On September 8th, Sofamusic released Lieber Heiland, Laß uns Sterben, a very interesting output by Swedish jazz and improv saxophonist and composer Martin Küchen. The author wrote some introductory reflections on it: “On Lieber Heiland, Laß uns Sterben historical events intersect right into the contemporary sound making, slit through their titles sharp cuts in our listening present era and pry our eyes towards the seemingly inexplicable backyard of history; which nevertheless created the plateau of disintegration and opportunity that we now seem to live on. At the same time all the sounds on this recording – all the scrunching, the breathing, all the tones, all the composed-processed material – completely and fully give themselves to the listener, escaping all human epithet making and denominations, as the sound becomes manifest, becomes apparent.” Let’s dig deeper into it through the words we had with its author.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Martin! How are you?
Martin Küchen: I am fine. Church bells are ringing. No shootings in Malmoe so far this day! 🙂
Chain D.L.K.: The artistic path that you’ve been tracing for 20 years, more or less, is really interesting… I know some of it, but maybe some readers don’t…can we trace it back? Let’s start from the very first steps…
Martin Küchen: My first professional job as a musician was in a circus in 1996, a Swedish nouveau cirque performance….from 1992 onwards I had done a few door gigs with improvised music, mostly in the region of Stockholm (where I resided until 2008). In 1998, I started to play more extensively everywhere I could and with a lot of different people, from different disciplines and backgrounds, etc.
Chain D.L.K.: You toured with John Tilbury as well…can you tell us something about that experience?
Martin Küchen: Touring with John Tilbury was a very interesting story, especially when we were traveling in Poland. I remember most vividly our quite intense discussion one time in a café at the Warsaw airport, where the other “Loopers” didn’t really take part, only me and Mr Tilbury were doing the talking…btw, a fantastic musician….
Chain D.L.K.: Aside from touring, it’s really impressive the number of concerts you took part and performed in…are there some that marked your artistic growth in a specific way? If yes, why?
Martin Küchen: When I went with 3/4 of Exploding Customer to Mexico (the bass player had cancelled the evening before our flight from Stockholm, because he could not find a babysitter for his one-year-old 🙂 – the way we then had to promptly rearrange the songs during these exotic concerts in Merida and Mexico City – the bass line on the alto sax for example – maybe not the best idea 🙂
And the first time I came with Angles 6 to Coimbra, Portugal in 2009. Three nights in a row. That was fantastic!
And most recently in a wintry, cold Moscow (in December 2016) with Steve Noble and Johan Berthling – we had the most dedicated, warm-hearted audience ever….
Chain D.L.K.: The number of bands and collaborations you have made over your career is likewise impressive…what’s the brightest creative spark that really inflames a collaboration, in your own words?
Martin Küchen: A collaboration can start from any point, really; from an ad hoc – situation the first time you meet a new person/musician at a concert you are just about to play (for example, with Ferran Fages, it was like that), to someone else’s suggestion or having been impressed by something I’ve heard from someone, etc., and then making contact… But, I think, the most spark-inducing encounter – meaning, a spark that can hold for a lifetime – is when you are able to communicate OUTSIDE the music as well….
Chain D.L.K.: This interview follows the listening of your solo release ‘Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben’…before focusing on it, I’d like to know if you feel more comfortable or free in solo projects instead of collaborative ones?
Martin Küchen: Playing solo and/or playing together with others are one and the same, really. The one thing that clearly separates the two, though, is in a solo situation, there will NOT be any input from another breathing human being while you are alone on stage, but no real distractions, either; maybe only from the audience in certain circumstances… For me, the two feed on each other; they are each other’s parasites 🙂
Chain D.L.K.: In the liner notes of ‘Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben’, I read that ‘music is uninterested in genre denominations and ideological markers’…does this thought apply to music in general, or to your music?
Martin Küchen: It must mean to music in general, even though you can, of course, try to subdue the music with agitating lyrics and manipulating emotional sequences(!) and by doing so, that also then subdues an audience.
With the music I do and, maybe most specifically, the solo music, the titles are bearers of a certain meaning/symbolism, etc. – but the music, I think, is always unharmed by any encounter with certain titles…..
On the other hand, I can’t help always being on the hunt for good, strange and poetic informative (!) titles….
Chain D.L.K.: I agree that reality and poetry seem to coexist in your album… In your own words… How do you balance ‘reality and poetry’?
Martin Küchen: Reality and poetry light each other up, or put each other in the dark for a certain amount of time – there is no end to the one which is not the beginning of the other… It has to do with your specific life circumstances, past and present, how these two entities interfere and correspond over time… Sometimes poetry has to be dragged out of the reality of a man’s circumstances, and sometimes reality has to ignite the poet within man….
Chain D.L.K.: There are moments when it seems you quoted a piano sonata or classical music… Can you explain some of the inserts you used in many parts of ‘Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben’?
Martin Küchen: It’s from an iPod, and then through speakers inserted into the saxophone and also through an old radio speaker from the 1920’s, which is standing on a pedestal on my right-hand side. On this specific piece you mention, it’s the Busoni written interpretation of Bach’s “Ich Ruf Zu dir Herr Jesu Christ” played by Nikolai Demidenko.
Chain D.L.K.: You recorded after a visit to Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben in the Crypt of Lund Cathedral, right? How did this place influence the sound of ‘Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben’?
Martin Küchen: The acoustics of the crypt are somehow out of this world; it’s so magnificent and old and breathy, and influenced so much of what happened musically that very warm, humid evening in May 2016…
Chain D.L.K.: I have to forward a question by a collaborator of our zine… The title of a track that could crash many file compressors, if someone opts for the digital release (!): “Atmen Choir (I det stora nedrivna rummet med bortvaênda kvinnoansikten, skylda av veck; bortsparkat, ihopfoêst segel, krossat roêtt tyg stelnar i vinterkylan”…what does it mean?
Martin Küchen: It’s a long poetic line in Swedish – you can easily google it 🙂 but its content has to do with this long winter night in January of 1945 in East Prussia, and how this bunch of women simply tried to survive in this maelstrom of mass terror and rape…and a lot of them simply didn’t….
Chain D.L.K.: The cover artwork can arouse some curiosity… How did you choose it?
Martin Küchen: I first came across the photograph in a book by historian R. M. Douglas called “Orderly and humane”. It’s a photograph taken in secret (that’s why you have “SECRET” stamped on the original copy) by a British embassy staff member just outside the Jaworzno concentration camp, Poland, in 1951. Inmates at the time were young Polish “enemies of the state”, Ukrainians and still some ethnic Germans.
The camp was taken over by the Communist authorities (Soviet NKVD and Polish UB) in February 1945, and at that time the camp was filled with ethnic German civilians (also women and children), German POWs and Polish adversaries to the new regime, etc.
Chain D.L.K.: Any word about the techniques you used on the album?
Martin Küchen: I didn’t use any particular techniques, other than the putting one speaker in the saxophone bell…. Everything is live recorded, but two tracks are multi-tracked but recorded on the same occasion…..
Chain D.L.K.: I checked your website…a link to a sci-fi movie (The Dark Tower)?
Martin Küchen: Well – then my site has been hacked again – simple as that. This summer it was hacked by an alleged pro-peshmerga fighter (!) who called himself MahmudEmad… we had to change passwords and all my last year’s listings of concerts were gone, etc. – and now a Stephen King movie….scheisse…..:-)
visit Martin Küchen on the web at: martinkuchen.com