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Part 4: Making landscapes sound

img  Tobias Fischer

Bergen is a great example for how Neidhardt's music, although rooted in improvisation, is never without structure and conceptual foundations. During his gig at the Cafe Wendel in Berlin in April of 2010, for example, he would occasionally glance at a piece of paper carrying chord indications and notes, roughly delineating the outlines of a track. He was therefore, without slavishly adhering to a fixed „score“, effectively interpreting material from previous or upcoming LPs. The point has, however, never been to play without any kind of  preconceptions and to revel in low-fi purity - even though that is still part of his approach from time to time. Rather, it has been about drawing from the special mood and tension only a live performance can yield. Consequently, overdubs and edits are banned from his albums, while a carefully crafted production is not. As a result, these works are capable of offering the best of both worlds: The organic arrangements of a live performance and the pristine audio quality of a well-mastered studio album. Most of all, they create an intriguing ambivalence between unchanneled imagination and well-considered decisions about form, production and their integration into the narrative structures of an album. There is both rawness and beauty to be found here. Or as Neidhardt puts it

    „There must be something catchy waiting in the background ... and a bit of corrosion too.

Describing sonic landscapes
The latter is of particular relevance to the philosophy of each N-record relating to a particular place and of the music at times constituting, as Neidhardt puts it himself when speaking about Trischen, „a description of a landscape, a picture painted in music“, allowing the listener to „hear the colour of the landscape and smell the weather“. This figurative element and the sense of the music flowing from a real space into the realms of the imagination through the filter of the artist, adds a sense of tangibility and transport to a genre otherwise dominated by metaphysics and opaque metaphors. Indeed, Neidhardt is the first admit that he enjoys working with concepts, which help him stay focused, keep things from turning trivial and relate different elements of a record to each other. When continuing work on the tracks which would eventually become Bergen, Neidhardt noticed that his Karnap-EP with Segment had also related to a physical location - Karnap being a district of the nearby city of Essen. There had been no connection between coming up with these titles, which both had their very own reasons. And yet, surprised by this coincidence, Neidhardt was fascinated by the kind of artistic opportunities the concept allowed for. It also influenced his visual ideas and design work, using blurry photography on the album covers to represent the space delineated by the sounds.

    „These images don't tell everything. They seem to promise that there's more, as they stretch from the front cover to the back without interruption. There's no lettering on the front and merely the most basic information on the back. Just plain artwork.“

The process of inspiration can work both ways. While Bergen was created with the town serving as an inspiration, for his latest release, Gager, the picture used on the front was there first. It was only when Neidhardt had arrived at the decision to build an album on that particular image and the place it referred to that he began writing the music. Gager, therefore, should not just be considered as a description of a municipality on the island of Rügen here. Through the creative process, it is also sublimated into a place between the physical and the fantastical, both a geographical location and an emotional landscape, which the listener is free to explore at his or her own leisure. Consequently, the music is of an almost breathtaking calm, creating a vast, stretched-out sphere of intimacy and silence. The notion of tying each of his releases to a different place in the real world, therefore, came about as an inner urge rather than as the result of intellectual contemplation:

    „How do I put myself in the right mood to capture a particular place? Good question. I have never asked myself before, but rather just did it. And as I already mentioned, sometimes I already “know” that place beforehand, sometimes the musical result “tells” me where to look for it afterwards. For example, Miguel Boriau has already sent me some of his recordings, sparse ones to give room for my work. And surprisingly, he already mentioned a title for the record, concerning a real place, even if this is a collaboration and I do not force collaborational work to fit my personal rules in every case. But since I know that title and since I like it, I didn't have to think twice about accepting it. I even checked it on maps and information sources - it is quite far away, so I don't think I can manage a visit too soon. I think about it and ask myself how it  might sound ... this is my preparation. I'm also doing  the same thing with a place for another solo work at the moment.“

Another essential factor of the N-style is its strict adherence to the live situation. These albums are not typical concert registrations, but they feed from being recorded in a live situation and from the complete absence of overdubs. After spending ages on a few seconds of music with [multer], it felt liberating not having to „listen to twenty different kinds of feedback to find the best one“ and risk loosing the general perspective on a piece by focusing too intently on details. The freedom of being able to go back to everything and turn a piece upside down seemed more and more like a burden of actually having to make use of it. The first take, meanwhile, contained a freshness  one will usually try in vain to regain in later attempts, according to Neidhardt:

    „I have really had the experience that entering the rehearsal space and starting the amps is a point, when “something awaits in the background“. And if I did not instantly record it, I would miss a lot. It is one of the secrets of the first take.“

Partly, this is down to him working with a peculiar idea of what actually constitutes a composition. His approach leans towards mood, atmosphere and perhaps even colour:

    „When it comes to the question of composition versus session-like structure, it depends on the track. Some of them, like the movements on Trischen, are of a somehow loose structure. The main point, here, is to emphasize the flow, the mood and the sound and to figure out a peak; even the length may differ from time to time. But then, look at Gager: those four tracks basically develop from a single note to an orchestration of single notes, chords and different harmonies, with the peak at the end of the track, especially with both center-pieces “Groden” and “Groden II”. At the end, as a listener, you are simply surprised how you got there, but everything sounds logical and you can not remember any break. To play such a track live means keeping in mind the different structural and tonal ingredients that need to be stacked on top of each other to gain the desired result. This, to me, is composition, while the example before is maybe more of a sort of free painting. Or my latest pieces that I played during the autumn tour with Microphonics: those are of a kind of arrangement that has to be played in that particular order live. There is a sort of freedom to rearrange and change things a bit, but not in harmonic or structural terms. More in the attitude, being more forceful or rather calm and silent.“

Bergen is widely considered a success. And yet, it fails to sell. And while [multer] enter a phase of transition, with projects mainly taking place outside of the medial spotlight and public discourse, N, too, withdraws into a realm of quietude and reflection, of occasional sampler-contributions and sporadic stage appearances. Over the next four years, Neidhardt will play a mere five gigs and contribute a single piece to a low-key compilation release. [multer], too, are only rarely seen in concert, although they do manage to write new material for each of their performances. There are commissions for theater, for a night-long exhibition event and a sound installation running for an entire year in a former World War II army bunker. At the Audiodigitale festival organized by Martin Juhls, the band play together with Tim Hecker, CM von Hausswolff and Scanner, as well as attending the closing event of the HMKV Exhibition “Wach sind nur die Geister” / “Awake are only the spirits – about ghosts and their media”, using original material of ghost hunter Friedrich Jürgenson with permission from Carl Michael von Hausswolff. But the story seems told, the journey ended.

By Tobias Fischer

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Homepage: Denovali Records
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