Several times between 2010 and 2018, I spent some time with Italian pianist Fabio Anile at his place in Rome. Fabio and I share a love for ambient music – we improvised every day and recorded everything. It was amazing how easily we found a common musical language.
In 2018, we decided to put some of our recordings on an album. Erdem Helvacıoğlu mastered them for us, and Philippe Paulus Jacobus Smeyers contributed a wonderful cover painting. The album ‘Presence’ got released in December 2019 on the Audiobulb label. Fabio and I are very happy with it.
“In the early days of burningshed.com, we received very huge amounts of ambient improvised music, much of it very good. Michael Peters’ “Stretched Landscape #1” nonetheless stood out amongst those. This collaboration with Fabio Anile captures all I loved about that recording and builds on it; its slowly evolving soundscape hovers at the fringes of your attention and quietly brings you into its world. It’s a beautiful thing to hear two musicians who can clearly play well choosing to play so minimally and tastefully”
– Peter Chilvers (burningshed.com founding director and Brian Eno collaborator)
“When creating a minimalist album everything has to surrender the approach you take for such an album cannot simply “be made” – it needs a framework in order to make sense of itself. It is nothing you can simply do, right? Hell, no! Sometimes minimalist recordings can be created out of nothing, but only if the people involved know what they do and how they need to do it. Simpletons cannot create minimalist music for improvising such an abstract version of music needs a lot of skill, knowledge, craftsmanship and experience. Fabio Anile and Michael Peters, two very experienced musicians with more than 50 years of making music shared between them, are such connoisseurs and aptly skilled instrumentalists stemming from very different backgrounds. While Fabio was trained in composing and performing classical music, Michael comes from the rather avant-garde corner of punk and direct interaction. Both artists share a sense of closeness when performing together, which they did over a longer period of time. The recording of “Presence” took eight years, probably because they did not follow a pattern but improvised everything together which, of course, is pretty difficult considering you must really get a feel for where your partner “is heading” with this one sound and this one idea. When you combine that with an immense feeling for beauty, for just the right amount of using the elements of Peters’ guitar (looped through some effects and such, sometimes even certain software) or the right pressure on Anile’s keys (also incorporating field recordings of natural sounds) in order to make it sound like a perfect soundtrack to a day off in the dark, newly erect skyscraper before it’s being furnished or amidst the rain in a dense, moss-covered wood with the first rays of sunlight just stretching through the clouds and touching you while simultaneously the last drops splash heavily onto your shoulders and neck. This is a really, really beautiful ambient album made by two musicians who know themselves, their instrument and each other so well that the product inevitably had to be either a forerunner for next year’s album of the year among post-rock and ambient fans or a late dark horse for this year’s lists full of such sounds and spaces.” – Merchants of Air
For a few years in the mid-1980s, I lived in a half-timbered house (just a mile from where I live now) in the countryside east of Cologne – easily the most romantic place I have ever lived in -, together with a few friends. One of them was Hans Niederberger who today is my neighbour again. He still can’t decide if he is a drummer or a keyboard player 🙂
We had set up a rehearsal room in the basement, with a drumset, many keyboards (including a CP-70 piano and a mellotron – or did the mellotron come later?), and my guitar equipment (including the Revox tape decks that I used for ‘Frippertronics’ tape loops).
Here in this room, I also recorded the synthesizer loops (using Hans’s synthesizers) that I later called ‘Soaring in Circles’ (after a poem by Gary Snyder) – at that time I just experimented very innocently, I had no idea that I would eventually release them as a Bandcamp album and people would actually buy it. This was the time before Internet!
When bass player Urs Fuchs moved in in 1983, we started to make more music together, and a project was born that we called ‘Camera Obscura’. We recorded first versions of ‘Die Reise’, a kind of suite about the theme of journey.
Last year, I put our old (and never before released) recordings on Bandcamp and called it ‘The First Journey’. Recorded on a 4-track tape recorder, these pieces sound rough, adventurous, and unpolished compared to the studio versions that we recorded later.
The three parts of the Journey suite were called ‘Time for departure’ (featuring acoustic guitar patterns that were somewhat influenced by early Genesis pieces), ‘With the Current’ (a Frippertronics loop), and ‘On new Shores’ (a drum and bass groove with my guitar solo on top). We also recorded some versions of ambient soundscapes that for some reason were called ‘Also sprach Hans-Heinz’, a title that was changed to ‘Alle Zeit der Welt’ on the released album later.
Later that year, we approached Matthias Becker in Cologne who had a recording studio and a small record label that got famous for his ‘Electronic Music from Cologne’ and ‘Synthesizers from Yesterday’ sampler series (he owned an enormous collection of synthesizers). We wondered if he might be interested in releasing our homemade recordings.
Matthias did like the music but suggested to do a new recording in his studio, and so we did. The new versions of the music featured sounds from the legendary Fairlight sampler, occasional dreamy voices by Alice Dütsch, drums by Uli Riechert, and I played my first guitar solo using a harmonizer.
In 1984, Matthias released the Camera Obscura album on vinyl, containing the ‘Journey’ suite, a side-long ambient soundscape called ‘All Time of the World’, and a beautiful VCS3 synthesizer loop with Gregorian chants on top, composed by Matthias.
Somehow we got into contact with Archie Patterson who ran ‘Eurock‘, a US based magazine and record distributor, specialized in Krautrock and European synthesizer music. He loved our record and wrote this paragraph about it – because of Archie, we sold many more copies in the US than here in Germany. Thank you Archie !!
“Not to be confused with the Belgian/French industrial group of the same name, the debut LP of Germany’s Camera Obscura is one of the most enchanting electronic records of spatial music I’ve heard in a long time. Consisting basically of two synthesists and two guitarists, they set up a soaring soundscape of ethereal ambiance filled with intertwining waves of electronics and guitar tones. Comparison with Fripp/Eno and perhaps Vangelis aren’t too far off, but Camera Obscura lacks both their intellectualism and instead creates a more organic, evolving sound that effortlessly combines softness with heavy dynamics in a breathtaking way. Great stuff, give a listen. One of the all time great German electronic albums (seriously)”
Matthias rereleased the album on CD later, with a different cover image. The Vinyl and the CD are still available from Originalton West, and Burning Shed also sells CD copies.
We only did one live gig – at midnight in a church. And we were featured in the WDR radio, with a live interview in ‘Schwingungen’, Winfrid Trenkler’s legendary series about synthesizer music. But Camera Obscura stayed a one-off project – we tried to revive it during the 1990s, adding a few other musician friends, but it didn’t quite materialize.
American minimalist composer Terry Riley is one of my big heroes. The reason for this is probably the goosebumps that his early tape based livelooping music gave me when I was young, especially the chorus effect created by layers of soprano sax, and the flurry of organ notes. That did something to my system, a sense of timelessness that I never forgot.
Terry (aged 84) played one gig in Germany on April 18, 2019, in the beautiful Fifties-style Schauspielhaus in Bochum. He was accompanied by his son Gyan, an amazing guitarist. They played one set of about a dozen pieces, some based on compositions, some mostly free, all allowing for a generous amount of improvisation and virtuosity. Terry’s piano chops were truly amazing, his fingers had no problems with big jazzy chords or his fast trademark minimalist patterns.
But the evening’s highlight for me was when he sang – his strong but delicate and fragile voice (that reminded me of Robert Wyatt’s voice that does similar things to me), effortlessly moving along the geometries of Indian melismatics, always had a heartopening effect on me. The encore of the evening was a version of “G Song”, a piece from the early 1970s. Terry couldn’t play the saxophone melody while playing piano so he sang instead – I didn’t get all the words but it moved me a lot, maybe also because I thought that I probably won’t see him again. While I hear that he performs live in California now and then, he hasn’t been to Germany for a long time, and I doubt that he will return. But who knows.
The basement of the Bochum theater hosted something special in addition to the concert: an installation by Terry Riley, an octagon of rooms with mirrored walls that contained microphones and speakers and a computer driven delay system. Sounds created by the audience returned after some seconds, and kept returning. The installation, originally developed for the Magic Theater Show in Kansas in 1968, was called “Time Lag Accumulator III” – while the original installation was based on tape delay, the new version is programmed in MAX/MSP.
I made a few minutes of video (in 360°, so be sure to move your screen around to get all perspectives) while walking around in the installation:
I managed to talk to Terry for a few minutes. He noticed my “Terry Riley” Tshirt (with the cover of “Persian Surgery Dervishes”) and laughed, saying he had no idea these shirts existed.
I even gave him a copy of my “Accumulating Time Lags” CD. I felt silly, like a teenage rock god fan, but I just had to 🙂
I’m attaching a beautiful article by Tilman Baumgärtel, written for the 2004 “Time Lag Accumulator” installation in Lille, published in Die Tageszeitung (taz) and translated by David Tushingham:
The Echo Chamber of the Self On the reconstruction of the composer Terry Riley’s only installation
You cannot escape yourself here. Wherever you look you see your own body. The faintest sound is reflected by countless overlapping echoes from various different directions. So that’s what I look like: that’s how I sound. The installation Time Lag Accumulator by Terry Riley is an echo chamber of the self. The minimalist composer created this work in 1968 for the Magic Theater Show exhibition in Kansas City and it has never been shown again since. It is the only work of its kind by Riley who is actually better known as one of the founders of minimalist music and a composer of works made up of strong repetitive patterns. The Time Lag Accumulator was not only the blueprint for the video installations that artists like Dan Graham and Bruce Nauman began their careers with in the early Seventies. Like no other work of its time it also epitomizes Sixties modernism’s fixation with the moment and rejection of grand narratives. After entering through the only door, you find yourself in one of eight rooms whose walls are covered in reflective foil. Microphones are suspended below the ceiling that record every sound and replay these with a slight delay (the “time lag” of the title) in one of the other rooms. On several occasions you can hear your own voice from different directions. If you shout loud enough, these echoes overlay each other to form a wall of sound that first swells up and then dies away. The repetitions iron out any imperfections in your voice and ultimately all that is left of what you have said is a billowing murmur rather than any meaning. It’s hard to believe that the original version ran with a series of tape loops on tape machines that Riley was also using at the time to create the wildest compositions of his career. Now these artificial echoes are generated by the computer programme MAX. Suddenly it sounds as if a school class of 100 pupils has burst into the room: giggling, screaming and door slamming boom re-soundingly through the octagon, but then only two children run past. Their shouts continue to be heard long after they have gone, and their ever quieter echoes are reminiscent of the sounds of a distant open-air swimming pool or fairground. Then you are left alone again with your own image and your own sound and you can sing a canon in several parts with yourself. Interestingly, this confrontation with the self rapidly leads to a decentralisation of perception while at the same time creating the sensation of being at sea. The Time Lag Accumulator is reminiscent of the “philosophical playthings” of the 18th and 19th centuries. Then devices such as the “Wheel of Life” or the “Magic Lantern” popularised the latest scientific discoveries in a form that was easily understood. The installation is a flawless feedback system as described in the cybernetic world models popular at the time. At the same time it makes physically tangible some of the ideas regarding human perception described by the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty who was extremely popular in the Sixties. But above all in its celebration of the here and now all it represents a monument to the “Now Generation” of the Sixties. The Time Lag Accumulator allows Faust’s beautiful moment to linger: it manages to lend the instant a duration, even if it cannot grant it infinity. By forcing observers back upon themselves, it is also a rejection of any kind of statement or intentionality in art. The Time Lag Accumulator is the epitome of an art that, like minimalism or early conceptual art, refrains from meaning and instead confronts the observer with him- or herself. There you are: there is nothing else.
As wonderful as this band is, none of us is good at self-marketing, so we often end up with one gig per year. At least we have that one gig! The annual The Absurd gig usually happens during the first days of the year at the LOFT in Cologne, and we have done it so often that it has become an institution.
Michael Frank’s wife Vera painted blindfolded this time, translating the music into pictures.
As usual, there was a wide range of musical styles between jazz and rock and punk. Guest artist Max Höfler performed pieces in the local Kölsch dialect, Sercan Özökten sang a sirtaki with Turkish lyrics, there was a very fast free jazz explosion dedicated to Enzo Ferrari, and the evening had some quiet lyrical moments.
My solo guitaret composition ‘With Me Pluck‘ (that we had worked on for quite a while until the tricky rhythmic structure sounded good in a band context) was unfortunately not performed successfully because its quiet pulse disappeared in the stage mix and we got out of sync.
I played a vaguely Mike-Ratledge-y solo during MF’s piece ‘Passing State of Mind’.
Here is a best-of video, 48 minutes of sonic mayhem. The audience loved it, as always 🙂
00:05 – Reykjavic 2004 06:38 – 520 PS 08:15 – It never rains in Wuppertal (excerpt) 10:22 – Wir warten auf den Entstörungsdienst 15:22 – Passing State of Mind 20:03 – I Love You 24:14 – Benden nefret et ama acıma 27:17 – English Waltz (Procol Harum) 36:01 – Zukka Attakk 44:44 – Du Hengst
Gernot Bogumil: trumpet Matthias Ebbinghaus: vocals, percussion Michael Frank: guitar, vocals Gala Hummel: drums, vocals Michael Hausmann: drums, vibraphone Marcus Jovy: bass Manfred Meurer: drums Sercan Özökten: vocals, percussion Michael Peters: guitar Hans Salz: drums, vibraphone Andreas Wagner: alto saxophone Martin Ziegler: e-piano Martin Zierold: vocals Vera P. Frank: live painting
Uwe Schumacher’s last Klangspielraum concert in October 2018 (with him on bass, percussion, and vocals; Sue Schlotte on cello; and me on guitars) happened to fall on Halloween.
We weren’t costumed and neither was anyone from the audience but I had brought my little screaming gorilla toy and pressed its button now and then. Its hair raising screams filled the church.
I had not met Sue before but I immediately knew she was a professional musician, and very open to experimental music. There weren’t any plans, any preconceived ideas. We hardly talked before the concert. We played for an hour (plus a short more melodic encore), only led by intuition.
The wonderful audience was very attentive, even though the music was completely unpredictable. There were dynamic and intense passages and extremely quiet moments – the presence generated by music and audience was palpable.
Sue had to leave quickly after the concert, so we never got to talk much. Uwe and I had played two or three duo improvisations before together. We both found that it had made a huge difference to have a third musician with us, especially one like this. We were very happy with the music that had visited us, and so was the audience.
The gorilla liked it too and wants to do another gig.
Here is a short teaser video, and underneath, the complete thing if anyone wants to see it. But you had to be there – seeing this on a small screen doesn’t do it justice.
On the last day of September 2017, shortly after my trusty old Mercedes had died an unexpected death while on a music meeting in Czechia, I loaded a rental car with my gear and headed for Solingen, a town 40km north of here that is world famous for its cutlery industry.
The Solingen culture office had invited me to perform at this year’s “Viertelklang” (quarter sound) festival. Two dozen very different musical acts performed during one evening in five places in the beautiful old “Wald” quarter of town – a school, a church, a bookshop, an old factory, all in walking distance of each other. Visitors could come and go and experience many kinds of music during that evening.
I was the only act who had a location for myself for the whole evening: an abandoned radio/television shop (Radio Schippers), empty except for the electrical installation, the wall panels, and some old tables. This was possibly the strangest location I’ve ever performed in.
My partner in crime was Florian Zeitler, a musician and prolific video artist whom I had not met before. He created beautiful improvised abstract computer video projections, midi-synced to my improvised music. Before we started, he even programmed sequences that highlighted the white vertical rack mounts on the wall that he projected his images on – we couldn’t take them off that wall, so he turned them into a feature.
There was no real stage – I sat in one corner, Florian sat in another corner, and visitors could walk around the room while we performed. It was dark, the room was lit up by the video projection. It did not really feel like a concert – more like a light and sound installation involving live music. I think we managed to turn the abandoned and somewhat sad location into a magical place for an evening.
The music that I played mostly consisted of experimental sound collages, involving some of my field recordings, ambient, psychedelic, and minimalist livelooping music, guitar, synthesizers, granular synthesis, artificial voices, speech fragments (some of my dear friend Rick Walker, I used them without asking him, oops). I had set up four speakers for a quadrophonic setup and could make all sounds move around the room in various ways. This was a new experience for me and one that I quite enjoyed.
We played three 30 minute sets with 30 minute intermissions. Not a lot of people showed up unfortunately – the shop was a little further away from the other locations, and maybe the experimental/avantgarde description in the flyer did not attract as many people as the jazz, blues, folk, and classical music that was performed in the other locations (which seemed to be much more popular). But Florian and I quite enjoyed ourselves, and as usual, several more adventurous people showed up and told us afterwards how much they had liked this.
I wish I could do things like this more often!
Here is a 36 minute mix of the evening. My cheap camcorder does not do Florian’s videos justice but maybe you get an idea what it was like. Lean back and listen loud.
The livelooping tour that some of my friends did this spring (concerts and workshops in Paris, Florence, Brescia, Prague, Dresden, and Berlin) ended in Berlin, with the fourth Berlin International Livelooping Festival, organized by Leander Reininghaus.
I was supposed to play another [mi,mi] guitar duo here with my friend Michael Frank but unfortunately he had to stay home because of health problems in his family, so I had to play alone.
Somehow the idea of looping with stomp boxes, as we do with [mi,mi], stuck in my head and that’s what I found myself doing … although I could also have done the digital loop thing, playing alone. Musically it was big fun to use stomp boxes, but my suitcase that I took on the train – containing my little red guitar and lots of metal pedals – was so heavy when I had to carry it up and down the stairs in the Cologne train station (some parts of which doesn’t feature lifts) that I felt very sorry for this decision quickly.
Luckily, I was picked up by my friend Volker in Berlin, we did a beautiful walk through the parks in Kreuzberg, and had fabulous Indian food.
And I could stay for the two nights with my old pal Markus Reuter. Here he enjoys our first breakfast together:
On the day of the festival I visited Berlin’s music instrument museum which showed a special exhibition about the history of electronic music. There was a local website with more information but I wish the exhibits had had headphones with sound examples or even videos. So it was all a bit sparse, but seeing all those magical pieces of gear was wonderful anyway. Theremin, Ondes Martenot, Trautonium, Hugh LeCain’s tape recorder keyboard, Fairlight CMI, Synclavier … and many classical synthesizers were there, plus the first drum computers … there is something about old analog equipment that is utterly fascinating for some reason.
The livelooping evening was opened by none other than Gary Hall who happened to be in town on that day for the Superbooth synthesizer fair. Gary was the inventor of the legendary Lexicon PCM42, one of the first groundbreaking digital livelooping devices.
Bodo Orejuela’s quite wonderful cymatics light show (of water vibrating with the sound) accompanied the livelooping acts, of which there were so many that everyone could perform for only 20 minutes – but that made it all even more entertaining.
My own set featured my trusty red Hohner GT2 guitar and various sound manglers. Livelooping was done by the relatively new Montreal Assembly “Count To 5” pedal which does amazing tricks that are very addictive, followed by a 20 year old Digitech PDS-8000. I used three different distortion/fuzz boxes, sometimes all at once, so the sound was raw, even a bit brutal at times. Wonderful 🙂
As usual, I had only thought about (not even “planned”) the first 30 seconds of my improvisation. Often when I plan to do something on stage, I find that it doesn’t quite work the way I thought it would, and instead, it develops into something completely different. This has happened so often that have given in now, instead only trusting my momentary impulses and my intuition. That feels just right to me. During the recent livelooping gigs I did in Paris and now in Berlin, it worked out well enough to be interesting or even beautiful to the audience. It makes me trust this when people come to me afterwards and tell me how great it was (of course, people who didn’t like it usually don’t come to me to tell me). After my sets, I usually have almost no memory of what I did. Something about this is very funny.
Nelly Meunier tried to videotape my set but of course it was too dark for my cheap camera. The sound was recorded with a microphone, including pedal clicks and audience noise.
On the next morning, we all met again for the traditional loopers brunch before we said goodbye to each other. A core group of five loopers will spend the night in my house on their way back from Berlin to Paris (for three of them the trip will continue to California and Japan). Then this particular adventure ends. I feel very privileged and happy to have been part of it.
“Paris Spring Loops” was the title of this year’s international livelooping festival, organized by Nelly Meunier and Emmanuel Reveneau. The festival lasted for a week and contained several loop workshops and concerts in several venues (and the logistics were complex).
Nelly and Manu had scheduled me for a workshop or two (I showed the students some of what can be done with the 25 year old Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro) and for four concerts – three solo shows and one duo with my “The Absurd” band colleague Michael Frank (who also did a wonderful solo set).
I was very happy during this week, although there was little sleep and lots of standing in traffic jams, and not much time for tourism, except for one little trip to Pigalle and Montmartre. The Paris spring sun was warming my body, and meeting my old friends again (and getting to know a few new ones), and spending lots of time with them, was heartwarming. The concerts were all interesting, some of them mouth-open breathtaking, and my own (completely improvised) concerts all came out nicely – people liked them and I was quite happy with them – so happy that I put the three solo loops on this Bandcamp album without any edits:
Cover photograph: Olivier Malhomme
The first show was based on my digital setup: Plogue Bidule with various plugins, this time controlled by a Novation Launchcontrol which felt much more stable than the pair of Nanokontrols I had been using for years. You can see me controlling loops and effects on this video of the show:
I also videotaped the second and third solo shows but hadn’t chosen a good camera position (my head is cut off on the videos) 🙂 but you can listen to them on the Bandcamp album. Both featured the “Frippertronics” tape delay instead of the computer, plus various stomp box delays.
photograph: Joel Gilardini
The 50+ year old tape technique (more about it here) produces some amount of hiss but several people told me that they actually liked that hiss – something about it being analogue and warm. Not sure about this, but it is a package deal I guess, and people loved this thing.
It sure looks awesome, especially during the final concert where I put it into the center stage and it looked like an altar – a loop altar. Which made my colleague John Connell fall on his knees and pray to it 🙂
The international livelooping scene, organized around the festivals that were started 17 years ago by Rick Walker (purple-haired this time) in California and have since spread to many cities, consists of a very friendly bunch of people. There is no competitiveness at all, and everyone is totally respected with their individual way of expressing themselves with loop music, regardless of the level of professionality (which varies wildly of course). The “newbies” who learned about livelooping during our workshops and did a few sets themselves probably felt safe on stage because of this friendliness.
I’m getting used to improvise on stage more and more but while I learn to trust the unknown, and show my not-knowing without safety net, I still quite enjoyed the friendly feedback and encouragement that I got during this week. Sometimes I’m still surprised at how much some people love what I do 🙂
Some people even liked this relentlessly adventurous guitar duo with Michael Frank:
A week that made me happy … while I write this, I think of 8 of my looper friends who got themselves squeezed into a van, with all their suitcases and gear, and continue a little tour of Europe – today, they are in Florence, then later in other places in Italy, then in Prague, Dresden and finally Berlin where I will meet them again. After that, the van will travel through Cologne back to Paris. What an adventure! I’m glad though that I can sleep in my own bed again, life on the road is too hard for me 🙂
Photos by Laure Sornique, Olivier In-Mobile Malhomme, Joel Gilardini and me:
Another wonderful new year’s concert by The Absurd at Cologne’s LOFT.
On this saturday, the streets were so icy in Cologne that I saw several people slip and fall during the few minutes I was out to have some food after soundcheck. Police issued a level 3 ice warning (I had no idea that there are levels of this): people should stay at home if possible, so we were afraid that we would play in front of an empty room. But apparently, our fans love us so much that they risk their bones! the room was almost as full as usual when we started to play.
My favorite tune of the night was a new piece called ‘Reykjavík 2004’. It was based on an improvisation recorded in 2004 with guitarist Michael Frank on bass and me on guitar, plus Manfred Meurer on drums. ‘Manni’ had been the Absurd drummer during their beginning, more than 30 years ago, and he was supposed to play drums at this gig but sadly, he couldn’t come. Göttin Gala replaced him on drums and did a great job.
Why have I never before composed anything for The Absurd? I should do that, it is so much fun hearing your ideas played by a bunch of great musicians.
This composition was a collaboration between Michael Frank (who came up with the bass line and the strange somewhat Magmaesque trills, and who had the idea for the furioso end of the piece) and me (chords and melody). I am grateful that Michael insisted that our seemingly sparse 2004 ideas were interesting enough to turn them into a piece, and that I could see how effortlessly he structured them. He is a music educator and knows what he is doing. There is still so much to learn for me! Although I strongly believe in the value of not knowing in music making, I see that knowing is of great value as well 🙂
People liked this piece a lot, and the more I listen to it, the more I like it as well.
Gernot Bogumil – tr
Michael Frank – g, voc
Vera P. Frank – voc
Göttin Gala – dr, voc
Michael Hausmann – vibes, dr
Max Höfler – g, voc
Kim Jovy – reeds
Marcus Jovy – b
Sercan Özökten – voc, perc
Michael Peters – g
Hans Salz – dr, vibes, perc
Andreas Wagner – reeds
Norbert Zajac – voc
Martin Ziegler – p
Binaryminds is a software company that I sometimes work for. For the 2016 winter holiday season, they sent greeting cards to their customers – but not ordinary cards! The packages contained Google Cardboard sets – virtual reality headset kits made out of cardboard. You need to put your smartphone into them to watch 3D scenes.
The 3D scene that the binaryminds customers were pointed to contained season’s greetings – “keep calm and holiday on” – set in a computer generated winter landscape. And there is sound, done by me, a six minute ambient winter soundscape. I am totally in love with the sights and sounds of this.
If you watch this in a browser on your desktop computer, you can move around using your mouse. If you use a tablet or mobile phone (it needs a gyroscope/compass to work), just move around. Of course, the best version is a virtual reality headset. (If you only see two parallel static images, your device doesn’t support the 3D view)
Of course the soundtrack was done with a nod to mastermind Brian Eno, inventor of this kind of musical aesthetic. Eno was the one who came up with the term “ambient music” in the 70s, and some of his ambient soundscapes evoked a sense of place, an inner landscape. He often used this music as an acoustic backdrop to his visual art exhibitions. The result was always pure magic.
When multiinstrumentalist and livelooper Rick Walker started doing the first international livelooping festivals in California 15 years ago, he probably had no idea that this thing would eventually spread like wildfire. We are doing several such festivals per year now, in many countries, and more are added to the list every year.
There is a growing scene of livelooping artists some of which travel around the world to perform on the various festivals. Unless there are sponsors, the artists usually pay for everything out of their own pockets, because this is not a commercially successful enterprise – it is just about the love for music. And the audience is fascinated every time by the wide range of styles and ideas, the musical quality, the surprising creativity they get to see.
Steve Moyes, a livelooping guitarist/cellist from Wales (who had performed on my 3rd festival in Cologne), had organized such a festival in November 2016. Eight musicians from the UK, France, and Germany met in Cardigan, a little town at the southwestern coast of Wales, for a very enjoyable afternoon/evening of livelooping music.
Most of us stayed for several days. Steve cooked for us, and we were hosted by Maggie Nicols, a singer from the UK improvised music / free jazz scene. I remembered Maggie’s voice from early 1970s Keith Tippett projects such as Centipede, and I was thrilled that I could stay in her large house, an old mill building, and get to know her.
My Wales trip started with some technical problems, including a faulty Midi controller, and an expensive laptop that suddenly refused to boot (update: after the UK trip when I came home, it was suddenly alive again as if nothing had happened – my computer technician has no explanation except that it maybe didn’t want to travel to Wales). Instead of the laptop, which is usually a central item in my livelooping setup, I used my iPad with a combination of livelooping, effect, and granular synthesis apps, all of this to create textural loops, plus an oldfashioned but still amazing Gibson Echoplex for shorter loops. Also, Steve gave me his Line6 DL-4, a workhorse for delays and looping.
One day before the concert, I put new strings on the guitar, and one of the tuning pegs broke – I could no longer tune the A string, but after some experimenting, I fixed it, sort of, by squeezing a clothes peg under the string. I could have borrowed another guitar but I felt stubborn at this point. After all, my cheap trusty Höfner Shorty is something special, with its integrated amplifier/speaker which allows for wild feedback orgies.
The evening was beautiful, even breathtaking at times. I loved Steve Moyes’s cello loops and his abstract, sculptural approach. Heather Summers played beautiful pieces with her warm violin sound in the middle of things, and David Cooper Orton delivered a number of his masterful guitar pieces. Nelly Meunier’s ‘prehistoric’ sounds from stones, bones, leaves and other beautiful little objects were a quiet sonic meditation, and ecnegrU’s skillful reggae/dub explorations blew my mind and made me dance. Julia Kotowski’s songs (as ‘Entertainment for the Braindead’) have become even more perfect since I saw her in California, 7 years ago, and Emmanuel Reveneau (‘Lucid Brain Integrative Project’) was as lucid and amazing as always. What a great group of musicians! I felt thrilled that I could be one of them on this evening.
Somehow my technical problems led me to play more radically, much more in the noise department, and I quite enjoyed it (and so did a number of people in the audience – never before so many people came and told me how much they had liked my set).
On the next evening, we staged a mini festival with short sets personally for Maggie Nicols because she had performed in Austria on the festival day, and missed it. I played even more radically this time and enjoyed it even more (Emmanuel found it ‘supercool’). What has happened? I feel that while I am open to many kinds of styles, including ambient and psychedelic which would typically focus on ‘beautiful’ sounds, I suddenly feel much more drawn to experimental sounds and structures, to noise, to uncertainty, to go beyond all borders. It was almost like a little epiphany. Playing freely like this felt so natural, so clearly like me. And I feel a little bit like a newborn, I still have to learn so much.
After our little mini-festival for Maggie, we did a collective improvisation. It was wild and ecstatic at times, and hearing Maggie’s voice soaring above it just like it did 45 years ago (with Centipede on their immortal ‘Septober Energy’ album) really gave me the goosebumps big time! I played like never before, sometimes including granular synthesis. I discovered that I could put my unconnected iPad on top of the guitar, feeding its speaker output through the guitar picks and the guitar signal chain with its effects and loops. Wow!
Looking forward now to how my music wants to develop. I let it do that by itself, as always. It will take care of itself.
“Das Hertz” was a free-improvisation, jazz/rock/experimental band that existed between 2006 and 2009:
Martin Ziegler – keyboards
Michael Peters – guitar
Guido Erfen – bass
Wolfgang Dieckmann – drums
We only did one or two gigs but we recorded lots of sessions in the rehearsal room – not in a real professional way, we just put a stereo digital recorder somewhere to document our efforts.
Sometimes we kept searching for the muse, but very often, the music really took off. Too bad the audience was so small, it really was a great band at times! There is 1970s Jazzrock in the mix … a healthy dose of Krautrock … the sounds of Progressive Rock sprinkled all over … and very often, a main ingredient is sheer madness.
We usually played as a quartet, occasionally with some guests, but some of the albums/podcasts were recorded on days without Martin, our genius piano player – we were in power trio territory then, and that was always a very special experience for me.
Luckily Guido, our bass player, spent a considerable amount of work turning these recordings into two albums (“initial” and “electric gentry”) and after that, into quasi-albums that he called ‘podcasts’. He edited the recordings, did lots of mixing and mastering, he invented track titles, and he created artwork (being a painter, he did a very creative job). And as a programmer, he created the official Das Hertz website, putting all the recordings on archive.org, under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike-Licence.
I recently listened to some of the recordings on archive.org and for some reason, the site had problems streaming on that day. So I decided, being a fan of Bandcamp, to put everything on Bandcamp as well. So now, you can listen to the complete archive of Das Hertz on Bandcamp if you wish.
And I made a selection of my favorite tracks. I called it “M-Theory“. You know, guitar strings, string theory, and my first name. Some of the tracks still really amaze me. My own playing amazes me, it is often something I couldn’t reproduce, something that I couldn’t do on my own – I need a great band like this to catalyse my muse into coming out and doing this.
The first track (“Hunting the Drama Waltz”, whatever that means) is a lengthy improvisation that features the power trio – Guido and Wolli, the rhythm group, laying out a fast relentless harmonically open groove for me to take off in whichever direction I wanted to fly. On this piece I play guitar but also guitar-midi-driven virtual keyboards.
My loop guitar colleague Gerd Weyhing had invited a few musicians to spend five days in a castle in the Bohemian mountains in the northern Czech Republic, in a remote village called Trebušín, to make music together. So we met in August 2016 in Castle Kalich, eight musicians and one self-declared non-musician, and spent these days musicking, talking, cooking, walking.
To me, these days felt almost like what I imagine a late sixties Krautrock hippie music commune must have felt, for a few days, complete with a quiet idyllic countryside, an old castle just for ourselves, a campfire every evening, and absolutely no plans, only music. House master Pavel took good care of us and even showed us around his beautiful nearby hometown Litoměřice.
I had brought two guitars, various analog and digital gear, and my tape loop system that I had used for a concert a week before in Berlin. My little workstation looked like this:
We recorded hours of improvisations, some of which were quite inspired. Sadly, my own contributions (some of which felt really great when I played them) were not recorded due to some glitch. Bummer! but then, we did it for the moment, not so much to create recordings. There will be an official CD release, and I will be listed I think, however … next time, we’ll be more careful with the recording.
We all loved these fun days and the company of very diverse and interesting musicians, and human beings. We look forward to another week together, maybe next year.
I am in Berlin now for a week, on my way to the “Bohemian Polyphony” event – more of this later. Of course I met my old friends Leander Reininghaus and Markus Reuter who both live in Berlin now.
I had met Leander and Markus on a Guitar Craft course with Robert Fripp in … 1991 I think, anyway, about 25 years ago. We played together as “Trio Gitarristik” for a few years during the mid-1990s, performing various Guitar Craft tunes plus our own compositions, and also ambient soundscapes.
This week, because I came to Berlin, Leander had organized a livelooping concert for us at the Galiläa church, a beautiful abandoned-church-turned-into-performance-space, and we performed together again for the first time in about 20 years.
Leander framed the evening with a number of beautiful short pieces by Erik Satie (from “Musique d’ameublement” – the first time I ever heard this music) and Philip Glass (“North Star”).
I used analog vintage gear and my “Frippertronics” setup based on tape delay. Even though my energy had been low during the day, it went up as soon as I was on stage, and I was pretty happy with my 20 minute solo set! As often, I had no idea what I would do until I started with the first note, and I felt carried and led by the music that slowly developed. How this works never ceases to amaze me.
I heard from someone in the audience afterwards that my music sounded autumnal to him, and at the same time, he sensed a dry kind of humour. I liked that. Interesting how the same piece of music can elicit such a wide range of responses in the performer and in everyone in the audience.
Markus created one of his amazing ethereal soundscapes on Touch Guitar and Ableton Live. I had occasionally seen him on stage over the years but this piece felt especially intimate and personal to me.
At the end, we improvised together on the chords of Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)”. Leander had chosen this beautiful piece (that, incidentally, I had played on my mother’s funeral four years ago) to finish this thoroughly enjoyable “Berlin Livelooping Session”.
Thank you to everyone from the venue who made this evening possible!
Here is a piece I improvised in Letchworth (north of London) on Nov 1st, 2014. Maybe you like it
My mini-England-tour was big fun. Thank you so much to Georgina for organizing the concerts in Letchworth and London, and for spending time with me (especially on Halloween evening), to the ladies at Dot to Dot in Letchworth, to Michael Bearpark and his family for hosting us, to Roger Harmar for spending a lovely day with me in Brighton, to Darren Sangita for a lovely spontaneous party, to Mathura Das for letting me be his cooking assistant.
(some photos were shot by Michael Bearpark)
The music that I played and the music that I had recorded during rehearsals before the tour ended up in this album, a very heterogenous collection of musical sounds, voices on the streets, and field recordings that is almost like a diary to me. The days in England were intense and surreal at times, and you can hear it. Listen loud.
Maybe it was the last warm summer day of 2012. I took a longer walk up and around my favorite hill, enjoying the warmth and the silence – nobody was around and sometimes I need to be completely alone to find myself.
There was no wind and it was very quiet, except for some faraway birds and some crickets. I stood and scanned the far horizon when I became aware of a very quiet, almost inaudible high drone – and of a cloud of several dozen tiny insects that circled around and above my head.
I don’t know why these insects flew around me – they didn’t settle on my skin and they seemed completely harmless. They liked me for some reason, and they stayed with me for about 15 minutes. They were very small and very fast, tiny dots, barely visible against the blue sky. I couldn’t believe my ears – I don’t think I have ever heard something like this before. Unexpected and magical!
I found that the swarm of insects reacted to my movements – I could raise a hand, and they would back up a little bit. For some reason, the pitch was higher when they were close, and it went down immediately when they went further away. Eventually, they flew away, and the sound vanished into silence.
I did not have a recorder with me to record the sound, and the insects were very quiet, almost inaudible, the recorder wouldn’t have recorded much. Here is a recording of a swarm of insects inside of a hedge behind my house, recorded in 2007. I sped the recording up to give it a pitch that was like what I heard today. It sounds a bit different (that sound was much more steady and quiet), but you can get an idea.
I’ve seen hundreds of concerts in my life, some of them rather unusual, but the most unusual of all definitely was Michel Redolfi‘s underwater concert that we had the pleasure to visit on a hot afternoon in May, in a modern indoor pool of a little town called Martigues, just west of Marseille.
Redolfi, born 1951, is an electronic avantgarde composer. Unlike many of his colleagues, he manages to create soundworlds that are utterly beautiful, adventurous, and fantastic, while never using any of the kitschy clichés that are often used by popular music composers. He has always created something that is entirely his own – a visionary, and one of my great musical heroes since I heard his first album back in the eighties.
He was also (as far as I know) the first composer who performed music underwater, starting this in California in the early eighties. Since then, he has conducted underwater concerts in pools, lakes, ocean shores, coral reefs. Real instruments (mostly metallophones) have been used but due to the physical properties of water, very few instruments can be used successfully under water, so most of Redolfi’s underwater concerts consist of electronic music transmitted via underwater speakers.
In Martigues, Redolfi was sitting beside the pool in front of his laptops, creating an ad-hoc mix of his own sounds for the 30-40 people floating in the warm water for an hour (foam tubes under feet and back helped us to float lying on our backs, with our ears in the water). A very relaxing experience!
All sounds could only be heard under water. The vibrations weren’t transmitted through the air into our ears, but somehow materialized directly in our bodies, heads, brains, minds – a very peculiar and unreal feeling, especially with this kind of dreamy and floating music.
I had the privilege to talk with Redolfi, asking questions about various aspects of his work, for half an hour after the evening concert. (I hope I’ll be able to use the interview for a radio feature later this year.) It was very heartwarming to talk to him, we have so much in common (because he influenced me so much, not the other way around) and we feel similar about so many things. We had met and talked before once during a concert in 1999 but we did not really know each other well. When we hugged after the interview though it felt like we were old friends.
A thorougly enjoyable event, and one of the highlights of our vacation in Southern France!
stopping the car on top of the hill
midnight, black velvet sky,
and just over the western horizon
the brightly radiating jewel,
just about to follow sun & moon into the night
beyond this world of petty primate concerns,
suchness is easy to spot, purity, an immaculate beauty
that is laser focused, piercing directly through the heart
and so immense that there are no words.
to die for a beauty like that!
this touch left me shattered, unable to sleep
not knowing what to do with this
unexpected kiss of the beloved
that music, that prayer, that vision, of what?
how many multitudes do I contain?
Here are three ambient movies that I put online recently, each of them about 30 minutes long: “Mouse Pointer Feedback Ecstasy”, “Arboreal Ecstasy”, “Symmetric Jellyfish Ecstasy”. Wow, 90 minutes of ecstasy?
Ecstasy is not something we usually encounter in our daily lives, and different people have very different ideas about what it is. I just saw that Wikipedia has three different definitions!
The effect of the videos on the observer will vary, but all of them slow down time like the motion of liquid in lava lamps, or like Marian Zazeela’s extremely slow ornamental videos to La Monte Young’s drone music.
For the MTV generation that is used to very fast and hectic cuts, this will be unbearable to watch 🙂
1. Mouse Pointer Feedback Ecstasy
I used a toy microscope and filmed the microscope output on the screen – I pointed the microscope to its own images. This creates a video feedback loop, resulting in all sorts of effects. Because nothing much happens when filming an empty screen, resulting in more of nothing, I chose to film the mouse pointer from very close. Some postprocessing was applied (mainly, slowing down). The music is ambient music that I played on synthesizers and tape delays, back in the mid-eighties.
2. Arboreal Ecstasy
This was the first video designed to use as a backdrop for Georgina Brett‘s set on my livelooping festival from last April. I filmed these trees out of my car while driving through forests in Washington and Northern California (usually, Sabine was driving and I held the camera). Postprocessing: Slowing down and some motion blur, and a mirror effect at the bottom of the video, to take out the street that was visible in the original. The mirror creates a nice effect that looks like a reflection on water.
I chose Georgina’s piece Leanate as soundtrack for this, and I slowed it down considerably using Paulstretch. Then two weeks before the festival it turned out that someone else had also planned to use trees for a backdrop video, so I dropped this, and created something new for Georgina:
3. Symmetrical Jellyfish Ecstasy
I had filmed these amazing creatures in an aquarium in Oregon. Postprocessing included slowing down, changing the colors, and introducing symmetry. The music I chose for this imagery consisted of a loop I had created a while ago (I have forgotten in the meantime how I did it); during the piece, several instances of this loop, running at different speeds, get superimposed.
Georgina’s gorgeous set with the jellyfish video behind her can be watched here.
In the afternoon of the second day of the Florence Livelooping Festival, Fabio Anile (who had to work on Monday morning and could not stay for the evening concerts), Michela and me drove down to Rome.
Fabio had invited me for a couple of days to make music together. We share a love for livelooping, ambient, and minimalist polyrhythmic music, and we had already played together on loopfestivals in Berlin and Cologne – here is what the final minutes in Cologne sounded like:
LastMinutes - Last Minutes, by Fabio Anile & Michael Peters
I stayed in Fabio’s place for several days, and on each day when he came home from work in the afternoon, we improvised together for several ours, and recorded everything. It will take some time to listen through all of this! Some of the improvisations will probably be good enough for a CD as they are, some others need some working on, and some might be used as a sketch for a composition. The music that we produced was quite beautiful and dreamy, often involving silence or very few notes.
Not surprisingly, the food was also very good 🙂
Of course, being in Rome, I also did the tourist thing – wonderful !
“Peters is super” – yes, but there are still some typos in there ! Please try again.
On my last morning in Rome, before going to the airport, Fabio drove me to Tivoli, a few miles outside of Rome, where we took a look at Villa Adriana. “Villa” is a somewhat misleading word for this huge complex of buildings. This amazing place had been home for a while to a Roman emperor who liked it better than his palace in the city – I could understand why. Of course I did not only take photos but also binaural recordings with “headphone” microphones (wearing my furry black windshields which Fabio found very funny).
Another Livelooping festival, this time in beautiful Florence …
Some of you might remember the sentence “my god, it’s full of stars”. Another situation, but one could also say this about my new suitcase that I had to buy because the airline that calls itself “Easyjet” allows for only one piece of cabin baggage. For me as a travelling livelooper (well, occasionally), this is a bad restriction: I need to carry the laptop in one hand and the small Hohner G2 guitar in the other hand. I wouldn’t check in any of those two of course, and to put the laptop into my suitcase didn’t feel so safe. The solution for this was finally to get a large new dark blue suitcase that could contain not only my toothbrush and t-shirts but also the guitar, squeezed in diagonally. And to be able to recognize it at the baggage claim, I put lots of little fluorescent stars on it, on all sides. It looks really nice, and they glow in the dark!
Massimo Liverani the hero had organized the 4th International Livelooping Festival in Florence. And as if that wasn’t enough, he also housed us, fed us, drove us, and showed us around the town.
Among the liveloopers I met in Florence: Gareth Whittock, and his wife Emma, from Bristol …
Willie Oteri and Dave Laczko (WD-41, and I know the secret story behind this name now) from Austin, Texas …
Fabio Anile from Rome, with his friend Michela …
Rainer Straschill from Munich with Michéle …
Enrico Coniglio from Venice (right) who turned out to share some unusual passions with me (such as, wandering around with binaural microphones, or dipping a hydrophone into the sea and listening to fish) …
We walked around the old city after midnight … Roman statues, old bridges, cafes that were the birthplace of the futurist movement, and of course breathtaking buildings …
We drove up a hill to take the tourist look over the valley of Florence … the city and the area of Tuscany are amazingly beautiful, I want to come back and spend a vacation here!
The venue was an open air stage in a beautiful park. It was very warm, and families and kids were all around until very late.
My set was the last one on this day. I replaced Randolf Arriola from Singapur who couldn’t come.
My set had some weak moments, but all in all, I was very happy with how it developed, and I felt that this gig had been a significant step. Too bad my long pants had disintegrated unexpectedly the day before, I look a bit sloppy with my short pants, but it works if one closes one’s eyes and just listens to the music 🙂
The Sunday after the Saturday before. Massimo and his wife fed us with pasta, and we all sat together in a small garden under a fig tree, eating and having coffee and talking.
After this, most of the tired loopers went to bed again, while Fabio, Michela and me set off to Rome for the next adventure. Fabio had invited me to stay with him for a few days, to make music together. Because he had to work early on Monday, we missed the second day of the festival. Too bad but the first day had already been very enjoyable, with very nice sets of Giovanni Lami, Enrico Coniglio, Fabio Anile, and Rainer Straschill. (And me.)
This was the weekend of the 2nd international Livelooping Festival in Cologne – I had organized the first one almost 3 years ago, and for various reasons I felt it was time to do another one.
I wish more liveloopers would organize such a festival. It doesn’t have to be a mammoth, several-days-70-loopers festival such as Rick Walker’s festivals in Santa Cruz (which he now has stopped doing because it kept him busy for months). This Cologne festival presented 10 acts again (this time, 9 soloists and 1 trio) and so was small in comparison. Many people seem to think that it is very difficult or lots of work to do that, but in fact, it is not so much work, but lots of fun, especially if one chooses nice loop musicians and everything turns out to be a success. It helped a lot that the cultural office of Cologne and the culture trust of the Cologne-Bonn Sparkasse bank sponsored me again to an extent that allowed me to hire people who did sound, videotaping, video projection, photography, and other support work.
Some of the loopers stayed in hotels, but Georgina Brett, Per Boysen, and the boys from Darkroom stayed at our house.
The day of the festival was very warm and sunny … good for us at first, so we could hang out on the terrace in the morning … of course in the evening, there were less people in the audience than we had expected because some of them had preferred a lazy evening in a beer garden over hours of difficult music in the darkened hall of the Loft …
Setting up was less chaotic than one could expect with 12 musicians and tons of electronics all squeezed together on a few square meters. Then Thomas Elbern started with his Twilight Worldz guitar drones, followed by Uwe Schumacher (who I knew from two concerts in his church based KlangSpielRaum) and his world music influenced improvisations on bass, percussion, and voice … Patty Stucki sang, played synths and saxophones, and transported the audience into other worlds …
… before I entered the stage with my guitar and delivered several quite multifaceted pieces of music, some of which were successful (i.e. came out similar to my plans) and some didn’t. Oh well. I am still learning!
Sjaak Overgaauw had been inspired by the first Cologne loopfestival to create his own annual festival in Antwerpen. His Premonition Factory produced beautiful ambient music, and after this, David Cooper Orton played guitar somewhere between folk, rock, jazz, and minimal music. Both Sjaak and David had been among my livelooping colleagues in Santa Cruz in 2009 …
It was a special treat for me to finally see Georgina Brett on stage. I had met her in London in 2007 where she introduced me to her ethereal vocal canon music. This time she sung a complex 30 minute piece based on words by Pythagoras. The video backdrop I had created for her, starring slowly moving psychedelic jellyfish (which I had recorded in an aquarium in Oregon) was a great visual addition to her composition I thought. (Georgina was too concentrated to even notice 🙂 )
Georgina was followed by Stockholm based looper Per Boysen, one of my favorite looping musicians (I remember being in awe watching him on festivals in Zürich and Rome). Instead of guitar, flute, or saxophone, he presented his newest instrument, a Chapman stick. It seems that a good musician can create magic on just about any instrument!
Reyn Ouwehand from Amsterdam was the only livelooper I hadn’t met before. He turned out to be not only fun to spend time with, but also a much more proficient keyboard player than I had expected – jawdropping even. He finished his set with a nice impromptu improvisation with Georgina.
And finally, Darkroom (Andrew Ostler and Michael Bearpark with Andrew Booker on electronic percussion) delivered a beautiful and relaxing piece of electronic music that reminded me of Krautrock psychedelia, probably due to the synth sequences created by Os.
We came home after the gig, exhausted but happy, and stayed up late. On the next morning, Sjaak and Ingrid and Patty came to watch us having breakfast, Georgina and Per did the dishes … some of us stayed until the evening, talking about music, but only Per stayed another night and left on Monday afternoon.
What a great weekend with such nice people! I wish we could all stay together for longer, but of course many of the loopers are parents and have to go back to their families and workplaces … the looper island that Michael Klobuchar dreams of will probably remain a dream …
Here is a very nice 5 minute WDR3 radio feature about the festival, containing short interviews and music snippets by Reyn, Patty, Thomas, Georgina, and Uwe:
loopfestcologne2011_wdr3_tuulasimon - Michael Peters interview by Tuula Simon
(photos taken by Andrew Ostler, Mike Bearpark, Petra Schulten, Mike Gürgens, and myself)
I did a Saturday/Sunday trip to Antwerp to visit the Livelooping Festival, the 3rd one organized by Sjaak Overgaauw. Except for the bad traffic jams that I got into on the highway, I found that Antwerp is not really far from here – less than 3 hours.
I had booked a hotel that looked cheap and good on the website. Well let us say I will look for another hotel should I come back to the next loop festival. But the area was interesting – it was a Jewish quarter of town, and I saw lots of Jewish couples walking around the place wearing very traditional cloths and very strange cylindrical fur hats that I haven’t seen before anywhere.
Living in Germany, I’m not used to seeing traditional Jews because understandably, very few of them live here. I saw lots of people from many countries in Antwerp, and I heard many languages. A young man talked loudly into his mobile, in a language that I didn’t recognize, while taking a leak standing beside me in the toilet of some cafe. Antwerp somehow reminded me a little bit of Manhattan – even the relatively small city park with its ponds and bridges reminded me of Central Park. I liked that a lot.
Lots of interesting shops, some of them selling things that I didn’t recognize. And the chocolateries – oh my god. Soft drugs (I am clearly addicted to chocolate), and beautifully set up. And expensive.
I visited the bank of the Scheldt, a broad river flowing by the city into the nearby Atlantic.
A ponton made loud and deep water noises. I recorded a few minutes using my little digital recorder (this time it was wearing its new wind protection, and looked like a muppet with a wild hairdo) – click the arrow to hear water, seagulls, church bells, and traffic noises of Antwerp.
Hungry from walking. Apple pancake and coffee. Good. Then back into the city roads and early evening. Time to walk to the venue.
I first met with Kirstin, Facebook friend, synth player, and fan of Sjaak’s music. It was nice to talk face to face instead of using facebook (we hardly knew each other in real life). Then to the venue together for a couple of hours with ambient music, drones, and loops.
Some of the livelooping music was quite amazing. Sjaak’s ambient synthscapes were deep and hauntingly beautiful. Welsh guitarist Simeon Harris also created sounds and textures that were very beautiful, shimmering and complex – I wish I knew his trade secrets … but I think gear is involved that I cannot afford at the moment. Flute and sax player Theo Travis used relatively modest gear, but his playing technique and compositional skill was outstanding. A very enjoyable and inspiring evening.
I walked home to my less-than-convincing hotel, slept for a few hours, and got up early. I drove through the Schelde tunnel and visited St. Anna, a popular recreation area for Antwerp citizens. You can see the city from there. If you walk around a bit, there are also views of, er, modern architecture and chemical industry areas, maybe not quite as beautiful as the Antwerp skyline, but in the early Sunday sunshine, everything looked shiny and fresh.
After a croissant or two for breakfast, I drove to Sjaak’s and Ingrid’s place for coffee. The boys had just gotten up and were busy transferring video files to portable hard disks. I also met Coco again, the cheese loving red tomcat that can make funny faces.
Last saturday was very full. I worked until noon (no pictures of the ColdFusion code that I wrote, that would be too boring), then I headed towards Cologne. On the way, driving towards the S-Bahn station, I realized I would have to wait for quite a while, and I stopped by an unusual exhibition that I had always meant to visit.
Michael Kramer is an artist who lives not far away from my hometown. His studio, I am told, looks like a scrapyard – one thing that he does is creating sculptures from scrap metal. His sculpture “Die Stadt”, the city, is spread out on a large flat roof. Visitors can walk around on the roof and look at many very different kinds of cities made from a million strange looking metal parts. I loved this place so much that I almost forgot that I had planned to take the next S-Bahn station to go to Cologne.
I managed to catch the train in the last second … it took me to Cologne where I met Sabine in a sports museum. Now I don’t care for sports at all and I don’t care for the sports museum even less but today Greenpeace was here on a 30-year-anniversary tour (the German leg of Greenpeace was founded 30 years ago, 10 years after Greenpeace came into existence in Vancouver), and both Sabine and me were curious what it would be like.
(On the way from the Cologne main station to the Greenpeace event I met Dorothee, a friend of Sabine – we talked for a couple of minutes. I wasn’t aware at this point that I was going to have four (4) chance meetings of this kind on this day.)
I met Sabine and my colleague Michaela – I handed her the data CDs that I had worked on this morning – and we had a coffee together. Soon after I ran into my old friend Karla who was also interested in Greenpeace as it turned out.
The Greenpeace event was interesting and moving – we listened to a 1-hour talk about the history of this organization in Germany. I had forgotten so many things and realized that without these people, the world would be in a much worse shape than it is now. They had helped to stop major environmental crimes that would be unimaginable today. I felt moved and very grateful that this organization exists.
One ugly German word that made Greenpeace famous during the eighties was “Dünnsäureverklappung” – chemical companies got rid of their highly toxical acids by simply dumping them into the North Sea, and Greenpeace successfully stopped them.
On this day, families could take their kids on a ride with one of the famous Greenpeace rubber boats on the Rhine. They went pretty fast. I’m not sure I would dare to do this. I get seasick when I brush my teeth.
Sabine had enough adventures for this day, and drove home. I went to several concerts in the evening. The annual Kölner Musiknacht took place on this day – it offers dozens of concerts at many places throughout the city. One 15€ ticket pays for all concerts.
I had heard the quite wonderful jazz band Sepiasonic one day on the radio, 3 years ago, and my ears got really big. What was this? It sounded like a very poetic crossbred between Canterbury bands such as Hatfield and the North and modern Scandinavian jazz groups such as Hanne Hukkelberg. I loved it. Sepiasonic? They had a website with some music but no CD.
Anyway when I saw that they played in Cologne I was very happy that I could finally see them live, and I was not disappointed.
Swiss master clarinetist Claudio Puntin, jazz singer Insa Rudolph, and jazz guitarist Kim Efert (I loved his compositions and style – a kindred soul!) were accompanied by an amazing band that consisted of drums, bass, and three flutists – a very unusual setup but with everyone being a master of their instrument, very effective in creating interesting improvised soundscapes and highly sophisticated tunes in odd meters. When Insa Rudolph’s voice effortlessly soared above complex harmonic structures, and three flutes played playful and experimental compositions that reminded me of Egg and other Canterbury bands, I was a happy listener.
I talked to Insa after the concert and asked her about the CD. Apparently they are working on it and it might be released at the end of this year. Something to look forward to!
My next concert was two hours later. I walked through cold streets towards the Cologne Cathedral which was illuminated brightly. When I got there I saw that it was full of people for some kind of catholic event which had nothing to do with the Kölner Musiknacht.
Although this cathedral (when empty) can trigger some sort of feeling of presence in me, I’m not at all interested in Catholicism and cheering crowds of young Pope-the-popstar-fans. Actually I think that it is sad that so many kids get conditioned this way instead of learning about their conditionings in order to wake up from them, but I don’t want to go into that here. The cathedral remains a place of power to me regardless of what might go on in the people who come here.
The WDR Funkhaus, the old central building of the largest radio station in Germany, sits right across the cathedral. I have spent many hours of my life in its beautiful concert hall, seeing amazing concerts of many kinds, mostly avantgarde and world music. I hadn’t been here for a while. Coming here on this evening gave me a warm feeling of coming home.
The Iranian concert was scheduled for 10 pm – it was not yet 9 pm and cold outside, so I decided to attend the 9 pm concert with Baroque string music – more precisely, “NeoBarock” with compositions of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. The violins were tuned in unusual ways but coming from the quite stunning performance of Sepiasonic, I found that I couldn’t open to this music.
Although I think of myself as very open to basically all kinds of music, I have problems being interested in some periods of classical music. Although the musicians played with breathtaking virtuosity, I found myself getting bored with the predictability of the compositions.
The 10 pm concert was a different category altogether – classical music, and modern music in the classical style, from Iran. The band played three long compositions that gave the instrumentalists ample space to improvise and show off their quite amazing virtuosity.
One of the percussionists was Peyman Nasehpour. We had met two years ago because he is a friend of Rick Walker. In May 2008, Peyman drove a couple of hours just to meet Rick at the livelooping festival that I had organized in Cologne. On the day after the festival, we all met again in Cologne and had a beer together – a delightful mix of musicians from many countries. I have been a Facebook contact of Peyman since (he even gave a frame drum lesson to me via Skype once), and he had invited me to this delightful concert.
Before the concert began, I noticed my old friend Walter and his wife in the audience. We met afterwards and talked, and then we saw that Kerstin Kilanowski had also been in the audience. Kerstin and me had been colleagues as students working in the department of education … 30 years ago? Our common colleague and Kerstin’s friend Gisela Schinawa also came and greeted me … she wondered where my long hair was … it seems I have changed a bit during 30 years …