Name: Florian Hartz
Occupation: Bassist, composer, improviser, sound designer
Recent release: Florian Hartz's Try Harder is out via qftf.
Acid for the Children by Flea (very entertaining autobiography!)
Coming together by Frederic Rzewski (some intense minimal music)
If you enjoyed this interview with Florian Hartz and would like to find out more, visit his official website.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
At the age of six I started with classical guitar. It's a nice instrument, but I was never able to truly express myself. That changed when the school big band was looking for a bass player and I picked up the bass guitar. I discovered soon that playing with others and improvising with them offered me the kind of freedom I longed for. Hence I started to ignore the written notes and instead played by chords and later by ear.
In doing so, the non-verbal communication with the others increased significantly. In fact, this exchange is still one of the main reasons why I love playing jazz and improvised music in general.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
It's a very emotional process for me: When I listen to any music, I free myself from all deliberate thoughts. Instead, there is a vague sense of emotion that floods my body. And that's also the way I approach my compositions: A feeling that I try to catch.
So I sit down at any instrument and let my fingers do whatever they associate with that certain feeling. And when I start to repeat certain ideas, I grab a pencil and write them down.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I faced a big challenge when I started my formal jazz education at the conservatory in Mannheim, Germany: The “hip” kids all played bebop whereas I enjoyed Steely Dan or Snarky Puppy a lot more. During my first year, I kind of felt like an outsider. But slowly I learned to embrace my own taste of music and started to dig in deeper to new stuff. I discovered minimal music by Steve Reich, Debussy's string quartets and contemporary music by Louis Andriessen.
And I started to appreciate the immense value of silence and rests. When I realised that I can “hear” silence with my inner ear – that was an enormous breakthrough. I also continued to concentrate more and more on the energy flow of music. Therefore, I moved away from the traditional jazz form “head – solos – head”. My approach became a bit more fluent: Everybody can have his sport at any time as long as it supports the overall flow.
And in doing so, I discovered that the bass guitar is really a melody instrument (at least for me) that happens to be a groovy foundation most of the time.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I'm kind of a try-hard: I do a lot of things and I have several jobs. So I see myself as a workhorse, a business man, a teacher, a musical director, a manager and an instrumentalist. And when I do these things I prefer music that pushes me and lets me finish my daywork. Funk, Soul, Hard Rock or Country get the job well done.
But what really makes my day is the work on my own music. To gain new ideas I get away from the pushing vibes and search for musical ideas in other people's work I don't know yet. And that can be anything from Bach to Kraftwerk.
I guess, if I had to choose one profession, I would be a composer and explorer.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
To embrace the moment and to embrace what emotion it has in store.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I'm constantly looking for new ways to express myself. And I don't really care whether someone thinks that's very original or old-fashioned. As long as I can see the beauty and the meaning of an idea, I'm happy.
Nevertheless, I think it's always enriching to know a lot of stuff. Most of the time, there is a reason why an artist is considered a “classic” or “the next big thing”. And it's worth to find out why – whether you like his work or not. You can build on his ideas, you can avoid them or you can just ignore them. In either case, you will benefit.
And since we all have listened to a lot of music in our lives, you can't really avoid continuing some tradition. But it's your job to find your personal voice in it.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
That's definitely the imagination of sounds, arrangements and melodies in my head. For me, it offers the most direct link between the emotion I want to express and the music I can play with others.
Working with it is quite easy on paper: Just become aware that you feel something and start singing or humming or beat-boxing. Just try to stay open-minded and absently focused on your state of mind at the same time. Of course, the melodies you sing will influence your feelings, strengthening them or tweaking them in other directions.
Over the years this skill develops and your inner ear becomes more sensitive. And that's a wonderful lifelong journey.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I wake up at 7:30, make myself a cup of coffee and spend about 30 minutes at the piano. Most of the time, I practise chord progressions or some written music. Yann Tiersen is a great start in the day for example.
After a light breakfast I start my computer and do my daytime job. Luckily, I can work at home so I have time to cook a nice vegetarian meal for lunch. And I also can listen to a lot of music while working. After finishing my job at about 3:00 pm, I write some arrangements or transcribe some music I have enjoyed this day. Then, I answer my private mail and do some booking as well as social media stuff. At 5:00, it's time for a walk to finally catch some fresh air. I live near a forest, so I spend most of my afternoons there. When I return home, I take a short nap and I practise bass guitar till dinner.
After that my work for the day is basically done and my brain opens up quite literally. That's the time to be creative! So after sunset, I sit down and concentrate on the emotions inside me. What's the right outlet for them today? Some days, I compose on the piano, on other days I have fun with Ableton or write some lyrics.
To calm down, I do a little workout, take a shower and read in bed afterwards. When I'm on tour, my days are a little more chaotic of course. (laughs)
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
During the time when I wrote the song “Zehenspitzen” (or “tiptoes” in English), I was very busy working on a soundtrack for a theatre production. These were days with ten to fourteen hours of work and obviously, it sometimes got quite late.
So, one night when I was tweaking some sounds the costume designer was still working as well. And we started chatting about music. At about midnight he stated that jazz wasn't really his thing. “But I enjoy the music of Lars Danielsson. Dancing to it through my apartment on tiptoes ... Relieving and exhilarating at the same time.” That was a feeling I could really relate to and that resonated with me.
And so the same night I sat down at the piano to catch it. I improvised some chords and put together a form. Then I recorded it and started to search a melody on bass guitar. And about three hours later, the only thing left to do was to write the song down.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I usually start writing a song alone in my room. It's easier to catch my own feelings when there is nobody around. I get a clear understanding what the tune is about and how the energy might flow. Next I bring it to a rehearsal with other musicians. Therefore I usually write down a sketch and try to explain my feelings and my concept.
When we actually start playing the new song, everybody can figure out his parts in detail (e.g. the drummer usually has more sophisticated ideas for a groove then I could ever come up with). But the fundamental arch stays the same.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Music is my therapy. I process everything that moves me. And of course my work becomes very personal.
At the same time I am just a human being and what unifies us are the same basic emotions and problems everybody faces. When I present my personal challenges in front of an audience, everybody can relate to them out of their own experience. And together, we create a breathing mood. That's the way music brings us closer together.
This is especially true for instrumental music where no lyrics distract you from your own associations.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
A few years ago, I had to deal with a suicide. That's been something I couldn't understand. I couldn't even talk about it. But I had this magnificent tool of music which helped me to get in touch with myself. I still don't understand the “why”, but music enabled me to continue.
When I play this certain piece called “Close her eyes”, it resonates with the listeners. There is a certain kind of sadness in the air and in a magic way we all catch the essence of the song. Maybe that's a step in understanding death a little more, maybe not. But we all feel a little bit relieved afterwards.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
You can't understand art when you only examine it on a scientific level. And you can't understand our world when you only approach it on an artistic level.
But with art and science combined we can get a really good feeling (yet no complete understanding ...) for our surroundings.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Often, I'm not able to capture my thoughts or feelings in words. But by making music, I am able to share them with my fellow musicians and the audience. Therefore, I can show my true self only through music.
On the other hand, the reception of music is a lot more subjective then spoken language or a great cup of coffee. As you can imagine, that sometimes gets quite difficult in relationships ...
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
For me, that's the world's greatest mystery.