In a Musical No Man's Land – Unheard-of Productions on the Fringes of Rock Culture
From Unearthing The Music
In a Musical No Man's Land – Unheard-of Productions on the Fringes of Rock Culture - An essay by Susanne Binas-Preisendörfer for Sound Exchange.
- 1 CONTEXT AND THOUGHTS ON THE ARTICLE
- 2 IN A MUSICAL NO-MAN'S-LAND – UNHEARD-OF PRODUCTIONS ON THE FRINGES OF THE ROCK CULTURE (SUSANNE BINAS 1991)
CONTEXT AND THOUGHTS ON THE ARTICLE
The following contribution was penned in the early summer of 1991 for the magazine Positionen. Beiträge zur neuen Musik (Positions. Contributions to New Music), which regarded itself both then and now as a forum for music which is current, experimental and moves beyond borders. The article's title »In a Musical No-Man's-Land – Unheard-of Productions on the Fringes of the Rock Culture« refers to several aspects of a cultural and music scene at that time. The knowledge of the conditions under which this arose permits it to have insights into and draw conclusions about a concrete music and art scene. Some of the wording in it I would not use in the same way today, and not every generalisation is correct from today's perspective.
The intrinsic magic of the new start that occurred in 1991 on the territory of the former GDR was overstated through a lack of clarity and at times bitterness on the part of many artists. Musicians on the fringes of a cultural landscape which was barely known either at home or abroad found themselves once more in a musical-aesthetic, as indeed political, no-man's-land. The co-ordinates for their activities had become scrambled in both a positive and negative sense. That which had at one time somehow related them to each other, and especially the aesthetic rebellion and the permanent search for suitable ways to communicate by means of their art, as well as a special audience, thirsting for unusual actions or the contact with the opposition – all of this could barely be grasped anymore. In a culturally pluralist society, deviation is regarded as the norm. So we squatted in houses, factories and churches, earned West German money in back-to-work schemes or behind bar counters, and only as an exception with music.
At least these groups of musicians and artists in the East at that time did not define themselves through pop or pop music. In this sense, I even regarded rock music or avant-garde rock as an adequate reference system: loud, annoying and also a little naive, we saw ourselves more in the tradition of punk and New Wave, happenings and audio art. The article is specifically concerned with those projects and bands which had powerful artistic aspirations, yet belonged to a scene that, in addition to the literati and the visual artists, found its audiences among both young and old from all possible areas of life and work.'
Unheard-of, unusual, unique were the words sued to describe the vocal expressions by the musicians and artists – and that against the background of the situation prevailing at the time, and indeed of my own musical experiences. I grew up in East Berlin, attended music school for many years, completed my secondary education at the Händel-school and took music and cultural studies at the Humboldt University. Together with my fellow students and their friends, in the second half of the 1980s I immersed myself in the so-called »other bands« scene, and even played in the band »der expander des fortschritts«. We gave concerts in apartments, churches and galleries. We experienced »Cassiber« (Heiner Goebbels, Alfred 23 Harth, Chris Cutler) live in the Berliner Ensemble theatre, performed together with composers and electronic music ensembles in the GDR's Academy of the Arts, produced four titles for the radio show »PaRocktikum« on DT64 and a whole album for Cutler's label recommended records.
We named the 1989 concert series »Herbstoffensive« (Autumn Offensive). The well-rehearsed album after that – released in summer 1990 – was called »ad acta«. When I wrote the article, my son Leo was nine months old and I was still angry that the expander group had not been invited to the large official presentation of young art from the GDR held in La Villette in Paris. The article printed here concerns a retrospective snapshot, one that is also intended to provide some self-reassurance and personal positioning within this scene. Despite the fact that the second album had just been released, the expander band only existed as a torso by then, because its one-time members were drifting apart. Written in brackets beneath the title is: To my Friends.
Had I been looking back in retrospect after twenty years, I would not have been able to write an article which could have described the situation then and at the end of the 1980s more thoroughly, objectively or systematically. It is a depiction from my personal perspective, which is extended by the angles provided by other players, and which can certainly claim to be a narration of a small piece of music history exactly in the way that history is envisioned: as a document of the time in which it was recorded.
IN A MUSICAL NO-MAN'S-LAND – UNHEARD-OF PRODUCTIONS ON THE FRINGES OF THE ROCK CULTURE (SUSANNE BINAS 1991)
I - CROSS VEINS
The exclusivity of musical spaces is relatively insignificant for the majority of the genres and forms of popular music. The frequencies whirr and boom between the Walkman and the stadium, the intimate concert space and the pub, or the disco and the occult niche. These different spaces have themselves become material, so to speak, for music culture events; communication does not occur via individual sound structures, rhythmic patterns, metric standards, etc., but instead fundamentally via certain social spaces. Countless examples of this can be found on a completely general level in the history of popular music.
I would, however, like to concentrate on several, in my opinion, »unheard-of music productions« on the fringes of rock culture: unheard-of both in terms of occupying certain social or cultural spaces and the correspondingly confusing inventory, as well as in their acoustically »disruptive«, non-conformist »musical« space-occupying actions.
I would now like to try and recall the attempts to break out in pop music culture in the recent past, because unusual projects by these music artists from the former GDR have barely been documented. While there have certainly been no fundamental changes in what they want and do since the political and economic transformations of the past two years, the conditions for experimental productions, especially in an area like rock music – whose operations are often assumed to be solely in commercially controlled circuits – have changed completely. In order not to forget that which has been, I intend to direct my observations especially to those who once had few possibilities to occupy or fill official public spaces.
Anyone feeling constricted has at times only two options: confine themselves to the corset, or blast themselves out of it. Musical avant-garde is the permanent attempt to lob dynamite into solid structures of mass rock and even start a fire under »favourable« circumstances. Otherwise it devours itself, and all that remains is a rocky field of shattered hopes. However, such blasting also means loosening one's own fetters and sanctioned systems of norms, or the buttresses of one's own operating range.
Genre-overlapping art productions (mixed forms with various music genres, and especially their synthesising function in an ensemble of various arts: as so-called instrumental theatre, theatrical chamber music, song theatre, multimedia) represented a starting point for these unheard-of music productions. The players were united less by the will to have an aesthetic demarcation in relation to a critically regarded musical current, than by their knowledge of the unsatisfactory cultural situation, which was a shared experience for many.
While it was jazz musicians who, especially at the end of the 1970s, together with dancers, painters, poets and film makers, brought the unheard-of (in the form of exhibition concerts, structured improvisations and so on) to the stages and installations which had been used until then for traditional forms, the generational change (in the mid-1980s) was accompanied by a conspicuous shift to the repertoire of rock and pop. Of course there were already various attempts in the GDR to develop different musical concepts between noise jazz and rock experiments, shortly after the first signs of punk at the end of the 1970s, but in fact it was not until 1985 that the protest feeling, which had become frozen into a pose and long passed its international climax – and was now also in a friendly synthesis with the trappings of New Wave – actually arrived in the GDR. Here in East Germany, rebellion definitely was still intended to be serious: with a rough language and rough sound images as well, tinny, edgy and unrelenting. The protagonists slowly stepped out of their musty damp cellars and garage crypts, church naves and derelict rear courtyards into the light of the »organised« public arena of music culture. It remains questionable whether they were sorry they took this step. In light of the events that were to follow, their names in any case seemed like bright premonitions – AUFRUHR ZUR LIEBE (Mutiny to Love), KLICK & AUS (Click and Out), ORNAMENT & VERBRECHEN (Ornament and Crime), ROSA EXTRA... – and certainly also drew on the aftermath of the so-called German New Wave, with a slight punk clout.
The goals of this collective were existential, comprehensive and often in the guise of social utopia. It was aimed especially at the design of, or search for, new cultural spaces in which the attempt to provoke new ways of thinking and behaving ranked far above the commercial drive to succeed. That an appropriate public presence was never established, despite the truly limited terrain available – e. g. via the electronic media – could be explained from different perspectives. The rigid view of these media in the institutionalised aesthetics context was only one background reason, yet not an insignificant one, to come to terms with the situation. And ultimately there were blockers on both sides.
It is a fact that those artists named above came from surroundings which were at least moved by art, and that a large share of the spectacular tendencies were borne by the initiative of driven individuals who were always coming together in these and other projects, and who also still form the nucleus for various initiatives today. They were and are enthusiasts, sometimes dreamers and absurd »underdogs,« tirelessly seeking the opposite, there versal and the removal of their own restrictions. That some aspects curdled into clichés while doing so is in the nature of things, and it is more true today than ever that much has become exchangeable, value-free and unspectacular: arbitrariness, despite powerful signals.
At the beginning there was the game of getting instruments, which still managed to find their way under intense conditions (at enormously overpriced, foreign currency black market prices) to the tinkers and DIY handymen. This situation was not in any way comparable with the usual possibilities available internationally. The revolution in technological know-how in the field of music electronics never actually made it to the GDR. Yet this absence in particular gave birth to an idiosyncratic creativity. The technical and technological possibilities of the available materials were exhausted. Most of them entered an artistic no-man's-land in doing so: it neither was nor could hardly have been the aim of this work to attain complete professional mastery over the respective materials. Some affectionately called them genial dilettantes, while others ignored them completely for their commitment to no genre and thus to an undisciplined amateur status.
Hence they received nothing from the streams of subsidies from established art institutions, nor the laurels of state praise. The enthusiasts remained by themselves in informal circles and established their own publicity structure (with small cassette tape labels, »scene« sheets and publishers). The art space was deliberately limited and kept restricted, with niches of informal communities established out of necessity, in which politics was fragmented as if in a distorting mirror, yet was never directly addressed. This also denied them »major« appearances at festivals in the GDR (such as the Jazzbühne (Jazz Stage), the Festival des politischen Liedes (Political Song Festival) or the Leipziger Jazztage (Jazz Event)) to which internationally comparable »members of the avant-garde« (such as CASSIBER, Lindsay Cooper & Band, Dagmar Krause, Fred Frith or Alfred 23 Harth) were occasionally invited. It was not uncommon for an aesthetic non-conformity to be accompanied by its political counterpart.
Their widespread roots (in jazz, rock, punk, classical Modernism, education and training at conservatories, autodidactic appropriations and personal experiments) however won the players more friends than might have been expected. They could at times make use of the music culture infrastructure (clubs, galleries, student canteens, cinemas and concert halls) in the GDR, however lacking in substance it might have been, by dealing cunningly with the authorities. In this way they slipped into communication spaces which were not available in the same way in, for instance, other West European countries.
IV - OPEN PRODUCTION COOPERATIVES
Visual artists are in an unfortunate position once their product has been captured on film, wood or paper, carved in stone or etched on copperplate! For the creators are usually no longer present when the public approaches the work. By now, the history of art in the 20thcentury is familiar with countless examples of visual artists attempting to break through the limitations of panel painting into spatial-temporal dimensions, at least when dealing with »intrinsic« material, and then by exploring new levels and dimensions of the material.
AG GEIGE (the band's name is a grotesque allusion to the overused requirement in the GDR to develop an understanding of art as cultural-artistic propaganda for the masses, e. g. in creative folk artistic working groups, or Arbeits-Gemeinschaften – abbreviated to AG in German) was formed in the mid-1980s at the crossroads of the appropriation of the various electronic possibilities (rhythm computer and low-tech sampler) and the twin artistic talents (lyrics and painting) of their members. Sequencers provided simple clear patterns which tended to become catchy tunes – guarantees for the safe flow of the texts imposed on them, with images and Super 8 films reminding the initiated of the expressive fantasy costumes worn at the bizarre shows by the Residents (USA). They designed everything themselves, everything was omnipresent in live-seeming holograms on stage.
AG GEIGE have the courage to have visions, as one reviewer wrote about their first LP (of which they now have three). In their sweet Saxon dialect (all the members of the group come from Karl-Marx-Stadt, now Chemnitz), their aesthetics are an attack on the insults to our eyes (lace tablecloths and aluminium spoons) and nerves (cheerful service here) which were endured »by us« for years. Their low-tech samplers delivered what they could for the time – and no more. The GEIGE members used this to create their hits, between dance floor grooves and spindly frequency pranks.
By the end of the 1980s their popularity among 18- to 30-year-olds was unusual for such a project. Several titles even made their way into the upper regions of the national charts. It has now become a little quieter around the GEIGE members. They are signed with an appropriate independent record label and, with professional management, their image is now being sold and marketed reasonably well across Germany. Their personal and artistic roots are in what used to be a creative scene in Karl-Marx-Stadt: MÖBIUS or HEINZ & FRANZ produced comparable cassettes, and the bands ZWITSCHERMASCHINE and DIE GEHIRNE were among the familiar faces who gathered around Frank Bretschneider, who recorded several unheard-of pieces of music on tape in his studio SONNENKLANG and released them on the corresponding label KlangFarBe (it was illegal to distribute your own work in the GDR).
While visual artists themselves took up synthesisers, guitars and computers in the cases described just now, there was certainly a much larger number of projects which clearly displayed symbioses; musicians together with painters, scenographers, dancers or performers.
A division of labour was prevalent during rehearsal and onstage situations with the HERR BLUM project: the father (Jürgen Wagner – action painting) and son (Thomas Wagner – guitar, rhythm computer, tapes, various noise parts) not only upended the rock idiom of the dysfunctional relationship between the generations, they also brought a completely idiosyncratic colour to the scene. Using prepared tapes between collapsing rhythms, Thomas Wagner confidently gained individuality amidst the general state of emergency as he sweated through the actual work. His regular audience was not limited by any means to »clever« students and intellectuals: he instead cast a spell over everyone who required existentially conveyed breakouts (speech, gesture, sound) as a medium for their own mental state. I remember concerts at which the air was literally burning.
One essential condition for this was – and this concerns almost all the people and projects being briefly presented here – the combination of »creator« and »interpreter« (which was enhanced in the HERR BLUM project by the direct participation in the process of creating the father's »painting,« which was richly expressive in colour as a counterpoint, orcantus firmus,to the sound production, an act of quasi-synthesis of the concept of acoustic space). The »genial dilettante« term is therefore no longer applicable, as powerful forces are being harnessed, none of which necessarily have to be artistic. Anyway, by the 1980s at the latest, even in the GDR, electroacoustic production relocated from the esoteric palaces into homes and teenagers' rooms, despite all the costs of acquisition and production. But in the shift to digital, the music lost the aura it had of being something laboriously acquired. The consecration of music in the conservatories and universities made way for the »just for fun« and »do it yourself« attitudes in clubs, rehearsal basements and even on traditional stages.
The moment had finally arrived: musical material had become universal, just like the instruments held ready their universal availability – by democratising the musical instrument, objectifying it, according it only industrial, productive powers. While musical autonomy is and always has been relative, its aesthetic is today greatly expanded. The material and skills have already found their structural-formal and tonal corrective in the process of production. This is collective in its preconditions, even when sound mixing for instance still requires soundproofing and an undisturbed space, and the result requires concentrated individual work. The aesthetic inherent in the material is immersed in the aesthetic of sociocultural »production cooperatives.« The purpose served by distribution and reception in the century-old counterbalance of musical decisions has been nullified – historically – in socialised production processes. This socialisation lurks in the cultural-symbolic forms of this extremely heterogeneous music culture, with its groups and movements which stake out their own social and cultural identities.
Strictly speaking, the starting point for an analysis of the so-called independent scene, avant-garde experiments or unusual sound projects should include an understanding of modern cultural development that reviews the history of the socio-cultural and political context which made it possible, with reference to the cultural-political wealth of the society, regardless of how the relationships of production and reproduction are understood. And this would make it clear why the »false« fraternisations into which many of the »desk composers« are coerced usually do not apply to those discussed here, as soon as the aesthetic really is nullified in a sociocultural production cooperative. That which is social does not have to be subjected to additional mediations before it manifests in a musical-representational result. The space of the »creation« is almost always identical with that being experienced, with the acoustic-visual realisation.
The various communities (of youth cultures) caused specific social and cultural conflict situations in the GDR and drew their content in turn from these. Embedded within them, historically very different rock scenes arose. From the mid-1980s, the so-called »other« or »weird« bands gained attention, especially in local contexts. As already indicated above, they followed the internationally known standards in the aftermath of punk and post-punk.
They included from the very beginning the Cottbus-based band SANDOW – named after one of the town's dreary new housing estates – who, in addition to their concert programmes with hard wave punk, repeatedly introduced onstage encounters with other arts. With the social bonus in the bag, they managed to create insane stage events, especially with the visual artist Hans Scheuerecker, who also came from Cottbus. In 1990, they performed a joint sound-colour-movement performance on the stage of the East Berlin »Tip« (Theater im Palast) venue as part of the Tagen der Jugend (Youth Days Event) in the Palast der Republik. There was not much applause, because the project's aim of creating an obligatorily cooperative synthesis worth seeing and hearing was maybe too ambitious. Openly displayed divisions of labour in theatre productions (e. g. in Senftenberg) seem to have been far more successful.
Critics also saw in the project »Törnen – Ein Mecklenburg-Environment« (Gymnastics – A Mecklenburg Environment, 1987) more of a display than a representation: a symbolic construction transported in a state of diffusion which failed to stimulate culture-critical awareness. »1,700 years of Mecklenburg interpreted in 180 minutes, no geography or history lessons, no folk customs, no theatre« is how it was described in the programme. In addition to painters, film makers, photographers, dancers and performers, musicians from FEELING B, FREYGANG and DEKADANCE also took part. »Actions of this kind resisted any explanation. They were designed by their makers as private myths, and expressed their determination for concealment in nearly indecipherable layers of meaning in the face of social monitoring mechanisms geared at total transparency. With increasing clarity, the allegories provided and the (German?) ›I don't know what it is supposed to mean‹ became supporting pillars for a branch of GDR art which was more concerned with a hidden meaning than with reflection and clarification.« (Christoph Tannert, 1988)
Similar aims led to a group of young artists gathering in 1987 around Arnim Bautz (concept, video, guitar and vocals), the technician and »organiser« (i. e. manager) at OFF GROUND II (an independent, risk-taking initiative in the Jugendklub Potsdam Lindenpark youth club): their goal was to stage a perfect contemporary show using the most diverse of means (i. e. media). Then, one year later, the »total« media product NEW AFFAIRE was staged: lasers pierced walls of fog, there were video and slide projections, Dark Wave and human body performances between expressive, jazz and »Bauhaus« dance: the intention was to sensually seduce the audience, provided the project was actually able to manage the somewhat oversized technical apparatus. The criteria of the undecipherable quoted above were joined here by sedate melancholy and pain, but at least it failed to fit into conventional categories familiar here in Germany. It seemed at times like an occult abyss, meditatively minimalist in the structural concept, yet still full of pomp in its illumination of human perception.
By contrast, ORNAMENT & VERBRECHEN is an independent band that has been quite successful for years. In part because they never addressed the political framework, this situation has continued since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In addition, ORNAMENT & VERBRECHEN – which began as a duo (Ronald and Robert Lippok) – were among the first to initiate offensive production relations on an open group basis. Sometimes with a smaller line-up and at other times with more members, the Lippok brothers have accompanied poets such as Rainer Schedlinski or Bert Papenfuß-Gorek during their readings. There were also such connections between Sascha Anderson and the legendary FABRIK – intelligent punk wave in performance-oriented projects (e.g. with Lutz Dambeck).
While all of this was taking palce up to the mid-1980s almost exclusively in non-public connections or spaces (such as the Sprachenkonvikt institute, the Samariterkirche or the Umweltbibliothek in Berlin), the relaxation of culture policy brought domestication. It was now tolerated and, ultimately, even demanded: as a political buffer zone and space for integration, as a fig leaf for the culture policy of (half-dead) pen pushers, but also as an invigorating auto-corrective effect using performances, and that not only because of ossified artistic development. Its fundamentally polemic, discursive character was perhaps an essential survival mechanism of a rebellious intellectual culture.
The »true« signs of modern civilisation could also be found in the GDR, especially in the dissemination of metropolitan cultural forms as the revelation of these signs. The individual's internal worlds of behaviour and experience are determineden masseby the worlds of objects and the density of events. »The concept of sensation has been rendered powerless by the increasingly unmanageable flood of events from theatres of war, explorations of the cosmos, plane crashes, industrial and environmental catastrophes... and everyone has a front row seat... The crash enlists our attention as a subscriber, as a mediator... that which had to arise, inevitably, from the culture so discovered: Object art, installations, action painting, Fluxus, performances, multimedia... In the confrontation with its own progressive forms, an attempt has been made to expose reality... the step from feeding the viewers to abandoning them, releasing them into the wilderness of reality... without any warning.« (Erhard Ertel, 1989)
In this sense, former scenographic students in Dresden attracted attention with their AUTOPERFORATIONSARTISTIK, especially as it could no longer be explained at all using traditional artistic criteria, and even vehemently rejected them. Even highly unorthodox art experts had their problems with such »hermetic actions,« being unable to grasp or decipher for themselves the meaning of the overarching impressions, which extended beyond any traditional genres. Works by Micha Brendel, Else Gabriel (today a well-travelled, internationally-acclaimed performance artist), Rainer Görß and Via Lewandowski conveyed the history of art at most using receptive and cognitive recycling, and they always found debates on the location of art either irrelevant or annoying.
Even if they no longer used instruments (in the sense of tools for dissecting), they also worked together with »proper« musicians (e.g. Nino Sandow – trained opera singer, Norbert Grandl – classical timpanist and rock drummer, Ulf Wrede – keyboards, Berd Wrede – excellent jazz guitarist and Stefan Winkler – composition studies graduate). This combination called itself BRUT (until another, uninteresting, band usurped this name, probably in ignorance of its namesake): »Picked out of the electric and underground music pellets and slaphappy. Fresh. Show-offs. Heart chamber music with rhythm disturbances. Real right through to the wrong note.« (from an advertisement) As part of the so-called MIDGARD Performance (a diploma thesis that was defended as an exhibition concept by Rainer Görß at the Dresden College of Art – a first), an opus composed by Stefan Winkler, based on texts from the Icelandic Edda saga, had its eagerly awaited première. It was dominated by artificial structures, a female voice, a male voice, cello and percussion, which were confronted with extreme outbreaks of electronic instruments (sampler, electric guitar and drums). While it was conceived as an exclusively musical element amidst the action art forms of this strangely archaic exhibition space, BRUT contextualised comparable states: rituals and therapeutic forms. And just like their »dirty«, stinking, untidy and overcrowded environment provoked the eyes and nose, the fragile musical material, ominously warped, reached the surprised ears of those present.
VI - LONE WOLVES
For many players, pre-recorded tape material, the insertion of original sounds and their distortion through sampling – ruthlessly repeatable via sequencer structures – represented an important basis for their own productions. For Thomas Wagner, mentioned earlier, this was the only way at all to present his excessive solo or two-man shows live on stage. What he managed to put together in the peace and quiet of his own home was termed in this respect »home recordings«: experiments with all the sound sources (baking tins, the sound of a diskette, tea kettles, radio) available to the various producers.
With the exception of a few specialists and their products, these musical studies almost never reached the ears of a larger audience. If we put a positive spin on this, the lack of pressure to perform in public made possible a freedom or naivety with which the sound material was accessed and processed, something which the »unheard-of« logically contains. Many of these tape music producers are extreme individualists. They want to control the resulting material down to the very last detail. In that regard, the accessible recordings can be understood as technical psychograms, in which the technical level during the recording can be discerned as well as very specific individual emotional states expressed in humour, sentimentality, fear, playfulness, irony or sarcasm.
In addition, Frank Tröger (TRÖTSCH) or Dirk Pflughaupt (FLUGZEUG), both of whom have worked primarily on the basis of sound recycling, have also integrated material developed in this way in band projects: for example in OBEN OHNE – an action with the two of them and Tatjana Gallert (vocals) and Matthias Meiner (saxophone). Taymur Strengler has used standard computer technology to prepare his own pieces and those for the band NEUN TAGE ALT in an almost professional way. Likewise, the duo Thomas Wagner (HERR BLUM) and Jörg Beilfuß (highly professional drummer), working as TOM TERROR & DAS BEIL or the band DER EXPANDER DES FORTSCHRITTS, were not prepared to forego homework in the sense of home recordings. They produced for the live context, coupled with »classic« rock music instruments. However the tape collages did not figure here as a rhythmically structured band, to which the individualists can be assigned as a disrupting factor, but rather as a completely independent »musical individual« in which the »collective musical confrontations« with sounds, functions and commentaries come together – something which would not be possible for single instrumentalists onstage.
Daniel Rund in contrast produced pure tape music – a proper boffin among the home recording freaks. He intentionally took the dreary array of low-tech equipment at his disposal, and used it to transform the »trash inspirations« of his old fairytale and kitschy GermanSchlager(MOR hits) albums as an outlet for his »hatred of Jürgen Walter and Herberth Roth (GDR folklorist and singer of kitschy hits) and his own childhood favourites (Spider Murphy Gang)« (Daniel Rund in an interview with the writer). For him, coincidental destruction represented the »good life,« and the ideal Christmas present would be »a recorder in the bathroom, always ready to record« (ibid.). He treated texts in an enchantingly rigorous manner, making associations in a Babylonian confusion of tongues. Together with Michael Möller (who was a music journalist and keyboarder at the time), he planned for the possibility of performing his material live. This actually happened during an exhibition opening in 1990, but it seems that neither of them were entirely clear about just how big a jump it really is from the living room to a public space. Filling large spaces with acoustic material calls for the most elementary knowledge of their dimensions, as well as of the unique aspects of how the sound is reflected or swallowed up.
»HERZKOTZEN – or songs against mechanics« (a play for audio tape, composition and realisation: Eckehard Binas, one performer: Uwe Baumgartner and a musician on the piano, sampler, flute and saxophone: Susanne Binas) existed from the beginning in two versions: as an audio version (cassette) and as a live performance. The latter was performed six times and was subtly adapted from the cassette version in consideration of the spatial dimension. In the stage version, the performer is placed in an unfair contest with himself (the audio tape narrator). All of the texts were by Arthur Rimbaud, they were however organised for use solely as semantic material for the piece. The figure split into three persons (a white Negro in a trialogue with himself), with the differentiation being completely subjective and thus perhaps able to provide information about the emotional state and intention of the »creator« (Eckehard Binas). On the other hand, as composers the persons lead their own lives, resulting in commentaries, illustrations, obliterations and amplifier effects. The audio tapes were produced in a rehearsal room with the technically primitive equipment that was available at the time (1989).
VII - SELF-DEFENCE GROUPS<
The names and projects presented so far are those which were from their inception open, with limited lifespans and volatile structures. However, stable group concepts (AG GEIGE) did grow from several of these loose connections, or vice versa, with some bands or individual members embarking on various projects. What they were trying to break through was the relative narrowness of what can be expressed in rock music, both in terms of the line-up as well as in the sound material used. They borrowed from New Wave, jazz and even the classics of modern serious music, as well as the tradition of Weill and Eisler. The sound images created in this way were so different individually that every effort to grasp them with musical labels was doomed from the very beginning.
Briefly: more has continued to be written about BRUT and HERR BLUM, as indeed about AG GEIGE. But there was also the band HARD POP, which drew attention during the early stages of the development of this trend for their idiosyncratic borrowings from Weill and Eisler in their rock songs, or TOM TERROR & DAS BEIL: there arose between the two extreme individualists – the expressive sampling virtuoso Thomas Wagner and Jörg Beilfuß, the most excellent percussionist in this scene in the GDR – a surely difficult but equally fruitful collaboration. Driven first and foremost by improvisation, they played their complex, compact songs with much success all the way to LA VILLETTE in Paris as part of a wide-ranging presentation of young GDR art in February 1990.
Three further musical programmes were also created for a time (the protagonists temporarily left the GDR) which also went beyond the obvious horizontal-vertical co-ordinated network of typical GDR pop music – TEURER DENN JE, FETT and LA DEUTSCHE VITA – thanks to the demanding lyrics which Leonard Lorek prepared in language grids and with poetic artifices for various musical variants: for a pop concert (TEURER DENN JE), for artificial jazz without a jazzy lack of history (FETT) and for a two-man programme (Ulf Wrede – keyboard, Fritz Zickert – guitar) which confronted old hits from the 1920s and '30s with current music (LA DEUTSCHE VITA). For pop music in the GDR, Leonard's songs with their circular linguistic movements, connected to Fritz Zickert's innovative compositional efforts on the basis of unconventional song structures, would have augured a quantum leap forward, had the decision-making media representatives ever become aware of the musicians' output.
»What do people do when they don't like the music presented to them? They make it themselves.« (Mario Persch, 1988) DER EXPANDER DES FORTSCHRITTS (founded in 1987) also regarded itself as such a self-defence group with a changing line-up (Uwe Baumgartner, Eckehard Binas, Mario Persch, Jörg Beilfuß, Susanne Binas, Stefan Schüler, Norbert Grandl, Thomas Görsch). The members were united by several peculiarities: they had all gained experience in or with rock or jazz bands, but what united them above all else was their distrust of existing band concepts and structures, like a music factory, where there was always a lead singer, someone else who wrote the lyrics, the woman always looked really sexy and someone else provided the rhythm. They were also united by a shared interest in the most diverse cultural and artistic concepts from throughout the century, and in those forms of popular music which developed beyond the standardised radio music and which referred to reality in a new way; those produced in a free, creative interaction with technology, with the most varied compositional principles and improvisation methods and which were still »pop songs,« which had managed to free themselves from the verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure without completely throwing it overboard.
DER EXPANDER DES FORTSCHRITTS abstained from autobiographical claims universal truths in favour of (far too) complex musical and contextual fields of meaning in which snippets of associations, quotations and commentaries faded in and out. Hence their interest in working with tapes, distorted sound documents, statements, and so on. This, in turn, provided the opportunity to integrate social reality – directly or mediated – into the musical structures. The resulting concept, which was occasionally conceived as superficially argumentative, gave way at the beginning of the 1990s to a more associative one (especially in terms of rhythm and sound image). This was a universally observable trend, away from the existential scream in the direction of swinging melancholy, which is no less existential in intention. For that part of the EXPANDER group which is still active, these are the archetypes of human imagination, the singsongs of hope, fear, carnal desire and pain. The »Gesang der Sirenen« (Sirens' Song) is a consequential project: »The über-message paralyses, within the confusion all song is a promise.« (from the programme)
IX - BUNDLED
The tendencies, aspects, names and projects described above are all part of a spectrum of art productions in the 20thcentury whose aim was not the creation of harmony, but rather the over-extension of the medium, as well as the over-extension of the art spaces and their socially cohesive strength. What was rejected was the overly-serious, unconditional identification with extreme emotional states. This tendency is logically very close to art-like theatrics and scenic actions. And at times it drew no distinction between the unique object and the mass product. For this purpose, the means to exercise art have to be radically expanded, the materials, methods and forms of presentation constantly questioned. This is a strenuous undertaking, because the new experiential world is dauntingly pluralist; it contains torturous seriousness as well as fun, humour and melancholy. Its enthusiasm (and its repression) is marked by a feverish, hectic pace (Susan Sontag).
Many of those named here have to a certain extent bundled this experience like an oracle, one that we are only now actually facing with all its implications. Audiences today are even less willing to voluntarily accept assaults on their ears, to tear their gaze away from the spectacle of palm fringed beaches, to provoke and challenge the senses. The public space for any pleasure in the fantastic and the exaggerated is channelled by market-friendly concepts.
The cards are being reshuffled. Several are lost (to drugs, the psychiatric clinics or New York), others have returned to East Berlin and now drink their Weizen beer in self-managed galleries with a bar (GALREV or Geyer Walli), or open houses solely in accordance with their own insane requirements, and others now pursue middle class professions, or try to pull one over on the solidly structured public arenas of federal German socio-culture (which is this in name only, as it criminally neglects sociocultural spaces) with their flair for cultural-artistic interconnections, using new or long cherished ideas.
© Positionen, 9/1991, pp. 9–15.