2017: Musica Universale ? – Noisey/Vice (IT)


Nonplace: statement against music being bound to a geographical location. Can you explain what and if there’s any meaning of the—controversial—expression “world music”? What would be your interpretation?

Countless examples of recorded local music from all corners of the world appear contained under one nationality, evidently, customarily on front covers: Solely the one nation name – for instance “India” or “Bali” are subserving to the notion of parts of the – “World”-music. Music is global, played all over the world, yet their is no such thing as global music. Opposed to the inevitable cultural imprints of each individual, music is governed by universal basic rules of harmonics, intervals or proportions, fully operating according to laws of physics, applicable around the cosmos, hence those laws are universal.

During the course of Western modernity, music has undergone, or may I say, was taken as a hostage, for a normative, increasingly self-expressive, freedom- and enhancement-claiming individualism, or maybe more correct, the industries and academia behind it. Adam Curtis for instance, has elaborated on such powers of amassing self-realization from the 60s to the 90s in “Hyper-normalization”, a documentary released on the BBC I-player in 2016 or on a wider scale, in the older “Century Of The Self” documentary. Emerging as mainstream pop and even as critical subcultures under the banner of constant, record-breaking renewal it grew vital and seductive enough to infect the whole world, apart from the few, tiny uncolonized areas of bush, like other popular transnational brands managed to do with their products, of which Coka-Cola is probably the most prominent example, hence this is our true “World”-music. The “music of the world” on the contrary is considered an arte-fact, vivisected at a specific time during the natural course of transmutation and preserved as a sort of ready made. One does not find Africans who posed interest in researching a phenomenon that became known as “polyrhythm”.

The production of knowledge plays an important role in the quest for “World”-music. Again, the recordings and their sleeves make me think this way, because we hardly have evidence otherwise of how under the normative scientific, music-ethnological gaze in combination with the market rules of entertainment, the music of the world is negotiated to the public, defining the common sense-discourse.

It s impossible to use the term “World”-music to describe what it really means . Only a specific, powerful, or may I say violent hegemonic musical belief system can convey a concept of “World”-music throughout the world. “World”-music indeed correctly denotes Western European popular or classical music !, and not the music of the world ( as if this ever existed ). From this angle I can understand Peter Gabriel who named his recording label Real World. I take it as a hint towards his understanding of global music. However, the nominalism of a topo-philic academic/popular gaze on global music, as opposed to topo-phobic notions, mostly coming from the musicians themselves, can be washed away by understanding the actuality of music, as it is information traveling in principle, always being in motion, henceforth music per se ignores national or other man-made boundaries.
People who have the means and knowledge of how to activate music, will naturally seek to learn, anticipate and appropriate instantaneously new information in the process around the making of music. More so today than ever before, due to the impact of digital information services or on demand visual radio like u-tube. To make sense, we must refer to the people, the musicians or ensembles when we speak of music and deliberately avoid the crusted, normative abstractions,… or achieve a knowledge about the formal language being at work, so that we can address the physical basis of what we actually hear. Instead most people only talk about their response to music, mainly their own emotions – but they do not touch the musical phenomenon at all.

 Some of your works have been strictly connected with the power of lyrics and more in general with the socio-cultural background of language. I got impressed by your vision of language as a boundary. Don’t you think, instead, that language itself is in a constant evolution and definition, just like the cultural identities that it embraces?

Not sure if I got the questions right, however, the problem with lyrics based music is that it usually appears to be dated. There is an intrinsic conflict between the semantic and the musical, or may I say culture and universalism. Music has no meaning and knowing that music is used for all sorts of purposes, I claim music is totally useless, therefore providing the ultimate power to induce trance, healing, etc. . Music has the potential to make things fit together inside a human being and that´s exactly why it is a target of abuse.
The billboards and charts, the palpable palate does not accept instrumentals. The time when a rare instrumental hit the charts is past. We are confronted with emotions instead, colonizing each individual note, from high to low culture. I don´t want to argue that some lyrics are fully coded, others are conscious. I simply want to make clear that lyrics determine the music to become outdated.

As an artist, this is the worst possible effect your music can have on the public. When Joseph Beuys released a 7″ single entitled “Lieber Sonne statt Reagan” (“Better Sun Than Reagan” – meaning Ronald Reagan and “Rain” ) in the early 80s, it occurred to me that for obvious reasons his career as a musician had tragically failed before it began.

 You’ve often spoken about non-western/post-colonial gaze, applied in your music. In 2017 we all agree that it’s becoming fundamental in almost everything related to art. How has it developed during the years, in your experience? Do you consider your art an active form of decolonization?

No. I m not seeking to encourage postcolonial or decolonization with my music, yet it might trigger such notions. Nothing stands behind me, no academia and I haven´t lived with musical parents either. I don´t know what “decolonization” denotes and leave it as this point.

Daniel Barenboim, in a recent radio interview in 2015, stated: in music we do not have a “table”, meaning that we have nothing that can easily associated with something commonly agreeable as a table. Instead, we are exposed to a fully abstract actuality, with at least two different properties, a mental and a physical content. There are verbal means to rectify a musical discourse: by referring to the physical properties of the music of which there are many, otherwise we mainly address our emotions and questions of taste.
Those physical characteristics, proportion, rhythm, scale, frequency, volume, etc. ) are commonalities among local musical traditions (traditions for lack of a better word) all over the world. It is legitimate to speak of universal properties, although locals, small ensembles, etc. may not be aware of the fact that they apply motion patterns in the same way as someone else does on the other side of the globe.
The universal lies in the local, I think is a correct statement, not sure where from -sorry. Unfortunately those practitioners pass on their skills over centuries through practice alone . Superior European Westerners preserve and transcribe their skills on sheets, academia and data formats. This type of materialistic knowledge will not frivolously be abandoned. I am afraid, it is more likely that practice will be abandoned and the colonization of the common musical mind is going to continue.

What’s the legacy of your intense and unique artistic path with Jaki Liebezeit now that he passed away?

Jaki Liebezeit is one of the few masters who must have realized that mastery concerns faculties of thought and practice which are not yet accomplished and therefor are taken into focus. Whereas a student, apprentice, sports-professional or assistant is asked to show what they have achieved. Jaki did not show anything, he played what was necessary ! It is the idea of not acting being the more sophisticated form of acting, or playing, in this musical case.

To give you a convincing example of how elaborate this idea already was in the 70s when he recorded with Can, I usually point at the Soundtracks LP, featuring the song “She Brings The Rain”. A wonderful track on which only Michael Karoli, Holger Czukay and Malcolm Mooney are actively involved with either playing guitar or singing. Irmin Schmidt and Jaki Liebezeit are not audible in this entire piece, yet they were of course present in the recording process and credited accordingly on the record sleeve. They decided not to play, which is indeed a musical decision, isn´t it ?

Jaki´s concept of rhythm has informed all my productions from roughly 2004 until today and continues to do so. This way his spirit is going to be present in the music coming out of Nonplace.

I’ve read that you consider music something that by definition transcends the strictly material world, and gets more involved with cosmic laws and ancient knowledge. This somehow contradicts your main vision of music research as a post-colonial process, in which the aim is getting rid of the western and ethnocentric perception of rhythm and sound. Music and politics, even if it doesn’t seem so, are often overlapping, and it’s vital that we accept this confluence. What do you think about this?

Thanks for the question. Music and politics – lets replace politics by ideology – are surely overlapping, but in what sense ? We are all natural born cultural beings. We will always carry known and unknown cultural imprints at all stages of our life; furthermore, the avoidance of ideological imprint, undertaken during the early 90s with the emergence of techno- and club- music, especially evident with blank white label records, the avoidance of anything representative beyond the music, was clearly political, yet not ideological !
On the other hand, the deliberate celebration and exposure of political, i.e. conscious or unconscious ideological content in lyrics and music overdetermines and even outdates genres of music. Is there a way out, given that politics belongs to culture, like religion does, but music does not ? Music, as a physical force depending on mathematical, arithmetic functions belongs to science and art.

In the famous German constitution art and science are declared autonomous and free. Over the course of history, this is sadly thoroughly damaged, once independent faculties they are drenched with corruption and are dominated by dubious market rules. This claimed independency is at stake today and in order for the music to be powerful, I can only recommend not to refer to cultural, ideological connotations. The power at work is much larger than the human mind.