Name: Tobias Preisig
Occupation: Violinist, composer
Recent release: Tobias Preisig's most recent solo album is Diver. He also plays with Alessandro Giannelli under the name of Egopusher and their 2020 record Beyond is still available. Both can be ordered from Quiet Love.
Tool of Creation: Violin
Type of Tool: String instrument
Country of origin: The modern violin was most likely first developed In Northern Italy.
Became available in: The 16th century
If you enjoyed this interview with Tobias Preisig about the violin and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his official website which contains information about all his different projects.
What was your first encounter with the violin? What was it about it that drew you in?
My parents have told me, that when I turned 7, I suddenly had the idea of wanting to play the violin. Apparently I was so convincing that they took me to the violin maker and rented one of these tiny violins.
I was lucky growing up in a very musical household and my first musical steps were playing Swiss folk music songs by ear with my father playing accordeon and my grandfather playing double bass. It was a very direct and sI'mple form of communication between me and my father.
The essence of playing, without reflecting in the moment, is what I'm striving for until now while making music.
Tell me about the process of learning to play the instrument and your own explorations with it.
I was lucky to start very early. And I was even luckier to have had the experience of playing music by ear at home every night with my father.
This made me have a very unacademic approach to music and made come into this natural relationship with my instrument.
What are specific challenges in terms of playing the violin?
Starting to play the violin as an adult is extremely hard. Not only because your fine motorics are less tangile but foremost its our ear, that wouldn‘t forgive the wrong sounding notes when they are not perfectly in tune yet.
Luckily as a kid, you don‘t care about wrong sounding notes. You just want to play music with a big smile on your little face and exchange with your musical playmates.
Just like any other instrument, the violin has a rich history. What are some of the key points from this history for you personally?
The history of the violin is huge and overwhelming. At the conservatory I tried to keep up with all the violin concertos there are, but it is I'mpossible, it would take a lifetI'me of dedication.
Recreating history was never what interested me. I often see violinists and other classical instrumentalists being paralysed by this huge load of history and I‘m very happy to have found a way to completely put aside this burden and focus on my own music.
In the light of picking your instrument, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation vs perfection and tI'melessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
In a creative process, I try to forget about tradition. But in a research moments, I give al ot of focuse on learning and studying.
I want to make music that is relevant in the moment. That speaks to me, that makes me move and in the best case can surprise and react with a public, at the very moment.
What, to you, are some of the most interesting violin recordings and -performances by other artists in terms of your personal development?
I love all the old Heifetz Recordings. He has such an elegant, serious, almost cold and yet touching way of playing this instrument. Something very different and more recent ist the the Zehetmair String quartet, especially their Schumann ECM recordings. They play without music stands, which I think, makes all the difference for the interplay between the musicians. Off course Hillary Hahn has also wonderful recordings.
I personally like, when violinists don‘t overuse vibrato, which seems to be a very rare case in classical music.
When talking about electronic devices, we often think about their “features”. But the violin is a complex device, too. What are some of its stand-out features from your point of view? How would you describe its sonic potential?
The design of the violin didn‘t change for the past 300 years and still I have the feeling I'm discovering new sounds every day on this small but complex instrument.
The fact that it‘s played with a bow, makes it come very close to the human voice and breath. The violin has no frets like the guitar. This makes it very hard to play in tune but also gives infinite possibilities to play with micro tunings.
Instrument design is an ongoing process. Are you interested in recent developments for the violin in this respect?
My interest has been more on how to electrify this old instrument and bring it to today's sonic world. It‘s been an ongoing process of trials and errors.
The interesting part is not to amplify the instrument and get a natural sound “in loud”. It‘s a chance to explore new sound textures and extend the violin cosmos.
I’m fortunate to have found a soundbase that I can call mine and that I feel satisfied with in terms of expression for the last 8 years. But it‘s a constant tweaking and finetuning to keep this sound alive and bring it further.
What interests you about the violin in terms of it contributing to your creative ideals? How do you see the relationship between your instrument and the music you make?
The violin is the core of my personal music. The base of everything. It has been my companion for over 30 years now. Today I produce a lot with the computer and synths.
But the violin is always the part of it, giving soul to my music. It‘s my idendity and became part of my DNA.
How would you describe your personal style of playing the violin?
I play only few notes but I try to fill them with as much depth and emotion as I can so every single note has all my attention. My attention goes mainly to the tone and the expressivness in every note.
What does playing your instrument feel like, what do you enjoy about it, what are your own physical lI'mits and strengths?
It‘s just part of me. I travelled the world with it. For a long tI'me, the violin followed me everywhere. There was no vacation without my violin. I was never good at practicing, but I was always playing and exploring.
Could you describe working with the violin on the basis of one of your pieces, live performances or albums that's particularly dear to you, please?
The violin is the instrument closest to me. I‘ve been connected with it all my life. It sort of became the vessel for my inner voice. I push record and play and I see what comes out. In the next steps, I try to add synths or beats around and arrange the recording to become a proper song. So all of my music is based on spontaneous I'mprovisations on the violin. It‘s the base, the core of every song.
I often wanted to sing, but never did it, because I realised that I can “sing” with the violin better than anything else.
How, would you say, does the violin interact with other instruments from ensembles/groups you're part of?
In my solo project, I always try to treat the violin like a lead vocal. The singing part, the one who tells the story without words. In my Band Egopusher, this lead voice can become a sound carpet to embellish the drums or synth leads of my bandpartner Alessandro.
It all depends on the context I'm working on. But if I have the liberty and the music asks for it, I often try to take the violin from the orchestral role it often has in popular music and give it the function of a lead voice.
Are there other violinists whose work with their instrument you find inspiring? What do you appreciate about their take on it?
Honestly I was never much attracted by violin players. I rather had other instrumentalists or even more often, vocalists that appealed my attention.
A violinist a I really like though is Sarah Neufeld. She is a member of Arcade Fire and she has also a great solo project. She is a very strong personality and she finds a way to use the violin that transports her personality in a very direct and emotional way.
Some see instruments merely as tools towards creativity, others feel they go hand in hand. What's your take on that?
Playing around with new instruments can surprise me and make me take new paths. But in the end, it’s still me choosing how it should sound and how the instrument should be used.
So the instrument is not of importance, it’s the personality that gives soul to the music.