"The future is already here, it is just not sufficiently distributed"
German eccentric musician Felix Kubin seemed always more virtual than real. This time of his performance on Transmediale 2013 in freezing (again) Berlin even more – he was remotedly projected on screen and the director of press centre was hystecical about not reaching him for whole week. He might transform in a phosphorescent soap bubble in a second, so I tried to reach him on email which gets more possibility to catch him in the time and place “ Back When Pluto Was a Planet”. Or any other one.
Fortunately, he still remember his extravagant profile itv for my Xelectronic pages in Rock&Pop magazine in 2004 (Back When R&P Was The Best Music Magazine), so he kindly sacrificed some time to answer questions on his journey to Frankfurt to get an award for his new radio play – Orphée Mecanique. This years seems already very promissing to this overcreative scifi retro avantgardist – tour schedule is filled up (amongst other performing in May on Sonar festival in Barcelona or Teriaki Festival in Mans) and his long awaited new solo album is coming out in fall. Apart from that, he co-operates with the Polish Lounge Big Band Mitch & Mitch and curates an compilation of German underground tape artists coming out on Finders Keepers records.
The tiny version of this itv was published in the Czech Metro Magazine in May 2013, but updated whole version is only here for you. Hear the story of Jurij Gagarin obscession, tape fetishism, German New Wave teenage period and passion for radio plays.
Let’s start with the new performance Instrumentarium with Boris Hegenbart on Transmediale 2013. Somehow it was a bit unclear who is managing what, maybe even more interesting technically than sonically. You playing on several organs somewhere far far and Boris Hegenbart sitting at his mix desk in the audience, manipulating with your sound, you beeing projected on a big screen, … It might have been quite tricky to obtain realtime data transmission without delay …
This performance was conceived by Boris Hegenbart, I just delivered the live sound material for it. The idea is based on his recent album “Instrumentarium”, for which he asked a dozen of musicians with different musical backgrounds to play duets with him. His part in the collaboration was the creative sound engineer. The technique Boris uses is close to dub music: he gets different channels of sound material that he filters, loops, samples, processes and cuts in and out of the mix. In our case he picked up the improvised sounds of my old “Dr. Böhm” organ with several microphones from different angles. I played outside of the concert venue on Planet Pluto (quite far away). There were some natural delays of course. You could see me play filmed by several cameras. I had much fun to do it but I no idea how the result sounded at the other end. In the future I hope to be able to listen also to the processed mix, too.
Your music has loads of various and quite enjoyable description – scifi pop, retro-futuristic neodadaism, avantgard surrealism, Bela Bartok of swinging organ pop, ... What would be your description for those who never listened to your music?
Test Tube Pop and Particle Accelerator Beat. Always wear your protection spex when listening to it.
Can you explain this your obsession with Gagarin? Does it have something to do with the self-constructive experience you described in one interview about falling from the tree and fight against gravity?
Already as a young teenager I was complaining about natural forces. I could never accept the Unchangeable. I fought the wind (a pre-mature Don Quijote), I cursed the rain, and I condemned earth gravity. The way I adapted Juri Gagarin is that of a taxidermist: I opened his body, examined and emptied it, then put myself inside. He is much bigger than me. His eyes move like radars, his hands fold the instruction manual. There is no need for food in his elliptical orbit. He catches the signals. Everything flips in slow motion.
Your label is also titled Gagarin records will celebrate its 15th anniversary this year. It gathers an interesting collection of 20 musicians – what connects them to be under Gagarin rec?
All my artists have a very open mind. They are not only interested in music but also writing, film, theatre. We hardly talk about music when we correspond. For example, Pete Um is a manic blogger who comments on music and society with many short films and written essays. Barry Burns of “Vernon & Burns” collects ventriloquist puppets. His main puppet, “Stan”, is a very dirty-minded ruthless manager. Ergo Phizmiz (who just got a bigger feature at the WIRE in the March issue) is obsessed by opera, he has just composed one. I also got him into contact with German radio stations and he has produced several radio plays for them, some were even awarded prices. All Gagarin artists consider music rather as part of a bigger canvas that can be filled with many colours and concepts.
Last year, I have founded a new label called “Apolkalypso” that is exclusively dedicated to vinyl singles. As I am not able to release too many LPs per year on Gagarin Records – I am too busy with my own work – I wanted to have a platform where I can act faster and more spontaneously. Apolkalypso focuses on the original idea of the 7”: the hit format – whatever that means.
Recently, in March, you were awarded Radio Play Of The Year for your new radio play, Orphée Mécanique. Tell us the story…
My recent Hörspiel “Orphée Mécanique” is a modern version of the old Orpheus myth situated in the age of media technology. It’s a desperate piece: Orpheus is a kind of Sisyphos who has to travel again and again through hell. Everytime he returns to reality, his memory is erased. His search never ends, he becomes a locked grove, an endless loop. Meanwhile, his beloved Eurydice slowly vanishes, she turns into a projection of his fantasies. Orpheus´ instrument is a magic apparatus called Psykotron that can read and “play” his mind.
“Orphée Mécanique” is full of poetry and experimental (pop) music. It’s a big privilege to be able to produce something like this in Germany, to get paid for it and have it broadcast on national stations. On the other hand, in Czech republic you have a tradition of (animation) film that we can only dream of. Our film industry has degenerated since the 1990s. In general, there have to be places in society where artists can express something deep and true with no respect to charts and box office figures and with no industry behind them asking for results. I am afraid that the radical form of new economy is trying to prevent this more and more. But it’s a deep desire of the human soul to express itself beyond economical strategies. If they go on pushing us to the edge there will be a riot. We have fought suppression and exploitation of work over hundreds of years. The enemy has learned a lot, he knows that it’s better to disappear and let people exploit themselves. But if the enemy tries to vanish we have to make it visible. Spray!
Radio plays are something very specific for German territory and also very popular, on the contrary with the Czech Republic where it is very rare that a musician works on some radio plays. Why do you personally find interesting the radio plays and why do you think this form is so attractive for musicians in Germany?
The radio play genre combines a lot of different skills: writing, dramaturgy, music, foley art, voices, editing. In this regard, it’s close to film but much cheaper to produce. Another big advantage is the fact that it works without pictures. This leaves a lot of creativity for the listeners. They create the film in their heads, there can be jump-cuts that would be technically impossible in any other medium. German radio play is the best funded and most versatile in the world. It has many sub-genres ranging from classical narratives to most experimental sound art or abstract poetic collages, including artistic documentary (we call it Feature), big serieses (just recently a 22 hour version of Ulysses was produced) and even in-between genres such as fake science reports and inventions of non-existing biographies.
Your latest release is a “ best of” compilation Felix Kubin. Looks that you are getting to that age…
Well, I seem to have become a target of “best of” compilations. The release you are talking about is called “Bruder Luzifer”. It has been beautifully compiled by a small label called “The Omni Recording Corp.” from Australia. The label is run by a music encyclopaedist and great fellow called David Thrussel. Actually, I am waiting since a while for my new album to be put out but the release is constantly delayed. My music is still not very well distributed. I guess, some greedy people will earn money with me as soon as I am dead. While I am still alive, just click on the “order” buttons of the releases on my websites gagarinrecords.com and felixkubin.com. You can get most of my stuff at stora.de. End of the ad.
For MACBA , Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, you prepared an interesting format of whole radio programme called Parasol Elektroniczny – Rumours Form Eastern Underground (download on their website rwm.macba.cat) covering mostly east europe avantgarde scene. How did you get involved in this project?
You are referring to the series “Parasol Elektroniczny – rumours from the Eastern underground”. This series was an idea of Anna Ramos and me. She approached me few years ago as a curator of Radio Web Macba, a great audio archive website of the Museum for Contemporary Art (MACBA) in Barcelona. We conceived a model for a whole series about East European underground music. In autumn 2012 I had to put my work a bit on hold due to some big projects that I have to finish over here in Germany but I will continue in summer 2013. The next country in the line will be Poland.
One of this podcasts was curiously about Czech avangard scene. Do you have some relationship to Czech music or are there some artists you like?
Well, I have always been a big fan of the film composer Zdenek Liska who also produced scores for Jan Svankmayer. I recently heard his opening music for “Ikarie XB-1” and was blown away. Then I met a guy called Slawek Kwi 15 years ago who was into acousmatic music. He published several CDs under the name “Artificial Memory Trace”. But he had left Czech Republic long ago. Of course, I had also heard about Plastic People Of The Universe. But many of the musicians that appeared in my Czech episode I didn’t know before. The concept of Parasol Elektroniczny is that two socalled “umbrella agents” are appointed by me who know the local scene(s) of their country really well. They make interviews with the musicians and provide me with their music. There is a certain catalogue of questions that they have to ask – the rest is freestyle. From all the recorded material I edit a 60 min programme. This takes usually one month. In the Czech episode I especially liked the lively music of Ivan Palacky. Funny enough, an old school mate of mine, Andrea Neumann, has collaborated with him. The release is fantastic.
Your early works such as Die Egozentrischen 2 was part of New German wave and you still mention this movement as crucial for your up-to-date production and development…
The amazing aspect about NDW was its incredible energy and radically way of pushing the boundaries of pop music and lyrics. There have been many inventions of styles that became constitutional for German avantgarde pop. Bands like DAF, Der Plan, Einstürzende Neubauten, Die Tödliche Doris, Fehlfarben, Palais Schaumburg / Holger Hiller, Kosmonautentraum…all very different and all very unique. Not to mention all the genious tape productions. It was hard to digest this all in such a short time. This was the tragic side about NDW: it only lasted for 5 years. The whole phenomenon was rather an explosion than a development. This had also technological reasons. With the invention of new cheap instruments and 4-track tape machines, suddenly everyone could afford a homerecording studio. That’s why many amateurs got involved in it. For many years, the Germans had only copied Anglo-American culture. With the arrival of punk and D.I.Y., a new self-confidence manifested that gave them the power to create a new kind of minimalist music out of their own culture – often referring to the humour and absurdity of German art in the 1920s. After the end of NDW it took about 25 years until this important phase of our music history was finally reflected in books and high brow culture.
Chromdioxidgedächtnis – an audio tapes show for Northern German Radio NDR in May 2013, photo by Timo Schierhorn
German New Wave was mainly using tape recordings for distribution as it is widely described in the interview with Alfred Hilsberg from ZickZack label in one of your Parasol Electroniczny series. Cassettes are being part of current retro hype fetishism in these days. Does the tape culture/distribution has a special meaning for you?
Actually, I have just played a really amazing gig, a commission work about audio tapes with 8 tape records and 8 walkmen, prepared piano, prepared drums and electronics for the Northern German Radio NDR. It happened in an old great radio studio called Rolf-Liebermann-Studio. However I don’t have a fetish for tapes, rather one for microphones. But tapes played an important role in my musical socialisation. I copied records and radio programmes and exchanged lots of mixtapes with friends. For my first compositions I used two cassette recorders, adding sound layers while copying recordings back and fourth between them. We called it the ping-pong method. Later on I got a Fostex X-15 machine, one of the first affordable 4-track cassette recorders. The industry was suggesting us that cassettes sounded bad but nowadays we know better. Tapes sound beautiful, I like the way they saturate the sound and smooth out high and low end frequencies. All the recordings I made back then on 4-track still sound fantastic. I was shocked when I heard that in 2012 the electronic industry decided to stop the production of audio tapes for good. This was the last analog recording medium for the general public.
Referring to the first part of your question, I don’t think that tape recordings were the driving force behind the early success of NDW. It was rather the unexpectedly good vinyl sales of independent labels like Zick Zack (with bands like Abwärts and Einstürzende Neubauten) and Ata Tak (with the single “Fred vom Jupiter” by Andreas Dorau) that put the major record industry on the alert. The rise of cassette labels was a strong side effect of this successful development. Tapes were the ultimate emancipation of underground music production – and especially important for rural or remote areas that didn’t have the information density of the big cities. What I like about cassette releases of that time is their boldness and lack of perfectionism. There was a lot of crap but some of them were so free-spirited, daring and charming that you couldn’t find any equivalents on vinyl.
I am currently working on a big “memorial” composition about audio cassettes called “Mein Chromdioxidgedächtnis” (my chromedioxide memory). It will rely basically on my own tape archive and create a musical reflection of the irregularities and technical characteristics of the medium. I will release it as a box consisting of a tape and a CD. The tape will contain raw material, while the CD will contain the electroacoustic composition made out of the sounds.
Last remark on tapes: I also have an ongoing project called Demo Dandies together with Felix Raeithel. We DJ only recordings that people bring to the event and release the best tracks on a tape afterwards. Like that we hope to slowly create a cultural audio scan of amateur music scenes in different cities.
Your work is very diverse – opera, sound art, radio plays, live shows, … Is there something in the work in music field you still did not experience and would love to?
There is always more ideas than I can realize. I would like to record some library records, a piece for a cursing choir, a piece for stuntmen and foley artists…I’d also like to create a radio play using very raw methods of recording, some kind of punk electroacoustic collage with the microphone as a weapon. I want to continue the exploration of spaces. Create sound installations. Record singers in the bathtub.
Seems you find your referencies mostly in the past, however is there some current music trend which you find interesting or some bands you like?
People seem to love to connect me with the past. But I am definitely living in the present and every piece of art that I create refers to my actual conditions. You can also see that in my lyrics and writing. I just have a huge knowledge of music and like to refer to my own history. But I am always in a total experimentation mode, I never have a formula, otherwise I would be bored by myself. Take my release “Echohaus”, for example. I have never done something like that before, and the result is a greyzone between contemporary music, film music and improvised electronics. On my labels Gagarin Records and Apolkalypso I basically release new unknown artists. What I like myself? Recently, I was especially struck by the amazing Micachu and the Shapes. Generally, I like the output of labels like Monster K7 (F), Ultraeczema (B), Alku (ES), Dekorder (D), Stones Throw (US), Lado ABC (PL) and sailor choirs.