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Into the Green

img  Tobias

It is somehow bizarre that a lot of people still do not consider field recordings „music“. On the other hand, photography has had to go down a similar road of acceptance. What once appeared to be a “mere” trade has by now surpassed painting as the most influential of the fine/visual arts. It makes sense, too: After all, a photographer not only decides on the right motive, but also on factors such as lighting, angle, distance and she (or he) has more than just a handful of post-shooting techniques at his disposal to transform the picture’s qualitities even more. Gabi Schaffner hits the nail on the head with these comments in the introductory text to the second part of the AudioArt Compilation series, which, despite its shortness and thanks to its unacademic tone, is one of the best and clearest explanations of what this genre is about. “In the end”, she writes, “it is you who decides whether music is a territory divided up among various dogmas or an open source of inspiration.” And the Gruenrekorder label, who commissioned the tracks on this sampler, has always been on the inspirational side.

“We wanted to establish a platform for the great variety of individual projects in field recordings.”, Roland Etzin and Lasse-Marc Riek explain right at the beginning  of our conversation. “There are two aims: We want to enhance the possibilities for artists, to start or participate in shared projects. At the same time, we want to make it easier for interested listeners to “access” the sphere of fieldrecordings.” And indeed, Gruenrekorder has not only served as a means to publish great albums from the various poles of field music, but acted as a catalyst, virtually building a scene where there was none and feeding it with creative input. As one of the first German labels in the field, it has managed to create awareness for its cause and a deeper understandings of its aesthetics. Together with Ahornfelder, which emerged from the vivid and bubbling Eastern German experimental community and has quickly risen to fame thanks to a couple of high-profile releases, it is leading the way for others to follow.

As always, things get off to an unspectacular start: “Gruenrekorder arose out of the shared soundscapes-project “Rasselland”. We wanted to publish the album and decided to simply found our own label. That was 4 to 5 years ago. We started to also publish other artists' work straight away.” The label grew quickly, thanks in part to the generous support of various institutions in its home base Frankfurt, mostly known for kicking techno tracks. But the largest part of the rapid evolution can be explained by the sheer incredible amount of work dedicated to the build-up by its founder, who openly admit being “regularly haunted by work-overloads..” 40 albums have now been released and these include CD-Rs, pressed CDs and some excuisite Vinyl offerings. But even though every single one of these is close to the label founders’ hearts, they have got their priorities straight: “The most important series are the Audio Art Compilation and the Fieldrecording Series. These are projects that we want to keep running for the next years, too. The former presents different artists' work in soundscapes, electronica, and poetry. The latter contains raw fieldrecordings, again, works by various artists.”

They are also the easiest passage into what Etzin and Riek have dubbed their “Reservoir for aural art”. Especially the “AudioArt” collections offer exciting juxtapositions of unedited field recordings, treated material, combinations and totally “artificial” compositions. Even though these terms are to not to be taken without a grain of salt, as Schaffner points out: “Electronic music has ever since kept a fond memory of the “natural” world. (...) As a simple fact, no kind of musical composition can be exempted from nature, as the very principles of rhythm, pitch and phrasing are derived from man’s early environment.” Also, as a result of technical possibilities, as well as some surprising qualities of the world surrounding us, the ear can be tricked and fooled, causing the paradoxon, that some tunes will seem composed, while in truth being unedited: “The slightest impression of a regular beat, repititive structures or melody – and the recording is considered cut, looped, picthed, etc” However, Gabi feels obliged to warn the listener for too quick judgements and invites him for to check his intuition on what is “real” and what isn’t on a couple of tracks. The result of this game in my particular case: 50% correct, 50% wrong. By now, I am intrigued and have to concur with her: “The distinction is difficult!”


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For those with a keen interest on “true” phonography (or “audiography” as Schaffner calls it), the Fieldrecording series might be more appropriate. Here, only unmanipulated material is showcased, leading to a continous flow of changing sceneries. The first volume is especially interesting, as it captures an excellent overview of some of the most important characters in the – err – field: Aaron Ximm, Yannick Dauby, Etzin and Riek, as well as Marcus Obst, better known under his dronaement pseudonym. Hailing from seven countries, these artists present short snaphsots as well as lengthy pieces culled from ten different nations, positioning their field recordings as a different kind of travel log. When I talked to Marcus Obst about the issue, he was quick to share his personal vision with me: “If I listen to the recordings of the individual contestants, without knowing where and when they were made, then I’d have to admit that things in Russia, America, Japan or anywhere apparently sound just like from my own window. In that case, it would not be that attractive to listen to those contributions (unless one of them were striking in one way or the other). These recordings only start making sense to me, if I can see an accompanying photograph and possibly know where it was taken. In that case, my imagination is stimulated and that’s what things are about for me.” Subsequently, all of the contributions have more or less extensive descriptions in the brilliantly layouted booklet. These texts also draw an interesting picture of the typical Gruenrekorder artist as someone in constant search for the perfect moment. Obst, who runs the small Field Muzick outfit himself, has this to say about his track “Waterbeat”: “This locality was a small underground pipe about 2 meters below the ground you could enter through a manhole. A stereo microphone was attached in the pipe close to the water. Unfortunately, I did not experience those rhythms again despite visiting the place several times.”

The contact with their artists is one of the best things to the Gruenrekorder crew: “We just get into touch with so much interesting and exciting work by really nice and interesting people – it's just so much fun!” Still, despite being an open community, “there is a kind of nucleus of about 5 people, who really spur on projects and who are in permanent contact. With most of the artists on the roster, we shared a project, you can find some of them on more than just one CD.” The openness of the concept has led to some releases far outside of the usual core territory, a move which has just been heavily criticised (or at least challenged) by Frans de Waard of the influential “Vital Weekly”. But this probably has to do with a different understanding of what the label really is about – which has less to do with a defined style than with certain underlying parameters. The leading duo agrees: “The work has to fit our program. There needs to be a trace of individual, creative musical structure and the technical quality of the material must be high. We regularly receive demos, more and more. Of course, not all of them meet our criteria. But others do.”

“More and more I wonder what the point of organizing sound into music is. Just walking down the street sounds so great. Everywhere you go, it's already there.” Jason Kahn once remarked and his comment is mirrored by Gabi Schaffners passionate conclusion: “Listening to music does not mean 3 minute-emo-food-consumption. It is about paying attention and it is a participatory process. So, listening to music means listening to all noise, realizing that its appropriation and control is a reflection of special encoding.” A few years will still have to pass until the world will be able to listen to field recordings they way it looks at photographs, but the goal at least now seems attainable. Maybe then a few people more will be able to share the enthusiasm of Roland and Lasse-Mark, whenever a new project is finished: “It's an awful lot of work – administrative, legal, paperwork, all that stuff which is so far from artistic. But it is an even greater feeling then, after you have finished all that nasty administrative work, to finally hold the finished CD in your hands!! It's worth the trouble.”

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Gruenrekorder
Homepage: Gabi Schaffner
Homepage: Marcus Obst

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