Bodies in Rest and Motion

ZEITKRATZKER (TIME SCRAPER) OPERATE AT THE EXTREMES
OF GERMANY‘S NEW MUSIC SCENE: AN EXPERIMENTAL CHAMBER ENSEMBLE WITH SENSIBILITIES DERIVED AS MUCH FROM NOISE AND IMPROVISATION AS THE CONTEMPORARY MUSIC REPERTOIRE. LEADER/PIANIST REINHOLD FRIEDL‘S ADVENTUROUS DESIRE TO EXTEND THE FRONTIERS OF HIS GROUP‘S WORK HAS LED TO COLLABORATIONS WITH LOU REED, TERRE THAEMLITZ AND BERNHARD GÜNTER AS WELL AS CHOREOGRAPHERS AND FASHION DESIGNERS. WORDS: JULIAN COWLEY

[...],Playing ‘inside piano‘, performing inside Zeitkratzer, Friedl finds he now listens in new ways, discovering forms of clarity within ostensible complexity. This can produce revelations; it can also exhaust a work. “I just listened again to some Ligeti pieces and I thought it‘s so simple!” he contends. I had this experience with his Ramifications. I heard it live with The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and I thought it‘s great! Wow! Then I listened again, ten years later, and I thought, this is a little bit boring, I can hear everything. It’s the training l’ve had in the meantime.”

His sense that an established repertoire is exhaustible in terms of its interest for performers and audience alike has encouraged Friedl to seek out encounters with musicians such as Reed, whose can bring extra vitality to Zeitkratzer, and who in turn can make discoveries through involvement with such an idiosyncratic chamber ensemble. Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo has supplied them with three compositions. Raster-Noton’s Carsten Nicolai has been another recent collaborator, arriving with his laptop to supply looped samples of asymmetric rhythm as the basis for two minimalistic pieces. Friedl speaks with particular enthusiasm of Zeitkratzer’s work with transgendered electronica conceptualist Terre Thaemlitz — 2002’s SuperSuperbonus LP (Comatonse). “l‘m really a fan of his,” he declares. “He sent us a project. We transcribed the rhythms and put some transparent sounds on it. He came to rehearsals for two or three days and was the best-prepared musician I have ever met in my life — a really good musician. I want to work with him again.”

Elke Moltrecht, music curator at the Podewil, introduced Zeitkratzer to audio and visual artist John Duncan. “He came to us with a CD of his music,” Friedl relates. “He went through it with the musicians, one by one, talking about the sounds and then we played the piece. He kept making interventions so I said, ‘John, come on stage and conduct‘. We tried it in rehearsal and he conducted it with his hands doing shapes and it worked weIl. In the end he loved conducting it. We immediately did a second piece.” Recordings of Duncan‘s “Nav-FIex” and “Trinity”, made in 2001, can be heard on Fresh (Allquestions/X-Tract).

The Zeitkratzer repertoire extends sufficiently far from hat Friedl identifies as the “noise orgiastic music connection” to take in even Bernhard Günter’s threshold-of-audibility minimalism. In 1993 bassist UIli Philip presented a copy of Günter’s first CD, Un Peu e Neige Salie to Friedl, who was at that time writing about music. He reviewed it enthusiastically.

In 2001 Friedl was performing in a duet with Michael Vorfeld, who plays percussion and self-built stringed instruments. “Michael plays little sounds that are quite close to inside-piano sounds”, Friedl observes. “I said to him, let’s record. It’s piano and percussion but it sounded really electronic so I sent it to Bernhard Günter and said would he be interested in releasing it in his trente oiseaux imprint. He said, ‘For sure. There’s perhaps too much information for listeners to my label, but I’ll do it.’ I was really proud because Defaut De Silence is the first CD using acoustic instruments released on this electronic label.” Last autumn Günter proposed that they perform as trio, incorporating his electric cellotar, an amplified five-string guitar played with cello bow. After a concert at Podewil they got together for a recording session. The result is Message Urgent (trente oiseaux), a remarkable blending of the three musicians’ unorthodox instrumental resources. “We got to that point where we didn‘t know where the sound was coming from,” Friedl comments. A collaborative CD by Günter and Zeitkratzer is imminent on Podewil‘s X­Tract label. “He gave us a piece, a text of one page. We made a score out of that, quite open but very defined in terms of texture, the same note but with little microtonal things and we had an electronic piece of his called “Insects” to go with lt. We played it together in Geneva this spring.”

Zeitkratzer have given stunning interpretations of complex scores by Helmut Lachenmann and Karlheinz Stockhausen. A minimalist emphasis upon duration and slow change, as experienced in their performances of pieces by Phill Niblock or early Philip Glass, has also been significant to the development of the group’s identity. “You have some pieces where quantity turns into quality,” Friedl reflects. “You have to go through the first ten minutes and perhaps it‘s reaIly boring but after that you get into it.”

He finds the music of James Tenney particularly absorbing and revelatory; playing becomes listening to the intrinsic characteristics of scrupulously chosen tones and the relationships between them. A Tenney programme is planned for Zeitkratzer and Friedl is looking for other ways to enable listeners to share in that kind of engagement with acoustic material. “I‘m trying to set up installation concerts where you play for four hours and don’t have a beginning or ending and the audience can decide for itself to walk around or to listen. Then you have only the texture.” Friedl enjoys the quirky minimalism of John White and other English experimental musicians associated initiaIly with Cornelius Cardew and The Scratch Orchestra. He’s preparing an entire programme of their music. “What I‘m very enthusiastic about is when Fluxus turned into minimal music, especially that English scene,” he says. “They did performance pieces where they wrote motoric scores and theatre became music. You can have great music and a strange visual situation.” His interest in this scene was fired when, as a young musician, he encountered Michael Nyman’s book Experimental Music: Cage And Beyond. Friedl relishes the openmindedness and humour that characterised a great deal of musical exploration during the 1960s, aspects which were reflected in Nyman’s account.

Zeitkratzer have on several occasions performed White’s Drinking And Hooting Machine, which invites performers to sip, swig, gulp and blow across the top of a bottle, performing sounds and actions which “are fed like raw materials into a machine or process and emerge as a pattern unique to the occasion“, as White himself has put it. “He has written in a motoric way and music comes out,” Friedl comments. “I love this idea. You have a kind of random function out of the body, random limits that the body gives. Some of these techniques I had in mind when I did Xenakis (A)live because Xenakis used kinds of random function that are nonetheless always very defined.“ Theatricality and emphasis upon moving bodies are integral to the Zeitkratzer approach. During 2003 they staged a series of performances of Dry Clean Show, a presentation featuring fashion models wearing clothes by Lisa D, an Austrian designer now working successfully in Berlin. The entire project is pervaded by irony, Lisa D‘s luxurious and expensive handmade clothes being displayed in conjunction with a series of barbed messages about thinness, hunger, illness and the economics of production. Friedl, Schlothauer and Weiser wrote the accompanying music and songs. “Lisa D and I have founded an enterprise called Global Concern, which provides politically correct clothes, but people have to pay more,” adds Fried. They are now collaborating on a project called Boat People, based on a story they heard about exploitation of clothing workers on board ships where employment laws don’t apply. “There are some spaces here in Berlin where you can put water on the floor,” says Friedl, envisaging the staging. “I’ll probably write music for nine amplified sewing machines. They have very different sounds and very different rhythms. Each Zeitkratzer musician will also play sewing machine.”

Another project currently taking shape for performance in Vienna and Berlin next summer pays homage to Arnold Schoenberg. “ It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Friedl grins. It will include freely instrumented cover versions of the Piano Pieces Op 19 and some songs from Pierrot Lunaire. We‘ll be singing. It’ll be fun. We did cover versions of Deicide’s song “Satan’s Spawn” and Throbbing Gristle’s “Hamburger Lady”. I suggested we also should do a CD of covers of contemporary music. That would be fun — cover versions of Lachenmann! So we are starting with Schoenberg.”

Fun is a recurring word in Friedl‘s conversation. Zeitkratzer administer massive jolts to routine listening habits while taking evident pleasure in the unpredictability of performance. “We always try to get to the point where you want to be surprised, you want to hear something you haven’t heard before, you want to go a little bit more in that direction,” concludes Friedl. “We always try to do this.” [THE WIRE 1/2005]
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