INTERVIEW: PILLOWDIVER: TOKAFI (2009)
"I guess the tracks that I released on 'sleeping pills' are more structured than other releases within this field of music", René Margraff says, "this is something that I am aware of and that I cannot change too easily." Then again - why should he? Infusing a genre relying foremost on timbre and harmony with a healthy dose of compositional zest and subtle thematic development is certainly what continues to make his releases stand out. After mainly working under the Ckid moniker since the beginning of the new decade and building a sizable discography mostly through renowned netlabels, Margraff is now back with new project called Pillowdiver, dealing with brittle and intimate soundscapes. Even though the same could have been said about Ckid, not everything has remained the same. While his former solo outfit combined dense, dreamy atmospheres with metalically ringing percussion and hushed vocals, Pillowdiver zooms in on the nanostructures of these textures, replacing rhythm with a field of interconnected field recordings bound by a mysterious magnetism: Minimal melodies rise up from a well of brooding tranquility, slowly expand along the shoreline of nocturnal drones and then gradually lapse back into silence. What has remained, however, despite the notable absence of Margraff's voice, is the songwriting character of these tracks, whose melancholic lyricism needs no words to tell a story. Which is why, even though it doesn't move mountains, "Sleeping Pills" has turned out a work which appears set to last a lot longer than several of its counterparts from the scene which are often all too closely focused on beauty for beauty's sake. "I cannot improvise alone with myself, I guess I would need input from other people to change", Margraff notes in our interview. While creative input may be a good thing most of the times, let's just say that - purely from an artistic point of view - we wouldn't mind if he stayed alone in his studio for the next Pillowdiver full-length.
Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello, I am doing fine. It was a nice weekend. I am at home in Berlin.
What’s on your schedule right now?
I just finished remixing Spartak and Jasper Tx. Apart from my dayjob, I try to work on a liveset and new tracks.
What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
I am not sure if it is a crisis, I just think that the music scene or also “market” is completely oversaturated. This is just a negative side effect of the (positive) facts that it is a) quite easy to create music with modern tools and b) put it up on a website and c) the easy availability of it all. I guess this is just a natural consequence of the digital era and the internet. There is no use in bitching about this – however, this is something that affects my entire life – my attention span is quite fucked and I try to get away from the internet a bit more these days. Also, most people are fed up and overstrained by the variety of music out there these days. However, there are also very cool small movements against this situation and I think it is amazing that some small labels do release quality and also still get some recognition for it. Maybe the future “hardware” music scene is more like an artbook store... So, not everything is lost although the business is fucked. Thankfully I never allowed myself to dream of making a living through my music, so I do not care too much about the economic side of this so called crisis.
Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
Not really. No.
How would you rate the music scene of the country you are currently living in?
I do feel more sympathy for other European or international acts than for most German ones. I am not part of a scene. Of course I also admire some German traditions like Krautrock and experimental and electronic music from the 80s, 90s and 00s. But I think I do not listen to music or want to rate music just because it is from one country or another...
How would you describe your method of composing?
I always hope that the track or song finds me while I am fiddling with my devices. I am usually trying to track something I like and then develop it a bit further. The hardest moment is to know when you should stop working on it.
How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
My music is composed but not in a traditional way. I always try to find and combine sounds to create something which I cannot express in words, a certain feeling or mood I have in mind. This mood can also be created and channeled by a certain sound, like the sound feeds back into the mood and creates something I cannot explain. This sounds a bit esoteric. Sometimes I think that there has to be a process that feeds back into itself and only tracks that do have this characteristic develop into some piece of music I want to finish. I cannot separate the sound and the structural elements of my music.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
I guess the tracks that I released on “sleeping pills” are more structured than other releases within this field of music, this is something that I am aware of and that I cannot change too easily. I cannot improvise alone with myself, I guess I would need input from other people. If I think about the sound I am creating I would not call this improvised. It is more that I find something while I explore the possibilities and then use this sound in a more structured manner.
What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
I guess it has all been done and I would never ever say that I do something new or groundbreaking... I only hope that people like to re-visit my music and feel like it is a kind of sound “language” they enjoy.
Do you personally enjoy multimedia as an enrichment or do you feel that it is leading away from the essence of what you want to achieve?
After my first gig last year I only decided to not use any background projections anymore when I play live. It feels like an excuse for my boring presence. Friends even told me that it was rather distracting and saw it as add-on that colours or even overshadows what it is happening. However, I would love to do soundtrack work or more abstract things for sure. This should take place in a different context, not as a videoclip or pathetic slide show. It should be clear from the start and not one or the other medium slapped onto the other.
What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
This is something that I think about a lot lately. I think it is more rewarding to see a live gig that is different from the record, pure recreation of recorded stuff is something that might make sense for bands but as a solo artists this would feel like faking it too much. I don’t want to just press buttons on stage. However, when I play live, I try to recreate some tracks and also let them flow a bit longer or add some more noise to it. I try to bring my guitar on stage, I am not sure if the people feel that I am doing something live as I still stare at the screen far too much. If someone out there would create a proper “freeze and drone” pedal, let me know, then I would show up without a laptop.
Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
Another tough question. Do we need another Bono? No. Also most music with a strong political background sucks. This said, I think everybody and not only artist should be aware in everyday life and not only act political by voting once in a while.
How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences without sacrificing their soul?
I am not sure if this necessary. I used to be a freelance music journalist but stopped doing this due to time constraints. Sometimes I feel bad about that as I think the role of music journalism as “filter”/”selector” becomes more and more important while the media coverage becomes more and more samey. So, this is nothing I see as the duty of the musician who engages in non-mainstream stuff.
You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
This list would change each day... I know some would be unavailable but today it would be Codeine, Deathprod, Kate Bush, Long Fin Killie, Bark Psychosis, Nico, Seaworthy, Boduf Songs, Horace Andy, Seefeel, Oren Ambarchi, Scott Walker, Ben Frost, The Fall and 60 more artists...
Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
“Magnum Opus” sounds like something orchestral... I guess this would be more like one of my personal nightmares, I’d rather keep it small.