Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Interview: Gudrun Gut
During her long career, Gudrun Gut has appeared on over 50 releases, and has been involved in the German music scene since the early 80's, playing in bands such as Mania D, Matador, Malaria!, Miasma, and was a member in the first incarnation of Einsturzende Neubauten. She is also the founder and owner of two record labels, Moabit Musik in 1990, and Monika Enterprise in 1997. After working so long in group contexts, Gudrun was inspired to produce an album with a carefully chosen range of invited collaborators, releasing the fascinating "Members of the Ocean Club," in 1996. The release party for that album spawned a regular club night in Cologne, and a tour, eventually establishing a presence as a radio show in 1997, which continues to broadcast across Germany, as well as Siberia and China.
A particularly captivating track and accompanying video from "Members of the Ocean Club" is "Firething," a collaboration with underground Australian chanteuse, Anita Lane. Filmed on location at the original Ocean Club, the video combines a mood of bewitching glamour, and the intimate sense of eavesdropping on a private conversation. A vague sense of danger is offset by a barely detectable sense of humor, which takes the whole thing into the realm of an askew psychodrama:
In 2007, Gudrun released her first "real" solo work with minimal outside collaboration entitled, "I Put A Record On." References are made to a variety of genres of music, tango, sludgy blues, polka, and even some swinging, lounge-y kitsch. She uses bits and pieces from the standard building blocks of popular music, but assembles them into unfamiliar collages. Loops are grainy, and murky, as if channeled from antique Victrolas. The percussion parts have just a hint of techno. Her vocals, usually in English, are cool and unemotive, purred like Dietrich, or Morticia Addams, whispering from the crypt. Some of the vocals are merely spoken, but Gudrun's alto is delivered in such a soft, mellifluous style that you accept her sing-songy performance as melodic. Her compositions are pop based, but not like any "pop" you have ever heard. No shiny, glittery surfaces. Everything is sepia, hand-tinted, or black & white, and slightly deteriorated and dusty. The tracks are interleaved with channels of mystifying noises, looping like some arcane machinery running in the background. Although the arrangements are uncomplicated, repeated listenings are rewarded with the perception of new levels that were unnoticeable even after a dozen or more run-throughs. Her work was rewarded this year with an in-depth cover story in The Wire.
The opening track, Move Me, is composed of a queasy mix of delay lines and loops of a wheezy tango accordion. The track spins through your head like a mesmerizing blur, reminding me of the work of Philip Jeck, or Tom Recchion. When Gudrun's voice emerges, it suddenly becomes an accessible pop song, one however that manages to intriguingly bridge a divide between "sound art" and "pop:"
Gudrun is in the midst of performing around Europe this summer, in Germany, as well as Belgium, Italy, Spain, and she recently played in Moscow, which she described to me as a "fantastic" experience. She graciously took time to answer some questions that were on my mind:
How does living in Berlin affect your work?
oh- i love living here. berlin gives me freedom. its nice to know that there are some like minded people living close. i guess the fact that i have to kind of prove myself in this surrounding does affect my work.
Did your study of art influence your music?
yes i guess that my interest in art does matter.
What do you envision as the best way to listen to your music: on headphones, a good stereo system in a quiet room, or a club?
oh whatever is most comfortable.
Why are your lyrics primarily in English?
because that way i get a little distance to the lyrics- my vocal style is pretty private 'cause i do not sing loud- and i like to have that little language border. english has a different melody in itself. on the other hand i do enjoy german lyrics as well. blätterwald is german - because it's a free flow improv, and that doesn't work so well in a second language. i have a lot of english speaking friends as well- so english as a language is very important for my day to day communication.
How much time do you spend working on your own music every day?
ha- depends- at the moment i am still refining the live material and i always try new pieces and do new edits for the live sets. but at the same time i listen a lot to other music- once for the radio show we do every week and then for the label as well. i find this inspiring too.
Do you begin your work with ideas, or by messing around with sounds?
for new writing- i mess around. i love and need chaos for writing. chaos makes the ideas come without limitation - and out of this mess i love to create something new. organize it. collage it. the lyrics i have mostly roughly written before and then built it all together with the music.
What equipment or software do you use?
i use macintosh computer with logic and ableton live programs. for vocal recording and editing i go into logic. the more loop based stuff i prefer to do in ableton- more and more i do work the whole song with ableton. and i use it for live as well. otherwise mostly plugins. nice and simple. i have a good vocal mic and a focusrite vocal compressor. my set up is pretty simple- no big mixing console- sometimes i mix at the oceanclub studio.
The tone of "Members of the Ocean Club" is very crisp and pretty, whereas the sound of "I Put A Record On" is distinctly different, much darker and more organic. What kind of sound world were you intending to create on the new album?
different time- in the 90s i wanted a smooth sound. and i had johnny klimek coproducing- there were many guests artists- it was quite hard to get a unique, altogether sound happening. this time i wanted to have it rougher and produce, program and mix the album by myself- be totally responsible for it. there were a couple of doubts and insecurities- but i was happy to overcome them.
Why do you think Monika Enterprise has survived and succeeded for over 10 years?
quality. monika is an artist label. it all depends on the artist. and they are good. :-)
You're performing quite a bit over the summer. What are your live shows like?
i have a laptop and a mic and have accompanying videos with similar images like the album artwork. the set is loop based and i play tracks from the album differently arranged and mixed as well as short parts of tracks as references which i blend in and rearrange i use snippets from some of my old recordings- just short sound files. some might recognize or not. its half instrumental and half with vocals.
Will you be performing in New York?
would like to but no plans so far.
Hopefully, that will change! Thank you so much, Gudrun.