Reinhold Friedl on Zeitkratzer. “Music is a physical experience”.
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.
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 imidiatly 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 brilliant musicians working in the present European “avant garde” scene… an interview by Rui Eduardo Paes
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?
Reinhold 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 costs, etc.
On the other hand, as Zeitkratzer has a quite provocative aesthetic – that is not at all intended to be so, but the musicians involved have just a “normal” approach to very different music -, the stalinistic contemporary music scene reacts in a very nervous way. So, to get money from this source is not only not easy, but the attitude of this scene – to have well-paid jobs in festival structures or universities, to pretend to have the Monopol of so-called “contemporary music” and to ignore completely every non-academic approach – leads to a completely boring idea of “new music” in a closed society. So, we never thought about treating or selling experimental music as a kind of pop or folk music, we just don’t hide the fact that it’s fun for us to play this kind of music we play. And I’m quite convinced, that’s how it should be…
The park project was not at all a copy of the “classical music in the park” thing, but a research on special musics for open spaces, even more in a sense of installation than a concert situation: there was no stage at all, the musicians were spread in the park, the pieces had between one and three hours long and were convinced to walk around and enjoy the spacial dimension of sound in a open park situation. We even took care that nobody could know exactly before when we were playing where or which piece. So, the most interested audience was some older turkish guys sitting in the park, really enjoying it, and other people that never had any idea about the existence of contemporary music, who just liked the music. So, this was more a mission than a selling project.
What seems to be a pop approach is more related to the “band” structure of Zeitkratzer. Most of the musicians, having played or still playing in contemporary music ensembles, are quite pissed off of fast-food culture in this metier: playing pieces, so-called “world-premier’s” just once, then throwing them into the garbage, and always playing with musicians that are just engaged for a special job, playing music like a job. So, one of the important decisions in the programming of Zeitkratzer is also to play and to replay repertory pieces, in order to play them better and better (hopefully). On the other hand, the musicians are nearly the same than in the beginning of the band, five years ago, so they know each other really well and are able to play whatever in a kind of band approach, more than in a kind of score fetishism.
Rui Eduardo Paes | 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 homage 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?
Reinhold Friedl | 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 re-influenced their instrumental techniques with “electronic” sounds.
I think that, if a lot of people came to those concerts, it was a sign that this project is musically interesting. That the fact that rock ’n’ roll is contemporary music has been ignored for too long time in a too arrogant way. That also could explain that we got really enthusiastic critics for it from very different fields, except one really nervous from a stalinistic contemporary music critic.
Rui Eduardo Paes | 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?
Reinhold Friedl | 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 our days 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.
Rui Eduardo Paes | 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?
Reinhold Friedl | 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).
But on the other hand, you shouldn’t forget that we are nearly always playing amplified, and that means: using electronics. A microphone IS electronic and I could tell you a lot about hour-lasting discussions, which microphones should be used in which case, or which piece needs microphones for the string sound, and which needs the pick-up sound for example. The new thing in Zeitkratzer is that all the musicians are able and used to play amplified, and that we treat amplification also as a musical parameter of our playing. We always use to joke about which instrumental sound will be mentioned as a electronic playback in the next critic…
Rui Eduardo Paes | 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 trans-sexual that promotes trans-gendering 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).
Reinhold Friedl | 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.
Concerning the political discussions, I think that most of the interesting artists are quite sensible to political themes. And I can understand that a lot of people have been provoked by the mirror John Duncan showed them, fucking a dead lady – just imagine how many people are fucking dead women that pretend to be still alive. I also can understand that Terre is fighting for an acceptance of trans-gender living-forms, as he lives it – that’s probably a completely normal thing. We were all very impressed by Terre Thaemlitz, who is probably one of the best musicians I ever worked with (also concerning studio-mixing of acoustic instruments, for example).
Rui Eduardo Paes | 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 Dörner, Franz Hautzinger, Michael Moser, Melvyn Poore, Alexander Frangenheim and yourself, to play what is, generally, a music of overload information, excessive (as in «Noise … (Lärm)»), 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”?
Reinhold Friedl | 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.
The noise music we play is a physical experience. Its not at all an overload of information, I think. All the musicians have been impressed by the work with Merzbow for example, who cared about all the little details in the music. The loudness of this music is necessary for the physical experience: it touchs your body. And on the other hand, some sounds and acoustical phenomena are only possible if you play them very loud. To play that live and to enjoy that without hurting your sanity, there is a very easy solution: good linear ear-protection.
I’m actually very proud of the CD I released with Michael Vorfeld on Trente Oiseaux: it’s the first acoustic CD ever released on this label. And if you listen to it, you will realise what Bernhard Guenter told me: this minimalistic sound music could already be an information overflow for his audience. The double-sense title “Au Défaut du Silence” reflects this ironically too.
Rui Eduardo Paes | 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?
Reinhold Friedl | 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 situation.
Concerning improvisation, composition and interpretation, I have a very conservative approach: I don’t know any famous composer of the Western music history before… let’s say 1945, who did not do all the three things. Beethoven’s improvisations are said to be much better than his sonatas, Bach was a great improviser, etc. So, I think it’s just taking back a musical normality: to improvise, to compose and to interpret.
Rui Eduardo Paes | 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.
Reinhold Friedl | 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.
Rui Eduardo Paes | 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 thinkd and intentional. Am I right?
Reinhold Friedl | 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-asymetric 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.
Rui Eduardo Paes | 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”…
Reinhold Friedl | In a certain way, we do. And I think that the invention of new technic’s 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.
Rui Eduardo Paes | 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?
Reinhold Friedl | 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 responsabillity, and also do the instrumentation if necessary. Ulrich Krieger did the instrumentation of “ Metal Machine Music” and wrote a 34 page score, which is a real master-work of instrumentation: it includes orchestration technic’s 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 possibillites 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).
If we work with invited musicians, we normally make proposals to them, and then they can choose the sounds they want to have. That’s how we worked with Carsten Nicolai, who just played us something from his laptop, and every instrumentalist proposed him different sounds. That’s also how it came up that John Duncan, who is not a conductor, conducted the performances of his pieces in a great way: we showed him a huge palette of sounds and possibilities and he could treat them like in a live multi-track performance on the mixing-board.