Soft Drugs in Antwerp

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.

 

Scrap Cities, Rubber Boats, Sepia Songs

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.

(Update: they have an album on Bandcamp now)

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 …

Surrounded by Fog

Recently, I was the only participant showing up on an official but small-scale Adobe Coldfusion Developer meeting at Starbucks, on a very hot day that probably turned off the other potential developers. The representative from Adobe had decided to raffle two tickets to a U2 concert in Frankfurt as an incentive to come to the meeting. So I did not only get a tasty ice coffee and a bag with Coldfusion PR material, but I also went home with two U2 tickets, each worth more than 90 Euros.

I gave the other ticket to my friend Matthias Ebbinghaus who was very excited to get to see his once-favorite band live for the first time, and for free! I’m more a child of the seventies – U2 is a good band no doubt, but they never ranked among my favorites. I looked forward to this anyway, and we got rewarded with a very nice evening.

We took the high speed train to Frankfurt and found our seats among the other 55000 fans in a huge stadium.

 
U2’s “360 degree tour” takes place under a structure that they referred to as their spaceship. It looked like a giant green bug to me first, but when the amazing light show took off, I could see what they meant.

 
We both weren’t really impressed with the sound quality but we figured that in a huge place like this, it is probably not possible to create a real good sound quality for everyone. The people around us didn’t really care though – everybody was standing most of the time and dancing to the tunes most of which were even familiar to me.

 
I took a little while to get beyond my inner judge who criticized the silly rock star movements and cliches, but after that, I could let myself fall into the show, and I liked it a lot. It helped that the four musicians keep trying to transport a positive message.

 
Too bad we had to leave a little bit early so we could catch our train back to Cologne. Thanks for a very nice evening Adobe !!

 

An Absurd Weekend

25 years ago, a guitarist from Cologne called Michael Frank started a band called The Absurd. Their mixture of rock (often including odd meters and political lyrics), jazz, and free improvisation was always open-minded and full of crazy ideas, experiments, and fun. Many musicians (including myself) were members of The Absurd for a while.


 
After 25 years, today’s incarnation of this band is still alive and kicking. We met for a hot July weekend in Berlin to record in the Andere Baustelle studio that belongs to a member of Berlin’s most famous experimental band, Einstürzende Neubauten.

We were 16 musicians this time, some from Berlin, some from Cologne – a real big band, with several guitarists, several drummers (one at a time) and percussionists, several bass players (two at once at times), lots of singers and brass players, plus keyboards and vibraphone. When all these people were all in full flight, the sound was mindblowing. I was reminded of jazz orchestras like Centipede at times.


 
Travelling to Berlin by train was already fun 🙂


 
We were very happy with the studio personnel and gear (although it was so hot in there at times that the air conditioners had a hard time to cope).

 
My workstation was an ancient Marshall tower. I played the Turkish Cümbüs during the piece “Zukkaattakk” and my little Höfner Shorty guitar (with an inbuilt speaker!) into my modified Ibanez UE400 multieffect – so I was mostly using real vintage gear this time.


 
Studio work is exhausting …

 
A wonderful weekend, big fun with good friends. I haven’t heard the studio recordings yet, and I don’t know how much of it will end up on the silver jubilee vinyl that is planned. I think there was lots of incredible energy, I hope it got caught on tape.

On Sunday night, we did a “video concert” in the studio. We played all pieces while being filmed by several cameras. For some reason the realtime video podcast didn’t work but we have the video material. Here’s Sercan Özökten’s video cut of “ZukkaAttakk” (play it VERY LOUD to get an idea of the energy that was in the room) and “More Miles per Hour”.


 

Sahara Of Snow & Other Places

Fragments today as there is a slightly fragmented, slightly surreal feeling – I just read something surreal, and something slightly surreal was there after a short nap in the early afternoon today.

SAHARA OF SNOW

The Sahara Of Snow we saw today was a perfect white surface that covered the hills; mostly perfect, gleaming in the early March sun, but here and there, a trail made by humans and a dog, trails made by deer who had galloped across the open field, maybe in the night or the early morning – leaving groups of four indentations in a row, then a wide gap to the next group; and mysterious small trails that began nowhere and ended nowhere, trails by large birds that had landed for unknown reasons, doing unknown work on the ground, thinking bird thoughts.

ZOOMING

Tomorrow Craig and Trinity will fly back from their short concert tour / vacation in Portugal to their home in Idaho. How wonderful that one can easily feel so connected to people from faraway even without knowing them very well. I wish we’d have more time. How wonderful also to play music together in front of a small audience. Some more about this later.

I looked their house up in Google Streetview and loved the large blooming lilacs all around – followed the street for a while without being able to see the mountains in the east. What a strange kind of spyhole I looked through, an unsharp kind of warped virtual reality consisting of frozen frames with cars standing still on the street, but me zooming from one frame to the next like a ghost in a world where time stands still while a sun shines that never moves.

How long until we’ll have telepresence robots that will allow us to walk and talk, representing us in faraway places?

TREE RINGS

Long rows and columns of numbers that represent tree rings and their sizes, created by an ancient Fortran software that is as old as my car – 23. The time we looked back to: 7000 years in the past.

How strange to think of the people who lived then, not knowing about Fortran, impossibly far removed from the faintest idea even of the concept, just as we are removed from their concepts. Long rows and columns of numbers, measurements, places, realities, landscapes, real lives, births, deaths.

I’ll write a software for these numbers that will reverse their sequence, and group them in a different way: In the Heidelberg format, maybe invented in this city in Germany that was also home to a factory that built the famous printing machines that I used to work on in my early youth, helping my father.

They had a black thing going forwards and backwards – it looked like a slightly eerie robot head, with one eye, and it had two arms, one taking up the next sheet, one putting the printed sheet down on a stack. I always wanted to record the sound they made but I never did.

SIDEBURNS

The impossibly fast minimalist patterns played by Keith Tippett on a grand piano (one that I’ve played myself for a few minutes last year), at times prepared on the fly with objects that I couldn’t see from my place. Never having seen him live but in love with his style of music since the early seventies, Lizard, Centipede.

Julie Tippetts (I forgot the story behind the “s”) somewhat aged visibly of course but with a voice that hadn’t. The drummer from Germany who I hadn’t heard of before, catalysing the piano/voice duet, leading and following with an astonishing degree of sensibility. An hour of hardly ever looking at each other because it wasn’t necessary – going to many faraway places together, totally in blind sync, rhythmic and dreamy, musical box and mbira, stately Purcell chords on the prepared piano that suddenly sounded like a cembalo. The audience was stunned and in awe.

“I understand that some people would like to hear more but this was all that we know.” The Britishness, the sideburns, the dry humour. What a genius. His playing took me to many places that felt totally right, taken directly from what I imagined I would have played without knowing it, without even beginning to have the musical vision for. And the idiosyncrasy that made me feel even closer to him.

BACKYARD

I took a friend out from my office room and showed him around the yard in front of the house, some patches of snow left here and there (that was days before we got new loads), blue sky, a promise of lilacs. I carried my notebook around and talked to him, he sat in his living room in Hamburg, hundreds of miles from here.

Then I went back in and he showed me around the flat, a street lined with large trees, a backyard. Sometimes the skype connection broke down and we had to reconnect. While he talks to me often his face turns into a modern painting when the software grapples with the low bandwidth – then sometimes out of the blue, the image freezes, the hissing freezes, and he is gone and we have to dial in again, continuing the exploration of the depth:

His experience in the moment, my experience in the moment. The moment is shared, some mysterious kind of energy is shared, the very fact of someone listening (without judging or valueing or commenting) creates a palpable difference in the atmosphere that changes the way we feel and think. Magical moments when we sync looking at the same thing.

A closeness, a conscious sharing of this, the hard-to-describe reality of what is simply here, something tangible that is obviously in the air and in the body, something impossible to describe that nobody can understand who has never done this, transported by tiny amounts of electricity across hundreds of miles.

DOG EYES

Early morning, Orion is already setting in the west beyond the hills, tiny dots of light from distant stars – the one on top of the constellation (al-Dhira, Bed Elgueze, Yedelgeuse … “hand of the giant”, 600 light years from here) is hundreds of times larger than our sun, a wobbling, oscillating, unstable red giant, something much more vast than we could ever imagine with our petty mammal brains, and destined to explode – hopefully, in many thousands of years, and not tomorrow – covering our skies with the flash of its death.

So it vanishes beyond the hill, winter is definitely over although there is snow all around. The clocks will be set to summer time soon. Another round, all things different, all the same.

Later in the morning: The shivering legs of a small dog that has to wait with his owner in the cold outside of a supermarket, probably for the owner’s wife to come back. The trust in the dark dog eyes when I talk to him. We are both here, different brains, but not different in what we are, and in a way, we both know it: Always on the cusp, on top of the wave, riding the mystery.

Church Vibrator


 
My second end-of-November improvisation concert (my first one was in 2008) with percussionist-singer-bassist Uwe Schumacher in a church in Bonn, Germany was an interesting experience for me in several ways.

Firstly of course, improvisation concerts are always interesting experiences, especially when there is no plan at all. Uwe’s regular church concerts (sometimes solo, sometimes with musical partners) are based on complete openness. The resulting music can develop into many directions – often there are jazz, world music, or ambient influences. It seems to be a successful concept – the number of visitors slowly increases and many people come on a regular basis.

On this evening, a sound engineer class from the nearby university came to record us as an exercise, in professional quality. I’m looking forward to that recording – haven’t heard it yet.


 
I brought a number of new musical toys, such as a wonderful old Indian electric drone box with tambura sounds, an autoharp, and an electric classical guitar which always makes me want to play bossanova inspired music.

One item I brought was a vibrator. I knew it would potentially offend religious-minded people to play with a sex toy in a church but I used it in complete innocence, thinking purely in musical terms – the vibrating egg shaped device can be placed on various kinds of surfaces (metal bowls or drums or cymbals are great) to trigger a wide range of sounds. I played with it for a while and eventually found a vertical open metal tube that was probably a candle stand. I put the vibrator in there and left it for a few minutes, making the whole thing buzz and drone away with an interesting timbre.

Apparently, this was too much for some people who left the church at this point.


 
I also used my solo livelooping gear at times to create dense soundscapes. Uwe sang on top of them, and he played bass and looped percussion, especially the wonderful berimbau from Brazil that I love so much.

My own playing was ok I think (for my standard) but with hindsight, I would say I should have played less, leaving more room for Uwe and for a more dynamic interplay. Livelooping does not always lend itself for a group improvisation, and “less is more” is always a good motto anyway.

We even got an email with detailed criticism from a regular visitor of Uwe’s concerts. He hated what I did so much that he left earlier. I actually felt grateful for the email because usually, people leave without commenting when they don’t like a concert, and one is left with the part of the audience who liked it, with no way to learn from the negative views. We received some very positive comments for the evening too, so what we did can’t have been a failure entirely, and I didn’t feel completely devastated by the email, but I noticed that it successfully undermined my poor little musician ego for a while. I’m not a very experienced live musician yet, and I don’t always feel completely confident with what I do, especially if I move in potentially dangerous free-improvisation territory.

Having one’s ego attacked by harsh criticism is an interesting experience in itself – does one go into defense immediately, hitting back or powering up the ego self-repair mechanism, or does one try to tolerate the feeling for a while and look at it with interest? I found it difficult this time – the superego voices that come up in such a situation are very convincing, the reaction of the body is not pleasant, and inevitably, one feels like a child that is reprimanded by one’s parents. I’m grateful for the experience anyway – it seems I have been so successful setting up my life to run smoothly, avoiding edges and criticism, that I almost forgot how painful it can be.

I was happy to hear from Uwe that he liked most of what we did, even if we weren’t always playing together in a successful way. At this point, he would be my favorite partner for some kind of duo project.

Here are some video recordings I did with my little camera, the sound also being recorded by the camera. This doesn’t have the official recording sound quality (I haven’t received a copy of this yet) but it gives a good impression already.



Diamond Body Friday

I live in the countryside 30km east of Cologne – it takes 45 minutes to drive into the city. This Friday I managed to squeeze four very different Cologne appointments into one day which was good … it saved some driving time. So the day brought me an interesting and quite pleasurable mixture of computer programming topics, music related meetings, and something deeply spiritual – all in one package. Plus a nice walk, some interesting buildings, a number of lo-res photos (see below), and a piece of cake.

Date One – ColdFusion 9 Upgrade Workshop

Version 9 of Adobe ColdFusion has just been released, and I was invited to a presentation at the Cologne Adobe offices. My programming colleague Horst Becker was also participating, plus 20 or so other ColdFusion programmers from the larger Cologne area.

It was good to see again that ColdFusion is in pretty good health (even though many programmers who feel attached to other programming languages often doubt this, and look down on CF because they think it is not a real programming/script language). CF9 is the first version that was entirely prepared by Adobe (it used to belong to other companies before), and there are quite a large number of useful developments and new features, such as extensive methods to communicate with Microsoft Office products, and a new Hibernate-based Object Relational Mapping methodology (a persistence layer, or abstract access method, replacing the familiar SQL database access syntax).


 
Exciting as these technologies are, I find myself more and more bored, not by ColdFusion which is a wonderful tool, but by this kind of work in general. I don’t belong to the programmers who are completely identified with their work and their tools and take it all oh so seriously. But as I don’t have an alternative way to earn money, it seems I will stay with it for a while. Unfortunately, it seems to me that programming, instead of getting easier and easier as technology advances, gets more and more complex, requiring more and more energy to keep up with the latest developments.

I took a walk with Horst along the Rhine towards the chocolate museum where we had a coffee and a cake, overlooking the Rhine. We spent an hour discussing technology, current projects, and his art exhibition that opened later that evening. (Horst was not amused when his iPhone told him about the latest stock market developments following doubts about the solvency of Dubai.)


 
That part of the Cologne Rhine west river – stretching for a mile south of the city center – used to be a no man’s land full of old defunct factory, storage, and silo buildings. Everything has changed now – there are many gleaming new office buildings, among them the new German Microsoft center, and the three spectacular crane buildings, two of which are already in use. I felt slightly uneasy to walk below them, with I don’t know how many tons hovering above me, just leaning on one thin looking central column. For some reason I had to think about the huge Cologne subway project that led to the collapse of the archive building, not far away from here.


 
Date Two – A Talk About Music

I walked half a mile from here to the Severinstor, the heart of the old southern part of Cologne, where I met Christian Schaal, a singer and bass player who I knew from concerts with singer-songwriter-composer Markus Apitius. Christian had recently asked me to join his new band project that he is thinking about. We had hot chocolate and tea and talked music for an hour. We found that we have some ideas in common, and that we will probably meet again at the beginning of the year for a session, to see how we harmonize musically.

I find that my musical activities are expanding rapidly, with the various loop festivals, other concerts, and various free improvisation collaborations. I’m enjoying this immensely of course, and not being a professional musician (Robert Fripp told me that I’d be much better off if I didn’t try this 🙂 ) I don’t have any expectations, and I don’t even think about commercial success, so these musical explorations can be completely open. I have no idea where I will be in a year or two, musically.

 

Date Three – A Strange Instrument

After my meeting with Christian, I drove to Mr. Viertmann’s beautiful guitar shop to pick up the Cümbüs I had recently bought for cheap. This strange Turkish fretless 12-string banjo was in bad shape but I got it back repaired, and ready for new strings. I can’t play it yet but it is such a strange instrument with such a strong sound, and I sense so many exciting musical possibilities here … I look forward to learning to play it … at least a little bit.

 
 
Date Four – Remembering Presence

My last appointment led me to Rani Willems, a wonderful spiritual teacher who I met only a couple of months ago. Her work complements the many things that I learned and experienced at the Ridhwan school – following many years of Zen and Meditative Inquiry with Toni Packer, who taught me more important things about life and the human mind than anyone else.

I hesitate to write about what this is all about – too large a topic for a little blog such as this, too prone to misunderstandings. Strange how many myths exist about spirituality, meditation, enlightenment, and everybody seems to be an expert anyway.

To me, this thing has nothing at all to do with religion or beliefs or philosophy, it is certainly nothing esoteric and actually not even spiritual, whatever that means. In 2001, after more than 25 years of grappling with Zen, it began to dawn on me what it is about, and I found it to be natural and utterly simple – too simple for the mind to grasp.

It appears to me now that all that was needed was
1. a good knowledge (thanks to Toni) about the countless ways that we constantly fool ourselves (by clinging to personality, opinions, beliefs, self-images, etc.) so I could learn to quickly recognize this in myself, and to drop it;
2. I eventually lost interest (to a limited extent) in my own compulsive, conditioned, and repetitive thinking; and
3. I found that by ignoring the oh-so-important blah-blah of my own mind, instead staying simply awake for a while, completely conscious in the present moment, something entirely unexpected and powerful could begin to shine – something that had been here all the time, totally covered up by the internal noise that I believed to be. This new thing is closer to me than my personality, it has nothing at all to do with Michael, and it was just a matter of recognizing it – somewhat difficult because in the midst of all the turbulence of my life, this was a quiet constant, easily overlooked.

There is some kind of oscillation now, the old Michael structure appears to pull me back into oblivion most of the time, but there is another force that pulls me into remembering again, very subtle and soft, but it is there, sometimes very strongly and clearly like today while looking at it together with Rani, and burning like a flame afterwards through the evening. We are incredible beings! Yes, stardust, as Joni Mitchell put it, but much more than that.

Wise Old Men

Who remembers Catweazle? When Daevid Allen entered stage yesterday where his band Gong was already playing, he was clad in his skull covered suit, a long glittering cloak, and a pointed hat. I thought of Catweazle at first, that crazy sorcerer from the middle ages who time travelled into contemporary England by accident.


 
What on earth does this guy (who will turn 72 soon) do to be so obviously healthy, full of positive energy, and so much power and stamina at this age? he jumped and danced around on stage all night long, he played electric guitar and sang as energetically as ever, laughing often and having the time of his life. I looked into his old wise eyes from quite near the stage and found that there was a considerable amount of presence and charisma around him. Remarkable.


 
Gong and their guitarist Steve Hillage were heroes of my youth. Here’s a photograph of my table in a room in a Cambridge college where I spent a week or two back in 1975 to work on my English. The Camembert Electrique LP by Gong (“holy cheese!”) was one of the items that I bought there, completing my early Gong record collection that already contained the “Radio Gnome Invisible” trilogy – a mythology about a planet called Gong, inhabited by the peaceful and spiritually evolved Pot Head Pixies that visit Earth in their green flying teapots. (I learned yesterday that the flying teapot theme was inspired by an analogy by philosopher Bertrand Russell.)

I was delighted to finally see the reunion lineup of this band that has been together since 2006 – Mike Howlett was not with them yesterday but at least there were Gilli Smyth (still doing her psychedelic witch singing at 76, maybe more convincing than ever), Canterbury scene guitar hero Steve Hillage, and his longtime partner, synth wizard Miquette Giraudy, along with a wonderful backing band (drums, bass, and sax/flute – I knew none of them before but they were all technically outstanding).

The Steve Hillage band played as openers before Gong, warming us up with Hillage’s psychedelic old songs – even some of the complex pieces of his Fish Rising album. They played quite energetically, less playful than I remember them – “less bubbles” as Michael Frank commented. I liked them a lot. Where would I be as a guitar player if I hadn’t been inspired by his echo guitar and his ethereal screwdriver glissando technique? (The technique was invented by Syd Barrett but I learned it from Steve Hillage who also used it extensively.)

The Pot Head Pixies that visited Earth 35 years ago are still alive and more active than ever, it seems. I bought their new album “2032” yesterday. It says that 2032 will be the year when “the existence of Planet Gong will be officially recognized by astronomers on Earth and will signal the first public arrival of these space visitors”. Something to look forward to!

Y2K9


 
Y2K9 was why we had come to the west coast in the first place:
Rick Walker (who keeps pointing out how much my MY2K project had inspired him to move towards abstract electronica) had invited me for years to come to his annual livelooping festival, and this year was the first time that I felt up to it.

One reason that I felt I could do it this time was that I had finally replaced the heavy guitar rig full of hardware effects I had been using for years by a notebook – good for international flights. I also took my small midified Hohner G2 guitar, an instrument that can easily be taken as hand luggage and tucked into a plane’s overhead compartment.

The notebook contains a complex Plogue Bidule setup that is capable of doing infinitely more than my old hardware effects could – it is a maze of VST plugins, VST instruments, loopers, and realtime samplers, infinitely reconfigurable and versatile, and it opens many musical doors for me although I’m still a long way from understanding Bidule, and also, a long way from mastering this setup.


 
One additional musical difficulty that I had created for myself was that I insisted to improvise everything – as on my previous solo livelooping concerts, I played no compositions (although sometimes compositions suddenly found their way into the improvisations). This has its pros and cons. It needs a certain amount of openness from the audience – people who expect “pieces” will inevitably be disappointed.

What usually happens, and happened this time too, is that I start out only from a rough idea for the beginning, and then some kind of flow finds its own way, often in surprising ways, sometimes boring, sometimes interesting. One thing that sometimes seems to happen, and it happened this time too, is that I try certain things along the way, and fail – then I’m disappointed and frustrated, but because the audience doesn’t know what I was trying, they often like the result anyway.


 
I was flattered that Rick had featured me in his “headliners” list for the festival, and scheduled me for no less than 3 gigs on 3 subsequent days.

On the first night, we met for the “Best of the Y2K9 International Live Looping Festival” concert in the Anno Domini Gallery in San Jose. Except for Atlanta based kalimba wizard Kevin Spears, all of us had come from abroad (from Germany, Australia, Barbados, UK, Belgium) and were somewhat excited to play in the USA for the first time.

It was a very nice evening – although we did not have many people (maybe 25) in the audience, there were up to 200 people listening and watching the show over the internet. Nat Grant from Melbourne created a very soft and subtle texture of material sounds from percussion and plastic foil, Julia Kotowski from Cologne played her charming “Entertainment for the Braindead” songs, David Cooper Orton presented wonderful guitar compositions, Sjaak Overgaauw led us into quiet ambient sound worlds, Andre Donowa played very relaxed caribbean guitar music, and Kevin Spears made us all tap our feet with his irresistable, and technically astounding, kalimba grooves.

I drove home with Nat, Julia, and Kevin in my car, eventually discovering that our fuel was low – and there was no way to get new fuel in the middle of the night in the mountains between San Jose and Santa Cruz. We made it safely to Santa Cruz though – thanks so much to my guardian angel who protected us on the quite dangerous highway 17.


 
The next night, Rick had scheduled me for the “Experimental Side of the Y2K9 Looping Festival”, a concert in the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco which holds regular new music concerts curated by Matt Davignon. I’ve known Matt for years as a very creative musician and regular contributor to Chain Tape Collective projects – it was very nice to finally meet him in person.

I must admit that it was quite exciting for me to drive into the breathtaking night skyline of San Francisco, with Rick and Nat in my car, to give a concert there. This wonderful city is a mythical place, both beautiful (as Sabine and me saw it a few days ago) and dark and even a bit creepy – but then I’m probably simply not used to this place at night.

The gallery was a wonderful concert space. Matt did his drum machine soundscapes, Nat and Rick created surprising music with percussion instruments and various materials, and Thomas Dimuzio played breathtakingly beautiful synthesizer music – like something straight from Blade Runner, but abstract. I would have loved to get a recording of this but he had forgotten to record it!


 
I did 25 minutes of, as Georgina Brett put it, “severely electro-acoustic LIVE music” – a continuous stream of sound events from the guitar and from various mysterious little devices that made the audience lean forward, trying to see what they were 🙂 The music was not something that is easy to listen to afterwards, but I think it was an enjoyable concert live – big fun for me to play really noise oriented at times, maybe I should do more of this?


 
The main livelooping festival began on Friday evening with a concert of some of the headliners – Nat Grant with Rick Walker, Kevin Spears (the Paganini of the kalimba, as Rick put it very correctly), The Mermen guitarist Jim Thomas, and me, with each of us given 45 minutes. This was the only concert which saw me a bit nervous during the afternoon, but then I found myself very quiet and mostly present while I performed. Again, many things that I tried to do failed, but the audience didn’t know what I had been trying, and judging from the many positive feedbacks I got, at least parts of it must have been enjoyable. I felt especially flattered by a very positive website guestbook comment by the wonderful singer Lilli Lewis who I saw perform on the next day.


 
The two following days were like a livelooping sweat lodge – from noon to midnight, more than 50 livelooping artists played for half an hour each, performing on one half of the stage while on the other half the next artist quietly set up his gear. Many of the stylistically wildly diverse shows that I saw were amazing, some of them utterly wonderful. Among my favorites were Bill Walker on lapsteel guitar, David Cooper Orton on electric guitar, Mike Crain’s ambient-minimalist vibraphone music, and especially the songs of Lilli Lewis – her performance was almost a spiritual experience, many of us were in tears because it was so beautiful and full of heart.
Lilli’s CD is here in case you want to hear it.



 
At times during the days of the festival, just sitting and enjoying, I seemed to feel an intense field of love that surrounded the whole venue. It was an impersonal love, and definitely something beyond the love that Rick, and the many people who helped, obviously put into organizing this event. For some reason, the livelooper community is exceptionally friendly – there is no competition but rather an atmosphere of mutual support. It seemed to me that something that I would call the presence of love can materialize in a palpable way when many people gather in such an atmosphere, to work together and to share what means most to them – their music, their personal vision of beauty.

What a treat this festival was. We finally met on Monday morning for the traditional loopers brunch and had coffee and cakes with Rick, Chris, Michael Klobuchar, and Nat Grant the next day … then we had to say goodbye. Amazing how close one gets during just a few days, and how much we missed each other afterwards – it was not unlike a meditation retreat or a guitar craft week … special times where one is together in an intense way, and then leaves to return into ordinary every day life reality.


 
(thanks to George Wiltshire and David Cooper Orton for some of the Michael Peters photos)

(many festival photos are here)

Towards Y2K9 (3): The Guitar Sculpture

A tourist visit to Seattle, especially for a retro-futurist enthusiast like me, is usually (literally) topped by a visit to the magnificent Space Needle that was built for the 1962 World Fair and that is still the city’s landmark. And of course, we had to ride to the Space Needle with the monorail train that was also built for the World Fair almost 50 years ago.


 
We entered the monorail at the downtown station – the ride takes just a few minutes but while one approaches the Space Needle, it is difficult not to feel that nostalgic techno optimism that was so prominent in the American “Zeitgeist” at the time … even though the monorail looks a bit battered today.


 
The view from the needle top was quite stunning – we had a very clear and sunny day and could easily see Mt. Rainier in the south (behind the skyline on the right side here) and even Mt. Baker in the north.


 
The space needle area also contains the new Museum of Pop Culture which is both a music museum and a science fiction museum. The building itself, designed by Frank Gehry, is quite a sight – I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it elsewhere, and one might say that it is hard for the museums that it houses to top the outer appearance.


 
I hadn’t expected much from the Science Fiction museum but I must say that I rather liked it. Its many exhibits were quite nicely presented, clearly by people who love Science Fiction, and lots of thought had obviously been invested in structuring the many aspects of this genre. Very entertaining!


 
The music museum, founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is mostly dedicated to American rock music, most prominently to the electric guitar and to Seattle’s most famous guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix. The tree-like guitar sculpture in the lobby, called Roots and Branches, is quite impressive when one stands under it. Many of the guitars in the sculpture were quietly plucked by some robot mechanism. Actually the thing looked less like a tree and more like a fountain or a volcanic eruption, spouting instruments in the air.


 
Although the two museums are largely unrelated, there is currently a wonderful exhibition that relates to both, showing tons of Science Fiction and space travel related record covers from the 50s. I love this stuff!


 
In the evening, we met Ted and Letha and their rather charming little daughter again – they took us to a Greek Festival which, somewhat surprising to us, has been very popular in Seattle for years, so much that it was difficult to find a parking lot for the car. The huge tent was full of hundreds of excited visitors who ate Greek food (wine leaves stuffed with rice – yummy), listened to nice Greek folk music that was played at top volume, and watched Greek group folk dances. A most enjoyable evening!

What My Feet Hear Barefoot On The Beach

After many attempts to find a sunny weekend where both of us had time for a few days of vacation, we finally made it to Holland and had a wonderful long weekend. The hotel room in Camperduin-an-Zee was great and we had an amazing view of the landscape behind the embankment.


 
The end-of-August weather was hot enough to lie on the beach and take a swim or two in the cool North Sea! In the evening when most people had gone home the beach looked like this.


 
Here are the sounds of the gentle surf, recorded underwater:

      northhollandsurfhydrophone

And here’s the sound of sand, recorded by my hydrophone which was plugged a few centimeters into the beach sand. I was surprised at how far the sand transports sound. I moved it around, squeezed and threw it, and there are also some steps of people passing by. This is the sound that my feet hear when I walk the beach barefoot:

      camperduin_sand

After swimming and sunbathing at the beach, a coffee and an apple pie in one of the typical wooden beach restaurants is usually the next destination.


 
The next day was a little cooler and perfect for a visit in the nearby town of Alkmaar which is famous for its cheese museum and the historic cheese market staged there every Friday. We weren’t entirely sure if they actually still traded cheese there or if it was just a tourism event. Anyway here’s what it sounded like, accompanied by the carillon of a nearby church.

      alkmaar_cheesemarket


 
Sabine spent a while in a pearl shop, choosing a number of little black/white beauties for a necklace. While we marvelled at the multitude of designs, I noticed that they also sounded different, and interesting, so I recorded a few minutes of the shop atmosphere, and the various sounds of the different materials. Maybe they will eventually end up in some kind of composition.

      alkmaar_pearlshop


 
A typical Dutch item is the windmill, and Alkmaar has several of them. A large windmill near the city center has been off duty for a few years now, and can be visited. Looking at such a windmill in a postcard landscape is pastoral – climbing into it and being very close to the wheels and rotating wings is something else altogether – the feeling of power and speed is quite awe inspiring. Here’s a little video I made – one has to see this in motion to get a feel of it.


 
At home, we live in a hilly area which is too steep to ride a bike for fun so we hadn’t been on a bicycle for years. What fun we had doing it again! Biking through the colorful dune landscape was like a dream. What a great invention a bicycle is!


 
Of course I had to videotape a minute or two while riding … which was a little dangerous on the sandy ground, but I managed not to crash-land.


 
After the bicycle ride, highest on our priority list was the giant ginger pancake at the Duinvermaak restaurant in Bergen. And a coffee. Good thing that we don’t have this at home – once a year is enough.

Crane Sunday



People do strange things. Many people (including my wife) think the things that I do are quite strange too. Last Sunday afternoon, I found myself sitting alone at the waterside in a small harbour in Cologne, recording underwater sounds. Luckily, nobody was around who wondered what I was doing. This activity would probably have looked quite boring from the outside, but whenever I do this kind of thing, I feel like a boy inside – an adventurer, a discoverer, hunting for the unknown – excitement.

The underwater sounds in this place turned out to be not very interesting, but I know that one has to be patient and record for a while just in case. Eventually, all I got were distant boat motors, and yes, there was a shoal of small fish but they didn’t talk (sometimes you find places where fish make all sorts of strange and interesting noises, but you have to be very lucky). Instead, they inspected the hydrophone which resulted in loud bumps on the recording.

While recording this, I found that the reflections of various cranes, towers, and ships in the water looked quite beautiful. I took a number of photos and they looked so nice together that I turned them into this video, very slowly fading one into each other.


 
The video soundtrack should have featured the underwater recording but since this turned out to be disappointing, it fell through. Instead I created several layers of treated sounds from these sources:

  • underwater insects of a nearby lake that I had recorded a week ago
  • a propeller plane that flew above
  • a contact microphone recording from the same day of the nearby Rhine bridge
  • a wonderful pump organ that I had played and recorded in the Stockholm music museum


 
The slowed down bridge sounds creates a beautiful drone of howling traffic and wind vibrated metal, and of course now that I hear it, it reminds me of Eno’s White Cube recordings. It still amazes me how he has influenced my musical thinking and often when I find some interesting new way to paint with sounds … he has already been there.

The pump organ with its wild pitch changes lets me think of Györgi Ligeti’s 1967 organ piece “Harmonies” (not that I would compare myself with this master of course). I found that pump organ in the Stockholm Musikmuseet – here is a short video. I played and recorded just a few minutes and this is the material that is used for the Crane Sunday video – pitched down and equalized a little. Oh how I loved this instrument, it had such a charming breathing sound – and not even keys to play! I would have stolen it but it was too heavy 😉

Livelooping in Antwerp





The spoken word on this track is from a Hugo Ball poem that I found on Ubuweb.

After a gig on an electronic music festival in a club in Cologne on May 9 (which went so-so for me partly because the sound sucked, I was not yet used to my new music software, and I was sick), my little European livelooping tour started with a gig in Antwerp, Belgium, hometown of Sjaak Overgaauw. Sjaak had visited the Cologne livelooping festival that I had organized in May 2008, and liked the concept so much that it didn’t take much to persuade him to organize a livelooping festival of his own.

So a day before the festival, livelooping festival inventor and multiinstrumentalist Rick Walker and guitarist/singer Luis Angulo arrived here, coming from southern Germany. Before we went
to my place, we had dinner in Cologne, meeting Julia Kotowski, a singer/songwriter/multiinstrumentalist/livelooper who was invited by Rick Walker to this year’s Y2K9 livelooping festival in Santa Cruz, CA. Rick was a little surprised at her young age meeting her in person on that evening, but we both agree that she has lots of talent and has developed a very interesting song style of her own which definitely deserves to be presented at the festival.

 
We spent some hours on the autobahn to Antwerp the next day (during a long hot stop in a traffic jam, Rick used the time to program his musicbox for the gig) and arrived in the afternoon at the Arenberg Schouwburg, a beautiful venue in the center of Antwerp.

 
It was so great to meet old livelooping friends, and some new ones. Yes, the music is at the center of this, but the chance to spend time together with this very nice and creative bunch of people who I get to see only once in a couple of years is at least as important to me.

I was especially happy to meet Os, Mike Bearpark, and Andrew Booker from Darkroom who I had the chance to play with in London in November 2007. And of course there was Fabio Anile from Rome, he had played on the Cologne festival in May 2008 and got inspired enough to organize a livelooping festival in Rome a week after Antwerp (more about this later). I also met Dirk Serries again, he had filled last year’s Cologne festival venue with his “Fear Falls Burning” drones and got to Antwerp to present his new “Microphonics” project.

Sjaak had done a perfect job organizing this festival. Venue, staff, technical things, food, everything was perfect. Thanks again Sjaak!!

 
This evening’s loop shows were very diverse as usual. This time I especially liked Luis Angulo’s vocal loops and his amazing Flamenco style guitar loops. Darkroom played a wonderful set that made me feel real good for some reason. I crawled around on the floor while they played, Os had given me his hitech camera and I had the job to take photos of the group which I gladly did.

In my own set, I tried to make use of quite a number of toys (such as Os’s wonderful XFadeLooper plugin), some of them new … and I improvised … so the result, as often before, was a collage like mix of different styles, and my own feeling afterwards was also mixed, although the audience seemed to mostly like it.

I’m not sure where my creative impulse is leading me in my livelooping work. I hesitate to control it too much, so I try to let it find its own way. I wonder if it will eventually end up in some recognizable style, something that more experienced liveloopers like Markus Reuter or Robert Fripp or Dirk Serries or Rick Walker have developed. At this time, it is much more tempting for me to jump into completely different pools at every gig, sometimes even with sudden breaks, instead of trying to paint stylistically similar pictures every time. Rick told me that he loves the diversity of styles and sounds in my sets, and he thinks that the audience does too. We’ll see how it will work in Rome next week, and in Santa Cruz where I plan to perform in October.


 
(photos were taken by Sjaak, Os, and me)

Paper Organs and Colored Windows



 
We spent this beautiful Easter sunday going to Siegen, a small old industrial town two hours east of Cologne, to see an exhibition called Blickmaschinen (viewing machines) in the local museum of contemporary art. The exhibition shows parts of the Werner Nekes Collection … about 200 laterna magicas, camera obscuras … image distortion, perspective, and projection machines, panoramas, kaleidoscopes … all sorts of incredible historical optical devices most of which I had no idea existed …





 
… all of this successfully contrasted with 100 works of about 40 contemporary artists that focus roughly on topics of seeing and perception … e.g. this star-spangled skull:




 
My favorite was a sound installation (I’m a sucker for sound installations) called “Paper Organs” created by Pierre Bastien. It used darkness and light, movement, and music in a minimalist and very successful way, creating a magical place … I was reminded of Eno’s light and sound installations.


 
We spent several very inspiring hours here. The exhibition will be shown in Budapest and Sevilla after Siegen – go see it if you have the chance.

Colored windows and video projections in the beautiful spiral staircase tower of the museum …



 
While going back to the car, I noticed some anonymous rubber tongue sculptures on the street near the parking lot … they weren’t part of the exhibition and I guess nobody else had noticed them …

Day Of The Hyperfunction


 
To celebrate Impossible Music, the first CD release on our own Hyperfunction label for algorithmic music, I had organized a mini-festival for algorithmic computer music at Cologne’s LOFT on Saturday, April 4, 2009.

We don’t know if the spring weather was too fair, the football games on TV were too tempting, or if the theme for the evening was not interesting enough to the Cologne audience, but only a few people showed up to see and hear the four computer music acts. Each of us played for roughly half an hour.

Tobias Reber from Bern (Switzerland) started with a laptop piece based on Max/MSP. Its shifting layers of electronic sequences and its microtonal electronic sounds reminded me of the magical and austere music of the early electronic pioneers.


 
Stefan Tiedje from Berlin had already presented his interactive Max/MSP based “Ondes Memorielles” music system at the Loft when he performed at Cologne’s 1st International Livelooping Festival in May 2008. His new performance made use of two mobile microphones that circulated through the audience so that everyone could add their own sounds to the music.


 
Markus Reuter from Innsbruck played his new self-designed touch guitar through effect gear and Ableton Live algorithms and loops. His atonal music sounds sparse at the beginning but it eventually builds up to an enormous sound cloud, beautiful and at times menacing. The many variables going into a performance like this make the outcome unpredictable. On listening to his own set the next day, Markus wrote, “Is that really me? I’m surprised once again”.


 
Markus’s Centrozoon partner Bernhard Wöstheinrich had a strong feeling that my Impossible Music needed sounds different from the ones used on the CD, so when we played this evening’s last set, I was only responsible to generate suitable midi signals, and Bernhard translated them into sound with his synthesizer. Old technology met new technology – the Impossible Music algorithmic system is based on a fractal software called HOP that I wrote in the early nineties, and on this evening, it actually ran on a trusty ancient MS-DOS computer while the sounds were created using very recent synths and software.

      MichaelPetersBernhardWoestheinrich20090404


I used a set of a dozen different fractal shapes to play with – the images, projected on a screen for the audience, were directly translated into midi signals, following some simple rules, and then into sound, so somehow what the audience saw corresponded to what they heard – not always in a very transparent way maybe, but nonetheless. Unfortunately, the images that look most pretty often turn out to create boring music, and some of the more boring images create the most interesting music, so sometimes the imagery that I used consisted just of a few dots or lines but they gave birth to surprising musical structures.


 
The HOP based algorithmic music engine will keep me busy for a while – there are so many interesting musical structures hidden in there. Here’s a short montage from the “rehearsals” I did a week before the Hyperfunction evening.

      HOP_MONTAGE1



 
The evening was an interesting experiment, demanding for the listeners at times, but also very rewarding (at least that’s what I was told by one excited visitor). And it was nice to see everyone again and to spend some time together.

One Week’s Musical Delights

The last week brought me several quite different musical delights. All of them were brought to me by musicians that I’ve been enjoying for 25 years or more. On the concerts, in the audience, I was mostly surrounded by old men … hmm …


 
March 20
Allan Holdsworth Trio (Allan Holdsworth, guitar; Gary Husband, drums; Jimmy Johnson, bass)

Allan is said to be a musician’s musician, or a guitarist’s guitarist. I don’t know how true it is that you have to be a musician to be able to dig what he does. Many people I know, many guitarists even, aren’t impressed by his music. But many other people, mostly guitarists, speak of him in awe. He has a unique style and a breathtaking technique.

The first time I’ve heard Allan play live was with the Soft Machine, back in 1975. The recent Soft Machine Floating World Live album is from that period. I bought the album a week ago and found that while Allan’s way of playing was incredible fluent even 34 years ago, it was much more rock oriented than it is today. He also played with progressive rock-fusion outfits such as Bill Bruford’s band but he eventually went away from this and towards a kind of jazz that is maybe more influenced by Coltrane.

On the gig a week ago, the trio was in incredible shape. Gary Husband and Jimmy Johnson were a wonderful rhythm group, true masters.

I stood in front of the stage and could see Allan play just 5 feet away (thank god I had my hitech earplugs because his Hughes & Kettner tower would have blowed my ears off otherwise). His solo lines were fluent as ever, his fingers did these incredible stretches across 7 or 8 frets, he jumped effortlessly across the fretboard in the breathtaking speed that he is famous for, and I don’t think he ever repeated himself – other than in the seventies where he had some trademark melody structures that he came up with often. And then there were these pieces where he played these series of “uncommon chords”, soft as clouds – I recognized none of them, and he didn’t repeat anything for minutes. It doesn’t happen often on concerts that I have no idea what is happening musically. On this evening, I was clueless but enjoyed myself immensely.

How wonderful that there are so many kinds of music that can make us fly, in many different ways. Allan and his band took us on a very adventurous flight.


 
March 23
Wire (Colin Newman, guitar and vocals; Graham Lewis, bass; Robert Grey, drums; and, as a replacement for the wonderful Bruce Gilbert who has sadly left the band a while ago, Margaret McGinnis on guitar)

Just a few days later, I found myself in a dense crowd in the Blue Shell club in Cologne, waiting for the British New Wave Art-Punk cult band Wire. In the early eighties, everyone I knew loved their first three albums – Pink Flag with its short and breathtaking punk hymn “12XU”, and the two follow-up albums (Chairs Missing, and 154) that were full of stunning compositions and unfamiliar sound worlds – they were an important part of my soundtrack for the early eighties, they had a strong magic of their own.

I had never seen Wire before and of course by now, they were old, and we were old (although there were a number of young people in the audience as well). Wire played several of their old famous songs but mostly new material from their current Object 47 CD. The majority of their new material is much simpler in structure than their pieces from the eighties – usually just based on two chords, sometimes there is just one chord, a monotonous drone punk with Colin Newman’s sparse vocals on top, but they know very well how to set this up to make it irresistable. Relentless and short statements, as fast and loud as the Pink Flag art punk that they had become famous with.

The audience loved them. Funny how surprised they were that we were so quiet and well behaved – apparently the British Wire audience is much louder. “You are so quiet – was it something that we said?”


 
March 27
John Hackett & Nick Magnus (John Hackett, flute, guitar + vocals; Nick Magnus, piano)

The German Genesis fan club had staged a 2-day Steve Hackett event. I was able to see the first night yesterday. Some unknown Steve Hackett live video material was shown, and the fans were able to talk to Steve in person during an interview.

After this, a good half hour of an “acoustic” set with Steve’s brother John plus piano virtuoso Nick Magnus. They played some well known Hackett material and many pieces from John’s solo albums that I hadn’t heard before. What a delightful duo they were, very virtuoso and in complete command of their instruments, and quite humorous too. I loved how Nick, during the introduction to the next piece, morphed the piece’s title from “Le Chat Noir” (called after a Paris club where Satie used to play piano) into “William Shatner” (of Star Trek fame).


 
March 27
The Watch (Simone Rossetti, vocals; Giorgio Gabriel, guitars; Cristiano Roversi, bass & guitar; Fabio Mancini, keyboards; Marco Fabbri, drums)

The highlight of the first Hackett event evening was a Genesis cover set played by the Italian band The Watch. I had heard their first three albums and found that while the sound was very close to the trademark early Genesis sound, their compositions are interesting but somewhat less accessible at times – with some strange chord changes and melodies that seem to have a hard time to find a place to sit in my head.

For the Genesis fan club event, they covered early Genesis material – famous pieces mostly from Trespass and Nursery Cryme. They were amazing. Other than my good friend Hans who is a die-hard Peter Gabriel era Genesis fan and prefers the photocopy-close-to-the-original cover band Musical Box, I loved this cover band better – they were a bit less perfect, also very close to the original, but somehow a bit more lively and rough. Simone Rossetti’s ability to reproduce the young Peter Gabriel’s throaty voice with all its idiosyncrasies was almost uncanny.

 
Jon Hassell: Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street
(Jon Hassell: trumpet, keyboard; Peter Freeman: bass, laptop; Jan Bang: live sampling; Jamie Muhoberac: keyboard, laptop; Rick Cox: guitar, loops; Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche: violin; Eivind Aarset: guitar; Helge Norbakken: drums; Pete Lockett: drums; Dino J.A. Deane: live sampling)

Jon is one of my all-time favorite musicians, maybe the one who leads the list. His music means more to me than I can say. I still remember the first time I heard him, on the Brian Eno collaboration album called Possible Musics, back in 1980. I bought that album without knowing who Jon Hassell was because the name Brian Eno on the cover meant that it had to be good. Then I listened and didn’t get it at first. Hassell’s strange trumpet technique and vocal-like phrasings were unlike anything I had heard before. It took a little while before I understood with my ears and my heart. Then Jon suddenly spoke to something in me that I hadn’t known existed.

The short piece Empire V on Aka-Darbari-Java (1983) with its slow angular percussion rhythm, the very quiet short sample that runs through like a tin musical box, and its soft harmonizer trumpet melody lines gives me the goosebumps every time (even now, just thinking of it – funny how our nervous system works), and the longer Darbari Extension is like a permanent ticket to some mysterious timeless inner tropical landscape that resembles Mati Klarwein‘s paintings that Jon also loves so much.

Over the years, Jon Hassell has quietly become an important influence for many jazz musicians. He is 70 now I think – I hope he’ll be able to stay productive for a long time. His current album is already precious to me and in constant rotation. There are so many details and wonderful atmospheres. Another milestone of a quiet giant.

Impossible Music


 
Algorithmic Music – music composed without human intervention, based on formal procedures, mathematical formulas, computer programs.

Gumowski and Mira – two CERN physicists who found an interesting mathematical entity, a new attractor – something not unlike a fractal – while researching into nonlinear dynamical systems. It was later called the Gumowski-Mira attractor.


 
HOP – a software that I wrote in the early nineties which created graphics based on this attractor. It was successful as a DOS screensaver. Then one day, I added a Midi output module, hooked a digital piano to it, and found that the resulting musical structures were very interesting.

Impossible Music – a collection of 16 improvisations with that Gumowski-Mira attractor based software. While the computer computed the attractor, I played with the constants and various other variables, and Matthias Ebbinghaus took care of the sampler, the digital piano pedals, and the live mix.

hyperfunction – a CD label for algorithmic music, launched by Markus Reuter and me, with Impossible Music being the first release.

      theanomalouscatalogue

 

Thanks to Matthias Ebbinghaus‘s initiative, we finally have a beautiful CD with quite adventurous recordings that we had done 13 years ago, at this time not thinking about publishing them at all. The DAT tape had been sleeping in some drawer and I had more or less forgotten it but about three years ago, Matthias remembered it and suggested that we listen to it again, maybe for a potential CD release. So we listened to it again, found that we liked it a lot, selected the most interesting parts, remastered it … and then I talked to Markus Reuter about it and he suggested setting up a label for algorithmic music and publish it there.

Here’s what WIRE magazine just wrote about the CD (in the April 2009 issue). Maybe they have a point criticizing that we used familiar instrument sounds (mainly piano and percussion) for music that is so non-traditional. For me though, this music stands out because it is structurally interesting – maybe turning these strange structures into equally strange sounds would even take away some of the structural strangeness – I don’t know. (In 1996, I simply had no stranger sounds at my hands anyway 🙂

Michael Peters is primarily an electric guitarist with a long standing affinity for Frippertronics – last year he organised Cologne’s first livelooping festival. Now and then he’ll venture beyond the loop, as on this set of pieces for digital piano and sampler, recorded in 1996 but only recently edited and mixed for release. In a sense Peters here raises his enthusiasm for looping to a conceptual level: Impossible Music arises out of the zone of nonlinear dynamic systems, being based on a strange attractor discovered by physicists at the CERN nuclear research centre. By real-time manipulation of this fractal structure’s parameters, Peters and Matthias Ebbinghaus generate l6 algorithmically grounded improvisations.
Algorithms – essentially, objectified sequences of instructions – can, as John Cage recognised, produce results that personal taste might have precluded, and figures as diverse as Xenakis and Eno have used such procedures effectively. Limited interventions, such as those Peters makes, add an improvisatory aspect that can conjure up further structural variation and surprise. But beyond the glacial satisfactions of the concept and a sense of the abstracted structure, the pleasure of such music necessarily depends on the quality of the sound material. Most of the samples Peters uses are percussion. There are classical guitar-like timbres on “Alhambra Algebra”, synthetic pipe organ sonorities on “Blow Up Meltdown”, marirnba tones on “Woodenfall”. The digital piano often approximates a concert grand. It’s done well, but surely strange attractors cry out for wilder and less familiar sounds. (Julian Cowley)

 

We will try how this music sounds with more adventurous sounds on April 4 – there will be a CD release party at the LOFT in Cologne, and while I am in control of the attractors, Bernhard Wöstheinrich and his synthesizers will make them sound. Watch this space for a report if you can’t come.

More Gumowski-Mira attractors:

A Thousand Blended Notes

For those unfortunate souls who don’t live in the countryside such as this, I recorded the walk I took today – click the player and you will hear half an hour of my steps in the muddy forest, stopping now and then to listen to the first spring birdsongs. The most prominent bird one could hear today is the song thrush … their song is one of the most beautiful things I can imagine.

      pre_spring_walk_biesfeld_20090308


People who grew up musically in the late sixties (such as me) might be reminded of Pink Floyd’s wonderful song Cirrus Minor which contains lots of song thrush singing … that bird must have been recorded somewhere in England, at this time of the year, 40 years ago.











 
This walk reminded me of Wordsworth’s poem in more than one way. Well he lamented “what man has made of man” … I only was somewhat put off by the incessant loud shouting of a group of kids who played right in the dense middle of the forest, the only place where the deer can hide during the day. Oh well. But then, they didn’t know … and of course, they are a part of nature too, no less than the birds and deer are.

Experimental Guitar Evening

I first met guitarist Craig Green last May when he played on the Livelooping Festival in Cologne that I had organized. Because he is currently in Europe for two gigs in Portugal, he had asked me if we could play together again, so he stopped in Cologne first before going to southern Europe and we did an Experimental Guitar Evening, again at the LOFT, again joined by my Cologne based friend Michael Frank. Each of us did a solo set and at the end, we played two improvisations together. Judging from what I heard from the audience afterwards, it was quite a successful and enjoyable evening.


 
Michael Frank played a noise improvisation and two of his older compositions: a Gong influenced psychedelic piece, and a wonderful rather intricate piece full of odd meters that although it has no Guitar Craft roots, it would fit in there quite well.

Craig, who came with his amazing new hi-tech Teuffel guitar, played two jazzy, very virtuoso, almost romantic compositions, and one of his trademark noise explorations. I was amazed at his sound, his precise technique, and his style in general. Very inspiring.

My set was not planned out, I was underprepared as usual but also willing to go for the risk. Actually I had vague plans for the beginning of the set that involved walking around in the room, theatrically whirling around my trusty old Höfner Shorty guitar – it has an integrated speaker that screams with string feedback in an amazing way when cranked up, and whirling it around creates a nice man-made leslie effect. Well this part worked as imagined but when I plugged it into my setup, there was nothing. No sound. I did some small talk and actually rebooted my Vista notebook, hoping the sound would reappear – but it didn’t! The audience was very relaxed and humorous, they even seemed to like that something went wrong, and their support made me relax too. Eventually I discovered that I simply had forgotten to pull up my main fader in my new Bidule setup. Argh !!! (sigh)


 
Anyway, sound was back, and I dropped my vague plans about continuing my explorations of radical noise. Instead I strongly felt like creating harmony, and so I started by setting up a simple but cinematic soundscape, and only later on went through more experiments, noise, samples, and cut-up rhythms.

Here is my 21 minute solo improvisation:


For those who don’t know but wonder – yes, all sounds were played live on the guitar. It can control samplers via midi, so I can play the guitar but you will hear strings, voices, or strange noises. There is even a part where I play a sample of a bee swarm which I had recorded myself last summer.
For those who know this but still wonder: The Fernandez guitar is equipped with a GK-2A and a sustainer. I played through a GT-5, a DL-4, a BitRMan and a Korg Slicer into the Bidule script on the notebook. Faders and switches in Bidule were controlled using a NanoKontrol. Bidule contained a number of VST instrument plugins (the awesome GForce MTron mellotron, a Kontakt sampler, a Humbox voice player), and VST effects such as the KT granular synthesis, the Quikquak Fusion Field reverb, and the beta version of the LoopV plugin for loops and cut-up stuff. Huge thanks to Matthias Grob and Andy Butler for the LoopV – I only used some of its many features but I can say it was stable and I had big fun using it.


 
Nobody left during the intermission – a good sign I think! The second half consisted of two extended collective improvisations that went very well. A wonderful evening, thanks to the support by the muse, an interested audience, some friends who helped in a generous way, and the folks from LOFT.

Memories of Bathsheba

It has taken 5 years but it was well worth the wait. Gruenrekorder, a German label specialized on field recordings and soundscapes, has just released my new CD “Field Recordings from Barbados” (please follow the link for more information and sound excerpts). Actually, these recordings had been lying around here for 4 years before I thought of publishing them.


 
When we went to Barbados in 2004, I took my DAT recorder with me, actually hoping for recording tropical jungle sounds. The island turned out to be somewhat different from what I had expected, but interesting nonetheless in many ways, and I managed to record some soundscapes that the folks from Gruenrekorder found worth listening to.

During our stay, we were glad that we had found Sea-U as our island base camp, a beautiful small hotel belonging to a very nice German woman, Uschi Wetzels. The hotel overlooks the small town Bathsheba that stretches along the wild coastline on the eastern part of the island – the ocean here is too wild to swim, even dangerous, so other than on the ‘platinum’ west coast, there are not many tourists and the days and nights are quiet. Well relatively quiet – the evening concerts of millions of tree frogs were quite impressive (they can be heard on the CD of course).

We found Barbados incredibly diverse, there were so many things to do … such as … feeding colorful fish with bananas while snorkeling in the coral reefs, walking through a jungle gorge or a tropical botanical garden, visiting a sugar factory, taking a trip with a submarine … but one of my all-time favorite places of this planet remains the Sea-U garden above the Atlantic where I could often be found lying in the hammock, listening to a Jon Hassell record on my headphones.









 
Of course I took many more photos. Some of them are here

Nineteen Musicians

I was given a very rare and precious treat yesterday, coincidentally, one day after my birthday. The Museum Ludwig in Cologne currently shows a collection of Gerhard Richter’s abstract paintings, about 40 of them, mostly very large ones. Now Gerhard Richter is a big fan of Steve Reich’s music, and because the museum also shows an exhibition about the sixties (beat poets, hippies, minimalism) that contains some Steve Reich material, they thought it would fit in well to book him for a concert.

So yesterday, Steve Reich actually showed up, and was accompanied by the Ensemble Modern.

Their first piece was the first section from Drumming, played by four people (yesterday, one of them was Steve Reich, of course wearing his black baseball cap which is probably permanently adhered to his head) on 8 tuned small drums. They were playing in the hallway of the Museum Ludwig which was crowded with Steve Reich fans (I don’t know if the museum has ever been so full of people), watching the show from everywhere on the same floor, from the floor above, and from the stairways. The performance was stunning, lots of rhythmically difficult phase shiftings, lots of energy, wonderful.


 
After this short piece we had half an hour to walk around in the museum, and of course, take a look at the huge Richter paintings. This one called “Atem” (Breath) was the one that I liked most. I have no idea how he does that, technically – the result of his layering and scraping is very three-dimensional but in a slightly unsettling way, my poor little mammal brain was not able to really understand what the eyes saw. I liked that 🙂

Then through a door in the basement into the wonderful Cologne Philharmonie which sits right next to the Museum Ludwig. The main act for this evening was none other than Music For Eighteen Musicians, a piece that is by far my favorite piece of music ever. In the early eighties (I think 1980, but I’m not sure), I saw the European premiere of this piece and I remember that it was almost a religious experience for me – and not only for me, but apparently for many people in the audience. I have never again experienced something like that – being lifted up by that pulsating rhythm, then going through a series of beautiful rhythmic/harmonic variations, and finally landing again. It stills brings tears to my eyes every time I remember the ending of the 1980 premiere – the audience was completely stunned after this trip, there was silence for almost 10 minutes … and then standing up and cheering for a long time … the presence of gratitude was overwhelming.


 
Yesterday’s performance was very close to that, it was almost perfect technically, good enough to transport the audience to that transcendental place, and back. For some reason I always think of this piece as a giant shimmering spaceship, not unlike the mothership from Close Encounters. It takes us slowly up, goes through these permutations, rotating and twinkling like a huge diamond, and then slowly getting down again after an hour. It is fuelled by the presence of the audience; the musicians are its engine – and they have to be totally present and totally committed to make this happen. This spaceship image was even more appropriate yesterday because the beautiful interior of the Philharmonie seems to have some similarity to the mothership.

What an evening, what a beautiful treat. This time, the silence after the piece lasted not 10 minutes, but only a few seconds – one person started to applaud, and the spell was broken and everyone started clapping and cheering. Maybe people are different today than they were 30 years ago, and also, the piece is a classic today, maybe the largest musical monument of the 20th century (for me it is), and many people know it and it is no longer so surprising.

While listening, I couldn’t help but noticing how my mind stayed in control most of the time, preventing me from being truly moved. Strange that so few music lovers talk about this, it is the most striking thing to me when listening to a concert like this (but maybe many people don’t have such a problem with their heads?) – how difficult it is to get beyond the mind and beyond thinking, analyzing, comparing, commenting, and to really listen with an open heart, and to be really moved. I found myself noticing this, and trying not to stay in the mind, and noticing that of course this doesn’t help.

Fortunately, at least for a while, my mind finally stopped yesterday, and as always when this happens, it happens completely on its own, completely beyond my control. Some sudden change in the music triggers something deep and before my mind can react, it is pushed aside, making room for being moved, being present and still. Then the tears flow, what a relief, I can finally be here without being encaged in my head. This is the “religious” aspect for me – that this powerful piece of music with its merciless beauty, when executed so well, can stop my head, opening the door to what is real.


 
Now why is this blog entry called “Nineteen Musicians”? because yesterday, there were 19 musicians playing “Music For 18 Musicians”. Beyond all the stuff that was going on in my head, it was simply wonderful and very interesting to see the musicians at work, to watch how they managed to play these multiple interlocking rhythms, how they exchanged their positions at the various instruments during the various parts of the piece. Seeing this made the structure of the composition much more transparent – I wish there was a DVD showing the making of, maybe looking at the ensemble from an above position. But I bought a DVD showing the Ensemble Modern playing Reich’s City Life – looking forward to that!

Steve Reich, photo credit: Jeffrey Herman

Flashback: Askesis 1992

A couple of days ago, I found an old videotape from January 1992. It contains a short passage where I practice Askesis, a Guitar Craft piece written by Tony Geballe. Tony was Robert Fripp’s assistant on the first Guitar Craft course in Germany, back in 1987 – a week that changed my life. One of the GC pieces I eventually managed to play, mostly together with my GC friend Leander Reininghaus, was Askesis. I loved it for its relentless angularity.

Too bad the final seconds were cut off for some reason on this old tape!


 
A little bit later, I participated in two GC courses, held in 1995 and 1996 in Andreis, a small place in the Northern Italy mountains, and led by Askesis composer Tony Geballe. Tony is a wonderful teacher. We learned a lot and had big fun – I remember how we stood in a circle, stepped back and forth in fours, and at the same time, clapped in sevens or even more exotic meters.

Shortly after the Andreis courses, Leander, Markus and me formed Trio Gitarristik, a GC/livelooping oriented guitar/Chapman stick trio that stayed together for a year or two – we had a number of gigs, and played Askesis every time.




Paradise is a state of mind

Our latest technological household item is a DVD recorder, several years old and bought used from eBay last weekend. It will eventually replace our crappy VHS tape recorder, and one of the wonderful things it can do is digitize VHS tapes and back them up to DVD.

The first tape to digitize that I grabbed this morning happened to be a 35 minute video from 1982 by Albert Falzon, called “Excerpt from The Kumbha Mela – Same As It Ever Was”. Falzon (who got known many years ago for his surf movie “Crystal Voyager” with a Pink Floyd soundtrack) went to India in the early eighties to film various religious festivities, one of them being the famous Kumbha Mela, a Hindu festival and possibly the largest religious festival on Earth. This particular video shows part of his travel towards that place: on a boat across the waterways of Kashmir.

For an inhabitant of cold Europe like me, this magical landscape seems very close to paradise. Falzon’s movie is completely filmed in slow motion, and he often uses a fish-eye lens – and there is of course the soundtrack by Harold Budd and Brian Eno. There are no words and there is no action – there is only a lush jungle landscape slowly drifting by, light reflections on water, people moving in slow motion. This stuff seems to come directly from a dream, from a timeless place. (Somehow it adds to the dreaminess that everything is lo-fi and blurry in an oldfashioned kind of way.)

How strange to enter this state of mind, watching this movie, while knowing that Kashmir has been the center and subject of wars for a long time, and is still far from being peaceful on many levels.

If you like the state of mind induced by Budd’s “The Pearl” or Eno’s “On Land”, you will like this video. Someone has put it on Youtube in the meantime (see below). You can also get it used on VHS tape if you search for it. Apparently it was also rereleased on DVD under the title “Same as it ever was”, together with a movie about the Kumbha Mela festival.






Postcard Weevil

got my postcard weevil today. Big fun !! this is similar to a cracklebox, but with different options … like a mini synthesizer. Handbuilt by its inventor … here is his presentation:

 
I love these things. Why do I love them? And why do other people not love them? My wife and my neighbour looked at me as if I was insane while I played with it. 🙂