FARMERS MANUAL INTERVIEW
_Nature is perverse_RELEASE THE OLD AND RENEW
by Klas Sjogren / Stockholm 29.11.98
A big dark room, the main room at Fylkingen, a couple of tables scattered across the floor, two big screens facing each other from each side of two walls. The place is unusually smoky. Flickering pictures of objects of different size and shape wobbling around. An X-ray hand. The music: tightly connected with the visuals on the screen, a vast stream of unconsciousness. Like a mind closing or opening up depending on your mood. It's hard to create some kind of lasting impression out of it because everything changes so fast, sounds as well as pictures. Still, it's a hell of a roller coaster ride and the people responsible for all this are not swinging guitars or doing any rock gestures. They're just sitting quietly behind their digital tools, exchanging glances every now and then, saying something, joking and even looking impressed by some of the visuals they've created. Suddenly they're just off for a pizza or something, leaving all the stuff by itself and the concert continues and people are still listening. Farmers Manual are different.
Klas: First of all I'd like you to explain the Farmers Manual method for making sounds and music.
Mathias Gmachl: It's all improvised.
Oswald Berthold: No, it's not.
Stefan Possert: What a strange question!
Klas: Do you walk down the street and collect sound sources and put them together for a collage?
Stefan: The sounds that we use can come from any source and they're collected in a way.
Oswald: They are collected, samples of records and samples of CDs and natural recordings.
Stefan: Mostly generated stuff.
Oswald: Films, videos and TV or just snippets from the Internet.
Klas: So when you put them all together, is it a random thing?
Mathias: No, it should be real-time work, so it's always a flow of music. We try to make our own instruments with the use of software so I think it's pretty much improvised because we have to think about the instruments first and try to realize it. The attention is more on the instruments than on the sound sources because it's good to have a very diverse set of sounds to test your instrument. It's good to work with.
Stefan: I think machine is a better word than instrument. It's a machine, a big, big machine.
Oswald: The last two years has been about structuring samples and putting them into new structures.
Stefan: It's not just about samples, is it?
Oswald: It is. And that's what Mathias says: It's more about the structures rather than which samples we use.
Mathias: The instrument is stronger than the samples. The instrument is the way that things are arranged or structured and it's more important to the music that comes out of the PA than the samples themselves. Of course they do play a role but the best instrument is a mixture of the use of samples and a good instrument. It's always a little bit dangerous to do something that enhances the samples or enhances the instrument. You have to find a way in-between to let both contribute to each other and make one good whole.
Klas: Which qualities do you look for in a sound sample? Do you go: well, now that we're going to do this we need these type of qualities...that it has to have a hard edge or whatever. 'Cause to follow a line you have to have an idea of where you're going or...?
Oswald: Yeah but that's not...that's just the process really. We have a collection of sounds and all these sounds we use and reuse again, over and over and to keep them for a long time this sound is edited a bit and so the collection of sounds evolves with the time.
Stefan: Frankly, there is no basic concept at all we can follow. It's just going there and start and see what's happening.
Oswald: Sometimes it's really randomly picking four or five sounds out of hundreds or so, just putting them into some processing of the application and just try it out...what's the output of these sounds, but you know the sounds.
Mathias: Not always.
Stefan: Some sounds are generated.
Mathias: All my sounds are numbered. They're just one, two...that's for the machine to use some of the instruments. You can have more levels in an instrument. There's always a basic level which is the way the sounds are generated and structured...and then using and building this instrument you start to think of a method to let the
computer do what you do and you can make a second level which uses the instrument you used yourself before. It's better to have numbered songs really. (laughter)
Klas: Did you all grow up with this kind of computer music? When I looked at you onstage and heard the records it seemed to me that these fellows were born into this type of thing. Do you all compute and program stuff?
Oswald: I don't know...
Stefan: We're no computer kids. If we were computer kids we would've been more into programming of games maybe. We've been into computers for maybe five years altogether.
Oswald: We played in a band as well.
Stefan: But we're not the computer generation or what you'd normally think that we have to be. All the people think we're totally nerded out freaks but we ain't...
Mathias: Well, we are now but we were not ten years ago.
Stefan: I mean we came from the musician side, from the party side or from the whatever side, but not from the computer side.
Klas: So how did this music develop? Did you develop together or did this thing just pop up?
Stefan: Me and Ossie and Jeorg, who's not here at the moment, have known each other since we were thirteen or something...and what was the question again? (laughter) We've known each other from the beginning on and my first image of Ossie was with a guitar, I think, playing music with a band.
Klas: Have you had any interest before in improvised music?
Stefan: Yes, sure absolutely. There was a band where Ossie and other people played and there was a sort of video projection band where I was active and then we met Mathias in Vienna when we moved there and then everything started to grow very fast. Bit too fast maybe.
Klas: How did you hook up with the Mego gang?
Stefan: More by accident. We just went to a club.
Mathias: Oswald and me got to know each other through Stefan...
Stefan: We were at this sort of advertising school to learn to communicate to people for commercial purpose.
Mathias: At the time I had an analog studio in my bedroom and started to make music there. We didn't know each other very well. We just tried to make music together and somehow we liked it. After a while we got confident about the material and tried to find some way to release it. I think we tried techno labels in the beginning but it's quite obvious that it's not a good environment for us. Mego had a good start at this time and they seemed to like it.
Stefan: They just worked in a similar way to ours. Nearly the same equipment and a related approach. So we just met them and saw them and started talking and they said: Hey, why don't you make a release on our label. We just did it.
Klas: Who designs the web page? It seems massive...
Stefan: Everyone does it. All of us.
Klas: What was the idea behind that?
Mathias: No idea.
Stefan: There is no concept. There's nothing.
Mathias: We were quite lucky 'cause we had contact with the Internet quite early and in Vienna at the studio we worked at a big Internet node. It's just in our studio so we made a homepage. Also, when we perform, we don't really practice. Everybody works on the stuff and when we perform is the only time we work together and try things out. We know each other pretty well and we seem to like the same things so it just works, but there's no concept or master plan.
Stefan: Just play around with the stuff. That's the point really. To play with software.
Mathias: We have similar interests and we know each other and most of the time we do it in a live environment. We don't practice ten hours in the studio or something.
Klas: How do you like coming to these sort of festivals where bands and artists are somewhat similar to what you're doing? Not exactly the same but they're using the same software and the same methods.
Stefan: We just talked about it today when we had lunch. It's not people out there who are using the same software but people who are doing it with a related approach. I think this is the important point. To use the opportunities you have with the computer and the digital media.
Klas: For me, I listen to this sort of stuff like the Mego or the Mille Plateaux or whatever, but then I also listen to jazz. To perhaps fetch things from jazz, 'cause this sort of music tends to...in the end it's like a circle if you don't add something new to it.
Mathias: But that's like every genre. If you just stay in one type of music you're stuck and try to relate things to each other which are basically the same. It's like with dance music, it stopped at a certain point and everybody's just using some other gestures and putting a new thing together which is new to them but seeing things outside of dance music in a whole music context they're basically the same. I think we listen to all types of music.
Stefan: The important thing is that Farmers Manual is not about music as a single discipline. Everything you can see or hear or feel or think about is Farmers Manual actually. It's not just about music. Music is one thing that is very strong and important, but there's more behind it. I mean our web site is maybe as important as the music for people out there. I'm sure there are people who don't even know that Farmers Manual is making music. It's more the combination of everything. Is this true? (looks at the others)
Klas: Where do you think it'll go in the future? I guess people consider it as computer generated music...
Stefan: Computer generated lifestyle, I think...
Klas: Do you think that it will crossbreed?
Mathias: Well, I think computers enable us to make music not known to date or not heard yet. I think this is the field that we're most interested in. That's why we use computers because it's the most open and versatile, the most precise and flexible way of making music.
Oswald: ...doing things...
Stefan: Yeah, that's the point. I mean, what's going on in music in the next twenty years I don't care about. It's not my interest. It's more about what will happen to people generally in the next twenty years. Music is just one feature that life can offer you.
Klas: Do you think that you can keep a human element to this type of music? I believe people consider it as computerized. These people program stuff. It's computers driven by algorithms.
Oswald: It's still humans that have to come up with the algorithms.
Stefan: And humans have to push the buttons at the right moment.
Oswald: The selection of algorithms is the crucial point. You can render thousands and thousands of hours of music with the same algorithms. The human point of selection and influence is just one level, but still without humans it would not happen. They just don't render themselves. It's the same with music.
Stefan: It's a bit of a misunderstanding of the people when they see the stage and it's totally engulfed with hardware because they think it's totally generated by them. We're just puppets standing up there.
Mathias: It's a very abstract way of working and if you're not used to computers you just can't imagine. That's why I talked about the computers and instrument. It's just what this digital technology enable us to do. To take concepts out of reality and move them into a digital realm and use them there as you would do in reality. It's built up of concepts you know from everyday life, 'cause we think in this concept and they are ported to the digital realm but you can use them there as you would use instruments in reality. It's exactly the same thing and there's no reason to talk about it as cold or computer generated or emotionless. That's not true at all. It's just these cliches that are around.
Klas: Still you have people like Mille Plateaux with theories around music that get very abstract and they like to use terms used in systems science...
Oswald: The things that happen on Mille Plateaux, at least that's my impression, is just a lot of talking about theories and everything but it does not necessarily apply to the music itself. It's just a lot of wanking basically.
Stefan: We don't give a shit about concepts.
Mathias: We are interested in science but we don't expose this or talk about it or cite any people. We're trying to research and go on with our work but it's the work that we're interested in. We read all this and maybe find things to incorporate in our own work but we don't put them in our press takes. We try to take ideas out of it and melt it with our own ideas.
Stefan: But there's no need to talk about the concept of making music. We just make music because we like to make music and it makes our hearts beat faster and make us feel better.
Klas: So what's the most fun about being in Farmers Manual?
Stefan: To be around computers. To see the Trinitron pixels blinking is the most fun part of it all.
Mathias: Well, we can work together and we have a huge amount of freedom in doing that.
Oswald: It was quite a joy spending the whole day here and setting something up. When we started the concert, it wasn't really that we started the concert. We were just continuing setting it up.
Stefan: Exactly, the concert started when we arrived here. It started at the airport. I feel that there's a big misunderstanding between the audience and us because they think that we're trying to communicate anything. It's just the music and the visuals to make you feel better and there's no general message.
Klas: Is there some sort of music scene in Austria, 'cause I heard this CD from Fennesz and Christoph Kurzmann, the Orchester 33 1/3...
Mathias: Oh Jesus, it's the most fucked up thing in Vienna. We don't talk about it. I hate it. It's just wankers. It's a project for jobless musicians so they're trying to give them some work, that's all.
Stefan: It doesn't mean it's bad. If there are people out there who like it, they should continue doing it.
Oswald: How generous...
Stefan: The main point with our group is total anarchy.
Klas: Ryoji Ikeda said you played Bossa Nova in Hamburg...
Oswald: He must be joking or something.
Klas: ...and he said you smoked way too much.
Stefan: That's what he said? Maybe he should start smoking or something.
Klas: Do you feel that you have anything in common with these artists.
Mathias: I think Dumb Type (Japanese multimedia group that Ikeda is member of) is a very great work in its togetherness.
Stefan: The artists around us are totally influencing our work. Maybe Farmers Manual is just a mixture of influences from outside artists and we're reproducing what we see.
Klas: If you compare FSCK, is it Fitchick?
Stefan: File System Check, it's the UNIX thing when you have a crashed system and you need to repair it.
Klas: It seems to be a more continuing work, more songlike if you will, compared to the new one, Explorers_we.
Oswald: FSCK was really arranged. We just took soundfiles and put them where they are now and Explorers is not. Explorers is just defining a pool of soundfiles and letting a program run across it.
Klas: How do you integrate this music with the visuals. Is it randomly generated?
Oswald: It's not absolutely random.
Stefan: The question is what is random. Random always has this part of uncontrolled taste with it, you know. That you just push a button and thousands of numbers and pictures are generated. That's not the truth. If you push random, you push it because you want to.
Oswald: To define a set of ten states and you can randomly choose between ten predefined ways of things to work or so. That's the thing of not being totally random.
Stefan: Everything that you can see or hear is controlled in a way or mostly controlled.
Klas: Is it controlled by the music or do you control it by listening to the music?
Oswald: It's a volume tracker.
Stefan: The pictures are moving to the music because when the pitch is going high, the pictures move that way.
Oswald: There's no other connection.
Mathias: What we try to do at the moment is to analyze the music and visualize it.
Klas: Was that what you used yesterday?
Mathias: Yesterday was more that the analysis was part of us, so it was not part of the computer. We heard the music and tried to visualize it by the use of the computer. Random is not a good way of controlling things because on a large scale if you have random controlled music for more than half an hour it tends to feel the same. The way of the changes is always kind of similar and when you listen to things you always try to get some kind of concept behind it. You try to look a step beyond and if you do this listening to random music you don't get the point somehow. We still use random selections but the overall controlling method is more complex or should be more complex than that.
Stefan: I think the interesting thing is that you give a part of choosing what's going on away to the computer. It's to make it more neutral.
Klas: Do you build up your set in a structured way?
Oswald: We have sections but when a new section starts we don't have control over which section it is.
Mathias: It's really this feeling we have working together, just the way we feel at this moment.
Stefan: It's a language developing. You can build up a world for your own.
Klas: That's a good ending point. Thank you.