|Carina Khorkhordina (w/Hiroki Mano). (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix
What is echtzeitmusik to you? Is what might be considered echtzeitmusik connected through any approach, process, or sound result?
To me echtzeitmusik represents a certain period of improvised music in Berlin in the 1990s–2000s, echoes of which we are still enjoying and witnessing. While most of the main protagonists (people I know best are Axel Dörner, Andrea Neumann, Burkhard Beins) are still around and they definitely can play excellent music in this “style,” or according to the logic they originally developed, mainly they're doing a lot of other things which aren't directly associated with the particular “sound” and aesthetic decisions of what ended up being defined as “echtzeitmusik.” I also have an impression that some of them are not particularly fond of the term “reductionism.”
Besides, we still have an echtzeitmusik calendar, which is listing a lot of improvised/new music/free jazz/experimental concerts in Berlin, which is very useful, especially if you don't want to rely on facebook to learn about the concerts.
Is there something material - like demographics, affordability, or cultural practices - about Berlin that you think makes such a scene possible?
When I arrived in Berlin in 2013 for a longer visit, I found it not so affordable at all! Aside from the music itself, the main attraction was definitely the openness of people, you could attend concerts and easily be included in the social environment. I mostly felt quite welcome, and people were curious about me. Yes, I also experienced hostility, but this was rather exceptions.
Initially I was attracted to Berlin as a listener, because there was so much going on. I was not playing music publicly at that time and had no ambitions to do so. Although I did attend some workshops and I played with friends in my hometown. The fact that I started playing concerts in 2017 is due to the community being so incredibly open. I got invited to play a concert with some musicians I admire (in the band I am now a member of: Klub Demboh), and there were more musicians that I really like in the audience. [These were still the golden days of Neu West Berlin on Kurfürstenstrasse right in the prostitution area. The guys running it were clearly doing illegal stuff and they also had an endorsement with Adidas for some reason, the main guy always wore new Adidas sneakers. Later they started stealing our door money because they were drug addicts. The electricity in the entire venue was cut off. Klub Demboh concerts moved eventually to Petersburg Art Space.] I was nervous but I managed not to ruin anything in that performance, and after this I kept being invited to play different small scale door gigs. Less than a year later I got my first official paid concert – exciting! So, still a big surprise to myself, I became a musician.
In what ways do you think the scene has changed since your involvement and what might have caused these changes?
This is difficult for me to judge. I heard an opinion, or a concern, that people might adjust their artistic (or curatorial) work a bit too much to fit the funding guidelines – and that affects the result. Not necessarily in a bad way. I may sometimes slightly sense that it's happening, but would not want to claim anything concrete. I hope people still do exactly what they want to do artistically. But I do not think that we are completely independent here, just playing our idealistic music. Everybody needs money to survive. Living is not getting cheaper. Finding a flat in Berlin is extremely hard nowadays, and if you manage to find it, it won't be cheap like what you hear from people with the old rent contracts.
Probably people still keep coming to Berlin because in the other places it is much worse.
Otherwise I think when I arrived, there was quite a heterogenous mixture of styles and approaches coexisting, and that whole mix is still constantly evolving and changing – people are coming and going, trying new things, venues are closing and the new ones are opening – with no fixed style or sound dominating.
Are there any recordings, labels, venues, musicians, or other participants you would like to shout out for cultivating the scene, or that you feel are essential to it? And is there a recording of you or your work that you feel is particularly representative of the scene?
One incredible organizer is Alexander Markvart. He is doing the programming at Petersburg Art Space and he was in Berlin since 2018, I think. He is also a fantastic musician with a very broad understanding of the music. Unfortunately the German authorities are not giving him an answer on his artist visa since 1,5 years despite many letters, invitations and paid concerts (for which he could not come). So he is at the moment in Russia but I find that he became essential for the Berlin scene.
My personally favorite venue is Au Topsi Pohl. Also this is the place where I was starting to play in the regular workshops run by Joel Grip and Tristan Honsinger. Another person who really supported me in the very beginning is Emilio Gordoa. I am very thankful for their generosity.
What did you find in Berlin that you did not find in Russia?
Musically: people are actually listening when you play together.
In Russia there is not that much exchange and live musical practice with other musicians who are maybe more experienced or coming from different cultures. Not so many Russian musicians are travelling outside of the country (it is difficult because of the visa and the costs). Also, at least in Kaliningrad, even among musicians often there is an attitude towards improvisation that it is not so serious, more like jamming, making noise.
On the political and personal levels, there is a lot I could say, but perhaps this is not directly connected to echtzeitmusik anymore.
- Interview conducted by Keith Prosk