Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
There were a few of these break-through works during my career, which changed the direction I was working in and solidified ideas. Maybe I should mention three here: Up-Tight I for amplified violin and cello (1989), Fathom (2003) and RAW for tenor sax with pedal board (2009-15). These three have one thing in common: combining a rock music aesthetic with art music compositional approaches. I wanted to put the concepts of art music ‘from the head on its feet’. And also here, the main element is sound.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Wow, difficult. As professional musicians we unfortunately cannot always wait for the ideal state of mind to work—would be nice, if we could. It mainly means for me to be able to concentrate and focus on what I am doing without outside distractions. I normally try not to answer the phone or check emails. That is also why I often prefer to work in the night, like from 10pm to 2 or 3am. It is quiet and there are no other distractions. The darkness also helps me to concentrate as does pot.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
This is a difficult topic, and although I agree with you, much of the healing CDs out there are just stupid crap that actually make me more angry than relaxed. (laughs)
My personal go-to music for healing is often renaissance music and especially Giovanni Gabrieli. I also did a few time-stretched versions of Gabrieli, which are my favourite for healing and relaxing—whatever that actually means!
I think there needs to be serious scientific research to be done into the influence of frequencies for healing. Most what we have today are stupid analogies. Sorry, New Age guys, but an equal temperate C-major chord is so artificial in its frequency structure compared to nature (overtone series chord 4:5:6) that it surely doesn’t ‘resonate’ with our bodies, which are based on similar natural proportions.
A friend of mine healed his tinnitus by playing in my Metal Machine Music arrangement at 120 db! Loud music can be as healing/cathartic as quiet music, complex intervals can be as healing as simple ones.
We have to distinguish between cultural-learned and approved ‘relaxation’, which can vary from culture to culture, and actually psycho-biological based research: which frequencies resonate really with which frequencies in our bodies and brain. A scientists/musicians collaborative research would be needed here. In the 1980 there was a medical doctor in England, who supposedly healed drug addiction just with frequencies.
I have yet to encounter music that actually hurts me. But some research into tinnitus shows that, if you are open to something you are less likely to get hurt and damaged by it. Regularly people walked out of Metal Machine Music or RAW, saying that it is a “physical assault” (actual quote). But then others come out of it refreshed.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
A great, but really difficult question that could fill a book. In our media world it is impossible not to be influenced by a music or culture that is not your own. I believe there are two main ways to go about it. You are either respectful, considered and informed about the ‘outside’ elements you use or you just use them in a self-serving, capitalistic, exploitive, tourist way.
Between 1988 and the early 2000s I played a lot of didjeridu and studied Australian Aboriginal music and culture in general. I know exactly what is western about my playing and what is Australian. And I never pretended to play traditional didjeridu music.
I think appropriation means mostly using something without taking the time to study it in some way, without given it the proper respect and especially understanding the relationship to what you do and why you use it.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Of course, the most obvious and most used, especially in electronic music, is the visual sense. Most synaesthesia reported is about seeing shapes and colours with sounds.
I do not have synaesthesia, but I often, unintentionally, refer to bright lights as being ‘too loud’. Brain research shows that there is an even more direct link between sound and smell, but that hasn’t been really much research yet or used in performance—I often say: “New Music concerts smells of Chanel No.5, metal shows of sweat and beer”. (laughs)
I believe that during human evolution the sense were separated, much like science had to do with nature in order to reveal a deeper knowledge, but that now it is time to put them back together the same way we see its being done in modern physics. New brain research should reveal much here in the future.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
You don’t miss anything, do you? (laughs)
Art always re-influences the society it came from, whether it re-confirms it (e.g. Traditional Pop in the 40s or Easy Listening in the 50s) or challenges it (e.g. New Music in the 50s or Free Jazz in the 60s).
I am split here, although I find it important, I also mistrust art that is too directly political, especially in music. Let’s take the easy example of 1960s protest songs. Although the lyrics (aka message) was progressive, the music used was actually very traditional and old fashioned—think Joan Baez. How can a progressive content be delivered in a traditional form? It was called folk revival, but sorry, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were not ‘of the folk’, they were educated bourgeoise that used the form of folk music that wasn’t actually theirs from their upbringing (circling back to one of the questions above). Watch a Joan Baez concert in the 1960s—where are the farmers and coal miners?—All you see is educated, middle class city dwellers. Art being used as a vessel only to transport content and make that digestible for an audience—isn’t that in itself already a questionable manipulation?
I see my music as political and philosophical, therefore I need forms, structures, and sounds that can fill this. It is the old question of form and content. Progressive music and progressive content needs progressive forms and this is what I heard in Luigi Nono, post-punk and Detroit techno. The Love Parade in Berlin was originally a political demonstration, using hedonism as a form of political protest. I was at the very early Love Parades with about 400 people and it worked, you could feel it. But of course, later, it just became a commercial event.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Wow, now we are going heavy philosophical. (laughs)
We already talked about my philosophical loutook at music. These are abstract ideas and questions and music is the most abstract form of art and therefore the most philosophical. So, I feel it is best one to express these questions. Words are always logical. These concepts are very difficult to express in words, but can be very much evoked with and in music.