OHM- THE EARLY GURUS OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC
Q: Not much is known about Herbert Eimert. Could you talk about his life?
Herbert Eimert- co-founder of the WDR Studio, Cologne, Germay
Interview with composer Konrad Boehmer
by Jason Gross
Herbert Eimert was a musicologist who studied at the Music Conservatory of Cologne and at Cologne University. While he was a student in the '20's, he published a book about 'atonal music' (the recent 12-tone music of that time). This was too dangerous for his professors and he was kicked out of the conservatory. He worked as a journalist at the Cologne newspaper and shortly after the Second World War, when the West German Radio was reorganized, he joined the station as a music editor and programmer. Together with his colleague Robert Beyer, who was a sound engineer there, he succeeded in founding the famous electronic studio there in the autumn of 1951. He can be considered the founder of the Cologne branch of electro-acoustic music.
During the first years, before the studio was officially founded, he and Beyer composed some smaller pieces with very, very primitive technical tools at that time, amongst which was 'Klangstudie II.' From 1953, Eimert saw that he would not be strong enough as a composer to push the studio in the future. He invited Stockhausen to come and work in the studio. A year later, he also invited Gofried Michel Koenig to work there. These two composers had been the main force behind the development of Cologne electronic music, which was one of the very special branches of electro-acoustic music at the time.
Later on, during the second half of the fifties, quite a lot of other composers came to work there. Actually, I had been the last person to be invited by Eimert to work in that studio in 1959, when I was still a school boy. Eimert had quite a lot of confidence in people and quite a lot of courage, opening his doors to them. That was a quite exciting time. There was much more discussion on an aesthetic level than nowadays. I had been collaborating with Koenig and worked in the studio with Bruno Maderna. Working together with Stockhausen has influenced me very much.
Q: What do you think was Eimert's grand scheme for starting the WDR studio?
Eimert's grand idea was that the music which would be produced by synthetic means and would be the historical continuation of the musical achievements of the late Anton Webern. He wanted to transpose the structural ideas of Webern into a new medium which he was thought more apt than the instrumental medium. There was a disagreement between Eimert and Beyer. Eimert was a structuralist and Beyer was a utopian dreamer. Beyer dreamt of spacialization of music, floating sounds, indefinite spaces- he had a vision of electronic music that was completely different from Eimert's. From 1953 on, certainly when Stockhausen and Koenig came to the studio, both visions were kicked a little bit out of the game because the young composers developed a much more refined concept of serialization of synthetic sound production. Though that was something Eimert accepted, he distained that. From a compository view, that was one step too far for himself.
Q: How did Beyer and Eimert manage to collaborate early on?
There are different which they composer together. There was a piece called "Sound in Indefinate Space," which shows more the impact of Beyer. "Klangstudie" shows more the impact of Herbert Eimert. It is a little bit more rigid, orientated on models of instrumental composition, not on compositions. It has a more rigid structure than certain of their other early pieces. I never talked to him about that but I think in this piece, his influence has been stronger than Beyer's.
Q: What kind of equipment were they using at the time?
In the beginning they had the melochord designed in the 1940's. This could produce sounds nearly as clear and clean as sine waves. This was an instrument with a keyboard so they had to take every sound from the keyboard, put it on a tape and then start the synchronization and the montage work. That was mainly what, and just about all that, they had. Even when I came to the studio seven or eight years later, they only had two primitive sine wave generators, not even a noise generator, and some very primitive filters. All these instruments were loaned to them from the technical department at Cologne radio. So these instruments were not build for the purpose of composing music but they were made for measuring and things like that.
The interesting thing is that these people made very fascinating compositions with very primitive tools. Every step they took, every button they turned, they had to think twice or three times about what they were doing. With these tools, every mistake would take you HOURS to correct. With the early Eimert pieces which last only two or three minutes, some of them took months or half a year to realize in a studio. Nowadays, you punch a button without thinking about anything and the algorhythm puts itself to work and it's always the same thing coming out.
Q: Around the same time, Ussachevsky and Luening were beginning their own studio in New York. They also came to visit WDR at that time. What was the impact of that?
That was just curiousity. Both parties had heard from each other. Eimert didn't understand very much about what they were doing with computers. They were suddenly very curious to look at that. Luening and Ussachevsky came to Cologne to look at what happened in Europe- they also visited Schaeffer in Paris at the time. They were touring around to see what these Europeans were doing. One thing which could be considered a consequence, Cologne composers became interested in pre-programming certain aspects of music and sense of parameters. It was especially Koenig who developed his own set of computer programs, which then led to computer-composed music. The effect was not direct because they were not found of the Columbia-Princeton music- they thought it was a little childish and primitive. But the principle seemed very much in their interest.
Q: What about the French connection (INA-GRM)? Did Schaeffer's work had any bearing on WDR?
No. You could say that in the Fifties, you had two types of Cold War. One between the Soviet Union and the United States and one between the Cologne studio and the French studio. (laughs) They disgusted each other. The aesthetic starting points of Schaeffer were COMPLETELY different from Eimert's views. Stockhausen has worked for a short time in the Paris studios. He did some things there which disgusted Schaeffer so he kicked him out. When Stockhausen entered the Cologne studio shortly after that, he behaved like somebody who didn't want to talk about Paris. That was a very human affair.
It was only in the end of the fifties, that these two opposite genres, the electronic, purely synthetic music of Cologne and the music concrete in Paris, came a little bit closer. It was some of in Stockhausen's and Ferrari's work that you see that. It took quite a lot of time before THIS Cold War was over! I have been educated in both countries in Paris and Cologne. When I was in Paris, it was absolutely unheard of to talk about Cologne and when I came to WDR, it was unheard of to talk about Paris. So, I was a double-spy! (laughs) I've learned quite a lot from both.
NOTE: Eimert's work can be heard on the WDR: Early Electronic Music compilation (BV Haast)
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