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Interview with centrozoon

img  Tobias Fischer

Your current position seems to be that playing concerts is the most rewarding way of presenting your music.
Markus Reuter / I don't just think it's most rewarding – it's the only way to present your music today. When I finished writing my solo work Todmorden 513 a couple of years ago, I sent it to Robert Fripp. He wrote back with just a very short sentence saying that he liked the piece. And then he added another paragraph essentially stating that the future of music is about playing live. It opened my eyes and made me decide to play more shows again.

Why is the future in playing live?
Bernhard Wöstheinrich / The whole perspective has been wrong for a long time. People think that music is 'happening' on CDs. But this idea only began to spread in the 50s. Early radio stations, for example, would delete recordings after a while, because they wanted to reuse the tapes. So the idea of archiving music is completely new. Only in the 70s did it get so big that people started regarding the physical container as the actual music and expecting a live performance to replicate that experience. Which is stupid. Making music live has always been the main thing for me. I don't mind sitting in the studio and putting one note after another. But being forced to do something in that very moment, that's what I find challenging.
Markus Reuter / Until recently you would 'improvise' live. But rather, what we do is 'composing in the moment'. To me, that's where the evolution lies. We don't improvise, I really mean that.

Improvisation has its own dogmas.
Markus Reuter / Yes, and it also comes from this idea that it's an experiment. And we're not experimenting. So what is happening is that the realm of where improvisation is happening is shifting to a higher level. What we do is improvise the structure.

Does that also challenge the idea of the 'work' as a finished piece of art?

Markus Reuter / I'm sure it does, although it is not yet entirely clear in which way. It basically means you can have an endless catalogue.
Bernhard Wöstheinrich / If you present something new and unique in every show, people will have to go there to experience it. Someone like Klaus Schulze conceptualised recordings as momentary snapshots, but never repeated them as such in his concerts. And that's what we appreciate.
Markus Reuter / Of course, the difference is that, in the 70s, Schulze wasn't able to repeat himself. But coming from that point where it is possible, as we are, it has a completely new quality to it. It is a choice.

How do the processes of composing in the studio and on stage compare?

Tobias Reber / What I like about working in the studio is working on a huge amount of details on the micro- and macroscopic level. But perhaps I'm doing the same when performing live, I may simply not have spent enough time performing and getting to reflect on what I do in a concert setting to see that. I'm also confident that playing live is instrumental in getting an energy exchange with the listener, because we're no longer spending hours and hours of time on a short moment of music. In the studio, the level of attention you can dedicate to everything just increases exponentially. It's huge, there is so much information that it's almost impossible for an audience to take in on a first listen. Playing live levels the field between the audience and the player.
Markus Reuter / And as Adrian can testify, it is carrying over into every facet of the music creation process.
Adrian Benavides / The approach that I took for mixing the new centrozoon record was a performance approach as well. I never took more than an hour for each of the pieces and just went through them as though I was part of that sound design process, putting myself in an intuitive, reactionary position. It was really freeing for me as a mixer.

If there is no longer a fixed composition and the audience is observing its unfolding in the moment - are there still mistakes?
Bernhard Wöstheinrich / Let's just say that sometimes you'll have weak spots and something will happen which you won't like. But that can also be good. You may think it was a flaw, but people may nonetheless be completely amazed by it. I once had a performance with Harald Grosskopf. We didn't have the time to rehearse and he really wanted the count-ins. And for some reason, I didn't start the arrangement on the one, as intended, but the three. And he stopped playing, dropped his sticks and started swearing at me on stage with the entire audience watching. I am quite good at dealing with these things, so I just created this really nice conclusion to the piece. When we went off the stage, he was still angry at me. But when I went out, I could hear people talking about how incredible, amazing and unexpected that ending had been. And on the same festival a year later, Grosskopf played a solo set and people were commenting that it was a good performance – but that our duo had been much better, despite its flaws.
So of course, there are mistakes, but it depends on your perspective. To me, you have to be thankful for these moments, because otherwise, you'd just be playing what you already expected.
Marus Reuter / It really is about how you deal with a mistake psychologically. And whatever may happen when we're playing live, it's about enjoying ourselves. We don't expect anything, so we there can only be positive surprises. Tobias once remarked that what makes our approach stand out is that we're working with harmonies. And it really is interesting how they fall into place without us knowing what the other is doing. It's as though we have a shared pulse and we make the change together, because it's natural. It's almost like an organic grid.
Bernhard Wöstheinrich / We literally don't have a rigid grid anymore, at least I switched it off on my computer.

Your approach has an element of virtuosity to it …

Bernhard Wöstheinrich / Most of all, it has an element of 'doing it' in it. I have to move something, if only my fingers …
Markus Reuter / And if you're using movement to express something, the movement is always coming and going. And that's what makes a great musician and a great band. Because we can actually come and go in with any kind of rhythm we like. That's why I believe that for a guitarist, the volume pedal is the most important tool. You don't even need the guitar, but you do need the volume pedal. Because it allows you to go silent. By having this control over your expression, it is making this music feel structured. That's what turns it into a composition.

It is very interesting that this approach works, seeing that you're three entirely different musicians.
Markus Reuter / It's all about trust. I think I'm one of those who were born with a certain naivete. I used to believe that everyone around me was good and that people were good and wanted good things for themselves and for me. And although I do sometimes get the idea that this may not be the case, I still feel as though everything is fine and I'm in paradise. That's how I act and that's why I trust the creative process 100%. And if you have that trust, everything really is going to be great. Doubts are poisoning.

Even trust in the audience …
Markus Reuter / Absolutely. I was just on tour with a completely different program. So I was in the position to play Robert Fripp's parts. And I was wondering whether people would accept me injecting a little more chance into the compositions. So rather than playing the same solo for a piece, I would go for something different every night. Even with the melodic phrases. I would play wrong notes. But I would play them in the way that made them sound as though I chose them.

Well, you „invented the wrong notes“ …
Markus Reuter / (laughs) Exactly. And that's still the idea. There are no mistakes. It's just your personal courage that is required to make something sound right, even if it is „wrong“. And once it becomes part of a culture, it really becomes something that is right.
Bernhard Wöstheinrich / This is my basic theory about what constitutes creativity: The ability to recognise systems or patterns and to establish connections between them. Seeing those connections is one thing. And then putting something on top of that and taking things beyond the conventional is another. This is what we basically do: To see and hear that something is happening …
Tobias Reber / … and then pick up on that …
Bernhard Wöstheinrich / … and follow its direction.

This, in a way, gives you back artistic control about what you want to play.
Markus Reuter / Precisely. And with centrozoon, there are no wrong notes, because there's always the support of the others. Whereas, within a context, where there's a written score, it takes a lot of courage to play something new, because the entire audience and the other musicians are expecting to hear a certain sound. And this is something that is very wrong about jazz. Jazz is not about music, it is about recreating a sound. Obviously, for a great musician, these two things are the same, because you're shaping both.
Tobias Reber / We all have this broad listening background and it's a certain sensibility that we're bringing to the performance. When playing with these guys, we know we can rely on an in-depth knowledge of a wide range of music. And all of that is informing the way we interact, the way we listen.
Markus Reuter / We can almost work with song-like structures. I learned a lot about that from working with Tim Bowness. Because he would sit down and listen to our improvised recordings as a basis for what a song should be like. So he would say: 'We don't need this repeat in here, we can go straight to the chorus'. He would whittle things down to the minimum amount of information you need to make something work. I still don't think reduction is always the solution. But you need to have the option to gear things in that direction. In our performance, we can still branch out in every direction.

Are there no kind of pre-arranged decisions before the set?
Markus Reuter / No. I had the laptop set up yesterday, but it crashed when I got on stage. So I had to decide whether or not to reboot it. And I determined that I wouldn't and that I'd use the pedals instead. And it worked fine. There's of course always this element of questioning what you're doing on stage. But if you instead affirm the process, magic will happen. And the sound you may have been questioning a second ago, will suddenly seem perfect. It is important in this respect that we're a trio. I'm confident that when I'm wrong, they'll be right.

How did that work when you performed the more song-oriented material with Bowness?
Bernhard Wöstheinrich / It was actually quite similar. Since he was singing songs, it was of course easier to find the structure. For me, Tim was the main line and the lyrics would tell me where we were in the arrangement. But I wasn't counting.
Markus Reuter / It was more of a modular approach. Back then, we had fixed patterns, but would shape the pattern on stage. So the performance was on a different level, but it felt the same. You have to remember that the entire material had actually been improvised in the studio - even the lyrics - and then recreated on stage.
Bernhard Wöstheinrich / But even then, the skills required to use these patterns were the same as for our current sets. So I had to listen to when the song is going to end or of this is the right spot for Markus to do a solo.

So if the ideal of composing in the moment is really at the heart of what you're doing, why are you still recording your performances and releasing albums?
Markus Reuter / For us, it'a really a transitional phase. People are still putting out music. They are still releasing records. So why not keep a document of the performance and make it available. Ideally, it would even feed us and we could buy ourselves a cup of coffee. Of course, this is not actually the way things are, so you're right in a way. But it's a question of perspective: When we first started to think about the tour, I decided that we wouldn't expect to be paid, but that we would pay to play. And no matter whether there were a lot of people attending a performance or not, we would make it look as though it were a big event. There's no need to fake anything here - it is about treating our work and the product we're creating with care. So if we present the recording of a show, we will mix it, we will master it, we will perhaps even create a nice little cover … And if people can't be in Berlin for the show, someone in Australia can still download it and catch a glimpse of its psychological dimension. That way, it will get an aura that justifies its existence as a living organism.

I was also thinking about the idea that a live performance, in the midst of this abundance of recorded music, makes you listen to things more attentively.
Tobias Reber: But a live recording doesn't replace the concert experience.
Markus Reuter / It's a completely different piece of work. You can not recreate the experience of the performance and the room it was created in with recorded sound.
Bernhard Wöstheinrich / It really makes you more aware of the difference between the two phenomena and the way things have been upside down. You have to play live, you have to show people that you are an artist, that you have access to some meanings that most people don't have for some reason. I won't pretend that I completely understand those meanings either. But somehow, I can channel things to listeners, I can tell that something is happening and forward it to them.

Markus, last time we spoke you emphasised the importance of listening and re-listening to one particular album throughout your entire life. Isn't that an entirely different concept from the idea of composing in the moment, however?
Markus Reuter / Let me give you a comparison. I love music and I love my wife and in both cases, that means making a commitment. And my commitment to music is to get to know my partner – music. And I have to spend time with my partner. I have to listen to the music. And when you love a particular album and keep listening to it, it can help you tune your ears.

Listening to an album that way even questions the notion of it as a finished work. Because it is never the same, regardless how often you return to it.
Adrian Benavides / It ties in with the live recording aspect of music. You're communicating. Even if you're listening to something that is seemingly static. Over time, you'll discover different things.
Markus Reuter / In a way, by listening to a record many times, you become a performer. It is not actually about the work any more. It's a listening experience. It's a partnership. It's friendship.

By Tobias Fischer

Photo-Credit: centrozoon (image 1); Leander Reininghaus (image 2)

The remaining dates of centrozoon's 'We Will Tongue You Tour“:
18.11. Falkendom, Bielefeld, D
07.12. Headmaster-Ateliers, "Freipass", Bern CH
08.12. Plattfon, Basel CH
11.12. House Concert, München D
09.01. Cooperativa Neue Musik, Bielefeld D
27.01. Hörbar, Hamburg D

centrozoon Discography:
Blast (DiN) 2000   
Sun Lounge Debris (Burning Shed) 2001   
The Cult Of: Bibbiboo (Burning Shed) 2002   
Ten Versions Of America (Centrozoon) 2003   
Never Trust The Way You Are (Resonancer) 2005   
Never Thrust The Things They Do (Tonefloat)    2006
Angel Liquor (Divine Frequency) 2006
Lovefield (Unsung) 2007

Recommended centrozoon interviews & articles on the web:
Interview with Markus Reuter about centrozoon at Mouthy Magazine



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