Perfect Sound Forever

The Tyranny of Text:
The Paul Schütze Interview, Part 2

Schutze/Laswell live
Bill Laswell and Schütze at Tampere Jazz Happening in '96- photo by Maarit KytŲharju

Interview by Gary Bearman

PSF: One thing Iíve read is that you donít like your music being labeled, and while looking over reviews of your work, Iíve heard your music being described as ambient, jazz, acid jazz, new jazz, funk, trip hop, fusion, avant-garde, minimalistic, East Indian, electronic, industrial, world, ethnic, and even rock.

Well, there you go. I mean, I think youíve answered your own question, really.

PSF: Do you like that itís very hard to pin down your music?

Well, yeah, because I think pinning down music is sort of pointless. This in a way connects to what I was saying about the inadequacy of language. I mean, I can understand why it happens, because itís necessary for marketing and it makes it easier to talk about things, but it also means you can stop thinking about it which is a bad thing. I think as soon as people find a comfortable label, they feel they donít have to intellectually explore the music anymore because someoneís already done it for them. It comes pre-thought. On the one hand, there is a lot of pre-thought music out there that really has been pretty well defined by the label it was put on, but no, I am glad itís hard to label. On the other hand, it does make it very hard to sell. A lot of record shops, if they canít find a place to put it easily, they will actually just not stock it.

PSF: Yeah, right. The one good record store that I know of here in Los Angeles (Aronís) has your music under the experimental section, which I like in that itís very broad, and you donít seem afraid at all in trying new things. For example, Nine Songs from the Garden of Welcome Lies, to me thatís the most atypical thing Iíve ever heard of yours. I mean, everything of yours seems to have a very distinct Paul Schütze sound to it, like you can tell itís you, but if I heard that album without knowing it was you, I might have a very difficult time figuring out that was you.

Well, yeah, but remember it was recorded on a wooden pipe organ in a church in the Swiss Alps. It had no electronics on it, and yeah, you know itís such a radical shift of sound palette that itís almost inevitable it would not evoke the sounds of my earlier work. I would have been mortified if it had sounded like my other albums, really. If youíre gonna freeze your balls off in a church in the Swiss Alps, and have it sound exactly like something I can do at home, it would be very depressing. We did very little editing because we couldnít really. When it was recorded it wasnít overdubbed. We added some percussion sounds, but it is just really a document of my first exploratory frolic with a church organ. So it was made differently to any other album Iíve done. I was very sorely tempted to do heavy post production, and chopping up, and processing, and fiddling around with the sounds, and I really had to stop myself because that would have made it sound just like other albums.

PSF: Is there a reason why you switched the song titles, like thereís "Song 1ā" through "Song 9ā" but theyíre not in order.

Thatís just the order in which they were completed.

PSF: The way you put them is just to get the feel of it the way you wanted them to?

The way I put them was because in putting them chronologically it didnít play right. The program just didnít feel right to me, so I had to shuffle them for ages so that I felt like I was moving through something that had some kind of structure and meaning.

PSF: Interesting about that particular album, in telling friends, recommending to them to buy Paul Schütze albums, I say to them, "Donít start with that one!"

I tend to agree. I think it wouldnít be the one to start with because anything you bought after that would be a bit of a shock, really. And also itís a difficult album. I think it is a document of an event. Itís not like a heavily worked meticulously considered piece of composition. Itís a recording of an event, and thatís a very different thing. I think oneís expectations are always going to be different. Itís like the difference between a live album and a studio album. You know, there are certain things you will tolerate from a live album that you perhaps wouldnít from a studio album. I really like the rawness of it. I like the fact that itís got mistakes, and itís got awkward bits, and you have a real sense of the organ as a kind of a presence there, which I think if Iíd been able to bend the organ more thoroughly to my will, you wouldnít have had. I like the fact that itís me doing battle with this great wheezing thing.

PSF: It took me a little while to get into it, it was just very different, not at all what I expected.

I think the label was slightly stunned when I gave it to them as well. I donít know, I mean itís probably not for everybody, perhaps, but I think it does need to be listened to differently, and I really think itís important to make things... I hate the idea that everything I put out people would just take home, sit down in the same chair, in the same mood, in the same way, and get more or less the same kind of buzz out of it. To me, that means Iím not moving forward, or Iím not challenging myself or the listener.

PSF: Yeah, I mean I would listen to The Surgery of Touch in one mood, and listen to New Maps of Hell in a completely different kind of mood.

I would hope thatís the case, but I do worry sometimes that all of my stuff tends to blur into some kind of common area, and Iím trying very hard to push myself in different directions, because itís the only way I can learn.

PSF: I think you succeed. I never know what Iím gonna get when you put a new album out. Second Site and Nine Songs from the Garden of Welcome Lies, I mean both of those are very unique from anything else youíve done before.

I think with those two really, youíve hit on the two that are probably the least predictable. I think also people were very surprised with Apart coming after both the Uzect Plaush album, and The Surgery of Touch which came before it, because it was much more precise and clipped and formal in a way than The Surgery of Touch, because The Surgery of Touch was just sprawling. Itís probably the most indulgent thing Iíve ever done.

PSF: But itís a great album, and I love the story in The Surgery of Touch. The one about the sweat and the blood.

That was the first attempt to provide some sort of narrative context. Usually I use the titles and the album title to produce an environment into which to lead the listener so that they might perhaps be slightly more disposed to the music. And you know I think it is very important to consider the way in which something is named and packaged. It can create a subtle change in the mind set of the listener before they hear the work, and that can just help open the door slightly. With The Surgery of Touch, I wanted to extend that by putting the story in there. I remember very few reviews of that album that even mentioned the story, which made me wonder whether people had read it or not.

PSF: I like that album, and other albums of yours are very dark, not in any way evil. I consider myself a very Ďlightí person in a way, however that feel really appeals to me, it touches a very primordial place inside.

Iím very seduced by the idea of mystery, by the unsolved, almost unknowable metaphysical core of something, and I feel very keenly the absence of that in a lot of music and art. If I donít sense that core to something, I find the artifact very unsatisfying, and thatís something Iíve really worked on for some albums like The Surgery of Touch and The Rapture of Metals, the ones that tend to be called dark. Yeah, I donít think of it as dark so much as... I donít know, itís hard to describe really... itís a very particular feeling in me that they express, and itís one I come back to a lot. Itís not really present on Second Site or Nine Songs, which is another thing that makes them both different, but I canít imagine it being really introduced into that context.

PSF: In one interview you said about your music that you hope people might find that this is the kind of music that would appeal to them when they didnít think that they wanted to listen to any music.

What I meant is that a lot of people have a use for music in the way they live. Music has a utilitarian function; they listen to music before theyíre going out to party, or they listen to music to psyche themselves up, or they listen to music when they get home from work, or they listen to music to mask the sound of the street, or their air conditioning, or whatever, and I think there are other uses for music that are far more interesting, and actually involve interacting with it a little bit more willfully. Theyíre the areas that Iíd like to tap into. I think the point where a lot of people feel they want to listen to music is a point where they donít want to listen as such, they just want to have sound, and Iím hoping that thereís enough in my work, that it does actually reward listening, which is something we, perhaps in the way that we live, particularly in an urban environment, don't do that often. Itís probably because we donít ever have enough silence to consciously engage in active listening.

PSF: To me music is like the soundtrack to my life. I have it on as much as possible just because it kind of fills the spaces inside or accentuates life somehow, itís very hard to talk about, but...

I know what you mean. The thing I find interesting is increasingly I donít listen, increasingly I have silence, and this is an anathema to me even 5 or 6 years ago. I would just never have silence, and Iím finding now that more and more Iíll put 3 or 4 things on, and Iíll have them on for thirty seconds, and Iíll take them off, and ultimately Iíll opt for nothing as being preferable, but thatís possibly because of the medium Iím working in. Silence is in some ways the most fertile place to be if Iím developing something.

PSF: Itís interesting, because Iíve started listening to ambient music in the last few years. Recently, Iím fascinated with just ambient noise outside. Like the other day I was out in the forest, and thereís this creek, and this incredible water sound, and I was with a couple of people, and I just said "stop," and just listened. I could hear it coming from 3 different places, and I just listened for several minutes.

Itís wonderful - we get to go to this small island in Greece in the summer for a couple of weeks for holiday, and itís very very quiet, and kind of a small population, and very few people go because itís very hard to get to, and I never take music when I go on holiday. I donít take a walkman or anything like that. One of the wonderful things about this is that for two weeks you only hear the sounds of the island, and theyíre so extraordinary. I mixed Second Site when I got back from this last trip, and the sonic structure of Second Site is based largely on the soundscapes of that space in terms of where things are positioned, and the light and shade, and the sense of a very particular type of space being defined by where sound is. The fact that there is a horizon line that is always audible, and that I tend to use natural models as structural templates for mixing, because I think theyíre so sublime and they have an integrity. They have a sonic integrity, a sense of cause and effect, which give them a great deal of strength as structures.

PSF: So basically you use the natural environment to inspire how you want to create music in the studio?

Not to create so much, to structure. Itís very specifically a structural thing. Thereís a spatial quality, and a depth to a lot of natural environments, sonic natural environments, which is just so beautiful that itís difficult not to want to emulate it when making an artificial sonic environment. To me itís a far more beautiful, and to be aspired to as a structure than any man-made musical structure. It appeals to me far more.

PSF: Thatís fascinating. Forgive me if I go a little out there with this one - for me, I belong to this spiritual group, and we talk about Light and Sound inside, that in dimensions inside of us thereís sound, and with me music seems to reflect an inner reality that goes beyond this life, beyond the physical reality. Itís very difficult to talk about, but for me it reflects that and it brings you inside, or it makes you yearn for something...

One thing I used to talk about is that Iíd like very much that my work could create a "structure" or "region" for you in which you could have the space and time to think clearly, in other words it forms a kind of aural, and intellectual, and emotional refuge, or zone, in which the musical structure displaces the collapsing chaotic structures that are the consequence of living in an urban environment just for long enough that your thoughts might perhaps be able to gather in a clearer more satisfying way, and thatís something Iíve tried to do with the Sleep pieces. I think I know what youíre saying. I mean, itís very interesting that there all these theories now that are being pursued by serious researchers about vibrations of sound on incredibly finely tuned levels being the future of real medicine, that in fact cells respond to certain frequencies far more efficiently than they respond to being bombarded with this drug or that drug, or some more traumatic large scale therapy. Thereís a lot of very bogus flaky stuff about this, but there is some really hard-core interesting research thatís being done properly that has incredible consequences for medicine. In some ways itís not dissimilar to the theories of homeopathy, that there are these subtle etheric levels upon which a lot of the system functions, and that sensitive manipulations of these actually results in very real and quite dramatic changes in the metabolism, and you know music is just vibrating air, basically.

PSF: I think individual people have very individual vibration levels, and that they are going to be attracted to certain kinds of music because itís going to be more harmonious with their vibration.

I think also itís a cultural thing. Anyone comes with an enormous amount of baggage. Weíre bombarded by sound and music all the time, and as with smell, a lot of these sounds are gonna form all kinds of complex associations in peopleís histories, and ultimately thatís that gonna really effect on an unconscious level the way they respond to any kind of sound in their later life. I think the problem with all of this, though, and where it starts to get very flaky, is when people say they know what kind of vibrations are gonna have what kind of effect on what person. That is clearly bogus and very open to abuse, but as a fundamental idea it goes right back to early Vedic text, the notion that the universe has a kind of sonic identity, the music of the spheres idea, and thatís cropped up in different cultures quite independently over the centuries. Clearly itís an idea that has, if youíll excuse the pun, that has a tremendous resonance for different sorts of thinkers in different areas, and Iím sure because of that there is some kind of truth in there that hasnít been wheedled out.

PSF: Before you released Deux Ex Machina in 1989, you recorded a LOT of soundtracks throughout the 80ís, very little of which has been released, in fact you were quoted as saying you recorded over 100 hours of film music?

It would have been, yeah, it would have been easily that, I think.

PSF: Beside Isabelle Eberhard: Oblivion Seeker and Regard: Music by Film, will any of this be released in the future?

No, most of it was just awful. No, I mean most of it was, you know, awful music for awful films made under awful circumstances that I would not wish to revisit. I certainly wouldnít want to inflict it on anyone.

PSF: Was it you were you still finding your musical voice at that point?

I think there was an element of that, but the other problem was is that often I was working under extraordinarily difficult circumstances with people who had no interest in, or patience with, the idea of actually exploring sound in the films they were making. It ended up being a very unhappy experience. I donít know why I stuck it as long as I did. I do think on the positive side that it taught me an enormous amount, but it was pretty soul-destroying.

PSF: If somebody approached you and wanted you to do a soundtrack, and you liked who they were and what they had to say, is that something you would consider?

Yeah, if I thought they understood the potential for music in film, and I thought the film was an interesting project and we could work together, yeah, Iíd love to, but Iím not holding my breath.

PSF: The three CDís: New Maps of Hell, The Rapture of Metals, and Site Anubis, you called the Pacific Unrest Trilogy?

Well, yeah, they were named that by the writer Biba Kopff when he wrote about them. His take on it was that they melded some of the apocalyptic technophobic notions that run through a lot 80ís cinema like BLADE RUNNER, BLACK RAIN and TETSUO with a lush Pacific Rim exotica from the various Southeast Asian influences in the music, and that this kind of tension was somehow illustrated by that area of the world. The whole notion of the Pacific Rim is quite exotic to Europe.

PSF: So those three titles are the titles of novels?

NEW MAPS OF HELL is the title of a book of essays on science fiction by Kingsley Amis. The Rapture of Metals was a title I made up. Site Anubis I also made up, and that was again connected by the little narrative which is written into the cover.

PSF: You said "we" before when you were talking about going to Greece. If you donít mind me asking, are you married?

No, I go to Greece with my boyfriend. Living in England, marriage is not an option.

PSF: In terms of your boyfriend, is that something you donít want published?

No, of course not. Itís actually something I mention in most interviews, but curiously most interviewers choose to leave it out, so I assume that itís something they donít want to think about. Itís their problem, really. We go there once a year, generally, and would like to live there I suspect, but thatís not an option, unfortunately.

PSF: Do you like living in London?

Yeah, I do. I prefer working in London. Obviously, itís a fantastic place to work, and itís a very stimulating place, also incredibly stressful and fantastically expensive, but, no, I do like it. I think I can imagine in a few years really feeling I want to be somewhere more peaceful and more beautiful. London is not really a place of kind of great beauty.

PSF: Well, at least you get to go places like that which is nice.

Well, thatís the really good thing, I mean you gotta remember somebody who grew up in Australia, which is miles form anywhere, being in London is extraordinary because I can go to most of the places Iím really interested in relatively easily and cheaply . The only place I really crave going to which is a bit difficult from here is Japan, but actually 7 Degrees (the record label which released Fell), which is Andrew, myself and Simon Hopkins are doing two concerts in Tokyo in January, so that will be that craving satisfied for the next 6 months.

PSF: 7 Degrees - when the Fell CD first came out, it seemed like it was a label that was gonna have other releases. Is that gonna happen?

Yeah, it is gonna happen, but itís just a slow process because weíre very particular with what we want to put on it. Weíve had several things that we were gonna release and decided not to. Andrew and I have been so busy. Itís really quite difficult to run a label when heís editing films in Germany and Scotland, and Iíve been working on so many things this year. I think weíre gonna be releasing an album by a band called Eardrum early next year sometime. Theyíre fantastic. I suppose if you use 23 Skidoo as a jumping off point, theyíre like a meatier jazzier version of them, theyíre really brilliant.

PSF: Thatís great that youíre gonna release other artists on that label.

It was always our intention, but itís rather difficult because the economics of it are hard. All the releases are limited editions. Itís ok if itís us, because we donít have to pay ourselves, but when we start recording other people we have to pay them, and having both been subject to such crap treatment on other labels, weíre fanatical that if we do release anybody elseís work, we must do the right thing by them, but doing the right thing by them makes it almost financially impossible when you do such small editions and theyíre so expensively packaged. If we did a run of five thousand that wouldnít be a problem, but we canít really do that.

PSF: One thing Iíve been listening to lately is Stateless which finally got released on Driftworks (a four-CD compilation).

Oh, right, you got a copy of it!

PSF: Iíve been waiting for it, and FINALLY got it.

Well, weíve all been waiting for it. Iíve been waiting for it since October, 1995.

PSF: You put Ď1995āí on the disc, and itís 1997, and it finally got released.

Well, it was meant to come between Apart and Site Anubis. That album was designed to be a bridge between those two pieces.

PSF: I was listening to it last night and thinking of the word Stateless, and it feels like that. I get a very floating feeling listening to it.

Yeah, I like the fact that it has two meanings, because there's also the idea of leaving a country that youíve lived in for 35 years . I will never really have a Ďstateí anymore, because once youíve done that you know you can do it again, and I think the certain knowledge that you can move countries at will strangely prevents you from making the 2nd or 3rd or 4th country a home in the way that somewhere your born would be a home. So I oscillate between finding this incredibly liberating and quite scary. I donít really feel as if I have a home anymore.

PSF: I just moved to California a year ago. Itís an interesting process trying to make it a home. Itís fascinating once you know you can go anywhere.

Itís brilliant. I know a lot of people in various places who are intensely unhappy with where they are, but the possibility of moving just does not occur to them. They canít move in a way. Their personal psychology, or their history, or whatever just stops them somehow.

PSF: I think people feel stuck more than just in that, in their life in general -what they do for work, where they live, who theyíre with, and itís all their choice, but they refuse to do anything else because familiarity is comfortable.

Oh definitely, yeah, absolutely, I agree. Itís a very hard thing to do, but itís fantastically liberating once youíve done it once.

PSF: Is the Uzect Plaush album More Beautiful Human Life ever gonna be reissued?

I think itís still around.

PSF: Itís very difficult to find.

As far as I know itís still in print.

PSF: Do you plan on releasing anything else under pseudonyms like Uzect Plaush or Seed (the Vertical Memory CD), or is that just an experiment thatís done?

The reason I released those under a pseudonym (everyone knew they were me, it wasnít a big mystery), was purely because I feel very strongly about chronology. I think itís really important if youíre following someoneís work, and if the work is regarded as a part of a developing musical language, that chronology is very important. Those two albums to me were sideways steps. They were me just having fun. They were indulgent if you like, they were me just frolicking, but I wanted to make it clear that they were not the next step on from whatever came out before them. I think The Surgery of Touch came out before Uzect Plaush. It was a tributary, it was a branching off, it was not the next step forward. It was the only way I could think of to make that clear.

PSF: That makes sense. I hadnít consciously thought about that, but once you say it, it makes a lot of sense.

I think itís interesting when people talk about the order of which my stuff comes out, they do tend to remove those two albums from that chronologically, I think unintentionally. I donít think theyíre aware that theyíre doing it, but thatís good, because it means that strategy worked. Iím very fond of both albums, I just wanted it to be clear that they werenít the next step on.

PSF: Vertical Memory I really like. A lot, in parts of it, almost feels like Tangerine Dream, not exactly, but itís got more of that 70ís electronic kind of feel to it.

Thatís interesting. I was very fond of their first 3 or 4 albums. I really lost interest in them after that, but I think the early ones...

PSF: Zeit and Electronic Meditation...

Phaedra and Rubycon even I quite like. I just think after that they started repeating themselves.

PSF: I like a lot of their stuff, Force Majeure...

I canít remember which the last one I listened to was. I know theyíve got hundreds of albums. I havenít heard most of them.

PSF: Phaedra I enjoy Ė itís got that wonderful long mellotron part.

Yes, but also the first use of that characteristic signature analogue sequencer that I think was probably on the next 15 albums. It was completely their trademark, and it was incredibly seductive the first time you heard it.

PSF: I believe in April, Tone Casualties is releasing a CD of yours called Green Evil, Stray Particles 1982-1996 - what will this consist of?

Itís a compilation. Itís rare tracks from compilations all over the place, and some unreleased material that was recorded to cassette. Just a strange collection of things. They wanted something to tie off the reissue series, really to complete this sense of retrospective. Originally, it was all meant to come in a box.

PSF: So itís gonna be more than one CD?

No, it is just one CD, but it was originally going to have a quite detailed booklet in it which talked about all of the other things in the series, and had an essay about my work in it, and that was gonna round off that whole series of re-issues, because there wont be any more of those.

PSF: Will you still be releasing things on Tone Casualties?

At this point, I donít know.

PSF: Do you have a bigger following in Europe than in the States? Thatís the impression I get..

Well, itís hard to say. I mean, sales in the States are in some instances better than Europe. Europe is weird because there are huge distribution problems. Virgin CDís in Europe, for example, cost too much.

PSF: They cost even more here. To get Virgin UK CDís here is very expensive.

Well, youíd be surprised how much they cost here in England. Second Site to buy in London, and remember itís manufactured here, is 19 pounds. What would you pay for it there?

PSF: I found it for 30 dollars, and you figure with about $1.50 a pound, something like that Ė similarÖ

See, it doesnít make any sense at all, it should be a lot more expensive there. We pay insane amounts of money for CDís here as you probably know. An ECM CD here is 17 pounds for a single disc. I picked up ECM CDís in LA when I was over there for 11 dollars. Thatís the wholesale price in England, but I canít understand why that is. So thatís something were trying to overcome in Europe, because there are a lot of people who are really into the music, but they either canít get it, or itís in the shop, but itís very expensive and they canít afford it.

PSF: I think mail order is the way to go.

I really think thatís the future of music.

PSF: We have the web now, so itís so easy to find things.

Sometime early next year thereís gonna be a lot of my stuff available that way.

PSF: From a specific web site?

Yeah, from a specific site. I canít say any more than that at this point, but it will be a really amazing site where youíll be able to get anything you can think of.

PSF: Like youíll have Paul Schütze pins, bumper stickers?

All that kind of stuff; bath mats, snow domes.

PSF: A Paul Schütze welcome mat with a little picture of you winking.

The skyís the limit - a frightening thought, really.

PSF: What do you have in the works? Whatís coming out next?

In the works right now is precisely nothing, because there are all these things waiting to start, but none of them started. There are several more "Site" pieces on the drawing board. Thatís just gonna go on and on for years, the projects are just getting bigger and bigger, new Phantom City project, an album of piano music.

PSF: Solo piano?

Solo piano music, but it will be post-produced, it will be fiddled with, and a more jazz quartet album which will be Raoul, Dirk, myself and a bass player, probably an acoustic bass player. What else is there? There are several other things that are kind of bubbling away...

PSF: Thereís a Bill Laswell project called Assassins that you did a piece for?

Yeah, you blink and you miss it. Itís very short, and very quiet, and itís in the background with someone talking. Itís an interesting project, but my contribution to it is extremely minimal. Thereís some very nice stuff on it. It was done ages ago, I donít know why itís taken so long to come out.

PSF: And thereís a CD called Solar that you did something on?

That was a compilation out of Scotland. Itís a music travelogue, and itís got O Yuki Conjugate, and Stillpoint, and A Small Good Thing, Max Eastly. Its actually got "Sleep 5" on it.

PSF: What was "Sleep 4'"on? ("Sleep 1", "Sleep 2" & "Sleep 3ā"are on Apart.)

"Sleep 4" is on a really really interesting compilation called Statics, which is on the CCI label that comes out of Tokyo, and itís run by the Japanese composer Ryoji Ikeda. God knows where you would get it from.

PSF: You write for the English magazine "The Wire?"

Yes, off and on when I have time. I do some reviews, and sometimes Iíll write about film, sound, sound in film, just odds and ends really.

PSF: You used to be a film critic for Australian National Radio?

Well I did a stint on one of the afternoon programs, but it was basically just me coming off ranting on all the current release films. I got to see all the films on release which was nice.

PSF: Do you have any favorite directors?

Yeah, well, predictably David Lynch is one. Fellini, Pasolini.

PSF: I loved LOST HIGHWAY. Some people didnít like it, but I just loved it.

Yeah, I thought it was absolutely brilliant. The only film heís made I donít like is WILD AT HEART. Everything else I love. I thought LOST HIGHWAY was fantastic, except the music which was almost uniformly awful. Atom Egoyan Iím a really big fan of.

PSF: Is he the one who did THE SWEET HEREAFTER?

Yeah, there arenít many, I must admit. Iím a big fan of a lot of Japanese directors. Theyíre probably the only two that I would say unequivocally are brilliant.

See some of Paul's favorite music