Burnt Friedman’s records don’t sound like anyone else making music today. The Berliner’s prolific back catalogue, which stretches back into the 1980s attests to his ability to draw on a plethora of genres, rhythms, and compositional processes spanning musical histories and continents and make them into something that sounds utterly unique.
In 2000 Friedman launched ‘Nonplace‘, a record label primarily for his solo work and collaborations with figures such as Jaki Liebezeit, AtomTM and, more recently, Daniel Dodd-Ellis. His far-reaching and eclectic mix for Inverted Audio serves up an hour of sounds that fans of Burnt Friedman will recognise: hypnotic polyrhythms, dubby corridors and cerebrally stimulating audio patterns narrate the listener from one end to the other.
In the interview below, Friedman speaks about why 2015 is likely to be a busy twelve months for him and the label, his regular performances at Freerotation Festival, the irony behind his artist name and his strong dislike for the word ‘krautrock’.
Please tell us a little bit about how you approached your mix. Is there a concept behind it or was it more of an intuitive approach?
I combined mostly instrumental, rhythmic, ritualistic or repetitive music that crosses presupposed boundaries between all sorts of traditional, art and popular music to allow the listener to convey the idea of binding character between the individual tracks, as well as substantial musical congruence between relatively isolated, tribal sounds and electronic producers that exist(ed) far away from each other.
You’re primarily known for your live performances. Is DJing something that appeals to you? Did you cut your teeth as a DJ or have you always been a proponent of live performance?
I have already radically downsized by deciding to mix pre-recorded materials during a live performance, instead of playing instruments amongst an ensemble of instrument players, which was the [norm] for me from 1979 to 1993 and it is only with feelings of unease that I refer to my music as being electronic.
Computers, electronic devices, music machines are mostly questioned and negotiated upon in terms of sound and style, but there are broader dimensions, for instance, exercising accurately repetitive grooves [need] not necessarily be initiated by machine features, but by a player for musical purposes. Track 3 (Orchestre Berlait- Sendang Berlait) and 4 (Orchestre Gulitangan Mulut- Gearsen) clearly show how restrained and accurate an ensemble can exercise patterns and pursue the idea of a steady state music.
Your music fuses elements of electronica, jazz, dub and kosmiche / krautrock music. Are you consciously drawing on different traditions when you’re in the studio and are you comfortable with the idea that you’re making fusion music?
Making music has always been making a fusion in the mere physical sense. Instead of stirring a multi-ethnic curry, I don’t feel obliged to any existing traditions and its connected territories. I consider the named terms as different creative methods having commonalities. Electronica, jazz, dub and the kraut-rock word contain a promise for me – something new, foreign to be retrieved from the material – yet discourses [up to] today dwell on ambiguous, yet disjunctive terms.
Kraut-Rock needs an extra explanation. Excuse me for bringing it up, not only being racist, it is a defamation to the proposed originators, insofar as the originators of the said musical sphere believed they were neither Krauts – but distancing themselves from being German or having so and so identity – nor Rock, because that was not only too uncomfortable to play, but was it about them not being British.
I sometimes see labels embrace this term – after more than 40 years – for polite, sophisticated subcultural marketing reasons. It’s not a big problem, it is ideology, [to discuss this] we would have to confront why that [ideology] is perhaps suitable and why Un-kraut was not.
Do you still locate what you’re doing as within the broad parameters of dance-music? And if so, who do you see as your close contemporaries?
Metaphors of Dis-location in space and time would [be the term] I prefer. There are exit routes in taking lessons. By drawing my attention towards other features, towards the intensions, token gestures of the performers, namely provoking trance, inviting resonance upon the participants, stimulating healing powers, continuous rhythm with sound, these were [the] broad parameters. Needless to say, listening to “dance”- music must also be amongst the parameters.
An ideal music-performance-framework which is neither ethnically determined nor using any playback technology isn’t in place yet. And I don´t mean for example, Yoga-courses with drummers or Flatischler´s Taketina, but events of a larger scale. Cultivating shamanistic and transcendental powers is defamed and marginalized, if not considered subversive.
When minimalistic electronic club music emerged with the many house or jungle tracks, the lack of both – the initial, unabashed idea of an non-identity and an absence of any composing efforts – seemed a radical starting point, but after 25 years, to see this cybernetic tribalistic music being as monomorphic as it was, makes me often wonder. Therefore, I would like to see the “parameters of dance music” extended.
Your next release, Clock EP, is a collaboration with Daniel Dodd -Ellis, whom you previously collaborated with on a studio album last year. Is this an on-going partnership? Can we expect more records from the two of you?
Yes, we’re planning to work more closely together on pieces with a stronger connection to lyrics.
How did you and Daniel first meet? What are the origins of your collaborative work together?
We first met in 2003 while I was trying to incorporate vocals to sketches related to soul music inspired dubbed out tracks as partly included on the album “Can’t Cool“ [non13]. But it was 2006 before we actually produced something together based on odd grooves for “First Night Forever” [non22]. Daniel´s classical training allows him to step beyond not only the common rhythm schemes but to transcend pop formats.
Do you have any other releases or projects scheduled for later in the year?
Another collaborator you have repeatedly worked with is CAN’s drummer, Jaki Liebezeit. The two of you have put out five ‘Secret Rhythms‘ album together, can we expect a sixth instalment any time soon?
We have been occasionally recording our live concerts. Some of these will be compiled on Vinyl and CD in 2015.
You’ve just put out a compilation entitled ‘Nonplace Soundtracks‘, which collects a number of soundtrack work commissioned through your label. How long have you been writing musical scores and do you find the creative process a greater challenge when you’re being given a remit to work from?
It’s been through my affiliation with art academy and media school that I found opportunities to work on soundtracks, mostly for documentaries. It has often been strange to see how music and images can match. It occurred to me that it is much more constructive to incorporate the musical material that interests me at the time of the given remit than having to materialize something on purpose, according to certain filmic or choreographic requirements.
On the contrary, by trying to formulate something according to the filmic body of work you are more likely to misinterpret a filmmaker´s intension. It’s among common misapprehensions to expect a distinctively composed musical score to be more suitable for moving images than any other, arbitrary, found or random musical material; there are many exceptions I’m sure, but I would go as far as to claim that with a strong, in itself complete, instrumental composition almost any filmic context can be highlighted or crowned.
I mean to say that the spectrum of possibilities to invoke extreme changes in comprehension is so much larger than one may think, until the point where sense would randomly or miraculously be created.
Have you found that in running a small label you are reliant on commercial opportunities such as soundtracks?
The amount of opportunities has always been fairly moderate and basically doesn’t involve the label.
Composing for documentaries or feature films can be a rewarding challenge, but as far as other commercial opportunities are concerned, marketing strategies drastically changed during the late nineties.
I see more problems concerning marketing entanglement raised by the fact that a contemporary company’s target object of desire is the credibility of an artist and not the artist’s creative capacity. In other words, the usage of the name of the artist in order to address the associated scene affiliated with the artist is paid for, but not the service, or at least the resulting design.
Music, etc is secondary and the legitimacy of the musical product design under aesthetic concerns would sadly not be at stake.
You’ve been running Nonplace for fifteen years now, primarily as an outlet for your own work. Does the label mainly exist as means of retaining control over your own work?
Retaining control is now important but the main reason for starting the label was to guarantee an unhindered release. I have had encountered a series of misfortunes on failed labels, plus [I had the] feeling that a recognizable repertoire scattered amongst arbitrary back catalogues [was not to be desired]. Starting the venture in 2000 seemed the logical way to continue.
I’m interested in the name ‘nonplace’ because it strikes me that much of your music does not bear the trace of a single cultural heritage. Instead it draws from a multitude of traditions from African polyrhythms to European electronica and dub. As such it is quite literally music that cannot be placed. Do you agree with this assessment and were these ideas informing the name?
I’m on the side of artists and scientists operating beyond cultural legitimation. One would not expect a mathematician or chemist [to] argue about heritage, environmental conditioning and cultural background, but to make propositions on a universal level.
That kind of science is a transcultural activity, otherwise it would be useless. It’s a conundrum, because traditional tribal music is often considered to represent fixed local cultural attributes, although the instrumental musical material in sound and form was operated on with universal set of laws of rhythm and tuning that stand true and comprehendible beyond the limitations of locality, local language and heritage, just like the laws of gravity, for example, are the same everywhere for everyone.
Most people are used to have music canned to serve cultural function, a narcissistic identification. If you take a look at the charts you won’t find a single piece of instrumental music there, but individuals confessing states of emotion. I generally dismiss all notions of cultural fixation (unless ironically deliberately put in place or when working with lyrics), especially with the universal musical phenomena. The commodification of that type of music striving to disconnect from notions of race, nation and on a more sophisticated level, even disconnecting from tribalistic subcultural identities, is crucial.
I observe with much unease the transformation into readymades, into containment of displays, genres, and rooted catalogue items. Like a professional sportsperson with a number and colours on his uniform at first appears to be a member of the nation. When having a dinner on a jumbo jet a stewardess came and asked me if I would like Japanese chicken. I politely asked her how the chicken knew it was Japanese.
None of these territorial attributes and essentialist characteristics would help understanding the nature of musical mating, especially in a world where almost everyone has immediate access to sound sources from any time in recorded history and territory.
The term Non-place originates from Marc Auge pondering about American, de-cored mega-cities and the rise of industrial peripheries with no sense for human presence. I hope [this] explains why [your question] does not fully express my own ideas of a non-place, the trans-territorial motion process of musical language.
The last time you played in the UK was at Freerotation Festival (2014), which is considered one of the most unique and special events in underground dance-music in Britain. Did you have a good time? Will you be returning in 2015?
Yes, I’m going to present grooves that are not represented among a House or Techno repertoire. Jaki and me use to call them “secret rhythms” albeit these rhythms are the most obvious, not secret but the core element of the music, yet these rhythms are seldom heard in a Western repertoire. I’m taking a lesson in finding out which ones of the repertoire may work for dancing purposes.
As well as festivals and clubs you also play arts centres and concert halls. Do you find one a better fit than the other for your music? Do you tailor your live sets to match the context of where you’re playing?
Outdoor events are usually the most exciting as one rarely copes with sounding issues. I prefer a smaller intimate environment, but the quality of the amplified sound in or outside is always the crucial part.
I indeed tailor live sets to match the context, but I don’t have an infinite amount of tracks to choose from, hence I can’t compete with a DJ’s USB stick. Instead, the same groove – which I consider an energy device – can evolve and mutate over the years, revealing its full potential only upon an on-going exercise, upon repetition, which is why I do play around for very long with a same repertoire of grooves.
Something I have been curious about for a long time is why you record under the name ‘Burnt’ rather than your given name of Bernd?
It is an ironical gesture addressing the effects of awkwardly pronounced, foreign names with the ruling, imperial language, causing some irritation when written down. If my name were Kenneth given by German parents I would have to confront this issue from only a slightly different angle.
Finally, what records have you been discovering or re-discovering so far in 2015?
There are indeed a couple of records, which are not amongst the mixed.
- Roland Young – Confluences [EM Records]
- Francis Bebey – Psychedelic Sanza [Born Bad Records]
- Angkanang Kunchai – Isan Lam Plearn [EM Records]
- Badawi – Soldiers Of Midian [Roir]
- Ahmad Zahir – King Of Afghan Pop [Pharaway Sounds]
1. Chronomad- Asylon, Short Excerpt (Alien Transistor) CD
2. Friedman & Dodd-Ellis- Clock, Excerpt Played At 33rpm (Nonplace) 12″
3. Orchestre Berlait- Sendang Berlait, Excerpt (Playa Sound) LP
4. Orchestre Gulitangan Mulut- Gearsen, Excerpt (Playa Sound) LP
5. Don´T DJ- Loopool, Excerpt (Diskant) 12″
6. Harmonious Thelonious- The Grasshopper Was The Witness, Excerpt (Meakusma) EP
7. Karo Batak- Gendang Karo ,Excerpt (Museum Collection Berlin) LP
8. Jone Takamaki Trio- Lalit, Excerpt (Universal Mind) LP
9. Friedman & Liebezeit- Shades Of Soddin Orion, Played At 33rpm, Excerpt (Nonplace) 12″
10. Charles Cohen- Conundrums (Robert Turman Version) Played At 45rpm, Excerpt (Morphine Doser) 12″
11. Section 25- Sutra, Excerpt (Factory) CD
12. Zerfu Demisse- Alayenem Belu, Alsemanem Belu, Excerpt (Terp) CD
13. Cheika Remitti- Ghir El Baroud (Worldmusic 89) LP
14. Yermande- Mark Ernestus Ndagga Rhythm Force (Ndagga) 12″