Adank: How did you discover the accordion?
Carl: In the period after the war, when everything in Europe lay in ruins,
my grandmother, who came from East Prussia where I was born as well, turned
up with this squeeze box under her arm - I was about 5 then - and she
gave it to me as a present after showing me briefly how it works. I was
most definitely impressed by this red thing, the hissing bellows, the
mother-of-pearl buttons and those seintillating sounds.
At that time, an obscure geezer was hanging around our neighbourhood,
a blind or one-eyed beggar whom people warned all the girls about, who
also played one of those accordions and sang in a very odd way in return
for some booze, cigarettes or small change in the rather drab outskirts
of Kassel where we had ended up, as refugees. I often watched him, secretly
and from a safe distance from his breath which always stank of alcohol
and I learned from him.
So I started on the concertina; when I was seven, the larger accordion
was given to me as a present.
Right from the very beginning I've had an awkward relationship to anything
to do with lessons, even the ones offered for nothing meant to unselfishly
nurture a particular talent; I have always been much faster at memorising
or copying something by ear rather than fighting my way through lines,
notes and dots. All this seemed to me to be a very long-winded way of
going about things, because I got the picture much faster if somebody
just whistled something for me.
A: When you are improvising today, on the accordion or on the clarinet,
how does that work?
C: If only I knew ...; it probably all works on a kind of para-associational
level, which, I tend to assume, has been presenting itself for some time
now for every spontaneous creation of music. It has become clear to me
that whilst playing the critical attitude of being on the ball towards
the available material is more important than, for example, abstract logistics.
But first of all, one goes for the kind of temperature, which allows one
to get things moving without tension, and while they are being created
they are examined and worked upon and may eventually find their appropriate
A: When you're improvising, is there a kind of internal film happening?
C: It might be something like that. Although what you cannot know or even
shouldn't know, is if, at this moment, this film is taking place for the
cutter, or if the scene is being set up, which camera and which angle,
if you don't mind, or if one is still writing the script. These different
elements often happen at the same time and, during the process of playing,
even change about chaotically. But - I don't want to make improvising
into something even more exciting than it already is.
A: Is it possible to make mistakes when improvising?
C: There is the possibility of making mistakes in anything you do. In
our case, maybe the slightly milder form of human failing helps, I am
thinking of something like not really concentrating, or you desperately
want something in particular and just can't get there, or you get locked
inside one particular idea and ask yourself, do I want to go through with
it at all costs? However, we have assured ourselves of enormous liberties
in our way of working, which allow us to manoeuvre in a really generous
way. And although even in free improvisation you cannot undo things, our
metier has got that rare quality of allowing us in situ almost any spontaneous
decision and any imaginable vicious cut.
A: Apart from the musician and the audience there is another third vital
element: the place.
C: Well, let's take the current case, the empty factory building of the
'Adlerwerke', where I played in June '95; I had checked it out several
weeks before and briefly tried out the very resonant acoustics with the
clarinet. There were still the smells and the particular atmosphere of
a huge production hall, where hundreds of workers had worked in the heat
and racket of the machines. From the nearby station you could hear the
trains and the wind was whipping up the dust through the broken windows.
When I was given the choice between the stage of the 'Gallus Theatre and
this hall, my decision was obvious. I was curious to try out the possibilities
of moving around inside this acoustic, to aim sounds into it and to let
them rise and float about like a kite.
A: Now - about Woyzeck. Can you still stand the words: "Slowly Woyzeck,
slowly, one thing after the other; he makes mine dizzy
C: Well, I got fed up with that pretty fast. I am not a particularly well
trained aspirant for constant repetition; it actually contradicts my whole
A: Didn't you have the problem of repetition with your almost 50 overtures
in the Bad Godesberger Kammerspielen?
C: Not in the slightest. Only the procedures and the goings on had their
strict sequences. I had my stop watch, and when the lights went out I
started to play in my cubby hole at the side of the stage, with a set
time of about one minute; then the actual play began - for which I incidentally
also supplied about 20 short musical pieces.
A: Did you accept the offer because you needed the money? Did your relationship
to Büchner play a role?
C: I always need money just like everybody else. And although I am not
particularly interested in theatre music, the director Valentin Jeker
got me interested in his production of the Büchner play, which, incidentally,
was very successful. He gave me a completely free hand in assembling and
performing the music. For the realisation of the improvised introductory
pieces, which follow the principle left/right and from high to low, I
allowed myself to be influenced by the atmosphere of the play and the
general melancholy of the work on stage, and although there is a recognisable
common basic motif, they are actually quite different from each other
and have been played over a period of many weeks.
A: Are these short pieces meant to be listened to together or as separate
C: The original idea was listening to them consecutively. However, just
in case, I gave every miniature its own separate title - incidentally,
all are named after parts of Frankfurt ending with -heim, and the Westend,
the part where I live. This is supposed to mean we are separate but we
still belong together and, on top of that, Georg Büchner also came
from this South Hessian area.
Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton