Born in 1976, NICOLAS WIESE studied design, illustration, sound art, philosophy and sociology and has since been working in various fields: his (audio-)visual art has been presented in galleries and at exhibitions in Teheran, Gent, London, Vienna, St. Louis, Istanbul, Madrid a.o. As a musician/composer, he released a number of solo and collaborative albums under the [-Hyph-] moniker and his civilian name on labels like Walter Ulbricht Schallfolien or Corvo Records. His last release “Unrelated” (out on 29th June for the excellent Karlrecords), the third in the Periklas series, has been described as vital proof of WIESE’s artistic skills and a highly entertaining concern, melting electro-acoustic, musique concrète and sampledelia…let’s check the reason through the words of its author!
Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Nicolas! How are you?
Nicolas Wiese: Hi! I’m fine, thanks. After a couple of very busy months, slowing down a bit right now, so the sunny weather comes just in time.
Chain D.L.K.: How would you introduce yourself to someone who understands sound art? …And how would you introduce yourself to someone who ignores everything related to sound art?
Nicolas Wiese: I would tell both the same, more or less: My music is composed out of tiny processed bits from acoustic recordings, and I work with analog feedback.
The decidedly ignoring person might have already walked away by now, so for the other person I would add a little more:
Some of my electroacoustic pieces exist solely as musical compositions; some of them exist in different versions, for other contexts and formats – for installations, animation video, film, radio plays, music theatre and multimedia performance, or as open fragments to be spontaneously modified and extended in live improvisations. Acoustic instruments and the human voice are the primary sources I like to use, but it’s certainly not limited to those.
When processing and editing any kind of source recordings, I always consider carefully the properties and characteristics of those original sounds. Following the approach of my friend and mentor Asmus Tietchens: always regard the suggestions made by the material itself.
Chain D.L.K.: I/we talked about sound art, but maybe the one prevailing in your artistic path is the visual one, isn’t it?
Nicolas Wiese: It’s hard to tell whether the visual output or the auditive output is predominant. I’d say it’s 50/50, roughly. It depends on the period, what projects are in the making. That’s why I prefer to call myself an ‘audiovisual artist’, not because it’s always necessarily synchronized, but because I’m doing both in equal proportion.
I studied Communication Design in Hamburg, at a time before the Bachelor/Master system was established, and it was pretty open and experimental, very artistic, kind of free. Since I’ve been making sample-based ‘underground’ music since my teenage days and was also involved in the Hamburg experimental music scene quite a lot during my student years, it was only logical to include sound work in my (visually-focussed) University projects. It basically started with analog projections plus tape collages, all done without the use of computers back then.
There have been quite a lot of exhibitions and installations in the past 15 years, however, I’d say that my primary format of presentation is the staged performance, with a clear beginning and a clear ending.
I like the open time frame, the cyclic character of installations too. But it’s a totally different way of arranging elements in time. Visitors in exhibitions tend to walk in and out at random moments, so you need to compose for an installation in a way that people capture the essence more or less in a brief excerpt….and for those who like to stay there for an hour, it should be interesting and somewhat rewarding for a longer duration too.
Anyway, I don’t want to draw the distinctions too much; all interesting art is adaptable to one another in some way and that’s why it’s crucial for me to cross boundaries whenever I can. For colleagues and collaborators from the visual art field, I’m often ‘the sound guy’, while composers/musicians often see me as ‘the visual guy’ 🙂 In every context, I’m the one from ‘the other side’, and, well, that’s perfectly OK with me!
Chain D.L.K.: Besides art/design, you also studied sociology and philosophy…how do you intersect these fields of human knowledge to your artistic outputs?
Nicolas Wiese: Making art (and music) is a form of practical philosophy, that’s something I’m convinced of. A kind of philosophy applied to material, or philosophy implemented by means of aesthetic creation… Thinking with one’s hands, with paint, with sounds, with objects, in a way…well, the material can be words too, of course. It’s often hard to tell the difference between concept art and experimental philosophy, for that matter. The thing is: artists are free from the strict rules of systematic science. You should be precise at something, sure, but not necessarily in the same way that scientists (and ‘real’ philosophers) need to be precise. You are allowed to make mistakes and to be illogical, and to keep that in your final result, even take it to the extreme.
I used to do things that refer very clearly to certain writings, philosophical/political writings, or to sociological phenomena and searches…descriptive and explicit political stuff…but that became less and less at some point, for reasons that would take us too far now. In the end, it all boils down to what you feel honest about. I used to feel honest about my explicit political stuff when I was younger, and I feel honest now to keep things in a more openly associative manner.
Chain D.L.K.: I read your works have been exposed in many galleries and exhibitions all over the world… Have you ever noticed any influence of the cultural environment of the exhibit’s location and the feedback you received? Can you share some anecdotes related to this aspect?
Nicolas Wieser Well, the different places in the world are maybe not that different at all, when you have the chance to spend time with friendly locals who share similar interests with you 🙂 I firmly believe in the notion of internationalism and that cultural differences, however much we’ve all been indoctrinated in the first place, shouldn’t amount to the very core of human relations. But yeah, people react differently to things they find interesting when they’re not surrounded by them all the time. When I was invited to Tehran, for a media art festival that was one of the first events of its kind in the whole country, I could sense a huge excitement among all those young artists and their friends – they felt at the dawn of a new big thing, that would bring enormous creative freedom to them and that would also translate into more freedom in everyday life, in some form. Also, the reactions I got there for my stuff were different from Berlin audiences, who’re often oversaturated, have seen it all, have to make a choice between 100 gallery openings and experimental concerts every day of the week…you know…
Chain D.L.K.: Apropos of anecdotes, Corvo records (a very interesting label by Wendelin, a guy I met in Taranto, my native town in southern Italy, for a likewise interesting project some years ago) released Living Theory Without Anecdotes in 2013…could you introduce this release to our readers? The meaning of such a bizarre title?
Nicolas Wiese: That title probably has a lot to do with what we discussed above: aesthetic construction as a form of philosophy, a (non-verbal) shortcut between theory and praxis. And also, the aforementioned departure from explicit messages, description and explanation. The anecdote, for me, is a reassurance of a worldview. You tell a little story to exemplify ‘how things are’…or, ‘how people are’. You usually tell this to people who share the same views. In a casual yet effective way, you ‘keep certainty in its place’ by telling an anecdote. So with that album title, I guess I wanted to emphasize the aspects of my music that are radically opposed to that.
The music itself: well, I think it’s up to the listener to judge. It’s an album I’m still quite happy with. Most of the sound material was derived from acoustic (‘classical’) instruments, and besides placing them in strange spatial relations, I altered their sound’s physical properties by ‘illogical’ or ‘unnatural’ volume curves, attacks and decays. Theory-praxis trying to defy natural laws, if you will…
Chain D.L.K.: I had the chance to listen to your last output on Karlrecords… That’s amazing! First of all, can you explain its title? A smart “anarchic” alternative to ‘Untitled’? 🙂
Nicolas Wiese: No, nothing like ‘Untitled’ at all! The title Unrelated is very much titled 🙂 There are different aspects. Formally, the many many bits of the source material, as well as the pieces as such, are unrelated, as they are drawn out of different contexts. The task was to make a coherent sequence out of stuff that has originally nothing to do with each other, except that it (hopefully!) carries a certain common signature. The list of collaborators and contributors is quite long, all credited on the rear of the sleeve. Many of them will certainly not recognize themselves. Some musicians are only present for one or two seconds. Others have vastly contributed to parts of the compositional structures. There’s even a remix of the drums and guitar duo Rant.
It’s really a kind of panorama summarizing my different sound works from the past couple of years.
The other meaning of Unrelated is closely linked to that, but on another level: the contexts are different, and so are the contexts and ‘scenes’ the sampled contributors are being part of. Not only different music scenes – in one case, it’s visual artists (Doris Schmid and Nina Staehli) who used my sound material for a video work in 2016, and then for the piece on the album (When We Was Trapped) I re-worked that video soundtrack arrangement including parts of the on-site recordings that were not originally mine. It’s a statement of working together with people from different backgrounds, bringing all that material together to create something new, and therefore it’s a statement of not being part of any particular scene. So, unrelated…and equally multi-related, probably.
And lastly, there’s an existential personal meaning too… I feel totally unrelated to all the horrible shit that’s going on in the world. I know that I’m part of the problem, as a human being and especially as a consuming citizen of the so-called western world, but I just can’t seem to make my peace with how things are and where we are heading. It’s all pretty fucked up and I feel totally alien amidst all that. … “Those who love peace must organize more effectively than those who advocate war and hate.” It’s true, but what can we do? We’re simply not organized well enough. Ideal and reality: unrelated. … But let’s drop that for now. The sun is shining, my cats are alright, my album is coming up. It’s all good.
Chain D.L.K.: I enjoyed since the first mash-up ‘Cuck Rock’. How did you make it?
Nicolas Wiese: Vinyl and voices. This is a kind of ‘turntablism’ cut-up piece, employing old Metal/Hardcode and HipHop records, and then combined with the voices of my collaborators Elisabetta Lanfredini and Natalia Pschenitschnikova, tiny bits taken from raw recordings for another project. At the end of the piece, you hear spatial re-recordings – the voice cut-ups have been played back over monitor speakers in the studio and then recorded again from various distances, via stereo microphones. These takes are interwoven carefully with the direct information in the final mix. A technique I use quite a lot; it’s in almost every other piece on this album, but often less obvious than here.
Chain D.L.K.: I read that some elements of Unrelated came out of some experiments you made in a time-span of 6 years…can you tell us something about the experimental items you used and in which tracks?
Nicolas Wiese: A lot of that I have already outlined…the record brings together pieces that have already existed before the album project was settled, and others that I just recently arranged (or re-arranged) specifically for the release, also containing older fragments and structures.
Expediency/Atavism, for example, has been finalized quite recently but contains key elements of a sound installation that dates back to 2012. That one was presented within our Neukoelln studio series Quiet Cue and was exclusively based on fragments of sessions and concerts that have been recorded in our space since the (now defunct) event series had been launched in late 2009.
Chain D.L.K.: What does ‘The Indulgence’ refer to? A sort of self-indulgence, or are there any other references?
Nicolas Wiese: There are conceptual titles and there are titles I would call ‘intuitive-associative’ 🙂 The Indulgence is one of the latter, a title hard to explain straight away. The word, I find interesting because of its ambivalence; at first glance, it’s something positive, but it bears some negative associations as well, like decadence, abundance, escapism, and self-indulgence, as you mentioned… Well, that title came up somehow and I found it totally in place. The track is based on a collaboration with Al Margolis aka. If, Bwana. Al used some of my pre-processed material, layers and feedback recordings, for some new compositional sketches, and then I generated different versions of finalized pieces from that. A remote file exchange collaboration that we hope to continue as time allows.
Chain D.L.K.: If I hadn’t read your name on the files, I’d maybe think the author of many tracks of Unrelated were some big names of GRM… Did you ever visit the GRM Studios? Are you a fan of some ‘concretiste’ in particular?
Nicolas Wiese: Oh, thanks, I’ll take it as a compliment. No, I haven’t visited the GRM studios yet. My ties to the academic world of electroacoustic music are pretty limited – which doesn’t mean rejection, it’s just not where I happen to be at home. Paris has hardly been on my map at all yet; the academic connections in terms of that type of music have rather been to Montréal (the CEC – Canadian Electroacoustic Community, for instance).
A short list of Musique Concrète pioneers I’m a fan of: Luc Ferrari, Else Marie Pade, Jacques Lejeune, Francois Bayle, Erkki Kurenniemi, Beatriz Ferreyra, Akos Rózmann, Henri Pousseur, electronic Xenakis, electronic Maderna….and so many more.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the craziest and less guessable source of sound you used in Unrelated?
Nicolas Wiese: Probably the most disguised and most transfigured sound bits originate from string instruments – violin, viola, cello, double bass. In detail, I can’t even tell from which player and which session they were all derived. And there are a lot of percussive elements that might have been generated from anything, from everyday objects, from short bursts of white-noise feedback, from my studio mate Michael Renkel playing little styrofoam balls on top of his self-built guitar string board. Who knows…
Chain D.L.K.: Do you like to perform on live stage, or do you prefer your own dimension?
Nicolas Wiese: As I mentioned above, the staged performance has become my main format, but that doesn’t necessarily include myself appearing on stage. I enjoy performing, playing with the mixer and controllers and generating live feedback, trying to balance out the stable and the unstable. Yet I also enjoy sitting amidst the audience and watching a chamber ensemble play along with my videos, or watching dancers interact with them. However, the solitary studio situation is where my stuff essentially takes shape; that’s the place where the most time is spent by far… Often in agony, haha, if things are not coming together the way I wish…
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the Uzbek fairytale supposedly inspiring the closing track of Unrelated?
Nicolas Wiese: The story behind this piece: I was commissioned by Uzbek-born composer Aziza Sadikova to conceive a stop-motion video, to accompany her music after she was commissioned by Kasseler Musiktage Festival to write a piece that refers to a fairytale from her home country. She picked this Romeo and Juliet type of tragic love story, Alisher and Guli…unfulfilled love, impassable class barriers, everybody dies in the end. That kind of story, you know. I made an associative, surreal and rather non-narrative video, and the whole thing was well-received at the premiere in Kassel, end of 2012, and that was that. The project was almost forgotten when roughly three years later, I was invited to do a solo exhibition in Berlin with the idea of showing a selection of my videos that were originally conceived for concerts and musical collaborations. So, for the exhibition edit of my Alisher and Guli video, I made a completely new soundtrack out of the recordings from Aziza’s original piece, and that’s basically what you hear on the album now.
Chain D.L.K.: I see on your website that you’re actively involved in many collaborative projects…any word about any of those?
Nicolas Wiese: One of the more intense current collab projects is The Pond, my duo with Italian singer/vocal artist Elisabetta Lanfredini, whom you can also hear on Cuck Rock. All sounds in our duo collaboration are exclusively generated from her voice. Elisabetta has a huge variety between jazz, contemporary classical, baroque and renaissance music, sound-oriented improvisation, and different types of traditional folk music – especially from southern Europe, eastern Europe and further east from there. This is fascinating to include in an electroacoustic framework…definitely a lot of melodic elements here, yet a highly experimental affair whatsoever.
Two other duo music projects I have to mention are with my long-time partner Heidrun Schramm (an electroacoustic and audiovisual duo) and with Johnny Chang on viola and field recordings. In both cases, the expansion of concerts by placing ‘peripheral’ speakers plays a role….not in a typical multi-channel setting, but rather asymmetrical and handled manually, each source at a time. Installation-concerts by technically simple means.
A remote back-and-forth exchange with Israeli sound artist Shay Nassi aka. Mise_En_Scene has brought up the CD Introjection on the Canadian label Los Discos Enfantasmes in early 2014 and slowly goes on over the years.
Blind:Out:Dated is the name of a project I have with Gary Rouzer from Washington DC: He’s playing concerts for cello and stereo speakers, in my absence, improvising along with a playback that I have prepared out of his cello recordings –and which he has not heard before the gig. A ‘blind date duo’ with only one person on stage.
A very analog and haptic approach as a visual live artist, drawing and arranging things on stage under a live camera, is happening in my collaboration with the Istanbul Composers Orchestra, which started last year.
And, I also want to mention visual artist Annette Stuesser-Simpson, who creates fascinating and very original ‘soft sculptures’ out of delicate synthetic grids and textures – we are working on a kind of stage concept to bring these objects together with projection, moving light, and sound. There will be a first work-in-progress show in Berlin later this year.
Chain D.L.K.: Any other work in progress?
Nicolas Wiese: Always 🙂
visit Nicolas Wiese on the web at: nicolaswiese.com