"Jesus! By what devil I have been ridden...??"

Interview with Cyrill Schläpfer by Bart Plantega for Radio Patapoe FM, Amsterdam, March 2008

BP: How are you? Did you have a decent start into 2008?

CS: Hopefully yes. For my part I did it playing the accordion in a  cantina  in Luzern... I guess ["Die Waeldstatte"] was just too much of a cargo for any  consumer. I try not to reflect about WHAT I have done all these past  years: "JESUS: By what devil I have been ridden...??"

BP: And the reviews?

CS: I had some quite enthusiastic reviews in the press for being a  "maniac" and having created a monster product. I really cannot complain  about decent articles, but that "thing" has not yet proved to be something people want to buy. But we have to face reality: nobody spends money anymore to buy  "soundcarriers", this was custom from the previous century.... At the moment all the articles in German are listed under:


BP: And the visuals for this 4-CD, 3-DVD boxset plus photos and liner notes!!?

CS: As you know, adding pictures to the soundtrack was my desperate attempt  to make the "thing" a little bit more accessible to an audience. So I was surprised and very pleased at being invited to present "The Waldstätte" last January as an "experimental music  film" that opened the Swiss Filmfestival in Solothurn ... The feedbackfrom the festival: the festival audience LEFT the theatre [before the end of the film], BUT in a review in the flagship NZZs, the senior film critic applauded it as "the outstanding artistic contribution to the festival..." As you know, this is balsam for the soul, but does not pay the rent.

BP: People, general cinema-goers, etc. are always grumbling about the critics hating everything. But actually, it is often a critic who is MORE open to a new [non-Hollywood] film than general audiences who have taken on the identity of consumers, consumers of viewing product and thus view films as is expected of them as consumers.

CS: As part of a music film evening, last week, I showed it as a single screening in 3 cinemas in Bern, Zurich and Luzern. The Zurich and  Lucerne shows were sold out. So I haven't lost all my confidence in the  future yet...  I, indeed, underestimated the pure heaviness of the film [DVDs] and how much  it demands of its listener/viewer. I get feedback from viewers such as: "overwhelming, deep-sea meditation, Swiss Darkness Video, pure  shamanismus, psychedelic water ballet, unnecessary, too long,  knocking out, left speechless etc."

BP: Well, this is a massive project, a labor of love - 4 cds and 3 dvds  devoted to the steamboats and paddleboats that cross Lake Luzern  filled with commuters and tourists, hikers, skiers and nature  lovers. What possessed you to do this project of documenting the  boats, the sounds they make?

CS: At the beginning, it was simply the horns, the ship-pipes, which I  love to hear; especially from far away, embedded in the natural  echoes of the mountains, the sounds travelling on the plane and smooth surface of the water. These are among the familiar sounds [of my environment] for me  like my mother tongue, church bells, cowbells, insects, birds, etc.... It's horrible to even think of not being able to hear these sounds anymore or  being concealed by the generic noise of our pornographic civilization.  That's why I recorded those sounds without the commuters and  tourists, hikers, skiiers and nature lovers, because they mask or  even eliminate its magic.

WTM: I know your family has a summer house there along beautiful Lake  Luzern. Does the project, the recording of the  steamboats, have  something to do with your memories as a child? Did the sounds enter your consciousness over the years?

CS: Sure, it is one of those important geographical places where these sounds have been burned into my brain forever.

BP: It took you a long time to realize this project. 9 years? What was the process for you? How did it get started? With field  recordings?

CS: 11 years! I started in 1996. It was never planned as some gigantic Moby Dick project. The initial idea was quite simple; a  field recording, along the shore, when the last regular daily cruise ends on 31 October, the last hour before the ships go to sleep for the winter in the docks... Sometimes the captains do an  unofficial horn-jam session (a little farewell concerto with steamboat  whistles). But in 1996 it was raining, and there were loud cars and traffic noises; the recorded material was disappointing. The following years, I got more interested and decided to board when they went out for technical test cruises without passengers. That was when I got in deep and surgical with my microphones and I discovered the  industrial beauty of the sound of old machines... machines that are still working after 100 years, having sailed for up to 2 million kilometers...

BP: After you had gather a number of field recordings of the sounds of the  boats, what did you think about it? Did you notice the different sounds that each boat makes? That they have their own personalities?

CS: Indeed, every ship has its characteristic acoustic fingerprint, its  own character. My personal discovery of doing this work was: material with a history has a soul, or its being charged with something  called " .... ", (this dos not include plastic though). That was the point I decided to make, by composing a musical piece, since I thought it was worth presenting to someone.

BP: I notice that one CD is comprised of what I would call  symphonies and so do you, in fact. They sound like compositions. How much did you manipulate the actual sound, the sampling/repetition of sound or enhancement or alter them with effects?

CS: For the symphony, I used exclusively sounds from the ships (whistles,  horns, metal, machines...) and water and natural ambience (birds,  winds, thunder, rain, etc.). I only pitched the sounds lower, trying to harmonize or find the harmony in correlation with what was going on before or after. Besides that, I did a lot of cutting and editing, (18,000 cuts in the symphony) and I reversed some of the sound. But there is absolutely no addition of electronic  synthesizer sound, or effects like reverb, filtering or any of those sound-producer gadgets or enhancers.

BP: What are the symphonies on CD1 [Symphonies] for you?

CS: I don't know yet. If or when I find a resonance, and find an  audience that would like to hear it or even hear it twice; it is only then that I would begin to call it "music".

BP: the 2nd CD seems to be a document of one trip, all of the sonic / audio details and visual details. How does that differ from CD1 in composition? Is it more integral and less composed?

CS: Exactly, CD2 is composed only of natural sounds, no acoustic morphing applied here. Still, I consider it a "composition" since you will not find such pure and unadultered sound in nature.  By which I mean: there is always acoustic pollution like planes, cars,  tourists, cash-machines, farts, crunching french-fries, microwave ovens, cellular phones....

BP: I appreciate that as a listener but I also like the intrusions. There are some on your other ambient [meadow/cowbell] series. Gunshots, thunder, a plane overheadŠ Meanwhile, CD3 is comprised of acoustic portraits of 5 or 6 different steamboats and here we get  to hear your interest in their characters and personalities as  distinguished from one another.Tthey each create their own atmosphere and have their own audio fingerprints.

CS: Exactly, no audio frauds here, all authentic, not a single frequency from another ship mixed together.

BP: CD4 you call the "lexicon" and reminds me of the  [especially the BBC] sound effects records. Here we have the  individual traits and aspects of each of the boats presented. Like  a personality chart. Why did you feel this was necessary?

CS: Yes, here my thought was: This specific CD is going to be my  financial safety-vest... I had the abstruse idea, that all the steam  boat freaks, the ship model builders, the museums will buy a CD with a listed sound/samples archive of their favorite ships.... This is an error on my part: I can not sell this CD neither.

BP: I understand that as an artist or maker of documentaries you would like to capture all of this on a personal level. But on a historical / environmental level, is it because these sounds are disappearing, because these boats are being replaced? What do  you hope to accomplish with this box set? [how many did you make by  the way?]

CS: This is exactly the question which burns painfully in my consciousness and unconscious thoughts: Why? goddamned WHY? I have no answer here. This leaves me somehow disillusioned and depressed. Again, I refer to the quote already cited: "By what devil have I been  ridden..." I will read Melville's Moby Dick again to find out.... At any rate; I WILL NOT consult a shrink. Generally speaking, I became  a musician because of the girls.

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