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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

echtzeit@30: Q&A with Matthias Müller

Matthias Müller. (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

FJB: How did you get in touch with “Echtzeitmusik“?

Matthias Müller: I probably first came into contact with the term “Echtzeitmusik“ in 2004. That was the year I moved to Berlin, but it might have been even earlier, I don't really remember. At that time I was still more rooted in the jazz scene, even though my music already was a lot about free improvisation. I then came across alternative concert venues and series via the website, which already existed at the time. So I was able to make new contacts and immerse in an almost completely new musical world.

What does “Echtzeitmusik“ mean to you?

First of all, “Echtzeitmusik" is not a musical style - at least not anymore. When the term first appeared, which was probably in the mid-90s, it was, as far as I know, still intended as a definition of a certain form of improvisation - and above all to set itself apart from other terms like “free jazz“, “experimental music“, “new music“, and so on. It was a very reduced form of improvisation, therefore often referred to as reductionism. But since I wasn't on the ground then, I don't want to hold forth about it. What I do believe, however, is that reductionism still has a strong influence on the scene in Berlin today. Probably not in the same extreme form as back then, but definitely as a formal phenomenon. Today there is certainly much more diversity: new music, rock, noise, sound art, jazz of course, etc. One of the reasons is that the musicians often have completely diverse musical and cultural backgrounds. Today, that’s what “Echtzeitmusik“ means to me. It’s less a musical definition, it’s rather a collection of different forms of improvised music. Even if the spirit of reductionism still shines through until today.

In what way do you benefit from Echtzeit?

I’d rather say that I benefit from the Berlin scene, from the many different artistic personalities around me, from the people who have moved in from all over the world. I try to let myself be influenced by that and thereby sharpen my own profile. I go to concerts and try to play a lot with musicians of different generations, both with those who were already here in the 90s and with much younger ones who may have landed in Berlin for completely different reasons.

Has Echtzeit influenced your music?

Most definitely - if we talk about “Echtzeitmusik" coming out of reductionism. Maybe it’s not that recognisable in the music I make and publish today. But formal structures or the handling of silence and sound are absolutely present. As I said, I wasn’t in Berlin in the 90s, when this music had its heyday. I didn’t know anything about it at that time. I got to know most of it through recordings and later through direct contact with the “pioneers“. I played with many of them for the first time only when they had already stopped making reduced music.

What do you think could work better with the network?

I honestly never thought about "Echtzeitmusik" being a network before. There is a website where the current dates are listed as well as links to venues, etc. And this website is maintained by some people and always kept up to date, which is a great contribution. But the real, personal network is probably always the scene, friends, colleagues, etc. And not just in the city where you live. So from that point of view, I can't really answer your question about what could work better.

But your question is interesting because it actually points to something else! Namely, that the term “Echtzeitmusik“ seems to be pretty much attractive for many people! Many of us would perhaps say that they play “Echtzeitmusik“ without that term being explicitly defined.

To what extent do you think the scene has changed since you’ve got involved and what could be the reason for these changes?

The scene today is much more colorful, much more international, and probably less dogmatic. Of course, this has a lot to do with the changes in the city. Enormous numbers of musicians from all parts of the world have enriched the scene and given it new impulses, and in the last 20 years the scene has become much bigger. Berlin in the 90s and also at the beginning of the 2000s was a completely different city than today. This has had an impact on all areas and it’s been documented by all different fields of art and so - of course - by us as well.

Is what could be called “Echtzeitmusik“ connected by an approach, a process or a sound result?

Well, I don't know that either. The reduced - that is, “original - “Echtzeitmusik“ is still being made. But as I just said, the improvisation scene in Berlin is much more diverse now than it was 20 years ago. At that time, I think the desire to stand out from other forms of improvisation was much greater than it is today. Today, if you look at what concerts are listed on the website, there’s all kinds of stuff: jazz and impro, composed new music, etc. So there’s a wild mix going on. And from that point of view, I don’t think you can speak of a specific approach today.

Are there any recordings, labels, venues, musicians or other people involved that you would like to highlight because they have contributed a lot to the scene or that you consider essential to it?

One CD that was quite important for me is Barcelona Series by Andrea Neumann, Axel Dörner and Sven Åke Johansson (Hat Hut Records, 2001). For me, it’s a record that exemplifies the musical development of the Berlin scene. Of course, I can also recommend the book Echtzeitmusik - Definition einer Szene (Wolke Verlag, 2011) and the accompanying 3-CD box set, published by Mikroton in 2012. Event series that still play an important role for “Echtzeitmusik“ today are “Labor Sonor“ and the “Biegungen“ at the “Ausland“ club, which have always existed, as it feels. Other important venues for Improvised Music in Berlin today are “Sowieso“, “KM28“ and “Au Topsi Pohl“.

Thank you for the interview, Matthias. 

- Interview conducted by Martin Schray