Interview by Carlos M. Pozo
angbase issue # 3, fall 1998
My first group, before KLUSTER was called GERÄUSCHE (=NOISES). If lots of people make noises, it becomes an orchestra... If you do it alone - for example the sound of a stone on linoleum - that's a solo-track. If you play these sounds and record them onto different tracks, it becomes a composition... Make horrible noises with instruments and microphones and echo-machines. Just do it and produce as much noise as you want. If you organize this noise it's not just pure chaos... it can grow into music.
CONRAD SCHNITZLER "I hate titles" Sound Projector #2, UK, July, 1997
Conrad Schnitzler is an artist and musician who has been organizing sounds into musical works that have consistently blown minds all across the world since the late sixties. Saying that he was a precursor to the industrial explosion of the 70s, the home-made electroacoustic and post-punk experiments of the 80s, and the techno, electronica and post-whatever experiments of today is, beyond being factually true, missing the point entirely. Schitzler has always been playing with abstract electronics - it is the ebb and flow of the music underground's interest in these sounds that periodically overlaps with his oeuvre. When the current infatuation with electronics fades away Schnitzler will still be soldiering on in his studio, responding to whatever is current through collaborations and interviews, and not necessarily awaiting the next rediscovery of his ground-breaking works.
1. The Cassette (or now CD) Concerts - do you still perform these regularly? Could you tell me the date and place of yout most recent performance and describe what was involved in the performance and the audience reaction? Do you get paid to perform or are these free shows?
The recent state of my cassette-recorder-concerts is that the last of these concerts have been done by Ken Montgomery in the late 80's. Now there are no cassette-recorder-concerts anymore, but CD-player-concerts. In the "simple" form, there are four cassettes/tapes, CD's with informations used, that are started at about the same time and in that case the different volume of these single cassettes makes the mix. It made a big difference, if Serge Leroy did these mixes, like on "Constellations" or if I do this. I'm very democratic with these mixes: I give every cassette the same chance in turning up the volume on the same level. Of course these concerts can be done with a lot more single-track CD's, it depends on the performers intention as well as the capacity of the mixing-desk. It's no problem to work with 12 or 14 CD-players if you're used to it. Often I did these performances in connection with a kind of lightshow, with videos or effects. But usually there's only the performer, his CD-players and the mixing-desk on a nearly dark stage - nothing more. I'm not going to perform any of these CD-player-concerts in the future, as I don't have the power for this anymore. It's not only that you need your imagination to perform these concerts, but especially that you have to travel with all the equipment and all the other problems that there are, while touring. Norbert Schilling is going to continue these CD-player-concerts for me. He has done a concert recently in Berlin with 14 CD-players and I was very satisfied with the result of it. Concerning the payment: I have been paid for these concerts as well as I did concerts for free.
2. I'm always curious about how artists make a living - have you always supported yourself through art activities? Do you own all your studio equipment?
This question is surely the most existential question for an artist. John Cage for example, did suffer for a long time from having only very little money. Ok, that changed later, but he needed the support of friends and other artists. Later, when he had money, he gave a lot of it back in supporting artists that were in the same situation like he has been some years before. If an artist earns money with his art immediately, this is a reason to be suspicious. If a lot of people like one kind of "merchandise", then it's mostly very average or mainstream. And this is deadly for "the art", as art should provoke or offer something new. For the artist himself it's of course not bad, as everyone has the right to work as an artist, but if "art" is only a reason to make money, than that's bad. On the other hand there's this statement "only a poor artist is a good artist", which I rate nonsense. Of course it helps, if someone paints huge pictures and he has a "fan" that buys one picture every month - for 3000 Deutschmarks. I have done lots of jobs, which helped me to make a living, but without the help of my wife, I wouldn't be able to do music today; I wouldn't have my own small studio equipment, I'd probably have nothing! And then there are others, that have got a lot of money from their fathers or their mothers who support their children. I would do the same with my children, if I'd have enough money. Normally it should be possible for the artist, who creates something, to live from his art, as well as for the label which sells and distributes his records. But I don't need to tell you, how difficult this is... On the other side, if I had made money with my music, I'm not sure, if I would do the kind of music I do today, as the music I do has always been music for a small audience. If you realize the fact, that my records are bought by between 500 to 1500 people, than this is nothing compared to the sales of well-known artists. But this should keep no one from doing his kind of art; it's no shame to go to work, if you can't live from your art. To mention only two names: think of Franz Kafka, who had a normal dayjob; or Vincent van Gogh - he didn't sell one single painting in his whole life. If his brother Theo hadn't supported him, he wouldn't have been able to paint all these masterpieces, which are amongst the most expensive artworks of the world today. Of course there are a lot of artists supported by the government or by institutions, but that is a too quiet pillow. It's not enough that an artist creates some nice art, but an artist should create his own individual mythology - the way he lives and the art he creates should be a unity and something unique.
3. There is a note in the Art Gallery CDs asking for classically trained musicians to perform your works - has this resulted in any upcoming recorded works? What would be the working process for having these musicians play your pieces?
The original intention was not to perform any of my recorded works, but work with classically trained musicians in a more spontaneous way. It was planned to use single-track recordings, that included simple electronically recorded sounds like a rattle of a chain, the sound of stones, scratching on glass etc., as a soundsource for a trained musician, who should be able to "translate" these sounds to play them on his instrument. The musicians should use very light headphones that would give them the informations to translate them for the use of their instrument, but also to listen to the other instruments of the orchestra. Let's say we have four players, each one stands in a corner of a room so that they can see each other: a trumpetplayer, a violinist, a cellist and a percussionist. So all of the players get the electronic sounds from their headphones, they hear their own translation of these sounds and how the other players translate these sounds. An alternative would be, to record only the single sounds of each instrumentalist and mix the results later. Of course a live performance would be much more interesting, as there's much more spontaneity. Before the Berlin wall fell, it was extremely cheap to rent a complete orchestra for a day, so even I would have been able to rent an orchestra. But I didn't expected the Berlin wall fell that soon, so I didn't continued this work, when I realized that I would never been able to pay for the orchestra, as after the fall of the wall the price for such an orchestra went up rapidly. I had the idea to let the orchestra do for about 30 minutes only the sounds they make before they start to perform a composition. This would be like a warm up for the second part of the concert, where each player would get a short but detailled instruction what to play, but should have enough space for his own ideas and the correspondence with the other musicians. After I had given every musician his instruction, I would conduct the volume and the dynamics of the orchestra - this has always been a dream of me from my early childhood on. No matter if you like Karajan or not, but if you ever had the chance to see and hear him conduct an orchestra, where all had something to do at the same time, and how he managed to conduct this orchestra from the finest "pianissimo" to the loudest "forte" that it sounded like a fade-in or a fade-out as done on an electronic mixing-desk, that was something very fascinating to me.
4. So far, you've employed every type of musical language imaginable, from cassettes to synthesizers, to classical instruments and computers - is there anything you have not done that you are looking forward to doing (musically and non-musically)?
This is surely the most difficult question to answer. Of course, there are always plans or imaginations, no matter if they're gigantic or very simple. Personally I can only dream of those things that are feasible. But of course I could imagine the following concert: we dig a big pit, but I feel it has to be a very big pit, and into this pit we would throw all arms of this world - and the sound, the sound of this action would be my final concert - the rattle of the arms that are thrown into this pit. This would probably be a gigantic, big concert. Apart from that I've become very modest, I don't have any big wishes; time is running away, so I'm glad I've time enough to do the small things of life, means to get up, drink coffee and do my things, to have still a few hours left to work on new compositions. To be true: I don't have big dreams anymore. You wake up one morning out of your dreams and say, ok, let's start, and you start to work and if it works the way I want, I'm satisfied. I don't have any wishes, except to stay healthy. I have enough to do, so I don't think that I'll get bored.
Some starting points:
The best source for Schnitzler's music right now is the Plate Lunch label - not only are they issuing Con's music but they are also selling the remaining stock of Art Gallery releases, the Spalax reissues, the Jorg Thomasius collaborations, and the Badlands and Marginal Talent releases. Although originally based in Germany, they have opened a US office in sunny Florida, making all these discs available at domestic (US) prices.
Here's a few suggestions of pre-1990 recordings to start off your Con collection:
"Rot" (Plate Lunch)
As the Plate Lunch notes say: "Both tracks were recorded in autumn/winter 1972 in Berlin, Kurfürstendamm in the cellar, that used to be the old rehearsal-room of Tangerine Dream. Originally released as private pressing (KS 1002) on April, 10th 1973 in Germany in a plain red cover without any information". This is one of Schnitzler's many timeless electronic works. Two long tracks of industrial mystery. There he was, in 1972, squeezing sounds out of his crude machinery that would not sound out of place on Kraftwerk's "Autobahn", Throbbing Gristle's "20 Jazz Funk Greats", Aphex Twin's "Selected Ambient Works 2" and everything else that has been called "electronic" since. Essential.
"Ballet Statique" (Spalax)
The first five tracks are a reissue of Con's 1978 LP on the Egg label ("Con") produced by Peter Baumann. Very rhythmic and with a heavier reliance on sequences than usual for Con. This album is apparently very big with Mixmaster Morris and the techno chill-out crowd, if that counts for anything in your world. The 5 bonus tracks from 1980 are pretty fantastic - the bubbling "Buta Raga" is a pulsing symphony of bleeps, and the rest of the tracks are equally swell explorations of repetitve tones with splashes of mechanical synth blasts.
"Control" (Art Gallery)
Tracks 1-12 are reissues of the "Control" LP from 1981 on the American DYS label. Short industrial "pop" electronics with a surreal dada edge and non-hazy crystal clear sound. Deeply psychedelic in a way that is totally distinct from other synth-based artists. Bizarre little robot symphonies for an unruly synthesizer that always seems to be on the verge of malfunctioning. A perverse and compressed melodicism reminiscent of Erik Satie adds a unique flavor.
From 1989 - two massive (30 and 38 minutes) symphonic tracks for synths, tapes, samples, and more - like a hooked-on Schoenberg Coil (Horse Rotorvator/Hellraiser era) mixing it up with the mole-era Residents - not as hairy as contemporary classical can be but with the same blurred, ever changing scramble of orchestral noise. The pieces lurch from creepy horror soundtrack-worthy synth washes to humorous sped up string sections and back again - a stunner. Mixed by Serge Leroy (not Conrad - it should be noted) from Schnitzler's source materials.
Archives at Plate Lunch web site:
THE CRACK IN THE COSMIC EGG by Steve Freeman and Alan Freeman.
COSMIC DREAMS AT PLAY by Dag Asbjornsen
Curious Music: A Curious History of Cluster by Russ Curry:
Con discography at The Edge: