Blow Upffertig Interview

Jochen Irmler

Blow Upffertig, Apr 2004

BU: We've heard your hand behind two of the most intriguing albums of recent months, both on Klangbad: the Audiac first album and the new one by S/T. Apart from these releases, we've listened to your first solo album, and by now to the collective effort by Faust and Dälek... What's boiling behind this super-activity?

Jochen: Well, first of all, thanks very much for those nice compliments. But I would not say that it's a 'super-activity'. We've been building our new studio in Scheer for the better part of last year (and the whole of this year), so I'd like to say: wait until that's completed because then we will record EVEN MORE of this kind of music! But what basically drives my production activities is the discomfort I feel when I turn on the radio or TV. There's so much mainstream music about that I feel I have to record a few antidotes against this amorphous mass of uniform muzak! There, I've said it. I don't want to sound too big-headed, but I sometimes think that's my task on this planet. Plus when you're past fifty you're a little more impatient to get things done that's my explanation to this activities in general. And then of course both bands send me tapes I just couldn't refuse... Right now, I am working on a project with a girl-group called NNN, you might have heard them on the first Klangbad-Sampler. Their music is so open that I can introduce myself at any point of their music - which is what I really like about music in general: openness. Wait till we get their album out on Klangbad (which should take place in the next three months, I hope).

BU: I see... Absolutely nothing good on the radio? Nothing that can capture your interest? What would you save on the mainstream music, actually?

Jochen: First of all, I think that radio should be able to provide information, to offer food for thought or things rarely heard. For acoustically oriented people like me, the radio is a wonderful medium. But like everywhere, people in radio seem to have become whores of the record-industry - by which I do not want to say that they should not play any of the music offered by the industry at all. But they do it to an extent nowadays which I consider a form of brainwashing, absolutely. It seems to me that if this goes on like it does, one day we will have a lot of stations sounding exactly the same, so that we will de facto have one big station. Orwell would be delighted. But the people in radio are sawing off the branch on which they sit (as we say in Germany). The same goes for the recording industry itself - see where its appetite for complete usurpation of the market has got it (at least in Germany). Universal, the biggest of the majors over here, recently issued a statement in which they said that from now on, they would not take on any german artists any longer, but only marked US Stars over here. For me this is an impoverishment of our culture. I'm sorry if I sound like some demented old fool babbling away about the good old days and how rotten everything is today. But in the case of radio I just can't help it. What I would save from the mainstream? There might be something, and if I thought long and hard I might come up with an answer. How much time have you got? But mostly it's into the one ear and out of the other.

BU: Starting with the Audiac album: I have heard very few so interesting album these last months, and I see your hand behind the work of the band. How did you operate producing them? And what interested you in their work?

Jochen: If I may repeat myself: Thank you very much! It seems that I have developed quite a fondness for voices over the last few years. And when I first heard Alex Wiemer's voice I knew I'd absolutely love to produce the band. To tell you the truth, I'd really like to work with a female singer sometime. Plus Niklas is a very inspired keyboarder and I like those, too And of course their music... it reminded me of the music I listened to as a young teenager, namely the beat music of the British Invasion. I was really into that, but apart from groups like the Monks, this music has gone downhill since 1966 - at least from what I've heard. I thought I could discern this kind of spirit that drove beat music of my early days in Audiac's music. But before it could come out, I had to strip away quite a lot! We ended up using less than half the tracks Alex and Niklas had originally recorded.

BU: The work with S/T was in a certain way more predictable; their sound is more directly influenced by the Faust one, even if their new album is a more 'actual' one than, for example, their Space Fidelity, a straight heir of the old 'kraut' rock. How did you arrive to produce S/T, and what would you say is your contribution to their sound?

Jochen: I tried to turn them on to the subtleties in their own music, which is also what I wanted to emphasise in the production. At the same time, I wanted their sound to be as powerful as possible - and I hope I have succeeded in this. And yes, there's a lot of Krautrock in there, but also an awful lot of punk-influences. And I forced the singer to try different styles, to sing in more than one idiom. And I also influenced the balance between the two musicians. I hope they still talk to me... but then it's a good record! They also did me the favour of playing the concert in our garden when we had people helping out with the construction of the new studio. I'll be eternally grateful for that, boys.

BU:Life Like is the first solo album by a member of Faust. You never had any idea of making a solo work before? And what inspired you to make one by now?

Jochen: For me, doing this solo-album was like having an affair with another woman after I had been married for over 30 years. I wanted to see if the old bonds and ties were still strong enough to endure with this. It turned out they were, Faust is still alive and kicking. What inspired me to do the album was that I was commissioned to write a soundtrack to a museum which mirrored the life of the Romans and the original inhabitants in the Danube Valley around the time of the birth of Christ. So it started as the musical journey though one man's life during that time and then while mixing it I thought that maybe I could turn it into something more general and transform it into the soundtrack to a human life in general. And now it's all in there... but what you hear or don't hear is entirely up to you!

BU: Well, you say 'doing this solo-album was like having an affair with another woman after I had been married for over 30 years', but Faust in more than 30 years of life have changed line-up many times, or better you have released records where the line-up changed a lot... I have 18 CDs and 1 LP of Faust in my hands by now and I could swear there are not less than 5 different line-ups... It's a strange kind of marriage, you know. I always thought that behind the Faust force there was an idea more than a band: so who is the real motor behind the idea? Am I completely wrong thinking that it's Irmler & Diermaier?

Jochen: I think I've got a different concept of 'marriage', I guess - I have been married eight times! But you've already answered the question yourself: At the centre of Faust was always the idea; it's individual musicians merging with a group which is the true attraction. Everybody can go his or her own way in Faust, yet they are part of the same being. So no, it's not just Irmler & Diermaier, although Zappi and I have always been connected in a special way, we were joined from the beginning by something mute, unutterable, which does not need language to communicate itself, however different in character we may be. Do you know the expression 'it goes without saying'? That's what Irmler & Diermaier are like. We even communicate like that when we have an argument!

BU: How did you work on Life Like? I mean, what instruments do you use and what is the importance of electronic manipulations of sounds in it?

Jochen: I exclusively used what most people these days refer to as 'organic' or 'analogue' sounds; i.e. organs, guitars and, well, 'human activities' in general - you might want to call them 'field recordings' - which I then manipulated. On this record I used every trick in my box, all things that were available to me. And what is the result? It sounds like it's been done on a laptop, haha! But I've no fun creating music with computers, which I find stifling the creative impulse. I allow myself to work analogue and manual - which I see as the true luxury in this age of multiple gigaHertz.

BU: It seems you don't like that much laptop music, do you?

Jochen: It's true, I don't like it that much. Seeing what can be done with them, I would sometimes really like to use laptops myself. But before you're able to use them as tools that do what you want them to, you run the danger that these machines will restructure your way of thinking and acting to an extent that seems dangerous to me and my form of creativity - and I don't want to become Kraftwerk at my age! The music I heard people making on laptops often reminds me of the music I used to do at Wümme after the others had left the studio and I was on my own with a big bowl of coffee (Orso) and my home-made equipment - generators, filters, etc. Sometimes I got so obsessed with an idea that it took the whole night to figure it out - and I often failed, because I jumped from one idea to another. When I remember those experiments, I think I must have been feeling like a child then. It was good and extremely important. Nowadays I seem to have lost it. And while we're at it, I think what Dälek do is the perfect mixture of the 'old style approach' and modern working methods. They're using the laptop, but also their voices and a wide range of noise machiness which they operate by hand.

BU: How was born the Faust-Dälek collaboration? It seems unusual that a hip-hop posse can find a common ground with an avant-rock band like Faust...

Jochen: Yes, but not if there's Faust on the one side and Dälek on the other! Faust have always been open to influences, that's one of our number one rules, even if at the time of Wümme, we deliberately closed ourselves off from the musical world - which is to say that we shut our eras to the mainstream. We had a mutual acquaintance and this guy told me that Dälek actually knew Faust and liked them to the extent that they even used Faust-samples in their music. So I said I'd like to hear their music. And when they sent me the From The Filthy Tongues Of Griots album, I absolutely fell in love with this music. I hadn't been into hip-hop before, so it was quite a shock to me that I could actually like this music. I then licensed the album for a european release on klangbad and we started to get in contact. When they came over for the first time, we were all a bit nervous: Could we make music together at all? How would it turn out? But it went down well, we even did a joint concert at the Bonn Bad Kilbi-Festival in Switzerland in June of last year. It was a heart-warming experience to see that these guys actually liked what we had done in the early 70s and now transported this idea into the future in their own idiom. Come to think of it, I feel very, very flattered and grateful for this experience! It has opened a lot of doors, really... and I hope it will open some more on the listeners' side.

BU: What intrigued you and the band to listen to hip-hop music? Are you a hip-hop listener or just this time and this band?

Jochen: As I mentioned, my reception and my appreciation of hip-hop began with Dälek. They gave me a Story Of HipHop CD which they compiled themselves and which I like very much. From what I heard there I think I can say that hip-hop like the music of Faust and krautrock in general has always been a music of outsiders. I think that's the most obvious connection.

BU: Listening to Derbe Respect, Alder, we must say that it's a more Faust than Dälek album; there is not so much hip hop in there...

Jochen: This is probably because the music of Dälek and Faust is so spiritually linked and has such a lot of resemblances.

BU: Which Faust members are playing on the record with Dälek? Irmler, Diermaier and...?

Jochen: Michael Stoll, Lars Paukstatt, Steven W. Lobdell, Zappi and yours truely.

BU: What about the future of music, if it will have one? I mean, new media like MP3 format, and the internet downloading are changing the way people will listen to, buy and consume music in the future. Maybe the story of 'album' the way we've known them for more than 40 years is dying. Will there be a single, 'just one track' renaissance? And how do you see Faust in this context?

Jochen: I can't tell you because I haven't thought much about that subject. All I can say is that it's probably going to be more concerts and less album sales. But I don't think that this will affect Faust much. The people who like Faust will still be buying CDs and vinyl in 20 years time, I guess. More so, since Faust has always attempted to produce some kind of 'Gesamtkunstwerk' - right up from the first clear LP to this day. Another thing: The mp3 frenzy will probably entail is the renaissance of vinyl - you can't download those crackling black discs from the net, right?

BU: Going back to the past... Many legends have been told and written around Faust during these most than 30 years... Want you tell us about the band's first years of life, starting with the story of a group 'born out of nothing' in a studio?... Was it true that no one of you had real ability playing instruments?

Jochen: We weren't actually born out of nothing, as the press often claims. We were two nuclei of groups in Hamburg. One lacked what the other had - namely a drummer, in this case Zappi. So the group comprised of Jean-Herve, Gunther and Rudolf asked Zappi who they knew through a mutual friend. But Zappi said he would only come if his the other two - me and Arnulf Meifert - could come, too. And that's how Faust came about really. So it was partly an organic growth, and partly forced together - which is probably what made it so special in the beginning. And we did rehearse in the beginning - but only a short time after that, we started recording in the studio at Wümme, where we also lived. What astonishes me now that I look back on Faust's history is that actually we can play our instruments! (Well, some better than others, but still, we can play them...). What also astounds me is that after over thirty years of playing, we're still playing as badly as in 1971! When I turned 50, I decided that now was the time to stop to pretend to practice. And I guess, so did the others!

BU: You haven't written about the role Uwe Nettelbeck played on your formation... Was he really so influent on you at the beginning and then on the production, or it's another legend?...

Jochen: In the beginning I found him somewhat dubious, but the intensity of his commitment to our concept broke down the barriers I had initially built up. I think what happened was that he saw his own thing in Faust, the thing he would have liked to do had he been a musician and that somehow made him unstoppable. He discovered music with us. And in those days, music was a strong force in underground and youth culture, it transported everything, it seemed. Music was the blood of that particular generation. It was the sound and the heart of the revolution everybody was busy planning. I sometimes think that the revolution would have succeeded if people had listened more to the sounds than to the lyrics. Maybe the revolution was thwarted because people were too much brain and not enough heart, who knows. But it's a thought that often enters my head. But back to Uwe: He was an extremely clever person who used his established position to contribute anything he could to make the project work. There was almost no whim and wish of us, i.e. the musicians, which he thought was too far-out. And we did have some far-out ideas, I can tell you! So we got our studio, our house, our soundman. We were able to experiment - and nowadays I often wonder if we couldn't have done that more. But with the hindsight of history... anyway, Uwe was the main man as far as the structuring of the whole project was concerned. He took up this role, maybe not quite voluntarily, but he did it and he did it damn well. I don't know how long it might have taken us to come up with the first LP had it not been for him. He often had to take the blame for pressing us, but this also had its positive effects. All in all, I can only say that he did his job so well that he was member no. 7.

BU: How was born the collaboration with Tony Conrad?

Jochen: Another guy who could only play one note, haha! No, to be honest: It happened at a time when we were still searching for the meaning, effect and impact of single notes, soundsculptures, indefinable tonality and other musical concepts that were not 'melodious'. For example, we were trying to figure out how to recreate a thunder and lightning storm in sound. The whole thing was arranged by Uwe Nettelbeck, who brought Tony to Wümme at some time around 1972. Tony turned out to be a real worker - Zappi had to drum for two days non stop! I remember opening the door and they went dum-dum-dum-dum, absolutely monotonous. When I got back a few hours later, they were still playing exactly the same beat!

BU: Many years ago, when you saw and listend to the so called 'industrial music' in the UK, didn't you say to yourself "these are our children"?...

Jochen: I did. But mind you, I still feel much too young to have children!

BU: Heh heh heh... I know you are... One of the distinctive traits of 'industrial music' was the use those people made of 'not proper' instruments like hammer drills or chain saws... How much is true that you used those instruments on concerts in London during your first tour in UK? And, most important, why?...

Jochen: It is true, we did use a pneumatic drill on that tour. The idea behind that was the same idea that was behind Tony Conrad's and John Cage's as well as our music: That anything can be music and thus anything can be an instrument. If you take your time listening to it, any sound will unfold its inherent beauty. But it takes time, which is what most people do not seem to have these days. We feel that we have to see and hear so much that we lack the time to enjoy anything. We just consume, but we forget to enjoy. I sometimes wonder how people must have felt 500 years ago, when somebody started building a church and maybe his grandson saw the finished building... .

BU: With the beautiful Rien, ten years ago, we can say Faust was born again with Jim O'Rourke. How much do you feel that album is a Faust album, or how much do you feel that album would never have been released that way without Jim? And why haven't you yet collaborate since those days?

Jochen: Honestly: I can't tell. I don't know. Better ask Jim on that one. We were just starting again, so there's no telling in how far he influenced us or we him or whatever. We might have done exactly the same if he hadn't been there, who is to tell?

BU:Were you present on the Rien sessions? And if you weren't (I don't know, but your name is not on the CD), why?

Jochen: That was because I didn't like the idea of going to the states at that time, so they used tapes of my playing.

BU: Again on the past... The music coming out from german bands at the beginning of the seventies was named 'krautrock', while it seems that most of you would have preferred 'kosmische music'... I know it's a trivial question, but what about? Do you remember who used first the nickname 'krautrock' for your music and Can's or Cluster...? And how did you feel about it?

Jochen: I never liked the term 'kosmische musik' very much and I don't think it applied to a lot of music that was made then. They were still very much down to earth. What was common to all these bands was the wish to find a unique language and a unique expression (but then every second newcomer band will tell you that). We also wanted to get rid of the old forms because we found them too static, an oppression. I think that Krautrock happened because nobody felt this need to shed the old and look for something new more urgent that the german youth in the late 60s / early 70s. On the one hand, we wanted to get away from our the generation above us who had been nazis and in large parts still stuck to a watered down form of that ideology, while on the other hand, we didn't want to play the music of the imperialist USA, who after the war had been flooding the land with their culture (which in pop music had been the blues, something they stole from their ex-slaves). That's why back then I didn't like Can that much.

The origin of the term 'krautrock' may go back to a track on one of the first Amon Düül-records called Mama Düül und ihre Sauerkrautband spielt auf, but the person responsible for establishing it as a sort of brand-name or genre was the British music journalist Ian McDonald (who sadly took his own life last year). And then of course we had our ironic take on that on Faust IV with the song by the name. That was when we were in England, where we as a new generation of germans were still identified with the doings of our fathers. So for older British people, we were still 'krauts'! So that term sort of came to us 'from both sides'.

BU: Your 'answer' to that expression has been one of your greatest track ever, Krautrock on your fourth album... Was it a polemical answer or just a joke?

Jochen: As I hinted at above: We did it with a laughing and a crying eye.

BU: At the beginning of the first track of your first album there are two quotes from the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction and The BeatlesAll You Need Is Love... Were they a sort of primitive 'sampling'? And how did you take them? Just playing the vinyls and recording it?

Jochen: The songs were played to us in the studio, we heard them on the headphones and then played against them, so as to drown them out - which was what we had in mind. As I said, we wanted to get rid of the old stuff, eradicate it, drown it, dispense with it - and do something completely new!

BU: Who had the idea for the first album's cover?

Jochen: We developed it together, though I think it was me who had the original idea. Sorry if I sound big-headed, but that's the way I remember it! Somebody wanted a fist on the cover, but being the consequent people that we were it also had to be transparent, like the rest of the record. Andy Hertel, a young filmmaker we knew from our Hamburg days (and who incidentally also owned a pub! Hey, you own a pub? Let's be friends... ) agreed to have his fist x-rayed. If my mind serves me correct, all of us others were too afraid of the x-rays!

BU: While the first album was maybe excessively depending on some models (Zappa, english prog rock), So Far exposed the 'Faust music' in all its power and greatness; it really was 'krautrock', no resemblance to anyone but a group of peaople coming from Germany. But maybe the most enduring and foreseeing music was the one you put on The Faust Tapes, hundreds of English And american new wave bands were born out of that music I'd say... What would you comment about this?

Jochen:The Faust Tapes were a concentrate that had been begun by Rudolf Sosna. We collected stuff and we then recorded additional pieces for that collection. What Rudolf did was very often rooted in a sort of all-encompassing play-instinct, which is probably why The Faust Tapes had such an echo through the world and through the generations (a big echo for Faust-standards, that is). The tapes continued the ideas we developed for the first LP, but it was more an attempt to build our own little world. And it was also a kind of stock-taking, one year after we had completed So Far. We were focussing on ourselves in our own little world, which is probably what makes that record so charming.

BU: What about the role Kurt Graupner played on your first years? A friend of mine who is also a musician and a studio production engineer, tells me that he was essential for your sound, and for the 'electronic feel' that we hear behind it...

Jochen: He made us pay attention to certain norms, which now as then are valid in the field of audio technology. If these records are sort of timeless, the credit for that is to a great extent his. Apart from that, he had the sensitivity and a intuitive understanding of what we wanted to do. He was the one who put our ideas into practice, for example through the construction and building of electronic switches today know as gates. Without those, much of what we wanted to do would have remained unrecordable!

BU: Last month we interviewed Irmin Schmidt from Can... Faust and them are the two most important 'krautbands'. I've always thought of the two like the most different we can imagine in attitude and results. In my mind, when I think of Can, I see four people that are studying and playing at the same time, serious, careful and... aehm... boring? When I think of Faust I see colours, I see imagination, not that great accuracy but a lot of ideas coming out and flying in space... Model students versus some freaked out anarchist minds? And let me know how much was true that you and them didn't like each other that much, was it for your different approach to music and, maybe, life?...

Jochen: Well, thank you for calling us one of the two most important bands of that era! I have to admit that I do feel very flattered. Concerning Faust & Can: Not liking each other is putting it a bit too harsh. But back then, we regarded Can as part of the establishment. We felt that what they played was more rooted in the blues than in Stockhausen, and the former was something we tried to get away from as fast and as far as possible! Today I quite like them and I feel that they have earned their place in the history of so-called rock or pop music. To all intents and purposes, their music has remained representative of that era.

BU: Behind Faust there is a constant mistery... Lots of things that don't collect each other, notes that don't respond to the truth, musicians that play on the records but are not credited and vice versa, and so... By now, who is Faust, just you and Zappi? And the most recent musicians you've added since Nosferatu on, and then since Edinburgh 1997 on, and then since Ravvivando on...

Jochen: As I said before, Faust is not just me and Zappi. But as you said: Faust has a secret that will outlast all other secrets, which I can only describe as... the magic of the band.

BU: Were you in contact with the other band like Cluster, Neu!, or Kraftwerk? And, tell me, which one did you like and dislike more among them? I mean musically and...

Jochen: No, we were not in contact. Maybe we were just too lazy to communicate... today I'd rather we had contact. As to the bands you mentioned, one of them I respect for their consequent marketing strategies (guess which) which, to a certain extent, exposed the market's absurdity. The others I like for their almost fanatic zeal with which they follow their goal. I feel I share more with Roedelius than just the fist name.

BU: Let me know what was behind the old story that was born out of some musical magazine in whose opinion Faust were... nazis!

Jochen: I never quite grasped how anyone could possibly come to that conclusion. It's a complete mystery to me, especially since one reason we started Faust was to go into active opposition to that ideology. Maybe it's because we look so German... I just can't tell you, I have absolutely no clue.

BU: Do you want to give me a list of the records you would bring with you on a desert island if you were to stay there for a year?... (You know, it's a column we have on the magazine, probably you've seen it.)

Jochen: I'm very selfish here: I would take all the tapes from my archive, since on that desert island I would finally!!! have time to listen to all that stuff. Where is that island? I suddenly feel I need to go there, quick!

Apart from Faust, maybe I would grab some records by the Beach Boys (Pet Sounds and further, Mr. Wilson has never stopped to amaze me) and an old record by The Rolling Stones, preferably the The Last Time / Play With Fire single by The Stones - I think Play With Fire is one of maybe five good songs they ever did! Basically, I would like to take something to sing along with me, because that's the kind of music I cannot do!

BU: Thanks for the interview.

The final statement from Hans-Joachim Irmler:

Jochen: I think that we've always been uncompromising in our refusal and that we were persistent in our goal to realise the music we wanted to make, but if there were a big crises, which could only be solved by me, then, yes, I would do it, I would even kiss George W. Bush jr. Yes folks, I would do it.

Jochen Irmler, "Blow Upffertig Interview", Blow Upffertig 2004