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Interview with Steinbrüchel

img  Tobias Fischer

After listening to narrow, I asked myself if it mattered to you whether one could recognise the "original" in the variations and vice versa.
The recognisability of the music wasn't a priority for me while composing the pieces. But still it was very important to me that they hold together as a whole and are related to each other. Each variation had to be distinctively different and individual, but still close enough to be seen as a variation - and not a completely new piece of music.
The differentiation of the variations doesn't necessarily only rely on the sounds used, but also on the mood and ambience of each individual composition, the density of the sounds combined, the amount of space inbetween the sounds and the way each variation was composed and structured. I've defined the pieces as «variations», as I think a remix is something completely different.

What does the variation process on narrow mean for the status and relevance of the original?

I think that's up to the individual listener to decide.

But what does it mean to you as the creator? Formerly, there'd be a clear distinction between a phase where one would gather and combine materials and then, after a while, there'd be a finished product. A variation would be something like a spin-off off to that original. In your approach, they could be either and the process is potentially without end ...
Yes, this is absolutely correct: «They could be either and the process is potentially without end». It's about the distinction between what a composition is - or could be - and what a variation of it is - or could be. Was the main composition created before the variations or did the variations lead to the creation of the main composition? Which one is more important? Is one of them more important? Could they exist without each other? What was there first: The chicken or the egg? I don't have a conclusion or an answer to most of these questions, but while creating «narrow» these were thoughts that were passing through my head and kept me occupied. But in the end, all I tried to create were a few pieces of music that feel close to me. It's far less about the concept and thoughts than it is about the sound.

Tell me about your interest in the concept of variations in general, please.
I can't actually recall when I first encountered the idea of a variation as a listener, but do I remember being fascinated by Wolfgang Voigt's «Studio 1» series – this approach of using the same or similar sound sources at the same speed and grid and seeing how far you can go. When I was just starting out with composing music, I often produced tracks with a midi sequencer and then created variations by replacing the original sounds with different samples. For instance, the mini-CD-Rom release «-00:dedaih» which I created in collaboration with a visual artist and programmer replays the same sequence endlessy in a different combination of sounds in every cycle, therefore making a defined and final version of the composition redundant. The concept of variations is one of the most important factors in my sound based work.

My main interest in this topic stems from my live performances. I'm intrigued by the fact that I can perform several livesets with the same sounds as the balance and layers of sounds - and thus the combinations - are different each time and therefore changing. Composing the variations was not any different in comparison to my regular way of composing. Actually it felt quite liberating to work on the variations, as I didn't seem to have to decide on a specific version, but could use the same sound sources as a basis to travel into different directions. I already touched upon the concept of variations in a few of my past releases but have never defined them as clearly as such as on «narrow».

How did you process the material on narrow to arrive at your variations?
I didn't use any other tools or processing methods then I usually would. The technical background and the process of creating the sounds is completely unimportant to the final piece of work. Also, the «variations» are less based on the processing of the material, but are more hidden inside the compositions and their structure. A few of the sounds in the variations weren't even used in the main composition. My main interest in the variations was about focusing on a more «narrow» palette of sounds for each variation and shaping its individual identity through the layering of the sounds and the compositional structure.

The shape and concept of «narrow» also grew a bit out of my personal way of working on compositions. I always create several variations of a single sound and then see which one(s) I end up using during the compositional process. Many of the sounds and variations that I create are often not used in the final  composition. While working on «narrow», I was interested in combining several of the sound variations and creating several compositions out of the same or similar based material. Similar to a painter who decides to create a few works only with a certain amount of colours and seeing the reduction of the sources as a gain and not as a limitation.

One of the interesting things about narrow is that it doesn't just contain five variations, but that the combined variations also add up to a complete piece with the exact same length again. What was the idea behind this approach?
Mainly, «balance». A balance between the main composition and its related variations and a balance between the individual variations. I wanted the main composition and the combined variations to be of similar length, so none of them would seems more important. The individual variations also have more or less the same length as, again, I wanted to have a balance between them.

We've already touched upon the theme of change and the relativity of change a couple of times. They seem to be of particular relevance in your oeuvre.
I actually have never really thought about this before and it's not something that I implement consciously into my music. But yes, change seems to be an important factor in my work. This certainly has to do with the fact that music is something that is conceived and also consumed over a duration of time and it therefore feels natural to me that things should start at one point and end somewhere else. I'm fascinated by being able to change the balance of musical elements in such small and slow steps that each individual change is not consciously noticeable - but suddenly you'll realise that something is different and that things have changed. And yet, it's not possible to consciously define at which point exactly it travelled from something into something different.

This interest in change certainly is related to nature and our surroundings. The way that the light will change frequently during the day without this actually being  noticeable on a conscious level. The way a cloud will move in front of the sun and thereby dampen the light of our surroundings. The way the colour of water in a lake or a river is always similar yet always different and therefore changing. The way the ripples in the water continuously move and flow from one form into another. Things always seeming to be the same, but never actually being the same.

How do you make this principle – if one may call it thus - apparent?

The intention or the concept behind the music for me defines which structure of «change» is used in a respective composition. Change can be a very interesting element and I often also combine very short changes and changes over a longer duration of time in the same composition.

In general, change is a very important factor in my music. But this, I think, can be said of every musical composition as change defines where something starts and where it ends. «Narrow» is also about questioning when a piece of work is completed. To define a composition as finished and letting it go is one of the most difficult parts in creating music for me.

So how do you define where it ends?

When it «feels» right to me. When I have the impression that I can't improve or develop the composition any further without destroying its soul.

By Tobias Fischer

Narrow is available from Room40.

Photo by Peter Würmli.

Steinbrüchel Discography:
Stockwerk (Stockwerk) 1996    
Red8.4-/ w. Brusa (Synchron) 2000
Zwischen.raum (Domizil) 2001
Momentan Def./ w. Tomas Korber & Günter Müller (Cut) 2003    
Circa (Line) 2003    
Untitled/ w. Kim Cascone & Jason Kahn (Atak) 2004    
Skizzen (BineMusic) 2004
- -00:dedaih/ w. Brusa (Synchron) 2004    
Opaque (+Re) (Room40) 2005    
Status/ w. Frank Bretschneider (12k) 2005    
Perspectives/ w. Günter Müller (List) 2005    
Stage (Line) 2006    
May 6, 2001/ w. Taylor Deupree, Kenneth Kirschner, Tomas Korber, Aaron Ximm (and/OAR) 2006    
Edition 3/ w. FOURM (White_Line Editions) 2007
Falte/ w. Bernd Schurer (Non Visual Objects) 2007    
Basis (Room40) 2007
Sustain (Koyuki) 2008
Mit Ohne (12k) 2008    
Staub/ w. Machinefabriek (Machinefabriek) 2008
Live At Offf 2008 (Crónica) 2008    
Home (Slaapwel) 2008
A\B\C\D (BineMusic) 2010    
Non Renew (Yugen Art) 2010
Narrow (Room40) 2011    

Recommended Steinbrüchel Interviews & Articles on the Web:

Interview with Steinbrüchel at Electroacoustic Tales Guide
Steinbrüchel interview at the Sound Proector



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