maandag 25 maart 2019

Trouwfest #3: Art Abscons

The first name that was announced for the third edition of Trouwfe(e)st was German act Art Abscons. A mysterious masked man whose music we’ve been following from the beginning. He invited us for a private concert, “Art Abscons in the Green”, at his homeplace in Duisburg last summer. It was a unique experience, after which our decision was made to let this nice man make his debut in Belgium. An offer he accepted very gratefully even though performing on stage is not his favorite part of being a musician.

DE: Art Abscons: an artist with a mask. Logical first question: why? What’s the story behind the mask?

AA: I believe that there are two kinds of artists. Firstly, there are those who do their art mainly for personal fulfilment. They are usually proud of their own accomplishments and enjoy whatever appreciation, recognition or fame – huge or small – they receive from their audience. In most cases, they enjoy what they are doing, and this is also the reason why they are doing what they are doing. They are expressing themselves through their art. They simply do what they want and, often, what they think their audience wants. A very healthy approach. Secondly, however, there are those artists who are forced to do what they are doing, no matter if they want to or not. Their urge to create art is compulsory. Art is like a spirit on its own that haunts them and that forces them to do whatever art wants – neither what the artist wants nor what they believe their audience wants. These artists do not express themselves; they express something more universal, something that is merely speaking through them. Art is like a Higher Will from a realm beyond that is forced onto these artists, and they are merely artisans who use their craft and their tools to create what this Will commands. For this reason, artists belonging to this second category do not feel personally responsible for what they are doing, and, hence, they are not proud of their works and do not feel that they, as a person, deserve the applause or recognition they receive. I have always felt that I belong to this second category. I have chosen a mask to show that the art I deliver does not belong to me. I am nothing but a tool.

DE: The mask is also quite contrary: the scary mask and the lovely music you play. Just like the picture where you're posing with the mask next to children, which I think is a very strong image.  

AA: When the Grandmaster came to me for the first time some ten years ago, he communicated the following formula to me: "Good + Evil = Beauty". The world is torn into a thousand shreds by the force of contradiciton. Nothing makes sense by itself, except for beauty – because beauty resolves all contradiction. This is why we need beauty, desperately. Most people do not fathom the abysmal quality of true beauty. They confuse beauty with the nice and pleasant and do not realise how shallow this is. They are numbing their minds and their senses with cheap pleasures. However, you do not heal the pain of existence by distracting yourself from it. You have to face it, immerse yourself in it, analyse its nature and resolve it from deep inside. Beauty is the product of knowledge and understanding. The process is painful – but the more painful it is, the greater is the consolation awarded by understanding. You can see the traces of this process in the Grandmaster's countenance. He has suffered, he has seen life's universal ugliness and yet there is something triumphant in his features, a stange and knowing smile. He has mastered the universal challenge of transforming pain into beauty by means of knowledge. He has eaten the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  
Children usually love the Grandmaster at first sight even though he looks ugly. I guess that is because children understand complex things more easily and intuitively than we grown-ups do. They instictively know that the Grandmaster is safe and instantly integrate him into their cosmos. I have never seen a child that was scared by him – even if parents were sometimes sceptical in the beginning, especially if they know that their child is usually afraid of masks or easily scared in general. Maybe you will remember five-year-old Vincent who was also at the small gig out in the green last year. When his parents asked him if he had not been afraid of the mask, he replied, "Why should I? Superheroes also wear masks." And I could add that superheroes usually know a lot about suffering, too. 

DE: You use an alter ego you named Grandmaster Abscon. What’s the story behind this character?

AA: To me, Grandmaster Art Abscon is a personification of art itself – of the ART that haunts ME. I do not know exactly where it comes from. The orders I receive come at night, when I am sleeping. Their source is hidden to me. I call this source "Abscondinium". It is a realm I know to exist. I can see and hear it constantly weaving behind all phenomena of the physical world. I believe that many have tried to describe it. It could be the "Realm of Ideas" in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, it could be the Gnostics' "Pleroma", it could be Rudolf Steiner's "Devachan" or Philip K Dick's "Republic", or, it could be C.G. Jung's "Collective Unconscious". It is all true, I guess, and at the same time, it is not. This realm is unknowable. There are moments, however, in which our material world is drenched in it. This is when magic happens. I love it when that happens. 
Art's last name is Abscon for a reason. My family has roots in the north of France, in a small town called Abscon. I always loved this word, especially when I learned that, in modern French, "abscons" means something like "difficult to understand". The word is derived from Latin, of course, "absconditus" meaning "hidden". When the Romans invaded Gaul and came to the place that today is called Abscon, it was deserted and hidden deep in the woods. They used it as a secret hide-out and called it "Abscondinium". 

DE: Last year you released under your own name Tellbach a minimal synth album. Did you feel the time was right to do something else?

AA: Yes, I needed a change. I had been working on ART ABSCONs' "The Separate Republic" for five years. This work had been very exhausting. I needed something lighter and easier to recover and to distract myself for a while. I did in fact use Tellbach to narrate some personal stories and to get them off of my chest. I needed it as a kind of psychological compensation, a holiday from my serious work, so to say. But I also used it to learn new things about music production, like dabbling in analogue synthesizers and recording on all forms of magnetic tape. It was... fun. Some of the things I learned from it are coming in handy now that I have started to work on the next ART ABSCONs album, "Nach allen Regeln der Kunst". Art has started to contact me again during my sleep, and I know that the work on this new album will be very exhausting again. I am sure that I will need another Tellbach album to recover from it when it is accomplished. 

DE: Alongside the Tellbach you also released the Misty Bywater album on your own Opus Abscondi label. What will be next on OA?

AA: I have the very great privilege to release the next Kinit Her album, "Fire Returns to Heaven". I have always loved their music, and this just feels right. This new album is a very good one, maybe even their best so far. I am currently waiting for the final audio master, and then the album will probably be released in April – the CD version on Opus Abscondi, and the cassette version on Brave Mysteries. 

DE: I just want to show my respect for this. Nowadays you have to be an idealist to release music and me as a music lover are very grateful for people like you. As a musician, what’s your opinion about the future?

AA: Thank you. There are many reasons why I stick to releasing physical albums on vinyl, CDs and cassettes even though there are only very few people left who are still listening to physical sound carriers and even though you spend more money than you earn if you release music on physical mediums. Not only do I believe that the latter sound better and that the poor audio quality of music streams is damaging to our physical and mental health, I also know from first hand experience that music streams are virtually killing music and artists. It is not only the financial aspect, but money is an important factor, of course, that can either make art possible or impossible. Recording a good album properly takes a lot of time and energy, but it also requires expensive equipment and other resources. If you only have the sparetime that your day job leaves you to work on your art, you cannot accomplish that much, and if you earn nothing with your art, it will be very difficult to finance all the things that are required to produce it with the money your day job provides you. Music streams have made it impossible to earn any money with music. Either your music is on YouTube or bandcamp, where people are listening to it for free, or they pay for an account in a digital music store. While the latter is very noble, the artists they are listening to will actually only get a ridiculously tiny fraction of the money. ART ABSCONs, for example, is available in various digital music stores, and I can see that my music has ten thousands of streams per month, and yet I only earn about three or four US Dollars per month. I can buy two bottles of beer from a kiosk for this – for albums that have cost thousands of euros in production. All this leaves me very little time and resources for my art. I am not complaining because I know that every aspiring musician today is facing the same problem. The good thing about the internet is that it makes your music available to many people and that it can have great exposure. However, people will have to understand that, if they are no longer willing to properly pay for music, new music will gradually get worse, and good music will become less and less and eventually disappear, simply because gifted artists neither have the time nor the money to create beautiful things – and those who will struggle on anyway will be sacrificing their entire lives and energies for this until they collapse. It is only the big music industry that profits from music streams while minor artists are being eliminated. The conditions for producing and promoting good underground music are getting worse and worse. Everyone who is still investing their energies in it deserves praise and is a hero – and I am not taking about myself – I am talking about people who organise underground concerts, write reviews about obscure artists or host alternative radio stations, I am talking about DJs, but also about those people who will still buy a vinyl record or a CD from an independent artist. I am talking about people like you, in short. Thank you for existing. 

DE: Am I the first to say this or did you heard this before: your voice reminds me a lot of Alexander Velljanov. Deine Lakaien is very successful, also because of this specific voice. I would feel very frustrated in this case. How difficult is it to promote your music, because I know you've started your own label because you weren't happy with the labels you worked with in the past?

AA: To be honest, you are indeed the first to compare my voice to Alexander Velljanov's! I must admit that I was never really interested in Deine Lakaien, even if I think that they are quite good and that I would probably like their music if I gave it a proper listen, so at least I can claim that I am not trying to imitate Alexander Velljanov. But, why should it be frustrating to me that they are successful? They were lucky enough to get a proper record contract at a time when there was no internet and when the music industry was still functioning and took the fact into consideration that artists also need money to be able to produce art. Musicians who had some success back then will even nowadays enjoy a better status and better conditions than those who have started out to try their luck in the days of the internet, but I know that things have also gotten a lot harder for the older heroes. So, no, I do not envy them at all. I suppose that all times have their own particular challenges, and I am ready to face the challenges of today. I enjoy the fact of being truly independent now with my own label, Opus Abscondi. I can make all decisions for myself – and even if I am not super-famous, my music has a few very dedicated listeners. I am generally more interested in quality than in quantity, also when it comes to the nature of my listeners.

DE: You’ve worked with Osewoudt on a track for their first album. Willem Witte, at that time still in Osewoudt, will also perform at Trouwfest with his EBM project Pantser Fabriek. Are you familiar with this project?

AA: You know what? I think it has been eight years since I last saw Willem. I look very much forward seeing him again. It was always a very great pleasure to meet him. Of course, I have been aware of Pantser Fabriek. I love it. 

DE: Which act at Trouwfest you don’t want to miss?

AA: First of all, let me thank you sincerely for inviting me to play there. 

As for the other acts, since I will be there, I will want to miss none of them, and I am sure I will enjoy all concerts a lot – provided that I will not be too nervous about my own performance. I must admit that, apart from Pantser Fabriek, I did not know any of the other acts until I looked them up. I am not a great scenester and usually so busy with my own music that I am hardly aware of what is happing around me. It is not out of arrogance or ignorance, though. It is especially during my creative episodes that I can hardly listen to anyone else's music because any foreign input will distract me from what I hear inside. But I have looked into all the projects that will perform at Trouwfest, and can say that I look forward to all of them.  

DE: Last summer you invited 20 friends for a private concert in the green in Duisburg, the place where you rehearse. Thanks again for sharing this magical moment. Is it harder to do a concert like this, or just the oppossite?

AA: The worst thing that can happen to me is to get on a stage and sing into a microphone. Technology hates me. It usually all goes wrong. When I wear that mask, I am virtually blind because I cannot wear my glasses under it. I do not see where things are. Damn, it is so dark. I am night-blind on top of it all. I stumble over cables. I might even tip over and fall from the stage. I cannot see which foot pedal I need to hit or what the tiny red lamps on it say. I am drenched in sweat. It is too hot under this mask. Those stage lights are killing me. My left cheek is itching and I cannot scratch it. It drives me insane. Oh no, the microphone stand just collapsed. I hope it did not hit anyone down there and that no one got injured. There is a humming noise from a broken cable. Damn, why does it have to happen now? The battery for the active pickup of my guitar is suddenly empty, too. Damn, it was brand-new. I need to replace it before the next song. That will not look very grandmasterly. Why am I doing this? This is hell. Why the hell did I agree to play on a stage again? I must have been out of my mind when I said yes. I have no idea how many people are out there in the audience. I cannot see a damn thing. Are they all filming this to later expose my misery on YouTube? I think I actually prefer unplugged concerts. Yes, I do. Small, unplugged concerts. Without technology. By daylight. Without cables on the ground. Without a microphone stand before me. You have no idea what you have done to me. 

DE: Art Abscons is always placed in the neofolk corner, but your style goes further than that. You’ve already worked together with some big names of the neofolk genre (Luftwaffe, Gnomonclast). Do you feel comfortable with this neofolk label?

AA: I don't know. I always did what I did and never really cared how to call it or what the genre was. It was mainly others who have put me into this corner. I am both grateful and annoyed by it. I am grateful because neofolk has been a genre that permits many artistic liberties, offers a very interesting framework and because it is a highly intellectual scene that has been very faithful and loyal to its values and to its artists. Without it, I would most probably be nothing. Or at least, hardly anyone would care for what I am doing. However, at the same time, I am sometimes annoyed by the artistic restrictions and the very narrow expectations that such a categorisation can impose on you. Some people will hear strummed acoustic guitars and windchimes in my music and see runes all over my artworks even if there are none while others will comdemn my music especially if there are no strummed acoustic guitars and windchimes or runes all over my artworks. Yes, my music is different from what is generally referred to as neofolk. As I have said earlier, I do not do what I believe a specific audience expects. I do what I have to do. If this mainly appeals to neofolkers, I am okay with it.  

DE: When I published the flyer for Trouwfest you’ve said it looked very ‘German’, of course because it’s in the style of our headliner Wappenbund. Do you feel you have to compete with the prejudices that are related with the neofolk genre?

AA: What is traditionally referred to as neofolk often purposefully polarises by treating a specific part of German history in a highly artistic and ambivalent manner. This approach is often highly intelligent, and I find it very intriguing and thought-provoking if it has great artistic quality and does not follow a one-sided political scheme. All of it just does not happen to be my topic. Everything that characterises ART ABSCONs lies beyond everything else: beyond space and time, and most certainly beyond politics, or, history. ART ABSCONs is all about magic and the quest for knowledge. 
The impression that most people outside of the scene have is that neofolk is nothing but a glorification of fascist ideals – which is, of course, even true to a certain degree. There have been several people thoughout the years who have personally accused me of being a right-wing extremist, just because they have googled my music project, stumbled across a term called "neofolk" and let their fancy guide them. I am not interested in strengthening this connotation with my music since it is not a part of it. 

DE: I remember on Facebook you’ve participated in some kind of ‘book-challenge’. As holidays are coming closer, which book do you recommend to put in our luggage?

AA: All of them. I am currently reading a book by Maria Renold that is called "Intervals, Scales, Tones and the Concert Pitch C = 128 Hz". I can recommend it if you want to be totally confused and then wish turn the world upside down by means of music. 

Thank you very much for the interview.

Credits pictures: picture 1: Pantalaimon Fotografie , foto 4: Sebastian Pichard

Art Abscons

Trouwfest #3: with Art Abscons, Riotmiloo, Ashtoreth, For Greater Good, Panster Fabriek and Wappenbund: June 15th at JH Wommel (Wommelgem).

maandag 18 maart 2019

Jo Quail: I guess I’m a bit difficult to categorize!

We still remember the second edition of the Black Easter festival in 2016, due to Jo Quail's concert. With only her cello (and an ingenious loop system) she succeed to win quite a few new souls. Organizer Ward De Prins had a good relationship with this British artist, and did not mind traveling to see this fantastic performer play. Therefore, it's quite logical Jo will be back at Black Easter, in memory of Ward. A conversation about her music, but also about processing the passing of a mutual friend.

DE: When we heared there will be a new Black Easter Festival, in honour of Ward De Prins who passed away last year, it was just unthinkable you were not on the bill.
I know Ward was a huge fan of your music, and he travelled often to England to see you perform. He had a special bond with you, so how do you remember Ward?
JQ: Ward. I always think of his warm smile, his joy and passion for music that seemed to run through his veins, and this passion he shared with everyone, he was an inspiration to me. And I can immediately recall his giggling laugh! And his knack for turning up unexpectedly to some of my concerts, not just in England, and me telling him off for not letting me put him on the guest list!  That was Ward to me, a treasured friend, a loyal friend, a friend I miss very much, and a friend I celebrate on a daily basis.

DE: Ward’s death came totally unexpected. How did you hear the news, and what was your reaction?
JQ: I had a call from Eddy, our mutual friend, when I was in Glasgow on tour with Amenra. I remember hearing this heartbreaking news and looking at huge grey skies outside. I felt I couldn’t understand what was being told to me, it just didn’t make any sense. Strangely, it was only when I began to play that night that the overwhelming fact sank in, I think because I was playing music, and music was Ward’s passion, and that was the point at which we met. When I played that night, I played for Ward. 

DE: On this year’s Black Easter a lot of artists who played one of the two previous editions will perform again. Honestly I must say your show is the one I’ll look forward to the most. I still remember the show you gave in 2016, it was the first time I saw you live and I was really impressed. How did other people react to that show?
JQ: Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the show. People seemed very enthused by the performance, and it was a privilege to play for you all. I performed ‘Five Incantations’ that night in its entirety as I’d just released the record, so it was an unusual concert for me. Normally I explain a little about the pieces before I play them but that one ran straight through from the first note of White Salt Stag to the last note of Gold. I’ll have a different set for you this time!

DE: Sieben will perform before you at Black Easter this year, you and Matt are both involved in Rasp, can you tell a little bit more about this? And is there a possibility there will be a collaboration on stage, as Matt does the whole looping thing also with his violin?
JQ: There’s always the possibility of a collaboration, though it might not be this night! We’ll see how it pans out. Matt and I very much enjoy working together but we both have very full schedules so opportunity does not often present itself. With Rasp, we wanted to make a record together, but had no time to write in a conventional way, so we decided to write and record a largely improvised album, in front of a live audience, and the result is this record! We are both huge fans of improvised music, and also collaborations so it was a real pleasure to make this record together. And a huge amount of fun too!

DE: What do you have in mind for your show at Black Easter this year?
JQ: I’ll be playing a brand new track for you, Reya, which is due for release in the summer, and at least one or two from Exsolve, my new record (thank you for your review!!). It depends on how the time goes but also tracks of course from Five Incantations and Caldera... we shall see. Whatever I do, I cannot wait to play for you!

DE: When people see you on stage, there’s just you and your cello. But with your unique looping technique you’re able to set up a very special and intense atmosphere on your own. Can you tell us a bit more about your way of composing and playing, and how did the idea came to mind to work with the loops?
JQ: I usually have a broad aspect that I’m exploring musically, whether it’s sculpture, art, poetry, sensation, experience, landscape, it all serves as a springboard from which to start. Practically speaking, my pieces are usually borne of a single theme which can be very small, three note motif, or a particular sound. Five Incantations, the entire album, is interlinked by one theme of three notes, the whole thing was built musically around this, whilst exploring the cardinal elements of earth, air, fire, water and spirit. In Exsolve I’m exploring both the more physical aspects of playing cello and creating, and the ‘known unknown’ processes involved in creating, as such it’s an dive in to the depths of where my particular creativity stems from, what runs within me. It’s also an aural representation of the turbulence that engulfs the writing process I’d say 80% of the time, and now and then the mists clear and you see the vast distances with clarity and certainty.  
I began looping when I began my career as a soloist, in 2010. I started with a single loop of 14 seconds in length... and even that was enough to let me hear the possibilities afforded by this technology. I now use the Boss RC300 triple loop station, and I spend a huge amount of time modelling my sounds and effects in order to get that breadth of sound you’re mentioning in your question. I usually begin my writing with a ‘clean’ sound, unless the piece has stemmed from a particular sound effect of course. Once it’s harmonically in place I’ll then start the fun process of ‘colouring in’ and seeing what form the piece morphs to as I begin to work with the effects chain too.

DE: All of your albums are self-released. Is this because you want to keep complete control, because I really can’t imagine there’s no label interested??
JQ: I’m very happy to self release, as you point out it gives me complete autonomy and I like to make my packaging as special as possible too, which might not be something a label would allow for budgeting reasons. I’m not adverse to working with a label but there honestly has not been any interest, I guess I’m a bit difficult to categorize so perhaps that puts them off! It doesn’t matter to me, I’ve managed thus far as a self released artist and I would recommend it. You do have to be very well organised though, and you do need some form of income as it’s not cheap, but on the other hand 100% of album sales come back to you, and in my case go in to the pot to make the next release. 

DE: Alongside music, you’re also inspired by visual arts as I read the biography on your website. Also an example of stunning visuals and one of the most beautiful band sites I’ve already seen!
You cite Barabra Hepworth and Georgia O’Keefe as key influences. Did you already linked songs to a specific piece of visual art?
JQ: Funnily enough ,the brand new one I’m going to play for you, Reya, is the fourth or extra track on the vinyl release of Exsolve which will be released in the summer. Reya is actually the closest I’ve got to ‘realising’ the concept if you like behind Exsolve, which was the work of Barbara Hepworth, and in particular ‘Single Form’ sculpture. The funny bit about this is that this concept and image was behind all the rest of the album tracks, yet I only feel now, on this ‘extra’ track that I’ve actually got close to the depth, the raw power of her work, coupled with the overarching majesty, the placement, the scene, everything combined. I can’t really describe it. I hope you’ll like it when I play it!  
Georgia O’Keefe’s great quote along the lines of ‘I went as far as I could in charcoal, then I added blue’ is a great reminder of what can be achieved with a comparatively simple set up, ie, don’t over complicate! In my case, don’t loop because you can, loop because you need to, add sonic colour because you need to underscore a musical point, and you cannot do this any other way, don’t do it because it’s ‘there’ and waiting to be used. 

DE: You also a much asked artist to collaborate with. I guess they’re all special, but which collaboration(s) will always very special to you?
JQ: I love all my collaborations! It was a joy to work with Eraldo Bernocchi and FM Einheit, that was a great experience and we made a fantastic record, Rosebud (Rarenoise). I’ve worked recently with Poppy Ackroyd on her latest release ‘Revolve’ (One Little Indian) and that was a huge amount of fun. Rié fu is an artist I recorded with and her album is being released today (15th March), which is stunning. Check out Mirror.
There are several ways I collaborate, I’ve got one on the go at the moment with a fantastic Canadia singer and we’ve literally started from scratch, sending each other tiny snapshots of sound that we will build in to a track over the next few months. At other times I’ve gone in to a situation where there is a skeleton, or even largely developed track (such as the one I did recently for Don Anderson Aggaloch) and I’m asked to ‘do my thing’ on it, and so I do! 

DE: One of your strengths is also that musical borders are crossed to create a complete new soundworld. This is (neo)classical music, but not as we know it. It has electronic elements, and even references to post rock, ritual and metal music. A purist nightmare! I hope those purists didn’t cross your way often, or did you already convinced some people to stop their narrowminded thinking?
JQ: I’ve never met any of these purists you speak of! Very glad about that. In my experience my audiences are very broad minded and whether I’m playing to a metal, prog, classical or contemporary crowd, with the same repertoire (just at varying volumes usually!) its met with enthusiasm and encouragement. I feel very very lucky indeed to meet such fascinating people from all tastes and backgrounds at concerts. 

DE: You’re also a parent, in a previous interview for Peek-A-Boo Ward asked you how to combine that with being on tour. I also have a 9 year old daughter who started drumming recently, so I was wondering if your daughter is also interested in making music?
JQ: Drumming, that’s awesome! Tell her to check out Niki Skistimas, (Krash Karma) , she is incredible. My daughter seems to really enjoy playing piano, and recorder too. When I am practicing and writing at home she will often pop in, put my headphones on and start and stop the loops, she knows her way round the RC300 now! The other day she said ‘Mummy, this piece needs more water’ and I knew exactly what she meant! I am blessed with this little one.  She also loves dancing and science and lego. And tree climbing! 

DE: A question I hear a lot is that people want to get into (neo)classical music but don’t know where to start. With your knowledge I think you’ll be able to point some “must-heards”...
JQ: I actually just stopped this interview to take a call from a friend of mine Damian Iorio who is a conductor, and we discussed your question! In its ‘classical’ interpretation we’re talking about a period of time beginning around 1920 ish. For Damian the piece that sums up the neoclassical movement is Stravinsky’s opera ‘The Rake’s Progress’.
I tend to direct people to the Rite of Spring (also Stravinsky) but this is a bit earlier than the neoclassical period, however it is a very important work for several reasons. On the other hand, the term can also be loosely applied to anything that is modern ie of today, but with ‘classical’ influence, so therefore sometimes what I do is termed neoclassical, though obviously it’s not part of the traditional meaning of the genre of neoclassical that was defined by a particular time line! I think neoclassicism as a subgenre if you like is pretty prevalent in all ‘main genres’ of music, and as such it could imply longform composing, aspects of serialism in music (looping being one example), bringing strings or ‘orchestral instruments’ in to the performance stage, and crossing perceived boundaries in terms of texture and timbre and style. 
These are not ‘neoclassical’ but they are pieces I enjoy from the repertoire that is not metal or rock etc, see what you think:
John Cage ‘In a Landscape’ for solo piano is beautiful, that’s from 1948 I think. This uses a very simple technique on the piano that comes to the fore right at the end of the piece, just allowing the harmonic overtones to reverberate out, no actual ‘front end note’ but you need to play or hear the whole piece in order to get this effect. It’s really cool. 
There’s a lot going on in the piano world at present. Have a listen to Joep Beving, beautiful playing and composing. 

George Crumb’s ‘Black Angels’ is a pretty pivotal piece too, using strings and extended technique with amplification. It’s also structurally quite involved too, multi layered really and I find this very inspirational. 
Gregory Rose’s Danse Macabre, premiered in Tallinn in 2011 is an incredible piece of music, please listen to this if you can!

The beautiful thing about music today is the ‘permission’ to be artistically free in expression, and the natural coalescence of previously distinct styles or genres. These new, bright colours and sound themselves inspire creativity, and it’s a constantly turning wheel. I love it. 
DE: And we love Jo Quail! See you at Black Easter!
Photo credits: Simon Kallas

vrijdag 1 maart 2019

Laibach: In reality, nobody really wants to solve a Korean problem.

The big summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un ended on a sizzler. We are not surprised at all, because a few days ago Laibach chief ideologist Ivan Novak told us that nobody really wanted to come to an agreement about North Korea. He knows, because in 2015 Laibach could perform with in the most isolated country in the world, a big stunt for the band that has devoted themselves for almost 40 years to the study of totalitarianism. In North Korea, Laibach played songs from 'The Sound Of Music', which they now release as a new CD.

‘The Sound Of Music’ is perhaps the most kitschy work you have ever done, with children choirs and sentimental keyboards, and of course the songs from a commercial musical from the sixties. Aren’t you afraid to lose the traditional industrial fans of Laibach?

No, not as long as they are true fans. True fans do not question, they follow. And regarding the industrial aspect - this album was created more ‘industrially’ than any other album that we did before. Total industrial process, pure industry! Anyhow - we don’t need anyone whom we cannot keep.

‘The Sound Of Music’ goes back to your concerts in North Korea, where you played in 2015. In ‘Liberation Day’ – the documentary about your trip to North Korea – I was surprised to hear you say that you wondered if we should take the dictatorship out of it’s isolation, since people appeared to be happy, compared to the rest of the world. Since when is Laibach concerned with the happiness of people?

Of course we are concerned about happiness; it is one of the most totalitarian concepts of the perfect, liberated world - on both sides of the hemisphere.  

The CD version of ‘The Sound Of Music’ also includes ‘Arirang’, a traditional Korean song that you performed in Pyongyang. There is no mention of the other two Korean songs that you adapted to Laibach ‘new originals’ and which you could not perform due to censorship: ‘Honorable Live And Death’ en ‘We'll Go To Mt. Paektu’. Why were they not included on the CD?

We couldn’t put everything on the album and didn’t find it necessary to include these two songs, as  ‘We'll Go To Mt. Paektu’ was already released digitally, and ‘Honourable Live And Death’ will be released separately in the near future, for another special occasion, related to our visit of North Korea.  

You dedicate ‘The Sound Of Music’ to the people of North Korea and Austria. The illustrations in the CD booklet indeed show mountains and landscapes that could belong in both countries. Are there more comparisons between both countries?

Yes, there are plenty of comparisons between both countries and The Sound of Music tells it all. 

Laibach is legendary for the role you played in ex-Yugoslavia, which was also a communist dictatorship. Of course a band like Laibach would not be possible in North Korea. What would you conclude when you compare communism in North Korea and communism in Yugoslavia?

Well, after all Laibach WAS possible in North Korea, otherwise we’d never performed there. But communism in Yugoslavia was quite different from the North Korean one, although Tito and Kim Ill Sung were good friends and visited each other in the sixties. Communism in Yugoslavia was destroyed because there was too much freedom around, with an overdose of black humour that finally killed it, as it was practiced and understood too literary.

Let’s go back to your former release: ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’. Laibach is a band that has based its work on the research of the link between ideology and art. I was surprised that you did not exploit the goldmine of controversial statements that this magnum opus by the German philosopher Nietzsche represents to a greater extend. Why was that?

But, we did it, and not only with ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’. You can find Nietzsche all over our work, although we are in principle not Nietzscheans, we consider ourselves Duchampians.

Let’s go even further back in time. Laibach has a tradition in apocalyptic predictions. On the fantastic ‘Spectre’ from 2014, we can hear: ‘Europe is falling apart!’ This innuendo very much seems to become reality. The United Kingdom is leaving the EU, while nationalist movements are on the rise in almost every other country. What do you think about these developments?

It looks like we will have to stop predicting things, because our predictions turn into reality very fast. Europe is in fact constantly falling apart but it seems that falling apart is Europe’s specific way of constituting itself. Every time it tries to re-establish itself, it fails better. But there probably is no other alternative for European countries anyway than a strong European Union.

What Europe needs most of all is a real revolution. The true utopia is that goals of social justice, financial stability and environmental sustainability can be achieved within the parameters of the global capitalist system. The real causes of the people’s misery, after all, are not caused by the corruption of a few hundred politicians or the greed of a few thousand bankers, but in the structural dynamics that enable and reward such behavior in the first place.

Today’s crisis cannot be solved by regulation — or ‘cosmetic surgery’ of any kind. It can only be solved by transformation into a different system altogether. A United Europe can be saved, not as the cold Europe of the Brussels political technocracy and banking sectors, operating according to the dictates of neoliberal dogma, but as a re-politicized Europe, founded on a shared emancipatory project.

The European Union must find the right balance between debate and consensus on an overall vision. That vision must permeate into all aspects of society. Without this vision Europe cannot progress. Diverse nationalist movements and the right wing expansion in the EU are on the rise exactly because of the lack of common social and political vision and because the prevalent political model in Europe is basically neoliberalism with a right wing management.

The majority of the nationalist politicians, who were elected in the EU parliament, are actually afraid to lose their well-paid jobs and positions, so their anti-European stances are most of the time merely a strategic pose for their frustrated national voters. Brexit is the extreme paradox of this situation. Of course Europe without Britain is not what it should and could be, but in a way Great Britain never really wanted to be a part of EU. Britain wanted Europe to be part of Great Britain, except on safe distance, as a tourist destination and a healthy market for British economical and cultural expansion.  

The international situation involving North Korea has changed very much since your shows there in 2015. It was then an international pariah due to tests with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, but has now entered peace-talks with South Korea and the United States. This détente is fragile, of course, as love declaration still can change to brutal statements and warnings. What do you think? How do you solve a problem like Korea?

You don’t solve it, especially not with Trump. In reality, nobody really wants to solve a Korean problem. The current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the South Korean president Moon Jae-in are actually developing a very healthy process that is opening possibilities for reunification of both Koreas into one country. The basic problem is that Americans do not want to close their military bases in South Korea and this will be the biggest obstacle for the reunification.

Americans are not interested in North Korea. They are interested in China and they want to keep an eye over the East China Sea. They are surrounding China with something like 40 military bases and their base in South Korea is among the most important ones. The troublemaking North Korean regime is just a perfect excuse in the whole equation, but not the real target.

On the other hand China will not allow the reunification of Koreas for as long as US troupes will stay in South Korea. That is why North Korea as a country and its people are basically just a collateral damage of this power game between China and United States, and that is why White House does not want to sign a final peace treaty with North Korea already since 1953.  On top of that Japan is not very happy with the idea of united and economically strong Korea.

China is not very enthusiastic about it either, and the majority of South Korean politicians are opposing the re-unification because of the high costs that South Korea would have to pay into this project and on the other hand the military and political elite of North Korea also do not want to lose their privileged positions and even less their heads if such unification would really happen.  Therefore all the talks that are going on between North Koreans and Americans are merely just a spectacle, showing Trump’s good will and his ‘presidential wisdom’.  Unless Kim Jong-un and his sister are hiding another strong joker in their pockets, there is not much hope that something will really change for the North Korean people.