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15 Questions to Andreas Usenbenz/Nobile/Sonovo

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you?
Hello. Fine, thanks. I’m extremely busy at the moment.

Where are you?

I’m sitting in the „Studio Gruen“ in Ulm, Germany (Baden-Wuerttemberg).

What’s on your schedule right now?
There’s a lot to be done. I’m currently working on my new 12’’ as “Sonovo”. It will come out in March on Fassade Records. This will be followed up by the appurtenant album on 2x12’’/CD. On the top of my list, though, is promoting the first two releases of the Klanggold label – and the label in general. I am also working on another publication on Klanggold with a different project of mine. Other than that, there are more Klanggold releases on the roster. Next will be an excellent CD by the 3 BANDITOS. And then there will probably be something by Daniel Alga, a Swedish Saxophonist and by Sakuran. Nothing is certain with regard to that yet, however.

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
For NOBILE, the biggest influence on my music is certainly nature. There is nothing more beautiful than following the structures given to one by nature. I use it as a sort of archetype. Most of the sounds I integrate into my music are either taken directly from my surroundings or created in a playful manner.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
The music industry has been in a crisis since the day it was born. It is appaling, how many airheads are in command. Where’s this going to get us? In times of “Idols” or “Superstars”, there is not much to be expected from the music industry. Which is why I feel the focus should be on small labels awarding a high degree of effort to their releases and in choosing their roster of artists. What also troubles me about this development towards mass compatibility is the increasing difficulty in finding a label or – in our case – a distributor for your cause, because of the ever-present insistance on high sales. And when you’re only addressing a small niche of listeners, it is next to impossible getting your foot in the door. Music in general has lost some of its sturdiness and even recognition and love. Thanks to the netlabel-boom and free music, it has degenerated into a disposable product. That, in my opinion, is the true issue at the core of the crisis.

What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?

Hm, what can truly be called “new” anymore in our time? New music from my point of view is music trat tries to defy the current and established perception of music, as well as the behavioural patterns of listeners in order to develop and communicate new ways of listening and experiencing. This is a process which was in place 100 years ago and which will continue forever. New music is a technique, which deals with expressing something outside of given borders, while developping borders of its own. I would say the term “new” music needs to be thought over. After all, there is nothing truly new in music any more. Hasn’t everything been done before in some way or the other? In any case, I don’t think it matters what the tools for producing music are – be it deconstructing instruments to rebuild them at a later time in reverse order or grating stones against each other or something of the sort. What matters to me is that the individual responsible for the music or sound realises it with honesty and with love for details and the moment. If he does and if you can hear how essential each single moment is, then the music will be “new”. Edgar Varese once formulated it with a great expressive phrase: “Anything new in music has always been called noise"

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?

I doubt that there is anything more important than sound. It is the sole reason why music exists. You can compose using a single sound, but you don’t need a composition to produce a sound. Which is why it doesn’t matter to me, whether something like composition in the usual sense of the word exists at all. If you take a look at what the word means, you’ll discover that it imples a “planned and inscribed collection of different elements (sounds, instruments), which produce harmonies in a pre-described order and communicate with each other.” This only works, if you already have sounds and instruments at your disposal, or else there’d be nothing to “combine”. I don’t care whether certain sound progressions are composed or improvised. What matters to me is whether the resulting picture awakens my curiosity and impresses me. I can even listen to a single sound for a while, absorbing it and getting to know its characteristics. It is exactly the interaction in music which drives the creative process, rather than sitting alone in your room. Music just is more honest that way for me.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
It entirely depends on the moment and to what end the music was made. Mostly, however, improvising (treating sounds and instruments in a playful way) is the main component of my music. This process opens up diverse new ways inside me as an artist. In this age of computers and sofware development, it is luckily possible to arrange improvised pieces in all of their intricacies or to change them. I would say the term composition itself is getting more opaque thanks to that.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

This is a difficult issue. I have witnessed many laptop artists standing behind their laptops as immobile as statues and looking like they were writing emails to their girlfriends. I am not a big fan of this kind of performance, but we will have to get used to the image of a four-piece band changing. It can be just as interesting being surrounded by clouds of sound without anything moving on stage. On the other hand, I am closer to the old notion that someone should actually perform when up there or at least provide some visual stimuli as well. I try to drag up a lot of small-scale instruments and toys or whatever on stage to produce sounds with them. I will then record these live to laptop and rework them. It’s a lot fun and shows the audience, what is currently happening – and that is an important factor to me: To make it transparent in which way turning the knobs changes the aural picture.

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
I answered that question before to a certain degree. It is certainly difficult for a lot of people being taken away from their usual listening patterns and yet music will always use the sounds at its disposal. In some dictionaries, the term “sound art” is used for music, if one uses artifically produced sounds. Which is the same in electronic and experimental music. Even if these sounds are recorded outdoors, they are subsequently manipulated. This definition of an artificially produced music doesn’t only apply to melodies and harmonies. Let’s take twelve-tone music. This is an example of a recognised style, created by a different understanding of music. It merely bases on different tone progressions or placing sounds in alternative constellations. Only, it will not be as easy to understand for most.

Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
Without any doubt, there are musicians which simply follow a passion and who acchieve commercial success thanks to their quality, but let’s face it, most current productions are only out to make money. The worst part about it is that people are actually accepting this kind of music. So, yes, there are differences, even if they may be subtle and if the two sides may occasionally blend into each other.I still believe that “serious” music can mainly be found on the side of independent music, simply because the artists involved really take their time to think about their work – and because a high degree of quality is a prerequisite for getting a label deal.

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
No. I would consider it exagerated to always keep looking for something social or political in art. It is, after all, possible to create something simply for the love of creating. To me, it is much more exciting if the “user” of art interprets it. Which he will anyway, even without any political requirements.

True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can really appreciate it.
Wrong. If you feel drawn towards a certain sound world, you don’t need an education for it. It’s the same with love.

Imagine a situation in which there’d be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions – would that be an improvement to the current situation?
No. I consider copyright very important, or else music will loose even more of its value. If someone would like to use a piece or rework it, he can, after all, always ask the artist for permission – and he will get an answer. This is the least one should do before defragmentising someone else’s work. Sampling has been allowed a long time ago anyway and more than half of contemporary music bases on it.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
It always depends on the festival and its musical direction. If I could decide freely, I would of course book the Klanggold artists and a lot of musicians I am not yet that familiar with. This is something I encounter all the time: Only well-known names are being featured. So I would at least do away with that for a small part of the bill. It is immensely important to me that new people get a chance to present themselves. Nonetheless, some of my all-time favourites include the Tied & Tickled Trio, Ekkehard Ehlers, To Rococo Rot, Mapstation, the work of Robert Lippok and Urban Soul Research, to mention a few only.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
That is a very difficult question for me. I haven’t really thought about it. It is important to me to do what moves me, occupies my mind and where my muse is leading me. To me, the moment of creation is especially important and therefore, everything I create is a “small” big work.

As Sonovo:

Variations EP (Fassade Records) 2007

As Nobile:
Pelktron (Klanggold) 2007

With Appartment 22:
Appartment 22 (self-released) 2006

Andreas Usenbenz
Klangold Records

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