Interview with Christoph Berg
Photo credits: Stefan Lingg
QCR: Hey Christoph, Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions. You have also provided us with a fantastic mix. Please take us through it - where was it recorded and what would you like people to know about it.
CB: Hey Rob, thank you for inviting me to do this one for your Quiet Cast series. The selection of pieces is actually what I would consider to be at least some sort of an intersection between my personal record collection and the musical focus of Quiet Calm Records. That said, I couldn’t resist pushing the latter a bit here or there.
QCR: You masterfully combine acoustic & electronics in a way that is uniquely your own. Take us on a tour of your studio. How has it changed when comparing the tools used to create albums like Paraphrases, Conversations and Acoustic Tales against your latest epic; Tape Anthology Vol 1?
CB: Getting rid of the computer for a significant portion of the production is most likely the main change of tools that I applied over the past years. It still is an integral part of the final mixing work though. But I guess that the most recognizable change compared to Paraphrases, Conversations and Acoustic Tales might be the fact that the violin is no longer taking the lead in instrumentation on Tape Anthology.
Right now, the core pieces of my studio setup are a good bunch of old tape machines, a few cassette tape players and an extensive amount of second-hand reels of tape that I now use to collect my own instrumental and field recordings — some of these tapes I am certainly going to destroy during the creation of the next record *laughs*.
QCR: Tape Anthology Vol 1 is not only your darkest offering to date but quite possibly one of the darkest albums in our store right now. A very exciting twist in the road on this musical journey you have taken us on all these years. Can you introduce the album to us? Give us some information on the process of composing it and what caveat’s you would give to a fan expecting a release similar to your last solo LP Conversations?
CB: I’m not sure if I would consider Tape Anthology Vol. 1 to be my darkest album to date, but it is really interesting to get this sort of feedback, especially when it is not in line with my personal impression. I agree though that the album certainly differs from the music I have written before — it even may appear quite academic at times, not only because the notation for musique concrète is remarkably different compared to writing a score of an instrumental composition.
Working with a tape archive of my own instrumental and field recordings initially involved a lot of time and effort to review and sort the existing material, prospecting certain sounds and timbres to work with. Then I started to cut, rearrange, destroy and reassemble these selected recordings, recorded the result on other tapes and started this process over and over again using several tape machines. I also let the tape machines record each other during their recording processes. Long story short: It’s been a mixture of well-planned recording setups and completely improvised approaches.
QCR: The words ‘tape manipulation’ are seen more and more these days, for the unenlightened, what is tape manipulation?
CB: Tape manipulation has become almost obsolete since the standard recording process does not involve tape machines anymore. All of this can nowadays be done digitally “in the box”. I will try to use a very simple picture here: just take the splicing — today you simply record a sound file into your Ableton Live set, cut it into pieces, rearrange them, delete some fragments here and there, reverse one or two snippets and then merge them again. Ready. Also changing the pitch and speed is easily done digitally with a button and a slider. Doing all that with a tape means actually manipulating a physical recording.
Now I’m taking it from there in non-technical terms: You have a palpable surface. A mechanical record head of your tape machine will be using that dedicated surface to fix a recording on it. A mechanical playback head will read that surface and translate it into sound. This means that you can physically manipulate tapes (and tape machines) by interfering in any single part of the processing of the tape by the tape machine pretty much any way you want. But when doing so, always keep in mind that there is no ‘command Z’ on tape machines.
QCR: Our favorite piece off your latest album is ‘Happy, in human terms’. Could you flesh this track out a little and tell us what was involved in the creation of it.
CB: Glad you like it. “Happy, in human terms” is basically a sound collage I built around a tape experiment with spoken word. As you might have seen in the credits, Midori Hirano was kind enough to let me experiment with recordings of her voice, basically some outtakes from a recording session for a radio project where she volunteered helping out with moderation of a programme in Japanese. For me, listening to languages that I do not understand is like listening to music. So I decided to heavily manipulate the vocal recordings to make sure that nobody will have the chance to understand a single word. It is a fantasy language after all. My hope was to direct the focus on the melodic side of spoken word eventually.
QCR: Despite it not making an appearance in your own compositions (unless there is a secret alias we are not aware of) you are a passionate devotee of Free Jazz. As possibly one of the least accessible genres out there how would you direct an interested person wanting to dip their toe into that world?
CB: Free jazz or improvised music in general probably demands some more attention than some other genres do but apart from that I would not necessarily agree that it would be less accessible by default — at least when our reference is an interested person. The main requirement to really immerse yourself in yet unknown forms of music is openness and appreciation for the craft.
QCR: You have been organizing events in Berlin called ‘Pattern Dissection’ (great name) with the most recent featuring Farida Amadou, Liz Kosack, and Dag Magnus. What can you tell us about the idea behind these events?
CB: Pattern Dissection is a project I’ve set up with a friend of mine, Stefan Lingg. He actually came up with the name (credit where credit is due). It started as a radio show with a focus on free jazz and improvised music at the Berlin-based community radio station Cashmere Radio and we slowly took it from there. Now we are also curating events where we bring together Berlin-based and international musicians that ideally have never performed together before. Basically, we are doing our best to provide a platform to celebrate and support the art of improvisation.
QCR: Aside from the titles featured in your mix - what artists/releases are you enjoying at the moment.
CB: That’s always a tough one since I am a heavy collector of music and name-dropping simply isn’t my thing and I tend to stick to this principle even today, I am afraid. Hope that’s okay.