Music & clubs

Winter mazes: Bernhard Lang

INTERVIEW! MaerzMusik, the Berliner Festspiele's celebration of new music, is coming Mar 11 (through 19)! Composer Bernhard Lang throws Schubert for a loop in "The Cold Trip" at the festival on Mar 13.

Image for Winter mazes: Bernhard Lang
Photo by Kai Bienert

Composer Bernhard Lang throws Schubert for a loop in this month’s MaerzMusik festival at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele Mar 11-19.

Using classical instruments and all kinds of electronic gadgets, Lang has long experimented with repetitive patterns, most prominently in his Monadology series of meta-compositions which recycle and remix original scores from music history. As part of MaerzMusik, Lang will perform his 32nd Monadology, The Cold Trip, a rendition of Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey). Prior to his concert on March 13, we spoke to the composer about his fascination with loops.

How does Winterreise behave in a loop?

Very well. For one thing, loops were already inherent in Schubert’s characteristic and innovative piano accompaniment technique. The rhythmic components of his piano patterns are sometimes even compared to minimal music. Also the circularity of his harmonics, always returning to the starting point, but then breaking out of this circle to cause confusion. Basically, he’s behaving cyclically; not linear like Beethoven.

Doesn’t a loop imply an endless winter? How horrible.

Whether you ever arrive on the Winterreise is a question of interpretation. If you look at the conditions under which Schubert created the Winterreise – and according to himself – it’s a journey towards death. In that sense, the finality is present, but the journey’s destinations are brought up in the middle already. It’s more of a winter maze, and it wouldn’t be as exciting if it had been composed linearly. It’d be like following the 24 stations of the cross and going home satisfied after Jesus’s crucifixion at number 24.

Does repetition help in understanding and finding structure?

All one-dimensional interpretations of repetitive structures surely miss the mark – like the old Adorno ones, which really are denunciating and polemic. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze wonderfully describes how walking on this terrain is very complex. It transitions from tranquilising to terrorising, from enlightening to encrypting. People get in a trance praying the rosary or listening to techno music, but if you tell your girlfriend “I love you” 200 times, she won’t be happy about it after a while. These are different situations.

Your Monadology series is reminiscent of Burroughs’ cut-up technique.

He was sort of a father figure. I read the first Burroughs texts in the mid-1970s, including his theoretical writings on ‘cut-up’ and ‘fold-in’, where he says that the repetition of sound material via loops changes reality. He surely was the initial spark for all these techniques; the idea of never leaving any kind of given material intact. It’s also part of destructivism, which creates new contexts out of destruction. My work is a critical reaction to the claim of original music creation, this dreadful repetitive culture which we are in right now, this recycling of the dead. What classical music has come up with since the end of the Second World War… it fuels destructive impulses in me. To solve this in a composition is a way of creating something positive from destruction – hopefully.

Can you relate to current club music?

There’s an interesting club scene in Vienna, and I check out concerts on a regular basis. I’m mostly drawn to the weird ones, which we have plenty of. I try to see turntable artists whenever I can, because they work with the music archive as well. All these techniques, looping and scratching, I adopted from them. It’s still a great source of inspiration. I remember when I listened to experimental techno bands with extremely exciting arrangements in the 1990s. You could have turned their music into written compositions. Back then it was also just the niche that interested me – the subculture within the subculture…

THE COLD TRIP PTS. 1 AND 2 March 13, 21:00 | Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Schaperstr. 24, Wilmersdorf, U-Bhf Spichernstr.

Originally published in issue #147, March 2016.