Felix Kubin & Matt Wand: To create Mutations ¬– the third mind thing.
In 1989 Matt Wand named and started the noisy engine of the clown cart known as Stock, Hausen & Walkman together with Rex Casswell. Andrew Sharpley and Dan Weaver colliding and contributing along the way. A project name simultaneously referring to an Avantgarde inversion of pop music AND the bourgeois cultural class system, obviously an atrocious pun on Stock, Aitken & Waterman and at the same time a clairvoyant anticipation of the miniaturisation of the electronic music studio to pocketable dimensions. With a rare talent for meta-collages, they combined humour and art perfection to a next level hybrid, championing domestic hardware as ‘instrument’ (walkman, doorbells, cd players, knitting machines) and ‘anti-musical’ techniques – and giving electronic music authorship a ‘renewable’ spin by making recycling and the ‘sampling’ discussion an integral part of their art.
His back catalogue also features frequent collaborations with first generation free music icons such as Tony Oxley and Derek Bailey, commissioned radio works for SWR2, WDR and a good amount of solo recordings. Matt Wand runs the label Hot Air, which is currently being resurrected in the cave of Bandcamp.
Felix Kubin is what they call a tausendsassa who works in the open field between subcultural enclaves and high culture institutions, combining his love for music, film, performance and radio art. Based in Hamburg he runs the record label Gagarin Records, refering to the Russian astronaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin. His back catalogue features projects like Liedertafel Margot Honecker, Klangkrieg, various artistic collaborations (musicians, film makers and dancers) and an impressive stream of solo material, as well as Hörspiele and compositions for contemporary music ensembles.
This conversation happened on 8th of May 2019 in Hamburg. The next night Matt Wand gave an impressive marathon performance at Studio 45 including a lecture, the presentation of two of his film works („Hands Of Hair“ & „Rub-Down Action 1“) and last but not least a dj set. The first 33 visitors were handed a brand new cd entitled „Hands Of Hair“ – now available via a-musik.
Matt, Felix, let´s start at the beginning: Where did the two of you meet in the first place?
Matt Wand: At the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank (London). There was an event curated by ..
Felix Kubin: … we were cured by Vicki Bennett from People Like Us.
Matt Wand: She was invited to put an event on, a bit smaller than the ‘Meltdown’ things, but something like that – and she invited Felix. Wait… I must have known you before?
Felix Kubin: Did you play solo there or with ….
Matt Wand: Solo – that was me in the big arm chair with two gameboys.
Felix Kubin: Backstage I got to know one of my youth idols, Brian Poole of Renaldo & The Loaf.
Renaldo & The Loaf – Ow! Stew The Red Shoe (1981)
Matt Wand: They were on the label of The Residents, Ralph Records. I always thought they were Americans but when I lived in Portsmouth in the 80’s an early Touch cassette came out, a compilation with a Renaldo & The Loaf track on it and they printed their address on it and it was literally five doors down from me!
Felix Kubin: Anyway. That was the first time we met and those were short performances. And then I was asked to put together a night in Paris: Nuits Blanches. I invited Matt with his Nintendo Gameboys, my friend from Poland Wojtek Kucharczyk who performed under the name Retro Sex Galaxy and few others. I vividly remember that you wrote such a great review about the childhood music I made, my „Tetchy Teenage Tapes“ which came out in 2004.
Matt Wand: For The Wire… and there is a story behind that: I was only writing for them because I had offered them a track for their „WireTapper“ cd series – and they said „yes“. But I discovered that this is not a curated cd, it´s paid, it´s literally only an advert.
Well, they do not ask everybody to contribute and pay, so there is a sort of quality control.
Matt Wand: Not sure about that. But the problem was, I now owed them 350 Pounds. It was The Wire, a bunch of nerds, some of whom I know quite well for some time, so I thought, „well, what will they do? Will they come and break my legs, with their huge muscles from all that scribbling?“ – They continued to hassle. It got embarrassing. So I offered to work it off, surprisingly the ever frugal Mr Herrington said yes.
Felix Kubin: Like a Tellerwäscher. My review was the first you wrote for that?
Matt Wand: No, it was maybe the third. I did about nine or ten – a review is about 30 quid (pounds) – so I probably paid most of the amount off, maybe I owe them one more review? or a days worth of Geschirrspülen at least?
Felix Kubin: That was the first big review I got in The Wire, I have the feeling it was really helpful for some people to put a certain attention on at least my past – not the present. I got more and more attention from The Wire until I ended up on the cover in 2010. I think I owe it all to you.
Felix, Matt, what is the thing that fascinates you most about the music / art of the other one?
Felix Kubin: The first thing I heard of Matt was the cd „Giving up“ by Stock, Hausen & Walkman. There was this great record shop in Hamburg named Unterm Durchschnitt – people came from abroad because they knew they’d find records there you won´t find anywhere else. It was run by Dr. Kurt Euler alias Ditterich von Euler-Donnersperg, quite a character and more an artist than a business man. He released the first Laibach records in Germany, also early Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Mechthild von Leusch etc.
I was at that point very much into that Plunderphonics thing and sampledelia. I held a lecture about this at the art school I was studying, and naturally I ran into the Tape-beatles, Stock Hausen & Walkman, People Like Us, Evolution Control Committee, John Oswald and so on… that´s how I found „Giving up“. I liked the anarchic editing and the anarchic humor. The next thing was the amazing „Organ Transplants Vol. 1“ record by Stock, Hausen & Walkman, which was a reference for a lot of people who were into cut up, collage, sampling and distortion of commercial realities. Can you say that?
Matt Wand: Probably.
Felix Kubin: Taking a body apart and putting it together in a wrong way. So it looks funny, odd and scary sometimes. Especially what Matt did with his project had this fine line between what he calls „nuance“ and „nuisance“ – also between fine motor skills and nervous arrangements. Also on „Organ Transplants Vol. 1“, which has often been regarded as an easy listening record, but it is so much more, really subversive – and kind of crazy. There is this one particular track where an android is screaming.
Matt Wand: No, that´s stolen from the Boredoms, that´s Yamataka Eye – time-stretched ridiculously in the sampler. (>means: his voice has been electronically expanded in time, slowed-down without changing the key)
Felix Kubin: Ah. Even if I was very much into Plunderphonics I have never done it myself. I did work with collage techniques, but more in a Musique Concrète tradition.
Matt Wand: That´s funny, because a lot of people covered us after that, a lot of people tried it themselves. Weirdly Aphex Twin and Mike Paradinas with their „Expert Knob Twiddlers“ album, which came out about nine months later – and which also “borrowed” the idea of children’s game packaging as a cover, I had done the „Stop!” cd cover in ‘95, using graphics from a more obscure children‘s board game. „Expert Knob Twiddlers“ was clearly their attempt to get into this scene of distorted easy listening. I don’t think it is a particularly successful album, and maybe it has to do with the collaborative process between the two of them; maybe if one of them had done it alone?
Great sleeve art though, but SH&W’s “STOP!” cd did have a picture of Tony Blair with the words “ costly faux pas” next to him, two years before he became prime minister of the UK and deceitfully dragged us into a war with Iraq … take that Aphex!! … and Chilcot.
Mike & Rich – Expert Knob Twiddlers
Felix Kubin: But „Organ Transplants Vol. 1“ was super successful, right?
Matt Wand: Yes, that was the alarming thing. Though it was inspired by a photograph of a doctor displaying an extraordinary array of plastic human organ replacements and slightly by the mid 90’s Zeitgeist. I remember thinking “something is happening here.” First there was the analogue revival, everyone was into making stuff with very specific old tech… people were paying thousands of pounds for a Roland TB303.
Felix Kubin: Stereolab promoted that a lot, too.
Like we have it now again for some years.
Matt Wand: Exactly. The irony was that Digital music making was only just coming to fruition for home recordists, and suddenly people were rejecting it and going down this retrogressive purist route. And making very conservative music. The SH&W counter idea was to take THE MOST conservative synthetic music source ie: organ demo/lounge records and DIGITALLY turn it into something a little more avantgarde.
Felix Kubin: When was the first time you heard anything that I did? Did Vicki play it to you?
Matt Wand: No. I guess I just went to a record store and listened to records. The first thing I found was this little 3-inch.
Felix Kubin: Ah, yes, I made this for a trip to Japan. That´s why the writing on it is in Japanese. It was released in 1999.
Did the music on it catch you with a deeper impact – or was it pretty much just another record in your collection?
Matt Wand: This is a difficult question. What was the attraction of Felix’s music to me? Something about the arrangements I think. Doing the „Organ Transplants“ thing, listening to tons and tons of very glossy music, made with incredible stereo production to capitalise on the vast new market of domestic stereo turntables, often very oddly orchestrated, somehow, through osmosis you kind of learn arranging, or at least pick up on the similarities between ‘arrangement’ and ‘collage’ . You absorb a lot from those records, even though you try to destroy them, hack them apart and try to winkle out the genius moments from what is mostly rubbish. But in the background is all this arranging stuff, and I really like that – and I think that is something that comes up in the extremes of…. well John Zorn was into it, he said he was interested in cartoon music and Raymond Scott and people like that, because they would jump from one mood to another in a split second. So it kind of connected to free improv which had been one of my preoccupations for the previous decade.
Felix Kubin: Yes! And I think that Cartoonish element has been especially in my pop music productions. Before that I made this really noisy-industrial kind of stuff and I was bored by the whole atmosphere of the concerts – not by the music. The audience consisted of serious men dressed in black coats – no women. There were no sparkles in the air – keine Elektrizität in der Luft. Luckily I got to know at that time Mariola Brillowska, who was working with animation films in a very drastic way, informed by East European storytelling and a very harsh language and strange aesthetics, like Eastern pop art. Far from Walt Disney! And she needed music for her films. I immediately had so much joy to combine the way I was making music in the 80’s (which you find on the „Teenage Tapes“ album) and using samples from Easy Listening records. I love to use commercial or functional music sources and turn them into something odd.
MARIOLA BRILLOWSKA / FELIX KUBIN: “AUS GOLD MODELLIERT DIE NACHT”
Matt Wand: It’s also a kind of Archaeology! Someone like Fossil Aerosol Mining Project, who actually IS an archaeologist, is applying his daily work to music. He has done things with Pink Floyds „Dark Side Of The Moon“ – but you don’t hear any obvious „Dark Side Of The Moon“ in it, even though it is completely extracted out of it. It’s his form of analysis, of drawing his own ‘conclusions’ from it as if it was a relic he had just unearthed. There is a lot of creative license going on in archaeology I think …
Felix Kubin: License to create mutations?
Matt Wand: It goes back to the William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin thing, the third mind. When two minds collaborate it is not just the two people, the sum is more than its parts. It´s the same with sampling, your recording mind is combined with a stolen musical mindstate and creates a third music thing. You can´t anticipate what the result is, it´s just a way of finding something, mutating and going forward.
When one drops the word sampling, most people think first about HipHop. Even though in HipHop the sampling is most often used in the way you, Felix, just described as the boring version, using the drums to make drums etc.
Felix Kubin: There is this very famous example of Afrika Bambaataa sampling the rhythm of „Trans Europa Express“ by Kraftwerk for his big hit „Planet Rock“ – and then Kraftwerk sued him as he was making money from it… But the great thing was that there, a black guy sampled a really privileged white German band to create something new. That´s the third mind. But he used it in the same way, he just took it into his community.
And everybody could hear that he used Kraftwerk.
Matt Wand: And at the same time he somehow found the ’blackness’, the ‘funk’ in white people. The Hiphop thing sometimes has weird politics.
Felix Kubin: It´s about dealing with the history. Oral history is a big thing in the USA. They were quoting important lines of fighters from the black movement. It´s also education.
Matt Wand: The thing we are talking about comes from James Tenney and Bell Labs, it comes from Jon Appleton and people who have done these things in a very experimental way.
Felix Kubin: Or take Bernard Parmegiani’s record „Pop Eclectic“.
Matt Wand: This field is loaded with hideous white academica. I am very slightly anti academia.
Felix Kubin: I am not.
Matt Wand: Because the instinctive groundbreakers are normally ignored by academica.
Felix Kubin: That is true, often. But there are also many examples of distinctive academic groundbreakers. And sometimes their music is better composed, better researched, and less concerned with popular taste. Take works of Penderecki, Ligeti, Daphne Oram, Xenakis, Else Marie Pade. Stockhausen’s „Mikrophonie 1“ is still mindblowing for me. Not just the sounds but also the compositional dramaturgy. What I just miss is the names of non-academic innovators in the canon. It’s true that these are often ignored by the academic lodge.
Matt Wand: Academia often exploits the innovators. It is very much institutionalized, it is very much about hierarchy and protecting their status as ‘the professionals’, the experts, so to speak, to protect their jobs, funding etc.. and it often isn’t a very truthful position that they smokescreen us with.
The problem with sampling is the discussion about taking things. This brings it all the way down to lawyers, and I don´t like that, it is not a creative thing. It only reaches the news when someone made some money off it, like when the Marvin Gaye people sued Robin Thicke/Pharrell for being inspired by „Got To Give It Up“ on „Blurred Lines“ – not even sampling it!, but that´s lawyers and ethics. That´s an argument that has two sides. One is: musicians fought for hundreds of years to get their rights to their music, and it is EVEN more not right today. And on the other side of it is the cultural commons idea, which is a brilliant idea, and on a certain level is essential, just as science requires use of other people’s ideas, otherwise you are reinventing the wheel every single time and progress would be slow. Those two ideas are both correct – and totally against each other. One side is idealistic and one side is capitalistic.
Let´s talk about, for an example, Negativland and the U2 thing…
Negativland created for their single „U2“ tracks out of samples from „I Still Haven´t Found What I´m Looking For“ – the Cover was graced in a congenial way with a photo of the espionage airplane U2.
Negativland “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
Matt Wand: They were idealistic and didn´t run away. I mean, there was no point of getting involved in this. But they chose to fight the case in a court of law, which is a crazy thing to do if you are in poverty. You run away! You don’t go to court and end up in prison! ( c.f. V/vm vs ZTT )
If you are a conscientious objector .. hide for heavens sake! live to fight another day. Let the system play it’s own game .. on it’s own.
But on the other side by that they made it part of their art.
Matt Wand: And that is the real genius.
Felix Kubin: That´s how they got famous. But yes, they had to fucking pay a lot.
Matt Wand: He was a broken man. Don Joyce, when i met him, late 90’s at a radio art conference, life sucked out of him by lawyer vampires!
It’s a slight problem if you want to fast forward to an idealistic situation where capitalism does not exist and we share the commons and we can be totally creative – but that situation does not yet exist, the crazy human race is still stuck in capitalism and we have to survive in it. All this idealism of rights to the culture – it does not work exactly because of capitalism. So, I do not see too much sense in a discussion while capitalism still exists. It’s the elephant in the room.
Felix Kubin: Two things. First: I have heard you often say, „I have done this before. They stole this idea from me“.
Matt Wand: That´s why it is complicated.
Felix Kubin: That is exactly the point. You invent something and somebody else comes along, takes the great idea and makes it big. I think this is probably a case to case situation. This is not just about sampling, it is about copyright…
Matt Wand:… and morality.
Felix Kubin: If I for example have a really great idea and someone clever comes along, rips it off and makes a lot of money with it – then this is clearly exploitation. But if I am for example a really famous artist and annoy everyone with a certain song or line or ringtone and then someone comes and takes the ringtone into a silly song, then there is another hierarchy.
That´s what I had to think about, when you, Matt, came with the example of Aphex Twin and Mike Paradinas – they took the technique, that’s okay. But it is not okay to use the same photo for the artwork, the same melody for a song… but who is the judge?
Felix Kubin: This is exactly the point I wanted to make: Who is the judge?
Matt Wand: So that´s the end of this argument. Whilst the judge is still the one wearing the silly wig and banging his or her tiny hammer, how are we to take her seriously?
When I look at the way you work with sampling, concepts like coherence, reality, linearity come to my mind. Also a method like time stretching – you take something and you change the time, you work with reality, you cut it and reconstruct it. And in the end you can´t hear it anymore, there is non of the original ‘sign’ left ..like the catchy Kraftwerk rhythm in the Afrika Bambaataa track.
Matt Wand: But do you think their audience knew what they were hearing?
Not necessarilly back in the day, but in the historic perspective yes. But I wanna go further, sampling as defined by your practise also includes a noise recording from the streets, your samples rather inhale something and do not quote it – and by that you create art.
Felix Kubin: I can bring it down to a very simple development in my work. I started sampling around 1987. In the 90s I was very interested in taking samples of either very commercial or very functional records and combine them with my own sounds and create something new and subversive out of them. At some point – for some reason – I stopped sampling other sources, I hardly do it anymore, I started to sample only my own stuff that is (sound) improvisations in my studio or rehearsals with chamber orchestras, preferably „casual“ raw material. I wanted to feel a stronger coherence with my own history and with the history of the recordings that I sample. I still sometimes use little samples of other sources, but very rarely, and then they come from very unknown records.
Matt Wand: That´s why you liked „Entertaining The Invalid“, because you sensed that´s what I was doing there?
Felix Kubin: Ja, and also „Stretchmarks“ – that is something I also like to do: take something I did long ago and then edit new things to it (out of it?), corrupt the idea of the pure document, add something like singing on top, so that my old and my voice mix. Isn´t that what you did with „Stretchmarks?
Matt Wand: No, „Stretchmarks“ is real. The problem with that record is I released it after „Entertaining The Invalid“ and it looks like it is part of the same thing, the same experiment, but it is not, it is a real band I had in 89, real people. The best band I was in. Ever.
Everything is the best the first time you do it. … people who describe their music as experimental music, I don´t want to name anyone, but very successful people do the same thing for many years, and there is nothing experimental about that. It was maybe for the first two years, the next 15 years they are not experimental musicians. It´s now a schtick.
They found a market and they are too afraid to lose it again.
Matt Wand: It´s commercial suicide.
Felix Kubin: That´s the most difficult thing: to keep an experimental mind in the purest sense. An experiment means you don’t get cold feet when you do not know what will come out in the end and you are a bit afraid where you are going to. Something could explode in the laboratory. That´s why I like the principle to come up with a concept – and for example „Organ Transplants Vol. 1“ is a brilliant concept. It is so focused: to use only organ sounds and then look for the odd parts.
Matt Wand: That comes from Oulipo, the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle! (workshop of potential literature ), which is Harry Mathews, Italo Calvino, George Perec and all those people. They wrote books with ridiculous restrictions. A restriction is a creative thing. George Perec wrote a book without using the letter ’E’ (and also a book using only words with the vowel E to make up for it).
Felix Kubin: That is my restriction: to sample only my own music. But maybe you can elaborate a bit about „Stretchmarks“ and „Entertaining The Invalid“ for the readers.
Matt Wand: „Entertaining The Invalid“ was my reaction when suddenly all of my punk ethos was being dredged up by the kids – everybody styling themselves like that and early 80s synth post punk music is instantly a big thing. Every gem from my collection was suddenly on a Trevor Jackson compilation. For a while I hated him – but I think he is actually an okay guy, somewhat internet sceptical like me. I hated him because suddenly there were no hidden secrets and that pained me greatly. So my response to that was that I would make a compilation nobody else could find or license the tracks from. 20% came from my early 80’s tape experiments, the other 80% is a bit like „Organ Transplants“, it is from that era, but it is piece by piece sampled or mimicked. It is a compilation, so every band is a separated entity with (as far as possible) a separate identity and modus operandi.
Felix Kubin: The „Entertaining The Invalid“ LP is a homage for me to this Morgan Fisher LP. What´s the name again?
Matt Wand: Exactly. „Hybrid Kids – A Collection of Classic Mutants“, one of my favorite records, almost like The Residents. He produced the entire album himself on home recording equipment in 1979!, they are all separate bands doing cover versions, for example: Jah Wurzel doing „Wuthering Heights“, a dub band from the west country with everybody singing in that crazy accent. Conceptually a bit Dada as you would expect Wuthering Heights to be done in heavy Yorkshire accents!
Felix Kubin: And there is a really fucked up version of „You´ve Lost That Loving Feeling“ by R.W. Atom.
Matt Wand: And there is also a Sun Ra track on it, which is absolute genius: „Enlightment“ by Combo Satori. And a perverted version of Rod Stewarts „D´ya think I´m Sexy“.
So yes, that is a long standing influence on me.
Unfortunately after that I released „Stretchmarks“… But no one bought it so it is destined to be the rarest, most valuable Hot Air release eventually.
I wondered whether the people thought it was a fake – I mean even YOU think it was a fake.
Felix Kubin: I thought it is a mixture, original recordings with new stuff.
Matt Wand: Absolutely not. There are tracks on the „Entertaining The Invalid“ which are Stretchmarks out-takes edited and made into other tracks, that´s true. So there is a connection, but the Stretchmarks is the original real thing.
Felix Kubin: In the 90s it was about sampling and taking it as it is – maybe stretching it a little bit, making it faster or slower. But what you are describing here, is taking the existing form and not sampling it literally, more like sampling the mindset of how to create something. That´s what I find interesting: not just using the sample and record and play.
Matt Wand: I think that´s what the kids do now anyway. In the internet era, where everybody can know everything about history, the options are still restricted for them as a huge amount has already been done. So they either ignore history and just use whatever technology is available and see what it does – which is a bit ’preset’ as the technology NOW is dictated by certain companies who mostly make technology to create ‘retrospective’ music because they view THAT as the market. A strangely self perpetuating circle I think.
If you look at all the people making modulars to replicate the music of the 1960s…
Felix Kubin: They are flooded with videos from all those eras, so it is very easy to cover them.
We talk very generalized here. So coming from my experiences with teaching, I have to say that 90% of those kids don´t know shit, they do not know anything from the history.
Matt Wand: I think the deliberate amnesia is their ‘reaction’ to it. There is too much ‘history’ to cope with.
Hmm. Let me switch the discussion back to you reflecting about experimental music and about axioms, set-ups etc. But most people understand experimental music more in the sense of music that is not so easy to consume. Of course your use of the term is more interesting.
But what I wanted to ask a few minutes earlier, when you, Matt, said that you hated Trevor Jackson. What´s your position towards Matthew Herbert who plays in a very poppy way with the term „experiment“.
Matt Wand: He is a nice guy.
Felix Kubin: I like him too. Of course he knows how to make a certain topic big, vegetarian politics, no logo…
… no sampling…
Felix Kubin: He is a bit fashionable by that, but he is such a good musician, that he always turns it into something musically interesting.
Isn´t he doing something with a big band right now?
A brexit big band.
Matt Wand. Oh, that´s bizarre.
Felix Kubin: He always combines it with a certain political topic – but I don´t know if he is really such a political person. At least not in the philosophical term, but he believes in it – and he makes it big and simple to understand.
I have this album from him, „Plat Du Jour“, really good. When people have a craft in composition, I can not over estimate that. Because the big problem we have right now: there are many nerds in sound design, but the tracks they create are just that and not compositions. I find a lot of it really boring. So let´s start making music.
I brought Matthew up cause he verbally attacked Wolfgang Voigt in the early 2000s for still sampling, simply because he decided to come up with the paradigm of not doing so anymore.
Felix Kubin: Right, I remember now. I thought the same as Matthew, but I would never stand up and say, you can´t do that.
Do you see similarities between your work?
Felix Kubin: There is one: we both really like the idea to have one concept for an album. It is not necessary to create a style that is 100% recognizable in every record. We don´t need to paint the same house again and again and again – so everbody says: „Okay, that is the guy that paints this kind of house.“ It is more about the joy of trying something out, having a new set of rules for a record: „I like to make a record about this topic.“ Or: „I would like to use only samples from this era!“ Or: „I would like to experiment with the border of reality and fiction!“
Matt Wand: The simplest analogy for that is the differences between Max Ernst and Salvador Dali. Ernst developed a new technique and style nearly every year – there is so much Max Ernst stuff that people don´t know. While Dali changed slightly and started to add things in, but it is always a Salvador Dali picture in this amazing technique. That is not really an experiment.
Felix Kubin: I find his work super kitsch. But as a character he is amazing, his super ego is super fun.
Matt Wand: It is the one character, it is “Dali”.
Also we have to consider that we reflect it as Kitsch because of the way we experience his art today, the market is flooded with postcards and posters everywhere.
Felix Kubin: Like Picasso.
Matt Wand: Or Warhol.
Felix Kubin: Another example like Max Ernst is Marcel Duchamp.
Matt Wand: I could have said Duchamp, but he is bigger than that. The things that he did are kind of key to the 20th century.
Felix Kubin & Ensemble Intégrales: Echohaus
Felix Kubin: I had this experience once, when I released my first album with contemporary music with the Ensemble Intégrales: „Echohaus“. People knew the stuff I had made before, and suddenly they were confronted with this. First they were thinking: „Is this a joke? Is he taking the piss out of something?“ And then they understood: „This is kind of more serious music, it´s about exploring sound.“ But before that, I could see the effect was so strong on some people to try to connect that work to me. „How does this fit in with his cartoon-like music?“
Matt Wand: What?
Because the audience wants to understand the artistic process of creation. The moment you irritate them they get disturbed.
Felix Kubin: And I thought, by doing this album we get for sure invited to perform it live – but that did not happen. Because the people needed too much time to bring this together with what I was doing before. Since then I am composing more and more for chamber orchestra – but the aesthetical break was quite strong.
That is the risk an artist should take. Also to not get bored of onself. I want to try out something new all the time. But it is not so easy with getting booked. „You wanna book Felix Kubin? With what? Do you want this pop thing? This unpredictable dj-set without tempo matching? Do you want him as a serious composer? Do you want him as a lecturer or performer?
Because the market likes the one identity artist.
Which brings me to another topic I wanna talk about: Matt, you had, in the past, quite good sales of records. What was the best selling record you had?
Matt Wand: The best selling record was „Organ Transplants Vol. 1“ by Stock, Hausen & Walkman, a very restricted, very focused thing – also I could feel back then it would fit with the coming Zeitgeist. We sold about 30.000 cds and maybe 6.000 vinyls. That was over three years, from 1996 untill 1999.
So the question is: Was it hard to change your artistic concept afterwards again and not stick to the idea.
Matt Wand: We said it in the title: „Vol.1“ – but that was just a joke. Secondly the band playing live and the records are two separate things, schizophrenic in fact. The records are very composed and fine tuned, live was always improvising. I come from that background, free improvisation, not knowing what’s going on on stage. With „Organ Transplants“ we were so popular, going to Japan and to America – people were expecting that „Organ Transplants“ thing. For a while we had actually backing tapes with a skeleton structure on it. That worked for a few gigs but it quickly became very stale and soggy, like bread that has been left in the bathroom for weeks. We started to learn how to play the songs…
Felix Kubin: But there is a second record, which I think is just as good as the first one.
Matt Wand: I waited four years to release that.
Felix Kubin: That was too long.
Matt Wand: Yes, it was. But it was also important to do that. The second record was about everybody who copied us – we made an ‘easy’ Easy Listening record. It´s very slick, very glossy, it´s like the second Suicide album. You remember the shock back then when it came out? Ric Ocasek from The Cars was producing it and it was: pop music. I think I even got rid of it after a year or so – only to rebuy it 5 years later on, when I understood it was genius. Only that it was not like the first Suicide record.
But to come back to the core question: Was it hard to keep the experimental rate high against all market forces?
Matt Wand: Not if you are perverse and stubborn and suicidal, as I am. A self destructive nihilist. But the only way to introduce something interesting back into the music was to improvise again. So it took only a few months until we made it back to the original schizophrenic set up – which means ‘live’, to have no idea what´s going to happen.
Felix Kubin: I think you have to be able to go through a process like this. People are confused and do not understand why you do certain things – but after some years of staying true to your ideas and ongoing experiments, people will finally realize that you do not do the same thing for the next 20 years. I have some people following me and liking the different sides of my music. But on the other side you do have fans in a certain peroid and then they are gone – because they were only interesting in one thing you were doing.
Matt Wand: It is about the difference between treating your audience as fans – which means you are a fan and you like this and I’m going to provide the service for you – or treating them as participants in a unique event.
What is success to both of you?
Matt Wand: When someone says something insightful about my music, like you felt I had done, Felix, in the mentioned Wire review. Which is unfortunately a very rare thing to happen. Sometimes you get very positive reviews and yet it completely misses the point of the release! Good publicity, but I often wonder if a bad review that actually understands what’s going on but totally hates it might be better?
Do you talk to the audience about your music?
Felix Kubin: After a gig is the most exhausting moment. You need to come down from your stage high – but right then people approach you and want your attention. Mostly two hours after the gig you have the better conversations, people telling me their interpretations of certain tracks of mine, even some I did not perform that night. Suddenly I realize: it is not only mine. This person is seeing something completely different in that track. When I was younger, I would have been disappointed, as I did not intend that. But at some point I realized: only half of the creation is mine, what I trigger in other people can have totally different connotations. That drove me to the understanding that an artwork is not alone what the artist creates, an artwork is what comes to existence between the person who perceives it and the person who creates it. That means that a track of mine will be experienced completely differently in Germany or in, let´s say, Japan.
Which brings us back to the sampling. As much as you sample the music of others and create a new musical world of your own by that, your fans do the same: they take your music and puzzle out their own world with it, not really caring if you meant something the way they understand it or not. So coming from that, it would be weird if you would not tolerate that.
Matt Wand: The idea of meaning is a difficult thing.
To go back to the sampling: What I am missing is the freedom of it. When you first sample you do not imagine that you will sell any records – so you do not concern yourself with any of those legalities and moralities, you are just excited about finding the things. To me sampling was even an ideological act of finding the one re-useable moment in a huge field of rubbish. To somehow redeem all that commercial ephemera. It´s also deconstructing cultural hierarchies by having Henri Chopin and Sasha Distel together in one track (the track ‘Flagging’ off the SH&W CD: V.D.), so the commoner and the elitist is playing on the same pitch, that´s a small part of the subversive culture of those things.
Felix Kubin: There is a tradition of critic critique (I mean Kritik, a critical ongoing discourse) in cinema, in books, in theatre, but there is not really this kind of insightful form of critique in non-academic music. In terms of analysing the music itself. There is a huge history of talking about the psychological and social effects of pop, about political points, about the lyrics – but not about the compositional techniques.
Because the writers are not educated well enough in that field?
Felix Kubin: Because they have a different background: sociology, philosophy, art…
I am a good example of that. I am so much more interested in the sociopolitics around an artist and community and not so much into musical analysis. I do not have the ability to talk about the composition techniques of classical music etc.
Felix Kubin: I am totally in accord with this, all of that is part of the pop concept – the way you talk, you dress… but I see a lack of a certain form of critique.
To which degree are economic thoughts also coming in to the artistic paradigm. Because we talk so far very sharp about the idea of music creation, but at one point or another life is challenging… when you are young you are super radical but then things happen
Matt Wand: After 2001, when it became, in a niche market at least, impossible to make a living from running a record label and selling records, I had to start doing other work: sound design for theatres, composing for outdoor shows and pyrotechnique shows. These are art based things but they take away your energy from your music if you can’t persuade the ‘client’ to go along with your more perverse instincts.
So you say all those other activities in your biography are a result of the changed music market?
Matt Wand: Absolutely. For me. There was a time I did not have to worry how to make money, I made a living from my music and could also support other artists with my label. It´s art – but its not government funded. I never went there. To go from that to literally nothing and then to remake yourself employed by other people has an amazing effect – because you produce something that people want from you and that comes with rules and restrictions attached. They are allowed to comment on it, edit it etc.. It takes away the time from the other stuff that you as a creative artist want to do. Although in these past two years I’ve had no such employment, nothing, barely 500 quid here, 500 pounds there. When I get back home I have a two minute film animation on climate change to sound effect and compose music for – and I get £500 . The only money I have earned this year. Well, at least I have time to do something like the cd for this show tomorrow, I can go back to the mindset of doing my own thing. It´s a double edged sword.
Felix Kubin: I have never made any money from selling records at all. I never experienced that. For a long time I was not even hoping I can make a living from music. I realized I have a strong motor of staying true to my ideals. I would even do it if I suffer from it. I have to do it.
I realized I am a good live performer, I like to perform – I can make a living from performances.
I was always into radio plays, that was another dream that came true. You get, at least in Germany, a lot of artistic freedom in that field. I can inject my musical ideas there, I can experiment with formats, I invented certain techniques – I am sure I was not the first one –, like mixing documentary interview material with fictional stuff.
I give also lectures, I was teaching experimental film sound at the local art school for a while.
All this helps me to keep a certain security in my life, because it is really annoying when you don´t know how to pay your rent the next month. There is nothing romantic about that, it just makes you really nervous, your guts go bad. I like to do certain projects that give me financial stability for three, four, five months – and then to have other things that are more spontaneous, and those things that are great but don´t bring in money.
So, when people usually ask me to perform or create something, I ask for a proper fee. Because this is the way I make a living. I only make exceptions sometimes with close friends.
Felix Kubin & Mitch and Mitch
So you are in the good position, Felix, that you do not see those other artistic activities as less high in your own hierarchy than the music. Not like Matt, for whom the other things are job calls.
Felix Kubin: Yes.
Matt Wand: I don’t actually see it as a hierarchy, it’s just I don’t often get commissions to make my own projects as Felix seems to do, I am mostly pursuing someone else’s ‘auteur’ vision when I would actually like my own ‘auteur’ vision realized a bit more often.. I won’t be here that much longer!
I am at least in the slightly lucky position that I don´t have to find rent. Though there are still other bills to pay, because I bought my house. In a way that could be seen as a negative thing, I am not forced to work so much.
Felix Kubin: I am. I would be glad if I would not have the pressure. I do have to work a lot to get the results I want, and I do have to work a lot to be able to do this non commercial stuff that I am doing. I am really tired sometimes.
Matt Wand: I am often thinking that I am underachieving in my life, that I did not make enough releases. (Felix and Thomas are silently laughing) No, seriously.
But that´s a direct result of your artistic paradigm – it´s because you challenge yourself so heavily. If you look at some of those big, super successful bands, they maybe only have five records in a long ongoing career. And tour them constantly.
Matt Wand: Maybe we need management?
Felix Kubin: They push the wrong button on you. Management can just be a pain in the ass.
Which brings me to another aspect of the copyright. Copyright is not only a thing about law and justice, it´s also a something which gives musicians an ongoing income if the music is popular enough.
Matt Wand: But it´s only coming from a couple of sources, tv and radio. It was not coming from anywhere else. And those sources have been eroded in front of our eyes, tv is now totally fragmented in the digital world, same with radio, and you get “Piss All” from streaming.
Do you still get some money from your 90s activities , Matt?
Matt Wand: Not anymore. Because the GEMA and the PRS and also The State have slept on the internet. While it was clear from 2001 onwards what was going on. Even though people are complaining about the new EU law – directive 13, it is nevertheless a push in the right direction.
Felix Kubin: All those big companies like Google and Youtube, they all should fucking pay for content, because they make a big living from it. They earn billions just from the content of other people.
I always get, at least, a little bit of money from the GEMA.
But you perform a lot.
Felix Kubin: Yes, I do. And I actually get a bit more these days since an afternoon magazine on Deutschlandradio started using my music as their recognition melody.
Do you see a lot of your music being played on Youtube?
Matt Wand: Yes! But it´s out of context, entire albums posted thoughtlessly without the tracks being divided and no title information or indication who has written it. So you won’t see even the 5 cents streaming pittance due on those!
But did you organize it yourself and put it on?
Matt Wand: No, I am not interested in that. I mean, they pay nothing anyway. It´s not correct. We have gone backwards. With record companies the artists would have ended up with one pound from a thirteen pound record – now you get 0.00001 pounds.
But the people fight it. It´s not there, and it´s not there in the next months, but I am positive people will keep fighting. And something like Bandcamp is a reaction to it.
Matt Wand: Bandcamp is the only place I exist, it´s the only fair place. And even Bandcamp started with taking only 10% and suddenly it´s 15%.
Well, maybe they realized that they need a bit more to make it longer on their path.
Felix Kubin: The balance of income from vinyl or CD sales is very unfair. Records are sold for 25€ in a shop – but who gets how much of the money? The shop gets the biggest share of it, then the distributor, then the record label – the artist often gets nearly nothing… There has to be a riot.
That´s the brutality of the market. In that sense music is not any different from the products of the farmers.
Felix Kubin: Especially the British and the Americans are very good in harvesting. They developed those platforms or algorhythms or ways of distributing – they are very good in promoting and selling stuff.
Well, the Germans were at one point or another also good at this, just think of the Hanse tradition. But maybe you are right, the British and American are better in this new digital arena we are living in.
Which brings me to the topic of the future. Coming from the intellectual-reflective perspective on your arts: what are you expectations for the future, both near and far? What is, for example, the impact of such a thing as Artificial Intelligence?
Felix Kubin: I am pretty sure there will be programs developed that create music by scanning everything that is on the internet for certain styles. Just analysing it and putting it together. You will tell the programme to create a copyright free version of the music of Felix Kubin. How was this record by Morgan Fisher called? „Hybrid Kids“ – it will create some „Hybrid Kids“ out of my music.
But it can only imitate the past and misses you as a character.
Felix Kubin: Exactly. This is a bit dystopian.
Matt Wand: There are still lawyers. And lawyers like to make money, they like to create court cases. So if an AI thing creates a version of your music, a lawyer will come along and will create a way of interpretating the law.
Felix Kubin: That is very difficult. You can always say, „you stole that melody“; but you can´t claim: „You stole that style!“.
Matt Wand: But that did happen with „Blurred Lines“ and the Marvin Gaye estate?
Motown records had back in the days of Marvin Gaye this weekly meeting where they were listening to the current top 10 and analysing the music. Why? They wanted to understand it and recreate certain styles they did not yet have in their repertoire. Like a specific mix of a rhythm section…
Matt Wand: an interesting point, and one that highlights the hypocrisy of the Gaye Estate challenge.
Felix Kubin: It will not be possible to nail that down.
Matt Wand: Well, that´s another layer in the AI world – what is the level of ‘derivation’ on which you can´t be sued?
Couldn’t it be trackable? Because the background of an AI is all data – and somewhere in the data is all the information used to create the AI and by that the music.
Felix Kubin: Yes, but you can have some kind of robot who runs through the internet and collects all those elements, brings them home – and then you reproduce them with your own production means.
The only thing that you can´t imitate with that technique is the certain break of style and the experiment. How should such a programme know how to switch and turn to another direction. What I said in the beginning about this album „Echohaus“ that I made, that was quite a break from what I was doing before…
Matt Wand:… Moments of insight, the flash point – it comes from nowhere and it can´t be programmed.
Felix Kubin “Zemsta Plutona”
Felix Kubin: A machine doesn´t understand the complexity of social environments and the time in which something has a relevance and not. For example there were compositions and artworks in the past that did not work at all in their time – but later on they suddenly did, like when a technique the artist was using has a connection to a future change in society: „What this person created 50 years ago is predicting what is happening now!“ – or making a comment on it, even not intended by that. An artifical intelligence will never be able to do something like this. It can´t sense the Zeitgeist, the pulse of time. It would have to spend time with folks in bars, get drunk or go dancing.
Well, that said, also the bigger part of a regular audience will never get those detailed aspects, would they?
Matt Wand: That is another interesting point. Who are the future music consumers? Maybe the AI thing is…
Felix Kubin: Maybe it is more interesting to talk about the audience, about the receiver and not the sender.
Matt Wand: Maybe it is what we deserve! Because if there is no money in it, then we need to have computers making it. Or let´s better say, if there is no status left in it. In the end the AI will make the music and be the audience, we will just listen to what the AI chooses for us.
Which artists currently catch your eyes and ears?
Felix Kubin: Lucrecia Dalt. Jan Jelinek. Moor Mother. Piotr Kurek. Klaus Krüger. Toresch. Christina Kubisch. The Modern Institute. A.E.Bizottzag. Miłosz Pękala. And I rediscovered „Uncle Meat“ by Frank Zappa (an amazing mix of composed music, improvisation and radiophonic collage).
Matt Wand: I’ve been revisiting all the early African Head Charge albums now that they are up on Bandcamp and I don’t have to dig out my worn out vinyls to hear them. Also Felix tipped me off to the cumbia madness of early Meridian Brothers and also Régis Victor stuff in the Free Music Archive.
Renaldo & the Loaf’s rebirth Album “Gurdy Hurding” is neu-medievalist genius and deserves much more attention than it got.
A lot of Hector Zazou stuff is being rereleased. I think Mr Jelinek’s Ursula Bognor stuff is his best.
I’m not very ‘up’ on new artists but if a weirdo buys something of mine from bandcamp and has a collection, I often peruse their purchases and find weird stuff I haven’t heard of that way.. I like that system as it kind of replicates the experience of visiting someones house and digging through their record collection to find how similar or not your music taste is.. of course you don’t get the immediate music nerd conversations or “ wait… did you ever hear THIS One.” But y’know, be thankful for small mercies.
Felix Kubin: Moormother. (see above)
Lucrecia Dalt – Tar (Jan Jelinek Remix)
Felix Kubin: Matt and I are both fascinated by foley artists, Geräuschemacher. Because they are using techniques of creating film sounds – which you can apply to regular music production. The diverse ways of playing these sounds is like learning an instrument. It is much more fascinating watching people who are really good foley artists than seeing someone playing the laptop or a prepared piano. The way they work out different tones, and overtones, and layers of sounds – and speeds and dynamics. I really love to have a direct connection to my instrument, to be able to create dynamic music without having to think about how I do it. I wanna do this fast and spontaneously.
Maybe that´s a reason why we do not see so many people improvising with electronic music – cause with the laptop you miss seeing the other person really going down that road.
Matt Wand: I agree that´s still true if you see someone with an ipad or laptop. I recently played a gig with a girl called Sonic Pleasure (Marie-Angelique Beuler) and she plays only bricks! It was still free improvisation, not Einstürzende Neubauten. The gig was a bit weird, and it did not get the response it should have, but when I listened to the recordings it sounded really good. My percussive electronics and her manic scrapings and shatterings fit so well together. It gave me a new confidence in free improvisation.
Felix Kubin: I also think the different textures of electronic sounds and acoustic sounds can mix sometimes very beautifully. They both have certain advantages and disadvantages. I have started as a pure electronic musician, but more and more I get fascinated by the acoustics of „resonant“ instruments and rooms.
“exposed hollow smiles
in frozen food aisles
from plastic reptiles.”
(from Airship Graveyards by The Un-Normalized (entertaining the invalid ))
Jeder Zweifel hat Risse
Schließ die Augen
und spring ins Ungewisse“
(from Mr. Kubin’s Hörspiel “Die Maschine steht still“)