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Interview | Johannes Motschmann

johannes motschmann interview with Cone Magazine Neue Meister

On the 19th August, experimental Berlin composer, Johannes Motschmann will release “Electric Fields”, an album of dark, eclectic and epic soundscapes that have a hyper-focusing edge.

A mix of classics and far-out science fiction, Electric Fields is a crafted, slab of exciting experimentation. Johannes Motschmann is a composer in the truest sense of the word. A musician who has learnt his craft and developed a unique sense of old and new, “New” being the cornerstone of his repertoire, a search for something no one has heard before.

I spoke to Johannes, ahead of the release of Electric Fields about his music and about the influence of his surroundings and the history of his city.

Oliver: Greetings from Bristol! How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard your music?

Johannes Motschmann: I would actually be interested how they describe it! Producing electronic music in a way, forces you to hear your stuff again and again. And you are focussing on different aspects every time, so the description changes, too. At the beginning, I just wanted to create a somehow retrospective soundscape to develop natural sounds with very artificial recording techniques. The basic idea is, that you hear electronic music but imagine a live performance.


Oliver: This album is complex in arrangement and sonically is very interesting, were you classically trained?


JM: Yes. I started to compose when I was a child, I had piano and organ lessons. Later I studied piano, composition and electronic music at the conservatoires of Dresden, Karlsruhe and Berlin.


Oliver: So, as being well versed in classical music, your music sounds very cinematic to me, where does that influence come from?


JM: From the cinema, I suppose…!


Oliver: And what other influences do you draw from when composing?


JM: I like to combine styles that don’t belong together. Music itself can be inspiring, but only if there is a translation into a different sound world. I once quoted music from Nine Inch Nails in a classical ensemble piece where it was completely unexpected. But the best influences come from the piece itself, as soon as it has its own history you can refer to. That’s why I like to rework my stuff from time to time. The third Inspiration is the rough material I work with. I like to concentrate on certain materials like metal or glass when I take new samples.


Oliver: The sound of this album is very large, from big string arrangements to heavy synthesizer parts. How and where was the album recorded? And, who was involved?


JM: We recorded in the legendary “Funkhaus Nalepastraße”, the former radio broadcasting organization for the German Democratic Republic. Boris Bolles made the recordings. We started working together a long time ago, when we were students, and he recorded nearly all my music ever since. We produced the album together. David Panzl played vibraphone with a huge setup including all the instruments a percussionist can imagine. Boris performed the violin parts and I played pianos and synthesizers.



Oliver: Obviously Berlin has a huge history of new and exciting music, and seems to have been a breeding ground of creativity. Being from Berlin, do you find this as an inspiration when you composing your own music?


JM: Sometimes it is an inspiration being here. But most of the time, especially if you have work to do, you are somehow disconnected from the city. You completely forget where you are.


Oliver: Some of the darker sounds on the album were reminiscent to me of Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s work that was written and recorded in Berlin. Are they an influence on your music?


JM: Bowie more than Pop. I saw an exhibition about his time here in Berlin a few years ago. But it is not the town we live in nowadays…


Oliver: You seem to mesh together ambient sounds with strong percussive beats in parts of this album. Where does that idea come from? 


JM: I like to refer to certain stylistic moments in musical history, but in the same time I want to create something new. I like the ambient sounds of Stars of the Lid or Brian Eno, but I wanted to make this an album about rhythms in the first place. It has to work in opposite directions at the same time.


Oliver: The mix of analogue instruments such as the piano and live drums, with synthesizers and digital instruments is very interesting. What do you think makes them work so well together?


JM: In classical orchestration you always profit from complementary abilities. And I just translated this approach when I developed electronic music. Some musicians think, they have to make a decision between analogue and digital instruments to get the best result. I don´t understand this idea. You should take advantage of both sides. The scene often speaks about analogue warmth, as if it were the only sound you could imagine. But what do you do, if the sound of the next piece has to be as cold as ice – then you maybe need completely different stuff.


Oliver: What are your plans regarding the touring of the album?


JM: We go on tour in October in Germany first. The hardest thing is to put this huge setup on stage in time.


Oliver: How many people do you need to recreate the sounds of Electric Fields in a live setting?


JM: Just the three of us. The idea was to have the variety of an orchestra with three multi-instrumentalists performing. The single parts are not the problem. The tricky part is, to play everything together with hands and feet. We want to recreate every single sound live on stage without looping anything. That is a lot of work, but it’s also great fun. The first shows went well!


Oliver: Do you have plans to play over here any time soon?


JM: We start in Germany, but I hope we will perform in UK as soon as possible. I´ll let you know!


Words by Oliver Southgate


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