Sunday, February 24, 2013

Kief with Günter Schlienz (Cosmic Winnetou)

Almost one year ago, I received a bunch of tapes in the mail from Goldtimers.  The batch was bursting with cosmic explorers and beautiful sounds.  Of all the tapes, there was one artist who I did not recognize.  Thus, I played that tape immediately - and then I listened to it throughout night.  Urban Tapes, from Günter Schlienz, turned out to be my favorite cassette of the batch.  His subsequent releases were incredible - the Sicsic tape sitting pretty in my Tasty Trichomes list.  Günter's awesome label, Cosmic Winnetou, has become a reference point for me.  When asked about labels, Cosmic Winnetou is one of the first things I recommend.  Günter was kind enough to share his time with me and answer a few questions.

  So, there's enough kief for everybody.  And, it always feels right to do this together as friends.  Let's blaze on family style!!                 

 The music of Günter Schlienz is something that I hold close to my heart.  peace and love to my friends at Humboldt Relief and Canni Corner :)  

1)  Your musical journey is rich with experience.  In the beginning, you received formal training as an electronics technician.  Additionally, you are a self-taught guitarist that played many shows in a psychedelic rock band.  From 1998 to the present, you have been making experimental music and building synthesizers.  Would you provide some insight on your evolution as an artist?  Do you still enjoy playing or listening to rock music?

Günter: First, i want to thank you for your ongoing support of my music and my tiny little label.  it really means a lot to me.  To start releasing music was like a dive into unknown waters, hoped that there would be somebody who will buy it, perhaps even somebody who will write me a letter about it.  That there are so many people interested in it, even devoting some profound articles about it, like the Honest Bag did, I'm still stunned.  So, big thanks to you, Michael, and to everybody else supporting it; and, thanks to everybody who bought or downloaded a tape from Cosmic Winnetou or one of my recordings!

Concerning your first question, I don't know if there's some kind of evolution.  I am always learning, always trying new kinds of music, tasting different genres and styles.  As a teenager, I learned to play the acoustic guitar because I wanted to sound like Bob Dylan; then, I bought an electric guitar because i wanted to scream like Neil Young on Weld.  A few years later, I was asked to join a psychedelic rock band.  In those times, i couldn't get enough of Spacemen 3.  So, I bought a few pedals and did D-E riffs for hours.  Later on, I moved into a flat together with a guy who owned tons of synthesizers and stuff, all built into his very small room.  On this room's floor, I learned quite a lot, not only what the strange letters (vco, adsr, lfo, etc...)  on those machines meant.  Also, he introduced me to some guys doing wonderful music with those machines.  Clearly, I remember he listened to Schulze's Timewind each and every Sunday morning.  This was the first taste of something really exciting - I recognized it immediately.  Furthermore, this guy knew about my formal training in electronics, so he forced me to solder something for his machines or to repair them.  However, it took a few years after those initial attempts before I really started to build my synthesizers.  It was quite difficult over 15 years ago to get some schematics and everything else needed to build synths, but this situation changed completely with the internet.  So, the last ten years or so have been devoted to kosmische synths nearly exclusively.  From time to time, I still listen to my old rock music records, and I'm still fanatic about everything Spacemen 3 did; but, i have to admit that at the moment I'm not into drum sounds and beats that much.  Also, i can rarely stand voices singing lyrics.  I don't know the reasons for this.  Perhaps it is a feeling that those elements nail the music to the floor in a way.  But, I am not fanatic about this - we will see what the future brings.  Perhaps the next stage of my musical interests will be African percussion ensembles and Bulgarian Acapella outfits.  There are so many fantastic things to discover.  It would be rude to myself to strictly limit my interests!

2)  Let's talk about your recent electronic releases.  For me, 2012 will be remembered as the year when I was introduced to your beautiful ambient music.  What are some of the inspirations that were involved in making the pieces of music that appeared on SicSic, Goldtimers, Gift, and your label?  Also, does your work with the Stuttgart Orchestra influence your music?  Lastly, what is the general process when you make music?

Günter:  Answering your last question first, I definitely need some kind of concept, some kind of backbone around the recordings to develop.  So, the hardest thing is to find this concept.  Everything else (do some patches, fiddle around with them and press record) is relatively easy to do.  In the past, I worked with roughly three different "themes".  The first theme is my "synthesizer field recordings".  I build my modular synths quite small and portable so that I'm able to record with them in every imaginable place, hotel rooms, beaches, meadows, whatever.  The environment has a strong influence to the produced sounds, so I'm often surprised by the music that comes out.  I think it is a good thing to be confronted with situations other than the bedroom for recording.  I think the Sardinian Tapes, which was released by net label, Earth Mantra, is the best example of this method thus far.

Since I'm able to repair and maintain electronic equipment, I often receive broken vintage gear as a gift.  I have pleasure in repairing it, and because of the work which I invest in it, sometimes I hold it very dear to my heart.  So, a few recordings of mine are inspired by the possibilities and limits of this gear - for example, see my Tape Studies release or Organ Studies, which will soon be released by Constellation Tatsu.  

The third theme is my ongoing interest in musical theory and books about music.  For the Through Music to the Self tape, I read the book of Peter Michael Hamel quite closely.  For the Furniture Sounds tape, I read a book about Erik Satie.  This does not mean that I followed these authors word by word.  They are more of a source for ideas and ways of seeing musical problems. 

I don't know if my bread and butter job at the Stuttgart Opera is influencing my music.  Being surrounded nearly every day by classical music and people who try to develop new ideas and concepts to present very old musical ideas must be doing something to me.  Though, I'm not quite able to put my finger on it.  Perhaps the previously described conceptual thinking I do is already part of this influence.  

3)  Your tape label, Cosmic Winnetou, was another revelation of 2012.  What is the meaning of the name?  Is there an aesthetic or general feeling that you are trying to transmit with each batch of tapes?  Do you have a process for selecting the artists with whom you would like to work?

Günter:  Thanks for the warm words about this project of mine.  The Cosmic Winnetou is actually me.  A friend of mine coined this phrase by describing my working methods.  He said something like that I would patch my modular for hours and hours to sit motionless in front of it and listen to it play itself like some cosmic winnetou.  I don't know how popular this character of Karl May's novels is outside of Germany, but around here everybody knows this goodhearted, strong and clever chief of the Apache tribe.  I found it quite amusing to imagine this guy as a kind of space traveler.  So, I didn't fight against this phrase and my buddy's ongoing use of it.  While starting the tape label, it was a quite conscious decision to present my very personal taste of ambient/kosmische/kraut/experimental/whatever, so I took some charming nickname of mine as the project title.  Okay, quite egocentric, but who cares?

With each batch of tapes, I try to provide a broad spectrum of the music I love.  The music of each batch should, in a way, be completing each other.  It should show different approaches in instrumentation and recording methods under the same "let's kidnap the listener's mind" umbrella.  Choosing the artists is lots of fun.  I just listen to lots of the music I love, and be happy as hell if I like someones music and the artist is willing to work together with me.

3a)  The artwork for Cosmic Winnetou tapes is superb.  The most recent batch contains vivid designs, while the artwork for the batch with Sylvia Monnier possesses mysterious beauty.   For the Sylvia Monnier tape, the artwork was created by the artist; however for the other tapes, it seems that there are many people involved in the artwork.  When you are involved in the artwork phase of the tape, what is the process?  

Günter:  Thanks again for your compliment, but I think you have to give this to the different artists involved. I just set up the concept to give the cassettes of each batch the same "face" because of this feeling that, for me, they belong together in a way, completing each other musically.  So, for every new batch I try to persuade somebody new to do the artwork for the whole batch (it doesn't work this way all of the time.  Sylvia's own artwork was just perfect, so I decided that for this batch the compromise will be doing it in black and white).  Actually, I'm not a very visual guy.  So, after finding somebody who does some kind of graphical work with substance, I try to resume out of this process.  I confront the musicians with different works of the graphical artist, and they know exactly what to choose for their music.

4)  Do you have a favorite tape label of late?

Günter:  Oh dear, there are so many fantastic and mind blowing tape labels out there.  It is impossible to mention just one!  I have to bring up Sicsic.  Sicsic is quite eclectic, but with every new tape they do you feel the enthusiasm and love for the music they release.  Lately, I have been listening to lots of Sacred Phrases.  Steven blows me away with each batch of Constellation Tatsu.  The 8 tape batch from Goldtimers last year will be something for future historians to examine... Koppklys, Space Slave, Eiderdown, Gift, Draft, Sunk Series, Tranquility Tapes, Field Studies, Beard of Snails, Feathered Coyote, Fort Evil Fruit, Rotifer... uh, so many.  I'm sure that I forgot a few names.  It gives me the opportunity to say to the dear reader: go buy tapes!  If you buy a few, then buy a few more!  They will save your life!

These names mentioned above mean very much to me.  A few years ago, I was very frustrated.  Labels that were purportedly "alternative" and "independent" developed to be just new labels for boring music that some a&r people with an education thought the customer would buy.  Therefore, for many long years, I almost exclusively bought and listened to music made a few decades ago.  I discovered the tape label scene by chance, and since that moment I've felt kind of saved.  There are so many people who make and sell fantastic sounds, so many people who support them in any way possible.  Thank you all so very much!

5)  The mix that you made for Constellation Tatsu is wonderful.  Do you have any listening recommendations for the readers?

Günter:  I'm glad you like it!  But, I still think of myself as a beginner.  I'm still scratching the surface, so I'm not sure if I could recommend something to your readers that they don't know already.  Actually, wait a minute.  I have a feeling that everything Pete Kember did after he quit Spacemen 3 is a bit overlooked now - over ten years after their first release.  Look out for his "experimental audio research" releases.  They are wonderful!

6)  Could you give us a hint about what is next for you and Cosmic Winnetou?

  Günter:  I'm preparing my next batch at the moment, but at this very early stage I can't tell names.  I'm Sorry!  I can't wait to send those tapes to people all around the planet.  That's so much fun to do, really.  

Thank you, Günter!

peace and love, friends :)