Based on the idea of a fundamentally chaotic world, as the mathematical or physical theories and models like to portray it, and the continued attempts of man to recognize, describe, predict, control and change such a world, “Sinn+Form” (Raster-Noton), the new project by Frank Bretschneider, seems to simulate this system using the legendary Buchla and Serge analog synthesizer, at EMS, Stockholm, in July 2014. We had a chat about this project and other matters with this brilliant author.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Frank! How are you?
Frank Bretschneider: Hello Vito, nice to meet you! Sorry for the late reply, but finally you’re here…
Chain D.L.K.: Before talking about your new release “Sinn + Form”, let’s go back in time a bit…although I think you don’t really need any introduction, could you tell us something about your very first steps into sound and electronic music?
Frank Bretschneider: I did my first experiments around 1983 with tape machines. With bouncing, cutting, looping and changing speed I tried to generate some kind of electronic sounds. I just wanted to explore and see what I can do. My first real synth was a Korg MS-20, in 1984. And I had a simple beat box, a Yamaha MR 10. Sound-wise, I was influenced by the new wave, ambient, industrial and experimental music. Later on, I had a small cassette tape label. I sent some of the tapes to the radio and some of the DJs liked and played them; that gave me enough feedback and self-confidence to continue.
Chain D.L.K.: Is there any specific listening or reading experience that radically changed your approach to sound?
Frank Bretschneider: Not a single specific moment. It’s just the sum of experiences I had as a young person. I was always open to new experiences and interested in the more experimental and adventurous side of things, especially regarding art, literature and music. I was also into technology, science and science fiction, surreal and abstract ideas. A big influence is for sure Pop music, a huge amount of Jazz too, urban music, in general. I should also mention contemporary music, electronic and experimental music.
Chain D.L.K.: You are one of the holiest members of the trinity that gave life to the excellent Raster-Noton… do you remember the eureka moment when you, Olaf and Carsten understood that Noton and Raster music could go together?
Frank Bretschneider: It was not really a kind of »I’ve got it!« moment. It was just a pragmatic decision: Olaf and me had the label and distribution infrastructure, and Carsten had artist and media contacts. And since we shared a similar interest in the more abstract side of electronic music, it was just naturally to merge.
Chain D.L.K.:Even though things have changed quite a lot, some people keep on considering electronic music as a not so accessible or even elite genre … Do you think that is the fault of the people who make electronic music, the ones who try to explain it to the humble listeners?
Frank Bretschneider: One point is the knowledge/experience in listening, whether one finds a piece of music accessible or not. I mean.. for most people music is just entertainment, they don’t care about new ideas and sounds. For some it’s a hobby, they found what they like and they like what they found. And for only a few it’s a passion to dig deeper and enjoy experimentation and new adventurous ways.
And I guess the average music listener is fooled by a kind of auto-suggestion: as soon as he knows that the music is made using machines, computer or electronic boxes with lots of cables, it’s per se considered as cold and artificial; because machines are not human.
Chain D.L.K.: You defined yourself as a lazy guy in an interview with Susanne Bolle in 2001… would you revise that opinion about yourself?
Frank Bretschneider: No, it’s true. Not, in the way that I don’t like to work. It’s more that I need a long time to make decisions or to be clear about what I want to do, what is necessary and what not. I’m a thoughtful person and not very spontaneous. So it often takes me ages to finish something, like a new track or album.
Chain D.L.K.:You won’t believe how I discovered your music…I bought a record by yourself because I found your surname difficult to pronounce…not so difficult like the one of Paul Brtschitsch (I think I’ll never understand how to pronounce it without my tongue off!), but quite difficult! I have to say that it was a fortunate discovery, by the way! Komet is much easier to pronounce for me! Have you completely abandoned that moniker?
Frank Bretschneider: Funny way to find music. Maybe it’s because it’s such a typical German name and you made associations with Krautrock and the German electronic music scene. But glad that you started to like it at some point.
I never was really happy with Komet; it was just the mood at the time that made me choose a moniker. It might be OK if you’re not happy with your real name, or maybe if you want to turn yourself into a kind of brand. But that’s not the case with me. And as soon as Mille Plateaux asked to choose a different name for my releases there, I dropped the moniker later on. I might use it again every now and then, but more for fun.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you remember your very first modular synth?
Frank Bretschneider: Actually I never had a real analog modular synth. My very first synth, a Korg MS-20, I bought in 1984, was half-modular – left part wired and the patch field on the right. In 1998 I bought a Clavia Nord Modular, that is a virtual modular system. But after the experiences I had at the EMS studio last year with the real modular synths there, I am thinking of buying a small system for myself.
Chain D.L.K.: More looking into memories…how did East Germany influence your musical path? How do you remember the slow reunification process of Germany?
Frank Bretschneider: I think it was not so different to grow up in the East – in terms of influences. Of course, it was more difficult to get some special things, literature, music, technology. But West German radio stations were always just a touch of a button away, and sharing records and tapes with friends made it easy to find the stuff I looked for.
It took a while to adapt to the new system, but it was not that difficult. I saw the change as a chance and I was young and educated enough to find a way.
Chain D.L.K.: I remember that some West German propaganda ridiculed East German industrial production and car factories by means of DIY paper models that invited people to build their own car according to those standards…do you remember any similar process which targeted artists coming from that area?
Frank Bretschneider: Well, there were some people who thought of East Germans as not so clever and smart. But with the rise of a new generation it fades out more and more. And I never had bad experiences; I always felt respected and treated well, as a person and as an artist.
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s focus on your new release “Sinn + Form”…first of all, why have you chosen such a “philosophical” title?
Frank Bretschneider:With »SINN + FORM« I want to clarify the relationship between content and structure in music and try to find a synthesis of both. Something like »form follows function« in modern design and architecture. On the other hand »Sinn und Form« is the title of a bimonthly literature magazine, one of the very few liberal and uncensored publications in East Germany.
Chain D.L.K.: It’s quite different from “Super Trigger” where you kind of shifted your style towards more “accessible” forms…
Frank Bretschneider: I like to try new things, I like to change directions, I want to avoid formulas, stereotypes and clichés. »Super.Trigger« was a kind of tribute to urban music and »SINN + FORM« is my homage to avant-garde electronic and improvised music. It’s part of the things that influenced me and it was essential to find out where my roots are, where I come from.
Chain D.L.K.: I’ve noticed a rising interest in Buchla and Serge after EMS opened its gates to artists and musicians who want to try those legendary synths… how do you explain that?
Frank Bretschneider: Generally, there is a rising interest in analog and modular systems; a kind of reaction to the digital revolution of the last 20 years. After all these years of working with computers, I wanted to get rid for a bit of all the endless possibilities and the omnipresent grid. And it can be quite boring to sit the whole day in front of a computer screen. For me, making music means not only earning an income, it should be fun too. An analog system is much more direct in terms of accessibility and spontaneity. It’s a very different way to make music. There is always one dedicated knob/button for each parameter and no chance to save your work. So you are forced to catch and record your creation, as soon as you find an interesting structure or fascinating sound.
Chain D.L.K.: What are the features of those synths that make them so fascinating?
Frank Bretschneider: It’s the unique design; especially with the fact that the Buchla has a very different focus than the Moog system. Whereas the Moog paradigm of synthesis was based primarily on the shaping of harmonically rich but static waveforms with a resonant Low-pass Filter – the subtractive synthesis, the primary focus of Buchla was on varying timber at the oscillator level via nonlinear wave-shaping or frequency modulation techniques. These waveforms would then be processed through the Low-pass Gate, a special kind of filter invented by Buchla. The main parts were made in the 70’s; modules like: Programmable Spectral Processor, Complex Waveform Generator, Source Of Uncertainty, or the Sequential Voltage Source. There are some little issues sometimes, some mail functions, but that’s actually quite charming. Alone with the nice (and noisy) Analogue Delay Line, a so-called bucket-brigade device (BBD) with single outputs for each tap, feedback input and freeze function, you can spend hours playing with it.
It’s completely modular, so you have to think about a structure, build patches, see how they work, play these patches, and only afterwards record it. It’s analog; there is a knob and button for each function. The big potentiometers have a wide range; you can turn them really precisely to the desired level. That’s very different from using a computer mouse or controller. It’s a bit different from the usual synthesizers, but as soon as you start working, it’s completely understandable and easy to manage.
Chain D.L.K.: Even the titles of the eight tracks of “Sinn + Form” evoke the coexistence of chaos and order in the contemporary world… how did you translate such a concept into sound?
Frank Bretschneider: To simulate the chaos I used sources such as Sample & Hold, White Noise, etc., to create a constant stream of random events, to affect the relevant parameters – pitch, timbre, frequencies. The Buchla provides a special module for this purpose, the Source Of Uncertainty. In contrast, I used the built-in sequencer to create regular short length patterns , like 1 to 16 steps. I have controlled other parameters manually. For example: speed, note and pattern length, attack and release of the envelope generators, to ensure a certain kind of order. And that’s what I wanted to do: turning knobs, pushing buttons, having a more direct and interactive feel. It was kind of satisfying to make these weird patches and hear the oscillators scream and stutter, like a malfunctioning world.
Chain D.L.K.: I remember a conference by Deleuze at IRCAM about Boulez’s distinction between pulsed and non-pulsed time where he said: “In contemporary music, we are witnessing the birth of a sonorous material which is no longer a simple or undifferentiated material at all, but a carefully elaborated, very complex material; and this material will no longer be presented in a sonorous form, since it has no need for one”… What’s the element of music that is somehow inseparable from sonic expression in your opinion?
Frank Bretschneider: Well, this statement was made in 1978, when music experienced certain liberations already. Nowadays we consider a wide range of events as music: silence, environmental sounds, the sounds of the stars or our own heartbeat. But since music is always a linear process, it is inseparable from time. Even Cage’s famous piece of silence had a duration: 4′33″.
The creation, perception and definition of music may vary according to your point of view. But if we think of music as a human art form to express and communicate, then the human factor is the defining aspect in music.
Chain D.L.K.: “Machinery Of Freedom”, the last track on “Sinn + Form”, got its name from an essay by David Friedman… would you say that so-called crisis can be explained only by the overwhelming complexity of the world and its dynamics, that you tried to mirror?
Frank Bretschneider: I mean.. we have environmental problems, a rapid growth of population, a depletion of natural resources. Our society is going to be atomized into thousands of diverging factions of political, religious, cultural, ethnical and gender concerns and demands, that make it hard to find majorities for implementing change. And especially with the introduction of computers during the last decades, the financial/economic system (the basis of our society) grew so complex and dynamic that it became almost unpredictable. And it seems there is no time to develop long-term strategies, because everything changes so fast, at a continually increasing rate.
But the track wasn’t intended to be a reference to David Friedman and his ideas; I just liked the title.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to perform “Sinn + Form” live on stage? If so, how?
Frank Bretschneider: Regarding the music, I transferred the EMS recordings to a Octatrack sampler/sequencer to perform »SINN + FORM« live. For the visuals, I have two different setups: One is a solo show, with the visual part representing an image of the music by a software goniometer what generates kind of Lissajous figures. For bigger places/festivals I work with Pierce Warnecke, a sound and video artist I met last year in Berlin. Pierce developed a kind of machine – similar to the Zoetrope or Dream Machine, with interchangeable cylinders with different printed patterns, as well as controllable light sources with varying intensities and angles to create the visuals.
Visit Frank Bretschneider online at: www.frankbretschneider.de