Johannes Kreidler Komponist

Neural Interview

printed in: Neural 36 (May 2010)


In "Compression Sound Art" you presented a series of extremely compressed pieces of music (like "All Beatles songs ever released, played in one tenth of a second" or "Britney Spears: Baby one more time, played ten times in one second"), showing how they can be sequenced and reduced to simple sounds. But, what remains of the originals? What do we hear after the compression? The most essential sounds or some fleeting memory? And if archiving is preserving in time, what does compressing do?

It poses the question, how many semantic aspects can a technical process deliver. At the end of "Complete Beethoven Symphonies, played in one second", you hear a tiny vocal sound, that's the final choir of his 9th symphony. I would regard it like Glenn Gould playing Mozart: He plays fanatically fast, and you don't get an awareness of details, but you get a new focus on form. In the case of my piece, form becomes a detail. The ideal of compression is, on the one hand, to save all important information, on the other hand, to reduce it to a handy size.

There are other artists dealing with similar practices (fragmenting and cutting extremely short music samples), for example John Oswald. What do you think is the main conceptual difference between what you did in Compression Sound Art and his Plunderphonic?

First of all, computing power has changed significantly. Secondly, due to global networks, all music is available (thereby, copyright affairs have grown massively). These aspects have lead to new artistic products: using these huge quantities of data, using YouTube, being provocative, being conceptual. My approach is working with semantics in music, just as the web is going to be "semantic" in the future. We are working not only with files but with file names, like Baudrillard pointed out when discussing the freedom of signs.

Do you think that compressing music at similar rates, we can still maintain the original sense, just moving content into different time dimensions?

No, it is not only a perceptual, but a conceptual shift. That's why I try to give additional information to the sound by using, e.g., video. Like the reduction of compression in time, it is a reduction to a semantic object, allowing me to then use this object. In the end, I play a popular tune with all this compressed music. Out of music, I've generated sounds for music. But every sound is a 'link' to other music.

In “product placements” you used 70.200 samples in 33 seconds and filled out the paper forms for every sample used, in order to request registration with the German copyright society. The evident paradox was in the time spent making the song vs. the time spent to make it legal. How it was solved by the society? And did you mean it as a way of resisting the dictatorship of the music bureaucracy?

It was a way to visualize the problems of old copyright in a new era. So it is a metaphor, a sign, and a real sculpture. After the big performance event, with TV, radio stations and digital media, I declared that this aim was fulfilled: to point out that problem, to start discussion. That was in a time (summer 2008) where the big discussion about copyright in the digital age (at least in Germany) hadn't yet emerged, as it has now. Maybe my performance was a small contribution to speed this up. I retained the sculpture and it has been on show at several exhibitions since.

In “Charts Music” you dealt with a quite popular theme (in the experimental music circles): the sonification of the stock exchange fluctuations, but focusing on the significant moments of the last economic crisis. The tunes generated, whose progress is visualized on the decreasing graphs as in a surreal karaoke, are totally plausible and pop-melodic, inducing a mawkish mood that contrasts sharply with meaning implicit in the graphs. What kind of feedback did you get from this piece?

The aim of such a work is to split opinions, which worked pretty well. Everything came up, from big laughter to total anger. Some people had fun with the decline of General Motors, but not about dead GIs in the Iraq war, and vice versa. People have said that I'm cynical, but in my opinion it is the things on display that are cynical. There is a direct connection between amusing pop music and the huge lies of systems that had to fail.

In “untitled performance #1” you were typing furiously on a computer keyboard with samples playing for each key typed (but without a link between them). Triggering samples by typing them, formally resulting in a huge quantity of them played in a relatively short amount of time, encouraged the spectator to think about how samples have become like the letters of a heterogeneous and almost infinite alphabet. Does this description match your own artistic experience? What you think "samples" formally represent nowadays?

I have a fascination with big numbers. I also composed a piece for an ordinary instrumental ensemble which has the self-explaining title "3300 sounds". I think the difference is that a DJ had two turntables and a case with 50 discs; nowadays I can remix a terrabyte of music. That also means that almost every sound wave already exists; I don't feel the necessity to create any new ones. And it means that since samples can played on a computer just like tones on a piano, they ARE tones, just a bit coarser, or more semantically loaded. It's a method of "open source"-composing: I am showing the sources.

Playing on the plagiarism issue for your “Fremdarbeit” (foreign work) you sub-commissioned a work of yours to a Chinese composer and an Indian audio programmer, whom you instructed to make stylistic copies of your work. The work was originally commissioned by the Festival Klangwerkstatt Berlin. Beyond the sum you paid to the subcommissioned artists (a mere 30 Euro), the work seemed to conceptually dialogue with your “product placements”, exposing the striking contradictions of today's uncontrollable composing paths. What are, in your opinion, the limits of extensively dispersing and sampling sound structures and sources?

There are no limits. Every sound is artistic material nowadays; that's not an (old) abstract theory but a real technological fact. Also it becomes attractive to apply any data to musical structures, not only chance operations, but concrete semantic connections. I did similar things with my Music Theatre Piece “Feeds” as I did with the stock exchange fluctuations and muzak: I translated the architecture of a brothel into musical proportions, or the income of bank managers into masses of tones. Sure enough, a conceptual mediation is necessary. That's the idea of using the theatre; the piece is a talk show!

“Music for a solo Western Man” was a variation of the famous “Music for a solo performer” by Alvin Lucier with an important addition. Here, the key performer (the one whose brainwaves control the music and so whose relaxation allows the music to be heard) also has to wear headphones, and you send different kinds of music to test his reactions (from heavy metal to porn soundtracks to statistics of the current state of the economy). Can this be seen as an involuntary interface between the music you play in his headphones and the public?

I had Plato's Cave in mind. The performer is a transformer who makes audible what he hears. The audience can only see the shadows. Which is maybe more interesting to hear than what the performer is actually hearing. And it's also an interface with the classical avantgarde. I like the idea to use it as a material and to transform it into the present time and new media. There lies an interesting provocation: some people don't like regarding these avantgarde pieces as history, since they are still working on that layer.

In “cache surrealism”, you use anonymous pop music as pure sound, with no mediation, just as another instrument, juxtaposing it with an instrument playing. With the pervasive presence of speakers all around us, has pop music become the muzak of our times?

In Germany it is a common argument of composers that they focus on that sounds that are normally filtered out. What they mean are all the tiny sounds, for example, of the fingering on cello strings, not the bowed strings, but the noise of wiping along with the left hand every cello player does. But why do composers focus on classical music? (I don't regard new music as contemporary classical music.) Once I sat in a pub and only after hours I recognized that was pop music playing. This is behind my daily sonic firewall, so I focus on that in the way others focus on cello-wiping. I am interested in making noise music. Pop music is noise!

May 2010