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Interview with: Oswald Berthold , Mathias Gmachl , Stefan Possert
Interviewer: Klas Sjogren
Date: 29.11.1998
Additional Link:

Farmers Manual interview @ Nature is perverse

A big dark room, the main room at Fylkingen, a couple of tables scattered across the floor, two big
screens facing each other from each side of two walls. The place is unusually smoky. Flickering
pictures of objects of different size and shape wobbling around. An X-ray hand. The music: tightly
connected with the visuals on the screen, a vast stream of unconsciousness. Like a mind closing in or
opening up depending on your mood. Itís hard to create some kind of lasting impression out of it
because everything changes so fast, sounds as well as pictures. Still, itís a hell of a rollercoasterride
and the people responsible for all this are not swinging guitars or doing any rock gestures. Theyíre just
sitting quietly behind their digital tools, exchanging glances every now and then, saying something,
joking and even looking impressed by some of the visuals theyíve created. Suddenly theyíre just off for
a pizza or something, leaving all the stuff by itself and the concert continues and people are still
listening. Farmers Manual are different.

Klas: First of all Iíd like you to explain the Farmers Manual method for making sounds
and music.

Mathias Gmachl: Itís all improvised.
Oswald Berthold: No, itís not.
Stefan Possert: What a strange question!

K: Do you walk down the street and collect soundsources and put them together for
a collage?

S: The sounds that we use can come from any source and theyíre collected in a way.
O: They are collected, samples of records and samples of cds and natural
S: Mostly generated stuff.
O: Films, videos and TV or just snippets from the Internet.

K: So when you put them all together, is it a random thing?

M: No, it should be real-time work, so itís always a flow of music. We try to make
our own instruments with the use of software so I think itís pretty much improvised
because we have to think about the instruments first and try to realize it. The
attention is more on the instruments than on the soundsources because itís good to
have a very diverse set of sounds to test your instrument. Itís good to work with.
S: I think machine is a better word than instrument. Itís a machine, a big, big
O: The last two years has been about structuring samples and putting them into new
S: Itís not just about samples, is it?
O: Mostly.
S: Mostly?
O: It is. And thatís what Mathias says: Itís more about the structures rather than
which samples we use.
M: The instrument is stronger than the samples. The instrument is the way that things
are arranged or structured and it's more important to the music that comes out of the PA
than the samples themselves. Of course they do play a role but the best instrument is
a mixture of the use of samples and a good instrument. Itís always a little bit
dangerous to do something that enhances the samples or enhances the instrument.
You have to find a way inbetween to let both contribute to each other and make one
good whole.

K: Which qualities do you look for in a soundsample? Do you go: well, now that weíre
going to do this we need these type of qualities...that it has to have a hard edge or
whatever. íCause to follow a line you have to have an idea of where youíre going

O: Yeah but thatís not...thatís just the process really. We have a collection of sounds
and all these sounds we use and reuse again, over and over and to keep them for a
long time this sound is edited a bit and so the collection of sounds evolves with the
S: Frankly, there is no basic concept at all we can follow. Itís just going there and
start and see whatís happening.
O: Sometimes itís really randomly picking four or five sounds out of hundreds or so,
just putting them into some processing of the application and just try it out...whatís
the output of these sounds, but you know the sounds.
M: Not always.
S: Some sounds are generated.
M: All my sounds are numbered. Theyíre just one, two...thatís for the machine to
use some of the instruments. You can have more levels in an instrument. Thereís
always a basic level which is the way the sounds are generated and structured...and
then using and building this instrument you start to think of a method to let the
computer do what you do and you can make a second level which uses the
instrument you used yourself before. Itís better to have numbered songs really.

K: Did you all grow up with this kind of computermusic? When I looked at you
onstage and heard the records it seemed to me that these fellows were born into this
type of thing. Do you all compute and program stuff?

O: I donít know...
S: Weíre no computerkids. If we were computerkids we wouldíve been more into
programming of games maybe. Weíve been into computers for maybe five years
O: We played in a band as well.
S: But weíre not the computergeneration or what youíd normally think that we have
to be. All the people think weíre totally nerded out freaks but we ainít...
M: Well, we are now but we were not ten years ago.
S: I mean we came from the musicianside, from the partyside or from the whatever
side, but not from the computerside.

K: So how did this music develop? Did you develop together or did this thing just pop

S: Me and Ossie and Gert, whoís not here at the moment, have known each other
since we were thirteen or something...and what was the question again? (laughter)
Weíve known each other from the beginning on and my first image of Ossie was with
a guitar, I think, playing music with a band.

K: Have you had any interest before in improvised music?

S: Yes, sure absolutely. There was a band where Ossie and Gert and other people
played and there was a sort of videoprojection band where I was active and then we
met Mathias in Vienna when we moved there and then everything started to grow
very fast. Bit too fast maybe.

How did you hook up with the Mego gang?

S: More by accident. We just went to a club.
M: Oswald and me got to know each other through Stefan...
S: We were at this sort of advertising school to learn to communicate to people for
commercial purpose.
M: At the time I had an analog studio in my bedroom and started to make music
there. We didnít know each other very well. We just tried to make music together and
somehow we liked it. After a while we got confident about the material and tried to
find some way to release it. I think we tried technolabels in the beginning but itís
quite obvious that itís not a good environment for us. Mego had a good start at this
time and they seemed to like it.
S: They just worked in a similar way to ours. Nearly the same equipment and a
related approach. So we just met them and saw them and started talking and they
said: Hey, why donít you make a release on our label. We just did it.

K: Who designs the webpage? It seems massive...

S: Everyone does it. All of us.

K: What was the idea behind that?

M: No idea.
S: There is no concept. Thereís nothing.
M: We were quite lucky ícause we had contact with the Internet quite early and
in Vienna at the studio we worked at a big Internet node. Itís just in our studio so we
made a homepage. Also, when we perform, we donít really practise. Everybody
works on the stuff and when we perform is the only time we work together and try
things out. We know each other pretty well and we seem to like the same things so it
just works, but thereís no concept or masterplan.
S: Just play around with the stuff. Thatís the point really. To play with software.
M: We have similar interests and we know each other and most of the time we do it in
a live environment. We donít practise ten hours in the studio or something.

K: How do you like coming to these sort of festivals where bands and artists are
somewhat similar to what youíre doing? Not exactly the same but theyíre using the
same software and the same methods.

S: We just talked about it today when we had lunch. Itís not people out there who are
using the same software but people who are doing it with a related
approach. I think this is the important point. To use the opportunities you have with
the computer and the digital media.

K: For me, I listen to this sort of stuff like the Mego or the Mille Plateux or
whatever, but then I also listen to jazz. To perhaps fetch things from jazz, ícause this
sort of music tends the end itís like a circle if you donít add something new to

M: But thatís like every genre. If you just stay in one type of music youíre stuck and
try to relate things to each other which are basically the same. Itís like with
dancemusic, it stopped at a certain point and everybodyís just using some other
gestures and putting a new thing together which is new to them but seeing things
outside of dancemusic in a whole music context theyíre basically the same. I think we
listen to all types of music.
S: The important thing is that Farmers Manual is not about music as a single
discipline. Everything you can see or hear or feel or think about is Farmers Manual
actually. Itís not just about music. Music is one thing that is very strong and important,
but thereís more behind it. I mean our website is maybe as important as the music for
people out there. Iím sure there are people who donít even know that Farmers
Manual is making music. Itís more the combination of everything. Is this true? (looks
at the others)

K: Where do you think itíll go in the future? I guess people consider it as
computergenerated music...

S: Computergenerated lifestyle, I think...

K: Do you think that it will crossbreed?

M: Well, I think computers enable us to make music not known to date or not heard
yet. I think this is the field that weíre most interested in. Thatís why we use computers
because itís the most open and versatile, the most precise and flexible way of making
O: ...doing things...
S: Yeah, thatís the point. I mean, whatís going on in music in the next twenty years I
donít care about. Itís not my interest. Itís more about what will happen to people
generally in the next twenty years. Music is just one feature that life can offer you.

K: Do you think that you can keep a human element to this type of music? I believe
people consider it as computerized. These people program stuff. Itís computers driven
by algorithms.

O: Itís still humans that have to come up with the algorithms.
S: And humans have to push the buttons at the right moment.
O: The selection of algorithms is the crucial point. You can render thousands and
thousands of hours of music with the same algorithms. The human point of selection
and influence is just one level, but still without humans it would not happen. They just
donít render themselves. Itís the same with music.
S: Itís a bit of a misunderstanding of the people when they see the stage and itís
totally engulfed with hardware because they think itís totally generated by them.
Weíre just puppets standing up there.
M: Itís a very abstract way of working and if youíre not used to computers you just
canít imagine. Thatís why I talked about the computers and instrument. Itís just what
this digital technology enable us to do. To take concepts out of reality and move them
into a digital realm and use them there as you would do in reality. Itís built up of
concepts you know from everyday life, ícause we think in this concept and they are
ported to the digital realm but you can use them there as you would use instruments
in reality. Itís exactly the same thing and thereís no reason to talk about it as cold or
computergenerated or emotionless. Thatís not true at all. Itís just these clichÈs that
are around.

K: Still you have people like Mille Plateux with theories around music that get very
abstract and they like to use terms used in systems science...

O: The things that happen on Mille Plateux, at least thatís my impression, is just a lot
of talking about theories and everything but it does not necessarily apply to the music
itself. Itís just a lot of wanking basically.
S: We donít give a shit about concepts.
M: We are interested in science but we donít expose this or talk about it or cite any
people. Weíre trying to research and go on with our work but itís the work that weíre
interested in. We read all this and maybe find things to incorporate in our own work
but we donít put them in our presstakes. We try to take ideas out of it and melt it with
our own ideas.
S: But thereís no need to talk about the concept of making music. We just make
music because we like to make music and it makes our hearts beat faster and make
us feel better.

K: So whatís the most fun about being in Farmers Manual?

S: To be around computers. To see the Trinitron pixels blinking is the most fun part of
it all.
M: Well, we can work together and we have a huge amount of freedom in doing that.
O: It was quite a joy spending the whole day here and setting something up. When
we started the concert, it wasnít really that we started the concert. We were just
continuing setting it up.
S: Exactly, the concert started when we arrived here. It started at the airport. I feel
that thereís a big misunderstanding between the audience and us because they think
that weíre trying to communicate anything. Itís just the music and the visuals to make
you feel better and thereís no general message.

K: Is there some sort of musicscene in Austria, ícause I heard this cd from Fennesz
and Christoph Kurzmann, the Orchester 33 1/3...

M: Oh Jesus, itís the most fucked up thing in Vienna. We donít talk about it. I hate it.
Itís just wankers. Itís a project for jobless musicians so theyíre trying to give them
some work, thatís all.
S: It doesnít mean itís bad. If there are people out there who like it, they should
continue doing it.
O: How generous...
S: The main point with our group is total anarchy.

K: Ryoji Ikeda said you played BossaNova in Hamburg...

O: He must be joking or something.

K: ...and he said you smoked way too much.

S: Thatís what he said? Maybe he should start smoking or something.

K: Do you feel that you have anything in common with these artists.

S: Absolutely.
M: I think Dumb Type (Japanese multimedia group that Ikeda is member of) is a very
great work in its togetherness.
S: The artists around us are totally influencing our work. Maybe Farmers Manual is
just a mixture of influences from outside artists and weíre reproducing what we see.

K: If you compare FSCK, is it Fitchick?

S: File System Check, itís the UNIX thing when you have a crashed system and you
need to repair it.

K: It seems to be a more continuing work, more songlike if you will, compared to the
new one, Explorers_we.

O: FSCK was really arranged. We just took soundfiles and put them where they are
now and Explorers is not. Explorers is just defining a pool of soundfiles and letting a
program run across it.

K: How do you integrate this music with the visuals. Is it randomly generated?

O: Itís not absolutely random.
S: The question is what is random. Random always has this part of uncontrolled taste
with it, you know. That you just push a button and thousands of numbers and
pictures are generated. Thatís not the truth. If you push random, you push it because
you want to.
O: To define a set of ten states and you can randomly choose between ten
predefined ways of things to work or so. Thatís the thing of not being totally random.
S: Everything that you can see or hear is controlled in a way or mostly controlled.

K: Is it controlled by the music or do you control it by listening to the music?

O: Itís a volume tracker.
S: The pictures are moving to the music because when the pitch is going high, the
pictures move that way.
O: Thereís no other connection.
M: What we try to do at the moment is to analyze the music and visualize it.

K: Was that what you used yesterday?

M: Yesterday was more that the analysis was part of us, so it was not part of the
computer. We heard the music and tried to visualize it by the use of the computer.
Random is not a good way of controlling things because on a large scale if you have
randomcontrolled music for more than half an hour it tends to feel the same. The way
of the changes is always kind of similar and when you listen to things you always try
to get some kind of concept behind it. You try to look a step beyond and if you do this
listening to random music you donít get the point somehow. We still use random
selections but the overall controlling method is more complex or should be more
complex than that.
S: I think the interesting thing is that you give a part of choosing whatís going on
away to the computer. Itís to make it more neutral.

K: Do you build up your set in a structured way?

O: We have sections but when a new section starts we donít have control over which
section it is.
M: Itís really this feeling we have working together, just the way we feel at this
S: Itís a language developing. You can build up a world for your own.

K: Thatís a good ending point. Thank you.


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