FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004

OWN 90009 (CD 3)

Interview Andreas Kallfelz with Rüdiger Carl:


AK: What was the Intention, the idea behind the project "Virtual COWWS"?

RC: Over a period of almost ten years we had tried out the sound spectrum of the Quintet in a wide variety of directions and had also sounded out the potential of the various musicians pretty well in order to get closer to the things we had in mind. Suddenly I had the idea of something in my head which, at first, left me very unclear about which way should approach it since I couldn't imagine it either written down on paper or improvised. This meant finding an approach to translate it into action.

AK: Does this mean that you originally started out from the musical results rather than the procedures?

RC: Indeed, I could sort of hear the result in my head as was often the case, incidentally, in the historical development of COWWS before I had thought of procedures or directions in how to play.

AK: And it was supposed to move within a kind of void between improvisation and composition?

RC: Even earlier than this I had tried to generate a kind of music with the Quintet which breaks up and questions this specific thrust usually accompanying improvisation. I was interested in combining Improvised Music with a 'cool' head and a certain feeling of distance.
Besides, already the first two long pieces the Quintet recorded live in 1987 went in this same direction, for example, for the performance of "Whirls" I had told the players to try not to listen to each other. This was aiming at something similar to "Virtual COWWS" but wasn't achievable with this consistency.

AK: And then you developed a certain structure or also partially took over structures and the like?

RC: I had the intention of doing eight pieces, four times eight minutes and four times ten minutes; this represents roughly the length of a CD. It continued in a fairly abstract manner. On the quiet I imagined stretches of eight or ten minutes and gave signs to my assistant and she noted the time of every interruption and its length. At the end I had a collection of arbitrarily arrived at numerical values which were supposed to determine phases of activity for the various instruments. Subsequently, everything was put down graphically, the voices were superimposed on top of each other, some things were rearranged and turned around, and this became the point of departure.
Later I thought of offering such a work to two friends who are number specialists which led to the two things Ludwig Gosewitz and Meuser did. Meuser worked out numerical series which were logical but in the end turn out peculiarly clumsy. Ludwig Gosewitz who has been dealing with numbers in the area of Astrology used the sine curve calculation of a six-sided star as a base and then sent me his figures and the corresponding drawings.

AK: Does the resulting structure form more than active phases, meaning time intervals but also certain preconditions about parameters such as tempo, dynamics or something similar?

RC: To start with, the material was completely neutral. I imagined the movement to be rather slow, sounds stationary and persisting, cut and overlapped by other sounds over the course of an unspecified time. I didn't hear it as music but rather as sounds and also not specially but more as I near blocks and segments There were names for the type of playing but they were fairly vague; it would say, for example, hysterical, nervous, somewhere else it would say icy, cold, brittle or, again, quiet, pasty, extremely slow, very heavy movement, and there were never more than three words to roughly describe to what the player had to commit himself.

AK: And then the various musicians went into the studio with the respective instructions for these eight pieces.

RC: Yes, those were two days of studio work at Radio DRS in Bern, the musicians hadn't seen anything before, in fact, there wasn't that much to see anyway, only marks and time units. Each musician was singly in the studio, without anybody being there apart from the sound engineer, the others didn't know what had been played and I gave the begin and the end signs with the stop watch. The situation was strange for all of us, to be motioned in separately and then to work with extreme concentration without knowing what was to come. We didn't allow ourselves any interruptions, it meant almost two hours solid for everybody, with some breathing spaces, obviously. The rest of the work, the exact breaks and so on, I did later, in a studio in Frankfurt. We ended up with seven pieces; six done in the way described above and one is a purely looped and edited piece from material specially recorded for that purpose.

AK: Listening to the material one sometimes has the impression that you were actual playing together.

RC: That's quite possible, although it wasn't my intention. It may have more to do with the way the musical memory functions, for example, how the correlation of instruments is held in a state of readiness. The Quintet had its own typical sound, no matter which motif, if we played together or if we wanted to avoid each other or if we followed, as in this case, a sequence of numbers, there is immediately a characteristic COWWS-texture.

AK: How did the participants themselves see the work or feel about it in the end?

RC: It varied, since they are all completely different characters. Basically, it was strictly a job for improvisers; you can't expect that of just anybody, to play 'icy' for two seconds, then play rumbling sounds for 27 seconds and so on - and that for two hours non-stop. At the same time it was an unfamiliar challenge for the musicians, not to play the solo or to think in a particularly structured way, but to have to deal with just one line.

AK: More less arbitrary directives leaving quite a lot of space for the musicians is something already John used as the basis for many of his pieces.

RC: I already mentioned to you my slightly satirical working title, before I called the project "Virtual COWWS", it was called "50 Jahre Absichtslosigkeit" (50 years without intention). It has been about half a century now since Cage began making decisions on music by throwing dice and using a pendulum. The thing is that my things are different, with more connection to the history I am involved in which means that the whole project and its realisation had absolutely to do with the people who played the music and with my relationship to them. The musicians who play Cage are generally specialist interpreters to start with, while the one here aren't interpreters, they play for 2 or 47 seconds, but it is their own material, and not somebody else's.

AK: How does the production present itself as the finale of the work of the COWWS-Quintet ?

RC: At first sight, this may well look like a deadly serious intellectual exercise and, in fact, it has been my most complicated venture so far with all the consideration and elaborations from the first draft to the final completion. But I tend to look at it with the same amount of serenity as I do the entire history of the COWWS-Quintet. This ten year long collaboration has also been quite a phenomenon, to keep five completely individual, unique and complicated people together over such a long period of time and to consistently cultivate this consensus for a particular kind of musical obstinacy.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg and Paul Lytton

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