Interview with Grischa Lichtenberger

Hey Grischa, where are you now, and what have you been up to this past weekend?
hi hc, i’m back in cold berlin. i have been playing a show at semibreve festival in braga, portugal.

Throughout a few published reviews [including the one by Headphone Commute] there were comparisons drawn between your work and Autechre. What are your thoughts and feelings on that?
i’m feeling honored and misunderstood at the same time, i guess. i can’t deny that autechre’s music has been very much influential on my taste of music, but when put in reference, than, for me, because of their very personal approach to create music. when i was younger i listened to fugazi, nirvana and wrote sad songs on my guitar – electronic music was cold and unpersonal for me, a not even strange, but boring part of popular music culture. but slowly through postrock and finally by a track on the amber record by autechre (yulquen, which is a very slowly developing beautiful synth progession) i felt, that with computer made music there is not only the technological possibility (it’s anonymous potency) but also a way for a personal integrity of expression, something you hear as made by someone, whose history can never completely been told or put in words. so (to cut this long story short) the aesthetical references, there might be between the tracks on and IV and autechre, are a dept to the history i had, but not more or less important than some washing machines or tv noises i have encountered, or the forest i grew up in. for instance i think that my beat-culturalisation (if there is such a word in english?) is more bound to rock music of the 90’s than to hip hop as it is for autechre. also the use of samples and mistakes is a bit more in the center of my approach as the highly developed synth manipulations of them i think. but in the end i’m just tumbling into these (or still those) woods and find a way through it while making a track. and while one might sound more like nirvana or the washing machine, another one would possibly sound more like autechre.

another aspect in this debate is for me maybe worth to mention: i think in a way making electronic music became arbitrary in a sense that there is no longer this avant garde feeling about the fact to make electronic music itself. and in some sense autechre were (at least in a certain period) bound in a context where they were perceived as avant garde or pioneers – ‘cutting edge’ as one might say. but now, with this arbitrarity of electronic music, with it’s ubiquity, the chance for dilettantes like me (who aren’t specially talented or have a special nerd-gen, being some kind of a math genius, through-the-night coder or whatever) the chance to use the tools (of electronic music) to note, to create something, to put something in motion is, how to say, more reachable – now it is more about the right you might be able to give yourself, than the right others could or wouldn’t apply to your work. the possibility of personal integrity – which is the backside of the overcome progression – i did found especially touching when listening to autechre records and would also love to be able to say about my own work, it is what maybe comes out of this questioning process of what you really want to say.

The concept of the album refers to a “fictionalized successor of the Baksan Neutrino telescope in the Caucasus region”. Tell us more about that!
well, hard to find a good beginning. maybe, first of all it’s not really a concept for me, but more a headline or a word i can hold on to gather the different ideas. as i moved to berlin from duesseldorf, where i lived some years (working on ~treibgut) i was looking for a new headline, because, although i could apply many of the strategies generated there, the circumstances here (in berlin) were very different – so i needed a new “word” or name for the folder to put in possible output. but it shouldn’t be understood as a concept which provides the (es-)sense or meaning of it. more like a work in progress title under which guidance i could operate.

anyway, i had a dream of a caretaker in neutrinodetector and thought this might be an interesting topic to work with. not only the setting, the sight, the concept of free floating neutrinos (without mass and without an inertial system), the astrophysical attitude and so on, but the general idea of this conflict of adopting to new circumstances, to a new landscape, this different “lebensraum” and a fiction. as berlin is (different than duesseldorf, with it’s very dominant river-landscape) not determined by such a natural, rural identity (at least in the inside) it looked for me like a circular, intrinsic system. and with this (idiosyncratically defined) gravital force to the center (or to yourself if you want), there is a need of transcending this overall, overwhelming value of heaviness towards the center (otherwise you might get lost in a symbol of self-representation without any level of possible criticism or even point of view). so a fiction, a dream is kind of a jump through the surface of this drawing and pulling reality of this gravitational force towards the center or yourself, into a room from where you could somehow objectify this reality. at the same time this object you look at is not real, it’s fictional – so you are not bound to the concept of adequacy there – dreams or fictions are a place where you remember what is happening to you, without touching the relevance of the reality, but still have something like a truth in it’s own. fictions have a truth which is connected to the way you remember, you imagine. i’m sorry that it sounds so pretentious – it’s just, as i’m still in this rethinking process, things tend to go complicated, because anything connected is always complaining to be noticed.

You mentioned “lebensraum” – why would you say it is difficult to deal with that topic, and how does it relate to your work?
when one is talking about a landscape you usually have a view in mind. a picturesque scenery/ a panorama of mountains framed by your gaze on a mountain top. but at the same time you are in it, surrounded by it. it’s defining how you see the view, how you feel when you finally are looking on that massive stonewalls when climbed up the slope. so if you are living in this landscape almost permanently, the view might get out of attention, but this influence on what and how you perceive things is maybe multiplied with the time you spend in it. as working on art was always motivated by feeling somehow slightly disconnected or distant to things for me (a questioning process of what is there and what it is worth, what is reachable regarding your own finitness) this influential feeling of a landscape seemed as a quite good subject, or a good container for all the special concerns inside the working processes, because it represents metaphorical dimension for this aspect of materiality which lies behind the functional interpretation of things. for instance i could very well connect the matter of questioning the thing of my own biographical state (wherein the history is the backside) and the problem of drawing a stroke (wherein the slightly not straightness is the backside) with the impact of an anonymous field of the outside. oh, this sounds terribly cryptic .. but when you want to draw a straight line and you tremble a bit, hesitate a little (be a little bit off-zen, so to say) it may be because of your historically determined habits how, how much and when to question things. so that every curve in that stroke is like a trace of that not-intentionalized aspect of the world – your history (you could never completely tell) or the room, it’s light, it’s sounds, smells etc. you are in, or the ‘lebensraum’ or landscape you live in.

What organic matter and field recordings did you use in the production of the album?
i like to tell the story of the third track (0811_09_re_0211_08). the noisy background in which the beat is weaved in, is from a tv in a hotel room in minsk that was broken. i played with it for maybe half an hour and went out for a walk after i recorded some of it. when i came back the tv was replaced with a different one – they might have thought i just had problems to use it properly. but how they noticed that i was playing with it, i don’t know.

Would you care to shed some light on the track titles? What do all the numbers mean?
they are mostly dates i use to identify the samples, tracks, arrangements and so on, in my archive (so i could find the connecting files and orientate or compare them with other products, visual or writings for instance, of the same time – which is sometimes interesting). it’s month, year, then day, because that way the files are ordered just right, as i the folder order is in years mostly. than there are more special terms like ‘re’ for re-worked or re-whatever or ‘ss’ for a session recorded out of other material. often there are some mistakes i just take as a speciality, sometimes i like to play with that. e.g. ‘rearr re’ – which came from, when i remember right, that it was a re-modeling of some already remodeled arrangement – when me and a friend laughed about the ‘rrroaw’ sound in it and i thought this might (for once) fit well. but generally i like to somehow avoid giving tracks names, because they are always kind of predetermining your feelings towards it.

I really wish that some of these tracks would go one for over ten minutes. Any particular reason why you kept these vignettes so short?
i’m not really sure about this, but i guess it has to do with a skeptical attention i wanted to maintain, rather than hypnotizing the listener or myself. maybe this could also be seen as a representation of this metaphor of this berlin- centrifuge/ center thing and its fictional escapism. where you have in (that) music a loop, a somewhat repeating structure and a linear (somehow minimal-dramatic) sequence dealing with soundmaterial. if the sequence, the drama, is the fictional aspect, than it shouldn’t just go so far as to loose it’s connection to it’s material foundation, as well as the loop should stay interesting in the sense of regarding/ respecting the individuality of the materiality by just slightly evolving.

So what is your productions setup like? How do you go about sound design?
well, i sit on my desk, normally with just a simple mouse as an interface and my old phillips ak141 tuned bass port speakers (which i have since i’m 10 or something) slightly above me (as i like to be somehow under the sound). up until that setup i can’t really tell – it differs a lot. sometimes i start just working on very abstract scapes, just sorting samples and manipulate them or sometimes it’s just comes to my mind: oh, what if you try to do that or that with a program. later on in the process i work with different speakers, different headphones to not be to specific about the frequencies these old speakers provide.

i try to not stick with one program to much, but use any i have as a special instrument, with special mistakes and personal charakteristics. ableton of course, reason, acid, soundforge, melodyne, the vlc player, crusher-x to name some.

how do i go about sound design? hm, difficult. i’m not quite sure what you are heading for with that question. i like a certain tactility of sound (somehow connected to this matter-fetish i have, i guess), but i also like melodies and groove. i tend to be rather chaotic than pre-orientated in the working process – sometimes i look at old arrangements and just need a couple of hours just to understand the joke in it or how the sound actually was generated. i tend to add and add and add until i maybe run out of memory (both my own and the one of my pc). in this way the sound gets more and more distant from it’s raw recording-source and more digital or program/effect specific. sometimes, of course, i need to reverse the process, delete effects, lines and tracks when i got lost and the emotional connection to the reference isn’t there anymore.

What is the art on the album cover?
it’s the 21st track of the album in 2 representations.  one is a more analouge conversion of the sound itself in a frequency-time diagram. the other is a more loose companion: a picture of a scanner just scanning nothing under different circumstances (light, position and so on) i then assigned to the track. the other 20 representations are inside the cd as a little poster or flyer. i thought about them as you could somehow ‘read’ them while listening, looking on the tracks with a bit more distance, to be able to analyse or hear them in a more abstract way or from a more structural point of view.

Any plans for a tour?
no, not really. i’m not that well organized (as you saw above and maybe noticed in my writing anyway).

Be sure to read Headphone Commute’s review of And IV (Inertia)