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 ­čÖé 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 Gy├Ârgi 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 ­čśë

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 W├Âstheinrich 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 MÔÇÖKachiche: 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 ­čÖé

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 W├Âstheinrich 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 H├Âfner 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 ­čÖé

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. ­čÖé