pile up twenty vocal layers it’s reminiscent, at least for me, of medieval or Renaissance chorales. I try to incorporate these elements into the concept of pop music to find some kind of new middle ground. In terms of method it’s a kind of copy-and-paste, no?
I’m not sure I’d call it that. Listening to a choir or devotional music is extremely emotional for me, and I try to figure out why it touches me the way it does. If I can see a pattern in the music, I try to make it work for me too. But I want to get back to Tarkovsky briefly. I know lots of people my age who say that his films are too long, too slow and too intense. They don’t want to be lulled into his contemplative pace, and it’s hard to accept a movie that’s threeand-a-half hours long these days. But I can absolutely imagine taking abstract elements from Tarkovsky and implanting them into my music.
You said you sometimes invent fake bands—with real members other than yourself?
Certainly. Just like I invite the dancers onstage, I sometimes invite musicians to perform with me live. But I always take care not to tell them what to do. I try to make sure that there is a basis for everyone involved so that a live show can be built on the concept of improvisation. I encourage them to contribute something unexpected. I want them to do whatever they want. That’s why I picked them. I want to see what happens, not know in advance. In another interview you’ve mentioned Andrei Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier and Werner Herzog as influences. How does that fit into the equation?
Film is probably my favorite medium. If I had more time and money, I probably would work more with film because emotionally it’s so much more effective than music. In a good film music is just a part of the whole. Music is an aspect. I regard film as a total medium that incorporates all other art forms in essential ways. Tarkovsky is probably my favorite filmmaker, because sinister things in his movies are always so subtle. Take Solaris—or even better, Stalker. Stalker to me is just such a cool movie. It’s almost like a horror movie in the traditional sense because it’s so goddamn scary. It’s fascinating to see that Tarkovsky doesn’t need a monster or a bloody zombie to create that atmosphere of horror. It’s a totally intellectual kind of horror, but it affects you emotionally. It’s extremely thought-out. But it’s also astoundingly simple. What about Solaris?
It’s so scary how Kris Kelvin is confronted with his most traumatic memories at the space station. That’s true horror. I don’t see how it can be taken any further. I discovered Tarkovsky because I studied
Nobody objects to the time commitment when it comes to The Lord of the Rings. [laughing] That’s true. I actually watched all three parts again pretty
On the big screen or your iPhone? Alec Empire recently told me how fascinating it’s been for him to watch the trilogy on the tiny iPhone screen with earplugs.
Actually, I don’t have an iPhone. My friend has a big TV. It’s a twelve-hour endeavor. But for me it’s not a contradiction to consume both high culture and Harry Potter or some Japanese mangas. Pop art still appeals to me the most. I guess it has to do with the way I grew up in the 2000s. I like to see a film like Kill Bill as much as I do like watching Solaris. Both experiences are potentially inspiring. Or take dancing: lots of people say that dancing is just a waste of time, but to me it marks a key difference between animals and human beings. It takes a high level of intelligence to interpret music, especially as something you can dance to. It’s spiritual. It’s liberating. If someone can make you dance to their music, it’s a pretty amazing skill. Same goes for all the pop art that touches you EB 4/2012 53
emotionally in a split second. I can’t see anything negative in that. I sometimes get the impression that people mistrust their feelings. I try not to do that, just like I try and trust simple ideas and things that are stripped down to the bare essentials. I think it’s a sign of having mastered something. Are you referring to your own music?
Actually, I would say it’s true of the last Katy Perry record. There are so many people who call her songs easy and so cheap, but to use elements of pop that so many people have used before and still make such an amazing record—that’s awesome. I mean, her songwriting is really on parade, as is the production. A million people are trying to make pop songs all the time, and you’ll listen to all sorts of failed attempts on the radio every day. To succeed in a medium that everyone is working in is a huge achievement, if you ask me. It takes a lot of intelligence and talent for sure. Did you always dance to your own music on stage?
That’s a damn good question. Let me think. I used to dance for another group when they were giving concerts, so dancing onstage was already natural for me when I started doing my own shit. But I think that for the first few gigs I had to focus so much more on my musical performance that I probably didn’t feel laid-back enough to do it. But this changed and nowadays it feels totally natural for me.
Is it at all typically Canadian to need to escape to the woods?
Actually, most of my friends think that I’m crazy. My parents are pretty concerned, too. So, no, it’s not very typical I’d say. But it’s interesting here because Canada is just a big white wasteland in winter.
“One thing’s for sure: at the moment, it’s hard for me to write songs for my new album. It’s not easy for me when I get to thinking about other people’s opinions and how they might comment on what I do. I have trouble thinking about fulfilling expectations. I’ve even started fake bands with no specific intention of doing anything with the result. But at least it’s allowed me to work somehow.”
You studied ballet for a couple of years. Did that make a difference for you at all?
More off stage than anywhere else. I love to dance socially. A lot of my friends make dance music and whenever they play, I dance. Before I had my ear problem I spent a lot of time in studios where they were recording, I’d be dancing to the monitor sound from around the mixing desk. At the DIY venues and in Montreal in general we used to dance all the time. Dancing with friends should not be underestimated. You’re staying in Vancouver at the moment, far away from Montreal and its big music scene. How has being away from that affected you?
I will be spending the afternoon looking for a house, a cabin in the woods to seclude myself from the civilized world for a little while. I’m going back to recording soon, so it’s time to get away from people again. As I said before, making music is a solitary act for me. Other people just become intruders. That’s why I’m looking for a really remote place to spend the winter. I am really looking forward to staying far away, deep in the woods, snowed 54 EB 4/2012
in. The more time you spend away from people the less you hear them commenting. It’s as simple as that. When I’m alone I can refocus. I haven’t really been alone in the past year, and I’m just not made to work on new music after a show in my hotel room. I’m fully aware of the fact that you can go crazy when you’re all alone. I like to think of it as crazy in a good way, though. More manic, really.
Dan Snaith said that Canada’s icy winters are inspiring.
My grandparents lived in the mountains of British Columbia. I spent a lot of my childhood there, but the last six years I lived in Montreal. Now, being back in Vancouver, I’ve only started to realize what I’ve been missing in Montreal. I totally forgot how big an emotional impact the woods must have made on me. Ancient forests were, like, my natural surroundings until I turned eighteen and left B.C. for the big city. Being back here, everything feels so calming. I’m much more relaxed these days. The way you talk about the woods reminds me of Twin Peaks.
The northern landscape is just so big and violent. Of course, Twin Peaks took place just south of the border. B.C. is the perfect environment to shoot films like that or the Twilight series because it’s so scary here with the dark forests and thick fog and shadowy mountains . . . so sinister and beautiful at the same time. When you walk in the forest at night it’s an almost spiritual scariness. It feels haunted. I think the woods are haunted. Really?
Yeah, and movies exploit that really well. Space too. It’s just like the tagline from Alien: “In space no one can hear you scream.” When I go to New York and end up in the Bronx at night, it can be scary too. But it’s different if you’re afraid of getting mugged or if you’re afraid of mass murderers. It’s Silence of the Lambs scary. A friend of mine lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, right on the Mexican border. That’s what you’d call a dangerous town because of all the random drug murders. But I find the psychological threat of Twin Peaks so much scarier than the real, physical one. It’s not a coincidence that Vancouver had a massive industrial Goth scene in the eighties—the most prominent band being Skinny Puppy. The intense, emotional music from B.C. derives from a very specific temperament. ~
MAX DAX INTERVIEWS ARMIN LINKE
“What am I seeing?”
Photographer, filmmaker and visual artist Armin Linke challenges conventional notions of narrative by asking the observer to choose their own adventure—that is, within an established conceptual framework and usually related to a period of historical transformation. In his latest film, 2011’s ALPI, Linke explores man-made interventions across the European Alps. Max Dax spoke with the Berlin-based artist about discovering an often ignored infrastructure amidst the sublime. Mr. Linke, in last year’s ALPI, you edited and pasted together hundreds of smaller scenes of everyday life in the European Alps. The result is a multi-voiced and almost rhythmic narrative full of visual contradictions.
I cut ALPI together with a friend of mine, Giuseppe Ielasi. He’s a musician, so maybe that’s why the film is edited so rhythmically. Prior to working with him, I actually tried out two classically trained film editors, and both failed to get the thing going. That’s most likely because the material that I gathered together with co-creators Piero Zanini and Renato Rinaldi over the course of seven years is not homogeneous. Also, neither Zanini nor Rinaldi are filmmakers. Piero works in the fields of architecture, geography and anthropology, and Renato is actually a musician, like Giuseppe—a composer of complex electronic soundscapes. When we started working on ALPI, we actually weren’t planning to make a film. We wanted to create an installation that consisted of parts: parts of photographs, parts of film and parts of composed sound. Was the installation ever exhibited?
Yes, at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2004. We presented our photos as a triptych and in reference to the nineteenth-century Italian painter Giovanni Segantini. For the Exposition Universelle
in 1900 in Paris, Segantini had the idea to create a gigantic, three hundred and sixty degree installation, some thirty meters in diameter. He almost succeeded in building it, but at the last moment one of the main sponsors—a group of hoteliers in Engadin—withdrew. So the project was left unfinished, and he died in 1899. And what was the installation supposed to look like?
Like a huge, “real life” media art installation, with real cows, real water, real grass, real smells and real sounds. In St. Moritz they’ve built a museum dedicated to the works of Segantini. You can see a conceptual study of the life-sized project in the shape of a triptych. In terms of media art installation, Giovanni Segantini was way ahead of his time. Your film is an aggregation of static shots of moving images. What we see are the Alps across the span of eight countries, and occasionally some surprising contradictions in the landscape.
There are few regions in Europe that are as connected to a certain kind of cliché as the Alps. They have this rural reputation, and people expect that the region never underwent a period of modernization—which is false, of course. But it’s because the landscape seems to dominate everything, including all of the high-tech devel-
Left: Armin Linke, photographed in Berlin by Oliver Schultz-Berndt.
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“Constantly crossing the Alps as a child was formative for me. At the same time I never experienced any one place in the Alps for very long. We never stopped to go sightseeing. I only remember the Alps as a permanent transit situation.”
Right: Verkehrshaus Museum, small-scale model of St. Gotthard railway tunnel system Lucerne, Switzerland 2004
P. 60 - 61: Grand Dixence dam Sion, Switzerland 2004 P. 62 - 63: WEF World Economic Forum Davos, Switzerland 2005 P. 64 - 65: EPFL, École Polytechnique, Alps model Lausanne, Switzerland 2001 Copyright Armin Linke
opments and hypermodern infrastructure that began in 1850 with the railway construction and rise of the tourist industry. You can find lots of examples of interferences with nature, from complex tunnel projects like the one in Mont Blanc to the Large Hadron Collider by CERN near Geneva. I want to stress the fact that the spectator is never fully aware in which part of the Alps each specific scene is shot. You don’t know whether it’s Slovenia, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France, Austria, Liechtenstein or Monaco. In that sense, ALPI is not a documentary that seeks to teach audiences or offers ready answers. It’s not didactic. Rather, viewers should be constantly asking themselves: Where am I? What am I seeing? Does this sequence I am watching at the moment connect to the one I’ve seen before? You grew up in Milan. On a clear day you can see the Alps from there.
My mother is Italian and my father is from Germany, and as a child I spent a lot of time in Germany. To get there, an aunt of mine always drove me through the Alps to Zurich where I was handed over to another aunt who then brought me to Germany—and back again, with the hand-off point always Zurich. You could say that constantly crossing the Alps as a child was formative for me. At the same time I never experienced any one place in the Alps for very long. We never stopped to go sightseeing. I only remember it as a situation of permanent transit. Man’s interventions in nature are a reoccurring theme in your work. How did that begin?
It all started in China when I photographed the immense logistical construction process of the Three Gorges Dam in Sichuan. At that time, the relocation of almost two million inhabitants from the region was already in progress. But they weren’t just being relocated—new cities had to be built for them too. To get an idea of the dimension of the project, imagine purposefully flooding the city of Milan just to build a giant dam. One day, Piero pointed 58 EB 4/2012
out to me that I was traveling all over the world to witness man’s interventions in nature, but I was missing what was literally lying in front of me: the Alps. He emphasized that similar phenomena could be observed right there, only fifty kilometers north of Milan. And that’s when we started filming. One of the first scenes shows the backstage set of a Bollywood film being shot on the Matterhorn. I was fascinated that this Indian film crew had traveled thousands of miles from southern India to the Matterhorn to shoot a Bollywood musical there. I was processing the idea that what’s familiar for me is exotic for people living in Madras. And indeed, you can find numerous such juxtapositions in the film. I think that the Indian crew originally had to think of an alternative to shooting films in the Kashmir region due to the war. And as a result they “found” the paradise-like landscapes of the Alps. I would say that is a good example of how the film is not just about the landscapes, but first and foremost the way we perceive or process these scenes. One of the film’s most interesting moments is a sequence you shot in Dubai.
Absolutely. We went to film a sequence at Ski Dubai. They have a giant-sized shopping mall there and part of it is a huge indoor skiing compound. They even have a hotel in the mall with views of the slopes, the desert and the ocean. When I was in one of these rooms, I immediately had to think of Segantini. Also, you have Indian construction workers all over Dubai—which feeds back into the idea of the film crew at the Matterhorn. And then there’s the sequence about the World Economic Forum in Davos . . . . . . where you see billboards offering expensive condos on Dubai’s artificial Palm Islands archipelago.
Exactly. I have always been interested in that kind of cultural interfacing. A lot of the interconnectedness happened by chance though. Nothing happens by chance.
Well, you’re right in the sense that I am always curious to find these connections. But I can’t force them to happen. I am actively scanning every situation. It’s like a routine, and sometimes I get lucky and these connections become visible. At the same time, I am a photographer. I collect and archive my motifs. It’s a small step from intuition to precision. In our postmodern era, most content is formulated during the editing process. Sense is created through the way you compose that content. For example, when Hans Ulrich Obrist curated parts of the fiftieth Venice Art Bienniale in 2003, he asked me if I wanted to participate in his project “Utopia Station”. Instead of showing a physical work, I chose to experiment with the possibilities of injecting new meaning into the navigating of an archive. What I did was upload large parts of my photo archive to an Internet database and left it up to the audience to edit and create a narrative for the photos and to then print one copy of a book from that selection. Your goal was to create the source from which every possible combination of photos could generate a new meaning?
Exactly. Every individual arrangement led to a different narrative structure. It was an absolutely stunning cognitive experience. Also, the whole exhibition was made possible by certain technological advances. And I was lucky to have architects Herzog & de Meuron agree to design the database’s interface, which eventually became adapted to touchscreen. This is when digital offset printing machines had just started appearing, which also allowed us to print a unique copy of the book at an affordable price. Would you say that “Utopia Station” created an editorial blueprint for ALPI?
You could say that. It certainly opened the door to shoot it the way we did it—as a serial sequence of loosely or even non-connected scenes. But first and foremost the Venice project developed in 2007 into the installation Phenotypes/Limited Forms at the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe. This was about bringing digital data back into physical space—having the public use radio-frequency identifica-
tion technology to select images, which would be printed as a book in real time at the exhibition place. This was also made possible by collaborating with graphic designer Alex Rich, as well as software programmer and musical instrument interface designer Peter Hanappe and the students of curatorial design at the University of Arts and Design Karlsruhe. Like with the film, this project was the result of a collaborative effort. I like working as part of artistic collectives. As opposed to the solitary work of the photographer?
Yes and no. I agree that most of my photos are the result of very personal and solitary efforts, like stalking a specific landscape— the Three Gorges Dam, for example. But at the same time, being a photographer connects you to a lot of people you meet while traveling, without whom you wouldn’t have made certain photos. That also includes taking a photo because of how somebody reacts to your presence. That’s no longer documenting the place, but rather how the place reacts to your presence. I call this the human element. It’s a certain kind of unpredictability that often comes automatically when I travel. And most of the time I follow a kind of a system beneath the surface. Does thinking about the result always include the exhibition visitors and those viewing your films? Would you say they complete the work?
I like art that forces you to actively analyze what you’re seeing. I definitely forced the people at the Venice Bienniale who edited the books to make a decision with every single photo they selected or passed over. And, in a way, I force the audience of ALPI to construct their own narratives out of the loosely connected scenes. How many books were edited and printed?
Approximately thirty thousand. The exhibition also traveled to five different locations, worldwide. But one thing was true everywhere: everybody wanted to create their own book. ~ EB 4/2012 59
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NATIVE INSTRUMENTS & !K7 & MOSTLY ROBOT
“A kind of hybrid”
Horst Weidenmüller: Mate, I’d be
very interested to hear your take on the role of Native Instruments in the context of the development of electronic music. And how does Mostly Robot fit into that vision? Mate Galic: Native Instruments
started in the very early days of computer music—not academic computer music, but rather when processors got fast enough on mass computers, which were manipulable for the average, albeit technically inclined musician. Our core idea was to develop a flexible system to allow musicians to develop their own instruments that are more contemporary. We knew that the time it would take to develop these instruments would be much shorter, because, at least initially, it didn’t involve tons of hardware or people. It was about one person or a small group of people who knew a bit about code and programming. And with the rise of the Internet, this was eventually possible to do wherever, whenever. Our first program, Generator—today called Reaktor—was designed together with musicians working with new, programmable instruments, so the idea of working with users and inviting them to take part in the development process has become a totally natural thing. We promoted the computer as a musical instrument in the early days in order to bring it into the club and try to promote its cultural value. We did our own parties—for example at the WMF in Berlin—in order to show that
Evolution in electronic music occurs at the speed of Wi-Fi, and depending on your function in the shifting ecosystem, the pace of change comes either as a boost or an existential threat. For Native Instruments’ Mate Galic, immediate user feedback and autonomous programming moxie have become pillars of progress in software design. For !K7 label chief Horst Weidenmüller, the rise of music sharing and digital formats has meant developing new strategies of distribution and purchase. For artist and instrument developer Tim Exile, the changing landscape has resulted in new musical models like Mostly Robot—a band of tech-friendly musicians put together by Native Instruments to showcase the company’s gadgets. Here, the three discuss the pros and cons of consumers becoming prosumers and the specter of corporate sponsorship. Left: Tim Exile, photographed in London by Ben Roberts.
sponsorship wasn’t about imposing our ideas on electronic musicians, but rather about integrating them into a larger scheme of mutual development. We were actually the first company to be invited to the Sonar Festival to showcase our co-development of computer music with artists. It went over really well and they contacted us again while we were celebrating our tenyear anniversary, and that’s when the idea came about with Mostly Robot: inviting six extremely talented musicians together to utilize a quasi-crowdsourced technology. Tim Exile: My relationship with
Native Instruments is at least partly based on my being involved with software development, Mostly Robot certainly isn’t your usual artist-sponsor set-up. Previously, I’ve written two plug-ins geared towards live performance for Native and the instrument I use within Mostly Robot, the Mark II, is one that I’ve developed. Mostly Robot is my first experience with joining a specifically musical entity largely funded by another company. But that’s something I have no problem admitting because ultimately, the project isn’t an impersonal marketing ploy—it’s a carefully curated band. We’ve been given room to evolve naturally as artists. It’s quite obvious how shaped it is by everybody’s musical experiences: Jamie [Lidell] and Mr. Jimmy have lots of experience in bands, so they naturally took a more leading role. That’s good, because the rest of us didn’t
really have any experience with the pitfalls and possible joys of playing as a band. But the roles aren’t strained or too strictly defined. HW: Yeah, Mostly Robot doesn’t
come across as some sort of casting band, but more as an attempt to adapt to a rapidly changing music market and artistic landscape. Personally, I can say that there were times that !K7 was in the forefront and other times that we were just crap. However, I still think corporate sponsorship is a very difficult thing. I’d rather be dependent on having thousands of paying fans and perhaps millions of non-paying fans than one sole sponsorship.
MG: That depends entirely on the
way it’s done, in my opinion. It might sound like a plug, but to be honest, Electronic Beats Magazine is a breathtakingly original publication that functions because it has the most corporate of sponsorships. The first time I read the magazine since it was relaunched in 2011, I was at once shocked, annoyed and blown away that Telekom stood behind something so journalistically forward thinking, subjectand content-wise. Having said that, before 2011 it was crap. Personally, I don’t care about Telekom, but reading something of value like this, changes my view on the company, whether I like it or not. HW: But I’ve seen some abso-
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example, at Primavera Festival in Barcelona last year, they had two massive inflatable beer bottles on either side of the main stage. Beer bottles! And bands just play and don’t question it anymore! I think for me that goes a bit too far. It’s insulting and mindless. And it’s sad watching The Cure between two oversized blown-up replicas of some product. This wouldn’t have been possible fifteen or twenty years ago. People wouldn’t have stood for it. TE: I think the risk with cultural sponsorship is always going to be that it cheapens the content. It’s like a sliding scale, where the more heavy the sponsorship, the more it undermines the authenticity of the content. It’s just a matter of where you define the point where it becomes too heavy, too invasive. I played at Melt! Festival on the Red Bull stage and I think that, by and large, Red Bull has really nailed it in terms of sponsorship. Of course, what you’re describing, Horst, is branding at its worst. But then you get the almost entirely unbranded examples like the Intel Creators Project which, from what
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Above: Native Instruments’ Mate Galic (left) and !K7’s Horst Weidenmüller (right) were both photographed in Berlin by Luci Lux.
I can tell, is all about just standing behind big ideas, and very quietly letting people know that this company is supporting this. MG: Honestly, I don’t go to certain
events because my aesthetic sensibility is so offended by sponsoring crap. But things are changing. Just look at what Monocle have created at a very mainstream level. Tyler Brûlé has combined advertising, sponsoring and art in the most innovative possible way.
HW: The question isn’t whether
corporate sponsorship is good or bad, but how it can be done well. I think it takes extreme sensitivity. You know, if I could turn back time and sell ten times more records like we did in the past, I’d do it. As a label, we’re no longer the cash cow. But we’re still responsible for marketing our acts and products.
TE: There’s no subterfuge involved in Mostly Robot. There’s no hidden branding agenda or pretext. It simply enables five individual solo musicians to come together to work on a project and play some
really cool gigs. Using an earlier example, it’s a different model to Red Bull, where one is a band and one is an energy drink. That’s a partnership with clear boundaries. Mostly Robot is a creative model, even if it comes out of the same set of circumstances, which is the undeniable fact that the amount of money that you can make from music has shrunk. MG: I also can’t say if sponsorship
is good or bad. But ours isn’t the same marker as yours, Horst.
TE: I will say that, in terms of having sponsorship, Mostly Robot does feel different. But only because of the budget that’s been made available and what’s able to happen as a result. There’s no way that we, as individuals, would have found the means to do that. Still, the emphasis of the sponsorship is to sell the equipment that we’re using. The press that were initially brought into the fold—FutureMusic, Computer Music—dictates a certain kind of coverage, one very much from a music tech angle. So it makes sense that people’s focus is our equipment; what we’re doing
with it, how we’re using it. That’s different than the more musicoriented style and hipster press. But fair’s fair. A sponsor will want to get their money’s worth. Because it’s Native, it feels less alien. MG: From what I understand,
people do assume that Mostly Robot was casted, when in reality we just gave them the freedom to do whatever they wanted with our tools. People only started understanding that when articles in De:Bug or FutureMusic came out about the band, even if there was a definite tech focus. I’m judgmental too, so I can’t blame anybody for having an opinion. That said, in the beginning Mostly Robot was conceived as something for the artists and us—not specifically for a market or branding. Now Native is bigger, people look at us differently in a lot of respects.
HW: Do you guys have a
problem with piracy?
MG: Of course. In the beginning,
when Native was just software and plug-ins, there was at least ten times the amount of pirate versions in circulation as software that was actually paid for. But we then adapted by creating hardware. If you look at the way massive companies like Apple are dictating the prices for music software like Logic, it means that in order for us to compete, we have to be happy making peanuts on certain products, so to speak. And for computer audio, the market is constantly changing. Apps and programs for tablets are exploding and opening entirely new channels for people to engage in making music. In contrast to a label that presents the finished work of art, we present the tools and tell the people, “Use this!” That’s maybe why we’re much more bound to thinking about the bumpy road of changing technology and the interest of kids today to autonomously experiment with computer music, especially those who aren’t experts and haven’t studied it.
HW: Having to adapt to certain
situations and changing conditions in the music industry makes
people creative, but it’s not a sufficient condition for making art. That, for me, will always only be about straight-up passion. I often think back to the X-Mix video series, which were the first videos made specifically for techno. At the time, I was extremely frustrated by the fact that the rights for indie labels always ended up with the majors. In contrast, computer music had a special fascination because of its independence but otherwise general lack of visualization. DJ-Kicks was similarly driven by passion. We asked ourselves, “How do we put together all of the incredible music that’s happening outside of the club context?“ The end product is something special; a real hybrid between an artist featuring his or herself and featuring other artists. Both are of absolutely equal importance. TE: I think there’s real shift hap-
pening within the music tech industry, which also makes it a kind of hybrid. It’s becoming more of an entertainment industry. Native sells to this prosumerconsumer market, and part of that is bound up with selling an “entertainment experience”. With all these RGB [red, green, blue] LEDs everything looks good. It’s almost like a space age fantasy that’s being sold; a unique experience that involves making music easily and in a really fun way. Previously, in the age of selling guitars and traditional instruments it was the idea that you could be just like your guitar heroes, playing complicated, sophisticated technical guitar solos that went on forever. Now the emphasis has shifted. Music technology has to be very user-centric.
MG: That’s true. But to return
briefly to what Horst was saying before: I think “necessity” is the wrong term to describe creative development. For Native, “lack” or “limitation” of tools would be a much more fitting description. That captures our entire trajectory. Our new products—software and hardware—are developed not because we jump on a bandwagon, but rather because we see that something doesn’t exist. For
example, with glitch you can hear a lot of Reaktor, which I think actually was pretty influential for the genre. Same for dubstep and bass music with our Massive software synth. I suppose for some products and tools it can be a chicken-or-the-egg question, and for others less so. Certainly, the Internet radically changed how products were designed. Users immediately voicing their opinions through forums or social media created a bi-directional channel with companies. Being a software company meant we could always react to users very quickly, and were able to respond to big feature requests in subsequent updates. TE: Looking towards the future tech-wise, I still long for a real instrument within electronic music. And by instrument, I’m taking as a benchmark the traditional stuff: guitar, violin, piano, drums . . . things that you learn to play and you use throughout the whole process, from learning to performing and recording. I’m actually building a new instrument at the moment, the Mark III. As I mentioned, the one I use with Mostly Robot is the Mark II, so I’ve become deeply acquainted with the perks and flaws of that machine and I’m building a new one from scratch. The reason I’m able to devote my time to the instrument is because I’ve been my own sponsor: I’m still living from the sales of the Native plugins. As an artist and a technician I’m chasing a fantasy of how I want to play music, how I want to interact with it, how I want to experience playing as it unfolds. When I perform as part of Mostly Robot I get the chance to use my instrument experimentally. But it’s a very specific kind of experimentation. When you create technology you define the parameters, but that’s never the whole story. By setting those boundaries you set a process in motion that allows those definitions to break down, and artists to work outside of them. As an artist you want that freedom; that infinite time to do the infinite project. This isn’t possible if you have to be out getting gig fees every weekend. ~
Above: The pads look like candy, but most users know not to lick. Native Instruments’ Maschine is one of the best examples of the company’s increasingly user-oriented design. The controller includes a patternbased sequencer, professional sampler, multi-effect unit and plug-in hosting.
Above: !K7’s DJ-Kicks series helped revolutionize electronic music by bringing the club, the world’s best DJs/producers, and their carefully curated sets into the home listening context. Kruder and Dorfmeister’s mix from 1996 was one of the label’s most successful and critically acclaimed.
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MADLIB TALKS TO THOMAS FEHLMANN
“You got to pay your dues” Madlib: Thomas, just so you
know: I’m a man of few words. Thomas Fehlmann: The last big
interview I read with you was in Wire a few years back. My good friend and former fellow band member Moritz von Oswald was on the cover just a few months before that. Back in the day we played together in Palais Schaumburg. Have you heard the new album Fetch he did with his trio? It’s really impressive, very jazzy, electronic, and very eclectic.
M: No, I haven’t. I actually don’t know much about new music, really. TF: Well, Palais Schaumburg is old
school. And pretty experimental. Early eighties. We started playing live again last year for our thirty year anniversary. I played—and still play—live synth and trumpet through an echoplex. The lyrics are all in German and very Dada.
M: Oh, I’d love to hear it. Trumpet through an echoplex, huh? TF: Yes, it’s pretty free, apart from an occasional riff, although our music is mostly structured around a danceable beat. It seems to me that generally speaking, European music is obsessed with rhythms in 4/4, particularly today’s dance music. Do you think this is a continental phenomena or what’s your take on straight rhythms? M: Well, funk is 4/4. It’s so you
L.A.-based beatmaker and multi-instrumentalist Madlib is widely regarded as one of the most original producers in hip hop. Born Otis Jackson Jr., the thirty-nine year old Stones Throw label vet and former Lootpack member has honed a jazz-tinged, sampleheavy sensibility that defined the genre’s underground offshoots in the late nineties and early twothousands. An avid crate digger and vocal proponent of sample source eclecticism, Madlib’s path has rarely strayed from the groove-related, and his most recent work with veteran krautrockers Embryo is no exception. In a rare conversation, the notoriously reticent musician opened up to Thomas Fehlmann of The Orb and Palais Schaumburg about collaborating with the late, great J Dilla and the joys of discovering German music.
Left: Madlib, photographed in San Francisco by Mathew Scott.
can dance to it. Although, shit, I could dance to 5/8. It’s all music. TF: I hear you. What have you been
up to since coming to Berlin?
M: Just drinking wine, chilling with Embryo and relaxing. I’m sure you know that Embryo is a musical collective from Munich that started out in the seventies. They make pretty eclectic krautrock, working a lot with jazz musicians and world music and whatnot.
M: Yup, I picked it up almost immediately when it came out. There are some absolutely brilliant tracks on there. Honestly, Can are one of my all-time favorites. I actually played with Jaki [Liebezeit] with the Brasilintime cats. TF: He also has this bril-
liant project with Bernd Friedmann. It’s so cool that Jaki’s so persistent about working with all types of artists.
M: Yeah, he’s very open-minded.
TF: Have you guys been rehearsing?
TF: Have you gone record shopping in Berlin yet?
M: No, just listening to some of the stuff we recorded last time, around five hours of tape.
M: Actually, no. Nobody’s told me where the stores are at.
TF: But you’ll also be play-
ing a show in Berlin later this year. I actually penned that into my calendar before I knew that I would be meeting you for this conversation.
M: Hey man, bring your trumpet to the show. TF: How did you know about Embryo? Crate digging? M: Actually from touring. I’d been coming out to Berlin since 2001, and I’ve been learning about different types of music. Krautrock is certainly one of my favorites. TF: Have you checked out Can’s Lost Tapes?
TF: Well, you should start with Hard Wax. It’s not your average shop. The people who work there and run it have very strong opinions about what they carry. There’s also a legendary cutting room there where they master the records for lots of international producers. Unfortunately, they don’t carry that much hip hop anymore. . . M: I never buy hip hop records. TF: They also have quite a selec-
tion of African music, which recently started to blow up a bit. This grew out of the whole reggae and dub wave, and it sits quite well with the broader stream of contemporary releases. I find some of it is very psychedelic. EB 4/2012 73
M: I love psychedelic stuff. That’s my era. TF: Is that what you grew up listening to with your parents? M: My parents were incredibly open-minded. They had everything from James Brown to Kraftwerk, and I had a record player in my room, so I would always steal their stuff and listen to it on my own. TF: You’re lucky. I had to fight with my parents to play what I liked and to get my turn at the record player. Eventually when they got a stereo, I was allowed to set up the old mono system in the basement for my use.
Above: Madlib’s younger brother and fellow beatmaker Oh No recently released Dr. No’s Kali Tornado Funk (Five Day Weekend). The siblings have just completed a collaboration LP due out in early 2013.
M: That’s how I first learned about music. Back then music was a different feeling. These days everybody follows trends. I honestly think things were far more open-minded back then. People tried harder, and there was more of a spiritual aspect involved . . . TF: It’s maybe surprising, but I think music with a spiritual angle is the music that really endures. M: I also like my music loose.
Quantized is cool, but I also like that human feel.
TF: I think the humanness is what separates your productions from things done within the grid . . . M: Well, I like that stuff too. TF: I remember when I picked up the first Yesterdays New Quintet record—one of your many aliases—I was so impressed. I mean, a lot of people say they like jazz, but actually doing it is another thing. Of course, I’d been listening to you since back in the day with Lootpack.
M: [turning it over] Ah, Steve Reich samples. TF: Had to get permission for those. M: Of course!
Above: There was a time when The Orb were practically the only ones making minimalist ambient house. While those days are long gone, the current duo of founding member Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann found themselves charting equally weird waters for their recent collaboration with Lee “Scratch” Perry, The Orbserver in the Star House (Cooking Vinyl).
M: It’s an honor for me to hear
that. Actually, Yesterdays New Quintet was my first shot at jazz. Sometimes, I kind of feel like a musical schizophrenic, to be honest. But I think that’s probably not a bad thing. TF: I know what you mean; try-
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ing to absorb all the magic stuff one is passionate for. The new Orb album we did with Lee Perry, The Observer In The Star House, was also a first for us in many ways. He actually spent a week with us in the countryside near Berlin. We had to be ready when he was ready to flow and that was basically always. He had a tremendous hunger for new beats. We needed to be fast, have all the machines and beats ready at any time. Lee also had a buddy with him, and he told us that usually after around two days, Lee gets bored with whatever he’s doing . . . but he stayed for the full week. This is the album [shows cover].
Right: Thomas Fehlmann, photographed in Berlin by Luci Lux.
TF: As I mentioned before, I’ve been following you for quite some time. I decided to take a picture of all your records that I own. [showing collection pic] I’m not as prolific as you are but there are similarities, I also make lots of my music from my record collection, mostly older stuff. M: Got to come back to stuff that people missed. TF: I tend to treat my samples quite a bit, but it’s a similar flow in that existing music is the foundation and main source for the artistic result. That’s not to say that some of it can’t get pretty radical . . . M: Even if it doesn’t sell, right? That’s some of the best stuff! TF: When I see your work, I can look at it as if the idea of using your record collection to make music is a kind of conceptual art: the cultural output of society as the source material, put through the filter of your mind and your sampler. What about the other cultures that you explore in your music—nonWestern conceptions of pop?
M: It’s all music that was done through records I bought—not visits to India or the Middle East or whatever. But I did manage to pick up the records from all over the world. The Internet for me has been a help in finding material, but it’s actually something I just started using. I’m not constantly listening to streams or anything like that. We used to have tons of record stores where I live, but they’re disappearing one by one. TF: Tell me about it! How important is the artwork for your records? M: Well, it has to fit. A lot of the artwork just comes from pictures in my room or whatever. Like the Quasimoto album with the Frank Zappa bubble . . . This is stuff I look at all the time and surrounds me. I was living with Jeff Jankrub who does all the artwork, and we just listened to tons of Zappa. TF: When I was a teenager I used to go to Zappa concerts when he was playing with Ruth Underwood and George Duke. M: You got to love Zappa and Beefheart, The GTOs, Wild Man Fischer and George Duke . . . Zappa made me study all that stuff even more. TF: Don’t forget Varèse! That’s the direction Zappa pointed me in. M: You got to pay your dues. TF: I think in Europe, there’s been resurgence in vinyl, amongst DJs, of course, but also people who love the object and its special sound quality. I see the whole numbering and signing thing as a part of that, which I know you’ve done. Is there a vinyl resurgence in the US? M: Not that I know of. I mean, it’s still around and some people buy it, but not enough. TF: You did it with the Medicine
Show, too. Labels are becoming more like art galleries, encouraging their artists to put out stuff that’s really personal and unique, visually and sonically.
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everywhere, in so many different kinds of music. His influence was immense. He could do any type of music. I heard all sorts of stuff he didn’t release—electronic, Kraftwerk stuff . . . He was deep. I was lucky enough to kick it with him here in L.A. I guess he had to die for everybody to, you know, find their own way. It’s a weird way to put it, but that’s how it is. The music is so warm, precise and soulful. That’s how he lived. He’s like Bird and Coltrane, like Doom and . . . Doom. TF: You’re one of the few people who’ve gotten access to the Blue Note archives, which you waded through to make Shades of Blue back in 2003. I always wanted to know what that was like.
Above: Madlib’s got more than one trigger finger.
M: I think the art is as important as the music, to be honest. I don’t just download things. I want to know who played on a record, who produced it, where it was made . . . This stuff is important to me and always has been. TF: So you don’t listen to contemporary music at all? M: I do, but I don’t buy it. I’ll hear
it when I’m in a club or whatever, but I don’t search it out.
TF: But there are musicians these days doing great things you just can’t hear in a club. It’s stuff that’s spiritual too but too experimental for the dancefloor, like Jan Jelinek or Daedelus, for example. M: I like Daedelus, that’s my boy. But I have so much old stuff to discover I don’t know when I’ll have time to get to the new stuff. TF: I remember reading in
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released around thirty percent of the music I’ve created. TF: One thing I’m really curious about from a musician’s point of view is how you find the time to be in the studio and make so much music and still take care of, like, domestic stuff? M: It’s not balanced. I’m mostly working in the studio. I mean, I have one at my house, but I’m usually in my bigger studio. I do what I need to do to feed my family, so they understand. It’s not really a balance yet, but I don’t see it as work. It’s music. Doing construction is work. What about you? TF: I have to be able to let go to
make good work. Forget about what’s going on in music, forget about my to-do lists. My mind and my environment have to be relatively in shape before I go into the studio.
your interview in Wire that you have all sorts of “future music” that’s unreleased. When are we going to hear that?
M: Yeah, it’s easy to ignore every-
M: I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’m ready to hear it. There’s a lot of music I’ve done that’s gone unreleased: dubstep, synthesizer records, all types of different things, Cluster-like and beyond. I would say I’ve
TF: Tell me about that. He’s regarded as one of the most important producers . . .
thing, when your head is in the music. Even your health. It was the same thing with Dilla.
M: When he was alive, so many people seemed inspired by what he was doing. I heard Dilla
M: It was fun. They have way too much stuff they should have released. The best records are still in the vaults. TF: There are so many new things coming out of Los Angeles. I really like your brother’s work too, Oh No. M: We actually just finished an album together. TF: Really? That’s great news. I can’t wait to hear it. I’ve seen Oh No live a bunch of times. I actually just picked up his new record, Dr. No’s Kali Tornado Funk. M: He’s a little beast. Both of us
like looking all over the place for sounds. Really, you can find good things in every kind of music. I mean every kind, you know? You just have to look hard enough and have an open mind.
TF: In Germany we have a very broken relationship towards our cultural identity. Classical stuff here is more bourgeois. Then there’s the real folk music with accordions and all that. Some of it is impressive. M: Everybody is one, we just
live in different places. I’m ready to sample some Martian music, aliens and what not. I’ll perform for all Martians, you know what I mean? ~
ALEXIS TAYLOR IN CONVERSATION WITH JUSTUS KÖHNCKE
“Sounds like Prince!” Alexis Taylor: Justus, we’ve known
each other for quite a few years, since Felix and Al asked you to remix “Over and Over”. I remember meeting you for the first time at Watergate in Berlin where we were playing a show. Justus Köhncke: That I unfortu-
nately don’t remember. But I know that Stephen Bass from the label Moshi Moshi was who put you on to me. I think he even has my first ever single—a pink vinyl I sold by hand and in a few choice record stores in Cologne. All three hundred copies. It’s covers of “Let ’Em In” by Paul McCartney and “Wie viele Menschen waren glücklich, daß du gelebt” by Hildegard Knef. Yeah, when he was still in the music business, Stephen was giving me remixes to pay my rent!
AT: He’s still in the music business.
But I remember we met again in Cologne after a show we played. JK: I remember. That was at the Sixpack in Aachener Straße.
AT: I got a bottle of beer and then
dropped it by accident. So I got another one and I did the same thing. The bar staff was very angry with me. I protested that I wasn’t even drunk. I recall we spoke about you coming to tour the U.S. with us, but that didn’t work out. Then you asked me to remix a track, but I just ended up putting my vocal on it. JK: If I remember correctly, that’s why the track is called “Sorry”—sorry for you not delivering a proper Hot Chip
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Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and German producer Justus Köhncke have developed an on- and offstage kinship that’s given rise to numerous mutual remixes, twelve-inch collaborations and “sing-jaying” live performances—most recently under the moniker Fainting by Numbers. But beneath the dancey surface of the occasional duo’s vocal-heavy tech-disco is a core song structure that works just as well outside the discotheque. Theirs is a sound born from a balance between experimentation and strict arrangement, and starved of the unnecessary flab that weighs down boring dance music. “I actually hate improvisation,” Köhncke tells Taylor here in a spirit of friendly provocation. At least the two can find common ground in Scritti Politti and creative approaches to the post-production editing process.
Right: Alexis Taylor, photographed in Berlin by Luci Lux.
remix for my track “Parage”.
AT: I also like that it’s a mix of things, with the John Lennon song on the A-side, “Watching the Wheels”, and a song of mine on the B-side that you produced . . .
Chip because you all still do your thing even though some people think you might not be “exclusive” enough anymore. Just for being a perfect pop band that tours the world and makes people happy! I remember when you were on the cover of Spex four years ago, the title was “The Band of the Future”, in reference to your loose composition style . . . and the ability for the band to morph, stylistically. I think that’s what allows Hot Chip side projects to flourish. Also, your anti-rock stance is something I’ve always appreciated. There’s no machismo bullshit. I know people always ask themselves which one of you is gay, which is hilarious because none of you are! You have kids! And houses! And wives! It sometimes reminds me a bit of the band Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle from Munich—FSK for short. I really enjoy your set-up with the MPC and toys and percussion stuff. And originally without drums right in the front of the stage.
JK: I thought it was ours, actu-
AT: The no drums thing was
AT: But it was also about the tour not working out . . . JK: Yeah. As much as we’re friends, I couldn’t have done it under those conditions. That would have been, like, hard labor. I’m too old for that. AT: But I quite enjoy the DJ gigs we’ve done together, integrating your music into it and me singing on the top. Pretty loose, really. JK: I’m glad we finalized our first single yesterday, finally. Hot Chip is bursting with side projects that the band can’t oversee anyhow. But Fainting by Numbers is a keeper, if you ask me.
ally. I like the fact that Fainting by Numbers so far is both electronic and ballad-oriented. It’s definitely a sound I always had, I would say. I’m afraid I’m known more for uplifting disco stuff, like “Timecode” . . . which you are too, Alexis. But my favorite stuff by you is still Hot Chip. To me, it’s the perfect pop band. Even after having lost the sheen of being the hippest thing in town. As we all know, in the next six months it’s some band from Brooklyn that’ll be the next biggest thing. That is, if they haven’t drowned. But as I was saying: I have to praise Hot
because our drummer left and we never replaced him. But setting up all across the front of the stage in a line came from always being the support band for someone else and having to set up our gear in front of theirs. I remember once in Berlin To Rococo Rot were very taken with the lack of the drummer as well. Of course, things are different now that we do have a drummer and we all play three or four different instruments live. Also, I used to watch old videos of Devo and I remember being impressed with how they played at the very
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edge of stage and had this almost choreographic thing happening. JK: I’ve also noticed how you not only change instruments often, but also improvise quite a bit. The shows are really different from city to city. AT: Bob Dylan is a great reference point, because he’s always changing the words and the melodies to songs. He’s interested in the depth of a song and is a proponent of the idea that if a song is strong enough, it can be reconfigured. People like Will Oldham and Dylan as performers are incredible for exactly that: their ability to reinvent. I always wanted Hot Chip to be flexible, to get rid of rigidity. I think we’ve achieved that somewhat. Take “Boy From School”—I don’t even recognize that song anymore because we’ve been playing it so differently for so long. JK: I don’t want to connect gender theory to what you do, but I always loved bands that didn’t attach specific roles to each member. There is no “front man”, or “drummer” or “bass player”. The band is liberated. And everybody sings, although I suppose you and Joe do that the most. AT: Yeah, it was really Joe and I who started Hot Chip together and then expanded it into the group. But initially, we never really thought about our live presentation. We just thought about what sounds we wanted to make. And then we realized how to do it while we went along. You come to understand during your career, if you have one, that people expect certain roles. We don’t do it so much anymore, but when we made The Warning and Made in the Dark, we talked a lot about Can, who everybody loves. We talked about creating something new from endless playing together in a room. JK: I know from talking with Irmin
Schmidt that Can always travelled with their own sound system. There was no PA. The monitor was the PA. The back of the stage was a wall mounted with specially designed speakers, which were
then assigned to each band member, but were hidden. There was no mix for the front of the house and that’s what must have made it an amazing live experience. It all came from the stage, kind of like the Velvet Underground. Even though I was born and raised with the Velvets, I only learned a few years ago how sound obsessed, or “sound-istic” as I like to say, they are. I read in a Lou Reed interview a little while ago that he hates the first VU record. It’s clear that being “sound-istic” means sometimes missing the point, if you ask me. AT: When I met Charles Hayward from This Heat, we talked a lot about Can. When he and Gareth Williams and Charles Bullen formed the band, they had been obsessed with Can. I think they had actually visited the Can studio and had wanted to set up something similar. It’s interesting that so many people and so many bands feel drawn to them. I know you do film production work with Irmin Schmidt, right Justus?
“Every homosexual has a diva and she’s mine.” Justus Köhncke has been remixing Hildegard Knef since his very first pink twelve-inch some fourteen years ago. Together with Eric D. Clark and Hans Nieswandt as Whirlpool Productions, Köhncke most recently released a remix of Knef’s “Und wenn ich wage, dich zu lieben” from her 1977 LP Lausige Zeiten.
JK: Yes. My original connection
with him was through Whirlpool Productions. We wanted to record a track from the album Brian De Palma, but we didn’t have any way of recording the vocals, so we ended up getting René Tinner’s number through Hans Nieswandt’s wife’s brother. We went to Weilerswist, which, by that time, was a commercial studio. René Tinner then put me in touch with Irmin and now the three of us do film scores together: Irmin writing, René mixing and myself producing. I’ve learned a lot from Irmin Schmidt. I never went to university. Or rather, I did but to no avail. I don’t have a driver’s license. My last diploma is from high school, my Abitur. But Irmin Schmidt taught me. Would you say there’s somebody you learned from, Alexis?
JK: Do you think you can still learn from the importance of thinking and acting spontaneously even if you don’t play jazz or avant-garde music? AT: Charles once told me at a festival, “Sometimes I look at the shape of the crowd and play that as if it’s the music score.” It’s a very different approach. Another person who I have that relationship with is Green Gartside from Scritti Politti. You see, Prince was my main obsession growing up. I only had one Scritti Politti twelve-inch to begin with, which was “Oh Patti”, featuring Miles Davis. And I thought, “Wow! This sounds like Prince!” But later I discovered the first album from 1982, Songs to Remember, and I thought, “Wow! This sounds like Prince!” To me it was a lot like Sign o’ the Times, only five years before. I couldn’t believe it. It’s interesting to hear how “A Slow Soul” predates “Slow Love”. JK: Songs to Remember is an absolutely classic record. Timeless. It survived the eighties big time. I remember I bought it on recommendation from Sounds magazine.
AT: Certainly from Joe [Goddard]
over the years. That may be obvious, but it should be said. We work in very different ways and have different methods of composing music, but playing with him has always been challenging and inspiring. We’ve been friends since
we were eleven years old. Beyond that, I think Pat Thomas, John Coxon and Charles Hayward from About Group have taught me loads. Charles especially. He has such a different approach to music, and not just the actual sound he gets out of the drum kit. Although I think he gets the best sound I’ve ever heard. He’s just a very bright person and does nothing conventionally. You can tell he really listens to music. And live, he won’t play until he’s taken in what’s going on around him. A lot of the sessions we’ve been involved in, he’ll wait until he has something to say, musically speaking. He’ll never hit the drum unless it’s deliberate. But he’s also comfortable being the foundation for everybody else.
AT: It was just so ahead of its time.
Left: Justus Köhncke, photographed in Berlin by Luci Lux.
JK: Not “ahead”—it’s not in any
time. It doesn’t age, good or bad. It’s goddamn timeless. The next album less so, but it’s also brilEB 4/2012 81
liant. Cupid & Psyche 85 is high-gloss, sci-fi superbly programmed and totally fierce music. Something I’ve tried to emulate a bit on my own recordings. AT: My wife was obsessed with
Gartside when she was a teenager, and then one day we saw him in a pub in Dalston. We were all excited but never did anything about it. We didn’t recognize him at first because he looks way different now. He wears a lot of Carhartt, kind of looks like a skateboarder. But he ended up recognizing me and then came up and we got to talking about playing together, which we did. When we started out it was strange, because he works like nobody I’ve ever collaborated with. He would force me to get a song as strong as it could possibly be on guitar before we could do anything else with it. I imagine The Beatles would work out songs like that, with John and Paul battling it out and throwing ideas back and forth. In Hot Chip, with Joe and me it was never about stepping back from the computer. The songs were recorded from the moment we wrote them. With Gartside, he’d translate everything we did into MIDI and get rid of the original guitar thing. But it would become something new. I’m so used to having tactile instruments all around, playing and touching them. But after the music is “translated” into the computer, everything else is done there with a MIDI controller. It’s bare, like your studio yesterday.
JK: I consider it a compliment when
people tell me how minimal my studio is. I find it interesting that in England people would always ask about gear, what synths I have and all that crap. I always just tell them that: it’s software. It’s plug-ins. It’s presets. You just have to find the right ones and then you’re good. I don’t give a fuck about instruments. For producing I prefer a total recall system. I can find layouts, blueprints, and ideas from years ago in the music software. It’s all there! My good friend and collaborator Eric D. Clark is the opposite. He believes a lot in improvisation and inspiration. And that’s the strange thing when
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According to Alexis Taylor, collaborating with Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside has been educational, though the results have yet to be made available for public consumption. Both Taylor and Köhncke consider Scritti Politti’s 1982 LP Songs to Remember a pop masterpiece.
it comes to thinking about these great bands like Can and Charles Hayward and all them: I actually hate improvisation. Even if it’s on the highest level, I have a hard time being in it. Because to this day, I can’t play a single instrument. Especially with great musicians I find it almost impossible. I play two notes and that’s it. I don’t solo. If it’s jam time, I leave the room. I always thought it was hippie shit. Maybe that’s why I hate THC. But I guess Charles Hayward or Can had the amazing idea of taking massive improvisations and condensing it into the best few minutes. AT: In terms of the editing process, I think This Heat were mostly inspired by Can and Teo Macero’s productions with Miles Davis. JK: Being in love with your own improvisation and releasing all of it on record is a seriously bad habit which, for certain musicians, will never die. And then they label it art! That’s what separates Amon Düül from Can, in my opinion. Amon Düül recorded everything and called it a political statement, instead of creating a precise and concise piece of music. AT: There aren’t that many albums of purely improvised music that I enjoy listening to, but Pat Thomas from About Group is one of those musicians who pretty much always plays something brilliant everytime, be it on acoustic piano, synth or a radio plugged in to a stylophone. The same goes for Han Bennink, too. I think a lot of these people aren’t interested in recordings, you know? They don’t need documentation. I like meeting people who have a different musical approach. JK: Very good, Alexis. AT: I like a lot of the bands that
aren’t only involved in the electronic music circuit, so to speak. The bands that we get asked questions about in interviews are never bands we really listen to. Interviewers always ask us about some contemporary of ours who makes indie dance music and I just think, “Well, I don’t listen to them.”
JK: Are you crazy? Ever since “Over and Over” that’s what you’ve been making! Don’t you think? Don’t you like that music? AT: I can understand the connection, but I don’t like it. Maybe it is what we do. Although we do have noisy guitars sometimes . . . JK: So it’s indie dance! Oh my God! So what? Back in the day when I first started singing in German, Wolfgang Voigt said, “You’re making Techno-Schlager!” Schlager is a kind of contemporary German folk music, which I don’t mind. But I don’t consider my music “Schlager”. The label follows me to this day. AT: I suppose no one ever likes labels. JK: But there are people who are
considered Schlager who have absolutely nothing to do with it. For example, with Whirlpool Productions we recently released a series of Hildegard Knef remixes. I consider her to be the best German lyricist ever, next to Ingeborg Bachmann. As Cole Porter said, “She’s the best singer without a voice the world has ever seen.” Every homosexual has a diva and she’s mine. The vocal remixes we did came about through Hans Nieswandt who’s been working closely with the label Bureau B in Hamburg. They got hold of the rights of a whole bunch of late seventies stuff and we made a kind of monument to her. The only problem is that with up-tempo disco music, you can’t expect people to listen to the lyrics. The track I remixed, “Und wenn ich wage, dich zu lieben”, I chose deliberately because of the lyrics. It’s about being madly in love with somebody, but it starts out with a description of how much she hates the world; about how depressing it is and people are. Only after that comes the love. Then in the chorus it goes from darkwave to hippie disco, and Knef throws in the most important lyric of all. It’s a question: “If I dare to love you, would you become like them?” It’s a fear we can all relate to, I suppose. ~
M A D S
M I K K E L S E N
A L E X A N D R A M A R I A L A R A G A B R I E L A M A R C I N K O V A &
Y O U R
I N S P I R A T I O N S
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WWW.MOVE-ON-FILM.COM DEUTSCHE TELEKOM PRESENTS MOVE ON a road movie in 8 episodes MADS MIKKELSEN, GABRIELA MARCINKOVA ALEXANDRA MARIA LARA AND
JO!SCHMID IN COOPERATION WITH NOBODY CPH & EVER EMOTION script MATT GREENHALGH music stylist JESPER GADEBERG editor OLIVIER COUTTÉ DIRECTOR ASGER LETH D.O.P. PHILIPPE KRESS
Watch it now at www.move-on-film.com Get together with your friends and watch Move On no matter where you are: in front of your laptop or smartphone. It’s the action-packed road movie in 8 episodes inspired by people from all across Europe starring Mads Mikkelsen.
DEPECHE MODE IN EAST(ERN) GERMANY
Lev Kerbel’s forty-ton bust of Karl Marx in Chemnitz
INTERVIEWS: A.J. SAMUELS AND MAX DAX / PHOTOGRAPHY: ELENA PANOULI AND LUCI LUX
Unfairly dismissed in their native England as new romantic fop-pop, Mute label stalwarts Depeche Mode have built up one of the most musically influential and obsessive fan bases almost everywhere else in the world. Particularly in Berlin and the former East Germany, the band has spawned a unique kind of faith and devotion, from DM-themed BDSM parties to the world’s largest archive of band memorabilia. In a country where rock and roll was officially defined as a capitalist plot to corrupt working class youth, Depeche Mode’s apolitical stance translated into real, subcultural capital. It’s a reason why their alternative cultural hegemony continues today amongst the pale and Prussian. And we have the Stasi files to prove it. FRIDAY 6:30 p.m. BERLIN DJ Monty – BDSM & sex party organizer, Insomnia Club My roots are actually in the Berlin techno scene, which is where the entire active sex and BDSM scenes in Berlin originated. In fact, it’s traceable to a very specific series of events: one night—or maybe it was one day; we had a terrible sense of time when partying back then— 86 EB 4/2012
Kirsten and Thaur of KitKatClub fame decided spontaneously to fuck in the middle of the dance floor downstairs in the legendary trance-oriented Bunker Club. Because of all the strobes and dry ice, you couldn’t entirely make out what was going on, but people figured it out soon enough and started to follow suit, because it somehow fit so well to the music. Pretty soon, every weekend, you had gaggles of writhing bodies on the dancefloor and when it achieved a critical mass, Kirsten and Thaur realized their true calling and founded the original KitKatClub in Berlin-Kreuzberg—one of the first truly techno-based sex clubs
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in the world. I ended up working there for a few years before moving on to manage a more exclusively BDSM club known as Darkside, also located in Kreuzberg. Darkside was less about sex per se and more about pure bondage. Most people who only spend time in the vanilla world don’t really know there’s a difference. But indeed, the difference is immense. I worked as a manager at Darkside for around four years and eventually felt compelled to try something new musically, because I was getting sick of incessantly hearing Gregorian chants and mystical new-age crap. So we hatched a plan to incorporate a fat chunk of Depeche Mode songs into a DJ set one night . . . and that’s when everything changed. Almost immediately, the guests stopped playing their little bondage games and made their way to the dancefloor. After a while, they continued with the bondage, the whips, the chains, the rubber, the dominance, the submission to the music—which was extremely exciting. This truly felt like something new; it felt like it a perfect match. That’s when we had the idea to put an entire BDSM-play party together surrounding Depeche Mode’s music here in Berlin’s youngest and most active fetish club, Insomnia. The fact that the band never released a maxi without multiple remixes helps to diversify what gets played at our parties, although in the scene, there’s a real split between those who only enjoy the band in its purest form and those who also dig techno versions of the originals. This is our sixth year anniversary at this location and the audience just gets bigger and bigger. That said, within the Depeche Mode fan scene and within the sex/fetish scene, we’ve had some resistance to combining the two. For example, on the fetish website JOYClub, Mode purists accused us of having “raped” the band . . . for profit! Obviously that’s utter nonsense, as the connection between Depeche Mode and BDSM is pretty straight forward, in my opinion. If you look at the outfits that Martin Gore wore in the eighties, it was all SM
gear. The song texts and titles— “Freelove”, “Strangelove”, “Master And Servant”—they’re all about an unmistakable mix of sex, pain and love, while instrumentally, it’s a perfect mix of quiet and ponderous on the one hand and loud and pounding on the other. I also think this is the reason why women and men listen to Depeche Mode in roughly equal numbers, which is also reflected in our parties. When it comes to fucking to Depeche Mode, there are lots of different songs that fit to lots of different kinds of sex, and some not at all. Again, an incredible variety. For S&M play, “A Pain That I’m Used To” is probably one of my favorites, while for straight up “girlfriend” sex, “Freelove” can be fantastic. Dave has as much sex in his voice as Martin has in his arrangements. At our parties, people usually end up wandering off to the club’s darker corners or upstairs to the mattresses to fuck during the quieter tracks—“A Question of Lust”, “Somebody” or “Blasphemous Rumours”. Naturally, some people continue to dance, but the atmosphere changes. It all gets a bit hotter. For me, Depeche Mode gives “functional music” new meaning.
FRIDAY . 11:25 p.m LEIPZIG Sascha Lange – journalist and historian of East German youth culture Growing up in East Germany in the early eighties, DIY was de rigueur—especially when it came to expressing yourself as a fan of Depeche Mode. It was all about making your own DM-style clothing, pins and accessories . . . and bugging family in the West to smuggle posters, pins, and Bravo magazines. Take for example the S&M leather harness, like the one that Martin Gore wore in the early years: the main problem
with owning something like that was that there wasn’t a single sex shop in the entire GDR. So we improvised. A friend of mine owned a pair of leather suspenders from the East German riot police, which I ended up buying off him and simply wearing backwards. Purely in terms of looks, it came pretty damn close to the original. You have to understand: there was a lot of thought and planning involved in figuring out what to wear, and there was serious intention behind every purchase and object modification. If you somehow heard that Mode was coming out with a new album, you couldn’t just walk over to the store and buy it. You had to think, “OK, now it’s March. Grandma’s coming for Christmas and mom might get permission for a visit to the West in September. OK, she could get it for me, but . . . in six months!?” Or if you really wanted it that bad, you had to spend, like, two hundred ostmarks to buy it on the black market . . . which is what I made during my carpentry apprenticeship in two months. Depeche Mode fan culture in the GDR was a lot about a kind of reenactment and styling ourselves just like the band. This often manifested itself in “band” photos that we would pose for and take ourselves. And as a general matter, the DM visual and graphical style had an immense effect on us all. It wasn’t like you just looked at a poster, liked it, and hung it on your wall. No—you studied it. You brought all of your clothes to the dry cleaner and had them bleached black. Instead of Doc Martens we wore industrial workman’s boots and other classic workwear garments that were available in the GDR. However, in terms of the music, we weren’t entirely starved of what was happening in the West. We were able to pick up West German radio and television in Leipzig, and that was an important source for us, and always the subject of conversation in school the next day. My obsession began with “Blasphemous Rumours” in 1984. In the beginning, we only heard the singles in the radio, so somehow these morphed into the main
Above: Sascha Lange is a journalist and expert on youth culture in the GDR. A former self-styled Davedouble, Lange recently wrote a book about his teenage years in the East, DJ West Radio, which focuses on the country’s welldeveloped DIY culture. Without a relative on the other side of the Wall who could score them Western swag, GDR youth had to figure out on their own how to make bondage harnesses like the one Martin Gore wore in DM’s early years.
Left: DJ Monty slingin’ it in Berlin’s Insomnia Club. Monty co-hosts Master And Servant—a monthly Depeche Mode themed BDSM and sex party, where visitors are encouraged to “go beyond mere dancing” and explore the true meaning of DM classics such as “Stripped”, “Freelove”, “Sea of Sin” and “A Pain that I’m Used To”. The club’s couchscape (previous double page) encourage just that.
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aspects of our fan identity—that is, until circa 1986 when the government set up the East German youth radio Jugendradio DT64. Specifically, the show Duett— Musik für den Rekorder [Music for the Tape Recorder] played albums from beginning to end so that we could record them at home onto tape. Each day in the newspaper you’d find the albums they scheduled to play that evening. We’d all be sure to get home early to adjust the radio antenna for optimal reception. For me it’s clear that Depeche Mode always had a special attraction for East German youth. They had an image that was absolutely unmistakable, and the mid-eighties of course was the height of total identification with the music you listened to. Back then, you couldn’t tell who was, say, a George Michael or Duran Duran fan. In contrast, with Depeche Mode, even if you owned all of the albums you wouldn’t be taken seriously by any of the real fans if you dressed like a preppy and didn’t have it be you’re entire identity. In my opinion, this obsessiveness developed out of what I call Depeche Mode’s double-inaccessibility. First, the band was inaccessible because they were rock gods—but they were also inaccessible because they were on the other side of the Wall. But not all of our parents were comfortable with their children “sticking out”, so to speak; or belonging to such a unique subculture. Well, at least until a very brief moment in history. Let me back up briefly. Since the 1960s, the country’s ruling party had officially declared “Western” rock and roll to be a form of evil cultural capitalism. In fact, the official East German definition as it appeared in Meyers Kleines Lexikon, in Leipzig 1959 was, “Rock and Roll: A frenzied form of boogie originating in the USA; seduces the youth to excess; functions in West Germany as a form of ‘psychological warfare’ to distract the youth from thinking about political questions of the day.”
This was literally the party line until around 1987, when riots on the East side of the Brandenburg Gate broke out after hundreds of teenagers had tried to get as close as possible to the border to hear David Bowie, who was playing right on the other side to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the founding of Berlin. After the riots, the authorities decided that the best way to be able to control the youth was by occasionally inviting bigger bands to come to the GDR. It was also a good way to prove to the world that the country was “open”. You have to understand: the GDR cared about what the world thought of them— not like, for example, Iran today, who couldn’t give a shit about their demonization in the West. Anyhow, fast-forward nine months later to March 1988. One day in school, word started to spread that the forty-two-year anniversary of the state-run East German youth organization FDJ [Free German Youth] would be celebrated with a Depeche Mode concert in East Berlin. Needless to say, dozens of rumors like this had circulated in the past and none came to be true. But lo and behold, about a week before the concert was scheduled, friends of mine called to tell me that they had found a ticket available and the concert was definitely for real. We had suspected it might be more than a rumor when one of the moderators on DT64 announced it by mistake. But somehow I still couldn’t believe my ears. So it was with blind faith that I saved up 150 ostmarks for the ticket and took the train for the first time by myself to East Berlin when I was sixteen. At the main station in Leipzig, I immediately ran into various Dave Gahan and Martin Gore look-alikes also on their way to the show. We ran into plenty more when we got to the venue in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, and even after I made my way through the masses to get inside the Werner Seelenbinder arena, it still was just so unreal. The place was filled to far beyond capacity and
Left to right: Sven Reinhold, Sandy Reinhold, Sebastian Oertel, Peggy Lede, and André Liebert make up the core of the Depeche Mode Fanclub in Chemnitz. EB 4/2012 91
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we couldn’t really move individually, but rather only as a group. After a dreadful East German opening act who you couldn’t hear because everybody was screaming “De-Peche-Mode!” the whole time, the room grew quiet and the lights dimmed. Suddenly you could here the opening piano lines to “Pimpf” and I got goose bumps all over. The lights went up and four figures appeared behind a scrim, which then dropped, and there they were. It’s almost impossible to describe the feeling I had at that moment and for the rest of concert. Surely it was the greatest ninety minutes of my life, and every time I listen to the live bootleg at home, I cry my eyes out. Growing up, I never had the chance to go on vacation to Italy or France, or do the things that normal kids in the West could do. But I did see Depeche Mode, and, honestly, I don’t think I missed out on anything.
SATURDAY 1 0 :1 0 a .m . CHEMNITZ Sebastian Oertel – Depeche Mode Fanclub, Chemnitz Six years ago I was a cook in a family-run restaurant here in Chemnitz. This small place was actually where I did my apprenticeship; a place I had worked at for more than thirteen years since I was sixteen years old. In 2006, I suddenly found myself on the path towards a nervous breakdown, as I was under immense amounts of pressure to work increasingly longer hours, with more responsibility, and not enough co-workers. I’m too young to remember, but I don’t think these same kinds of work conditions existed during the GDR, back when the city was still known as Karl-Marx-Stadt. Anyhow, the kitchen was destroying me, both mentally and physically, and I fell into a very serious depression. I was just a fading light. I had no self-confidence. I didn’t even open
my mouth when something was wrong. This was when I withdrew from my friends and family and lived in my own world. I didn’t want to live anymore. You see, it’s not that I didn’t like life, but rather just that I didn’t have any future perspectives. I felt like I had no way out. This is when I started listening to Depeche Mode more intensely and spending my free time analyzing the lyrics. I found so many thoughts and feelings that reflected my own—passages that were so expressive with such remarkably accurate descriptions of my own personal dead end. Songs like “Insight”, and “When The Body Speaks” saved my life. Luckily, I’ve also had an extremely good relationship with my family, and my father is actually a pastor. He wasn’t always one though. In the GDR he was a mechanic for construction equipment and couldn’t have cared less about the church. Then he met my mother while vacationing at a Free German Trade Union Federation campsite and his life changed. Through acquaintances they both got involved in the church and found God. My father then decided to study theology at night school and very shortly after the Wall came down, he changed occupations completely. So when I got up the courage to tell him that I was teetering on the edge, he truly helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. He accompanied me on my path towards regeneration. I spoke with him at length about the individual biographies of Martin Gore, Andrew Fletcher and Dave Gahan, looking into the band history and reading the books, finding out that the band members themselves were all suffering in one form or another—from depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicidal tendencies. I could identify with all of it, even if alcohol and drugs weren’t my problem. I’m not sure the band biography was so fascinating for my father, but I think he was better able to understand me. In my opinion, Depeche Mode makes some of the darkest music in the world and in certain situations it can really bring you down. But it’s a dark place you go to by choice, and that’s what gave me incredible strength. Listening to the
band today still gives me strength, while still somehow reminding me of a period in my life that was absolutely rock bottom. But it also reminds me of moving beyond that period, and discovering the likeminded souls here in the fan club in Chemnitz. This is a city that for the past few years was known for having the lowest birth rate in the world. In Germany it’s now known for having one of the biggest and most active DM fan clubs. I’m not a crazy teenager anymore, but Depeche Mode is still something I think about every day. Here in Chemnitz, the fan club is integral to almost all of my close friendships. It’s very, very deep and emotional.
SATURDAY 2 :1 5 p .m . DRESDEN
Left: With scarce access to copy machines and band info, Depeche Mode fanzines were an extremely important source for band updates. Every last crumb of DM-related info, from album and photo copyrights to seemingly trivial small-print licensing permissions, was crammed with care onto a single page. This fanzine from East Berlin announces the release of the single “Personal Jesus” in August,1989. Three months later the Wall was gone. Coincidence?
Jeremy Deller – Artist, Filmmaker and Winner of Turner Prize, 2006 I wouldn’t argue that Depeche Mode fans are any more obsessive in Germany than in the former Eastern Bloc countries. As a general matter, there was a level and intensity to the fandom in the entire East that was different than in other places around the world, like with the Granzow family from Thuringia who dress up their kids, Dave and David, like Depeche Mode members and reenact videos and famous band photos. You see, we weren’t interested in the people that already had massive collections of pins and obscure albums and whatnot, but rather those that put a lot of time and effort into representing their unique devotion to the band. And, perhaps most importantly, those that had absolutely nothing. It took us a little while to figure out the kind of people that were interesting for interviews and those that weren’t. Actually, if we’d had the chance to do the film again, we’d probably focus exclusively on the East. Depeche Mode fandom under and immediately after
Above: Artist Jeremy Deller bearing himself. Together with filmmaker Nick Abrahams, Deller made The Posters Came from the Walls, documenting the more eccentric aspects of DM fanculture worldwide. While the band and some fans reportedly felt like they were being made fun of, Mute Records founder Daniel Miller (who also bankrolled the project) found the film touching. EB 4/2012 93
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Communist rule is enough of a conceptual framework, I think. The reaction to the film worldwide was almost entirely positive, and in Germany people seemed to be very into it. But let’s be honest here: German fans take the band very seriously, and some weren’t so happy about the inclusion of extreme cases like the Granzows, although these are the people who made for a good film. We wanted to show people who’ve done something crazy with the band and their image. Ultimately, the film doesn’t have a specific time or place-based narrative. A lot of it bounces back and forth between America and Russia, which adds a kind-of Cold War tinge to it. Honestly, we didn’t hear any negative reaction to the film, although I’d heard second hand of people complaining that the band weren’t involved, but that was the whole point. If you want to watch the band, you can pick up any number of DVDs that they churn out. We also weren’t allowed to get near them while we were making the film, even though Daniel Miller was our biggest fan, so to speak. Mute commissioned the whole thing. Apparently, the band didn’t like the film at all, which is something I find curious. It’s unclear why they don’t like it—it only makes them look good, really. In the past I’ve worked with the concept of reenactment and for me, a Depeche Mode concert comes across as a specific kind of ritual. And for adults in their forties, going to concerts can also be a way to “reenact” their youth. We encountered many different ways people made Depeche Mode their life. Some obviously made it their identity with how they dressed and styled themselves, and others hid their obsession by not dressing the part and only collecting ephemera. The former is the way to have a bit more fun with it, I suppose. Personally, I like the band. I’ve been to a number of concerts, although I don’t listen to them so much anymore. They’re pretty underrated in Britain because for some reason in the mid-late eighties they were just kind of written off as a pop band. It’s not like Germany where there are Depeche Mode parties in every city in the country every week.
6 : 1 5 SUNDAY BAS p EDO .m. W Dennis Burmeister – Graphic designer and Depeche Mode archivist There are hardly any sounds that you hear today that you’ve never heard before. With synthesis and all of the innovative and explorative electronics that have become a part of pop music today, it’s rare to listen to the radio and wonder, “What the hell is that?” With Depeche Mode, it’s an entirely different story. When I heard them in the beginning, I honestly thought the radio was broken. This sounded like nothing we’d ever heard. For me, it was a world of science fiction. Something that very, very few people know about me is that my first memory of electronic music goes back to the East German stop motion puppet show Sandmännchen. It was a children’s show about a little boy who traveled around and had these fantastic adventures. He actually had a little goatee, which supposedly made him look like the first president of the GDR, Walter Ulbricht. The show also prominently featured East German technology and the success of Soviet cosmonauts. In one episode, the main character took off in a rocket to space, and the whole thing was accompanied by these incredibly cosmic sounds— bleeps and blips and rocket ships. It blew me away. And when I heard it again in Depeche Mode, I knew I found something special. I grew up as a Depeche Mode fan, but I’ve always listened to other music—The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, The Cure, Slayer, Einstürzende Neubauten, Dead Can Dance, you name it. I am not the type of obsessive fan that lets the band completely take over my personality, let it dictate what I wear, or how I see the world. Honestly, I don’t really understand people who only listen to Depeche
Mode, and believe me, I know dozens of them. It doesn’t make any sense for the band either. I mean we’re talking about a group that was covered by Johnny Cash and The Cure. It’s insane. There are plenty of Depeche Mode parties—pretty much every week in Germany. But the whole thing is pure reenactment. I couldn’t give less of a shit about dressing up like Dave or Martin or Andrew. I care about their place in music history and about the historical documentation of what they’ve achieved as musicians. The parties today aren’t the same as the Depeche Mode parties we had in the GDR. We went to these parties to dance because you couldn’t do that anywhere else. And you also went to somehow find all of the information that wasn’t accessible. Even at “normal” discos, I had a friend who would always go to the DJ and request Depeche, even though he knew damn well that he would get his face smashed afterwards. He always said , “Fuck it!” and danced. He did it again and again and again, and got his face pummeled by the heavy metal crowd, because there were simply more of them than there were of us. But he has absolutely no regrets. Today, things like “Dave dancing” contests—people who actually compete to see who can do the more convincing Dave-twirl or Davekick—gives me goose bumps. The band and the music are trivialized and made to look “cute”. It’s a kind of fetishization I can’t stand. DM had their big breakthrough in Germany with “People Are People”, and Martin Gore once said that the reason it caught in Germany so much is that people could understand the lyrics. For me though, it was never about the texts. It was about the sounds. In Germany, we had all sorts of electronic pioneers—Klaus Schulze and Kraftwerk—but introducing sampling in pop music, that was Depeche Mode. And long before the Wall came down, they had a very special place in East German music history. All of the things people put blood, sweat and tears into making themselves—that’s the stuff that fans from the East will never
Above: Dennis Burmeister owns the largest archive of DM memorobilia in the world. Left: Like many groups with interests or ties to the West, DM fan clubs were followed by the Stasi. The document pictured here was pulled from Germany’s state-run Stasi document archives for a documentary on the band’s legendary concert in East Berlin in 1988: “Through concerted investigatory measures by Division M of the Dresden District Headquarters for State Security, numerous tips and evidence on Depeche Mode fan clubs in Dresden, Leipzig, and Karl-Marx-Stadt have been attained. Through XXXX of 8023 Dresden and XXXXX of 8030 Dresden, contact between the ‘New Life’ Depeche Mode FC to ‘The Great Fans’ FC in Zwickau, over to XXXX of 9580 Zwickau, has been established. This also goes for The Depeche Mode FC Leipzig, though XXXXX of 7030 Leipzig. It is to be assumed that further contacts exist to fan clubs in Berlin and Karl-Marx-Stadt. Personal contact to the band and fans in Great Britain could be established through XXXX. There is also evidence of a planned meeting on Dec. 18/19 in Berlin involving the ‘New Life’ FC.” EB 4/2012 95
AY SUND p.m. 11:25 ERLIN
Daniel Miller – Music producer and founder of Mute Records
Above: Pictured here is the original demo tape Depeche Mode sent out to various labels before being snapped up by Mute’s Daniel Miller. Aside from Vince Clarke’s handwriting and old phone number, the cassette also features versions of “Radio News” (unreleased), “Ice Machine” and “Photographic”. In an eBay auction, it was advertised as “THE HOLY GRAIL OF ALL DEPECHE MODE ITEMS”. Dennis Burmeister is the proud owner.
Right: Daniel Miller has a special connection to Berlin, having recorded and produced various Mute acts here throughout the eighties and nineties. An early champion of krautrock, NDW, and the electronic avant-garde, Miller sees the German capital as a second home. 96 EB 4/2012
give up. And I think it at least partially explains how I became such an obsessive collector. And I have most likely the biggest and most complete collection in the world. Multiples of all albums and singles; releases from every country; AMIGA label dub plates of the only Depeche Mode album released in East Germany; the band’s very first demo tape, which has Vince Clarke’s handwriting on it. I’ve always been an information junkie. I suppose the GDR did that to a lot of us, but for me it’s a flame that still burns. You’d think this more historical aspect would be interesting for, say, documentarians. But Nick Abrahams, co-director with Jeremy Deller of the DM fan film The Posters Came from the Walls, came to my house to interview me, checked out my records and my collection of memorabilia and told me how cool he thought it was. But in the end never used my interview. In hindsight, I can only say thank God, because Posters focused almost exclusively on weirdos and disturbed obsessives—not the type of people that made me proud to be a fan. In a sense, those aren’t even proper fans. Deller and Abrahams simply went looking for the most fucked up people—and they found them. Look: I’m a Depeche Mode fan. I’m a bit heavier than Dave Gahan, but this is my band too.
Depeche Mode was incredibly excited to explore their popularity behind the Iron Curtain, because they knew about the hunger for songs and facts and information about them. I didn’t go with them to East Berlin, but I went to the Hungary and Czechoslovakia shows. The reaction was unbelievable, completely different than in the UK. Of course, there were very few Western groups who actually made the journey into the East, so the rarity value of the band added immense enthusiasm. The level of Eastern European obsession is hard to describe really. In Hungary, there was almost a Depeche Mode gang culture. These were real cults. The Hungarians were one of the first to have parties based entirely around the band, with Dave and Martin and Fletch impersonators doing their thing. Most bands thought it simply wasn’t worth doing promotion behind the Iron Curtain, because in the East they essentially had no consumer culture and practically no albums in the market. For us, it was always just a short trip away because between 1983 and 1986, we spent a lot of time in West Berlin making albums. Martin was also dating a German girl at the time and they had moved in together. The city’s atmosphere was very different to England and the whole Berlin lifestyle had an influence on the music. In England, there was nothing to do after 11 p.m. You couldn’t go out. Things were dead. In Berlin you could do whatever you wanted at whatever time you wanted. I had a number of artist friends in Berlin—the Neubauten, Nick Cave, Thomas Fehlmann, Gudrun [Gut]—so I always enjoyed
hanging out. But my time in the city was more work-oriented, to be honest. I was co-producing the band in the studio. We did get into sampling very early with Construction Time Again in 1983—of course, not from records but rather found sounds and various Indian or African instruments or other stuff they’d collected. We’d end up pitching them up or down and fucking around with them quite a bit. It was part of a constant search for new sounds. There’s the myth that the band had used a sample from the Einstürzende Neubauten because there was supposedly two or three seconds of Neubauten samples that had been left in Gareth Jones’ sampler, but that’s total nonsense. Of course, you can’t deny the Neubauten’s influence at the time. For me, Depeche Mode is unique, as are their fans, which some people know from Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams’ film The Posters Came from the Walls. Personally, I really liked the film, but I know the band weren’t too sure. I don’t think they liked being confronted with the reality they had created. But I think the film shows how much power the band had in the East especially. Depeche Mode gave people an outlet away from people’s daily routine. They’ve always been an outsider band. There were lots of outsiders and kids who were bullied that got strength from Depeche Mode. And that’s a really moving thing. The band is extremely down to earth and they appreciate normalcy, even if they don’t always have it. I remember an interview in the very beginning when a journalist asked them, “If you could be any other band, which would you be?” And one of them, I don’t remember which, said: “Pink Floyd! They’re incredibly famous, but nobody knows what they look like. They can just walk around and have normal lives!” These days, the group tries to lead normal lives, even if it’s not always possible. In Berlin, things were pretty relaxed, even if fans did wait outside the studio and rename the street “Depeche Mode Straße” when we were in town. ~
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how an ideal environment emerged from this structure, giving rise to us fragile human beings. I’m not sure why electronic music does this so well—maybe because of its connection to science fiction. Or maybe there is something more inherent in electronic music.
Sound of Science A.J. Samuels: How did your involve-
ment in Neutrino Programme come about and how would you describe its intended purpose?
Zazralt Magic: Essentially Gerald was looking for an expert in the field of stellar evolution, and I specialize in modeling the atmospheres of cool stars in order to analyze the influence of convection. Our institutes are pretty well known, and it’s not uncommon for us to be contacted by non-scientists. From the very beginning when Gerald approached Katarina and myself, the goal was to create a unique ambiance and provide a holistic overview of the current scientific understanding of the universe in a simple and intuitive way—avoiding the standard academic framework without oversimplifying the scientific content. Structurally, the presentation is made up of two scientific talks, constructed together with music by Dopplereffekt and culminating in Gerald’s live performance. We assist Gerald in figuring out the order and length of sounds, as well as the kind of edits that would help illustrate the
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With the Neutrino Programme, Gerald Donald has taken his interest in connecting science and electronic music to new heights. Or rather: distant galaxies. The threehour multimedia performance, which premiered last year at Liverpool’s AND Festival, revolves around nothing less than the beginning and end of the universe. Lectures by Zazralt Magic and Katarina Markovic from Munich’s Max Planck Institutes for Astroand Extraterrestrial Physics (respectively) are paired with visual renderings of the big bang and exploding stars, as well as Dopplereffekt’s sonic interpretation of cosmological events. Gesamtkunstwerk indeed.
narrative. The first talk, on cosmology, is conducted by Katarina and addresses the big, fundamental questions: how the universe began, how it evolved, and where it will develop. The second talk, which I give, discusses the stars—how they’re created, how they produce energy, and how they will cease. Katarina Markovic: I see the project
communicating not only our curiosity about discovering the secrets of the universe as scientists, but also the emotions we feel when thinking about what’s out there. It’s difficult for scientists to achieve this on our own. For conveying this awe, music is absolutely indispensable.
AS: How would you describe the connection between astrophysics and electronic music? KM: I think the elements of elec-
tronic music can and do illustrate a physical process. The out-ofthis-world sounds induce feelings analogous to those that arise when you pose questions about the nature of space-time, the origin of structure in the universe and
ZM: There are also a few examples in astrophysics where we observe what’s called “stellar music”. There’s actually a branch of astrophysics called asteroseismology, where scientists study the internal structure of pulsating stars by interpreting their brightness variations. We initially had the idea to incorporate such astrophysical observations, but in the end, it seemed too specialized. For us, as Katarina explains, the connection to electronic music is more about inducing an emotional response in the audience through imagining the beginning and end of all that exists—which Gerald interprets in a very atmospheric, asymmetrical and moody way. That said, Gerald isn’t doing a one-to-one “translation” of these concepts to music, but rather something more abstract. The feeling of imagining the concepts is as important as the concepts themselves. People know the expression panta rhei— “everything flows”. For us, it could be rephrased as “Everything revolves”: moons around planets, planets around stars, galaxies around other galaxies. AS: Do sound and music at all
inform your understanding of cosmology outside of the project?
ZM: We depend heavily on getting new ideas in order to solve new problems. And art can inspire just that. Of course, lots of scientists listen to music while working. KM: Certainly, sound is an important concept in astrophysics, as it reflects the nature of the substance through which it propagates. Understanding sound in the very, very early universe, for instance, enables us to measure the curvature of our universe. And like Zazralt says, it’s an inspiration for thinking about really, really complicated things. ~
Jonas Mekas 5 December â€“ 27 January
With additional support from
Kind assistance from
American Airlines Yoko Ono Lennon Media Partner
Photograph: Liz Wendelbo
Admission free Open daily 10amâ€“6pm Serpentine Gallery Kensington Gardens London W2 3XA T +44 (0)20 7402 6075 F +44 (0)20 7402 4103 www.serpentinegallery.org
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