From Einstürzende Neubauten to MaxMSP: An interview with Vinzenz Schwab

vinzenz_schwab_by edward chapon

Born in Eastern Styria in 1981, Vinzenz Schwab studied computer music and electronic media at the Vienna University of Music. He works in the fields of electroacoustic music and live electronics, focusing on concrete sound material and its transformation possibilities with regard to algorithmic compositions for multichannel concerts as well as improvisation. The sound material used is always self-recorded in nature, urban areas and studios. His piece técnicas recuperadas (2015) 16’12” premieres at musikprotkoll in Graz on 9th October 2015.

You studied at University of Music in Vienna.

VS: Yes at the institute “elak”, focusing on computer music, programming and experimental audio.

It is a rather special course, because you don’t have to play sonatas to apply, but show your work in any field of experimental music. There’s a beautiful story about a beginner’s class where the first task was to record breakfast. It’s brilliant! You become aware of the sound that surrounds you and start to use it as an instrument. There are so many approaches to doing experimental music, you can use spoons and forks, or some very complex computer programmes or a cello, it’s all fine. The first time I heard someone playing like this was FM Einheit from Einstürzende Neubauten in the 80s.

How come you liked them at such a young age?

VS: It’s because of my parents.

Did you have a musical upbringing?

VS: There was always a guitar around. My parents had literature and fine arts backgrounds. My childhood was very quiet and a little lonesome, and it was a big shock to come to the city. Then I played bass in a rock band, I was a hip hop and techno DJ and started to produce with Fruity Loops. The first Pierre Henry CD changed my view on electronic music. I stopped being interested in producing 4/4 beats and discovered that there are more ways to play and improvise with other musicians and understand each other through music.

Why did you like experimental music more?

VS: There are no strict rules, but there’s also less audience.

Does it bother you?

VS: No. Many of my friends and colleagues started doing something else. It’s impossible to survive with experimental music. This also gives freedom to do the music you like as fast as you want.

Could you speak about your actual music-making process?

VS: There are two different approaches. One approach is to compose – transform sounds offline with time paradox operations in an algorithmic software for multiple speakers, the other is to improvise with other people. I don’t like to do live electronics alone, the interesting thing about it is the communication.

Do you still mostly use MaxMSP?

VS: For live performances I use Max, for composition I use a software called vasp + amp.

Why do you like them?

VS: Dealing with many samples and parameters (involving mathematics), algorithmic composition is the easiest and most elegant way.

So I guess this is a more analytical way of making music.

VS: Yes and no. If you compare it to a normal composition you have the advantage of having an orchestra in your room and you can listen to the music in any stage of the process.

How do you compose – do you start with a certain sound and then build up from there?

VS: At the moment I’m working on a piece for musikprotokoll for which I recorded sounds in an aluminium factory “impa” in Buenos Aires. This place and movement fascinated me. These were workers who took control of their factories after the financial crash in Argentina in 2001. When everything was shut down, they decided to continue to produce. They where very friendly and let me record each machine during work. Gracias a los trabajadores de impa!

Is it also influenced by the Neubauten’s fascination with the industrial aesthetic?

VS: Maybe subconsciously. I actually asked FM Einheit if he would play some stones for this piece last week. To use sounds from people and spaces one knows makes the work more personal.

Do you think the world of music and sound should be more involved in the political and social sphere?

VS: It is a question that a lot of people ask themselves. To be honest, I don’t think it changes anything. Europe is becoming more and more like a fortress, like in Kafka’s The Castle. That can’t be changed with music.

Vienna has had quite a lively music scene – there’s a thriving improvisation scene, there’s the music academy, etc.

VS: Yes, we (former students and experimental musicians) have also been organising experimental music concerts once a month for 8 years now, which we do for the love of it, there’s very little money involved. We specialise in unknown experimental musicians.

In your bio it was mentioned that you use a specific technique for melodic structures.

VS: A 21-tone scale, developed by the clock maker John Harrison (1693-1776) and the mathematician Charles Lucy using pi. I first heard it from the Australian composer Guy Fleming who used a 25-tone Lucy-Harrison scale on one of his CD’s in the 90’s. With these algorithmic music-programmes, it’s very easy to switch tonalities.

Which part is the most important to you in the music-making process?

VS: Listening – listening to each other, and listening to what is going on around us (which is hard if there’s a 130 BPM beat in the background). I’m also increasingly interested in noise, the city offers very complex noisescapes.

You also mentioned that you have a collaborative project.

VS: Yes, with Daniel Lercher. It’s a noise duo, we play 4 or 8 channel live electronics, which works very well after years of improvising together.

What will you do with the multichannel piece after musikprotokoll?

VS: Well, all those pieces can be played again in different spaces with other loudspeaker setups, and I will mix a stereo version for my edition of works on the label canto crudo.