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In Entrevistas, Jornalista, crítico de música e ensaísta, January 2003..
They play very loud - or really, really soft - and they have a battle to fight: to show that there are many contemporary musics and that all of them can touch our bodies.
Zeitkratzer is the most incredible band of the moment. This acoustic chamber orchestra that plays with contact-microphones and other amplification systems (electronic, after all) can interpret now a Berio or a Cage piece and imediatly after a cover of the death-metal band Deicide, a “queer” composition by Terre Thaemlitz or “Metal Machine Music”, the most discussed work by Lou Reed. The (inside) piano player Reinhold Friedl is the leader of this original and provocative project and we had a long conversation. Watch out this guy: he’s one of the most brillant musicians working in the present European “avant garde” scene.
Rui Eduardo Paes - The dimension of marketing in the project Zeitkratzer seems to be fundamental not only for its consumption by the public but also for its identity. You’re trying to present and to sell “experimental” music as if it is a form of (pop)ular music, or even a sort of folk music (music by the people, for the people: the idea “Zeitkratzer in the park”, which is also adopted by “classical” music in Germany and Austria, with the same purposes). Can you explain me what do you want to do and achieve with this kind of approach?
Friedl - The dimension of marketing is, in the first sense,
not important for the identity, but for the existence of the group. If
you just imagine what it means in financial terms to bring together the
musicians of Zeitkratzer, coming from very different places in Europe,
you can verify that marketing is quite important to pay travels, hotel
R.E.P. - Continuing to talk about this subject: do you assume that the interpretation of “Metal Machine Music” by Zeitkratzer and the concerts with Lou Reed were a statement, an hommage to a very important and historical music achievement in the 20th century, but also a way to project your music to the media and to the public? Tell me: how this idea was born, what were the intentions?
- The idea was born a few years ago in a discussion with Ulrich Krieger,
the saxophone player of Zeitkratzer. We both thought that “Metal
Machine Music” was a very important piece - compared with the contemporary
music pieces of that time, its nearly impossible to ignore that fact.
And, the important thing, its constructed in a very orchestral way, so
we thought this music asks for a live instrumentation. And that’s
actually what Ulrich did, and I think it really worked. For that we had
two main preparations: we had already worked with noise musicians like
Merzbow or Zbigniew Karkowski, and all the musicians of Zeitkratzer worked
before with electronics and reinfluenced their instrumental techniques
with “electronic” sounds.
R.E.P. - Zeitkratzer plays the music of some important “classical” contemporary composers, and also of many experimental authors, from Keith Rowe to Masami Akita (Merzbow), and others connected with the fringes of rock culture, like Elliott Sharp, and with the techno/dance culture, like Terre Thaemlitz. That’s not very usual, as you know. Why? What are your purposes: to represent today’s music reality, in it’s plurality? To abolish the division between “classical” (even if “avant garde”) and “experimental”? Is this an aesthetic proposition, a political statement?
R.F. - Every good music is a political statement, as Platon told us already. But for us its not interesting at all to choose pieces or composers because of political reasons or aesthetic reasons. Our aim and our job is to try to play good music - and not to try to be part of a special social scene, pretending to be the only ones who take care about ourdays new music. I think if somebody is interested to hear and curious about music happening, you cannot ignore what happened in the experimental field the last decades.
R.E.P. - Zeitkratzer is a chamber orchestra that frequently plays the music of electronic/electro-acoustic composers. Why this idea that acoustic instruments can play electronic? What do you want to prove? That acoustic instruments like the cello or the trumpet aren’t “out” yet, that their presence in the music of this new technologies age is far from unnecessary? Isn’t that a political statement?
- I think we are not important enough to make political statements about
the existence of acoustic instruments. They exist anyway or they don’t.
We are just looking for interesting music, and for sure, the sound of
acoustic instruments is still much more complex and alive than purely
electronic sounds (what doesn’t mean at all that there are not great
pieces using only pure electronic sounds).
R.E.P. - When you chose as composers, for Zeitkratzer interpretations, controversial figures like John Duncan (who, in one of his performances, raped a female cadaver) or Terre Thaemlitz (a transexual that promotes transgendering in music, whatever that is), what do you had in mind? Certainly, isn’t only because of the quality of their respective music productions, which is a matter for debate (I’ve heard some very good and some very, very bad things from both of them).
- We have invited them to work with us because of the outstanding musical
quality of some of their work. We always discuss very precisely which
kind of projects we realize together, and all the members of Zeitkratzer
have been really interested in the idea to work with this special setting.
R.E.P. - I find a delicious paradox in Zeitkratzer: you assembled a group of musicians whose personal music, outside the orchestra, is known because of their choice of a radical reductionism of materials, like Axel Dorner, Franz Hautzinger, Michael Moser, Melvyn Poore, Alexander Frangenheim and yourself, to play what is, generally, a music of overload information, excessive (as in "Noise＼ … (larm)"), brutal sometimes, and very loud, with lots of phantom sounds and frequency shocks. Why? We know that “near silence” is becoming a fashion in certain circles, and you have a CD just like that in the label that most represents this kind of approach, Trente Oiseaux ("Au Défaut du Silence", with Michael Vorfeld): is this the way you refuse to become “fashionable”?
- No. I really would like to become “fashionable” in terms
of my bank account! But seriously: you only mention the other sides of
the musicians: I think that there is a new generation of musicians that
did not grow up with one kind of music only. Melvyn Poore, for example,
is known very well as an improviser, but at the same time he is the best
contemporary music tuba player today, invited for the jury of the Gaudeamus
competition. He is also a directory member of the great new music group
Musikfabrik. Ulrich Krieger used to play not only with the Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra or the Ensemble Modern, but also in rock bands, and released
the first volume of the complete compositions for saxophones by John Cage.
Franz Hautzinger worked with a lot of famous jazz and improvising players,
like Joachim Kuehn or Bill Dixon or Derek Bailey, but also with Klangforum
Wien, for example.
R.E.P. - Still about Zeitkratzer’s musicians: It’s a mere coincidence that many of them have carriers as free improvisers and jazz players, or you wanted for the band musicians with certain skills, capable of dealing with open forms and to improvise, or at least to play in a certain way?
- I was just looking for good musicians with a good presence on stage,
able to play very different music and open minded to do so, and last but
not least, ready to work for that and to criticise very hard in a rehearsal
R.E.P. - I know you have some ideas of your own about improvisation - you told me once that you only like to improvise with people with whom you’re used to do it. Tell me why.
R.F. - Oh, if I told you that, I changed my mind. I actually did it and do improvise with other musicians too. I just played with musicians like Dean Roberts or Gene Coleman.
R.E.P. - Even if Zeitkratzer deals with composed music, texture seems to be more important in the orchestra’s playing than structure, just like in improvisation. I presume that’s thinked and intentional. Am I right?
R.F. - No. Sound is very important. That was probably one point that made us to really met with Lou Reed, who is also a true sound fetishist. And as far as I know Alexander Frangenheim’s improvisations, he is not at all a textural player, but more a gestual one. Since we very different things, there are a lot of pieces dealing with structure. One of the most significant is, perhaps, “Monochromy”, that Zbigniew Karkowski did for us, if you think about the four minute long composed crescendo at the end. This is a true composition structure, like the pieces by Elliott Sharp, Nicolas Collins, etc. are too. I would have a problem, anyway, to devide our repertory digitally into structure and texture pieces. The last two pieces we did are cover versions of the death-metal band Deicide - which is very structural in terms of rhythm and the combination of incredible virtuosic assymetric patterns - and “Hamburger Lady” by Throbbing Gristle, that would be treated as an early industrial sound texture as well, as as a well-composed structural piece.
R.E.P. - Another thing that characterises Zeitkratzer music is that, in the orchestra, nobody plays their instruments conventionally (or almost) - for instance, you only use the inside of the piano, the strings, Hautzinger plays quarters of tone in the trumpet and everybody thinks in terms of harmonics. Are you trying to “reinvent” the playing of acoustic instruments and to reinvent acoustic music itself? Others did it before you, of course, but maybe not in such a programatic, conceptual way. The truth is that you present it like a “package”…
R.F. - In a certain way, we do. And I think that the invention of new technics is a normal thing for an instrumentalist, and we use them. But we also have a lot of pieces in which almost everybody is playing his instrument very conventionally. Like the piano in the composition “c1” by Carsten Nicolai or in some Thaemlitz pieces. And Hautzinger is one of the best traditional jazz players I’ve heard. Luca Venitucci included several times italian folk songs into the programs, as a kind of interludes between the other pieces, and the violin player also plays tango.
R.E.P. - To finish, tell me about the importance of the orchestral arrangement in Zeitkratzer’s music. It’s a long time since I noticed such a presence of the arrangement in an interpretation of music. Arrangement almost in the sense of translation, adaptation. How do you develop this work, specifically?
- There are very different approaches. We normally work in a way I call
“constructive anarchistic structure”. It means that, for each
piece, one or two of us take the responsability, and also do the instrumentation
if necessary. Ulrich Kreiger did the instrumentation of “ Metal
Machine Music” and wrote a 34 page score, which is a real master-work
of instrumentation: it includes orchestration technics that you can learn
in Debussy scores, like mixtures of sounds, etc. Melvyn Poore did the
same for other pieces. This is only possible because we know each other
and the sonic possibilites of the band quite well. Zeitkratzer is a composer-performer
group, which means that all the members are able to think like composers
too. So, the musicians involved normally propose more specific or differentiated
sounds during the rehearsal work and really take care about what could
make sense (and sensuality).