Im guessing that a lot of our readers have never heard of these names: Achim Wollscheid was formerly known as S.B.O.T.H.I. He was one of the brains behind the influential label Selektion, together with Ralf Wehowsky. Using Selektion, he produced a number of very interesting pieces, such as the entire discography of legendary German noise/industrial band P16.D4. After lots of catching releases that gravitate around proper computer music and avant-garde electronics, he reduced his output with regard to sound in the last decade. Bernard Schreiner is a photographer, filmmaker, musician and installation artist who prefers – like Achim – playing live rather than physical releases. His seven years at the Academy of Fine Arts, spent under the wing of experimental film maker Peter Kubelka are worth mentioning too. Together they recently appeared on Baskaru‘s catalogue on “Calibrated Contingency”, the recording of a collaborative live performance they held in Graz in 2011. This was labelled as “dizzying and otherworldly”. In a twist to our usual interview format, we wanted to put the two of them face to face again for some questions/answers and we managed. Instead of us asking the questions, they interview each other. Next up – an interview that could very well be considered a calibrated contingency!
Bernhard: For our concert in Graz, you built a “machine” using the PD software. The machine takes everything that is audible in the room and transforms it, in real-time, in various ways. As it’s the machine that reacts to and builds up the sound, could the result be understood as a kind of machine-made music?
Achim: I guess that any music could be considered machine-made. As Vilem Flusser said about analogue photography: the camera is an apparatus that incorporates a program the user is supposed to utilize. Likewise, any analogue musical instrument can be seen as an apparatus involving “programs” that the instrumentalist utilizes. (Listen to Jean Dubuffet’s non-programmatic use of instruments – and you hear what I mean). To use an instrument via software gets rid of our human counterparts – and thus, of the virtuosity problem („Mum, listen how good I am“). As hands cease to be obstacles, other obstacles arise, of course.
Bernhard: In your understanding, can the machine be considered the musician, or is it you, the constructor of the machine?
Achim: I guess none of us. I feel like an operator (sometimes I have to adjust certain parameters). Generally, I consider artwork functional – meaning they inhabit the varying spaces between in-=puts and outputs. Sound from the environment is recorded and transformed in real time and, then, put out. Transformation only works within a certain context, and thus the “musical” task is to design functions that correlate with the context or certain aspects of it.
Analogue music usually doesn’t directly register inputs (for example, from the audience). Of course, the piano player will become quiet when he’s shot – but usually the man or woman on stage puts out, not in. To adjust to and navigate within the context means to “listen” and put out, at the same time. Such input comes without annotation or selectivity. Therefore, selection (or designing the way in which the machine receives input) becomes as important as the output itself.
Bernhard: In what way do you influence the machine’s output during a concert?
Achim: Sometimes I restart or reboot. It might happen (though I take a lot of care to avoid it) that sounds feedback or silence occurs. Both may also be acceptable – or not.
Bernhard: What is your main concern regarding “playing” or avoiding playing (music)?
Achim: It’s what I call the “party-principle.” There are two kinds of parties: the ones where hosts are extremely attentive to everything. Usually the guests enjoy themselves and the hosts don’t. The other, opposite, one is when hosts throw parties because they want to party themselves – meaning drinks are out after an hour and – well, you know.
Same thing with playing music. I’d like to be part of the party and organize it, at the same time. That means (in a metaphorical sense): to “ex-corporate” the maker of music (the function) allows me to roam around and listen to what “I’m doing”, from different places and perspectives.
Bernhard: Do you think a distinction between “music” and “sound art” or any work with sound outside the realm of music makes sense?
Achim: You do sound installations and you also perform in a concert-like way. Which of the two makes you feel more at ease? Or is ease something you don’t want to achieve?
Bernhard: Both are equally important to me. I wouldn’t like to lose one or the other. In a way, “ease” is indeed not the thing I aim to achieve, meaning I’m fine with not feeling uncomfortable during a concert. At the same time, I need to keep myself in tension; the whole experience needs to be risky, somehow. I try to construct setups I’m not able to control entirely; setups that have potential to surprise me or that are just too complex to be securely managed in all their parameters, without losing the overview. In that respect, the main difference between a sound installation and a live situation is that the installation works lack a kind of “where do we go from here?” tension – not that all my installation works are completely predetermined -. I often work with concepts that incorporate (pseudo-) chance or are “self-mixing” etc. But I like to leave the installations alone, so (ideally) they develop and change themselves over time.
Achim: When you play in an improvised setting, which time frame (allocated to planning ahead or considering the musical events that just happened) do you usually consider?
Bernhard: In many cases, between 20 and 45 minutes, but I think that’s a concession for the audience, the promoter etc. – I like to break that time frame I feel is kind of imposed on myself. Keith Rowe once told me that, while being in a live situation, he sometimes feels like he has done everything that is possible with his setup, after 10 minutes, while sometimes he can go on for hours with exactly the same setup – that’s one of the powerful qualities of improvised music.
Achim: Concerts involve drama – voluntarily or involuntarily. Are you telling stories? If so, what are they focused on?
Bernhard: That’s a tricky question for me. I feel more drawn towards non-narrative artwork – but the question is if one can really escape storytelling. It might just be a matter of perspective. From a certain point of view, everything tells a story. Let’s say I try to avoid telling stories but I’m well aware that we (humans) seem to work in a way that constantly compares what’s happening at the moment with an internal database of what has happened in the past. We seem to permanently try to find equivalents, for the sounds we hear, for example, in order to know what we are dealing with. That’s what makes Pierre Schaeffer’s “sound-object”, which (in theory) is completely free of any connotation, so difficult (but a desirable concept in my view).
Achim: When playing in Graz, we somehow (without having thought about it) got to a 45-minute piece. Could you imagine going for (a lot) more? What would that change?
Bernhard: I totally can. I would love to go for longer pieces. It would certainly affect the way of working with a setup –the timing, the pace of developing something, for sure. Even the setup itself might be reconsidered and end up being a different one. For me, it would also touch upon the question of what the piece actually is: is it like a concert with a proper beginning and end? Or is it potentially endless and just an excerpt is being presented? I guess Max Neuhaus must have thought about these intricacies when he moved away from the concert/music realm to fine arts, working with sound but freeing it from its time-based form, letting it become potentially endless; a sculpture made from sound.
Achim: You gave the piece a great final mix. In a rock mix, one erases bum notes. What did you erase?
Bernhard: It’s funny you ask this. I erased something quite similar to bum notes. The recording was done with two independent recorders, one for your stereo-setup, and one for mine, both taking the line signals out of the mixer. A third recorder was positioned in the audience, to get the atmosphere from the floor, as well. When mixing the three signals, I used the room recording just for the beginning and the end of the mix. Our two stereo-line signals came out very differently, and there were some drop-outs in the recordings, bad cables, whatever it was – but there were occasional complete breakaways of the signal. I took out some of these, while I left some others. After the obvious ones were erased, it became hard to say which of the extremely dynamic changes were deliberately played by us and which were “mistakes” in the recordings. Apart from this rough cleaning, there wasn’t need for any editing, just a bit of the usual mastering, nothing added, nothing panned, just my left and your left to the left and the rights to the right.