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Interview with Stefan Goldmann

img  Tobias

What made you want to rework „Le Sacre de Printemps“?
It's one of the key works of the 20th century – or perhaps even the key work, „Bitches Brew“ by Miles Davis certainly being the other one. Within an incredibly condensed space, these pieces contain everything important from the past century of music. And in a way, they're also points of the compass within my personal musical galaxy and have influenced me more than anything else. „Sacre“ has this incredible rhythmical thrust unparalleled to this day. You're hardly going to get a similarly convincing combination of bizarre metrums and otherworldly accents. This is also what makes the piece so attractive: It's so utterly perfect that you can not change it without ending up with something inferior to the original. So, for me, there could hardly have been a bigger challenge.

Why didn't you opt for the more conventional method of just combining orchestral samples with beats?
Because that's what everybody does. I just don't find the juxtaposition of beats and classical samples particularly charming. I do like the Carl Craig and von Oswald record on Deutsche Grammophon, but in the end it's simply their own music complemented by nothing but a few horn samples from „Pictures at an Exhibition“. It doesn't really deal with the composer at all. If you approach the music from a sampling-angle, it's only about Techno. And that's something I'm already working on with my regular releases. So if I'm going to put the name of a piece like „Sacre“ on the CD, then I feel as though I need to live up to that. These edits are mostly about sizing down ambitious works to meet the demands of DJs. It's merely about making things easier and connecting your own name to a classic. I find it remarkable how everybody is taking the exact same approach nowadays, especially when we're talking about Disco- and House-Edits. So to me, it was especially important to counterpoint this with the notion of authenticity.

What kind of approach did you take, then?
I decided not to intervene in the composition at all. Which is a pretty radical measure, as it excludes the possibility of working with material not included in the original score. There's this 70s version of „Pictures at an Exhibition“ by Tomita, which is absolutely brilliant. He basically entirely rearranged the piece for Synthesizers. Still, this was not what I wanted either. What I discovered was that the various orchestral recordings of „Sacre“ occasionally differed immensely. So I focused on the importance of interpretation, something electronic music hardly ever deals with, because composition and recording are usually considered the same thing. A DJ may want to change the tempo and blend the piece with another work, but the remaining elements are fixed. With orchestral recordings, meanwhile, you have different tempi, dynamics, expressions, a different weighting of instruments and so forth. So I had to decide which re-combinations of all these different recordings I thought most exciting and how to connect them with each other. In the end, I categorised the recordings and formed different groups of possible samples for the various sections. This way, a parallel-score was born, which was, however, structured according to questions of interpretation.

What were your criteria for deciding for or against including a particular interpretation?
Well, first of all, there were legal restrictions. I could only use recording which were done before 1958 for free. Licensing this many recent recordings is simply too complex. Take the example of Richie Hawtin's DE9 Transitions DVD, for which he used hundreds of tracks. I think they're still licensing that release, years after it was published. And the accounting of that is a nightmare. So I only used a few contemporary recordings which were important, because they are more dynamic. Which means the quiet passages do not get drowned out by hiss and the loud sections are extremely powerful. On the other hand, I really like the sound of these old recordings. These are tape-recordings, after all, using tube-technology, classic microphones and mixing boards, resulting in an entirely different aura than what you get on a contemporary, crystalline 24 bit / 96 kHz recording. What's interesting is that these recordings have different colours. Listening to these edits is like traveling through a slightly antiquated world of classic recording-art – every few seconds your head is in a different recording and you start noticing parameters you wouldn't usually be aware of.

How did you go from this idea to the actual recording?
The process is considerably different from a Techno-recording. The key question is how to segue extracts from various recordings and make them feel organic. If the final result hasn't turned out something of a pastiche, then this is the result of a lot of meticulous work. I had to individually master every single extract. Surprisingly, I did not have to revert to time stretching all that often. I occasionally layered various recordings, which however didn't sound artificial. This way, some instruments got boosted and slightly flat-sounding passages were awarded the necessary high frequencies and bass. Another issue was the fact that some extracts were in mono: Even though I was consciously looking for different spatial feelings, I did not want the transitions to be too drastic, because they would otherwise draw the listener's attention to them. So I had to treat the material with adjusted dynamic settings each time. Which, in turn, made it pretty hard to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Now you finished your „virtual“ version of the piece, would you want to see it performed live?
Rather not. I think it'd be arrogant for me to go up to a conductor and tell him to use „my“ tempi and accents. My goal was never to create an „Über-interpretation“ which would put all others to shame. Live, the electro-acoustic aspect I described would also be lost. And it doesn't work as an electronic live-set either. It's far too complex for that. „Live“ and „studio“, they are two different worlds. We should forget about the idea that everything can be perfectly transferred to the stage. To me, that's the lie of Ableton. In the end, a good studio version is always going to be superior to a laptop-performance, which is why a traditional DJ is more convincing than someone looking like he's reading his emails during a concert while boring the audience with a couple of loops and effects.

Classical interpreters are always thinking about what the composer wanted. What do you think Stravinsky would have said about your interpretation?

Does it really matter? There are two different points of view: Either the composer's view is all that matters. Or a piece develops a life of its own and it is the task of the interpreter to explore whether there may actually be aspects of the work its creator could not envision himself. To me, the latter is more exciting, even though it automatically implies that one has to tolerate a lot of nonsense.
We know that Stravinsky was greatly interested in accurate renditions of his works. Which is why he signed agreements with the manufacturers of player pianos and recognised the potential of records. This also means that he was obviously not an enemy of technology. And he didn't like conductors. Which is why I suspect he wouldn't have had much to complain about with regards to my interpretation – at the very worst, he simply wouldn't have been interested. I'm covering aspects here which he simply could not have thought about. I suppose it's good for a work to explore new fields.

By Tobias Fischer

Interview conducted by Tobias Fischer for “Beat” Magazine. Many thanks to Thomas Raukamp.

The Transitory State (Macro) 2008
Voices Of The Dead (Macro) 2008
LWE Podcast 20 (Little White Earbuds) 2009
Le Sacre Du Printemps (Macro) 2009
The Empty Foxhole (Mule Electronic) 2009
Haven't I Seen You Before (The Tapeworm) 2010


Stefan Goldmann

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