OM Gossip #6

An interview with Peter Strickmann

The german experimental ambient scene, I guess, is a relatively small, sweet space. If I would have to guess, I’d estimate there are most likely under 80 individuals actively involved in any kind of way. So put that in perspective when I boast about our new release, The Echonomy #4 tape with Schweben and Felix-Florian Tödtloff. Yet, I am more than happy being able to release a tape shared by two of the more outreaching figures in that scene. Working with this pair has been a fun, kind and uplifting experience, and so is their music. Naive in a way - the music, not Felix and Philipp -, it is blazing with a joy for playing and arranging sounds. It’s an intimate conversation. A thing most of us have a lack of these days. 70 tapes, dubbed one by one, riso-printed covers, 29 remaining copies.

And talking about conversation, here comes a little interview piece I did with Peter Strickmann. Peter is a musician/artist currently residing in Berlin whose work revolves around experiments with parameters like quietness and noise, perception of time, or communal experiences. Our paths crossed only a few times, but I am always marvelling at how far he can go with experimentation while creating organized sound. Also, haptics often play a big role in what he does - be it in the surreal forms or surprising materials of the instruments he builds or chooses as such, or in the release format he chose for his new label Klappkart Editions. Over the last few weeks, Peter and I sat down for a short mail conversation.

OM: You do performances as a solo artist, you play in different groups or duos, most notably Spemakh, and now you are also starting a label. What is the idea behind Klappkart?
Peter: I could answer in various ways… but basically I want to create a sort of platform or stage for new works of artists I find intriguing… this would be the rather standard answer. Anyways, the focus is on works of sound or/and text that inhabit an exploratory or – you may say experimental – attitude. I would like to help making these works accessible to whatever potential audience there is, in the hope of sowing surprise. This kind of sowing surprise can include publishing artists who are for some gender-, aesthetic-, or infrastructural reason underrepresented, or it can include focusing a certain approach to sound that has the potential to surprise or disturb or challenge or entertain – at least me. In other words, there is probably no unique, novel idea behind Klappkart... but there is enough thought out there that has not been verbalized yet. And, not to mention last, for me, it is also a way to stay or come into close contact with artists and other artistic practices. That's what I enjoy most - diving deep into unfamiliar processes and related ways of working. To be inspired by this and, finally, to share this potential with others.

It's fun you mention the contact to other artistic practices - reading this I noticed I always appreciate you being around because you are so communal. I also remember once playing a gig at the Makroscope in Mülheim/Ana Ott's headquarters, and someone telling me what an epiphany it was when you played there, just snipping around small cotton-wool balls. So I guess a lot of things you do are about community, places and fucking up perception. It kind of surprised me, in this context, you now launch a netlabel with the haptic content reduced to a minimum.
Yes, it is always enriching to learn how other people work and how they achieve results. To observe something like that in a concert is probably what you are describing. A very direct experience. And, of course, you are right, I prefer, enjoyed and engaged with it the most in pre-pandemic times. What I meant with the „encounter with other artistic practices“ is gaining insight into another one‘s creative world and mind through precisely working on a release together. Running a label enables that intense exchange with another artist. Quite different from a concert. More or less like a private look behind the scenes. But that would be an anti-communal starting point for a label, which means, that was not my initial agenda. The real reason was my current life situation, where it is not really possible for me to organise events and welcome musicians and artists - not regarding Covid. A netlabel seemed to me a very simple and direct way to still share something to talk about and listen to. Meaning: if I do not have a physical space to make people meet, I go for the world wide world. But, the haptic minimum you mention is a nice print, manufactured with maximum care. You can hang it at your wall at home, you can eat it, you can send it via Deutsche Post, which is probably more than just a minimum.

You're right. Releases in the digital realm sometimes feel to me like being pretty replaceable, but Klappkart's approach is more like mail art with you sending out the "klappkarts" with Deutsche Post (good luck with that - since starting OM years ago I feel like being in a constant secret war with the german postal service).
I guess this feeling of community also transfers to the music. In fact, listening to your first label release, Rrill Bell's "Blade's Return", it becomes a deeply personal experience, as it's a recording rich of small gestures. The awesome spoken word parts remind me of the intimacy of Phil Elverum recording his voice just a bit too close to the mic. The musical saw, the hissing of tapes and the fact it was recorded mostly in the woods add to that. Tell me a bit about the release. Who is Rrill Bell?
I'll just start with Rrill Bell, whose real name is Jim Campbell. We have known each other since 2007 when Jim curated a concert series in Dortmund and invited Sisto Rossi and me to play in his series with our former duo. From the beginning I loved and appreciated his music. We became friends. I call Jim a cassette magician. He treats tapes in a really unique way, using his custom built tabletop-kit made up of diverse cassette machinery from the tape era. He‘s using this kit for about 20 years now and even though his music changed, the centerpiece of his equipment did not: a converted, manipulated analogue Fostex multitracker. Crazy nerdy Jim has some 20 exemplars of it at home. He prepares the cassettes he uses with plundered, found, domestic or fieldrecorded sounds and instrumental recordings etc. What Jim brought here to Germany when he migrated from the U.S. in 1995 was bags full of dubbed tapes. I think that says it all.
His piece for Klappkart was a surprise for me. When I asked Jim whether he wants to do something for Klappkart, I didn't expect him to come up with an audio fable. And he himself now says he tried something new. It is totally radiophonic, narrative and pictorial, like nothing I've heard from Jim before. Except from the richness in detail and depths, that you described as well, this is pure Rrill Bell at his best. But hey, there are voice overs in it! Guitar playing even. Hell yeah, I did not expect such a moviestrip! It’s a journey! And this movie, this fable is revolving around a protagonist, Blade, a saw, a veteran of the timber biz, who one day, long weary of cutting, quit the game, renounced, got out, and withdrew to solitude. While listening to the piece you can literally follow Blade when he now, years later, returns to the forest where he gave up cutting, to sing a song of regret, to unburden himself. Jim put a massive amount of work in it. He made the recordings during summer 2020, when he was invited by and SHAPE platform to do a residency at Outsideininsideoutinsideoutoutsidein in Stadt Wehlen on the Czech-German border. He brought his newly acquired musical saw, a bunch of tapes and dictaphones and his recording stuff. His simple plan was to take the saw to the woods, to the trees, and play for them and see what happens. Now this here, in a nutshell, is what happened.

Your solo works are often sparse, comprised of only few instruments or elements - I am thinking especially about the LP on Ana Ott, which is centered mostly around the sound of friends of yours snoring in their sleep. With the group Spemakh, you play a whole table of often self-built instruments. Do you draw a distinctive line between playing solo and working in a group environment? Where does your knowledge in building instruments come from - Is it all trial and error? Did you learn any instrument, on a scholastic level? How do you pick the things you build?
Ok, these are some questions that indeed touch on central aspects of my work. Because yes, for me it is a big difference to play solo or in a group. In the group, it is people making music who each have their own idea about the future of the next 2 seconds and their own memory of the just passed 10 minutes... and with all that, trying to create one thing on the fly. At least that is the case with Spemakh, where we play free, which I like to call surprise music. Solo, I communicate with the inherent life and characteristics of my instruments, and often with the overall situation of the concert - differently than I do with Spemakh. My solos are probably more performative than the group gigs. Though I also strive for surprise music here. That's why my instruments have their pitfalls and are also not correct instruments with correct tuning, etc. Tin cans, stones, beans, pieces of metal, teapots, found and prepared objects of various kinds that themselves have a performative quality when they move and sound. But I as well use undercomplex wind instruments that I built or assembled myself. They get their characteristic sounds mostly from bassoon and saxophone mouthpieces or the additional use of water. And of course, not to forget, my small kit for feedback manipulations. In other words, I don't need any sophisticated knowledge at all to make idiosyncratic instruments that function as tools for my performances. My "saxophone" is glued together from wooden slats and my lithophone is made from various tiles cut to size. Simple things. I don’t buy instruments, and if I do, it may be a huge olive can from the supermarket - spending a month until the olives are eaten up so that I can use it as the perfect feedback resonator in my kit. Or, ok, sometimes I buy a teapot for singing, in a thrift store, if it sounds good. And no, I did not learn an instrument on a scholastic level. But I gathered a good amount of experience with these objects and things I use. I feel a strong connection to the beans I am throwing and I am happy each time when the feedbacks leave me totally surprised during a gig. Surprise is the ultimate motor for my performances. Since, when I am surprised, I could assume, everyone in the room is as well, making it a shared experience on eye level.

Peter Solo, Performance Video:

End transmission 6.

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