by Klas Sjögren
This is the formal part of the interview with Mego audiotravellers Pita, Fennesz and Bauer. This crew gave the Stockholm audience some of the most challenging and exciting sounds around. Me (Klas Sjögren) and Mikael Stavöstrand met them at Fylkingen during their first visit to Sweden and the Nursery Injection Festival in Stockholm.
All Questions = Klas Sjögren
Pita = Peter Rehberg
Fennesz = Christian Fennesz
Bauer = Ramon Bauer
1. Your music takes elements from electroacoustic music, minimalism and combines with modern day techno. Is this a concious development?
Pita: No (laughs), I don't know, we just approach sound... I mean we're all from populist circles, we have no academic background in musicmaking and I think maybe the way it might sound electroacoustic may come from the software we use and we're very open how we throw sounds in and a lot of emphasis is on the kind of samples we use and maybe it comes out sounding a bit academic and we are interested in academic music but it's never been a plan for us to go: Right, there's a concept behind it.
2. Do you borrow from old composers. It almost sounded like Wagner for a while last night...
Pita: Yeah, that was from last week. Ramon and me were playing at the Holland festival in Amsterdam and the brief there was that we were given a five cd box of the whole Holland festival and it's 50 years of classical and contemporary music and the second set we used samples from that piece. So that was like...
Bauer: ...an accident (laughs)...
Pita: yeah, an accident but also a commission for us to do. So that's loaded up in our system.
3. But it's nothing concious. You go after your emotions.
4. Like Aube, he regards everything as sound design. He designs everything. Music doesn't exist as a term for him. So he puts together music the same way he does when he's working with industrial design... it's a bit different.
Fennesz: ...it's different.
Bauer: We accept music as music...
Fennesz: Yeah, and it's also a result of many different interests in music and a mixture of those maybe.
Pita: In our Powerbooks we have loads of different kinds of samples and depending on what the location is and how we feel at the time we can with just a touch of a button go: Right, out come the classical samples, but if we get a bit... could be a banging stomping techno sample, that's the beauty of it all. We're free to really improvise with sound.
Bauer: Our set is not fixed up so you go from city to city and play your set so we can really say: This location is quite uh-huh so we could make tonight uh-huh and yeah...
5. But still, you do have underlying structures?
Pita: Oh yeah.
6. There seems to be nuances in the set...
Bauer: Of course, it's not pure improvisation.
Pita: There's startpoints, middlepoints and endpoints. There's markers and within the markers there's...
Bauer: The way...we have a way to make it so we find each other at a certain point when we play together... then we maybe spread up and then we come together at this point.
7. Did you set out goals with the Mego label and where will it go in the future. Do you just work as you go along or do you have a masterplan for the label?
Pita: Just putting out good music from people we like and that doesn't necessary mean there's no generic...
Bauer: There's no musical code that we have to follow for the next 50 years. It's quite open and up to what's in our collective minds in a way.
Pita: There's people who send us tapes with sort of scratchy, glitschy noises on them... they say this would be good for Mego and we go: we've already done that.
Bauer: Recently we have released a football fanclub record. Next will be... you can see more than you'll hear on the next record.
Pita: Very sub-bass...
Bauer: Negative ideas and a very "technology" record. The next will be from a performergroup called Fuckhead. They're extreme performers and Christian is gonna bring out a limited 7 inch with two cover versions. One of the Rolling Stones and one of the Beach Boys so if you can find a line in between...
8. You seem to regard at the same time the ideas with the label as serious but it still has a playfulness to it...
Pita: Yeah, serious fun...
Fennesz: Yes, that's very important.
9. Cause if you listen to Oval, for example, he seems to be very serious and academic about this but you seem to treat the music as...
Pita: It's treading the fine line between pop and academic. It's a very fine line, isn't it? It's true, there's a lot of people in academic circles that are just too serious and they have no humour and I think humour is very important, especially black humour, being british I have a very ironic wit...
Bauer: Quite similiar to the austrian humour.
Fennesz: Also I think it's very interesting to search for that fine line between academic and pop and this is exactly the most interesting thing to music, I think.
Bauer: This is really what we're following since last year. This fine line is the most interesting for us. We don't want to be in the pop-genre or in the academic genre. The interesting thing is the inbetween.
Fennesz: It could be compatible to both sides.
Bauer: There's a space you can work on otherwise you'll end up in files. This is the Mego-files, this is the... I don't know what, but we don't want to be in that.
10. Still do you have ideas of where the label will go in the future?
Pita: Just putting out good cds. High quality control and design. That's the brief basically. We have to like the people. If we don't get along...they have to get over to our place and hang around. It's a social thing as well.
Bauer: We get good music from say, Australia or somewhere. If the contact is not there, we can't bring it to the point a good release should have because everyone should understand what comes out. It's not a thing with the graphic design, of the musician, of the label, of the PR. It must fit into one form and everyone has to know what's going on with this release. You have to have the contact.
11. You all have soloprojects. How would you say your soloprojects differ from collaborating with other musicians?
Fennesz: In my case it's maybe...my soloproject is just trying to release cds. The part of improvisation when I play live is not as large as when I play with Pita, Jim O'Rourke or Ramon. It's still fifty-fifty.
12. You mentioned the tour with Jim O'Rourke. How did that work out?
Pita: Very good.
13. Was it pure improvisation?
Fennesz: In the end it changed a little bit.
Pita: It was ten shows in ten days. It was all improvised but we ended up like, show five, knowing exactly when that sample starts, he starts that... so our set was built up... it wasn't really planned like that. There was no discussion, there were no rehearsals before, it just flowed into the set...
Fennesz: It got its direction after a while.
14. So did it get boring at the end or...
Fennesz: No, no, at the end you'd know what to do. If Pita plays that Madonna sample I would do this and...
Pita: ...Jim gets his James Bond thing out. (laughs) It was very good fun actually...
Bauer: Quite academic. (laughs)
Pita: The shows were very relaxing. We all got on very well with each other and enjoyed each others company and did some good shows.
15. Are there any future projects planned?
Fennesz: Yes, there'll be another part of that tour in September, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and we're planning to release a cd from those shows. We recorded everything on Mini-disc.
Pita: This needs time to be listened to and sifted through...
Fennesz: a lot of material to edit...
16. Are you going to manipulate those sounds too?
Fennesz: I don't think so, are we? Just master, maybe.
Pita: Maybe just take a block from each show. The best bits.
17. Like you said, many labels have come after you. Do you feel at all affiliated with contemporary labels working in similar domains, such as A-musik or Mille Plateux and Touch?
Pita: Touch are our english partners. A-musik started at the same time as us. They're parallell. We have close links to A-musik 'cause they have mail-order and small distribution so we're like mirroring their activities. Mille Plateaux, we have basically no contact with at all, which doesn't really bother me that much.(laughs) Staalplaat in Holland, of course. In Japan we have people like Digi in Osaka, so everywhere there's pockets of individuals... I wouldn't say that we're all the same but we have the same basic vision for how to do things and what comes out is different, of course, because if it'd all be the same it would be a bit boring.
18. Do you see the possibility of it all becoming a circle...
Bauer: It's a network.
Pita: It's really a network, a circuit, 'cause we travel around a lot and we see the same people and the people we know have been playing there before, for example Panasonic are coming tonight and we've met them about four times this year at different locations. It's a global network of about a thousand people. Whether it's gonna get any bigger...
Bauer: It will, of course.
19. The Mego label seems to want to combine state of the art disciplines such as computer science together with music and arts. How do you work as a collective and combine these disciplines?
Pita: Well, it's because each of us has different interests and backgrounds. I come from a more DJ, record-selling sort of collecting kind of thing. Tina is a graphic designer and does all the visual sides and that's her interest. Ramon is a musician and is interested in the whole administrative side of things and Andi, who lives in Berlin, is a technician. So we all have our backgrounds and that fuses together. It's very important when you have an organization that everyone has, not straight jobs, but functions otherwise it gets confusing. Andi, if we have any technical problems, we phone him up or e-mail him...
Bauer: ...he sets systems up that we've worked on for years...
Pita: He's a real background technician type.
20. Which things in life influence you when you work, when you put together soundfiles. Do you at all consider your mind when you make music? Do you work with your own emotions?
Bauer: It's normally a basic idea, which we try to follow in a way and this way of following an idea, a lot of these ideas a lot of things can happen and we let it happen. It's my personal way of things. If I have an idea, I follow it and what happens on the way and what is good and what interests me I will follow, I don't have to go from the idea to the final product so on the way a lot could happen. I could go in a completely different direction.
Pita: Also mistakes.
Bauer: Yeah, we like mistakes a lot. (laughs)
Pita: Whenever something goes wrong we don't throw it away, we keep it and follow that line. Most of our samples of old are just things that are broken or not working, which is an interesting angle 'cause there's so much computermusic which is so clean, programmed and exact so it's good to get a bit more dirt within the system.
21. Some people, I'm referring to Aube again, who can totally disconnect his feelings from his musicmaking. I have a hard time understanding that 'cause I get caught up in this music. It's like million things come... it's like I wrote... if you connected a printer to my brain it would be overloaded... Do you get caught up in the music yourselves while you're making it?
Fennesz: Yeah, I can only speak for myself but I must say I'm very interested in emotions in music. For me that's very important. I don't want to separate emotions from my music.
Pita: This might be because he's japanese and we're european. It's a different approach.
22. I see europeans going the same way, Oval again...
Pita: Well, he's german. (laughs) Germans can't follow their emotions. They have no emotions. (laughs)
Fennesz: I don't mean melodramatic feelings or anything. Just to get into musicmaking and enjoying music.
23. Who came up with the idea to record the sound of refrigerators?
Bauer: And we told him that it was possible. That was the start. (laughs)
Pita: That was just a pub discussion with my good friend Bruce Gilbert. We often have long discussions in pubs and certain things come up. Not all of them get followed through but that was one of the ideas that actually got realized. That's an influence. It's all from real life as well. There's too many artists who live in a bubble and don't have any connection to the real world. Refrigerator makes a sound. Why can't it be used?
24. Is it like you're walking downtown and hear this sound that might be interesting and you record it?
Bauer: It could be environmental sounds of all kinds. When General Magic is doing something it's a kind of soundtrack of daily life in a way. So, if we're listening to radio and something happens there which is interesting for the brain we take it and we make something out of it. We could make a track out of a carcrash or something. That's interesting.
25. PC or Mac?
Bauer: To be creative in a way. PC has other things to do. Like in communications, routing and serving. You can use a Mac to be creative. It's visuals, it's graphics, it's music, you can use the Macintosh.
Fennesz: It got better in the last two years, PC. There's a lot of good music software for the PC now but it's still easier to work on a Mac.
Bauer: ...but it's template software, which you have on a PC. We like to use open software so you can make individual stuff with it and that's not really possible on PC programs at the moment. If it can't offer a bassline machine or vocoders on PC...
26. What do you see when you're standing all three of you staring at the screens...
Fennesz: It looks boring, I know. (laughs)
27. Do you have sound files there on your graphic user interface and you...
Pita: ...can change them, yeah.
Fennesz: It's kind of a realtime sampler so you can change any parameter in realtime.
Pita: It's like any other electronic piece of equipment but instead of it being like boxes and stuff, it's all faders and switches but it's all on the screen. You can control them in that way. It's now all compacted into one thing. Before it would have been a whole bank of synthesizers. It's more practical, that's all.
28. Right, I think that's all if you don't have anything to add.
Pita: I want one of these books. (pointing at the History of Fylkingen book) (laughs)
Fennesz: We can play here. (laughs)
Pita: We can have an artist residency here for a week.
Bauer: We could make a good record here. Perform it live at the end.
Mikael: At the EMS?
Bauer: That would be really interesting.
Mikael: we'll go down and check out the studios.
29. Do you have any questions, Mikael?
Mikael: What did you think of last night?
Pita: It was excellent. It's really interesting, 'cause we were on the boat before in Rostock and we didn't enjoy that at all and we come to the same location in a different city, it's a different atmosphere altogether. That's a very interesting situation.
Bauer: I haven't been on the boat before and I really enjoyed it very much.
© Klas Sjögren 4.7.98
Mego website: www.mego.at