Interview with Bernhard Günter

Used by permission of the Publishers from ‘Bernhard Günter’, in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music edited by James Saunders (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 271–281.  Copyright © 2009

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Meticulous placement and balancing of sound is readily apparent in Bernhard Günter’s work, whether electro-acoustically composed or, more recently, improvised. Whilst he points out its wide dynamic range, it is essentially a quiet music, one which seeks to draw us in as listeners. The body of work for which he is perhaps best know – the series of recordings beginning with his 1993 release Un peu de neige salie – explores a reduced palette of glitch sounds, working with highly detailed textures which have an innate complexity. Günter’s approach foregrounds aspects of sounds that otherwise go unnoticed, whether due to existing on the border of sound and silence, or their perceived ancillary status as musical material. Whilst he is at pains to point out that he does not consider his music experimental, given it is ostensibly result rather than process oriented, this particular concern has much in common with other practitioners in the field. His processing of sampled sounds strips them of their more conventional meanings, allowing him to work more closely with them as abstract sonic materials. His recent improvisation projects have continued to explore this reduced soundworld, working first with Mark Wastell and Graham Halliwell as +minus, and later with Gary Smith as Klangstaub. Here too a slow, breath-paced layering of gradually changing drones allows the material’s detail to emerge over time.

The interview was conducted by email between 2 January – 10 February 2004, with the postscript being added in August 2008.

You’ve talked about an interest in sounds that question our perception, and in general work with very quiet sounds. Could you explain how you see them fulfilling this function, particularly in relation to the range of listening environments in which we might experience them?

I think that generally speaking our perception is tied to a sort of ‘internal description’ of the phenomena perceived that works by reference/comparison to prior perceptions. I believe that this internal description of perceived phenomena we perform in our minds is also strongly tied to language as a means of definition. On a little less abstract level let’s say when I hear a dog barking, my mind registers ‘a dog is barking’, the perceptive input is thus identified, classified, and in most cases this will be the end of processing it. It is also possible, though, that I listen to the dog barking (as opposed to simply hearing it), and maybe draw conclusions about the dog: it sounds like a big or small dog, an exited, happy or aggressive dog, and so forth. The least used perceptive option is that I listen to the dog’s barking as simply sound, i.e., without connecting it to my memories/concepts regarding dogs, and thus make it an abstract sound event perceived in its own terms, so to speak.

If we now replace the dog’s barking by music we approach the meaning of my statement about ‘sounds that question our perception’. When I listen to, say, a piano playing this perceptive input triggers references to a large amount of information regarding the piano, the musical tradition(s) it is used in, various piano players and their playing style, etc., stored in memory – this is my cultural knowledge of ‘The Piano’. This cultural knowledge will even make me hear ‘a piano’ when the piano is coming from a cheap portable FM radio (or low resolution MP3 file, for that matter), even though what is coming from the little radio’s speaker is quite different from the sound a piano actually produces. It is interesting to note that Morton Feldman spoke of a ‘deceptive likeness’[1] (to themselves) of musical instruments, and the danger of listening to the concept of the piano, rather than to the piano. He made it very clear that he needed to hear what the piano really sounded like when he was composing on and for it.

What really interests me as a musician is to make use of the third option described above – if I let go of my cultural knowledge, even listening to a grand piano played right in front of me will become listening to a number of abstract sound events I can perceive in their own terms. My inclination towards Zen Buddhism may be in part responsible for my strong tendency towards this kind of experience, the goal of Zen being to get rid of all attachments to words, concepts, and descriptions, in order to intuitively perceive what Western (German) philosophy has termed ‘das Ding an sich’, ‘the thing as itself’, and, contrary to Zen, concluded that we cannot perceive. I have, however, often experienced moments in which all prior knowledge about music fell away and I felt becoming one with the music I was listening to or playing (yes, Satori is at hand even playing guitar in a rock band!). I believe that this kind of experience, for me first and foremost linked to music, determined my wish to become a musician.

From what I have pointed out above it is quite logical that it is easier to achieve a direct experience of a musical work if it uses sounds that are not yet classified and filed away as part of our cultural knowledge. Sometimes members of the audience told me after a concert that at first they were trying to guess what the sound material I was using was, and, finding this impossible, let go and ‘felt like they were using their ears for the first time’ (this is a comment I got more than once). As a side note I might add that this is of course a race one can never win – after a while my unidentified sound will become a ‘Günter sound’ – but at least there is still a little less cultural ballast involved with that kind of sound material…

The last and maybe most important aspect in creating a potential direct experience of sound is Attention. If as a composer or performer I want the listeners to reach this kind of experience I will first have to try and assure that they pay attention to what I have to offer. Now attention is becoming a rare thing in the modern societies of our days – a never ending stream of stimuli is directed at us by those who want to make us consume their products, stimuli that must become ever stronger because they all wear off after a while as we are becoming very skilled at not paying attention to them. Our sonic environment is polluted by all kinds of noise to a point it is actually making large parts of our populations ill (scientific data regarding the stress caused by constant noise are readily available, but no consequences drawn from them, as apparently no profit is to be made from them – which is actually not true because relaxed people not working under stress will be more productive). In consequence what I’m trying to do is to create sound work that invites people to pay attention instead of aggressing them, something they can lean into, rather than recoil from it. Of course when I have a sound source that approaches me softly, I will lean forward towards it, feel that it is something I might want to perceive, and that is more pleasant than 120 decibel thrown at me with no means to escape. Hence my tendency to create my work from rather low volume sounds, and to underline tiny details that invite the listener to explore them. I believe this kind of music can make a person more aware of the hearing process, and essentially sharpen one’s perception/awareness. As a musician I pay more attention to more sonic events than the average person (scientific research has shown that the areas concerned are actually larger than usual in the brains of musicians), and picking up photography as a hobby about three years ago I have found that I now see things I did not pay attention (sic!) to before – tiny red berries and dark green leaves have become objects worth noticing and looking at closely (and taking a photo of).

There is another topic that merits our attention within this context, namely dynamics. Dynamics, quite like attention, are a great loser of our modern life: all recordings and transmissions of various popular music styles are dynamically compressed to the point that a whisper is a loud as a shout, making one of the most essential parameters of music a rare animal threatened by a mighty predator: the digital multi-band compressor. Contemporary studios are using a compressor on each channel of a multi track recording, then during the mastering process everything is compressed again. When music is transmitted by radio and TV it is compressed one more time to fit the bandwidth. I probably do not have to mention that when mastering my own, or other artists’ work for release on my label trente oiseaux I use no compression at all. My own music is not ‘low volume music’ (as it is often called), but dynamic music, and you will often find that the peak volume of one of my pieces is actually at 0 db, while most of it may be around -20 to -40 db. Since digital sound is not neutral in terms of volume, changing volume makes a big difference in terms of how a recording will sound, and I feel that finding the right volume for a part of a composition or the final master is quite similar to manually focusing a camera. As composers we should pay attention to keeping dynamics alive as an important means of musical expression (or at least contrast in case expression sounds too old fashioned).

I take it from your question that I should shortly discuss the various environments we experience music in. Without any doubt headphones have become an important means of listening to (especially quiet) music, and I have actually become very fond of using earphones, preferably in the dark of the early morning or late at night. Although I first shared the general reservations about spatial listening with head- and earphones I have come to enjoy the feeling of ‘being alone with the music’ that almost plays in my head – it can be very a intimate experience, and, in the form of a good quality portable CD player with the best quality head/earphones available, is also a quite affordable way for most anybody to get close to the music. A stereo set and a pair of speakers capable of reproducing music at similar quality is many times more expensive. To make sure that my label’s releases are compatible to this kind of listening I check each master on my portable CD player – I like to call this my contribution to musical democracy. The most impressive way of experiencing music is of course in a live concert situation where ideally an atmosphere of collective attention is enhancing the experience. Unfortunately, concerts can also be far from an ideal listening experience, bad room acoustics, bad sound systems, impolite audiences, and a lack of attention from the audience can make one wish to be back home with one’s headphones, but one should take the risk as the reward is often quite wonderful.

I’ve always been attracted to the pacing of your music and the way, as you mentioned in relation to attention and dynamics, it is non-intrusive. Events seem to evolve at their own pace, they aren’t forced. When you are working on a piece, how do you deal with the time domain?

It seems clear that if I want myself (and my potential listeners) to be able to directly experience the sound of my (largely non referential) sound materials I need the give each sound the time to present itself, to have, so to speak, a right to its own life span, the time to arise, last, decay, and finally disappear. This becomes even more essential when we look at the combination of sounds, their interaction over time (sic!) and the developing relationships between them. Once each individual sound material has been chosen, it demands a certain time, so that the compositional choice left to me in terms of timing finds itself within certain limits. This actually is quite an advantage, rather than a drawback, as there is nothing more frustrating than having infinite possibilities and no clue as to which of them will work. Before I started to work in this fashion I experienced ‘writer’s blocks’ that lasted for weeks, sometimes for months, simply because I wanted to shape my material into something that was within its potential. Respecting the material’s own terms liberated me from this form of self-torture. I feel that this also applies to the possible combinations of sounds, and the possible formal structures to be used, which is why I like to say that my compositions kind of grow like plants do. My role is to help my material to unfold its potential. This is also how I approach my work as an improvising musician I have recently become again after many years of inactivity in that respect (it seems evident to me that composition and improvisation are doing the same thing on a different time scale, the same decisions have to be taken, but in improvisation one has to take them in a split second rather than having a week to think about them).

Other than the timing proposed by the sound material itself, I use my own slow breathing as the measure for the overall timing and rhythmic flow of my pieces: a silence, for example, may last five deep breaths. Considering my slow breathing as the beat gives me the means to add slight variations – a silence or the attack of the next sonic event a little before or after the next breath can play the role of playing forward, straight, or laid back play in Blues, Jazz, and Rock music. If I can manage to make the listener pick up this breathing rhythm during the piece, he/she will feel the slight slowing or accelerating of it as slightly relaxing or creating a small amount of tension. This phenomenon becomes clearly perceptible when one of my concerts is successful – the whole audience is breathing at the same rate after some time, which creates a very intimate, almost magic, atmosphere of collective attention. I like to call this my ‘magic moments’, and these magic moments are what I try to create at each concert – they are a singular experience that cannot be recreated when listening alone at home. Hence the importance concerts have for me, and, as a side note, why it is perfectly admissible in my opinion to ‘just play CDs’ at a performance (and there is quite a bit more to it than just playing them – it is serious work that demands one’s full concentration and intuition). I have been asked more than once after a concert how it could be that my absolutely abstract music could sound so ‘organic’ – I think the above answers the question.

Music is essentially a time-based art form, so the importance of the time flow in a piece cannot be overestimated. I have a recording of Morton Feldman a doing a workshop in Frankfurt, and at one point he says: ‘All we composers have to work with is time and sound…’, pauses to think, giggles, and says: ‘…and I’m not so sure about sound.’, followed by his laughter. This anecdote reminds me of a Zen Koan, it sounds absurd, but has a deeper sense.

Another thing that merits our attention is the difference between chronometrical time, and the time we experience through works of art, be it a piece of music, a painting, a ballet, a book, and so forth – this experience of time is that of living time, not the ticking off of seconds: each work of art needs to be ‘read’ (even though a painting has a sort of direct impact, our eyes need time to scan it, our mind takes time to assemble it into a unified object, and the same is true for all other art forms). The living time of an experience of art is a paradigm entirely different from that of chronometrical time, and probably much more becoming to humans than mechanically ticking off seconds. Our whole physical, mental, and spiritual being is an immensely complex polyrhythm of organic processes, very unlike a clockwork, and very different for each individual person. Nevertheless our modern societies subject us to the pressure of uncountable clockworks, our personal feeling of time and personal vital cycles are in no way respected, and so it is in the experience of art we find what we should find in our entire daily life. Art is presenting us with an alternative way of living time, and in this aspect, too, has a definite relevance in socio-political terms. Imagine for a moment that all humans decided that they wished to live according to their own biological cycles and stood up to fight for it – it would be a revolution to dwarf all other revolutions in human history, and imply a complete reorganization of our societies. This is why I like to say that art, by its very nature, will always be subversive to a certain degree (even though a Mark Rothko painting is part of the art market and costs millions in whatever currency, this cannot take away its intrinsic quality of giving one a unique experience – the art market can only destroy art in so far as artists sell themselves to it, instead of their art).

I have often found that people are incapable of estimating the duration of my pieces. I talked about this with an artist I had shared a concert in London with, and asked him to estimate what the durations of the three pieces I played during the concert had been. He said he didn’t really know, but they were all about the same length. I smiled, and replied that one was nine minutes, one fifteen minutes, and the last twenty-one minutes long… He was as amazed as I was at how differently we perceive time in such situations. I found that a live performance of Feldman’s String Quartet II (1983) lasting over five hours wasn’t too long, yet have found much shorter concerts endless, an experience I think anybody reading this has known.

It becomes clear from the above why I have always hated the displays on CD players counting the seconds of a piece playing, and am lucky enough to have one that let’s me switch off the display. Giving the duration of my works on CD covers has always bothered me, so at one point I devised a different time unit. I had learned that neurologic research had found that our perception of ‘now’, the ‘present moment’, was a kind of time window of three seconds. Anything outside this time window would thus have to be defined as either memory or anticipation. I decided to use this ‘present moment’ time window as the time unit for my compositions, and called it DIM (‘durée ici/maintenant’, ‘duration here/now’ in English).

The DIM unit described how many times during one of my pieces the present moment was updated by the listener, and so, I felt, referred more to human perception than to the chronometrical time derived from the time the earth takes to revolve around itself and the sun. To my utter dismay going public on this concept only resulted in time consuming and useless (would be) philosophical discussions (except for some feedback from people writing me saying the really liked the idea). The concept seemed to serve most people only to display their academic education in human sciences or philosophy. Being a rather pragmatic person (I like to call myself a ‘pragmatic idealist’), an artistic autodidact, and only interested in theory when it helps me advancing my work, theory for theory’s sake is definitely not for me, and I was thus quite frustrated with the resonance my concept found. After a while I decided that the best time unit for music was none at all, stopped giving any duration for my works, and now advocate masking CD players’ display with black tape.

You seem to imply here that sounds might evolve into complete pieces, or at least large sections of pieces, as a result of giving them the time they require to grow and develop (rather than impose your own more explicitly). Would you be able to explain your working method when developing a sound from the initial sample into its final form in relation to this?

I am afraid there is nothing much exiting to report regarding my way of treating, editing, and developing sounds – I am only using the most basic sound design operations, i.e., equalizing, pitch transposing, and some time stretching every once in a while. I generally stay away from treatments like granular synthesis, morphing, and frequency, phase or ring modulation because they appear too ‘evident’ to me, meaning that they are too easily identified by the listener. My main strategy is to transpose samples, then listen to them to find out which of their sonic properties have changed, or become more apparent, and to then ‘underline’ or ‘highlight’ these new aspects by means of equalization. This process is repeated numerous times until it can be likened to getting an ever closer microscopic view of the material. It is near incredible how much can be found in a single sample patiently working this way.

I’m still using the Digidesign Sound Designer II, a software that most people I know think of as antediluvian, but I know this tool inside out from years of using it and so can arrive at results that nobody would expect from it. A good example is using the parametric EQ to build multiple resonant filters by applying it to the same sample several times. I also like the way it sounds, a little rough, that to my ears gives the sound a bit more ‘bite’, making it more ‘palpable’ than most more evolved software tools that seem to create spectra sounding a bit ‘farther away’, less concrete. My generous use of quotation marks hints at the fact that these are quite subtle nuances, hard to describe because more of a certain ‘feel’ than a clearly defined impression. Very probably an acquired taste…

Another thing I frequently do I learned from the Ensoniq samplers I first used for sampling: the back/forward loop that I imitate by reversing a sample and splicing it with the original. This works best when starting with the reverse sample as with most samples this kind of creates an automatic fade in / fade out effect with the volume peak of the sound in the middle. It needs some patience and experience to arrive at not having the splice click or pop. I’m not above using reverse samples, either (and still have an idiosyncratic love affair with backward guitar loops dating from my guitarist past). With some samples one cannot really tell they are going backwards, they just sound little uncommon, and I like that.

Sound design is basically a combination of three tools for me: a digital sample editor, my ears, and my intuition that tells me what might be hidden in a given sample material. I prefer to have one basic tool I know how use to having a number powerful tools I cannot really work with in a controlled manner. There is a new generation of sound design tools around that it would literally take decades, if not centuries, to explore all possibilities of, and I sometimes wonder how many people will ever make use of something other than their factory presets.

As is my habit I’d like to add a few quotes regarding the importance of sound in creating music. Feldman reportedly said to another composer (whose name I forgot) that once he had determined the instrumentation for a work, the rest was only detail work. The other composer said: ‘You can’t really mean to say that when you have made choice of instruments the composition is almost done?’. Feldman said: ‘For me it is’. Paul Bley, a great improvising musician, when asked how he went about improvising his music, said: ‘Well, even on a great piano there are only a few perfect notes. I find out which ones they are, and then play with them’. Feldman also said that he hated to admit it, but that he had a wonderful Steinway grand piano in his home, and that it was slightly out of tune. He never had it tuned because he preferred the way it sounded (Feldman always composed at the piano and I really like his saying that composing without a piano was ‘like going on a honeymoon without a wife’). (Please note that all quotes are from memory and are probably not textual.)

Clearly whilst composing you are working outside of the performance time of the music, and this precise approach to the magnification of sound is therefore possible. You’ve recently begun improvising again though, and I was wondering how this related to your composing? Does the cellotar[2] replace the sample editor in your sound design setup, and how do you deal with the need to shape sounds in time whilst performing?

Now that I have developed the final version of my amplification system for the electric cellotar I can really say that it kind of replaces the sample editor in my sound design: the system presents the cellotar as if magnified by a microscope, and as I’m monitoring my playing with headphones it feels as if my head was inside the instrument. Scraping the bridge with my thumbnail sounds quite close to a kind of electroacoustic music, for instance, and sometimes I have to lower the volume to just dare to play – all playing noises are amplified to an incredible degree, making it sometimes difficult to control the instrument, but this ‘magnification’ also provides me with an (at least for the moment) unfathomable number of possibilities.

I have just recorded with Graham Halliwell for three days using this set-up for the first time, and it was very different from the times when I was still using a microphone and a guitar amplifier. These recordings resulted in a kind of music I had never played (and never heard) before. As a side note: it is quite strange to me as a rather proficient guitar player to play with an instrument I have no fixed (and thus limited) vocabulary for – while creating extremely detailed sounds on it I could not even play a simple folk tune on it to save my life. It is as if a person became a cello player only playing Helmut Lachenmann without even once practising a C major scale. On the other hand the absence of a defined (and thus limited) vocabulary for the instrument opens all the doors for me that the electric guitar never did, simply because near everything possible had already be done with an electric guitar.

The time scale of improvising vs. composing does not really pose a problem; for one thing the pace of our improvisation is far from the intensive and hectic Free Jazz playing of the past, and the years of working by myself on my Macintosh have trained my intuition (even though this statement may seem strange, it is true) that I am now able to direct towards the musicians I am playing with. The inspirational input is of course much higher from fellow musicians than from a Macintosh, and I am of course highly susceptible and sensitive to it after my long ‘lone wolf’ period. I should also point out that my fellow musicians and I are not purist improvising musicians – with Graham for instance I recorded duos as well as trios and quartets, one trio with a piece of mine as the basis track, and another one we played as a duo with another piece of mine as basic track, erased the basis track, and overdubbed another duo. This latter piece turned out to be particularly interesting and really special. I will edit, mix, and finally master our recordings during the coming weeks. Editing in this context not only means getting rid of playing mistakes, but also taking out parts or phrases by one of us that do not further the piece as a whole (everything is recorded onto separate tracks so this can be done). This implies ‘re-composing’ the pieces to a certain degree, and of course my experience as an electroacoustic composer will be quite helpful in handling the task.

As you can see, the membrane between composition and improvisation is becoming quite porous in this osmotic process. There are musicians in improvised music who regard recordings strictly as documents of live playing (thus in some way giving the poïesis of a work more importance than the work itself), while I tend to think that a live concert and a tone carrier are two quite different things: while a playing mistake or a piece formally failing are quickly forgotten in a live playing situation, they can be repeated infinite times listening to recordings. Given the aspect of virtually infinite repetitions I believe one should give listeners music fit to stand the test of repeated listening. This conflict is mirrored in photography by photographers who consider cropping and editing photos as a mortal sin and the end of photography as an art form on one hand, and those who believe that all means should be used to provide the best possible result on the other hand. I adhere to the pragmatic school of thought that the best possible result should be obtained by all appropriate means. I do think, however, that the edited result should still reflect the essence of what was improvised, not stray to far from its sources, so that the inherent qualities of improvisation, the spontaneous communication and intuition put into each moment by the players remain intact.

I think the analogy of photography is an interesting one, and reminds me of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s assertion that ‘‘photography’ [consists of] all the results which can be achieved with photographic means with camera or without; all the reaction of the photo-sensitive media to chemicals, to light, heat, cold, pressure etc.[3]’ So using an instrument as a complete configuration, potentially bypassing its designed mode of operation as you suggest with your approach to performance. This implies an experimental attitude, with open-ended results of course, where predictability is perhaps lower than in more controlled situations. Given your emphasis on editing when recording improvisations, what happens in a purely live situation, where no editing after the event is possible? As a composer used to extremely precise control over the finished music, how do you react to this situation?

I designed the instrument by myself and for myself; there is no repertoire for it that would define a ‘designed mode of operation’ other than the one I define for it by developing a musical vocabulary for it. I happen to dislike the term ‘experimental’ very much when it is applied to my work – the term, in my view, can be employed for work in which the process of its genesis itself has priority over the result of said process. This is basically never the case with my work. More concretely, my approach to improvisation is result oriented, rather than process oriented – the result I/we try to obtain is rather clear in our minds, though not in technical terms, but rather in terms of a certain atmosphere, a certain mood, and so forth. There is a predictability of a certain field of possibilities/ options we will choose during an improvisation that you might describe as our musical vocabulary and language. This may be described as knowing what one will say without knowing the exact words and sentences, yet, while language and vocabulary are already defined – the situation I find myself in when I start answering one of your questions, for example. The language will be English, I will use a certain vocabulary, and write in a certain way that is my personal way of using the English language (my ‘writing style’). I am, in a way, improvising my answer, and like in a musical improvisation situation I might use a new combination of words, a way of putting something I have not employed before. It is not 100% predictable for me what I will finally write, but I have a defined idea of what I will have to express, and a certain self-confidence that I will be able to do it successfully. This nicely describes the way I approach improvising.

When it comes to editing recordings as I have described earlier you must not think that this is a kind of ‘composition after the fact’ approach – most of it is eliminating unwanted playing noises (like a string plucked when it was not intended, or in Graham’s case, a saxophone feedback getting out of control and distorting the recording). These little incidents are far less important in a live situation, and quickly forgotten. An example for a more substantial way of editing I’d like to use is that at a certain moment in one piece I tried playing an arpeggio on the cellotar, this worked well, and after a short pause I played a series of arpeggios that sound very nice, but in retrospect make the first (test balloon) arpeggio sound out of place. I will thus edit out this first lone arpeggio, and leave the others in. I may also delete a too hesitant beginning, or an unnecessary second ending when there was a perfect one before. This is the structural way of editing, and about as far as I will go in modifying the original material. The things I correct in the recordings are perfectly acceptable in a live situation, they are a part of that particular situation, and I have no problem accepting this. My concerts using pre-recorded material sometimes fail to function, too, be it because of the sound system, the lack of attention from the audience, or maybe a street with lots of traffic right outside the concert space. I think the question of presenting composed or improvised music in a live situation is only one of the factors that make or break a concert – I have played many concerts under conditions reaching from ‘perfect’ to ‘plain ridiculous’ and the risk of failure is something a live performing musician has to be able to handle. I feel the chance of playing a wonderful concert that makes both audience and artist(s) happy is well worth taking the risk of failure. I am a confessing perfectionist, but my definition of perfection is being perfect in one’s own terms, i.e., doing the very best one is capable of doing – it is quite clear to me that as a performer I will never reach the perfection of, say, Zakir Hussein, simply because I am not single minded enough to only play tabla all day all my life, and I will never become Morton Feldman (but then, who will?).

A lesser degree of perfection is acceptable for me in exchange for a larger variety of things to explore (I cannot compose while taking photos, for instance, nor can I compose on my Macintosh while touring as an improvising musician, reading books, visiting art exhibitions, etc.) and I believe that at the end of the day all these ‘distractions’ make my life and work more rich and interesting. Likewise trading in a bit of control for the intuitive exchange and interaction with my fellow musicians, for the inspired moments that happen, strikes me as a pretty good deal – I am perfectly persuaded that in the long run improvising will make my compositions better and vice versa. When asked to choose between walnut and cinnamon ice cream I tend to choose both, and then ask for some more flavours.

Postscript: The State of Things – August 2008

After +minus, the trio with Graham Halliwell and Mark Wastell, disbanded, I began collaborating with Heribert Friedl, Vienna, who plays the Hackbrett ( a hammered dulcimer ) in a number of creative ways. I played the electric cellotar and various bamboo flutes, some of them self-made; all of the collaboration was done through the mail. We have published two CDs, Ataraxia released on trente oiseaux and ~trans, a single long piece based on a field recording, on Heribert’s non-visual objects ( nvo ) label.

Some time later I was asked to contribute a track to an album of re-mixes of solo improvisation work by guitarist Gary Smith, London, which led to my publishing my first guitar track after 30-plus years of playing the electric guitar, and to Gary and I agreeing to try and work together on more music. The first result of this collaboration was a set of six short pieces created by means of exchanging sound files by mail and in which I played clarinet, bamboo flutes and an Indian Esraj (that served as a percussion instrument ).

Gary and I finally met to play and record together in 2007, and eventually formed a duo named Klangstaub. Klangstaub recorded a body of improvised work in July and November 2007, and March 2008; our first concert was at the no.signal@Wire 25 festival – AvantJazz in London on 17 November 2007. We also created a web label (klangstaub musik) to distribute both our solo and duo work, as well as collaborations with other artists. A collaboration with Michael Vorfeld, Berlin has already resulted in an EP titled Mellom Paradis og Helleviga, and we plan meeting again in autumn 2008 to further develop our musical work. Klangstaub’s website is now on-line at www.klangstaub.com.

By now my instruments include clarinet, alto clarinet, pocket trumpet, duduk and bass duduk, acoustic baritone guitar, and five string fretless-bass, all played combined with live looping and mixing. Not all of these instruments have found their place in Klangstaub’s work yet, although I hope they eventually will. My latest acquisition is a cheap classical guitar that I made fretless, stringed and tuned like an Oud (Arabic lute), and currently use in learning the Maqamat (the Arabic system of modes) while saving up for an actual Oud. I take a vivid interest in Arabic music and really want to get into playing it.

I also played and recorded with the French improvisation ensemble SAP(e) and Sylvian Chevaux in Montpellier in February 2008. We plan to release a CD and a DVD of our collaboration  (SAP(e) are currently working on this)  and to do a promotion tour for them in France next year. I have also been involved in a number of projects concerned with electro-acoustic music that I cannot describe in detail here, and am currently thinking about beginning a rather particular electro-acoustic composition – after quite a while away from the computer I seem to be coming back to this sort of work again, too.

[1] Morton Feldman, ‘A Compositional Problem’, Give My Regards to Eighth Street, ed. B. H. Friedman (Cambridge, 2000) p. 109.

[2] The cellotar is a five-string baritone guitar played with a cello bow.

[3] Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Visions in Motion (Chicago, 1947)

Comments

  1. […] are a few more interviews still to add, and here’s the email discussion with electroacoustic composer Bernhard Günter. At the time of the interview Bernhard’s work was moving more toward improivisation, so the […]

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