INTERVIEW: FRANK BRETSCHNEIDER: BOSTON’S WEEKLY DIG (2001)
by Susanna Bolle
"I would not use the word minimal to describe my music," declares Berlin based musician Frank Bretschneider (AKA Komet). "This is a fixed term for other music from other times. I'd rather call it economic and, maybe, microscopic." Later, by way of explanation, he adds, "I'm a really lazy guy; I don't want to have to expend too much to build a track." The result of Bretschneider's sonic frugality is a cool, intricate music, composed of often delicate pinpricks of sound (soft clicks, hissing static, gentle pings) echoing keyboards, and the occasional undulating bass line and/or snippet of melody.
"I like it when my music sounds as if it could have come from outer space."
Bretschneider prefers to work with highly synthetic, artificial sounds. "The basic sounds are created from a computer-aided virtual modular synthesizer system," he explains, as he describes his working methods. "My favorites are clean sine waves and white noise, which are both simple and clear. I like precise, short, impulsive sounds." Throughout the composition process, which he likens to painting a picture, Bretschneider tries to incorporate the accidental, setting-up systems of modules to create unintentional, random sequences. "I connect the different modules&emdash;LFO's, oscillators, filters, envelope generators, logic modules&emdash;as unconventionally as possible to see what the machines will do (instead of wasting time with composing). After the system creates some nice sequences, I record it to hard disk for further treatment. At the computer, I build the track brick by brick from the recorded sequences, like a construction kit. I cut, loop and filter, …using plug-ins to add random structures; again, hoping some unexpected things will happen, looking at what the software will do." In the end, however, while Bretschneider's work contains many random elements, it's very much, as he puts it, "constructed music," with its overall structure informed by the conventions of popular music, most often dub and hip-hop.
"I've been making electronic music since 1984. I started with tape machines, treated guitars and a Korg MS-20 synth. In 1986 I founded a band called AG.GEIGE."
It was as a child growing up in East Germany that Bretschneider was first exposed to electronic music. "I guess the first time I heard electronic music was at the age of nine or ten," he recalls, "when I listened to science-fiction radio plays and watched sci-fi movies. I was really impressed by the soundtracks, with their simple sine waves, echoes and treated noises. Later I discovered these [same] sounds in psychedelic rock and the electric music of Miles Davis." It was only with the explosion of punk and new wave in the 1980s, however, that Bretschneider began making music, experimenting with tape machines and eventually forming the band AG.GEIGE, which he describes as "heavily influenced by Dada, the Residents, and [ Soviet science fiction authors] Arkady and Boris Strugatskii."
After the break-up of AG.GEIGE in 1992, Bretschneider and bandmate Olaf Bender (a.k.a. Byetone) decided to continue their musical experiments, but had difficulty finding a label to release their work. So, in 1995, they formed their own label, Rastermusic, which forged a distinctive aesthetic, producing abstract, yet accessible electronic music, such as Bretschneider's early Komet full-lengths, Saal and Flex, as well as records by Tol, Kyborg and Produkt. "We had no philosophy [per se], but did have a few ideas about [what] our sound [should be]: it should be purely electronic, without the use of lyrics or vocals, simple and clear without being stupid, rhythmic or techno. We were interested in new, unused sounds and we wanted to utilize the vast possibilities of the computer for sound design."
"I guess the visual aspect [of electronic composition] is a big influence on my music…. Early on, I started making music on a computer and I always had this visual sense of my music on the screen; the moving bars, dots, lines…"
In 1999, Rastermusic merged with artist Carsten Nicolai's (a.k.a. Noto) Noton label to form Raster-Noton. Since the merger, the label has focused both on sound and art design, releasing four different series of CDs (20' to 2000, Clear, Static, and the older Raster), as well as constructing art installations and multimedia performances. The label's various projects, including art, design, science, performance and, of course, music, are chronicled and critically examined in a recent book, Oacis (with companion CD). For Bretschneider, who trained as a graphic designer and painter, the points of intersection between visual art and music explored by Raster-Noton have long been of interest. Indeed, he explains, the visual aspects of composing electronic music&emdash;the images on his computer monitor, the blinking LEDs on his synthesizer&emdash;are an important part of his work.
In the last year, Bretschneider has been quite prolific, releasing a justly acclaimed full-length, Rausch, as Komet on 12k and a stunning new record, using his given name, on Mille Plateaux. Bretschneider does not see his work as Komet and that as Bretschneider as separate. Due to a misunderstanding with Mille Plateaux, his records are released as Frank Bretschneider on the Frankfurt label, but there are no formal differences aside from the names. "Later," he says, "I thought it might be a good idea to release under different names for different projects, but, unfortunately, I'm not able to maintain such strict separations. Every time I make music I have to explore new things and so my latest release as Frank Bretschneider, Curve, is more comparable to the Komet release Rausch than to the Bretschneider predecessor, Rand."
Currently, he has a pair of musical offerings set for release: a 12" on the Dutch Audio.NL label and a three-disc box set with Byetone and Noto on Raster-Noton. In addition, he is finishing up a collaborative project with 12k's Taylor Deupree and plans to revive one of the earliest Rastermusic projects, Produkt, with a CD currently in the works. Finally, in April, he will visit North America and has tentative plans to play shows (with Carsten Nicolai) in Montreal, New York and/or Washington.