The first public performance of the reinterpretation of Lou Reed’s “Metal Music Machine” by Zeitkratzer, the supergroup that Reinold Friedl formed in 1997, was critically acclaimed. Almost ten years later, the four 16-minute parts have been joined together into one release by Karlrecords, which put mastering and mixing in the wise hands of Rashad Becker. We had a chat about this lauded orchestration of that provocative masterpiece by late lamented Lou with Zeitkratzer’s artistic director and inventive pianist, Reinhold Frield.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Reinhold. First of all, how are you?
Reinhold Friedl: Thanks, fine, just back from Norway, leaving for Austria today…
Chain D.L.K.: Even if I think you don’t really need any introduction for listeners who follow most interesting branches of contemporary music, could you tell us something about your very first steps in the music world?
Reinhold Friedl: The first time I made money from music was at the age of 5, when I entered the boys’ choir of the cathedral in Augsburg, Germany. We got 50 cents per concert!
Chain D.L.K.: You can be reasonably considered a veteran of the Berlin music scene… how did that vibrant city influence your artistic and musical path?
Reinhold Friedl: I think it was pretty important, as I came to Berlin not only to study mathematics, but also to take music lessons. I wanted to get lessons from Alexander von Schlippenbach, the grandfather of European Free Jazz piano, and that’s what I did. And for sure, at that time, in the mid-eighties, the situation in Berlin was really special. There was a new influence coming over from New York, composers, performers, etc..
Chain D.L.K.: You founded Zeitkratzer in the late 90s… is there any particular reason or idea that sparked it?
Reinhold Friedl: There were just so many great musicians around, not only in Berlin, but in other parts of Europe too. I had spent some years in others cities like Rome, Marseille, Amsterdam, etc. Everybody said that there’s no money anymore for experimental music; it’s impossible. So I thought: if nothing is possible, perfect, let’s start from the top; let’s try the impossible and conceive a real utopian project.
Chain D.L.K.: I recently reviewed a bunch of releases from former members of Zeitkratzer… I imagine there isn’t any binding agreement joining them to this supergroup, but do you still have good relationships with former members? Have you ever kicked someone out of it?
Reinhold Friedl: Some left, some on good terms and some on bad terms and for sure, I fired some. But even with some of them, I’m in a good relationship with them now. There are always things that can cause problems in a group with so many people: the wrong drugs, different concepts, etc… So sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you have to decide whether to risk the preservation of the group or to fire somebody, which is never a nice job. But for sure, musically I love them all!
Chain D.L.K.: Zeitkratzer already re-performed many important scores of contemporary musicians and artists (James Tenney, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Alvin Lucier…). Are there any of them that totally captivated your body and soul? If so, why?
Reinhold Friedl: Captivating my body: Karlheinz Stockhausen, “Setz die Segel zur Sonne”. It’s like a slow take-off with a huge UFO captivating my soul, all of them getting out of the body. James Tenney, “Critical Band”. You start to play the room and somewhere outside, so that at a certain point you lose complete control of whether it’s you or other musicians who are responsible for the resulting sounds.
Chain D.L.K.: On the in-lay cover, Zeitkratzer’s versatility was explained in the following statement, which I agree with because of its artistic overtones: “music and sound are important, not their social derivation”… could you give an example of the negative consequences related to the consideration of music or sound as a social “display”?
Reinhold Friedl: Boredom!
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s speak about Zeitkratzer’s astonishing reinterpretation of Lou Reed’s Metal Music Machine – I’m pretty sure that he would have appreciated it. Would you say that this masterpiece by Lou Reed transcended any social derivation?
Reinhold Friedl: Yes, I’m sure about that!
Chain D.L.K.: I read many reviews of that album when it was launched; it’s surprising how narrow-minded some reviewers were in the 70s. Do you think that something in the circles of so-called critics really changed?
Reinhold Friedl: Sorry, but I don’t know. Who in the pop business today – in a similar position Lou Reed was at that time – would risk doing something like that? Bono? Lady Gaga? Madonna? Björk?
Chain D.L.K.: The “approval” for this reinterpretation came from Lou himself after he checked your transcription, didn’t it?
Reinhold Friedl: Not exactly… Lou could not read our transcription. He got a pre-recording months before we set up the project. So for sure, he needed to trust us and to take the risk. There is no other way if you want to take on a project like that. You have to raise the money for the rehearsals with 10 musicians, all the technique (everybody amplified), so we discussed a lot on the phone. He even called me to discuss single microphones – he preferred the Schoeps mk4 to amplify the amplifiers to the Neumann km 184 I proposed. But he heard the version for the first time two days before the concert, then rehearsed with us, and he was well prepared, like most composers, and knew exactly what he wanted.
Chain D.L.K.: Besides transcription, what were the main problems for such an orchestration?
Reinhold Friedl: Transcription cannot be considered a real problem – we did it in less than three days. The key to the transcription was the tuning of the guitars Lou had used in the original recording, and fortunately we had the great ears of Luca Venitucci, who figured everything out. Then the physical condition was important, as it is really compelling to play in this intensity for one hour, and we also had to add a 4th string player in order to get the density.
Chain D.L.K.: You brought MMM to a number of festivals… after Lou sadly passed away, did a trained ear like yours perceive that something had changed from a musical or just an emotional viewpoint when you performed it?
Reinhold Friedl: For sure, it changed a lot. If you listen to the new mix, you will hear that it sounds much more transparent and chamber-music-like than the old release. This was also the idea: to play it as real chamber music, pretty intense anyway, but without hiding the instruments behind amp sounds, etc., anymore.
Chain D.L.K.: How long did you work on this release? How many musical minds worked together to complete the release?
Reinhold Friedl: It took some years. The mixing and mastering was done by and with Rashad Becker in the last 6 months before the release.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to bring it back on live stage? Are there any elements that could differ from your very first performances of Metal Machine Music?
Reinhold Friedl: Yes, we are going to play it again, perhaps one day with the original guitars Lou used, feedbacks on stage while we play it. I got in touch with his guitar tech [editor’s note: Stewart Hurwood], and it seems really challenging. So I’m working on that…
Chain D.L.K.: During a famous interview for Lester Bangs, Lou said that he used some inserts from classical music pieces. After the transcription, have you noticed any real resemblance?
Reinhold Friedl: No, I haven’t.
Chain D.L.K.: A collaboration between Zeitkratzer and Keiji Haino is in the works as well. Would you like to tell us something about it and other forthcoming projects?
Reinhold Friedl: Keiji is Zeitkratzer’s singer. It’s incredible to play with him; it’s such a pleasure. We also recorded Stockhausen “Aus den 7 Tagen” together, which is unreleased so far, but we will play together again in Poland next month at the record release concert of the last collaboration.
visit Zeitkratzer on the web at: www.zeitkratzer.de