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Monday, December 6, 2021

Echtzeit@30: Q&A with Olaf Rupp

Olaf Rupp. (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

FJB: How did you get in touch with Echtzeit music?

Olaf Rupp: We just played together a lot more back in the 1990s. With the years everything has become more specialized. I got in touch with the music itself while I was at university. At the end of the 80s, I studied interpreting in Saarbrücken. You also had to do an additional subject there, and for me it was technology, including communications engineering. I wrote my diploma thesis on guitar tube amplifiers. I found the analogy interesting at the time, because people kept coming and wanting to involve me in fundamental discussions about my music, suggesting that "improvisation" was somehow inferior to "concepts" and planning and "composition". I thought I could avoid this by using a new term. But I was wrong. The term „Echtzeitmusik" (real time music) then became just as tattered as improvised music. In rhetoric, lively free speech is still more valid today than speeches read off the page. Interestingly enough, no one has yet been able to explain to me why this should be different in music.

What does Echtzeitmusik mean to you?

It basically means the same thing as improvised music, only with different connotations. The term "real time" comes from communications engineering and refers to a transmission of information without a time delay. (When a car driver moves the steering wheel and that impulse is then immediately transmitted to the wheels, that's real-time transmission. When NASA technicians send a steering command to the Mars rover, the rover does not turn until about 20 minutes later - that’s time-delayed signal transmission). If you apply this to music, it just means that there is no time lag between "composition" and performance of the music. Improvisation as an instantaneous special case of composition. The music is designed only at the moment of performance.

In what way do you benefit from Echtzeit?

Basically, it’s always good to get organized. Echtzeit will certainly develop more and more. But it's also not so easy to balance everything, especially because of the broad stylistic spread.

Has Echtzeit influenced your music?

When I started playing guitar at 12, I was just improvising. But I didn't know where that belonged, I just thought it was great. My first encounter with improvised music was around 17 at a private dinner with friends in Paris. At first there was rather common jazz (which I was hardly interested in) until one of the people put on a record by Cecil Taylor. From then on I was lost for the conversation at the table, I was just listening to the music. That was crass, to hear that there are others who "just played it" in concerts and on records. I thought I was crazy. Whenever I wanted to play Bach I deviated from the notes after a short time and then played for hours my own confused stuff. And that was always the input of what was going on around me. People were asking "Can you also play the guitar "properly"?" and so on....

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

There’s a lot more pressure! Society as a whole is under much more pressure. The years in which brutal budget constraints and the HARTZ IV (the short form of a German social welfare program) ideology destroyed a lot of things. In the people’s souls and in the structures of the music scene. And we are all still suffering from the consequences to this day.

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

There are now so many different interpretations of the term "Echtzeitmusik" that it’s no longer good for anything. That's why I hardly use the term anymore. I know people who say that if they write a composition and then perform it on stage, that is also real-time music. Improvisation is clearly a method and not a stylistic term. And that's why especially the people in music exploitation and music administration have such problems with the term improvised music. Because they are still very interested in maintaining separating categories. And it’s precisely such fuzzy terms like Echtzeitmusik that are ideally suited to pigeonhole and split.

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?

FMP! Most definitely! Jost Gebers has done an incredible amount for improvised music. Many people (including me) complained about FMP back in the 90s. Because they were not very open to new musicians. Today I see it differently: first of all, they just did their thing. And that was good and they didn't want to experiment with it. Never change a winning team. But more importantly, I realized much much later, that all of us, even those who weren't allowed to play at the Total Music Meetings, benefited indirectly from the fact that FMP existed, especially because of its structures. Many musicians forget this and lightly brush it aside today. But - hey - music is always somehow like throwing stones into the sky. As a person I’d like to mention Ignatz Schick, who has achieved great things with his festival ECHTZEITMUSIKTAGE 2010. First, he showed us all what the whole thing could look like if it was organized really well (instead of door gigs in pubs and cafes). And second, he also clearly showed everyone how broad the stylistic spectrum of music improvised in real time can be.

Thank you for the interview, Olaf.

- Q&A conducted by Martin Schray