Interview with Alfred 23 Harth

Freitag, 4. Januar 2008

Massimo Ricci asks Alfred 23 Harth

Are you ready to reveal - once and for all - what's the meaning of the number 23 in your name, or do you still prefer to keep the mystery?

a) In my short name "A23H" you may turn the letters into numbers. So you will get : 1,2,3,8. As musicians generally count one, two, three, four…" to start their music, I slightly twisted the way of counting. It's a complicated joke.

b) No, just a moment, the composition is a riddle – or, the riddle is a composition. If you turn the numbers into letters you will have: A23H = A, B, C, H. In German, H is a note which equals B in English. The English B flat is called B in German.The numbers in addition are 14. A number that J.S.Bach favored. And 1+4 equals 5 as 2+3 does,etc.

c) It's fun to have a nickname that's pronounced in each language in a different way! It is a lucky number.

d) 23 is a multiple choice game.

e) Former lovers of the 23 whom I enjoy: Trestigesimos, J.S.Bach, Alban Berg, William Burroughs, Robert Anton Wilson.

f) Pareidolia: a type of apophenia involving the finding of images or sounds in random stimuli.

g) Discordianism: The Principia Discordia refers to the act of seeing order which does not really exist as the Aneristic Illusion, and avoiding this illusion is a major tenet of the Discordian religion. The Principia illustrates this with a drawing of five pebbles, and gives several possibilities for the shape (a pentagon, or a star, or disorder). It goes on to state that "an Illuminated Mind can see all of these, yet he does not insist that any one is really true, or that none at all is true". (Wikipedia)

h) I was born 1+9+4+9 = 23 (in the first year of the 20c which fits to be 23 this way).

i) 23 is the ninth prime number, the smallest odd prime which is not a twin prime.

j) When I gave a concert with the Goebbels & Harth duo in Tel Aviv in 1987, I asked a Hebrew about the meaning of the number 23 because I knew from before that in the Hebrew language it is possible to read letters as numbers and vice versa. He answered that 23 has two meanings to him : back (of a human) & knowledge. I was very pleased with this answer and translated it as follows: in C. G. Jung's symbolism the back is a symbol of the unknown. 23 then would equal "unknown knowledge" – or maybe also "sub-consciousness".

l) Nothing is like it seems to be.

m) I wanted to get a sign for me, like Beuys was wearing his hat. After I had decided to put a 23 within my name in 1+9+8+5, it came out later that it had become a kind of trademark for me as an artist & musician. Which was fine with me, though I changed my official artist name back into "Alfred Harth" in the year 1+9+9+4 and left it "open" since 20+0+3.

n) Because I am a fan of synchronicity and numerology.

o) Since 1985 I synchronize the diverse periods of about 10 years each to the "I Ging": 1985 - 1994 = 23.Hexagram; 1995 - 20+04 = 24.Hexagram; 20+05 - 20+1+4 = 25.Hexagram; 2015 - 2024 = 26.Hexagram; 2025 - 2034 = 27.Hexagram etc.
By that I define characterizations and patterns of those different periods.

w) Because I love other concepts. There is always +one.

Describe your first physical approach with a saxophone, like adolescents would describe their first sexual experience to their best friend.

I had my first physical approach to this "sexual entity" when I was about 4 or 5. My sister got married, and for one of those couple photos I installed myself like an adult Alfred (Harth) nearby the two merry ones to play them a lucky tune: I put on fake spectacles (I did not need them at that time), blew into a plastic toy saxophone and pretended to read scores from a music stand,see

This was a first physical approach as a visual artist, I would judge.

The next first approach was audio: at the age of 10 from time to time I picked up saxophone riffs from the radio played in beat tunes of the 50ies that used those unnerving third's intervals. I always hated those passages (more than anything else in music) and swore to myself that I'd never play such an ugly sounding instrument (which seems to be able to transport so many false truths). I still hate those passages nowadays.

The next first physical approach was when I listened to Charlie Parker at the age of 13 . I became a member of the "jazz sect" right away (and immediately understood the difference between that and what I hated before in a saxophone – no teachers were necessary...) .

The next first physical approach was when I bought one. I had been playing clarinet for 3 years already and was 15 then. It had to be a tenor. I went to the local specialist's music shop where all Frankfurt jazz giants shopped too and took this big golden body into my arms, blew into the cheap black plastic mouthpiece (which came with it) and felt ashamed to have to swallow so much of it (I had a slight feeling of being perverse in public) and squeaked only high pitches and then there was it: one low tenor tone – oh god, this vibration in my body! I got the instrument right away, it was Italian - a birthday present from my parents.

The next first approach was when I learned about better mouthpieces (from Gerd Dudek) and better instruments and I purchased a "Selmer Mark VI" tenor sax at the age of 18.

The next first physical approach was when I made an interview with Mark VI (when I was older) and figured out that the saxophone had become another extended part of my body (audiovision).

Define the link between your art, Germany and Korea. What led you from Frankfurt to Seoul?

It is easy to answer that the love to my Korean wife - visual artist Yi Soonjoo - led me from Frankfurt to Seoul. But, originally, we had been planning to move from Frankfurt (where we both had been living) to New York in about 1999. That's why "Trio Viriditas" existed. In 2000 I asked Wilber Morris to bring in a drummer of his choice, Kevin Norton, for recording the CD " waxwebwind@ebroadway" (on Clean Feed) in NYC and in 2001 (besides other gigs in the US) we played at the Vision Festival 6 at the Knitting Factory."Live at Vision Festival VI" - a CD that is just being prepared (by Clean Feed again) to be released in 2008. Also, Yi Soonjoo was having an exhibition in 1999 and a grant in New York. Myself, I had a grant at OMI (State of New York) in 2000. Then we both gained six months grants for the Ssamzie Space in Seoul from September 2001 on, which made us to hold the plan of moving to NYC in stand-by. But only a few days after our arrival in Seoul we could witness the 9/11 catastrophe on TV and then slowly became fed-up with the political aftermath of the US government. At the same time, I began to better enjoy the Korean way of life. As well my wife came back home again so to say (after having lived in Germany for many years) which made our new decision to live in Korea really easy. When I look back further, I see many links between my art and Asia, from a long time ago. I was 13 and copying an ink drawing of Lao Tse. I was 15 and reading D.T.Suzuki's "Zen" and C.G. Jung's writings, with his many links to Asian cultures. I started practicing Yoga at the age of 20 and started a macrobiotic diet at the age of 23 (1972), while also consuming Ginseng and exercising Judo. So, I was open to Asian wisdom and behavior since a long time. But I still have to say that what general "Westerners" can grasp from the Asian universe these days is mostly square-shaped, and often twisted through political/economical interests. I had, and still have, a very rare chance to dive into the Asian universe with the wonderful help of my Korean wife, who already taught me so many miraculous things, derived from the unique culture of the nation of "morning calm" - Korea - which just had its 4.340th birthday!
Meanwhile business people move to live in Asia as they had been moving to London in 1808 and to New York in 1908.

In a career of more than forty years of art and music, can you indicate a zenith and a nadir? Or, in other words: what do you remember more fondly, and what instead you think as an "I'd never do that again" experience?

It travels through many spaces in time, and the vehicle transformed is being in a different space these days than forty years ago. Today's vehicle is designed with a bigger front. It embraces the beauty and the beast, as well as the neutral. Since the neutral is an empty space, it fills with transcending fields of higher plateaux and creations (in art & music for example) that seem to become by-products. More time-distanced byproducts seem to become more enjoyable, and meeting great masters (Tony Scott, Perry Robinson, Paul Bley, Sonny Sharrock, Sun Ra, William Burroughs, Yi Soonjoo, Ilya Kabakov, Fred Hopkins, Wilber Morris, Otomo Yoshihide and just today, in October 2007, Henry Grimes, and a couple of not famous ones) is a special joy.

Do you prefer working on your solo music or the exchange/collaboration with other artists?

What I really enjoy in music is the simultaneous creative process of several persons. When the chemistry between musicians is fine, there will be higher outcomes and I do not see myself as a solo performer on stage. I also enjoy the "concentrated" work condition, as being alone in a studio or during my artwork process, though.

The pros and cons of a long-term artistic relationship such as Goebbels & Harth, of which ReR has recently reissued two out of print LPs.

Pros are certainly the fruitful creative outcome of two persons who became thick friends during their artistic relationship. The "Duo Goebbels/Harth" was a brainstorming nucleus for many years, breeding groups like "Sogenanntes Linksradikales Blasorchester", "Abrazzo-oper", "Cassiber","Cassix", "Duck & Cover", as well as diverse film and theatre music. The cons are that, after about nine years of rave reviews, the media decided that one of the indivisible unit had to be more "important", which of course meant the end of the team - especially since Mr. Goebbels enjoyed this new bizarre media game and didn't oppose to it. A 1984 collaboration for a theatre performance called "Die Reise nach Aschenfeld" had already been very problematic, certainly not "smooth-working" as a creative team should always be. We had a unique chance to collaborate with German cartoonist and writer F.K.Waechter, who wrote "Die Reise nach Aschenfeld" especially for Goebbels and myself, as well as two famous actors. Within this five-artists group there were lots of brainstorms, anyway, not only we put the story line and the music in reciprocal coordination, we also prepared the main visual stage set and so on...This collective production was very successful at the Residenztheater in München, where the two actors plus Goebbels & Harth appeared for numerous live shows from then on. A performance of "Die Reise nach Aschenfeld" was even requested - as one of the three best German theatre productions of the year - in Athens, at that time (1985) elected the first European cultural capital. I am shure that this holistic live-theatre-music experience constitutes the foundation of Heiner Goebbels' subsequent music theatre versions.
After the creative breakdown of the duo around 1983/4, it was important for me to follow my very own tastes and artistic decisions. Financially, it was not easy to leave this successful duo since I had already radically broken up with "Cassiber" in 1984 after having worked the first two years with this (also successful) band, so I finally stopped performing with Heiner Goebbels in 1988, just like I had been convincing him to form a duo with me in 1975. When I was compiling the Goebbels/Harth "best-of" album "Goebbels Heart" (about 1991), together with Masanori Akashi from the Japanese label "Evva", and more recently the CD reissue of the two very first LPs of the duo,"Vier Fäuste fuer Hanns Eisler" and "Vom Sprengen des Gartens" together with Chris Cutler on his label "ReR", I was happy that Heiner Goebbels was willing to cooperate since. Unfortunately, he seemed to have no further interest in promoting his former collaboration with me, which is a sad case.

Probably it was the "Goebbels Heart" album that led Otomo Yoshihide to sample the duo's "Revolutionary Pekinese Opera" in 1995 and 1996 for his band "Ground Zero". About 10 years later I was a steady member in Otomo Yoshihide's ensembles and in 2007 happy to inspire Otomo again to record Hanns Eisler's " On suicide" – one of the duo's favorites – with his new group "Invisible Songs" on the CD "Sora" (on "EWE"), where I play this wonderful melody again…

You have collaborated with a veritable who's who of reed players. How did you get to joining forces with Lindsay Cooper?

After the creative slowdown with Goebbels (about 1984) I felt the need to concentrate on something that I really wanted after years of putting this and that together. My aim was to develop my own unique language on the saxophone during a process that could have gone on for years. So I started to structure my playing bending it to non-binary metrics in my new group Gestalt et Jive from 1984 on and sought "frictions" in duos with other sax players as Peter Brötzmann and John Zorn during the years 1986/7.The wish to produce my first "saxophone- focused" vinyl came up naturally. In the meantime, I had met Günter Müller and Phil Minton in different projects and finally managed to put them together with Sonny Sharrock, Andres Bosshard and myself for the Willisau Festival in 1987. The same year I was asked by the organizers of the Strasbourg festival to design a "theme group" with Phil Minton, Maggie Nicols, Paul Bley, Barre Phillips and myself. It performed "Notes On Planet Shikasta" using words by Doris Lessing. Suddenly, Lindsay – the other saxophone voice I was looking for – came to my mind. Then it came out like this: an LP with my very first solos on side A and lots of sax-meetings on side B; four duos with Lindsay, one track with Müller and Minton and a duo with Zorn. The LP is called "Plan Eden" (on "CWR"). For the duo with Zorn, I had asked him to focus on his alto sax only after him doing this and that for so many years, and then around that time in 1987 Lindsay called me for the Zürich Jazz Festival. She had just formed "Oh Moscow" a larger band with her songs and arrangements, plus Sally Potter's lyrics. The premiere was a huge success, so this band went on touring through festivals and other occasions in Canada, Germany, Russia, Italy, Great Britain etc. until the final performance at the London Jazz Festival in 1993. There it was again: a mix of styles and diverse players, the large part of them capable to dive into varying improvisational universes as well. I felt very well all those years with "Oh Moscow", together with all those great musicians and by being just a "member" as well being with Lindsay and Phil in "Trio Trabant A Roma".

It looks like Phil Minton represents one of your most pleasing artistic exchanges, continuing over the course of several years, can you elaborate a bit about the chemistry between you and Mr.Minton?

Firstly, let me answer with my brief "rough" overview about my pleasures with international musicians until now (sorry: I didn't mention all the names)

I'd say it's the British musicians at large whom I had very pleasing artistic exchanges with so far. Very recently, together with Louis Moholo, I looked back to 1964 when I met the "Brotherhood of Breath" for the first time, in the streets near Ronnie Scott's in London. I had been extremely impressed then, and was attracted by their fancy outlook. I know they are South-African, anyhow it happened in London the first time...
Later it was Steve Beresford in "Gestalt et Jive", after that the great "Oh Moscow" experience. In general, I felt more pleased working outside Germany. It began when I met Nicole van den Plas in 1969 after having founded Just Music in 1967. She opened the Belgian and Dutch music scenes to me, where I also worked first with Kowald and Lovens. To work with her, and Swedish Sven-Ake Johansson in our group E.M.T. in the years 1972-1974 was a constantly unfolding, unique experience. With the help of Gunter Hampel and Perry Robinson, I stepped right into the middle of the New York Loft-scene in 1975. Already in 1982 I convinced Heiner Goebbels to invite Chris Cutler for "Cassiber". Chris and I still have an ongoing friendship. In the middle 80ies I started to work with Swiss musicians plus John Zorn and Phil Minton. Instead, my experience with the French scene had been disappointing, although I had been living in Paris from time to time in the years 1990 – 1997. A big exception is my faithful friend Ferdinand Richard, whom I had invited to play in "Gestalt et Jive". He is the only member in this unit to have worked with me from the beginning to the end (1984-88)! I had an excursion with George Lewis and Tom Cora in New York (again, after the "Duck & Cover" experience) and then with Frankfurt-based Heinz Sauer ("Parcours Bleu a Deux") and the "eastern" group "QuasarQuartet" (with Simon Nabatov, Vitold Rek/Mark Dresser, Vladimir Tarasov) in 1992/3. In the later 90ies I tended to meet the US scene again. In 1995 I initiated a recording with Fred Hopkins and Dougie Bowne in NYC. Then a work including Korean court music with Hopkins, Bowne and David Murray in the same year. And a Chicago concert with Kent Kessler and Hamid Drake in 1997. The foundation of "Trio Viriditas" in 2000. I also did some more theatre music compositions during the 90s. Now I'm having very pleasing experiences with artists from Japan (Uchihashi, Yoshihide, Yoshigaki, Harada etc.) and Korea (Kang Taehwan, Choi Sun Bae etc.) since the beginning of this decade and, recently, I also returned to work with European musicians as Günter Müller and Sven-Ake Johansson again as well as, surprisingly, with young Italian musicians whom I founded the group "7k Oaks" with. "7k Oaks" (with Luca Venitucci, Massimo Pupillo, Fabrizio Spera) produced a CD for the Italian label Die Schachtel in November 2007. Just very recently I had a refreshing musical experience with the above mentioned Moholo,Grimes,Honsinger,Harada,Delius in Seoul and in 2008 Brötzmann wants to come and play again with me in Korea.

But now back to your question about Phil:
In 1987 - a remarkable period in my biography - I had asked Phil to join the above mentioned special production "Notes On Planet Shikasta" as well as a performance of it in the "Alte Oper" in Frankfurt. I wanted to have a female and male voice improvising with Lessing's text excerpts. The Strasbourg festival performance was really moving. Unfortunately I never got a copy from the French Radio recording. Then I had this collaboration with Günter Müller and other Swiss musicians where I wanted to include Phil. For the Willisau Jazzfestival '87 we put together a project including Sonny Sharrock, called "Aleister And Alice". I edited a report of that period of diverse and unique concert events in 1987/8 in the catalogue "Die Zersplitterung" ,together with text excerpts that had been used during the events, some of my art works and a flexi disc (Wolke Verlag, 1989). In 1988 I wanted to create a band representing musical contrasts by its (outstanding) different members. So I asked Phil again to join, also playing his trumpet, Ulrike Haage on keyboards and Einstürzende Neubauten's drummer F.M.Einheit. The band Vladimir Estragon went well for a short time, Phil being a leading character of it. After the too early collapse of the successful "Vladimir Estragon", in 1990 the people at the Budapest International Jazz Festival asked me to put another band together. The iron curtain had just dissolved and I called this new trio with Phil and Lindsay "Trio Trabant A Roma". We had been touring and, parallel to this trio, it felt strange being in Russia playing with "Oh Moscow" right around the collapse of the USSR. When we returned to the West, somehow we felt like having remained there in Volgograd virtually. Probably a sort of culture shock. This is why I called the CD with Phil and Lindsay "State of Volgograd"(on FMP,1994).I also have a CDR live recording of this trio called "Le cadran bleu" at the 1991 Strasbourg festival. Phil is one of the few musicians who found their way to Korea later in 2003. He visited my LaubhuetteStudio in Seoul, and we had a short recording session from which I implemented some of his vocals into my double CD nu:clear re:actor (2004), which contains reflections on the North Korean nuclear issue and on the 9/11 catastrophe and its aftermath.

In recent times, improvisation and avantgarde music have often become a way for many people to assert themselves as "artists" without the necessary preparation and experience. What is your stance on this matter, and how do you judge audiences that privilege "easily digestible" latecomers to serious musicians who struggle to affirm real artistic concepts?

A fascinating question. I just read about Han Bennink's memories and was rather amused: he had a friend who called himself "composer" but never wrote any composition. Funny. I like this easiness. Myself, I had a very hard time to accept myself as being a musician or even artist. Active from the beginning in both fields, I've always had high respect for artists, thus only at the age of thirty I dared to call myself an artist. Twenty years ago we chased cyberspace, which means we still spent a lot of time without computers and were hungry for sci fi. Today cyberspace chases us, which means we hardly find a time beyond the computer. In general during the late 80s for many new faces it had become so easy, to create something with a computer and get famous by it. Especially in Frankfurt, there were Techno composers who might have spent maybe a few hours to prepare a "hit" and earned millions with it after. What can we say? Art shall not be holy shit & and artists no holy cows. Probably Paris Hilton read my 1988 manifest "Paradigmenwechsel", where I had proclaimed the hedonistic "I" society – artists getting happy without anything done (I mean this as a German joke). And then, it is also right: I saw and heard so many things which had been done before by others, thousands of variations on the originals…. We have millions of crazy creators nowadays but it is better having those "artists" than soldiers anyway. Then we must consider the market's power. What can we say? "Don't chase money with art but chase art with money", Damien Hirst's manager said; and it's so easy to imitate his diamond-platinum skull with fake materials…(done a thousand times before he made that piece). Recently I was having an after-session drink with Henry Grimes in a Seoul jazz club and Margaret (his partner and manager), upon seeing a Diana Krall video screened as intermission, exclaimed "This is what kills music!" I immediately knew what she was talking about… Around that time in the 80s when I wrote my above mentioned manifest "Paradigmenwechsel", I became aware of what I call the ongoing "avantgarde stress" in the Zeitgeist creative cultures. I felt that it is getting pointless, in a way, to ever top ideas like putting performing violinists into helicopters etc. Stockhausen's manifest of the 50s, which invited to "never sound like anything else" had been like a fine-tuned motor for some time. But then the arts had come to be managed and efficient, which is idiosyncratic. I wished to fill my art with the consciousness that "the other" is, and always was, here with or without any stress and circus.

What do you think of ambient music and sound installations?

I I I I I I I I I I li li li like am am am am am am am ambient from time time time to time time time time time time time time.

SoUND inSTALLatiON ? In galleries or public places? Put them together with "soundscapes"(and many other similar stuff) on one shelf labeled "Information Music". Not a big thrill to me.

Once I talked to a leather-dressed motorcyclist. He was a psychology professor around my age, had only one eye and he'd just arrived from a high-speed tour with dust etc. on his clothes. I asked him how he could handle this extreme thrill with only one eye and he replied: "We have to get our kicks from somewhere, haven't we." Somehow convincing, haha.

At a certain time in my life I returned to my original wish to be something like an architect.Until that moment, I had been thrilled by meeting unique persons in music and art (also through the avantgarde-gallery I had for seven years in the 80s) and, at this point, meeting persons from the "real" life (workers, lawyers,brokers,architects, etc) became a new challenge.I have many chances to listen to real time sound installations on construction places.I had put my head out of the artist's bubble. This is good. This is why I look like an attorney without a suit.

Do you have a suggestion for non-expert listeners to expose the difference about artist playing difficult stuff because they are really gifted with that kind of complex language, and those playing "complicated" just to show off among colleagues and in front of an audience?

I can only speak for myself again and do not seek to coach non-expert listeners. Maybe there are artists gifted with a genuine complex language. And there may be those who lie. I am not the person to judge or draw a border between "those" & "them". As far as I'm concerned, I see myself to be one of the "complicated" types as I receive feedback from my partners in that direction from time to time, but I can't be different from what I am, even if I tried to change. At the same time I kind of like creative competitions between artists (in the tradition of the "tenor battles" or so) and I admit that I often look to express myself really "far out" to fascinate audiences or colleagues. But this still keeps the process of a "complicated me" going on. I am showing off, or faking from time to time, or even lying. But does it get to be a cheap trick? I think that being in that kind of "performance state" is being on a border line. Of course, I am also different when I am on stage than at home. I am not always listening to "complicated" music at home – mostly the contrary. From the beginning I enjoyed working with laymen, too. I treated punk and genial dilettantism as genuine matters and saw the beauty in it. Then everything became so easy with the computers. So, I myself am responsible for all sorts of mean things! When I was with Henry Grimes, we went to that jazz club in Seoul together with Korean trumpet ace Choi Sun Bae. Both brought their instruments and wanted to jam. I didn't know about that evening in advance therefore I hadn't brought any instrument. So we jammed together: Grimes on violin, Choi on trumpet and me on the piano. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would have played together with a great as Henry Grimes, who is at the ultimate top as an artist, I would have been very happy and would have thought "I better start rehearsing my horn soon to be in an optimal condition". And if you had told me that then I would have played piano in that occasion, I would have felt very much ashamed to the point of denying this idea. But it happened. It came out just joyous, and I just wanted to just play at that moment, even if I am a "piano charlatan". It was fun. What can we say? Either artists dance or they don't. There are pretenders and genuine ones. There are those who commit their life and others who create for 15 minutes only but please a bigger audience. It is a huge dance hall. There is no prize to win. Some get famous by lying, others by being genuine. Some do not. What is the difference? Is it important? Are they happy? Or illuminated? Or not? Or sometimes? Who cares? The question is "are they"? It is not important to install a sound or style that everyone immediately can recognize (as well in visual arts). Mostly this is the end of liveliness. Are you aware of what you are being? It is just a huge deconstruction process. We now have twice the population on this planet than at the time of John Coltrane's late years. But we don't have a Coltrane-like musician these days. Not even one.

What is the record to which you come back more often? Is there any music that elicits a feeling of "happy times that won't return" in your soul, or just plain nostalgia?

I don't like this kind of game. There are so many sonic friendships within different time-rooms of my life. Music that makes me feel happy and sorrowful at the same time is the most interesting to me.

Let's talk about composing. Do you transcribe your improvisations, write down something in advance, just follow the flux of your musical thought, or all of the above?

I am a self-taught composer. I didn't study music in an academy. I wrote down my first composition called "Simulator" at the age of 16, then I continued to compose themes in the same way one draws. Until the advent of computers in music at the end of the 80s, I happened to have the chance of earning money by writing music for TV or films in my own style. In 1979, I composed my first theatre music for Bertolt Brecht's "Der Brotladen". The actors themselves wanted to play within the performance, so I taught them how to produce music on objects and instruments. Since they couldn't read a score we first improvised – which somehow they were also eager to learn from me – and then we made choices which were then fixed for the play. Later on, I started composing with a studio. Things got recorded and then shaped or overdubbed or whatever. The possibilities in a studio - I mean, using it like an instrument - seem to be endless.But those compositions are mostly unrepeatable, because it would be really too difficult to transcribe them. But I do not see myself as someone who is doing huge compositions in connection with "important" huge stories…

So, at what time you become aware that the work is completed and ready for release (or for being presented to an audience)? Do you prefer the quickness of the artistic gesture and an immediate release, or privileging the thought-out method of composing music (hours, days, weeks in the studio until you're satisfied)?

All artists know for sure that, when they create things, they can be satisfying right away or, on the other hand, there seems to be some kind of interesting theme which needs additional elaborations and that leads to an endless process, which does not improve things at the end. It is the same: if I compose little scores of melodies, some of them can become wonderful ear worms, others just don't work. And the same again if I work with visual things or in human relationships. So one always needs to select what to keep and what to discard. Even if I had tried hard, there were several cases during a longer and painstaking creative process in which things turned out unsatisfying at last, consequently I focused my creative attention on somewhere else. The real interesting point is the moment when I decide that something is finished. This decision comes not from my head; it always astonishes me how I suddenly know that the time has come from very deep. Afterwards, I click on my intellect again to prove this decision. And all the more stunning is the fact how I reach this decision. As I have told you before, I see all my artifacts as by-products to the Great Work. All my senses are constantly open, and I am more happy when I reach telepathic or extrasensory states. I am open to "C-influences" (as Gurdjieff calls them) and receptive to "Vox Dei" or visual symbols. So, in my compositions, it is especially the "Vox Dei" that leads my decisions inside difficult situations.

Do you think - in 2007, after having been testimony to a lot of events in your life - that there is still some measure of truth in the old saying that "music can change the world", at least in reference to a general social and political consciousness?

Yes, I've already arrived pretty far in the marathon of life. Some decades ago, all inhabitants have most intensively begun to dig the ground to unearth what had been sleeping there for millions of years. The purpose of this new "permanent digging" effort is mostly to burn and transform the harder stuff from the underground into the softer atmospheres to gain warmth, speed and other kicks. This process seems to be lunatic in its exaggeration. In the course of my lifetime so far, lots of metals have been dug out from the earth and transposed far from their origin, even into space, into a permanent cycling position from where, with a combination of other siliceas etc., humans send steady signals to all inhabitants to bring them into a state of permanent information about this digging process and its wars, which they call "news", "infotainment" and so on. During this endless digging effort there are "elections" and other structure giving deals between the inhabitants, and sometimes music that affects a human soul for a few moments occurs. The large part of this process is still very materialistic and full of MP3s these days. Moments of individual change through sounds or melodies happen here & there. But, strangely enough, the main ambition is to dig materials from the earth and deal with them. Change them into money and toxic agents. Men can't "do". Men are destined to be slaves of their obsessions and turn the earth into another sun (and maybe the moon into another earth). Little-by-little entropy. The city of Seoul is nearly constantly paralyzed by millions of very slow moving motor-vehicles made and driven by unearthed things which eject pride and carbon into the surrounding smoggy air, which is normally 5 degrees higher than 50 miles outside the city… But within this process there seems to be a longtime-recurring melody, which is hidden like an old fart and it contains this "measure of truth".

Tell us a little more about living in Korea.

Life feels better to me in Korea – it is just like it is supposed to be... People are so friendly here. They rarely get upset by something. The feeling of aversion too is rare, despite so many persons together in a small living space, usually more or less breaking rules as they need. But very rarely one gets aggressive for this, whereas Europeans have a tendency to behave aggressively towards each other, even sharing a lot more of space and distance. Korea is a "land of mystery" where all sorts of contradictions peacefully co-exist. Traffic in Seoul is on the edge of free improvisation. The city is wild in a way, and very lively. Ancient items fit well together with ultramodern hi-tech. And then there seems to be a New York-South France mix in Seoul, with its own typical East Asian blend. The Korean landscapes and visual environments are extremely enjoyable and inspiring, when they are not destroyed by Korean's favorite apartment buildings which are ugly but very much desired and - unlike in Western countries - not at the border of slums. The apartments correlate to the locals' need of convenience. This country seems to be self-destructing ecologically, but all its inhabitants are constantly good-humored. It is a pleasure to live here and eat the most healthy food. I lost weight and put those Western grimaces aside. Despite being prepared - as I told you before - for the East Asian way of life, it took me many years of lessons to get somehow adjusted to the foreign mentality after having met my later-to-become wife in Frankfurt. It needs a way of "letting go" indeed. These subtle changes fit my German stubbornness very well, which also I am aware of in my music. I am more focused and in the same time I feel being in a flow. I learned to be alone without being lonesome. Now we have an upcoming peace between North and South Korea. Technically speaking, the two countries are still in a state of war, though with an agreed armistice. Life in Seoul is/was deadly threatened by a million of North Korean soldiers who are waiting just 50 miles away to turn the South into a "sea of blood" as their propaganda would have it. I would very much like to travel the "hermit kingdom" North Korea – I can't wait.

What happens in your mind when you feel like having being part of a bad concert/performance and what is your usual reaction to that?

This is a frustrating state which makes me feel ashamed. I usually try to analyze my mistakes to do better the next time. And talks in the group happen after the gig. In previous times, it also could happen that I reacted on stage and did things like taking my T-shirt off or saying something dull to the audience (what mostly nobody could communicate with). But in general that situation is very tricky: it can happen that, subjectively, I think it was bad and later when I listen to the recording it is brilliant instead and vice versa. I just received a CDR from the "just music" bass player Peter Stock, who recently digitalized nearly 40 years old tapes in an enormous effort of saving them. This particular one comes from a live radio concert of "just music" in Prague, April 1970. Shortly before we had been performing on the festival for Lenin's 100th year anniversary in Prerov. I had forgotten about this music. I thought that it was nothing, neither bad nor good. I listened to it yesterday and the music is unbelievably wonderful, just timeless. I can't wait for the next "just music" CDR, live at Liederhalle Stuttgart in the same year, recorded by the SWF Radio.

What comes earlier in your memory – sound or vision?

I started to build little huts in our garden since I was 5. Most pleasure came from their construction. Once I even constructed a two-storey castle with an oven plus chimney. When the buildings were finished, playing within them became soon boring, thus I decided to deconstruct them to raise another, which was even better. From this activity my wish to become an architect arose later on. During the 50s I saw the first b/w photos of UFOs & sex. Both items had been secretly hidden: the UFO pictures by a friend's grandmother and the odd porno images by another friend's big brother. Those eye-catchers put in strange places were delicately thrilling of course. I remember that in Germany we had just one channel of b/w TV then – I watched the series "Fury" about a friendly horse and another friend of mine claimed to have colour TV: his father had glued transparent rainbow-coloured plastic onto his monitor. I loved to disguise myself and do costume shows. In 1957 my grandmother died; of course I was very sad for that and developed a concept of life in which "I will grow up and then, little by little, transform myself until I am in heaven without any witnessing and pains from my own death". It worked until today. When I saw a still distant person in the street, I wondered why I could not be suddenly there with this person just by my will, so I started to share the consciousness of other persons driven by the deep wish to look into their lives. In the year 1958 my brother took me to a DADA exhibition in town. The most impressive work was a black dot in the middle of a white piece of paper called "The navel". After seeing that I was certain to be able to create art. My big sisters had several 45 rpm records on their players, and I remember a favorite song called "16 tons". I was fascinated by those numbers: 78 shellac records, 33 LPs and 45 Singles...In a synesthesian way I still always see numbers and letters in colours in my mind. Then I started to learn flute and played a plastic clarinet because I wanted to learn to play a real clarinet by my very own motivation. In the early 60s I did more "artistic" drawings of Lao Tse, of my dog, of a Greek, of a sheik etc., right after a 2nd TV station had been launched in Germany. We watched the Cuba crisis, saw Kruscev banging a shoe on the table, Kennedy's assassination in the b/w news and tried to wonder about the differences of the two channels. After the installment of colour TV, b/w WWII documentary films became really "old", like the b/w photographs of Charlie Parker & Lester Young. Later on I realized that it had happened only a handful of years before my birth, and when I watched the first colour pictures about WWII I was stricken, realizing that colours had existed also in those dark times. My father had practiced colour photography from time to time in the early 50s, and even shot colour family movies in 8,5mm. In the early 60s he began to photograph beautiful ectachromes from his exotic journeys, from where he brought special stones and antique weapons to feed my little collections. I had also begun to be interested in geology around 1961/2 when I awoke to those "jazz worlds". Then the 60s became dominated by the sound plus creative visuals.
My father was not eager to be active during the Third Reich and had also tried to avoid to participate in the war, whereas my mother was fond of being mother as a job. My father was smart enough to transport his family into more silent country areas when the bombardments grew stronger in Frankfurt am Main. Later on, I wondered many times how my parents had walked all this way through technological development, from living without electricity (instead with gas lamps in the cities of Frankfurt and Berlin - Berlin had a unique central position in Europe in the early 20th century!) to the space age, and even going over the time-point of Y2K. Also, living with the development of cars from the very early models on, and the development of chemicals/pharmacies. I always wondered if such gravely changes could happen within my life, which made me become interested in "designing the future" and sci-fi.
The first sputnik in 1957 – it was all about rockets, machines and robots, then. But, at a certain time later, things had changed with a big jump: computers in every family and then the internet – many sci-fi movies from just a few years before suddenly looked really old-fashioned and I realized that I was living in my own old future. The Kubricks and the Philip K. Dicks could make it in the genial mix of styles, destructing historical timelines. The so-called Post-modernism came up with its splitting effects as far to split up the iron curtain and have Baudrillard exclaiming "the end of history". Capitalism and the US remained the only symbols of superpower, indeed similar to the Roman Empire, only that the US "owns" the whole globe nowadays. To maintain this "number one" role, the US realized about their need of the former USSR as an enemy to motivate and justify militaristic investments. So they installed a faintly crisis with North Korea in 1994 but, still, the development under the Clinton administration gave a hope to look at the 21st century as a really developing new and wiser world. The impression of a US over-presence during the 90s was so intense though that I started to doubt the kind of reality the US was imposing on us. I thought about the shift in consciousness in 1945, when Germans had to reprogram their brains from the virtues of the Third Reich to the democratic virtues of the US. The US alliance was the winner, so it started to teach their values. What if in 1999 a sudden force had come up to tell us that US values were "out" and we had to learn about other ones? And then somehow it happened from within (Magog – the country that eats its inhabitants?): a sinister back-rolling in US politics manifested itself during the current decade with the "war on terror" (namely having an "enemy" again and therefore the motivation to produce and sell arms and domesticate populations), which is only a disguised war to open the formerly sealed oil cans in the Iraq and Iran territories for the sake of the US economy. This repeats the theft of oil in the same area by Great Britain 100 years before, to install their economical giants like British Petrol (BP) when the rape of the global environment had already begun. These days, other nations like China and India are also in the run to be number-one rapists. One wants to throw up when constantly eating all those omnipresent eco-political-media fast food products.
About 1999 I read Friedrich Weinreb's "World's Construction Plan". In short, from the ancient Jewish wisdom he develops deeper life values by using the double nature of numbers and letters in the Hebrew language. An aspect of his analysis deals with the symbols of the origins of the spirit and its way to unfold into "many", and at the age of 50 (an especially meaningful number) turn back towards the origin, leaving the periodical world of multiplying "many" to face the one (1) again (this process is called "Teschuwah"). In 1999 I became 50, and I think that in fact we are surrounded by ever-proliferating multi-media, fabricated news and politics as well as infinite zeros and ones within the internet etc. – really a pharaonic universe. Where is the new Moses to pull us out? I am sure that he has to be silently developed into ourselves if the wish of facing other worlds grows in us...Transcendence. In earlier times, the tolling of church bells gave people an illusion of diachronic times and made them fear death, so they worked and prayed .These days, media and news give an illusion of synchronic as well as diachronic times and make people work and consume to create more work even during their spare time. So, where is the real cultural development these days,(when we're also letting the National Museum in Baghdad being looted and tolerating the continuing destruction of Buddhist sites in Swat/Pakistan)?

What does fame mean to you?

Fame sometimes can help creativity a lot, because it brings money with it. Also I myself can witness really famous persons doing lots of shit by a big waste of (other people's) money. About 20 years ago I started to "forget" about the media (which of course need products to sell) on purpose. Needless to say, I also do not collect prizes. About 10 years ago I did receive a money prize, though, half of which I sent to Lindsay Cooper for covering part of her medical needs. They told me that I didn't have to pay taxes for the income of this government-granted prize. One year later, the same government asked taxes for it in a rather rude way. I was ready to return the whole amount.
From time to time, collectors from Israel, Canada, Taiwan, Italy and other assorted areas contact me. I like it, because it gives me a good feeling. Also, in Japan audiences treat me with great respect. That helps too. Last summer, my German tax agent asked me in a friendly manner what I had been doing recently. I told him about my recording tour in Europe, that Christoph Wagner was doing an interview with me in the context of my contribution to an upcoming book of his about underground in Germany 1964-74. I also proudly told him that I just heard from Mr.Wagner that in Europe since my participation ONJO is called "the actual best group in the world". He looked stiff and unimpressed, which stunned me. It was funny at first, but afterwards it clicked: my tax agent knows about my income numbers. And those numbers obviously did not tell him of me being a member of "the best band in the world"...

What is the real meaning of "new" in art, and what is your stance about John Cage's and his role and consequences in music?

I prefer not to reply to both questions.

What is your description of "fulfillment" in art and music and who, in your view, can reach the highest levels of creativity: an "enlightened" or an "angry" artist?

Some time ago Otomo Yoshihide asked me to give a lecture in a university for arts, designers and creative people at large in Kyoto. I had studied to become an art teacher at the Frankfurt university many years ago and taught art at an official school during the years 1975-78. After that I gave private saxophone lessons for about 15 years and finally put together a small book for advanced saxophone playing. During the later years of teaching – and I was a good, passionate teacher – I found out that when I performed with colleagues in a concert I in myself felt the tendency to play as if they had to learn something from me. When I realized this, I felt the need of stopping teaching for the sake of being a more unbound artist; soon I just didn't have to teach anything, and also didn't do any "workshops" anymore. A few years later, I had a chance to give a lecture at the academy of Gdansk in 1994, and I thought "why not do it?". During the lecture, under the eyes of the students, I unfolded my angry illuminated aesthetical theories about drawing, painting and playing sax. After the lecture was over, a female student asked an attending academy professor if I was a "psychopathic case" or so. This comment elicited the feeling that I might have failed to fulfill my task as a guest-teacher in Poland.
Back to the above mentioned lecture invitation by Otomo: I prepared myself to present my theories contextually with actual facts that had happened in Japan around that period, such as Bobby Fishers' life & trouble (with the Japanese customs at that time) or a Haruki Murakami theatre play in Tokyo in which, at the beginning of the performance, the theatre lights shook several times, then there were other defaults and technical mistakes,then a person came in front of the stage to apology for these mistakes. This is very embarrassing in Japan (where embarrassment is still a big social theme) but, little by little, the audience realized that this was just a part of the plot to play with their feelings… So, in the Kyoto lecture I also told my audience about my former works in which I had on purpose integrated the feeling of embarrassment. I chose this as a theme for some time, then I made a foolish movement with my elbow in that very moment and nearly kicked my water drinking glass from the table where I was speaking from. The feeling "froze" a bit in the aula, thus I declared that I just did this on purpose to give an example of what I meant. Nobody was angry or illuminated by this. The very next moment, somebody who was sitting next to the audience at a lateral table by chance dropped noisily a plate and everybody heard it, and suddenly looked at him. I had a short feeling of fulfillment. Then Otomo, who was sitting next to me told me that he wanted me to tell about my biographical history, which shocked me a bit because I thought that it might have been boring to this high-level audience and I still wasn't sure if I had fulfilled my task as a guest-teacher in Japan. Maybe in the future I will get another chance to give a new lecture somewhere, maybe about the diverse states of mind of creative artists. Then I will hopefully be able to answer your question. Give me some more time, please!

Tell me something about your most recent and next future projects. What's frying in the pan?

Next, I will exhibit Kim Jong-Il in formaldehyde on the peak of the Empire State Building – oh, oh no. This is an old joke of mine…

In August 2007, I arranged a recording tour in Europe, from which there will probably be a few CDs released in the next future:

- a duo with Günter Mueller – we plan to work together live as well.
- a duo with Hans-Joachim Irmler from Faust.
(which both duos will form a trio called "Taste Tribes" and perform in December 2008 in Switzerland. Also a CD "Taste Tribes" - plus Eruption - will be out on "for4ears" in October 2008)

- a trio with Sven-Ake Johansson and Uwe Oberg.
- a quartet called " 7k Oaks" with Luca Venitucci, Fabrizio Spera, Massimo Pupillo(Zu) and myself. Tour in May 2008, and the CD "7000 Oaks" is already out on Die Schachtel in Italy.

More in 2008:

- The great cooperation with Otomo Yoshihide continues in his new band "Invisible Songs", with concerts in France in May and also a new CD called "Sora" on the Japanese EWE label.

- A reunion of OH MOSCOW

More CD releases in 2008:

- another "Trio Viriditas" with Wilber Morris, Kevin Norton and myself "Live at Vision Festival VI", Knitting Factory, NYC,2001 on Clean Feed..

- EMT (Sven-Ake Johansson, Nicole van den Plas and myself) with previously unreleased material from 1973 on a double CD on "Off Note" (another Japanese imprint).

- "Celebration", with trumpeter Choi Sun Bae on "Off Note", too.

- of "Just Music" captured in live radio concerts in Prague and Stuttgart from 1970.

Are you more curious or afraid of the current "evolution" of music, and are you more curious or afraid of becoming older?

I am curious. I love evolution. I love music & life. Becoming older and being afraid of it is a general condition, I think. (Being too afraid takes away the chance of watching the interesting process unfold.)

Does silence speak volumes, or do too many people speak volumes about silence?

I don't know too much about discussions on silence, if you meant this. Two recent examples impressed me in this context:

a) The way Sachiko M "plays" silence in her solos , giving high awareness to the ongoing ambient sounds.

b) My trip on a hill nearby the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone = boarder between North and South Korea) at night. During daytime, there it is possible to look far into the regions of North Korea. It is well known that North Koreans are very short in electricity so I wanted to witness this phenomenon by looking into their country at night. What I saw was an orange sky in the South, with thousands of points of light in the landscape scattered around. And beyond the border there was instead a huge, really majestic darkness dome. Even more interesting was the difference in sound: on "my" side there was a constant white noise emanating from driving vehicles. And on the other side there was: ?
I witnessed a simultaneous experience of two different ages in nocturnal "natural" landscapes.

I would like to end this interview with a poetry that I have written inspired by “Yo” from J.L.Borges.


Of course the heart/skull/bones -
better been photographed from outside my skin,
ways of blood that I rarely see,
just music, energy/movement/total,
oneness in Bodhi & Seoul,
even oneness beyond my transparent borders.
Of course a memory of s-words and falcons
as well as an awareness of moon,
sun & forgiveness.
Havens, ships, houses, colours,
cyworlds & past synchronize.
Love, friends & true friends.
Tones gone in the wind & numbered in CDs,
full of opinions & theories to drop.
An electronic poet in trance
without batteries & chips like clown.
But radiation.


Alfred Harth - I thank you very much,Mr.Ricci!


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