"Five tight, close, and immaculate improvisations from the leading exponents / abusers of improvised trumpet and spinet. Recorded in Hamburg in October 2010, and sounding like nothing else."-Another Timbre
"Interview with Christoph Schiller
First of all, why the spinet?
I used to play the piano, the spinet came later. I'd always been unhappy with the fact that as a pianist you can't usually play concerts on your own instrument, or sometimes there's no instrument at all. Maybe ten years ago, I got a spinet so that I could play baroque music on a more or less appropriate instrument, and after a while I started trying it for improvised music too. Having taken the decision to develop it for my own purpose, I spent almost a whole year adapting my inside-piano techniques to it, and developing new techniques. It worked well. My first thought was to use it as an alternative to the piano, but soon I abandoned piano completely. As I was interested in 'small' sounds, I'd also been unhappy with the massive body of the piano. The spinet is a much lighter, smaller instrument; I can even travel with it.
Also there's less tension on the strings, and this provides other possibilities, for example when working with an e-bow. I generally like the light sound of the instrument. Even though I play it in a way that's far removed from its 'original purpose', it keeps its character, and funnily enough it works very well with instruments that it "knows" from the baroque world: viola da gamba, violin, recorder. But it also sounds good in electronic contexts. The strings are plucked (when played from the keys), and this makes it much easier to mix inside techniques with keyboard playing, as compared to the piano.
With the piano I always felt aware of the history of piano music behind me. I don't think this is just an intellectual thing, it also has to do with the way sound is produced in a piano. This is a very special technique. The spinet is simpler in its sound production, and perhaps this is why I feel much freer with the spinet. I know its history (baroque music), but I can still use it as if there was no history at all, as I was inventing the instrument completely anew. The spinet and harpsichord didn't play any role in the music history of the 19th and half of the 20th century.
The spinet might be exotic in improvised music; but my instrument isn't just the spinet, but also the preparations and the way I play it. Looked at from this angle, it's no more exotic than a guitar or a laptop or a trumpet.
So can you tell us a bit about the preparations you use? When I've seen you play, you seem to use quite a variety of objects.
I use some small stones, a piece of metal and a glass for either putting on the strings (to shorten or open them), or for placing on the bridge to create distortion effects. And a larger stone for putting on the lower keys to open the strings ('pedal'), as well as some forks, a piece of polystyrene, and various little objects - amongst others, a chopstick, a small cymbal attached to the instrument, and an egg-slicer which holds a ruler. I use a cello-bow for playing on the attached objects and the wooden body, and sometimes even on the lowest string. Also I have two e-bows. I play the strings via the keys or directly with my fingers, plucking or rubbing. For some time I've also placed a Zoom Hn4-recorder inside in the instrument, for recording and immediate playback, over the little built-in loudspeaker. I usually mix this with the same or similar sounds 'live', so it's not always clearly recognisable. On the recording with Birgit I also had a very good cheap kind of fan, but it didn't last very long, and I couldn't find the same model again. I'm always working on varying the combinations of all these and finding new aspects. It is indeed a large variety.
Currently I'm working on a new set-up using some electronics: a pick-up, a microphone, the Hn4 again, and a mixing board. So it's even more stuff! But things come and go, and some objects might disappear after a while, if I find that I don't use them. The spinet itself is one of the objects in a way, even though the most important one.
OK, now onto the disc. Before the music, what about the titles: Kolk, Auflast, Sediment, Geröll and Bult. What are these referring to, and why?
They're all geological terms, referring to the formation of landscape. 'Kolk' is the basin that is washed out under a waterfall, or even under very small "waterfalls". 'Auflast' is a term referring to the process in this situation. 'Bults' are small grass "islands" which occur in a marshy landscape. In a way it's the opposite of Kolk, as it's a positive form, while Kolk is a negative one. Sediment is a geological shift (material sinking to the ground and forming a layer) and 'Geröll' means boulder. All those terms describe landscape features in a certain state, as result of a long-term "sculptural" process, a process that may not be finished, but which is going on very slowly. We don't claim that the process of our music making is as slow as geological developments, but we bring the terms and the music together to achieve maybe a certain point of view. Birgit and I have known each other for a very long time, although we have not always played together during this time. But there are, for example, common "sedimental shifts" in our artistic history, and the music on the disc is the culmination of a long-term development - but as with the geological features too, it's certainly not the end of the process, but a statement of "now".
It strikes me that 90% of your music that I've heard has been in a duo setting. Is that a form that you particularly like, and if so why?
This is not a concept, but yes, I like playing in duo very much. Maybe because it's intimate, and the system of communication is simple and clear. But there are also practical reasons: it's easier to find dates, and it's easier to find possibilities to play concerts, whereas trios and of course larger groups are always more difficult to organise. I play a lot with different people, and duo-playing is the easiest way to be flexible inside the network. But I do also play in other constellations, larger groups, and I like that too! There are even some very large ones, like the IMO improvising orchestra in Switzerland, as well as my vocal ensemble Millefleurs and Carl Ludwig Hübsch's Ensemble X in Cologne. Then I also play solo, but not so much. I really want to do a solo CD as well, but I haven't yet, because I always think I can do it later... it's like visiting tourist spots in your own town: you never do it, because you think you could go there any time. So you only go there with friends from abroad - and then it's a duo again!
Yes, I certainly hear those qualities of intimacy and clear communication in your duo with Birgit. But I think there's also something else in play that I like: a kind of integrity. While, as you say, your music has undergone geological shifts over the years, neither you nor Birgit seems to follow fashions in music. You're both clearly aware of current developments in improvisation, but engage with them in ways that retain your particular history or personality intact. It's an approach that I like very much, but I wonder if it has led you into being a more marginal figure than you might have been if, say, you'd embraced 'Reductionism' as a disciple in an evangelical way?
I think what you call integrity is essential in any artistic work or career. Maybe you're right when you say that I am a rather marginal figure, but I don't know if there is a choice - artistically. There are always many possibilities, but are they really serious possibilities? I think the "freedom" in improvised music is mainly the freedom of finding one's own way, or own solution.
I was and am very aware of, for example, reductionism; it is very important music and there are extremely important ideas in it, that have of course also influenced me. But I think that none of the main protagonists has "followed the style" in order to achieve these results; rather the results are the outcome and consequence of an artistic development. I'm not explicitly trying to "keep distance from stylistic trends", I just don't copy them. There is no point in copying the styles, and I mistrust any rules which pretend to offer a final solution.
For a long time my work was much more marginal than it has seemed in the past couple of years. I learned to do my own stuff, and to follow my artistic instinct and conscience, because I wouldn't have been tempted by any "success" whatsoever. I am quite content with my situation as it is now. I can do my work, and that's fine.
Yes, that makes sense. I'm curious to know exactly how the pieces on 'Kolk' were made. Were they totally improvised, or did you agree to work in certain areas prior to recording each piece, and were they shaped later on through editing?
All pieces are freely improvised. We had recorded a lot of material in one session from which we selected the takes we liked. After this we worked on the order and chose some pieces with regard to a through form (of the cd).
The pieces were all played as they appear on the disc - except that sometimes we edited out sequences before or after the piece. But there was no post-production work except for this selection and putting the tracks in an order. However, there was quite a lot of work mixing some small details, and I am very grateful for the help of Boris Vogeler, our sound engineer."-Another Timbre
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1. Auflast 5:31
2. Sediment 6:37
3. Geroll 10:11
4. Kolk 7:43
5. Bult 4:22