Questionnaire: Burkhard Beins (2007)
1. Have you got any formal musical training, and what do you draw from it now?
No, I´ve never studied composition, nor am I a trained musician of any sorts. Usually I become interested in something aesthetically and then try to learn or develop what it needs to make it happen. For my feeling the fact that I sometimes can´t easily hark back to certain fundamental techniques or knowledge becomes compensated by the fact that I don´t have to free myself from the burden of trained skills and manual sequences, something I can see a lot of musicians coming from different musical backgrounds struggle with quite a lot in our musical area.
2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it? What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?
Throughout the 1980´s I was working on sound collages, using a very simple multi-track technique and involving field recordings, radio, a reel-to-reel, all sorts of found objects, but also a piano stringboard on a table and a drum kit which I had for the occasional rock/punk-session. When I started playing live concerts with guitarist Michael Renkel in the late 1980´s, I was experimenting with different set-ups first, trying combinations of all these elements. But moving a fader or turning a knob needs a different kind of attention than plugging a string or bowing a cymbal. Although it´s possible to practise handling it at the same time , it never really worked out for me. And it didn´t take too long before I began focussing on an entirely acoustic set-up consisting mostly of drums and cymbals plus a variety of selected objects. So it was not like I was playing the drums and then started to try out something more experimental with my instrument, but „percussion and objects“ turned out to be the most satisfying option for what I was trying to achieve in a live music context. Also, unlike a saxophone or a guitar, a drum kit is a compound instrument from the start, asking for individual variation and covering a wide sonic area from pure noise to definitely pitched sounds.
3. What is it that attracts you towards musical experimentation?
For my feeling working with sound implies a less rigorous constraint for unambiguousness compared to what seems to be possible in the realms of images or words. The „liberation of sound“ from it´s cultural connotations, to be newly achieved again and again though, opens up an ideal experimental field to try out and rehearse non-hierarchical forms of communication and to enhance the capabilities of perception and distinction. More than ever some relevant skills also to orientate oneself in a globalised world with an accelerating flow of information and of increasing complexity.
4. Why are you involved in improvisation, and how do you perceive it?
I´m not involved in improvisation, I´m only involving improvisation. It´s just a method. – Or merely a very unprecise term in use for a huge variety of musical methods and strategies outside thoroughly notated forms of composition.
In small groups I usually prefer to not preconceive the music, but to rely on the interactive decision-making processes of the musicians in the moment of playing. Especially by working in interestingly balanced group constellations over a longer period of time it´s possible to achieve some aesthetically pretty refined and complex music. I´m not sure if this still has so much to do then with something that could be easily reduced to a term like „improvisation“.
5. How do you perceive the relation between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?
I think it needs some sort of „spontaneous planning“. In the moment of playing you have to analyse the current situation including what has led to it, while at the same time you are trying to anticipate next possible developments and to extrapolate new strategies working towards your preferred directions, respectively following your sense of an inner musical logic. But thus not enough, you have to make decisions and act at once, even if there was not enough time to comprehensively analyse all relevant aspects. Altogether a rather excessive demand, which requires alertness and agility to revise and adjust your plans spontaneously again and again, while acting without hesitation.
6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?
I´m rather trying to „unpractise“ at the moment. Usually you practise to enhance control. At the moment I don´t feel so much a lack of control over my material, I´m rather curious what else there is to find inside of it beyond of what I have discovered so far. So I´m trying to use my musical material and playing techniques as rarely as possible in order to keep it as open, fresh and surprising as possible for myself.
When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?
Working with a group means working in circular processes, more or less coming back to similar subjects each time, always reentering a shared territory if you want. Each time round a necessarily limited selection of elements becomes requestioned and varied, possibly slightly extended, but also refined and established at the same time. One of the most amazing things always is, how surprisingly different a material you think you already know quite well can all of a sudden sound or behave in a slightly different context.
7. How do you evaluate an improvisation? What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?
Quite often the results of not preconceived musical group processes are hybrids of diverse ratio of mixture. Therefore they often can´t be clearly filed under a certain genre and evaluated by it´s inherent set of values and rules. This ambiguity is essential and makes it a crucial task not only of the musicians, but also of each individual listener to find or construct his or her relevant frames of reference.
Concurrently each group creates it´s own reference system in the course of time, and as a group member retrospectively trying to evaluate a musical process I was involved in myself, I´m doing this from an interior perspective. The criteria of quality would be then how successfully the group was able to apply it´s already established musical material and ways of communication in a stable but flexible way, and to what degree we were able to broaden our possibilities, challenge our boundaries or enhance our potential while doing this.
8. When you are recording for a release, does the awareness of being recorded influence your playing, and in what way?
It can be a tricky situation, because a recording, especially if it´s for a certain purpose, can induce a special importance, so it´s not just an informal meeting, but at the same time it´s missing the intensity of a concert played in front of an audience. Perhaps it´s a conflict due to the fact that a recording of a musical process is turning the process into a completed and reproducable piece of work. It can make you project into the future more than necessary, trying to imagine too much how the completed process will work as a „piece“ while still being in the course of making it. When recording with a group for a release the common strategy to work against this effect is to record quite a lot of material, not only to gradually liberate from the recording situation, but also to have a lot of potential material in the end to sculpture a release from.