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Monday, December 6, 2021

Echtzeit@30: Q&A with Ignaz Schick

Ignaz Schick. (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

FJB: What is echtzeitmusik to you? Is what might be considered echtzeitmusik connected through any approach, process, or sound result?

Ignaz Schick: For me „Echtzeitmusik“ mostly is a community of similar minded musicians who started arriving in Berlin in a particular time, from the fall of the wall onwards, who were more or less from a similar generation and who were asking similar questions, confronted with similar hardships, at a certain moment of musical stand still within the first wave of European free jazz and improvised music. A community who were researching similar musical ideas or concepts and who often but not only improvised. For me Echtzeitmusik never stood for a musical aesthetic or method, nor for a style, …. What was new and maybe a key element was the use of extended instrument techniques, instrument building, electro-acoustic sounds and electronics, also the incorporation of formal/material elements inspired from different streams of contemporary music (i.e. musique concrète, minimalism, microtonality) but also a curiosity towards all kinds of forms of experimental (underground) music like noise, ambient, song formats, performance, sound installation. The development of course took its time and over the years developed into a huge and fertile community with several generations of musicians who quite soon started to be noticed worldwide, …. But there is not such a thing like a typical sound or style, the musical results are as diverse as its practitioners and characters. There is sometimes still this cliché (mostly from outside of Berlin) that Echtzeitmusik equals with „reductionism“, this has been attempted to be propagated by a rather small group of players and influencers who pushed into this directions in the late 90ies and early 2000s. There was an extreme period of deep research into those realms, but at the same time others were working into very different directions (i.e. new jazz and song formats, noise, performance or even with techno and club music elements).

Is there something material - like demographics, affordability, or cultural practices - about Berlin that you think makes such a scene possible?

Definitely for the first 10 to 15 years it was the economic & socio-political situation in Berlin in the time after the wall came down. The city was financially broke, and had to re-organize after the collapse of GDR system. The fall of the GDR system had created a vacuum mostly in the East part of town, not only that there was an unclear real estate situation, also politically all the beliefs and utopian hope of the left were scattered, … There were tons of empty lots/houses/factories with totally unclear ownership status, and people went into those houses and squatted them, or rented them for almost nothing, or used them temporarily. For us young musicians who were mostly ignored or not acknowledged by the previous generation of aging free jazz heroes. Many of us were literally kept out of the clubs and funded venues, but we could bypass this ignorance and just create, experiment & explore and also perform concerts with our new ideas in the squats. There was maybe not always excitement about our music in such places, but a huge tolerance for our experiments as there were new forms of living which were experimented with in the squats. We didn’t make much money, but we also did not need much. The housing conditions were often very rough (apartments with coal ovens, cold water, no shower or toilet on the public stair case), but for me particularly as for many others this did not matter, I grew up on a farm and I had a similar childhood with little „confort“. Most important for us at the time was: living costs & rents were extremely low. This attracted more and more adventurous musicians and artists from all over the world. Rents for a long time stayed extremely cheap, and as a result there were/are many spots and venues were opened with no commercial pressure where musicians could perform. And most improtant: nobody had to compromise his ideas and concepts, we could be as radical as we wanted, we were in the underground anyway, nobody told us how to play or adapt our music in a commercial way. Musicians in this music want to perform, as often as possible, like in the old jazz days, as we are developing a lot of our music live on stage. We also always met and worked (…) on our music in rehearsals, but then it really needs concerts to be able to evaluate your findings. In Berlin this was always possible, in contrast to other cities also today you can still play a lot, and this of course has always attracted a lot of adventurous musicians and people from all over to move to Berlin. We have had an amazing influx of fantastic players int he last 30 years, the whole range from super young and unknown to also very known and established players who want to be part of this amazing community...

In what ways do you think the scene has changed since your involvement and what might have caused these changes?

Although that tendency started already in the 90ies it is way more international now. The amount of musicians has probably trippled or quadrupled. The level and the quality of musicianship has constantly been raised. And the stylistic variety of the music is much more diverse today. I think this happens quite naturally as all those people who moved to Berlin also bring in their individual ideas, approaches and experiences and they start merging and fusing with those already present. So the technical quality is way more sophisticated and refined. In the early/mid 90ies the sound of Echtzeit was more noisy and raw, in the meantime it went through several phases of refinement but also through stylistic transitions.
Now there is more inter-collaboration of musicians from different stylistic backgrounds (jazz, new music, sound art, noise, elects-acoustic), people tend to think less in stylistic drawers. Many are involved in different projects, that can resulting in different music every time.

Another thing I notice is that there is much more money/funding involved, the scene grew up, got attention and gets financial support from the cultural administrations. Which also is deeply needed now as the days of cheap rent or empty spaces which can be used for free are long over. Many of the musicians I started out with are now internationally respected and renowned or have become professors. That is pretty awesome I would say, but sometimes also feels a little strange. And of course with the change of the monetary situation also the conditions of production have changed: when I do projects, I have to attempt to raise funds first in order to be able to pay my musician, the venue, the technicians. This was definitely not the case in the 90ies, everything worked in a completely different way, ….

In what ways has the scene changed you and your musical practice?

Hard to say, one thing most notably may be that I switched to electronics at an early point in Berlin, … I did already use electronics since I was a teenager and tried to incorporate electronics into my set-up in my Munich days, but it was in Berlin and the earlier Echtzeit days that I decided to make electronics my main instrument for live-perfornance. And I went through a deep research phase of sonic materials and alternative forms together with my colleagues. For quite some years I did not compose nor play saxophone in concerts anymore. I was busy researching and developing my musical language on turntables and electronics. But that is different now again, as I brought back composition, saxophone, sound installation, visual arts, …. But this is something the Berlin scene has been amazing with, this open supportive climate which allows for people to experiment. I have witnessed how many people have completely changed their sound & concept of playing after they arrived here, there is a big tolerance for extreme experimentation in Berlin, always has been.

What I definitely enjoy is this openess of the scene, like so many people are experimenting and are learning from each other, stimulating and challenging each other. I constantly involve with younger musicians, from diverse stylistic backrounds, and I constantly learn, I have to constantly rethink my playing … The scene definitely taught me to stay awake, to keep on researching, to stay curious, and to keep developing my skills and practice, ….

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?

Well, that is a bit unfair and difficult, cause there are so many amazing players, but definitely the whole first wave of Echtzeit players like Andrea Neumann, Burkhard Beins, Annette Krebs, Axel Dörner, Robin Hayward, Michael Renkel (=Phosphor) are always worth to be checked out, but also players like Olaf Rupp, Tony Buck, Margareth Kammerer, …. This are all aging veterans of our scene, but they also stand for a certain reliable quality.

Nowdays it is more complex, as there are so many streams, generations and approaches, all the new noise and electro-acoustic artists, the ones who go more into sound art, pretty everyone in Splitter Orchestra, but also all those people who are developing a new hybrid form of jazz and contemporary music (like Christian Lillinger, Achim Kaufmann, Oliver Steidle, Uli Kempendorff…). Or what I call "the new young wild ones" around Loophole and Multiversal (Rieko Okuda, Antti Virtaranta, Utku Tavil, …) who are coming along with a totally different and often opposing musical approach towards the first generation of Echtzeit. Some of this is still in flux and development, but I really dig this next generations as they are challenging the first generation and our musical achievements. I don’t want to fall into the same trap door of ignorance as did so many of the 1960ies players towards us when we came up. I want to stay open and curious, even if I don’t always understand what the young ones are doing. I want to keep learning, and most you learn by playing with others, no matter if older, same generation or younger.

And is there a recording of you or your work that you feel is particularly representative of the scene?

I am not sure if I am particularly representative for the scene, I have so many different interests stylistically, from EAI, new jazz, new music, noise, sound art, electronic music. I think best is to just check my archival series on Bandcamp (, there are a lot of different things and projects to explore, music from various periods, …Soon I will also update the archival series (…) with compositions of mine.

My recent activities besides long going groups like Perlonex have been working with ILOG (with Oliver Steidle), Circuit Training or Inside A Leaf, or the duos with Frank Gratkowski, Christian Lillinger and Achim Kaufmann, or a larger group including Rieko Okuda and others from that circle of musicians.

In September of this year, you had a month-long exhibition in Berlin (and earlier in Munich) featuring other aspects of your art, could you talk a little bit about how this work (sound sculpture, graphical scores, LP-art) has evolved?

After secondary school I decided not to study music but visual art. I had studied music since I was eleven, and I needed a different perspective/look at things. (…) In parallel to my music I always had a strong interest in painting/collage. I always tried to fuse this two art forms, and a good way to go about this was doing graphic scores, vinyl objects, music machines or sound installations. I never really pushed a career in art. I found the art market way more disgusting than the jazz (club/festival) scene. Also my heavy touring routine did not allow a constant practice in art. For logistic reasons I mostly worked into sketch books. But from time to time I got invited and asked to do some stuff and then in 2019 an old friend and supporter from the country side of Bavaria, where I grew up, and who turned me onto music and art back in the day, asked me to do an exhibition at his farm. He is an amazing artist and music lover, he is 85 years old now and he still organizes exhibitions at his farm which he converted in big parts into a showroom. So I said yes, and the whole thing came out quite beautiful, it was a little bit like a retrospective, and thus I decided that it would be nice to show this works in Berlin as well, but in a much smaller space. Like this the four chapters came about, due to the size restrictions of the room. For „The Theory Of Everything“ I made two new sound installations, and I showed also two older ones, … With the four chapters I decided to change the main installation once a week, the rest of the show stayed for the whole time, … There were collages, graphic scores, cut-up vinyl multiples and objects that I also often use in my turntable performance and which often also have an attractive visual aspect, …

Like in most of my works also in the sonic installations, I work with found objects, I find stuff on the street, or on junkyards, or over the internet, like old speakers, household items and left behind stuff, and I assemble them in a new context. Like left behind speakers which are prepared with glass cylinders cut out of jars, and then I add objects to resonate. Through vibration, the mechanical speaker vibration, objects are triggered to resonate through sound waves. Or I use vibration motors from mobile phones, massage machines or sex toys, and I trigger them through MIDI to animate various metal objects, frame drums or Porzellane to resonate through vibration, …. Usually I work in a serialist way, like 48 source speakers, 22, speakers with fishing rods, or a swarm of 46 metal objects, … Swarms, clouds, or symmetric rows, … This way of working links it with the way I use turntables. Playing turntables is also a way of recycling and re-composing existing material into a completely new context. The same it is with scores, I often use old photogrpachs or graphics from scientific books, I cut them out or glue them into graphic scores and just change the meaning of the parameters, like a graph of population growth becomes pitch movement, or dynamics and so forth, …. It is playful, but has a hidden system and logic, like translating from one sphere to another.

- Q&A conducted by Paul Acquaro


Tony Simon said...

Thank you for the Q & A -- a really interesting period and scene to learn more about. I'm listening to ILOG2 right now---and finding it fascinating and fun, I'm hooked!