Mini interview with Ulrich Schnauss

2017-08-01

We are very lucky and grateful that one of our favorite producers Ulrich Schnauss found the time to answer our questions before his appearance at Yaga Gathering festival in Lithuania.

Hello Ulrich, thank you for taking your time to answer our questions.
What are you up to now?

Hello, thank you for giving me the opportunity to say a few things.
Up until last week I was working on some final tweaks for the upcoming Tangerine Dream album and prepared some soundscapes for a friend’s movie project. Now I’m focusing on solo material as I’d like to release an EP with new music in autumn.

In one interview you said that your “music taste changes every eight to ten years”. How would you describe your current taste comparing to your taste in 2001/2003? Do you find it more sophisticated now?
I wouldn’t use the term sophisticated to describe diverging music tastes. While it is true that it may be easier to appreciate certain types of music if the listener can rely on a bit of experience and knowledge, the benchmark for judging a piece of music should always just as much be an emotional one.
I don’t think there’s any worthwhile musical criteria that can be used to assess music since the reasons why certain chord changes move us, one melody has an impact while another doesn’t are either extremely subjective or located in non-musical areas – essentially, if there’s anything about music that can be discussed in a reasonably objective manner it’s the political and social context of aesthetics.
And yet: as enlightening and enjoyable I find debating such issues I still believe it’s extremely important not to allow the respective conclusions to categorically block the emotional access to music that may even have to be categorized as reactionary from a purely aesthetical point of view.
As far as my own taste is concerned: I’d say those 10-year cycles I was talking about are simply down to the fact that I listen to a lot of music in order to learn from it – and we can generally learn the most from people who are different to ourselves. So, 10 years ago I was listening to a lot of indie rock and trying to understand that sound – these days I’m quite excited about a lot of older electronic music from the 70s and 80s since I there feel the presence of an approach that is refreshingly focused on composition in a traditional sense – most likely because this stuff predates the idea of electronic music having to be rather tracky which I’d credit to the heavy impact of dance music.

Many British musicians (like David Bowie or Depeche Mode) have moved to Berlin to record one of their best albums. Meanwhile you moved from Berlin to London. I don’t want to sound like Paulo Coelho, but don’t you see a paradox here? What are your thoughts?
I’m glad you’re keen on avoiding a Coelho-tone – otherwise I guess I’d be forced to leave the conversation 😉
No, seriously: if I’d have left berlin in the Bowie days I’d agree that this could’ve been considered as an odd move. However, Berlin today is not Berlin 1977 – in fact, in many ways it’s probably the opposite. I always felt Berlin was a bit overrated anyway – thankfully it’s gotten a lot more international in the 12 years since I left, however, I’d still say it’s not even close to the degree of variety cities like London or New York are offering. Having said that – I’m actually pretty good at being unhappy regardless of where I am – so, at the end of the day it really may not matter that much anyway 😉

You did a 77 EP with one of my favorite producers ASC. And this is quite a rare case for you (I mean collaborations and EP in general). Meanwhile ASC is putting up to two albums each year and a lot more EPs. How would you comment this situation? Does this mean that some producers are more creative and have more ideas? Maybe “less productive” or “lazy” producers are releasing only the best material which they are confident of (while saving up some mediocre ideas unreleased)?
To be honest I’m really not sure how to answer this since I’m usually meeting pretty much the exact same amount of people who tell me that they perceive me as prolific while the others state the opposite. The good thing is: I finally have a website again and the one element I invested the most work in was to compile a discography. So, maybe I shall leave it up to the reader to have a look and make up their own minds as to whether they’d rather call me lazy or productive 😉

How and why did you split ways with City Centre Offices label?
The deals I was offered after Far away trains and Isolated place had been released promised a much wider degree of exposure and the potential to reach a broader audience therefore. Since I’ve been trying to make a living out of doing music fulltime (sometimes more, sometimes less successfully so) I was very determined not to waste this opportunity. I’ve met Thomas Morr a couple years ago at SXSW and I had the impression they totally understand – not a big surprise I guess: we’re all in the same boat after all – trying to sell a product which (as far as that’s actually possible in this world) tries to avoid being a product.

How did you react when you’ve learned that Ryan Griffin named a blog and (later on) a label after your second album A Strangely Isolated Place?
I was probably blushing – I’m usually struggling a bit handling positive responses to what I’m doing.

You’ve done remixes for a dozens of high-profile artists (like Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Bryan Ferry and Todd Terje to name a few). Which of those tracks were the most pleasant for you to work on and why?
There were lots of nice moments over the years – being able to hear the isolated, dry vocal takes in case of the remixes you already mentioned certainly would count among those. And generally it’s of course always a very humbling experience to get a remix job offered by artists that had an influence on you and/or you admire.

Are you, Thorsten and Hoshiko are planning to continue Tangerine Dream without Edgar Froese? If yes – what’s your plan to avoid Queen’s or AC/DC’s fate and not turn it into commercial “project”?
Again, certainly not an easy question to answer – and to be honest: we actually haven’t settled on an opinion on this yet. For the time being I think it was a good idea to finish the album we started with Edgar and to play a couple of shows in order to spread the word. For me, what will come (or not) afterwards will depend a lot on how people will react to Quantum Gate – there’ll be no point in even just wasting a thought on continuing if an album that actually still contains a large amount of Edgar material was met with disapproval.

You said “I’m very far away from achieving what I want to achieve”. Is there any album by other artist’s that you like that, in your opinion, is close to perfection and you would not want to change a thing on it?
Oh yes, definitely. the first two that come to mind would be Vollenweider‘s Behind The Gardens and Tangerine Dream‘s Force Majeure. While I wouldn’t say that those represent a blueprint for what I’m still hoping to achieve one day, there are aspects that are outlining an overall direction that I deeply sympathize with: in both these cases we’re talking about music that makes profound use of technological developments while retaining a decidedly emotional impact. Furthermore, instead of taking the easy way out and simply neglecting compositional methods and traditions that are part of our cultural baggage, they are skillfully transformed into something that transcends the limitations of our conditioning. A review once stated that Vollenweider‘s music sounds like the folk music of a nation that doesn’t exist. Brilliant.

What are your favorite albums of 2017 (excluding Slowdive’s selftitled comeback)?
Like I said: been primarily listening to a lot of old music. But I do love the new Sakamoto album for instance.

When was the last time that you did something for the first time?
As far as day-to-day life is concerned I appreciate the freedom of sticking to my routines – in music, however, the learning never ends, so there’s constantly new stuff to apply and try.

What do you know about Lithuania? And what can we expect from your live performance at Yaga Gathering festival?
Well, more recently Lithuania’s been frequently mentioned in the press due to the conflicts in the area – that’s something I’ve certainly noticed. Furthermore, I know a couple of Lithuanians in London (some of them have attended Yaga before as well) – that may contribute to a bit of an insight on a more personal, subjective level. And finally, most of my family was at some point located in that area below Lithuania that is now part of Russia as well as the former Memelland around Klaipeda. As far as I know I actually still have some distant relatives in the Baltic countries.

Let’s meet up to listen to Ulrich’s live gig at Yaga Gathering 2017.

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