Exclusive interview with Franz Kirmann for Quiet Cast 002
QCR: Thanks very much for contributing a mix to our new Quiet Cast series it is a true honor and a pleasure to host you. Where is the mix recorded and what would you like people to know about the mix?
Franz Kirmann: Hi! Thanks for having me! I recorded the mix in my studio in Battersea, South London. I tried to make something coherent that reflects what I’m into at the moment. The majority of the tracks are from your store, it gave a nice frame for the selection.
QCR: October 5th sees the release of your new album ‘Madrapour’ via Ransom note’s cassette label Bytes. You mention that this album ‘is a return to your analog hardware roots’. Take us on a tour of your studio. What are your go-to bits of hardware/software?
Franz Kirmann: Elysian Park was mostly made in the computer. It was a conceptual record based on the re-purposing of sounds. So I didn’t play anything myself on that record, it was generative Midi, samples from Youtube or old records processed to death… a collage of sounds from various sources. Madrapour is a return to hardware, to playing instruments, in this case, synthesizers. I used a Make Noise eurorack modular system and a Sequential Circuits Prophet 6. Everything was recorded in Ableton Live via a Thermionic Culture Rooster 2. We then did the final mix on Pro Tools. James Turner at Sanctuary did the mix, he records and mixes a lot of blues, rock, pop and world music and I wanted that experience, a completely fresh ear not necessarily used to the music I make. I then got it mastered by Sam Berdah, my partner at Days Of Being Wild, who comes from dance music. I thought it would be a good thing to have the two sound worlds colliding onto basically what is a slow electronic instrumental album!
QCR: What can people expect from ‘Madrapour’? The first two singles are heavy with deep bass and darkened edges. Will there be moments of euphoria and dance-orientated pieces? Or does it have the hard edges of ‘Elysian Park’?
Franz Kirmann: Madrapour is a quieter record than Elysian, I think it’s much more accessible, less harsh and alienating. It’s more introspective also. It’s also warmer as it is all done on analog machines, all my previous albums were very much software-centric.
QCR: In 2010 you started the label Days of Being Wild with Jérome Bazzanella. What influenced the formation of this imprint and is it still active today?
Franz Kirmann: Yes it still active although Jérôme is not involved anymore. I run it with Sam.
When we started Days Of Being Wild, we wanted to create an imprint for our own club orientated music. It quickly gained popularity and we started receiving demos and releasing other artists' music.
QCR: With almost fifty releases to its name, what title would you point people towards in order to introduce them to the labels sound & aesthetic?
Franz Kirmann: The ethos behind the label has always been DIY and punk. We are on the slow side of club music, quite melodic and influenced by the post-punk and new wave scene of the late 70’s / early 80’s. Parisian radio Nova once described us as “Salacious Disco Noir” - you can make what you want from that!
A good starting point would be to check the Days Of Being Wild playlist on Spotify and listen to the last 20 entries. I think they reflect the most what we are doing now. If you don’t have Spotify, our band camp page has all our releases. https://daysofbeingwildcorp.bandcamp.com/
QCR: Your first LP ‘Random Access Memories’ was self-released. How do you view this LP almost a decade on from its release? Any plans in the works to re-issue this gem on a physical format?
Franz Kirmann: I actually did some CDs for that album so there was a super limited physical edition.
I don’t look back on what I have done usually, but if like-minded people were keen to re-issue it or do a vinyl etc. I don’t see why not!
I haven’t listened to it for a long time. There are a few tracks I’m really fond of on that album, especially Liza and Lexi. But there is also L’ennui that I think we never nailed! The demo was much better but with too many samples from other records so we had to remake the song which is never a good thing.
Every album is a snapshot of who you are at a certain time. RAM is a kind of “best of” of my compositions from 2001 to 2008 but also it reflects that time in my life, learning software, moving to London, and all the great people I met then. I think it was also made in a more naive way, not expecting much, it was way easier to make than anything that came after!
QCR: How much did Daft Punk pay you to use the title of your debut for their worldwide smash hit 2013 LP?
Franz Kirmann: Ha... a lot of money you can imagine! ;-)
Well… great minds alike as we say.
To be honest, my friends were more excited and surprised or willing to have a discussion and joke about it than I was. I honestly didn’t care much. There was a huge billboard on the Old Street roundabout in London with their robot faces and the title Random Access Memories... which was quite funny the first time I saw it. It just highlighted the difference between the economy surrounding my music and theirs! We basically had the same idea for a title and that’s all there is to it really!
QCR: I often hear Meridians compared to Kraftwerk in places (especially the track ‘Glider’). I know they must have had quite a formative influence on you (as noted in your excellent rework of Fogh Depot’s ‘Alice Bob & Cypher’ which you titled ‘A Kraftwerk kiss remix’). Can you tell us a little bit about their influence on you and what other musicians have had a strong impact on your musical journey?
Franz Kirmann: Actually I wouldn’t say that Kraftwerk has or had a direct influence on me. I mean they have influenced everybody so you are indirectly influenced by them at some stage, but I never willingly did something inspired by Kraftwerk and I don’t listen to them that much (but it’s one of the best gigs I have ever seen though!) The Fogh Depot remix is not about Kraftwerk the band… it refers to an anecdote that was relevant when I did that remix. In terms of my influences, I think there are two periods. There is first the music I listened to while growing up. Bands/artists that were important to me then were mainly new wave bands in the 80’s like Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order etc. And then later on the shoegaze/noise/ ambient stuff especially My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. I think the essence of those artists is somewhere in everything I do. Then the second period is when I started making electronic music myself and artists were directly informing the music I was making, so there is Fennesz for example on Touch who was a revelation to me. Then Pan American on Kranky (I also loved his previous band Labradford) And then Autechre and Boards of Canada on Warp. And Morr Music with Isan and Lali Puna, and Sabres Of Paradise, and Mogwai… how long have you got?
QCR: Your third album ‘Elysian Park’ is an incredible work of distorted freneticism, elongated ambiance, and digital alienation. To this day it needs to be recommended with the caveat ‘it’s very different to Meridians’. Upon release, Denovali wrote: ‘The tracks bear no traditional structures, seem to lead nowhere and have no obvious melodies, riffs or beats to hang on to.’ Was there any apprehension that it would alienate fans who knew you only through ‘Meridians’ or Piano interrupted?
Franz Kirmann: With Denovali we were fortunate that they gave us total freedom.
I think they probably were surprised by it. I don’t know to be honest. I think it was the same creative impulse for me as the one we had when we did “Landscapes Of The Unfinished” with Piano Interrupted. Wanting to change. To do something different. And I have to confess I didn’t think about how people would react to it. A lot of artists I listen to change quite drastically from album to album.
It’s only when I played it live at the Rotter Salon in Berlin that I realized for the first time, with the audience in the room that perhaps it was quite demanding!
But I was dealing with difficult things then and the music reflects that I think.
It’s about being alienated and sedated. I was listening to a lot of Autechre and Oneohtrixpoint never or Actress then as well as reading Houellebecq and Ballard so all that came into the music.
And Madrapour is somehow a reaction to that. When it started to take shape I realized I was making a peaceful album, which is the opposite of Elysian.
QCR: We wrote recently in our ‘Introduction to Denovali’ that ‘2x4’, your amazing debut LP as Piano Interrupted ‘change(d) the landscape of the Neo-Classical world... Prior to 2x4 there really was no crystallized example of the genre distilled down to its basic form.’ When it was first released in 2012 it showed the potential of the genre. Do you look back on this release with the same starry eyes that fans of it have?
Franz Kirmann: Well thanks for your kind words! The music on that album is a snapshot of Tom and I first 3 years of making music together and the term post-classical or neo-classical didn’t even exist then!
Actually Tom and I never considered ourselves as post-classical, we were too schizophrenic in our music for that! But I suppose you’re right, we came up with it at a certain time and it has the “mastered by Nils Frahm” stamp, so all that put that record firmly into that realm.
Two By Four is Tom and I finding a common language to make music together coming from such opposite musical worlds. As I said earlier, I don’t really look back at past work, but considering that it blends jazz, minimalism, post-classical, glitch, ambient and techno, I’m pretty proud it’s not a total mess!
QCR: You & Tom worked with Nils Frahm on 2x4 in his now-defunct Durton Studio at his home in Berlin. What was it like working with him?
We spent a day in his flat, the studio was in his bedroom with his bed above our heads! he was very chilled and focused on the job, we only had one day to do it. We didn’t talk much when I think about it!
And I also remember Tom finding us a flat to crash for the night, and when we arrived quite late we realized it was right in the middle of the red district!
QCR: ‘Landscape of the Unfinished’ is the third album you released with Tom Hodge under the Piano Interrupted moniker. It was the result of a trip to your home country of birth; Senegal. What were some of the challenges you faced in this epic undertaking? How do you view that trip and the album five years on?
Franz Kirmann: I’m very fond of that album, I think we managed to do something very unique with it. During the two years prior we’d re-released Two By Four on vinyl, played it live quite a lot, then wrote and recorded The Unified Field and played that quite a lot too so we wanted to change everything! We were sick of Piano Interrupted!
I always thought of going back to Senegal to work with musicians there and Tom suggested that it could be our next adventure. A way to shake us up.
We did it in two parts, like a film would be first shot and then edited. And the editor wouldn’t have any emotional involvement.
So we went and we recorded lots of musicians and instruments in Dakar. And we did a lot of sound processing too that we would playback to the musicians to improvise on.
I think Tom was trying very hard to keep me away from going down memory lane. He didn’t want something nostalgic. And we actually recorded and lived in the neighborhood I grew up in! But it had changed a lot and was very built up. It reminded me of Antonioni’s film La Notte where Jeanne Moreau walks in a construction site. I felt like her!
Then we came back and didn’t listen to any of the material for a couple of months. We wanted to have an emotional detachment from it.
Then I started processing the audio and working on it like I was making a solo record. That was in Battersea which was (and still is now) a construction site too, and the weather was grey, so everything got blurry and texturized.
And meanwhile, Tom started writing piano and come up with musical ideas from the Dakar recordings.
We then recorded piano and double bass together in a couple of sessions at Air Edel in London.
That’s how it got put together. In terms of the piano and bass, we used long takes and it is more live than Unified Field, which was more cut-ups, and little melodic cells we would loop and process.
QCR: The trip was documented by Cath Elliott in her film which can be viewed HERE. Tom at one point, while talking about the initial stages of creating a track said; ‘Franz would create this huge long texture and I would try to interrogate the tempo from it’. This is a great description of a common thread in your music. Your sonic palette is very glitch orientated but it is also immensely textural. Would you consider texture your starting point for composition? If not, at what point does it come into play.
Franz Kirmann: Yes Piano Interrupted functions a lot like that, Tom would unveil a time signature and a groove from processed textures. But in my case I rarely remember how something comes about, it’s a very subconscious process. And it’s a beautiful thing because you surprise yourself.
It usually starts with some kind of experiment, either processing audio or playing on a synth, or doodling on the modular system. I usually record all that. And then I forget it until I find it again and because time has passed I have more objectivity. After that, it becomes a dialogue with the piece. And what you are going through in your life, your preoccupations, experiences etc add to the musical direction. So you start shaping the meaning of what you’re doing and then that informs further decisions. And then you suddenly realize you have a collection of music that can form an album. Voilà.
QCR: It’s been a while since your released on Denovali. Will we see more from you or Piano Interrupted on that label in the future?
Franz Kirmann: If and when we re-activate Piano Interrupted they will most probably be our first point of contact.
QCR: Thanks again for taking part in our Quiet Cast series. One final question; What musicians are you listening to a lot these days, any recommendations?
Franz Kirmann: Thank you! I’m listening to a lot of different things these days, Nina Simone, Paul Simon, Bill Evans, HTRK, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Claire M Singer, Grouper… I’m looking forward to the new Pan American record in November as well. There is so much music!