issue 25 :: January 2015

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Interview: Guido Huebner
(Das Synthetische Mischgewebe)

When I first began listening to what I call noise music, the name Das Synthetische Mischgewebe has been there, its perplexingly foreign name symbolizing the perplexingly different forms of musical creativity I was discovering. This Das Synth. Misch. (as I mentally pronounced it) music always had an aggressive, metallic sound, hinting at complex electronic processing of sound. Later I would find there was a man behind the name, Guido Huebner, and came to learn more of the project, including the opportunity to indirectly work with him on a project. Now, Das Synthetische Mischgewebe’s music can be found on nearly three dozen releases and many more compilations. And now you can go to YouTube and watch any number of DSM concerts, so the mysteries will be lessened for you. The music remains equally exciting as it did more than twenty years ago. Huebner was kind enough to answer a few of my questions via email in the Fall of 2014.
—Josh Ronsen

What was the musical environment in which you grew up? Did your parents play music? Were records in the house? Was there early musical instruction in school?
The only thing we had was one piece of furniture combining radio (tube) with record player including loudspeakers muffled by curtain tissue and one of those bowed swinging doors that could keep the booze bottles close to the LP records. The central object in all parties going on (won’t forget it; hit my front against it once when doing my Billy Elliot part on the nearby coach); plenty of Rock ‘n’ Roll (Bill Haley & the Comets, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, etc.) and Swing records, whole lot of Johnny Cash (one of the first concerts I ever attended, with mom) quite complete for the time. Later on a lot of AM Radio (we used to live in the American Sector of Berlin’s “free” West), a lot of Beat, Garage, etc. Actually little British Invasion stuff; I can remember the Kinks quite well from early listening (I enjoyed it when there wasn’t just the usual guitar, bass, drums trio), not much of Beatles or any Hippy Woodstock crap.
There wasn’t anyone who played an instrument in my immediate surroundings. I got a worm-eaten wood violin as inheritance from my grandfather (paternal side). Hübner is a typical Bohemian Czech name, my grandfather transported barrels of beer from brasseries to pubs with huge cold blood horses until in ‘43 a British bomb burned the stud farm, most of the horses and both arms of my grandfather. I never saw or heard him play but saw pictures of him that looked like straight from a Emir Kusturica movie.
Do you remember a particular piece of music that first inspired you to make “noise” music?
Suppose that’s the question one has to come up with once difficult coming of ages, isn’t it? Two possible ways to reply to this: the anecdotic and the one digging in one’s personal anthropology, striving to join past and present into some casual relations.
I admit, I had not the slightest idea or consideration what contemporary music, experimental or noise music could or would be when I made my first steps into this direction. I was just starting my professional training/education, so I was about 16 back then. At school kids listened to Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep, The Sweet, Scorpions, AC/DC, Status Quo, later Queen; the girls listened to Genesis and such things, but fortunately no one expected me to do the same. I drew and painted, was this bookish guy, didn’t play soccer and wasn’t even living in the same area where I went to school. Thus I got away with it fairly easy. I likely would have, if being asked, took it for granted that the train whistles and chain gang hammering on Cash records or the Harley on The Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” would be musique concrète. However, I had drawing and painting afterschool courses in the ethnological museum in Berlin and they played a lot of non-European music there and had occasional concerts: gamelans, Asian string instruments, Indian ragas, Central European folklore, Oriental and Far Eastern ritual or celebrative music, African percussion, Eastern European folk songs and such things, usually related to temporary exhibitions. Thus I expected there would be more then what I had been exposed to until then. The father of my first girlfriend made Super-8 films and had some incidental sound records. I guess that the most “experimental” music I was listening to as a youngster at the time was from all the Eastern European animation films which I consumed a lot (we received East German TV and I made cinema visits a condition when visiting family in East Berlin). These films had been full of electronic, rather comic noises, especially those that came from Russia, Poland and Hungary. Also every Saturday late night there had been Science Fiction and Monster B-Movies on the first channel and like many aficionados, I begun recording the audio only. It was also a time when the term “noise” appeared more and more often in popular music, from Neil Diamond’s “Beautiful Noise,” Slade’s “Cum On Feel The Noize.” Sparks’ “Noisy Boys are happy Boys” to the Buzzcocks’ “Noise Annoys,” there was/is even a group called Joyous Noise, the list could go on. And when in addition you think about band names such as Soft Machine, The Flying Machine or Motorhead, Manfred Mann’s song “Machines” in 1966 and Lothar & The Hand People’s “This Is It, Machines” in 1968 or song lines such as “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely / You can always go downtown / When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry / Seems to help, I know, downtown / Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city / Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty / How can you lose?” from the song “Downtown” by Petula Clark, then you can’t deny that this wasn’t (anymore) just a high-art concept, or a scientist plot made to bother the ordinary man. Between the first man on the moon and student revolts, it just hung in the air, though either fraction made something else out of it.
The texts on Cybernetics and Information Theory by Shannon and Norbert Wiener respectively had been published in the late ‘40s, Information Theory and Aesthetic Perception by Abraham Moles in 1985 (English translation in 1966, have it), that was the first time noise had been part of a scientific theory.
Now there is, could it be any different (?), an inflation of the use of the term noise which is a noise in itself, rendering it soluble and consumable. For only 2004 - 07 I could find three movies simply entitled NOISE:
Noise (2004) by Tony Spiridakis // 84 min - Thriller | Drama - 31 January 2004 (USA)
Noise (2007) by Henry Bean // 92 min - Comedy | Crime | Drama - 25 November 2009 (France)
Noise (2007) by Matthew Saville // 108 min - Crime | Drama | Thriller - 3 May 2007 (Australia)

However, my favorite dates a bit earlier:
Betty Boop, Stop That Noise (1935) by Dave Fleischer // 8 min - Animation | Short | Musical - 15 March 1935 (USA)
In parallel, I went along the usual private archeology caused by different encounters; one starts with Prokofiev, gets to Bartok, then Varèse and suddenly you hold your first Stockhausen or Xenakis record in your hand. The first real kick came with Kagel, maybe because of his link to theater and other performing disciplines (including game theories). In my school (from age 12 to 16) there was an integrated public library and they could order items for you from any other library in the city; thus, as soon as I had a name I got most of what I longed for. Born in 1963, I got into Punk, Industrial and academic Electronic music pretty much the same weekend. Yet my education was and remained predominantly visual and I started to make models for theater set designs. I was very much into everything from Oskar Schlemmer to Tadeusz Kantor. As I got light and moving objects into the models (as my father did in model train sets) it was just evident to also have sound. So I started with the super 8 film equipment of my girlfriend’s father, pretty much in Burroughs’ fashion as I learned later on and copied the results on cassettes. At the time nearly everyone had at least one cassette player with integrated speaker (early Boomboxes), mainly operating in mono. When starting my professional education, I bought a more state of the art dual cassette deck that could mix line and microphone inputs together. On weekends I borrowed all the cassette players from friends and I “mixed” by pushing them on a thick carpet around a microphone doing overdub by overdub. It would have turned out to be experimental music even if had the aspiration to produce the most soothing lullaby. I still enjoy working with such rudimentary methods, especially now when the computer allows me to select the constructive parts so effortlessly. Johann Redin in his article about DSM for the Swedish “Nutida Music Journal” made a hint to “La Pensée Sauvage” [“The Savage Mind”] (untamed would have been more precise). In the beginning of the ‘60s, the French anthropologist and culture theorist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, introduced his theory about “bricolage” (DIY, makeshift), the capacity of inventing new things from material you happen to have at hand. It is the question of the “multiple artist” that works in the margin, creating new possibilities of used, thrown away and discarded objects. The original purposes of the objects are secondary; they are given totally new functions, a new life and a new meaning.
Recording Sessions; Tempelhof Airport Cellars (1986)
By chance I encountered Thomas Schmitt who just had taken over the Cassetten Combinat label and we recorded a lot of concerts in the Risiko and other such places. He saw my set designs and proposed to release a cassette. I hadn’t much of an idea what could result from this as for me it was a unified whole. Thus I made a first cassette on my own, more as a thank you to people who helped me or to gather opinions, maybe also, hesitant as I felt about it, to gain some time. However, I made a first cassette for said label, then for Graf Haufen, pieces for compilations, first concerts, etc. and I never stopped.

Graf Haufen and our dear friend the late Hapunkt Fix studied communication science at the Technical University and for some two years I followed courses that interested me but I was never been officially enrolled, I have not even an A levels exam, but these courses had not been particularly crowded and no one cared. They had a Synclavier and those huge Star-Trek computer furniture and regularly invited composers through artist residencies. I remember well encounters with László Dubrovay, Ricardo Mandolini and Xenakis.
Whatsoever, I should at this point insist once more (in order to meet expectations to the more anthropological reply) on my predominantly visual education. It’s interesting to see what translations in other languages and synonyms are proposed and what the origins of these words are. Usually one translates the English “noise” to German with “Geräusch” (and vice versa) which comes from the verb “rauschen.” That means mainly a more or less continuous hiss like the wind, the sea or distant traffic (see the poem by Jean René Lassalle on the back cover of our first LP), but “Rausch” means also being in an intoxicated or inebriated state, drugged or drunk, as well as being in a state of ecstasy, a frenzy or a passionate emotion, a thrill caused by an exceptional activity, state or influence.

Another translation could be “Lärm” which is the word I would choose to translate the “noise” at the end of “Suddenly Last Summer.” It stems from the Italian “all’arme,” meaning “take your weapons!”, and is related to alarm/alert and was at times foremost a military term.

Interesting then is the paradox of a “signal of alarm” which somehow turns it into “caduque” (null & void), so said by Michel Serres: “A signal that won’t cease, would therefore cease to appear a signal.” It’s like noise music made with feedback, though feedback is the noise of noise.
There are also a lot of other words for more specific noises and I wouldn’t be quite sure they would all translate exactly from English to German or French for that matter. I like the word “parasite” suggested in this context by Serres (once more) as he translates it’s several meanings quite accurately (the noise becomes signal when it alerts as the door that squeaks at an inappropriate time and turns parasite (static), when there is nothing behind, but it continues to distract). I like it particularly also because I am persuaded that one of the “raison d’être” of artists is to bother and to create, provoke undomesticated transgressions and disobedience to the status quo, albeit much of what I see currently and for a while in galleries and museums, especially concerning sound art in one way or another is very tamed young designer bleakness and is obviously made rather to meet the expectation of those who organize and administer cultural events than to cause any sensation in the potential beholder other than to easily satisfy his or her capacity to shelf the work in the right cultural/aesthetic category.
Interesting is also “nuisance” which is the same in French and English, having its origin in the word “nuir” which translates as “damage.” Etymological it comes from the Latin “neco” (killing) and “nex” (the killed); “noxae dedere” (the wrong doing, the false, untrue, false rumors); “nuisible” (harmfull); “être funeste” (dreadful); “être malfaisant” (evil, harmful). The injunction here is very negative, violent and polarizing, but implies foremost a judgment, a line of either/or, inclusion or exclusion that won’t deny oscillation from one state to another, but won’t allow any fuzziness unless we arrange for the coexistence of both states (see Burroughs Electronic Revolution for the matter).
DMA2 #3 Festival, Bordeaux (1986)

A human group is organized with one way relations, where one eats the other and where the second cannot benefit at all from the first... The flow goes one way, never the other. I call this semi conduction, this valve, this single arrow, this relation without a reversal of direction “parasitic.”

The chain of parasitism is a simple relation of order, irreversible like the flow of the river. One feeds on another and gives nothing in return. Asymmetry is local on a chain and is propagated globally the length of a series, thought transitivity. They make a line... For parasitism is an elementary relation; it is, in fact, the element of the relation.

The relation upsets equilibrium, making it deviate. If some equilibrium exists or ever existed somewhere, somehow, the introduction of a parasite in the system immediately provokes a difference, a disequilibrium. Immediately, the system changes; time has begun.

To me it’s not so much about extremes (it’s just phenomenology) as these are always lonesome places, but about the position in one camp or another, about the threshold, the membrane, the filter that won’t allow any turning back. This is important, as also I work with cycles or rather epicycles, there is no reversibility in my works as there is nothing virtual and/or prospective (Elliott Carter and Xenakis wrote a lot on this topic). The composers of the French school of spectral music also used the term “hypothetical” music, which would be pretty much the opposite of my way of working which is very tangible, material and direct (the skin is always our first and lasting contact with the world) and most of the time already containing the germ of what a work is likely to become in its humble beginnings.
Madrid, Spain (1988)
To me noise meant foremost either the introduction of one or more significant elements from one area into another (in that case into, any given artistic discipline) or the challenging of a particular (stable) notion. Noise does not exists more than beauty outside of our cognitive interpretations, it stems into being only in conversation/dialog along with our intention. Noise is the confrontation of our ideals, a strike in the heart of our certainties, undermining the affection we keep with what we hold in esteem and what exceeds our own limits. It doesn’t need to be bold; fragility (many parasites are invertebrates), the precarious by contrast can be an efficient motor as well. It can concern parameters outside of the realm of sound or musical form itself, but invariably alter our perception of it, i.e. as duration. What is our expectation of duration we associate to a given form or genre? (I just finished a three and a half hour long, continuous piece that is neither minimal, drone-like or repetitive to make things easily digestible, but rather an ongoing succession, a deliberate excess of exuberant and complex forms on the brink of implosion (listened to too much Mahler?!).
El Pez-Vidriera, Mercado de Boqueria, Barcelona (1988)
I had the chance to see exhibitions on many early 20th Century art movements before I was 16 (with the evident limited understanding). I saw Dada and Surrealist works, Bauhaus, Expressionist, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionist, Arte Povera. I knew about the questionings of Artaud, Jerzy Grotowski and Kantor. I was familiar with the trespassing that artists such as Duchamp, Jean Tinguely, Beuys, Pollock, Kounellis had succeeded within their respective domains. Not as anti-art but as redefining of assumptions. Only I was very young and didn’t felt like being part of anything (that hasn’t changed much), if my artistic intentions could ever meet an audience, it could only be within something just emerging. In this way, the international cassette movement, networking, industrial, noise, whatever became the terrain in which to act however much my own intentions meet those of others. Creating journals/fanzines had been my way of shaping and arranging (I hoped) the limits of the scene I delved in. The more you read and think about noise you will notice that in every research domain it is something different, so much that one may think it is a phantom or anyway inexistent. If you go for information theory, social and anthropological research and then into art and aesthetic or even justice you can’t but notice that noise is only a mirage following our purposes along with our expectation and has no objective existence.
Someone in information science would just love to contradict me, but one can’t deny that they already decided beforehand what is the signal and what is the noise, because by intention they cannot embrace either addition or subtraction to the hypothetical system (every discipline self-determines its meaning, generates and maintains its opposites and cannot dispense of its contrary, on the risk of its vanishing. Nonfunctioning remains essential to functioning), although every musician will perceive the (desired) difference of his instrument to any other just because they are no two that are twice the same and it’s not desired either. Electronic musicians use effects as let’s say reed players use different reeds and playing techniques to sound differently albeit running up and down the same scale. It’s all just a question of the viewpoint and the intentions one has and mine had been shaped foremost through the visual arts, literature, etc. Let’s say, how to mix like Pollock suggesting multiple perspectives with no specific viewpoint on a single plane, like on the opener of the cassette “Works” which is like a succession of unperiodical ripples on a surface that becomes impenetrable (or: the sound of hundreds of angry church bells, as written in a review in Unsound).
But as said the German-Jewish writer Kurt Tucholsky: “Lärm ist das Geräusch der anderen” (“Noise is the sound of others.”). Here “geräusch” would be the sounds produced unintentionally by ordinary activities of life and “Lärm” its accumulation to something that grows toward unbearable.

When did you first realize that you had developed something new, something in your voice/style and not just mimicking something already in existence?

It’s difficult to pin down. In the beginning there was something unique turning out simply because I did things very much outside of the context it would later become part of. I was also used to switching strategies from one artistic practice to another. I was very much into collages for example, visually as well as in literature and film. My interest in stop motion, using electric motors may have been a support. After that followed a phase of contextualization and reorientation. Being suddenly considered part of a scene or network meant first of all to have an audience, because being perceived now as being part of something bigger. Receiving reviews from the other side of the globe, participating in international compilations with people one was likely never to meet in one’s life, all that created an immense pull and urged me simply to progress without much consideration to what went further than the current projects. Suddenly one wasn’t alone on one’s little island anymore which was irritating, but it felt good, although it meant that gradually influence arrived predominately from out of a narrowed scene and things started to become a bit self-indulgent. In retrospective I would say that all the works released before the cassette “Bacchus” (ZSF Production, 1988) had been experimental in that regard as a search for one’s own voice. DSM which I started alone also turned via two duo formations into a group effort with occasionally up to 8 people and our performance works demanded a great deal of time. We played many places in Europe, even New York (The Kitchen), Montreal (Goethe Institut) long before we had our first vinyl LP released in 1990 on the Madrid-based Discos Esplendor Geometrico. That was fairly rare for the time and of course always remained a bit difficult to document. We pressed 500 of that record, but with no two shows being similar, but I think people who saw us understood that there was no hierarchical distinction between the different forms of expressions involved if they had not been imposed by technology and its price.
The Kitchen, New York (1987)
How did your early efforts turn into what would become Das Synthetische Mischgewebe?
Encounters and endurance I would say. Berlin at that time was really the place to access a large palette of artistic expressions independent of where you came from (I had no particular cultivated upbringing, proletarian childhood, factory fodder education). It may sound odd in an Internet-dominated presence, but at the time it was exceptional and still meant that your curiosity and desire have to be supported by efforts and not just a muscled index and a tired mice. I already mentioned Tomas Schmitt (Cassetten Combinat), Graf Haufen, Frieder Butzmann (helped with mixing and “mastering” my first releases), Zensor, Robert Zank of RZ Edition, Paranorm Gallery, etc. It was really the place you could go for some contemporary music one night and the deepest underground the next and you wouldn’t be surprised to see at least some of the same faces in the audience again. Also, there wasn’t any feeling of concurrence, something very different to other places I lived later on. One met people who did films, others painted, did theatre, dance and whatever else and there was that same urge and vitality. The only thing that never worked out was to elevate amongst the different economic levels of cultural distribution and display. Playing on the road from ‘83 onwards I sensed somehow that we had to meet other audiences and enlarge the areas in which we are used to and expected to present our creations.
I found a reference to an early (1980?) cassette released under the name of Synthetisches Mischgewebe. Was this a typo or was Das not originally part of the name?
This was likely the first cassette I already mentioned which I did before the first official one on the Cassetten Combinat label. Actually it was entitled “Synthetisches Mischgewebe,” adjective/noun. I didn’t see much need for putting my name on it as most copies I gave away personally. They had all been in a standard case with a photocopied cover, but wrapped in flexi-discs, 7inch singles I molded or “bondaged” in various audio tape materials. You had to destroy the package to get to the cassette and each was different as the above mentioned stage set models from which I used spare materials. You see, it was really a wrestling with the idea to isolate a single part of the whole, and I had my difficulties with that.

Finally the name stuck, people called me that way and I added the article and turned it into a brand, then mostly wrote it with majuscules only [i.e., DSM].

Who is currently in Das Synthetische Mischgewebe now? What is the working relationship between you? How are differences of thought resolved?

We never tried to do live what we did for recordings or the other way around with the now existing “close to” exception of the appropriately entitled CD Hapax. The recordings are always my compositions, also the material is derived from recording sessions, rehearsals and installations as well as live recordings mainly with Samuel Loviton and Rainer Frey. The compositions then are very much calculated. Live, I’m not particularly interested to playing alone. For one because having only two hands after millions of years of evolution is hardly sufficient and it can quickly turn into a simple execution of preconceived ideas that are more the result of problem solving and quickly annoys me. Electric motors are my helping hands, but consequently my luggage exceeds quickly the allowed 20kg limit and those I often struggle more with ergonomics than with art. A reason I like to do installations that stay up for some time is the effort of all involved is more appreciated. Concerts are best when we are 3 to 4 people and every one of us has the possibility to not play for a while and walk around listening. Whenever the occasion allows we prefer to play in a square in the center with the audience moving around us, filling the venue with plenty of loudspeakers and amplifiers, with sounds of various intensity coming from everywhere. Usually we follow a preconceived dynamic line and try to obtain a balance of sound sources that provide very differentiated results and others which are more similar, but are distinctive through different amplifications, positioning and so on. Thus we can obtain a sufficient control of what is layered and what are singular sound events. We also enjoy using things we can hardly control beyond the “when” and still, relatively speaking so, like when cooking or using fireworks. As we have all different capacities, preferences create order, but it isn’t wrong to say that it’s just many hands on a kind of méta-instrument. Also there are strictly speaking no conventional instruments involved, no digitalia, electronic effects, samples, pre-recordings or the like.
G.H. in Koch (19??)

What is the genesis of a new piece? Do you work with sounds and build up something, or do you have an idea that you work towards? Where does collaboration fit into this process?

Usually I work on several pieces, movements or parts at a time which may or may not relate to each other in various ways. Many things can become an inspiration, provide ideas, concepts and the like, even things that have no particular relation to music in general. A lot of reading, visual arts, or just walking (I’ve never had a car and am seldom canned amongst 4 wheels). Thus, maybe I’m more aware of interactions and unlikely successions. I’m interested in all kind of cycles, periodical reoccurrences and their superposition, knitting and friction with others. I like to observe simple principles to generate complex results. I have precise dynamic preconceptions and usually calculate grids of elastic scales to work with, I use asymmetric scales to pitch superpositions of sounds. I enjoy the spark from the resistance when imposing the human touch to sound events that already have their own dynamic. Recording is already a way to compose as we use many different methods to obtain the results that may become useful one day. For example we tune a sound source that has otherwise no specific pitch by recording through receptacles of different sizes and shape, or recording through different materials that are used like filters, resonators or playing with distances or moving microphones enhancing audible space. I currently work on a homage to the (former East-) German sound poet Carlfriedrich Claus with RLW and The Oval Language. I recorded my voice through tubes, bottles and all kind of receptacles of different materials and put a small speaker in my mouth to filter these recordings again. So my mouth, nose, throat became the resonating space. Things we already did when we lived in Barcelona when recording the texts for the El Pez-Vidriera cassette and other performance related pieces. You see, cycles again, things that return to us when fitting.
I have a double CD with Ralf Wehowsky being released on AufAbwegen and did several collaborations with The Oval Language, (to be found on my double CD of collaboration released on the Russian label Monochrome Vision) also live. I don’t give much importance to the exchange of sounds to work from, which is just the convention to start with; what interests me more are the shifting strategies, methods, the uncertainty that result (or maybe not), all these little things that one would do otherwise if on one’s own. It’s a short, intense relationship, a challenge. Best if, when as said above, noise challenges one’s certitudes, when the result is not what one expects. Those collaborations are important steps in one’s evolution despite that few have successions.
What do you remember of meeting my friend Michael Northam for the first time?
He hung around with Stephan Santini who did the S.F.C.R. label in Bordeaux back then, and we met several times then. When Isabelle Chemin and I quit Bordeaux for Caen we started organizing concerts in a former girls school turned social-cultural club house. The much regretted late Koji Tano and Governement Alpha with whom we played before in Liege had been the first to perform there, Michael and John [Grzinich] came around some time later. It was the occasion to do some recordings together which also ended up on the said double CD of collaboration. He and John got us (Isabelle Chemin and me) to Amsterdam and Nijmegen (I also joined Klaus-Peter John for his The Oval Language). There had been Radbound Mens and Nomex as well. Was quite an evening, we called it “Not Exactly Noise” on my suggestion. Best show I ever did with The Oval Language.
I bring Michael up (now living in Portland, Oregon again, although he is always on the move) up after the idea of collaboration to discuss the project you did with him and Koji Tano [MSBR] called Geosynclines. I had a small part in helping Michael mix down the hours of material he and Koji generated. What we sent you sounded like a typical droney album of Michael’s; what you did to that recording, which was the released record, was a radical transformation if not destruction of what was sent to you. I was shocked —pleasantly!— to hear what you had done. Now I was not a part of any discussions you had with Michael and Koji, so maybe they didn’t have the same reaction I did. I still pull out that CD and marvel at its inventiveness.
Well, as much as I can recall, it was John who told me once in Amsterdam that he had this project with Koji, of whose work I wasn’t aware of at the time. He told me that they are a bit in a “cul de sac” with it and suggested it might be a good idea that a third party would conclude this venture from the collaboratively-produced sounds of either project. Koji agreed and from then on I had mostly dealt with him only. I made it clear that this would mean for me to compose with this material and not simply mixing the material side by side, but these are words open to interpretation. I really only did a dreadfully detailed montage and altered sounds only for dynamic reasons or adjusted equalization when frequencies tend to erased each other, but let them otherwise merely untouched. Either way, I did cut things down in extremely tiny snippets (at the time I worked with an 8-track hard-disc recorder. I only mastered to DAT and then to CD-R.) that altered in quick successions and my approach was to introduce something like the scanning of a rugged skyline progressively perceived blurred or sharpened then keeping with the lasting layers of the source material. Instead of fostering the idea of the strata themselves I was interested in their arbitrary demarcations, the tissue of ramification and the modes of transit by which they intertwine, interweave, entangle or embroil the apparently autonomous elements and how to make them unfurl, pretend variations were actually there was just a glare on the surface. Often it’s just the shifting interval of repetitions that links elements in various ways, let them appear being altered, but it’s in fact just the friction of two sounds that are about to take the same lane. The very different, but merely invariable volume or loudness levels of either one’s material provided me with the liberty needed and facilitated the work in this direction. Also the contrast of Koji’s often pitched and harmonized hisses opposed to the blunt shrapnel’s and grating strings of ERG came to me as congenial suggestions. Fair to say I provided the traffic network: crossroads, interchanges, shunting yards, points, junctions, inclinations, deviations, feeder roads, but did not need to provide what to transport.
On the later produced collaboration with The New Blockaders I followed a somewhat similar strategy of organization, but rather with the aim to eject and extrude from the sounds and finished works provided what I could twist and turn and ultimately mold into an utterly musical composition despite of being otherwise on display as anti-music.
Another recent collaboration has been with RLW, where each of you reworks (remixes?) the other’s work. Knowing RLW’s body of work, how did you approach your efforts? And what went into choosing your material that he received?
I made several other collaborations since Geosynclines, including the release of the already mentioned double CD of collaborations on Monochrome Vision. The just mentioned LP and 7 inch with The New Blockaders and am currently on a project with the Swedish Johannes Bergmark under the name “nisip noaptea,” which is Romanian for “nocturnal sands,” a reference to the “automatique” writing of the surrealists. We have recordings under the title “music for decadent times with period instruments” for which we are still searching for a label and Toy Bizarre has just released a CD based on sounds he got from me a long time ago. Ralf and I know each other for decades, but have actually never met. Since at least the Tulpas collaborative compilation he made known the intent to do something more exhaustive together. But well, you know how it goes. But when finally we started, it came along quite easily. As I said, it’s not just about exchanging recordings and then let go, see what you can get out of it; it’s also about shifting procedures, carrying out formalizations one would consider from a different angle. It became quickly clear that we would exceed the usual duration of a CD by far and that it somehow would be wise to have each result on separate discs. It wasn’t about having distinct products for each one but rather to show side by side the degree of variation and likeliness that matures from a common process. There was quite an email exchange going on and it was really about compositional suggestions and how to engender the different sections/movements and how to tame the teeming of ideas into a coherent whole. Ralf provided sounds mainly from ordinary every day activities, his girls singing, testing wine and some instrumental sounds; from me it was mainly domestic tests of assemblages for future sound installations, that meant recordings that were already proposed an evolution or direction, to take or to leave.
For this collaboration I pushed a bit further the tendency already worked with on the former collaborations, I used materials from my sound installations through which I played back a selection of the RLW recordings and recorded them again, somehow using the materials constituting the assemblages as filters. As the motors and other movement and action producing devices impose variable pressure on these materials, the applied processing can be graduated. Hence also the title which is an impossible German word game. Bügeleisen is a flat iron, but the title “Eisenbüglerin” would mean the women ironing iron. You won’t find that if you Google for it, but we thought it represented our approach fairly well.

How do you (or do you even) adjust your music to a particular environment? For example, what went into the planning of your involvement with the Sonic Protest festival in Paris in April 2011?

We do not do many concerts. I’m not interested in repeating ourselves, becoming improvisers or adhering to a scheme. I still feel I am an artist rather than a musician. I’m not into instrumental virtuosity, practicing scales, manual dexterity or such. Also a painter might paint every day, but it won’t necessarily result in an “oeuvre” every time. I’m tracing so to say, I was always drawing, the idea that a few lines traced on a sheet of paper can provoke an emotion really pulled me forward, I need to be the one who produces and watches (or listens) and erase as much as the one who examines. I wouldn’t ever have come up with something on the line of Ready Made or Plunderphonics or such. I feel the need to leave my mark on what I work on. I believe I wouldn’t have stopped digging for long in sound if there wasn’t a way to reproduce and ultimately manipulate them as desired. Which to a certain extent my motors (or mechanic controllers) do as much as a recording. It’s just a different way to reenact a beforehand-conceived action, like a dancer’s trained gesture, but generating sound (and image).
Concert Sonic Protest (Institut Finlandais), Paris (2011)
Thus, we’d rather play less, but arrange good conditions. At this occasion DSM was Rainer Frey and Samuel Loviton. I knew the people running the festival, associated with the Bimbo Tower shop in Paris and I went several times beforehand to the Finnish cultural center where we played, getting to know the room and the technician. We played the Instant Chavires not that long time ago and their sound technician gave us a hand as well. We came with a van full of equipment and set up everything during the day. We used a crossed stereo as a sum from the three of us directed from the corners to the center and each of us had at least 2 stereo amps of different power with speakers positioned on our tables and a bit everywhere around us. Besides the usual resistance of some of the equipment to work as it should everything went on just fine. We three played before on some other occasions and I played in duo with either one as well. We used a dynamic design time table that is preconceived for the set and decided the elements we wanted to give a particular attention to. Rainer plays something that vaguely resembles a guitar with strings and pick-ups, Sam does things that sound loosely percussive, also he rarely strikes something manually and I’m more into friction and low rumbling feedbacks, vibrations that cause objects to tremble, stretching cords throughout the space and have large speakers in zinc flowerpots and such. So the separation is not as distinct as I present it here. Things can always been activated by someone else if there is any need. What is very much preconceived is the variation of amplitudes and the intensity vs. flatness we can deal with individually and as an ensemble. We like to switch from a listening situation that could be described as domestic towards “let it rock” on a whim. And we like the idea that everyone in the audience is listening to a slightly different arrangement depending on one’s position or path through the space.
How did you approach playing for/at John Cage’s 100th birthday event?
We had been invited before by the same organization, the Forum for contemporary Music, for a festival we shared the bill with Francisco Lopez and an installation for the Haendel Festspiele in Halle/Saale which is a half an hour in the direction of Dessau where the former Bauhaus was. We presented a four channel composition mixing cinema sound effects and interpretations of several Haendel [Handel] pieces, most notably the Italian Cantatas whose texts I translated back to German and recited by people who didn’t know this language at all. We also used a recording from a firework from my time in Barcelona to trigger parts of the “Royal Fireworks” piece, rotating in accelerating cycles around the four speakers. The festival took place in a closed several story, Art Deco warehouse. We cut a large door sized hole in one wall between two adjacent rooms, the middle was exactly on the threshold between them.
Most people when thinking about Cage immediately have “silence & chance/indeterminacy” in their mind despite that Cage could make quite a racket as well. He introduced a lot of non-musical notions into music for better or worse. The idea of a pan-musical perception and the questioning of synchronicity that went along with the collaborations with Merce Cunningham are what interests me the most. I suppose I made it already clear, noise interests me only as long as the chosen sound is also reflected in the structure, the compositional structure or form of a work. Noise as ornament, as a sample of an affection or trendy signpost to show one’s adherence to this or that niche of style, I couldn’t care less.
Through procedures like “automatique” writing to chance operation and random determinists, we learned to short-cut our culturally and cognitively imposed limits (with many equivalences existing in the visual arts). But I would go as far as to say that now they have become an integrated part of what they tried to challenge beforehand (ordinary evolution). In a time when everyone, every teenager to granny, has an experimental project running, they have turned in just another face of an omnipresent middle-garde folk vernacular, still a bit of a glittering “new” tradition.
The problem to solve is always contextual which implies that it is shifting, hence it often is difficult to get a grip on it. What bores me is when I have the feeling that a piece wouldn’t change significantly if performed backwards and that’s often the case Cage defies us with, which looks a bit paradoxical to the idea of open structures and that no two performances would be alike. It’s a question of degree most certainly.
I enjoy the accident, the undetermined, the coincidence, but there is always a cause to an effect, hence one thing preceding another, there is a single direction, otherwise it’s like a joke one already knows the end of. That’s why I often prefer the pieces that involved a second form of expression, dance, spoken words or anything else that generates an irreversible timeline (am I conservative?). There always seems to be a desire to hang in the air to render the flux, the continuous discrete (like when in musique concrète they coined terms like “objet sonore”).
Cage 100, Leipzig (2012) [click on photo for YouTube video]
The way I conceive noise is not like a plane of static that is altering coordinates, but will always maintain the same quantitative distribution (50% black vs. 50% white pixels). If it is not communicated it has no significance, merely no existence, but as soon as it is communicated it has to take a direction (sense in French), and will transit through channels, will have to decide or will have imposed orientation on, will divide, ramify and where ever it may arrive, it won’t arrive pure, neither invariant nor stable. Not that I know every piece or written bit of Cage, but to me it is as if he would have considered the (sound) world as a possible input on music, maybe even as music itself, but strangely (n)ever as the media through which it propagates with an imposed direction of time. But that’s where it (and him) becomes interesting for me.
Maybe a concert with a piece of Cage should always end with one by Xenakis where random is never bereft of direction. Michel Serres in his book Parasite proposed the parasite to be part of an alimentary chain in cascade. Symbolic isn’t one of my preferred terms, but if we keep with Susanne Langer’s Feeling and Form (Art is the creation of forms symbolic of human feelings), then the compositions and installations of DSM could be seen as ecosystems in which sounds of distinctive characteristics embody specific rolls and perform the behavior and attitudes attributed to them. On a continuous sound is imposed an amplitude that progressively turns it into distinctive pointillists, periodically shifting little bits (closer to Nono), the intervals are stretched and ultimately rendered irregular until we do not recognize anymore that it contains the same band of frequencies as the sound it originated from, until we diminish the duration of the quite silent intervals to reconnect the bits again into a continuity, which of course has lost this and that on the way and won’t be perceived as identical anymore. The important is never the sound/noise itself, but the communication/relationship, the way links and connections are conducted/ruled.

Noise is either or as it tends to the excessive, vast and in terms of art evokes the decadent overload, but as at the same time it escapes definition and slips away from any predetermination whenever we try to capture its essence, it shifts permanently from the exposed to the secret, as it represents either nothing or something else for everyone who tries to get a grip on it, noise can only be representative for itself, an escapist’s back folded ideology of formlessness and non-delimitation that we try to turn to our advantage into our armorial as much as our escutcheon.

For recent installations I fabricated rudimentary automated switches so that one element articulated by an electro motor would at a given position trigger another and so on. On the occasion of the Cage event I constructed simple clock mechanisms but used tip-switches so I didn’t need to respect any regular interval as would a gear wheel. We now have four of them with five alternative switches for each and each one switches the next and some power lines that aliment motors are interrupted several times with relays. Thus on one hand the whole assemblage turns quickly unpredictable and at the same time the up and down of action density provides the impression of familiarity, but actually it’s unlikely that a given combination repeats exactly. That can only happen to brief measures, but nothing can be perceived ignoring neighboring parts.
In this particular case we placed most of our equipment, (unusual for us) on a huge centrally placed table (reproducing a kind of unmanned concert situation), only three plates of different material and sizes activated with fast running motors had been placed in the corner like loudspeakers that emit always the same sound but in variable sequences. Several mechanisms activated other and we let run the whole thing rather fast compared to other installations. It produced quite a clatter in this contemporary gallery of Leipzig and cohabited nicely (parasitical, viral) with all the clean and sober minimalist works surrounding us. After an opening performance it ran for five weeks which is a record for us.
Who are the interesting young artists you have heard recently? Or do you not have the time to keep up with new developments?
Ouch, the question to make enemies with. Fortunately everyone under 50 is young in our domain. Well, Nicolas Wiese (Hyph) is certainly someone to have an eye on, Michael Barthel who runs the Kunstraum Barthel in Leipzig. Not many people actually. Often I have no idea about age, but it seems most people around 30 are either into drone or harsh noise. Composing takes time that no one has any more as they all spend their life on the internet counting unanswered mails or are blinded by their I(diot)-phones. I see more younger people in improvised music that have embraced noise, electronic music, rock and jazz in same amount, but there is always the threat of everything is permitted, but nothing matters. I listen to things on the net, but I don’t take the time to make any particular research. Web-sites have replaced radio programs for me and what I can find exceeds by far my time. If there is any remaining time, I rather go for a good book. Sounds pretentious, but isn’t wrong.
Concert feat. Nicolas Wiese, Theaterkapelle, Berlin (2010)
How much do you feel influenced by other musicians/artists today? In another interview you complain about many people using the same electronic pedal, etc. Do you have to constantly adjust yourself to be unique or are you trying to bring out something (perhaps unique) in yourself?
I don’t think I’m particular influenced by other musicians/artists of “today” as you say, more than works and personalities of other creative genres. I mentioned earlier my education as a kid in museums because this had been fairly non-hierarchical, not occupied with chronology or importance for the market or the historian. The idea was that you learn from observing and tracing parallels between works that could support you or the requirements you needed in order to create or compose your own work. Hence one learned colors, light from Rembrandt, pattern organization from some African tribes, pushing the limits of what is figurative alongside Picasso then watch a mobile or stabile of Calder in the museum’s garden during lunch break and becoming intrigued how a simple black square could become art. Progressively you figure out on your own that there had been a common quest uniting these people. What to do, what way, by which means and that they didn’t take much for granted. It was very different from an art school in which the results and the rhetoric of the students are compared rather than the work, the act.
Concert Festival Musique en Pays de Falaise (2010)
I thus would say influences can come from much more diverse areas than just other people in music, but I would add that there is a constancy in aesthetic/artistic research that finds various ways to be expressed and that meets my own preoccupations. The newness of tools is certainly not a condition for me if there is not a distinct use for it. But the newness of tools has often been mistaken for a newness of contents. Personally I don’t care much, I want to be moved, touched by a work, I want my thinking being redirected and that can eventually happen with some lines in a book which is a fairly old and ordinary albeit resourceful tool. I guess it’s safe to say that I was more intrigued by Kagel’s piece “1898” using stringed instruments fitted with the bells of brass instruments (it turns out that similar instruments, called Stroh-violins, were used early in the recording era to amplify the relatively weak tone of the strings), than by the latest computer algorithm transposed to music. Though some stuff of, let’s say, Elliott Sharp, Doctor Nerve and such hit my … nerve.
But let’s keep with the question for a moment before I unroll my top 10 list of this and that.
That in order to construct/compose as wished, one needs to achieve a certain understanding of one’s tools and tools of thought won’t mean we are liberated from intuition and creativity which we won’t ever elucidate. António Damásio’s Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain is a good reading in this context.
The choice should be the consequence of the direction one pursues. But the situation we face is mostly the opposite. People use computers not because they need them, but because they are there, they are easy or rendering our tasks easy. But of course the tools shape our construction and the more, the less we shape the tool. It was, I think, Ravel who complained that one is always listening to the piano in front of which composers compose orchestra music as if music would always have to be filtered through it. No wonder that you never see Xenakis whom I paraphrased a little bit with the lines above (and will continue with) in front of one or any other instrument for the matter. I won’t see music being explained away, but neither am I interested when it has no other reason than the pleasure of the clatter. The wage goes for abstraction and formalization and hence, even so the interest for a piece may vanish, the thought spend on it will reappear, reoccur, will continue to occupy our thoughts in future works. If I chose my tools for their easiness and their easy availability and not for their inherent potential, I just go with the efficiency imposed by the ideology of consumerism, even more than of culture and technology combined. Not that I wouldn’t have my dreams concerning this or that unaffordable equipment as well, but mainly I ask what do I need to do what I want to do? What speed, resolution, fidelity would make a significant difference? By what eventually different methods I could achieve what I am up to?
Concert feat. Hui-Chun Lin, Quite Cue, Berlin (2011)
I sense a detachment that allows me to be intimately involved with, but not consumed by material requirements. I embrace the available technology, but I won’t become dependent on it (I still have no cell phone). The rest is as Xenakis said in the foreword to Formalized Music: “the fashion of our time.” The deal is to create or select the tools that support our quest, to exercise the best way possible what we have in mind, but not to lose oneself to the convenience of what is readily available.
Otherwise nothing particular recently. I much enjoy the works of William Kentridge for the means he employs, but also for the social narrative he unfolds. I always feel uneasy with history and social lessons in art, but with him it simply works, like with the films of Béla Tarr or Sharunas Bartas. Sarah Sze prolongs certain aspects of the Arte Povera for me. It’s seen through the eyes of a constructivist who has a fit in a shopping mall. I’m still fascinated by the animation movies of the Quay Brothers, Svankmajer and many others along this line. Purves who dance with space, I saw the aforementioned Nicolas Wiese using two slide projectors to animate drawings with more cleverness, style and intelligence than many things I have seen in computer animation. Music wise my last personal discovery was the Polish composer Agnieszka Stulginska. She has a “manifique” CD being released on the label Dux and there exists also a CD of the Neo Quartet playing her pieces as well as Hosokawa, Stulginska, and the otherwise little-known (to me) Guus Janssen. Aleksander Lason. Also I marveled (at least as much as Claudio Abbado’s Mahler recordings on Deutsche Grammophon) a lot about the Decca 7x CD box of Georg Solti conducting Bartok. It’s these moments where everything comes together, conductor, orchestra and soloists, room and technology. Then [Chaya] Czernowin, Sciarrino and the never-aging Sofia Gubaidulina surprise me time and again and there is the much younger Emanuele Casale who has a fantastic CD of Chamber Music (with electronics) that’s been released on Stradivarius (2007).
More in our range: Eli Keszlern has some quite interesting works. I loved the Sub CD of G*Park (23five), Rashad Becker: Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I, the more urban field recordings by Nobuo Yamada’s Echoes Of Tokyo Suburbs a while ago. In France there are some people who are not part of a first name dropping that do interesting things such as Emmanuel Mieville, Now Cut, Thomas Tilly.
How much computer processing or post-processing/editing do you do? What do you think of computers making decisions in a live environment, randomly choosing tones or sound files to play, reacting to live stimuli, etc.?
Recording Session; CNR Caen (2005)
In technical terms, not much; in duration, a lot. Finally adopting the computer, composing in the digital domain provided me with the precision I felt I would always lack. We always demanded a meticulousness we couldn’t ever get near, it was either too expensive or anyway inexistent. It never prevented us from finding curious alternatives and go along with what we had or could get rather well. Money wise, in these days it was a major decision to stick with open reel [tape recorders], but keep working with two track, stereo or move to multi-track, but I could only afford cassettes. Digital changed all that quite a lot but principally, most of what I want could be made in analog, but with a lot of money, hours and hiss. Time goes mainly in the montage, dynamic processing, equalization due to the fact that our recording equipment isn’t exactly state of the art and often restricts us (it isn’t always felt that way) to combine several methods to obtain what we have in mind. The now nearly-unlimited number of audio tracks allows a lot of combination and essays from which to select those that come the closest to what I preconceive. I snap around a lot and lengthen or shorten audio tracks of narrow frequency bands extracted from similar recordings, snipping smallest sections away or add close to inaudible silences, then synchronizing either beginning, middle or end of these superposed tracks that creates a crescendo or decrescendo of modulations, tremolos and so on transforming the concrete into a somewhat uncanny experience, without convert into something too artificial.
Recording Session; CNR Caen (2005)
My personal life has made it so that I haven’t seen that many concerts in recent years besides events or festivals we participated in ourselves. I don’t ask why someone’s nose has been glued for an hour on a screen? And when it goes with recordings the random is already tamed and just part of an explicative grey area, catchy phrases for the booklet.
Random results however generated can be very inspiring especially for soloists or people who in general create on their own, also they may perform the results with others. But either way, I believe there is need for time to choose the best bits, or the random is anyway limited to only a few parameters of an ensemble. Then it’s like the graphic scores of Feldman or André Boucourechliev that give precise instruction in one domain and allow liberty in another. Computer or not, when it comes to recorded results I would rather have a liking for Xenakis’s “Duel” or Zorn’s Gamepieces, I always thought “Cobra” would walk the path that Kagel has opened. I’m not quite sure there was any random involved in that conception, but I liked the “spacialisation” in the “Lichtungen I, II” pieces by Emmanuel Nunes in which the instrumental sounds recorded in real time become heavily layered and/or thinned out in roaring resonances and movement is not just aimless twisting with the pan knob. But let’s say that were you ever to sit in a performance of these pieces you are likely be exposed to different degrees of friction between the direct instrumental sounds and their cruising shadows. I would say, there is still a vast field of exploration ahead of us, but I think also that its exploration is not very much dependent on the tools employed, but rather the concepts and a fair bit of thinking.
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