|On the occasion of the release of 'XVI Reflections on Classical Music', we talk to Lawrence and Hauschka, who feature on the album with exclusive tracks, and Me Raabenstein a.k.a. Slowcream, the curator of the project.|
The combination of classical music with electronic sounds might not exactly be a new concept - Pierre Schaeffer's musique concrète dates as far back as the 1940s, and countless composers in the wake of Stockhausen or Edgar Varèse have been dedicating much of their lifetime to the exploration of electronic sound sources.
Despite this history, 2009 has been a significant year so far in connecting serious music and contemporary experimental pop. Carl Craig and Moritz von Oswald have reworked Mussorgsky and Ravel for their 'ReComposed' album to much acclaim earlier this year, while Francesco Tristano's piano renditions of techno tracks have continued to generate headlines.
The latest project to negotiate this field is 'XVI Reflections on Classical Music', an album featuring some of the most high-profile artists working in the intersections of pop, club and classical music, such as Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, Sylvain Chauveau, the aforementioned Francesco Tristano and Gas.
Further contributors to the compilation are Hamburg's deep house master and co-owner of the well respected Dial label, Lawrence, prepared piano experimenter Hauschka, and Martin 'Me' Raabenstein, who compiled the 'Reflections' album and features on the selection with his Slowcream project. We have talked to the three about their personal classical music history, the genre's conservative image, and the importance of virtuosity in music today.
What is your personal relationship to classical music and how has it evolved over time?
Lawrence: I have been interested in 20th-century classical music for ages - composers like Messiaen, Varése, Xenakis. My friend Martin Hossbach, who worked for Universal Classics, had access to free tickets and we were downright addicted to Grisey, Penderecki, Ligeti. Today, I still visit classical concerts when I can, and very rarely, I even DJ classical music on special nights with my friends at the Golden Pudel Club.
Hauschka: My background is childhood classical piano lessions and church congregations, where I got in touch with Bach and all major composers. I associated classical music with older people as listeners and child prodigies as musicians - I didn't belong to either group, but it was still very emotional music. Today, classical music is much closer to me, comparable to jazz or pop. For me, this is somewhat liberating, and I can visit classical concerts with a more relaxed attitude.
Lawrence: 'Timelessness cannot be calculated' // photo: Ghostly International
Despite a long history of avant-garde composers, classical music has quite a conservative image today. What has gone wrong in the past 50 years that this image prevails?
Raabenstein: For the classical music business itself, nothing has gone wrong - 20th-century classical music has become established, entrenched and is defending its turf. The concert and opera audience will likewise defend its traditional and pleasantly mediocre position, banish anything new and ambitious with the power of their season tickets, and Bayreuth will stay Bayreuth forever. The very exciting music of Reich and Glass has been on the market for 30 years now as well.
Hauschka: From my rather distanced point of view, it seems that the classical music scene has tried to prevent the 'watering down' of its genre, closing itself off to modernisation and new influences. I have sometimes had the impression that too little has been invested in young rebellious composers, while what has been amassed over 400 years is being continuously rehashed up to the point where these young composers go somewhere else. This doesn't have to be, as there's a lot going on in classical music.
Lawrence: Classical music institutions as well as its scene have indeed remained closed off, but I have to admit I always loved this mustiness a little as well - the classical music audience can be pretty entertaining.
Different to genres like ambient or electronica, projects like 'Reflections' aim rather self-confidently at a redefinition of the traditional understanding of classical music. Lawrence or Hauschka at the Salzburg festival alongside Mozart and Verdi - is this imaginable or even desirable?
Hauschka: For me 'Reflections' is an opening, not a redefinition. Classical music is what it is. While my music takes classical music as an influence, it has made itself at home somewhere else. On the other hand, I could imagine playing the Salzburg festival with Lawrence, if it intends to change and appeal to people who would like to discover Mozart and Verdi for themselves.
Lawrence: The music presented on the album covers a wide open field, 'Reflections' is not about a common idea. The interesting thing is that strict concept, free experimentation , song and crackpot ideas reside side by side. Lawrence and Hauschka on the Salzburg festival would be like us playing the Mayday - I can't imagine this happening. Such events are rituals with maximized entertainment value.
Hauschka: ''Reflections' is an opening, not a redefinition' // photo: Volker Bertelmann
From another perspective, one could see a project like 'Reflections' as a return to ageless values in times of crisis, also for pop music. What can pop and club music adopt from classical music?
Lawrence: Such processes of appropriation are generally not very interesting to me - timelessness cannot be calculated. I also don't like the way classical music adopts the marketing strategies of pop music: packaging, faces, sex appeal, ... A project like 'Reflections' is quite the opposite - it doesn't try to sell a new trend to the mainstream.
Hauschka: I can reconcile with the idea of timelessness in times where everything is over quickly, and no one knows how to program a bass-drum figure so that it becomes a new musical revelation. I'm happy to see that people are still eager to find music that is new to them, and in this regard, it is negligible if pop informs classic or the other way around.
Raabenstein: If one of the artists represented on 'Reflections' would set his mind on working with Anna Netrebko, I would be interested to hear the result. However, the approaches are certainly very different. A composer like Greg Haines creates his music on a computer without the need for notation. This would be a large communication gap to bridge.
Virtuosity on your instrument is still regarded as very important in classical music. How relevant is the division between classically trained musicians and self-taught ones in times of computer-generated music?
Raabenstein: For a new branch to grow out of this, impulses are as well needed from so-called trained musicians - an interest in the exchange of approaches. It will take a long time, but this might also be a good thing - if a genre explodes into the mainstream it's usually dead two years later.
Hauschka: I have played with highly virtuosic musicians in the past. Not being one of them, it was great to see that they regarded my qualities, as different as they may be from theirs, as equal. Self-taught musicians have the gift of an unbiased approach and trained musicians possess experience and technique - both can only profit from each other.
Lawrence: I love dilettantism and improvisation, but a masterly musician, or a philharmonic orchestra cannot be replaced. Fortunately, this will never again be the goal of any musician working with a computer.