Andreas Eduardo Frank &
"My work is about showing contrasts and letting them collide and retrieving the energy from that"
The guest of the fifth dialogue is a composer, media artist, performer and artistic co-director of Ensemble LemniscateAndreas Eduardo Frank. The interviewer is Alexandra Lokteva, musicologist, editor of Stravinsky.online, curator of "Dialogues", and junior researcher at the Center for Contemporary Music of the Moscow Conservatory.
Stravinsky's Dialogues: Andreas Eduardo Frank & Alexandra Lokteva
— Today our guest is Andreas Eduardo Frank, composer, media artist, performer and artistic director of the Lemniscate ensemble. I, Alexadra Lokteva, is going to interview him. The editor of Stravinsky.online and curator of the project. Andreas, hello and thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview. I’m very glad to see and to talk to you. I have to say honestly that I’m very inspired by your projects and this deep attitude towards art. And I hope that our listeners, viewers can share those feelings together with me.
— Thank you very much for having me. Delighted.
— I would like to start with very general question probably. So what do you think now in contemporary world is it possible to imagine art without trying to think of the, like, information technologies or digital things. Is it possible to live without this… This thing, like in just general human life, human and technology and so on.
— I think it’s totally possible to live or to create art without the need of technology. And I think also it is very important to be able to comprehend how it works. Like, art or creating art is a mechanism or is a process. And it doesn’t matter if you use technology or not. It’s just I think more about the thoughts behind it, the attitude, the process itself, the integrity of the work. And technology is just another road you use to get to your destiny [destination].
— Yes, thank you. In correlation with your thoughts and general idea of the piece, the basic idea. So do you write? Behind each composition you have like this hyper-idea, like poetic one. And out of interest I want to ask you how is the process of getting this idea of the background level. So how, in what way is it depicted? Is it like a sound, an image, a text, or is it working with a performer for example?
— So often I get inspired, so the people I work with. Like a person who performs or plays on stage always brings a certain kind of personality, a certain aura and a certain… certain… association. You immediately… You see a person and you think of something, no? You think maybe of an energy or you think of something… You have feelings, you connect with this person, you have empathy. And often this kind of action brings some kind of thoughts. Or often these thoughts lead me to the poetic idea which I implement in the piece.
And also it can be a challenge for the person. So a simple example, for example, would be, if you have, if you work with a highly trained virtuous musician and you know they trained their instrument for years and years and they can do basically everything they want, they are totally free on their instrument. Until you come and start tweaking the notes and tweaking the schools of the mechanic they trained for years. So as soon as you start, for example, using another movement to create the sound they used to do. To, like, close… Instead of closing the keys of a reed instrument starts opening it. So I create, for example, only music by opening instead of closing. So it’s about reversed psychology. It’s about anti-institutionalized or behaviors. It’s about… In <transic> psychology the perspective of the player often is more important than the music that maybe comes out at the end. Often it is about researching the mechanisms that lie beyond automized movements you trained for years and years and years. And seeing how does it affect the psychology of the player to work against it. And creating kind of barriers that people have to step over and jump over the shadows. And this creates a certain energy which I like and often I think this transmits also to the audience.
Claqueurs, Andreas Eduardo Frank / y-band
And then, of course, I need a story to tell this way I’m going. And the story often is like a kind of poetic idea or like a picture I have in mind. So, for example, in recent works like Restore Factory Defaults or Yes, yes, no, no, yes, yes, no, no, no, no, no it is like the idea… The poetic idea, for example, of Yes, yes, no, no is that you have only two words. You have yes and you have no. But it matters so much how you say them. And it can change… It’s a whole world of sounds between yes and no you can create and you can put a million associations with how you say it. If it’s only one person it says, if it’s three persons, if it’s three persons said “say yes” and one person said “say no” you repeat it five times and you immediately have this kind of connection that three people want something and one doesn’t. And there is a tension between those.
And they play the instruments at the same time on a highly virtuosic level. So you have those like… They have to split their mind into like… Thousands scatter and try to get through the score. And by doing this they create something new which I might not comprehend in the first moment why they are doing it. But when you step back a little bit you realize that it's like a whole new mechanic or a mechanism you’re creating there. Only by executing the actions and the implication of other poetic means are already there. Just by performing them. And also in this specific example I was interested… Yeah, in this like <sewn?> between yes and between no. And how sound does create a soul poetic story only by the color of sound how you say that word.
— This is very interesting. So this is like a co-production, co-creation between a performer and a composer which brings like a new quality to the idea and to the pieces. And in relation to this piece, Yes yes no no and so on, I would like to know, is it important like the semantic of the words, like their very specific meaning? Is it important or the sonic ways of doing it are more important? I understand that there are meanings behind the words but maybe when they are overlapped and so on. So maybe this meaning kind of diffuses or goes away?
— No, I think the meaning is created through the sound of the words and through their arrangement especially. So you have… If you say: yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes no yes yes yes no no yes yes no no no no no no! You immediately see the switch between the two. And the amount of repetitions, the color you use, if it goes high, if it goes down, if it… You know, it’s like… You have one and zero basically, and with one and zero, you know, a computer can emulate a whole world. And this is nothing else than that.
— So from this binary code you kind of create a whole piece. And actually when I saw the title even actually without hearing the piece, before hearing the piece, I had this thought of trying to decide for it and switch it to another system maybe and to see something that is even behind the title, like an image behind it. Even visually it worked before I heard, before I had the chance to hear this sound, before I heard a fragment on YouTube.
YES YES NO NO YES NO NO NO
YES YES NO NO YES NO NO NO
— I would like to ask you also another question about the starting point of composing. So your pieces are very united, everything is well-connected, so it’s the movement and gestures and video and sound. And actually up to very specific timbre or ways of sounding, ways of sound. So do you work on… How do you work on these several media? Do you work on them simultaneously or do you have to add layers one over another? What is the way?
— This is very different from time to time. So mostly… You have to start somewhere, no? So you… It’s not possible to think everything at the same time. It’s like… Maybe if you compare it to classical orchestration or orchestra piece, you don’t start writing into one hundred staffs at the same time. You start with one line and you create a kind of sense at the beginning and there is the end and you start peeling up this line. Then you think, yeah, that is nice, maybe I add something here and then I add something here and maybe you have like three lines going from the beginning to the end and they make sense. And then you start adding the colors, and you start adding the oboes, adding the clarinet. You say, ah, this comes maybe in the cello, and this… Only this one page maybe in the piano. And things like that.
And basically if you work with layers and music layers it’s not so different. You search for connections of course. What happens is you colorize on an intellectual level more than on a… Yeah, solely musical level. Because immediately if you have a picture, if you have a sound, you connect them and it changes either the sound or it changes either the picture. If you have only the picture and you have no sound, it has a different meaning. And if you have only sound and no picture it also has a different meaning. But as soon as they come together they influence, they have… create a tension and you can think into this tension. Once I’ve found what I want to express with this tension between the two layers, I start tweaking this. And then I know, okay, maybe this should go more in another direction, maybe this should more go in this direction. And therefore I have to tweak more the picture and therefore I have to tweak more the sound. But at the beginning is always the sound. So, you know, naturally as I come from composition or from the musical background… This is, yeah, this is what I learned best. And then I add pictures. I mean I grew up as a digital native. And basically it’s probably normal for me. I mean, for all the people out there who are not in the composing, solely in the composing bubble, they use Instagram everyday, they use Tik Tok, they use Facebook and they see videos. And under the video is a sound. And they hear sound and mostly above the sound is a video. And you are used to it, everybody’s used to it. And it would be a pity not to use it if you can do it. If you have every option in the world, why not do it?
— Yes, in the world that we are living in and like very diverse, very sounding and very visually bright. I think it is quite a pity not to use it, definitely. But there is quite a common opinion that I’ve heard from different people is that when you have any visualization of the sonic piece, for example, that it comes much more simple for you to perceive. Especially with contemporary music. There is this sort of simplifying complicated sonic structures with visual addition. So what is your opinion on that, do you think that it happens?
— I think you can of course simplify it. But this would rather not be the direction I would be interested in, or like I would be interested in seeing a performance that simplifies more complex music for the sake of being more comprehendible.
A.E.Frank - noise is a common sound - II
Noise is a common sound II
— I would like to talk more in detail about maybe your project. So could you talk a little about your piece called Restore Factory Defaults, maybe about the initial starting point in your work, maybe… How much roll is given in the initial part working with performers or with other people. And later question, I really like how you work with different contexts in your pieces so it’s very ironic in many ways. So maybe you could comment on that as well regarding this piece.
— So Restore Factory Defaults was a collaboration with Anne-May Krüger. She is a singer and musicologist living in Basel. When I wrote this piece I actually was in the last year of my studies. So it was also little bit of a kick off a new time and ending of another time. And for me also a discovery or a kind of continuation of a series of works which were using video and light to frame musical actions and performative actions. And to shape them, to put them in a different light, to only show small fragments of an action that leads to a sound and so on. The piece was created in the context of Nono. And comprehending Nono’s La Fabbrica Illuminata because Anne-May did a research project on Nono’s LaFabbrica Illuminata. And the idea was to connect to that work somehow. And Nono’s Fabbrica… There were many ideas how to connect, but they had to find a way to connect with the work and still keep my artistic freedom. Because I’m actually not so interested in doing a piece that works with parameters of Nono’s piece or something. So I just wanted to see what’s the basic idea behind Nono’s piece and I was definitely not interested in how he was arranging pitches or how he was arranging time and so on. For me, the most profound and the most basic thing about Nono’s piece is the idea of alienation of the worker, of the Gattungswesen, of the species-essence. And this is what I took a starting point for my piece. And in this case of course everybody knows Marx and everybody knows his theory about the alienation of the species-essence of the worker in the context of rising capitalism. And I wanted to transfer this basic idea of performing as an artist, as a singer especially here.
At the beginning you know you write on paper and you don’t know what it is. But I knew it must be some kind of character and the character is the stage, the character is the projection, the sound, the everything what’s around and what is connected to the electronic rhythm. And on the other hand, you have the singer with the pure voice and actually it’s amplified. And she sits in a special chair that can turn. So basically what you see is a kind of museum torso and it’s being in a huge immersive projection and it’s being illuminated. And it’s being framed. Sometimes you only see this part, sometimes you only see the arm, sometimes you only see the finger. And it snaps, or it does this [shows middle finger], or it does this [shows palm]. And there is a sound context realizing that. And sometimes you see letters appearing over the head contextualizing what she’s saying at the same moment. And this whole machinery build around her is basically designed to work against her performance. So basically she’s trying to perform and all the time something is happening which makes it complicated to execute her actions which are already more difficult enough. And also she’s using… In the singing part itself it’s not really about singing, it’s about rhythmical array of actions for a vocalist. And it starts with vocal clicks like [shows]. Inhaling, exhaling, laughing, but everything is so [minutely] notated that you have to follow it exactly in order to make musical gestures. Like a polyphonic arrangement within one vocal line. And this polyphonic arrangement develops with the time.
And at the beginning it’s only sounds that start making stands and building phrases, building music, building text, building sound. And it’s like a whole organism that’s evolving and evolving andevolving and by time starts to tell a story. And to conclude, there wasn’t this idea, okay, there is this machine and there is the singer, the singer realizes that the machine is working against her and prompting the machine is copying the singer and creating alter egos of her and she has to sing against it and it’s kind of an epic battle. And she realizes that the only way to get out of this would be to sing faster than the speed of light (as the video projections are made of light). And she is singing with the sonic speed, she will never overcome the speed of light. And then there is like this theatrical, poetic moment where she tries and fails of course. And the machine kind of wins with a twinkle. It was kind of there I gave the piece.
— So basically the singer has to overcome herself every time? So doing more than she ever be able to, to be in time to get over the context surrounding her. Do I understand you correctly?
— Yeah, totally. So it basically gets into this absurd thought of being able to sing faster than the speed of light. Which is of course not possible. But this is kind of the moment where the piece breaks. And it gets into this absurdity and this timeless space or void. Exactly. And I think also everybody gets it and everybody realizes that this is not really absurd. And in this moment the pieces changes also in color and change in like theatrical color.
— So it’s a race that you never win which gives a new kind of quality to everything that is taking part.
— Yeah, I think the problem is just that you’re willing to accept the race. And in the moment you’ve accepted you lose. And that’s about that actually. But it’s funny to see and it’s like, you know, the act, we all have the situation so often that we’re accepting deadlines or we’re accepting work that we know we can never achieve and give in time. It’s a little bit of all that, too. And maybe life in general is the same, no? You think of so many things and actually at the end you can only achieve a fraction of it. If you’re realistic. But, I mean, we’re talking to a composer who’s trying to think about a million things and at the end it’s always a fraction of it that comes out. And even the recipient or the person who’s listening, you don’t know what he’s grasping of it. You see understanding, you see only understanding a fraction, you see understanding you right, yeah.
Restore Factory Defaults (2017) - Andreas Eduardo Frank
Restore Factory Defaults
— Yes, we all have our own perception and background. Everybody can see their own meaning in every piece and every race of some sort. Somebody may not be capable of admitting that this confrontation has a meaning only when you realize the confrontation is going on and that it’s impossible to really end it. Yes, with a positive outcome. So this is quite interesting and cool. The piece is so connected with our constant understanding of us in the world very changing drastically. Yeah, I think that’s very amazing. And art is also… You know, art that also reflects a scene, the reflection of your own life.
So I have maybe a technical question. That the piece was written for a specific performer, for a certain person, working with her. But if somebody else were to perform the piece, would you have to maybe create another version of it, just because it’s another person, another hero, another character as well?
— So actually the possibility would be there, but the amount of work to create a second… So the whole first part, the first half of the piece would immediately be able to be performed by another person who is trained and who has a full understanding of how to perform the performance part. But as soon as the alter egos come in you would have to record all these bits again and pace them into… Like probably use the whole video again. And actually I have many pieces that work like that. And now, working on a new line of pieces which make it more possible to exchange the video and to reproduce the video with your own material. And so… This is an intense and immense amount of work. And this would be a task for the future too to make my works more reproducible for other people. And actually this is the case not for all my newer things. Because I of course also want the works to be open and to be democratized and to be populated by the people from over the world. So they are able to discover it from this for themselves. And yeah, this is a big thing I’m aware of and working on right now. And sometimes it’s of course good. But I’m a fan of an open architecture and an open structure and yeah. This is definitely future task to program environments that in this case you would for example be able to like quickly record within an hour your own performance version for it and then a program samples it automatically like… Here, have your package. Working on that.
— In connection with this topic of collaboration and connection between a composer and a performer. Also, well, It’s correlated with the lockdown we’re all in. You had to look for very different ways, maybe not concerts only but also communication in general and working on projects. Did you have any experience of finding, or have you discovered maybe new ways of collaborations or maybe working with your ensemble or with other performers? So did you have any insights within this lockdown period concerning new ways of communication? That’s the question.
— Yeah. So actually this corona period was for me a time… I know it sounds a little bit weird, but actually it was quite a fruitful time. Because I managed to transform a lot of projects into new formats, into online projects and discover new realities which I would have never done. So I think creating art is also a way of always readapting to your circumstances and still reaching out and saying what you want to say through your works. And the result is just you adapt the form.
So basically I developed a corona piece together with the Neue Vocalsolisten in Stuttgart. I was actually living for six weeks in the theater house. Basically there where we were rehearsing, that was my room. There was a rehearsal space and the rehearsal space was also the space where we then recorded the online performance. The initial idea was that we have a small fraction of audience, limited because of corona, in the space. Then we have the stage with huge video projections and singers that… And the video projections were like human height, like the glass panels painted in white hanging from the ceiling. And the singers were also there. But the other way, like in the Restore Factory Defaults, they had a full body but the head was covered by this plexiglass in the beginning. And the audience in the internet had to open their camera for the performance and then they were project on to the heads of the singers. So you had the online audience watching the performance via stream and promptly seeing their faces on the body of the singers. And they were singing and they were thinking and this was contextualized in itself in this <…> internet feedback club. In some scenes. In other scenes they had a chat where they could chat with the other participants of the audience. Or the singers were digitalized and were walking over your screen, over your phone.
And for this whole project I also worked together with a bunch of specialized programmers, communication designers, with basically what a stage designer would do in an opera but for digital performance. And this whole project was called SuperSafeSociety and it was dealing with four scenarios of the future institute in Germany which I created a white paper which is called The corona effect. And it was dealing about four different topic scenarios about the outcome of corona. And I just took them and let them collide all the time again, sheets out of the piece. And also in my words it’s never about saying this is good or this is bad, it’s just about showing contrasts and letting them collide and retrieving the energy from that. And you can decide for your own what you want. But I think it always needs a little bit of radicality and I think the action of creating a pit where ideas can collide against each other. It’s already… Yeah, it’s more my approach. Rather than saying this is good or this is bad.
— So both projects were shown online? Or was it also with the public still? Like a tiny bit of public?
— Yeah. We were not allowed to lead the people in the audience room. So we had people from the staff. We had like five persons or something like this in the room which were really present additional to singers. And then we had everybody in these online rooms we created. And then they were connected all with each other and they could see themselves on the stream by the cameras and things like this. It was a huge thing. And actually we are doing out of everything that we learned here.
We are doing a new piece in the next ECLAT Festival in Stuttgart February. And so the idea of this whole thing was that we want to keep the magic of performance, of the performance situation somehow, and for that the synthesis of the performance has to happen in your living room on your computer in front of you. And this is the only way how you can really feel art being created. Because if you have just the screen and you film the performance and you see the reproduction of the film it’s not so thrilling. But if you see that your computer is generating gifs out of yourself and other singers and they are walking over the screen, then it’s somebody talking here, does like seem coming out of like virtual scene that is going, the scene is going on your phone, everything’s sounding here and there and it’s interacting then it’s another kind of experience with works or with the means of what we are actually capable of doing. Yeah, just be creative, just use the gadgets we have to make something funny and comprehendible instead of trying to reproduce what we are doing in another situation.
— Yes, that’s a very new artistic kind of task to find this, the way how digital things work with live audiences in front of their laptops. So as if we don’t have any choice and we have to listen to only recordings or only online concerts being recorded. This is a possibility to find new way of dealing with… And I would love to take part as the audience in a future project.
— Then you have to come definitely for the next edition of the ECLAT Festival. It will be also possible for online people to participate in a performance in this room and to experience a complete… And everything. Yeah, it will be called Hyphemind. And it will be about networks, it will be about mushrooms, it will be about the living form of mushrooms and what the humans learn of a mushroom network, of a hypha, of micelles [mycelium]. It’s about transhumanism, it’s about uploading your mind into a digital hypha organism which you call the “hyphemind”. And you will be a part of it as an online visitor and we will upload our minds in the room, in the concert room.
— It’s quite a very interesting image that you have, the hypha, this connection with… The internet is usually drawn as a web coming from like… And a hypha is something very natural and digital, they are connected and I think this is quite cool and very nice. So, can’t wait for the project. So I’m waiting for it. The project that you talked about first, the Neue Vocalsolisten project with… So there is also sort of kind of this virtual reality and reality being intertwined, like maybe the person standing on the border between that and not really maybe understanding the border. So is there… Did I understand correctly that there is such a thing as one of the ideas?
Yeah, of course. Intertwining reality, digital reality. And going to the border of what is real, what is not real, what can we comprehend, what can’t we comprehend. This is what interests me, yes.
— The dialogue and the interview is very interesting, I’m up to wrapping up maybe. I think that your work is quite, like very important for everybody now because everybody is balancing between the new world, very connected with virtual reality, and media connected with virtual reality almost 100%.
So I want to ask a very general, very wide question, maybe it’s a naïve one. So now the borders, the boundaries of music are being expanded like to a very very big extent. And the composers are using very many tools in creating their pieces. So how would you… In what words would you describe what is music to you? So the musical maybe aspect of the piece? Just in general, so what is left to really? Like a definition. How would you define music now? So what is music and what is musical in the context of the piece?
— I think the music for me is always an utopic space. And it brings a lot of heritage. And you should never forget that you learn your sensory capacities as a human, as being a biomachine. And your ears are one part of the system. I think music is not limited through the years but it’s definitely connected to the experiences of hearing and the experiences of you having heard a thousand sounds, million, a billion, I don’t know. But using the knowledge of this experience and building a utopic realm, this is music for me.
— So did you say like bringing it in the utopic form?
I think like the form of art in general is creating a utopic space where you can think in two. And with a heritage of having heard huge number of experiences, a huge number of sounds, and with knowing this and putting it into context of what you are designing as an experience, this is music for me. The tension you create between the experience you have as a human being in censoring your environment with your ears and with your senses and what you create as an experience from a standpoint of, yeah, starting with the ears, this is music for me. And of course it can start there and go into other forms of art. There is no need for boundaries. And I think it’s more in general about talking about art, it’s just a dealing with experience, contextualizing it and putting it into a complex of thoughts that the creator or the composer in this case… Yeah, thought for you to think of and to reexperience them. So for me it’s always about creating an utopic space where you can collide with yourself and with your own thoughts.
— So generally music is also about ourselves learning? When we are trying ourselves and trying our experience?
— Totally, yeah.
— In comparison with something.
— It’s about learning. It’s totally about learning, reacting. A piece where you don’t learn anything is a boring piece. But if you learn it’s the most boring piece ever, I think you learn more than a piece that’s medium boring. Anyway. Just. Yeah. You want, everybody wants to experience things. And it is what is it about at the end, no? Often also I have the impression that composers, especially young composers, I mean I’m also still a young composer I guess, but… Just it’s important to keep in mind that there are people, they want really to experience it and they deserve also a chance to do it. So yeah, create something that is enjoyable and there’s nothing wrong about it. But at the same time if you can load it up with interesting thoughts, with controversial thoughts, with musical ideas that are not thought before. Then for me it’s quite attractive art. And I want to see it, I want to listen to it, I want to experience it. I’m <hungry> for new thoughts always. And then also very impressed if something is very what I have not seen and tasted or thought before. It’s one of the most beautiful feelings I can imagine.
— Thank you very much for the interview and your answers. It is also an experience for me to an extent learning things concerning art and it’s always interesting to learn, to see the view from the other side of the art from creating it. I hope that we meet at ECLAT next year with your new piece.
— Thank you for the interview, it was a pleasure to talk to you.