THE NATURAL CYCLE OF THINGS
Interview with German composer, electronic producer and classically trained piano virtuoso Johannes Motschmann
Johannes Motschmann’s latest record is about bringing concepts and ideas to life something he’s been doing since the age of nine, when he first sat down with a piano. His talent – for composition as well as actual playing – was obvious, and this was developed by spells at the prestigious Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler Berlin and a period spent working intensively on algorithmic composition. This unique, compositional approach to electronic music has to led to several ground-breaking albums and a raft of acclaimed performances all over the world, latterly along side Boris Bolles and David Panzl as the Johannes Motschmann Trio.
Tell us more about yourself Johannes.
My father was a pastor and played piano himself, I grew up in a home that was filled with music, I played piano, organ, trombone and guitar. At fifteen I started my first band. Later I studied composition, piano, electronic music and music theory in Dresden, Karlsruhe and Berlin. I became interested in algorithmic composition and today I still want to learn new things about composing. At the moment I work in a research project about artificial intelligence and music at the experimental studio of the SWR in Freiburg.
Greatest inspirations and influence?
Influences come from very different types of music. I’m fascinated by the complex compositions of Josquin or Bach and listen to Arca, Boards of Canada or a new album by Tim Hecker in the very next moment. Conceptional albums like Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails or bands like Sigur Ros and Radiohead in general influenced my thinking about musical genres a long time ago.
I like musicians who combine different styles and genres, like Kasabian (in their early works with Christopher Karloff) who created a funny mixture of Britpop and New Wave sounds. And I like contemporary composers, like Georg Friedrich Haas, who works with microtonal structures. So there is no certain genre I’m interested in, it changes constantly.
But still: The greatest inspiration for me is silence.
Tell us about the creative process behind your new album?
The first month I worked completely isolated, then I worked with my trio and tried things out with David. I wanted to have electronic music that I can perform with my trio, without looping and sampling voices. If I feel that we are able to create a satisfying live version from it, I go on with the details. I’m mixing together with Boris and that is the very moment where everything starts to change. I compose new pieces to the existing material and we discuss our tracks again and again - sometimes for too long maybe, but at the end we reach a new level with the sound design and that is a kind of inspirational source for new pieces. A kind of constant cycling workflow...
Tell us about your creative process.
I like to combine all methods I know: writing, improvising at the piano, algorithmic composition, AI etc. I also like to listen to my recordings outside the studio. To think about the music that you did and to imagine how it could go on...
What are the challenges of the music industry nowadays in your opinion?
It depends on what kind of musician you are and personality you have. For me it is challenging to present it, to talk or write about it, like here. I believe that my music is explained best by itself. And in a way I just want people to listen to it without being guided. If my music touches you or not, does not depend so much on my explanations but more on the listener's constitution and aesthetic point of view I guess.
Could you tell us about " Lifestream" in specific?
I wanted to create very different pieces of music with nearly identical material. You will find music that is entirely made with synthesizers and on the other hand, there are moments for choir, a duet for piano and cello and very simple piano pieces. So it is an album about contrasts. It’s not a certain mood I want to create but a constantly changing atmosphere.
Anything else you'd like to share with our audience?
I would encourage to listen to music without doing anything else. Unfortunately, we all feel that we don’t have much time. That is why we start to combine all kinds of activities together. Music often is a kind of background noise or soundtrack while you do other stuff. From time to time we should listen more carefully because many pieces require it. It will be more fun to listen to it again afterwards, even if you combine it with driving, sports or whatever. It’s common knowledge, but we forget it from time to time.