Q Magazine Interview

about “Secret Rhythms”, Nine Horses, sexual practise and technology, 2005

Q: When did you meet with Jaki Liebezeit, and how did you produce the first volume of “Secret Rhythms”? Did you have the basic ideas, and then Jaki came and made the rhythms ? Please tell me something about this process.

Let me start at around 1996. Back then I started using pre-recorded sounds and sequences on mini disc players, as reaction to DJ turntable beat-mixing. I entitled it “Mix Your Own”, because it contains home made sequences. On stage, I played back 10 separate tracks ( left and right is recorded separately ), sometimes at once. Mini Disc Players do not allow synchronisation. In order to keep the timing i produced sequences with one determined tempo and pressed play whenever i felt that a sequence ran in sync to the previous one. As a side-effect, the que-points of the sequences varied, and I realized that this was a benefit. Sometimes one could trace 2 up to 5 different sequence-cycles at once, distinguishable only insofar as one needed to mentally filter out each of the que-points of the sequences. Since then, whenever I record and program beats and sequences in the studio I have more than one que-point in mind, similar to the effects of a foreign grid/timesignature : By the first few listenings I feel disorientated because there seem to be lots of different que-points to get along with. At this point I decided to investigate odd time signatures. Who else could have supported this project better than Jaki Liebezeit ?

I gave him a call in February 2000 because I wanted to hook up with him on a gig offer for a Cologne Music Festival. He came over and we listened to the sequences I usually play out live. Later, we met up in his rehearsal room to prepare a live show for mic-ed drums and sequences run by mini disc players. According to his very special drum kit I needed to program suitable sequences. These sequences became the blueprints for the record “Secret Rhythms”; they are still audible as percussive backdrop or rhythmic textures/noises, although electric guitar and vibraphone, etc. had been added. Regarding this record, my approach/problem is simply stated: Where does the dominance of “cross”-rhythms in Western culture come from ? Is it possible to accustom to odd time signatures the same way as getting used to “cross”-rhythms ?

The recordings took place in Mr Liebezeit´s rehearsal room, possibly the only studio that contains lots of drum set ups but not one of them resembles the notorious jazz-and rock drumkit.

Q: I remember that Jaki said, around the time “Secret Rhythms” was released, that the album was a sort of “binary approach to rhythm”. What do you think about this description?

That is correct. Jaki is using a binary code to write down all rhythms, two signs suffice. This code could potentially function as a universal language for rhythm, replacing ridiculous notations incorporating countless signs and notes, that don´t make sense for drummers. His approach to rhythm is cyclic which means that a binary notated rhythm is readable from any point, hence the cycle.

Q: Since then, you have been touring all around the world. So, how have changed the way you make your tunes?

When I started recording music in 1978 I have always improvised. Even later, as a member of various bands we have tried to invent tunes from scratch. That means, whenever the recording was engaged we forced ourselves to get the first take right, since nothing could be edited anymore. Nowadays, although the digital tools allow obsessive perfectionism and displace improvisation I still achieve the best results through improvisation, through playing…this approach to techniques is nothing but sexual. I believe that generating sounds is sexual practise. Of course, I can push down keys on a keyboard but this seems to me the most castrated form of music-making. An acoustic instrument can be treated in many ways: rubbing for instance is more exciting than pushing. Keyboards, and numeric keyboards even more, are sexually handicapped, as is the dialogue with software.

I presume that calculators cannot replace musical instruments, precisely because what is musically intended has to be transferred symbolically, through a numeric keyboard, opposed to a real interaction such as a guitar, saxophone, penis, diverse organs etc…. I am not interested too much in the development of a perfect interface, because the development of such an elaborated interface would also mean a universal translation of what is individual and pathological, impossible to generalize.
Q: How was the recording of “Secret Rhythms 2”, and what are in your own words the main differences with the first volume (the evolution, if you guess)?

The idea is much clearer now, mainly because we have been playing odd meter rhythms during the past 5 years. Many of the tracks were played live before they went into the production, whereas with Volume One, almost none of the tracks were played live but invented in the studio, i.e.. through editing short fragments of instrument takes and a lot of programming. Volume 2 features much more instrument playing and less editing and postproduction.

Q: Time to talk about Nine Horses. When and how met David Sylvian and you? How did you decide to work together in an album like “Snow Borne Sorrow”?

I met him after a show in Cologne, 2003. His “Blemish” solo album had just been released and I was commissioned to create a remix of two songs. I think we were both pleased by the outcome and exchanged more rough tracks. He seems to be inspired by those uncommon rhythms, so it didn´t take him long to write lyrics for the tracks.

The circumstances of making music in separate studios is a different issue. I always opt for a physical presence and for music-making together. Every musician thinks that way. In our case it wasn´t practically necessary, because most of the tracks were already outlined and ready for overdubs. On top of it, all of the pieces have a programmed basis, not an instrumental basis. That means, the song sketches were produced solo on computer software. There you have the damage and the benefit in one. Look around, a lot of producers and musicians work singular, democratic or even anarchic concepts belong to the past and have almost put an end to the concept of a band. From my point of view the technical development has been one of the forces behind it. The other force may be the emphasis on a single individual in pop culture, mainly singers as the main attraction in the music.

Q: The song “The Librarian” appears in the “Secret Rhtythms 2” album, but also in the Nine Horses album, in different versions. Can you explain what are the main connections between the two albums?

I don´t see any connections apart from the fact that my contributions were concerned with odd meter rhythms. As such these tracks were part of the production with Jaki. So I also used them for the “Secret Rhythms 2” project. For instance, the song “The Day The Earth Stole Heaven” is identical with track 1 on “Secret Rhythms” regarding the rhythmic structure. You could easily beatmix or layer both tracks together. It will fit perfectly. This shows how I work with music. Once a rhythm is found it can appear in different versions and contexts. Another example: the song “Designer Groove”, first appeared on “Can´t Cool” ( B.F. and The Nu Dub Players, 2003 ) also appeared as “The Day The Earth Stole Heaven” and track 1 ( “Sikkerhed” ) on “Secret Rhythms 2”.