Thursday, April 30, 2015

Angle(s) VI John Cage

(5 Sep 1912 - 12 August 1992)

Its pretty hard not to like John Cage the character, I think. And a huge part of his presence actually comes through great interviews, films, anecdotes and spoken words. This is him, and his music is the same way totally him. But if this helped his message at all (?), is a more complex question though. I started to play other people's music because I guess i'm totally disable to play anything else than my own (own ways, at least). Its not a choice or anything, its a fact. Playing music is about how much you accepts facts (technical ones, inclinations, past and present history, geographical facts too, familial ones, many many other ones, but facts). And I don't have any other options but accept those facts, so I did go where they all and each of them took me. Its very nice places to be. 

John Cage and other new composers, in a way, became huge clichés since their original creative moments. But this isn't negative at all, its often been the case though history, its a great sign that those ideas got totally socialized, accepted and sre fully public now. The specifity of Art is precisely that it absolutely require to be universal and not hold as some sort of Graal by a closed group (mostly to bang on other groups practically). Everyone refers to John Cage today even when negatively. No one would find bizarre that Beyoncé or Gaga mention Cage (and not Nicolas). Much more people recognize Woody Allen, Marquis de Sade or Casanova than actually did read or seen their works. Its what created the now very common “Cageian” word. I once had a review in the french Jazz Press about my “Rien” album, that ended up by “For Cage Fans Only”. And you didn't need to know Cage's music to understand the point. 

There is only one piece of John Cage I ever found totally playable to be honest and that is his “String Quartet in Four Parts” (which happens to be also Four Seasons). I've tried since quite a lot of other scores, deliberately leaving aside all the too graphic ones, or texts only, or intructions to DIY the whole piece. I took where most standard notations were perferably, which clearly divides quickly into instrumental music (of course Piano often coming first, but as time went often strings too). In this corpus of works I often felt that to be totally intuned whith his own ears and desires, he was totally missing in the room. Another very obvious example for long (it seems to be changing lately), were the albums that he was present during the recordings, eventually somehwere conducting the sessions (not too hardly I guess) very particularly for me two kinds of : The works with David Tudor, and later the Arditti Quartet or Solos Series. Maybe for me this incarnated feeling only comes back with the late Europeras, but they also are a sort of goodbye, someone preparing to leave this world, things you'd like to not forget to say before you pass away. 

 I never really got into “Silence” (the book) but his “For The Birds” was really totally thrilling when I first read it with 15 or 16. Although you could always say his books were very musical, they weren't really about music at all for me. He was more like the kind of uncle or teacher you'd love to have. Deep and Light at once always. Funny and serious, more really funny than really serious I always felt. And I know it will again shock some but I always asked myself if he actually was exactly a musician, a composer, or maybe just someone very sensitive and a free mind. 

Sometime I thought he might have suffered a lot before to get there. Or was too aware to try, or else deeper roots that leads one individual to such roads. I still don't really know today still. I can often still think that he has been able to do all he did because he wasn't too much of a composer in the traditional sense. Like free of duties, that were so heavily weighting on all other european composers at the time (Darmstadt). I don't judge in fact, it doesn't matter at all. What matters is that he did what he really wanted, that's all matters in one's life, go to the point and let others discuss whether its blue or yellow.

Probably like others before (Jacques Lacan, Thelonious Monk, Gramsci, Jesus or el Che) he also brought them Leper and other really bad epidemies. Because deeply his music is about being and not about playing to be. I don't think he cared too much about interprets musical and techical problems, but about how they felt in their lives rather. You need a strong level of empapthy I guess to play his music, whereas you can really dislike Mozart and enjoy playing his works. Maybe Cage's message is exactly that the answers to all yours questions are inside yourself already, and he just offers an nice and open frame for you to start your own journey. Its a lot of maybes I know. 

I meant by Leper the fact that after him all sorts of people took if for granted ans started to preach and sit on what Silence is, and doing so just rolled over the original message (they always do, that's what the Bible is all about no?). A world with an extra totally different character will always be a better world for me, so his presence is absolutely wanted and acclaimed. Do you actually often listen to any John Cage albums yourself? I don't think many do in fact, and that's also fine, that's maybe also what he intended.

Reading and recording all sorts of scores at the moment, including recently so called “Contemporary Music” (Which for most dates back to the 50's and 60's, I don't why they kept that term, just like “free jazz”), helps me approach certain aspects of writing in fact. I always doubted that a composer writing say a Quintuplet of demisemiquaver (32nd th ) at a fairly up tempos, wanted to hear the actual result. That's writings that address to other group of people, eventually to political and social conventions, but hardly to really playing music I think. 

Its interesting to see how each of them writes music, between Cage, Stockhausen, Kagel, Feldman, or Ligeti. It says a lot about their times I guess too. A lot might need a revision in the future. Is Music about the text or the sound it produces? Contemporary music still fascinates a lot of people for this that its truely impossible to read through for most. Its known to be a high value, a very serious work next to scientific works, but most have no idea why nor what. Maybe part of Cage's message is in his texts as well, in the way he put it. The way he always very precisely writes what needs to be, and opens poetical windows everywhere else he can. 

Noël Akchoté. French guitarist, violinist and producer, born December 7, 1968, in Paris, active in various experimental fields between drone, rock, jazz and contemporary classical music. Also music journalist and author as well as founder (together with Quentin Rollet) of the French avantgarde label Rectangle. Currently running the label Noël Akchoté Downloads.  He is the brother of electronic musician SebastiAn.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Solo Gig by Davey Williams


Piston engines are sometimes "supercharged," or "turbosupercharged." Sorne of the exhaust gases are compressed and fed back at high pressure into the functioning of the motor, making the engine much more powerful than before. 

There's a symbiotic irony in this: an engine feeding off itself to go beyond itself. Playing music live can be like this. The ensemble generates so much energy that it seems to become fueled by something more powerful than the players and their instruments. Unlimited horsepower goes self transcendent and takes the band up for sorne new aerobatics.

This can be particularly energizing at one of those bar gigs where the audience consists of two loud-talking drunk guys who have been there for six hours already, both of whom are sure that they know more about music than you.
 Art by Edgar Degas
Dave Williams



Based in a noted musician's decades of personal experiences, his book Solo Gig: Essential Curiosities in Musical Free Improvisation (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011) examines some crucial and far-reaching aspects of musical free improvisation, with particular regard to live performances. In this illustrated collection of narrative essays, the author looks both into and from inside this uniquely paradoxical, challenging and rewarding way of making music, within the context of an inherently eccentric milieu. 
Available here. (U.S.A.) (Europe)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Conversations with History. Ken Jacobs

A pioneer of the American film avant-garde of the 1960s and '70s, Ken Jacobs is a central figure in post-war experimental cinema. From his first films of the late 1950s to his recent experiments with digital video, his investigations and innovations have influenced countless artists.
A New Yorker by birth, Jacobs graduated from City University to find himself in the midst of the downtown art scene of the 1960s, which included artists Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, beat writers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac; and the experimental theater troupes of Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer.

Although Jacobs had studied painting with Hans Hoffman, he quickly gravitated to film, finding kindred spirits in radical filmmakers such as Jonas Mekas and Hollis Frampton. An early friendship with Jack Smith yielded several collaborations, including the seminal underground films Blonde Cobra (which Jonas Mekas dubbed "the masterpiece of Baudelairean cinema") and Little Stabs at Happiness, as well as a Provincetown beach-based live show, The Human Wreckage Review.

Jacobs has long been a cinema activist. He was an integral part of Manhattan's burgeoning alternative film scene, which included venues such as the Film-Makers' Cooperative and The Bleecker Street Cinema (which notoriously premiered Blonde Cobra with Smith's Flaming Creatures) as well as his own loft, where the Kuchar brothers first screened their 8mm work. In 1966, he and his wife Flo founded Millennium Film Workshop, and he was a cofounder of one of the country's earliest departments of cinema, at Binghamton University.

Jacobs has always been interested primarily in the act of viewing, rather than in textual decoding or analysis. As he points out, "my work is experiential, not conceptual. I want to work with experiences all the time." In this respect, his breakthrough was Tom, Tom the Piper's Son (1969-71). A landmark work of appropriation, the film takes as its source material a ten-minute short from 1905. During the course of Jacobs' two-hour film, this fragment from the dawn of cinema is subjected to extensive and varied re-photography, including manipulations of speed, light, and motion, as well as the minute examination of abstractly enlarged areas of the frame. A masterpiece of cinematic deconstruction,  

 Tom, Tom the Piper's Son is, in its total concentration on the formal and material properties of the medium, perhaps the quintessential work of 1970s structuralist filmmaking. It was also an indication of the direction in which Jacobs would proceed, wherein actors and narrative would fall away, replaced by a concentration on the rigorous pleasures of the cinematic unconscious. As he has suggested, "there's already so much film. Let's draw some of it out for a deeper look, toy with it, take it into a new light with inventive and expressive projection. Freud would suggest doing so as a way to look into our minds."

Jack Smith, Flaming Creatures

In later films such as Perfect Film (1986) and Opening the Nineteenth Century: 1896 (1990), Jacobs continued to explore his pioneering appropriation strategies. His interest in performance has never waned, however, as evidenced by Nervous System, a live show incorporating two film projectors, a propeller, and individual filters through which audience members view the double image. Writes Jacobs: "The throbbing flickering is necessary to create 'eternalisms': unfrozen slices of time, sustained movements going nowhere and unlike anything in life." Jacobs' recent video work, such as Flo Rounds A Corner (1999), have successfully transferred the "eternalisms" effect to the digital realm.

Jacobs' insistence on cinema as a "development of mind" can be seen, despite his protestations to the contrary, as a conceptual approach to art-making practice, one that has yielded groundbreaking work across media. In his activism, film, performance, and video, he has consistently expanded the practice of the avant-garde moving image. Whether undertaking archaeological journeys to the birth of cinema, or scrutinizing the interstices of new digital technologies, Jacobs' work investigates, provokes, and draws power from the mysteries of the nature of human vision.

 Ken Jacobs, “Slow is Beauty”—Rodin, Idea Warehouse, November 1974.

Ken Jacobs was born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. He has received numerous awards, including the Maya Deren Award, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts. In 1969, with the help of Larry Gottheim and Gottheim's students (one of whom was J. Hoberman, current senior film critic for the Village Voice), Jacobs began the Cinema Department at SUNY Binghamton and taught there until 2002.

His films, videos and performances have received international venues such as the Berlin Film Festival, the London Film Festival, the Hong Kong Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the American Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. He was a featured filmmaker at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2004. Jacobs lives in New York City.

The moving camera shapes the screen image with great purposefulness, using the frame of a window as fulcrum upon which to wheel about the exterior scene. The zoom lens rips, pulling depth planes apart and slapping them together, contracting and expanding in concurrence with camera movements to impart a terrific apparent-motion to the complex of the object-forms pictured on the horizontal-vertical screen, its axis steadied by the audience's sense of gravity. The camera's movements in being transferred to objects tend also to be greatly magnified (instead of the camera the adjacent building turns). About four years of studying the window-complex preceded the afternoon of actual shooting (a true instance of cinematic action-painting). The film exists as it came out of the camera barring one mechanically necessary mid-reel splice.
Ken Jacobs

Originally photographed in 1903, US Library of Congress collection. New arrangement in 1996 by Ken Jacobs, assisted by Florence Jacobs. 35mm optical rephotography by Sam Bush, Western Cine, Denver.

I've been raiding the Paper Print Collection of the Library Of Congress in Washington, DC, since the late 1960s with TOM, TOM, THE PIPER'S SON. It's a preserve of early cinema. Until 1912, in order to copyright film, one deposited with the library a positive from the negative printed on paper, unprojectable, but - unlike nitrate prints - capable of weathering the years without Crumbling into chemical volatility. And there the stacks rested, safely out of mind, hundreds and hundreds of silent rolls most less than 30 meters, many Edisons, American Mutoscope And Biograph, Gaumont, Lubin, Vitagraph ; cine-snatches of life as it was lived, vaudevillians, proto-dramas, and too many state parades. Until they were ripe for rediscovery and reevaluation, and rephotography back onto film. THE GEORGETOWN LOOP is my 11-minute riff on "The Scenic Wonder Of Colorado", a rail-line built in the 1870s through daunting mountain terrain to serve the silver mining industry. I've called it the first landscape film deserving of an X-rating, and that it is, yet its secret subtitle is - I must whisper.
Ken Jacobs

This work contains throbbing light. Should not be viewed by individuals with epilepsy or seizure disorders. Ken Jacobs writes: "Stereograph of the crowd at the opening of the US Centennial Exposition of 1893. It turns into a movie. Into an enormous rugged and craggy 3-D landscape.... before the people return and the scene is righted again. Many laws were broken in the making of this movie, beginning with laws of gravity."

"I wish more stuff was available in its raw state, as primary source material for anyone to consider, and to leave for others in just that way, the evidence uncontaminated by compulsive proprietary misapplied artistry, ‘editing’, the purposeful ‘pointing things out’ that cuts a road straight and narrow through the cine-jungle; we barrel through thinking we’re going somewhere and miss it all. Better to just be pointed to the territory, to put in time exploring, roughing it, on our own."
Ken Jacobs

The story goes that Ken Jacobs‘ 1986 work Perfect Film is literally a found film: the experimental filmmaker came upon the reels at a shop, bought them, made a print, tweaked the volume, and released the piece as a raw untouched document (consisting of—in this case—footage of news interviews following the death of Malcolm X). A possibly satisfactory example of that always suspicious term “pure cinema”, Perfect Film is Jacobs’ humbled gesture towards the integrity of the cinematographic image, resurrecting a discarded arbitrary artifact to not simply present what it was…but to establish what it is and what it can be.

In Celestial Subway Lines/Salvaging Noise its story is told by director Ken Jacobs but without the conventional storyline. Using a modified magic lantern, an early type of image projector developed in the 17th century, he morphs, flickering images that look like photo-negatives. This is accompanied by industrial sound and music provided by John Zorn and Ikue Mori.

The Nervous Magic Lantern, a manifestation of Jacobs’ ‘paracinema’, is an ecstatic, ephemeral, hallucinatory, three-dimensional viewing experience, which he evocatively describes as ‘cinema without film or electronics’. Combining aspects of his earlier Nervous System apparatus with a traditional magic lantern projector, Jacobs creates an illusory dreamworld, where the spectator is immersed in abstract, rotating visions. With this performance, Jacobs returns to cinema’s roots, underlining the importance of precinema in his work. Before the invention of celluloid, audiences were mesmerised by the Phantasmagoria – a lamp, lens and painted slides; today, Jacobs transforms hand-crafted collages into impossible and unforgettable visual phenomena.

Ken Jacobs and Aki Onda first collaborated for a live projection event at BOZAR, Brussels, in 2007, and have since performed together on a number of occasions. Onda (JP, 1967) is an electronic musician, composer, and visual artist who currently resides in new York. He is particularly known for his Cassette Memories project – works compiled from a ‘sound diary’ of field-recordings collected by the artist over a span of two decades. 


Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Monday, April 27, 2015

Vladimir Demin Robotic Guitar

05/25/12 — We already know that musically inclined robots will take up the Beatles mantle in the future, and that they are skilled at reproducing the classic James Bond theme. But just to further show how obsolete human musicians are, Vladimir Demin (MrDeminva on YouTube) built a robotic guitar that can replace a group of guitarists. Normally it takes a group of musicians to play this particular Russian tune. Demin’s actuated player guitar can reproduce the song by itself with such unrelenting tempo and perfect accuracy. The robotic guitar can do this because each fret on the instrument has its own dedicated…

Automation and Robotics News

The robotic guitar can do this because each fret on the instrument has its own dedicated solenoids to magnetically strum the individual strings. The guitar-strumming mechanism is equipped with six picks (one for each string) that allows it to play note after note at an incredibly inhuman speed.
Watching this guitar play is an incredible sight, but there’s still something soulless-sounding about it -- you know, besides the obvious point that a human is not playing it.


If you compare its rendition (video above) of “Go Down Moses” to Siggi Mertens’, it sounds incredibly hollow. This might have to do something with the fact that the entire guitar is strapped down, which prevents the sound box from vibrating properly, or it might just be the way it does not hold a note for more than a few milliseconds.

Hack a Day

[Vladimir Demin] is somewhat of a legend for us; in his spare time he’s been mastering the automation of musical instruments. This time he’s back with upgrades to his build and four new videos. [Vladimir’s] top priority was to rework the strumming mechanism that earlier ran on solenoids. He’s improved the sound quality and reduced the clicks by swapped to stepper motors and overhauling the software.
Compared to his earlier setup, this one sounds more soulful and less automated, but [Vladimir] admits that it’s still not good enough and that he’s working on a new, brilliant implementation. Until then, take a few minutes and check out the rest of the videos below, then join us in scratching our heads in amazement: everything is built with simple hand tools.
[Vladimir] has come a long way, and it started with this Bayan (button accordion). Last year’s guitar build is also worth a look, as well as an in-depth interview.

Hack a Day

This guitar-robot (in my opinion) includes 4 or 5  know-how.
The main Know-How is the interface that I had developed in 1988 for real (not digital)
instrument. I did not know Midi in 1988.Now I say-Midi totally inappropriate for real music device(like my robot).
Also my interface allows  very easily, accurately, quickly enter notes of melody without error.
Guitar  is controlled by  digital part of the   handset designed earlier for radio  trunking system.
The handset was designed by me.
It(handset) manages the memory of solenoids, which are mounted on the guitar.
It includes  microCPU ADSP2187,  flash memory, DAC and ADC.
You can listen the future melody for the guitar from small speaker inside the handset
without guitar.Very usefull.
The device  for strum  strings has four phases of operation time.( management by software)
-switch on a solenoid-string tension(same delay)
-switch on a solenoid strum(same delay)
-switch off solenoid-string tension(same delay)
-switch off solenoid strum(don’t care delay)
for a short time, not more than 7 msec ,current guitar power supply can consume up to 30 amperes at a voltage of 12 volts.
Despite the high current(because short time), battery capacity of 5 amp/ hour rather continuous play 2-4 hours.
It depends on the type of music.
Vladimir Demin

Hack a Day

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Michael Peters 13 Questions

Photo Bernd Wendt

For about 40 years, Michael Peters has explored the world looking for new sounds. Michael's main instrument is the guitar - he studied with Robert Fripp and also is influenced by guitarists David Torn, Eivind Aarset, and Fred Frith. He extends the guitar using electronic effects, midi, and livelooping techniques. His main body of work relies on solo improvisations with guitar and computer. He has played in avant rock and open improvisational groups.

Photo Sabine Schachtner

He also has experimented with sampling and cutting up random FM radio broadcasts to use as elements in live improvisation, and he used field recordings, granular synthesis, fractal algorithms, and generative processes to create improvisations, soundscapes, compositions, and sound installations.

Photo George Wiltshire

Michael is a seminal and pivotal member of the Chain Tape Collective, a group of dozens of electronic and electro-acoustic composers whose musicians create collaborative music projects together.

Photo Michael Bearpark

He also is a member of Looper's Delight, a very active international community of people who use looping technology for their music making. Since 2005, he performed on numerous international livelooping festivals in Europe and the USA, and he hosted three such festivals in Cologne.

Photo Georgina Brett

Michael Peters lives close to Karlheinz Stockhausen's house in a small village east of Cologne, Germany. He loves to sit on a bench outside, listening ...

Photo Laure Sornique

Which was the first and the last record you bought?

My first LP was a Wergo record with music by Györgi Ligeti. I was 14, and had just gone through a total epiphany seeing the movie ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’. Ligeti’s music was a major part of that for me - captivating and dramatic and sublime while completely outside of any musical tradition. This opened a door for me, and I started listening to avantgarde music, Stockhausen, Penderecki and such. A few years later, I played in a band (called ‘Parsec’) where we did tape music experiments, spoken word collages, free jazz, and all sorts of unusual music. I guess it was in the air at the time, with progressive music taking up all sorts of influences, from electronic avantgarde to early music to sound experiment to jazz. But it was Ligeti who kindled my love for experimental music.

The last record I bought .. I think was Jon Hassell’s 3-CD “City: Works of Fiction” rerelease. Jon Hassell is clearly my all-time favorite musician. Nobody else has offered me such a richness of vision, such enjoyment and bliss. I often thought that his music was custom made for me. It is the soundtrack to an inner very magical Castaneda-esque landscape not unlike Mati Klarwein’s paintings that Hassell used for some of his record covers, not surprisingly. On top of these atmospheres, Hassell has this unique ability to create stunning melodies, perfect combinations of notes that leave me in open-mouthed awe.

How's your musical routine practice?

I don’t have a routine practice. When I was with Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft during the late 80s until the late 90s, I found that my playing abilities grow instantly when I spend lots of time practising (I was suddenly able to play things that used to be too difficult), but I find that I don’t keep that up at all in my daily life. It seems I’m simply not interested. My ambition to become a ‘good musician’ is zero. I feel more like an explorer who does not know where he is going, and I enjoy that. My playing abilities have grown naturally and quite slowly with playing, without thinking about it. 

Similarly, after a start in classical guitar many decades ago, I forgot everything about musical theory and I never earnestly tried to learn that again. I’m simply not drawn to knowing what I do. I can totally relate to what Eno says about his being a ‘non-musician’. In terms of chords and notes and scales, I don’t really know what I’m doing when I improvise, even more so because I’ve been using Fripp’s NST tuning for many years now almost exclusively - I never tried to learn a map of the fretboard in NST. I seem to have a more graphical, geometrical way of playing, I see shapes that don’t have notes written on them. There are lots of chord shapes in my head and I keep finding more of them intuitively, by hearing and trial and error. I am aware that simple ways of learning exist that would put the notes on to those shapes but I seem to prefer them without labels. A jazz guitar teacher told me a few years ago that he had never met a guitarist who couldn’t play but did it so well. (I took this to be a compliment.)

Recently, I’m more and more finding myself consciously playing totally random notes and seeing where this takes me. This is a very interesting exercise, and maybe more than that. It is like taking a walk and then leaving the path, going into the wilderness and through the thicket. Sometimes this will lead you to a beautiful spot that is far away from all paths. Then the next day, you might not find that spot again because this territory is pathless and uncharted. I seem to like that - I enjoy the unpredictability of it.

Knowing exactly what you do in music can lead to great musical results but it can also bind you to what you know. It is difficult for someone who knows a lot to become innocent again. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki coined the term ‘Beginner’s mind’ for a mind that is empty of all knowledge, as a prerequisite for a fresh perspective, for real understanding.
Sometimes it almost seems to me as if I am half-consciously trying to explore this terrain of music blindfolded, being led by intuition alone, depending on “not knowing”. The results are mixed, many might be considered failures, but there are unexpected spots of beauty as well.

I totally trust this process wherever it might take me.

Which work of your own are you most surprised by?

Lots of what I do surprises me in many ways. One example that comes to my mind first: the live set I played in a Cologne cafe called “Vorstadtprinzessin”, released on Bandcamp and Youtube as “Vorstadtprinzessinnenklangwellen” - suburb princess sound waves. It was a little festival and I was last on the list. The place got very crowded but most of the people came to drink and socialize loudly, not to listen to music. The sets that came before me left me bored. When I started, I had a vague idea what I was about to do but I threw that out in a minute. I then spent 50 minutes aimlessly improvising, doing this and that, looking for inspirations but not finding doorways. I became more and more irritated and frustrated and hating what I did - a very unusual state of mind for me. Afterwards I was close to selling all my gear and stopping this music thing for good. People told me how great it had been but I couldn’t feel that at all. Only when I dared to listen to the recording after several days I thought, hey this is great stuff actually. A friend wrote, "this may be the most diverse, complex and interesting loop performance I've ever heard." A surprising experience for sure!

When I perform I mostly improvise. I usually start with a rough idea but leave the rest to the moment. Surprises are the main constituent of this way of music making.

Depict the music you're still looking for

Assuming that the universe is teeming with planets and civilisations, I sometimes wonder: what music is created there? some of it is probably too strange for us but I’m sure there must be musical things going on out there that would speak to us, move us, make us feel alien emotions. Maybe there are even alien rock bands somewhere, playing rock but in a way that it has never been played on Earth. (And I don’t mean the many pathetic ‘alien music’ examples from science fiction movies - this stunning lack of imagination makes me shudder!)

I respect and love music that perfects the known, like Indian classical music for example, but what really excites me is something totally surprising and unforeseeable, like when I heard Edgar Varèse or Michel Redolfi or Gagaku for the first time.

I’m so glad that I can easily open my ears to sounds, whatever they are! The older I get the more I enjoy the experience of listening to the world around me, switching the “I already know this” circuit off so whatever I hear, it is always completely new and fresh. With nature or ambient sounds, this is pretty easy to do. I’m still learning to do that while listening to music that sits squarely in the known. Maybe I’ll eventually be able to listen to Beethoven with curiosity - so far, I can’t seem to do that :)

How do you feel listening to your own music?

I totally love a few things I did but I find that most of what I did remains sketchy, a promise of what could be possible if I _really_ took it seriously, and really worked on it. But apparently this is not my way. New ideas always take me away from that.

Most “serious” artists do one thing, and bundle all their energy to evolve it into perfection. When I look back, I seem to constantly fall in love with new and very diverse ideas before the old ones have a chance to reach a stage of perfection :) I think I am pretty eclectic in that sense. And also, thinking about it now, I seem to thoroughly enjoy imperfection!

What special or extended techniques do you use?

I’m probably most known for my livelooping music. I was a Robert Fripp fan from the start and when he took up livelooping, using a pair of tape recorders, this was immediately very appealing to me, so I started doing the same, around 1980. 

Just a year or two ago I dusted off my old Revox machines and reanimated them, doing some ‘Frippertronics’ style livelooping concerts - I was surprised how much today’s audience loves the sound and the look of the rotating tape wheels. I’m doing little workshops for music students, showing them how livelooping is done with tape recorders, so they get to know the basics as they were introduced 50 years ago by Terry Riley who called this system ‘Time Lag Accumulator’.

Outside of the tape recorder method, I nowadays use a Windows notebook with Plogue Bidule hosting complex setups of livelooping and other VST plugins. And my guitars have midi pickups. The possibilities of this setup are endless, virtually endless. I don’t think I will ever get bored by this :)  At the moment, I research a method of livesampling that allows me to play something, sample it, and immediately afterwards, play the sample on the guitar, polyphonically. 

Setup Livorno 2014

Big fun, especially if combined with livelooping, harmonizers, VST instruments and such. A similar setup with seamless livesampling (rather than on-off sampling) enables me to do self-similar music with fractal structures - very abstract, complex, and hard to master, but very rewarding as it is done in realtime. I am far from being through with that, there is lots to learn.

Of course I also use extended methods of actually playing the guitar. On my last album, Lucid Dream Cities, I often use a multifaceted garnet crystal to bow the strings while shortening the string lengths, creating strange new scales - something that David Torn sometimes does with his pick. Or I feed speech and noise recordings from my mp3 player into the pickups and play with that. Or I use mallets to play the strings, or other objects.

What is your idea of perfect musical happiness?

The moment my improvisation takes off and I don’t have to “do” it myself. Something takes over then, the muse, the flow, whatever you want to call it. Then an effortless confidence is in charge and everything is possible and totally unknown. It is almost as if I become a part of the audience, witnessing my hands play, not knowing what is happening, and I find that what my hands play is mostly new, not consciously coming from the known.

I have learned from Fripp that this is something that happens more and more if you practice a lot and get technically very fluent, and if you ‘clean up your house’, figuratively speaking. To me it doesn’t happen very often although I feel like my house is mostly cleaned up. It happens only if the circumstances are right. I never know beforehand when it happens, it is always a surprise, but it tends to happen in free improvisations with a group of musicians that I trust.

Another music situation that makes me perfectly happy is when I sit beside a pond somewhere and listen to my hydrophone via the headphones, recording the mysterious sound world under water and the voices of fish and water insects, or when I listen to the internal sounds in plants or fences or other objects transmitted with contact microphones. That says much about the sound explorer part of me I guess.

What were your craziest projects about?

The fractal algorithmic music released as “Impossible Music” was pretty crazy

…  or the realtime radio collages released as “Cut-Up Radio”

... or the year 2000 diary “MY2K” which consisted of very diverse 10 second recordings every day

The craziest was probably the recently released ‘Silence Project which produces music mostly consisting of silence, interspersed by occasional short sounds, more than 300 of them, provided by 20 composers.

Dream about your perfect instrument

That would be something directly transmitting the music from my brain. Of course using traditional instruments is limiting the open space of possibilities in a creative way - playing the guitar with my fingers uses my body intelligence which creates something entirely different from what my brain would create if it had a direct output.

But a direct brain output would be something very magical. I remember silent Zen meditation retreats where I would face a wall for seven days which does many interesting things to your brain. Often after several days of sitting, I would start to hear this music in my head - it was incredibly interesting, intense, complex music unlike anything I had heard before, and loads of it. It was really difficult to let go, I had so much fun listening to that. I was glad that I wasn’t musically trained enough to write it down in some way. The distraction was bad enough already :)

Where are your roots? What are your secret influences?

My musical roots are the early 1970s, including avantgarde, UK progressive rock, and jazz or jazzrock. I was never interested in blues or blues related rock, as most of my friends at the time were. I still can’t play traditional bluesy guitar riffs. Instead, my brain learned to be comfortable with uneven meters by listening to lots of Soft Machine and other Canterbury bands.

Outside of music, Meditation, various spiritual practices, explorations of my “inner world”, deeper levels of reality seem to mean a lot to me, as I spent several decades with that. I was with Zen for a long time and with several teachers of other traditions, and I still spend quite some time with this. I learned Zen in the mid-1970s from a woman who was a singer with Karlheinz Stockhausen and a part of the avantgarde music scene around LaMonte Young in New York. She said that she met many truly gifted musicians whose ideal it was to express themselves as musicians, thereby missing the one thing that is actually even more important than music.

I’m still not sure to what extent it is possible to translate spiritual insights or experiences into music. I start to find some of these in my own music. I can’t ‘make’ that happen but I’m very glad it starts to appear, even if might be not entirely obvious to everyone.

What would you enjoy most in an art work?

I enjoy art or music or literature most if it stirs a sense of wonder in me, or even of awe. It is difficult to describe what this actually is. A clear feeling of the presence of a mystery, maybe. I found myself sitting in front of one specific Rothko or Pollock or Max Ernst, totally fascinated while all the other pieces left me unimpressed, but I totally couldn’t put my finger on why this was.

As a child, I loved music that evoked a sense of the mysterious, and I still do. The only thing that has changed is that ‘the mysterious’ has become so much more palpable.

What quality do you most empathize with in a musician?

Openness in combination with curiosity and humour.

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

I enjoy rediscovering the ‘Frippertronics’ style tape looping. Robert Fripp thinks that what I do is my own unique thing so a new name for it will turn up sooner or later - ‘Veloopitronics’ maybe?  (I tend to use the name ‘veloopity’ for myself after calling my first CD ‘Escape Veloopity’ because I felt I had reached escape velocity using loops, so to speak.)

The laptop/guitar combination is a thing of pure magic, a gift box that never runs empty. There are several very diverse projects waiting in there alone, from a one-man jazz combo (with drums/bass instruments synchronized to the guitar) to a fractal or generative music machine, all running in realtime of course.

I have lots of ideas for a dreamy-chord-sequence-ambient solo album (in the style of ‘The Beloved in a Snowflake’)

… and for a crimsonesque progressive band project (in the style of ‘Dange Strays’)

There are several collaboration recordings waiting to be mixed: a totally beautiful ambient album with Fabio Anile

... an album’s worth of exciting improvisations with keyboard player Bernhard Wöstheinrich, guitar duo sound explorations with Michael Frank, and more.

Current band projects:
Together with Michael Frank and Idaho based Craig Green I have this lovely guitar improvisation trio that is still called ‘Experimental Guitar Evening’.

For many years now I’ve been a regular member of Michael Frank’s avant-rock band The Absurd, a very open and diverse family of musicians that keeps being an inspiration for me.

I have organized three international livelooping festivals in Cologne so far

... and a next one might come up in 2016. Livelooping festivals are very rewarding experiences in so many ways. I’m very grateful that I can be part of the international livelooping scene - what a great bunch of friendly, crazy, inspiring, and simply wonderful people! The next festival might also turn out to be an avantgarde guitar festival - I know enough amazing livelooping and experimental guitarists to fill up several days, so it might be the thing to do this time, we will see. 

Selected Discography

2013 with Lucid Brain Integrative Project and Amy X Neuburg

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Loopfestival Cologne 2013 Photo Rainer Roeingh