Her birthday, a day off together, the sun was shining and it was very warm for an end-October day. We went to see an unusual little
chapel on a field somewhere west of Cologne. It was designed and built by Swiss star architect Zumthor for a family of farmers who felt grateful for a long and good life, and wanted to build a chapel.
We were not the only visitors on this wonderful day. We would have loved to have this very unusual place for us alone for a while, but so did the others. Maybe I’ll eventually come back here on a grey day outside the school holiday period.
The building is shaped like a tent, originally built out of 112 spruce trunks with layers of concrete on top. When it was finished, a drying fire burnt inside for three weeks. The trunks dried off the concrete and could be taken out. The walls on the inside, under the open roof, still show the shapes of the trees.
Lots of glass tubes connect the dark interior to the outside, creating dots of light in the walls. Sitting on the tiny bench beside the candles, it was totally quiet. The place has a very special atmosphere, but I found that I felt much more in a meditative mood outside, on top of the open field near the chapel. Somehow it seems to be slighly unsettling to me to sit in a dark little room with no way to see if any other people are approaching. Some part of me feels safer alone on a hill where I can see in all directions.
In the evening, some shopping and dinner in Cologne. We saw the first signs of Christmas approaching, but also of the carnival season that officially starts on November 11. A big thing in Cologne, even more important than the puppets of the classical Hänneschen theater.
This was the weekend of the 2nd international Livelooping Festival in Cologne – I had organized the first one almost 3 years ago, and for various reasons I felt it was time to do another one.
I wish more liveloopers would organize such a festival. It doesn’t have to be a mammoth, several-days-70-loopers festival such as Rick Walker’s festivals in Santa Cruz (which he now has stopped doing because it kept him busy for months). This Cologne festival presented 10 acts again (this time, 9 soloists and 1 trio) and so was small in comparison. Many people seem to think that it is very difficult or lots of work to do that, but in fact, it is not so much work, but lots of fun, especially if one chooses nice loop musicians and everything turns out to be a success. It helped a lot that the cultural office of Cologne and the culture trust of the Cologne-Bonn Sparkasse bank sponsored me again to an extent that allowed me to hire people who did sound, videotaping, video projection, photography, and other support work.
Some of the loopers stayed in hotels, but Georgina Brett, Per Boysen, and the boys from Darkroom stayed at our house.
The day of the festival was very warm and sunny … good for us at first, so we could hang out on the terrace in the morning … of course in the evening, there were less people in the audience than we had expected because some of them had preferred a lazy evening in a beer garden over hours of difficult music in the darkened hall of the Loft …
Setting up was less chaotic than one could expect with 12 musicians and tons of electronics all squeezed together on a few square meters. Then Thomas Elbern started with his Twilight Worldz guitar drones, followed by Uwe Schumacher (who I knew from two concerts in his church based KlangSpielRaum) and his world music influenced improvisations on bass, percussion, and voice …
Patty Stucki sang, played synths and saxophones, and transported the audience into other worlds …
… before I entered the stage with my guitar and delivered several quite multifaceted pieces of music, some of which were successful (i.e. came out similar to my plans) and some didn’t. Oh well. I am still learning!
Sjaak Overgaauw had been inspired by the first Cologne loopfestival to create his own annual festival in Antwerpen. His Premonition Factory produced beautiful ambient music, and after this, David Cooper Orton played guitar somewhere between folk, rock, jazz, and minimal music. Both Sjaak and David had been among my livelooping colleagues in Santa Cruz in 2009 …
It was a special treat for me to finally see Georgina Brett on stage. I had met her in London in 2007 where she introduced me to her ethereal vocal canon music. This time she sung a complex 30 minute piece based on words by Pythagoras. The video backdrop I had created for her, starring slowly moving psychedelic jellyfish (which I had recorded in an aquarium in Oregon) was a great visual addition to her composition I thought. (Georgina was too concentrated to even notice 🙂 )
Georgina was followed by Stockholm based looper Per Boysen, one of my favorite looping musicians (I remember being in awe watching him on festivals in Zürich and Rome). Instead of guitar, flute, or saxophone, he presented his newest instrument, a Chapman stick. It seems that a good musician can create magic on just about any instrument!
Reyn Ouwehand from Amsterdam was the only livelooper I hadn’t met before. He turned out to be not only fun to spend time with, but also a much more proficient keyboard player than I had expected – jawdropping even. He finished his set with a nice impromptu improvisation with Georgina.
And finally, Darkroom (Andrew Ostler and Michael Bearpark with Andrew Booker on electronic percussion) delivered a beautiful and relaxing piece of electronic music that reminded me of Krautrock psychedelia, probably due to the synth sequences created by Os.
We came home after the gig, exhausted but happy, and stayed up late. On the next morning, Sjaak and Ingrid and Patty came to watch us having breakfast, Georgina and Per did the dishes … some of us stayed until the evening, talking about music, but only Per stayed another night and left on Monday afternoon.
What a great weekend with such nice people! I wish we could all stay together for longer, but of course many of the loopers are parents and have to go back to their families and workplaces … the looper island that Michael Klobuchar dreams of will probably remain a dream …
Here is a very nice 5 minute WDR3 radio feature about the festival, containing short interviews and music snippets by Reyn, Patty, Thomas, Georgina, and Uwe:
(photos taken by Andrew Ostler, Mike Bearpark, Petra Schulten, Mike Gürgens, and myself)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.