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Interview with Asmus Tietchens

img  Tobias
Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I’m in Hamburg.

What¹s on your schedule right now?
Right now, I am preparing basic tracks for the first studio album with Thomas Köner. The working title for the record is „Makrophonie“.

German label “Die Stadt” is currently re-releasing a large chunk of your back catalogue. How did it feel looking back at these recordings while preparing the releases?
I must say it is very interesting to listen to the old tapes. The feeling they give me is not bad at all. Mainly so, because many of the old pieces are still okay to me today, considering their historical background and my personal development at the time. I also learned a lot from the real mistakes I made.

When listening to your output in the 80s, I have the feeling that despite popular opinion, this seems to have been a colourful decade full of exeperimentation and fresh beginnings. How did you experience it at the time?
Of course, the late 70s and early 80s were a time of departure and of musical and aesthetical liberation. But you have to see this unsentimentally. There were phases like this before, after all, and there have been since. Luckily, there are always personalities, who are aware of what has happened in the past while nonetheless pushing developments and walking new ways.

In the liner notes to “Geboren, um zu dienen” you mention that you were operating "inside a carefully tested zone". Does that mean there were certain limits as to how far you would go?

Yes. Up until this album I would only release music, which had been born from long phases of testing and rehearsing in the studio. In the case of “Geboren”, the album was the test itself.

„Geboren, um zu dienen“ is „your industrial album“ and later, you collaborated with Merzbow. What was it that attracted you to Industrial music?
Musically, I was interested by this completely new approach of working with electroacoustic/electronic sound sources. It was truly a new aesthetic, which had little in common with the kind of pop music, which had been en vogue until then. I learnt a lot from it. Both in terms of content and politics, Industrial fit in with how I saw the world. It was therefore obvious to record an album like “Geboren”. I tried to develop my own handwriting using certain forms of Industrial – which didn’t really work out. I simply ewasn’t an Industrial musician, others were capable of doing these things much more credibly and radically. I therefore never tried again and instead waslked my own path, which ran parallel to the Industrial movement. My collaboration with Merzbow and Poison Gas Research on the CD „Grav“ was released in 1991. It was already nothing more than a late obituary to the glorious 80s.

While your music is being appreciated more and more by a wider audience, the question remains, whether you feel that there is also an increased “understanding” among listeners, about what you want to acchieve? And: Is this „understanding“ important to you?
Industrial has, among other things, had the effect of opening up many ears to so-called difficult music and created a wilingness for inconvenient listening. For this reason alone, one should fall to one’s knees to thank the genre. Of course, this was also reflected by an increased appetite for experimenting. It is my conviction that we would not have this ecclectic world of electronic music, almost impossible to grasp in its entire scope, without it. The willingness to listen to my music has indeed grown over the last 15 years. This makes me truly happy, although I must admit that I wouldn’t change it, even if noone would want to listen to it.

What does the term “new³ mean to you in connection with music?

The term “New” cuts both ways. In relation to electroacoustic music, you can not reinvent the wheel again – it was already invented approximately 60 years ago. What can be done, though, is to change aesthetic strategies and complement them with new ideas. New tools (such as computers) do not generate new music, but they can bring methods and techniques to perfection, as well as adding their share in pushing musical developments. Besides, I am of the opinion that the equation “new”=”good” does not necessarily compute. “New”, to me, is foremost a category and no guarentee of quality.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
Sound is an especially important and fundamental component of my compositions. It often happens that I find myself working just as long on the sound of a series of signals as on the structure of the particular piece. The modern term “sound” was called “tone colour” in the past. In this sense, Claude Debussy was the first sound artist in the late 19th century. He made detailled notes in written about the orchestration of his large-scale instrumental works. Some of his statements are still of interest today.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
Since I mainly work in the studio and compose very thoughtfully and with a distinct plan in mind, improvisation plays a subordinate role for me as a composer. As a listener, however, I greatly appreciate succesful improvisations of other musicians.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What¹s your approach to performing on stage?
As a listener, I do not necessarily expect to hear something new during a live performance. What I do expect is to recognise an artist musically. If I am positively surprised, against all odds (for example ny artists, which I have never heard before), the satisfaction is even bigger, I wouldn’t refer to my own, relatively rare, stage appearances as “concerts” or “performances”, but as a presentation of the results of my current work. I have the ambition of presenting something new t the listener, something which hasn’t been released yet. This happens semi-improvised and using prepared sounds and structures, which are partly derived from CDRs, partly from my computer and partly from DAT. It is a kind of live mix.

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?
What could possibly be attached to the term „Music“ for it not to be used any more? No, I do draw a border. If two acoustic events are organised in time deliberately and intentionally, this constitutes music to me. Of course, this tells us nothing about this music’s quality. Extremely powerful forms of electrified music can be subsumed under the term of electroacoustic music, regardless of whether they are electronic, concrete, academic or non-academic. Words like “Soundart”, „Ars Acustica“ or „Soundscape“ are questionable, possibly even superflous in my opinion. I stick to my initial remakr: There’s nothing wrong with “music”!

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?
Ideally, yes. Reality however regularly teaches us the opposite. Almost all artists/musicians adjust their actions in accordance with the rules of the market in the end. To be able to carry responsability for more than just oneself under these dire circumstances, requires almost supernatural strength and a considerable amount of optimism. One should already be satisfied about an artist not turning cynical over time. Especially, if he turns out to be succesful.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
I do not want to answer this question, because it effectively asks me about my favourite music. There’s so much of it, that it couldn’t possibly fit into a single festival.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?

No. My pieces are always made up small parts. They are often series, to present particular sound phemonena thoroughly. Also, my fantasy in planning never extends beyond the next 12 months. The idea of a “Magnum Opus” is completely foreign to me.

By Tobias Fischer


The Asmus Tietchens discography is massiv and still growing. Even a random selection would not do justice to it. For a complete overview of Tietchens’ work, use the link below to his personal site or check out discogs.

Asmus Tietchens

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