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Questionnaire: Michael Renkel (2007)

1. Have you got any formal musical training, and what do you draw from it now?

Yes I began playing the guitar at the age of eight and later I studied classical guitar in Hamburg. I got some technique from this and I learned about guitar literature and tradition.

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?

Different kinds:
1. pure classical, acoustic guitar,
2. this instrument prepared with additional “little” instruments like e-bows, whistles, pebbles, glockenspiel, cymbals etc.
3. guitar connected to the computer,
4. (self built) amplified stringboard,
5. electric guitar connected to the computer and FX processors,
6. the FX short circuited and connectd to the computer, the computer connected back to the FX
It’s about timbre and exploring the possibillities of the guitar. I still see myself in the tradition of my instrument.

3. What is it that attracts you towards musical experimentation?

It’s not actually about experiments but about communication with others. Experiments happen while exploring new things when I’m reheasing or practising. Playing means making decisions, finding one’s own way, one’s own language, it means self-organisation – initiating a process and developing it in a group. One cannot alter one factor in a system without affecting all others…

4. Why are you involved in improvisation, and how do you perceive it?

It is an ethical experience because it is about making decisions. It is about creating one’s own way, a musical self-organisation that strives towards the spontaneous appearance of new structures and new behavioural patterns – in an open process – which are characterized by internal feedback loops. These feedback loops make it possible to alter the view of reality: causality loses its specifying character, as cause and effect merge and exchange their roles in the musical process. Improvisation as a utopia of systemic thinking.

5. How do you perceive the relation between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?

I know my own instrument and musical material I can rely on. This works as a sort of a plan:
I intend to apply this elaborate material to an open musical process. Then it it becomes important whether I’m playing in a longstanding group (then I know about the others, their material, their personalities, their aesthetics) – then the musicians can work out a long-term group sound; or if I play with people I’ve never met before – then the group has to (re)act much more spontaneously. The rest is communication that allows illogical, unexpected events. Instead of a systematic creation – a plan resulting in an Object/Product, occurs the reproduction of the unrepeatable. Individual playing styles and subjective processes merge in a collective development. Man is the system.

6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?

I practise classical guitar and I develop my computer patches.
I try new sounds/preparations and I meet with other musicians.
On stage I like longstanding groups, and on the other side it can be exciting to observe a process of creation of a group meeting the first time as well.
Practising means finding out what is special about a certain combination of people and/or material. The second thing is playing with a certain group for a very long period (for example my duo with Burkhard Beins (Activity Center) has lasted almost 20 years now). This means something like a living composition because you know each other so well that the difference between plan and execution is almost abolished.

When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?

On stage I don’t experiment too much. I think about this kind of music as a special way of composition, so I try to set my thought out material sensibly; but you have to learn and react in every second of your life.

7. How do you evaluate an improvisation? What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?

Intensity, Authenticity, time treatment, humor, magic… It’s good if musicians can draw the audience’s attention intensely to the process on the stage, and at the same time create a situation where music, musicians and audience melt into one wholeness. I like the music most when I – while listening- don’t think about how it’s made.

8. When you are recording for a release, does the awareness of being recorded influence your playing, and in what way?

Yes I think so, a recording is a possibility to work out details much more. A release is a possibility for the listener to be very close to the event and I usually record with a very close microphone position.