Sunday, May 15, 2011

Interview: Strotter Inst.

At the beginning of the month, I was lucky enough to get my socks blown off by Strotter Inst, a.k.a. Christoph Hess, a Nordic mad scientist who has modified a series of turntables into some retrgrade form of drum machine, and feeds them fragments of destitute twelve-inch corpses to produce hypnotic industrial polyphony.  I was so enthused I took the time to send him a few questions, and he was generous enough to answer them. (All photos courtesy of Strotter's website).

Q: This was your first time to Japan, what did you think about it?

A: I just stayed for one week, but I have had a great time impressed by the whole town, meeting all these nice and friendly people. And it was big fun to play again with SXQ from Tokyo, after we met on a Russian tour in

Q: Are the audiences here much different than what you’re used to?

A: As I am lucky to play in very different kind of venues and scenes, I'm used to very different audiences. But I had hardly seen such an enthusiastic one like in Tokyo. Another point is the volume the concerts were played and no one was using earplugs...

Q: How long did it take you to develop this technique? Did the idea come to you all at once, or did you start out doing more conventional turntable performance?

A: To play like I'm doing was just good luck. Cause back in the 80s I used to listen a lot to noise and industrial music. But the records were often limited or too expensive for me to buy. So I tried to cut out the grooves of bad pop-vinyls by replacing the diamond of my old turntable by a sewing-needle. It didn't work really, but by doing this there were suddenly quite interesting tunes I could listen to. So I went on trying
different ways of treating and manipulating. Since then every time I play I find new possibilities.  Before I never thought of becoming a musician.

Q: How much are you improvising, and how much of each performance is, more or less, orchestrated?

A: That depends much on the venue or occasion I am playing. Sometimes I prepare a kind of partitur but its not possible to control everything that happens. Second I try to react on the specific qualities of the space and the PA.

So its half improvised and half orchestrated.

Q: You have a lot of different cartridges that you switch out during a performance. Could you describe some of these? What are the differences between them, and how did you modify them?

A: Whenever I see a turntable someone don't want anymore I take the cartridge. If the needle is still working I use it like that, cause they sound quite different. If they are broken I replace the diamond by sewing needles,
nails, wires, steel-spring etc. As my soldering is quite archaic I never know what happens. By listen to them on different materials or treated vinyls I decide which ones I'm going to use.

Q: What brand of turntables are you using? At first glance I thought they looked a bit older, with those thick platters, but up close they seem pretty nice.

A: I use usually Lenco turntables. They were made in the 70 by a swiss plant, and they were quite famous so I can still find them in flea-markets for a few bucks.

I like them as objects and they are very well made so they bear my - sometimes - rude treatment. Second each Lenco has got the same head-shell, so that I can change them quickly and they fit always.

Third they are constructed with an amp and I can easy plug them to the PA
by the headphone-output.

A: Do you consider the music or the performance to be the more important part of what you do? The sounds are amazing, but there’s also an amazing visual element, just watching the process.

Q: For playing live its always both. The first live impact is as installations, then the sounds start to grab the listeners' attention. The auditive level surpasses the visual one. Therefore, the optical
comprehension of how the sound is generated plays an important role. In
this way its easy to catch the audience...

By recording for a record its just the sound.

A: Is there a particular meaning or idea behind the shirt and tie? It seems it’s a persistent part of your performances.

A: I think the turntables should be the recognized as the musicians. Shirt and tie are a kind of maskerade in a traditional way. By putting it on and off, the start and the end [of the performance] is somehow visualized too.

Q: Musically, much of what you’re doing seems like a sort of primitive techno or electronic dance music. Did you set out to make this sort of sound, or was it a consequence of your method of making music?

A: The basic part of my machinery is turning, which includes repetition as my starting point. In this sense it gets a certain techno-approach. But as I'm playing with several turntables its hardly impossible to trigger them.
For this I think my music is closer to serial or minimal music. I like very much to play with polyrhythmic changing.

Q: I’m very curious about how serious artists make their livings. What do you do professionally?

A: As I have studied architecture I still gain my money by working as a part time employee in an architecture-studio.

Q: Europe is generally regarded as having great funding for the arts. Have you ever benefitted from that?

A: To play out of Europe the Swiss fund Pro Helvetia and the City/Canton Bern support me sometimes. It wouldn't have been possible for me to come to Tokyo without these. They paid me the ticket. As the audience is usually not very big for this kind of music the venues wouldn't be able to pay the

Q: Finally, would you like to recommend some other artists for readers to check out?

A: It is difficult pick out a few, my likes range from Contemporary Music to Apocalyptic Folk and even Pop...

So I recommend (beside the bands Herpes Ö DeLuxe and Sum Of R, where I am both a member of) following three labels who helped me to bring out my records: Public Guilt, Hinterzimmer Records, Everest Records.

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