Berlin Cymatics Loops

The livelooping tour that some of my friends did this spring (concerts and workshops in Paris, Florence, Brescia, Prague, Dresden, and Berlin) ended in Berlin, with the fourth Berlin International Livelooping Festival, organized by Leander Reininghaus.

I was supposed to play another [mi,mi] guitar duo here with my friend Michael Frank but unfortunately he had to stay home because of health problems in his family, so I had to play alone.

Somehow the idea of looping with stomp boxes, as we do with [mi,mi], stuck in my head and that’s what I found myself doing … although I could also have done the digital loop thing, playing alone. Musically it was big fun to use stomp boxes, but my suitcase that I took on the train – containing my little red guitar and lots of metal pedals – was so heavy when I had to carry it up and down the stairs in the Cologne train station (some parts of which doesn’t feature lifts) that I felt very sorry for this decision quickly.

Luckily, I was picked up by my friend Volker in Berlin, we did a beautiful walk through the parks in Kreuzberg, and had fabulous Indian food.

And I could stay for the two nights with my old pal Markus Reuter. Here he enjoys our first breakfast together:

On the day of the festival I visited Berlin’s music instrument museum which showed a special exhibition about the history of electronic music. There was a local website with more information but I wish the exhibits had had headphones with sound examples or even videos. So it was all a bit sparse, but seeing all those magical pieces of gear was wonderful anyway. Theremin, Ondes Martenot, Trautonium, Hugh LeCain’s tape recorder keyboard, Fairlight CMI, Synclavier … and many classical synthesizers were there, plus the first drum computers … there is something about old analog equipment that is utterly fascinating for some reason.








 
The livelooping evening was opened by none other than Gary Hall who happened to be in town on that day for the Superbooth synthesizer fair. Gary was the inventor of the legendary Lexicon PCM42, one of the first groundbreaking digital livelooping devices.

Bodo Orejuela’s quite wonderful cymatics light show (of water vibrating with the sound) accompanied the livelooping acts, of which there were so many that everyone could perform for only 20 minutes – but that made it all even more entertaining.


 
My own set featured my trusty red Hohner GT2 guitar and various sound manglers. Livelooping was done by the relatively new Montreal Assembly “Count To 5” pedal which does amazing tricks that are very addictive, followed by a 20 year old Digitech PDS-8000. I used three different distortion/fuzz boxes, sometimes all at once, so the sound was raw, even a bit brutal at times. Wonderful ­čÖé

As usual, I had only thought about (not even “planned”) the first 30 seconds of my improvisation. Often when I plan to do something on stage, I find that it doesn’t quite work the way I thought it would, and instead, it develops into something completely different. This has happened so often that have given in now, instead only trusting my momentary impulses and my intuition. That feels just right to me. During the recent livelooping gigs I did in Paris and now in Berlin, it worked out well enough to be interesting or even beautiful to the audience. It makes me trust this when people come to me afterwards and tell me how great it was (of course, people who didn’t like it usually don’t come to me to tell me). After my sets, I usually have almost no memory of what I did. Something about this is very funny.

Nelly Meunier tried to videotape my set but of course it was too dark for my cheap camera. The sound was recorded with a microphone, including pedal clicks and audience noise.

On the next morning, we all met again for the traditional loopers brunch before we said goodbye to each other. A core group of five loopers will spend the night in my house on their way back from Berlin to Paris (for three of them the trip will continue to California and Japan). Then this particular adventure ends. I feel very privileged and happy to have been part of it.

Berlin Livelooping August 2016

I am in Berlin now for a week, on my way to the “Bohemian Polyphony” event – more of this later. Of course I met my old friends Leander Reininghaus and Markus Reuter who both live in Berlin now.

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I had met Leander and Markus on a Guitar Craft course with Robert Fripp in … 1991 I think, anyway, about 25 years ago. We played together as “Trio Gitarristik” for a few years during the mid-1990s, performing various Guitar Craft tunes plus our own compositions, and also ambient soundscapes.

This week, because I came to Berlin, Leander had organized a livelooping concert for us at the Galil├Ąa church, a beautiful abandoned-church-turned-into-performance-space, and we performed together again for the first time in about 20 years.

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Leander framed the evening with a number of beautiful short pieces by Erik Satie (from “Musique dÔÇÖameublement” – the first time I ever heard this music) and Philip Glass (“North Star”).

Leander Reininghaus

I used analog vintage gear and my “Frippertronics” setup based on tape delay. Even though my energy had been low during the day, it went up as soon as I was on stage, and I was pretty happy with my 20 minute solo set! As often, I had no idea what I would do until I started with the first note, and I felt carried and led by the music that slowly developed. How this works never ceases to amaze me.

I heard from someone in the audience afterwards that my music sounded autumnal to him, and at the same time, he sensed a dry kind of humour. I liked that. Interesting how the same piece of music can elicit such a wide range of responses in the performer and in everyone in the audience.

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Markus created one of his amazing ethereal soundscapes on Touch Guitar and Ableton Live. I had occasionally seen him on stage over the years but this piece felt especially intimate and personal to me.

Markus Reuter

At the end, we improvised together on the chords of Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)”. Leander had chosen this beautiful piece (that, incidentally, I had played on my mother’s funeral four years ago) to finish this thoroughly enjoyable “Berlin Livelooping Session”.

Trio Gitarristik after 20 years

Thank you to everyone from the venue who made this evening possible!

 

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, Einst├╝rzende 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 ­čÖé


 
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 C├╝mb├╝s during the piece “Zukkaattakk” and my little H├Âfner 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 ├ľz├Âkten’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”.