Name: Frank Bretschneider
Occupation: Electronic musician, composer, video artist
Current release: In 2020, Frank Bretschneider released two new albums: abtasten_halten on Faitiche and Con-Struct, a collection of collaborations with the late Conrad Schnitzler via Bureau B. Since then, he has been busy performing live, re-releasing classic albums like Balance (with Taylor Deupree) from 2002, and engaging in a thrilling ongoing collaboration with sound artist Pierce Warnecke.
[Read our Taylor Deupree interview]
Recommendations: Boris Strugatsky (S. Vititsky): The Powerless that be (2003 book); Aleksei German: Hard to Be a God (2013 film)
If you enjoyed this interview with Frank Bretschneider and would like to know more, we recommend his official homepage as a point of departure. He is also on Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I grew up with the usual rock music of the 60s/70s, then soon also listened to jazz, improvised and contemporary music. I was especially fascinated by electronic music from a very early age.
But it wasn't until 1983, with electronic equipment becoming affordable, that I started producing my own tape collages, inspired by the emerging DIY music culture and the idea of the recording studio as an instrument. It was the new and sometimes strange rhythms and sounds that I found great and that inspired me to get creative myself - the electronic sounds and effects that were increasingly used in music.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I never had any musical training, so for me it was learning by doing. It sometimes takes longer to develop a certain musical idea or to create the structures I have in mind. But on the other hand, it helps to develop a own unique language.
I didn't always know what I wanted, but definitely what I didn't.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
There are definitely a few things that are typical for me, which can also be found in my music: a certain minimalism and pragmatism, a tendency towards the playful, occasionally a sense of irony and nonsense.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main problem was to get the right equipment, which was not easy since I grew up in the GDR. But the few devices I had encouraged me to be creative and learn how to get the best out of them.
Today the challenge is not to freeze in routine, in finding new possibilities, in expanding and refining techniques, to be open to new things and to process them accordingly.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
In the beginning, I looped and cut tapes in the traditional way, for example to create rhythms or transpositions. Then came the first synthesizer (MS-20), the first computer (C-64) with the first sequencer program (Supertrack) plus MIDI and the first digital synth (CZ-101). And so on, via sampling, sound cards, digital mixers, finally the "studio in the box".
The reason is on the one hand the availability of new technologies and the curiosity to try them out, partly also economic conditions. With increasing experience and practice, the needs and demands on the tools also change.
All methods have advantages and disadvantages in terms of operation, variability, efficiency, sound quality. But they always served to undertake an exploratory journey into the realm of sound and to gauge the extent to which the above-mentioned possibilities of electronics can be translated into new music.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Yes, I think with each of the above technologies, my way of working has changed or adapted over the years.
Sequencer programs like "Supertrack" (which later became "Logic"), have greatly simplified and accelerated the composition process. The easy integration of audio tracks, instead of the cumbersome handling of tapes, were a relief for the production process. My Nord Modular, which I have owned since 1999, has given me possibilities for sound design that I didn't have before and didn't even know existed.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
By and large I'm more of a loner, I've collaborated with other artists from time to time, but actually prefer to work alone. An exception are occasional modular jams with Jan Jelinek (as "Muster") and my collaboration with Pierce Warnecke for special A/V projects.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I get up in the morning, ride my bike for half an hour, have breakfast, go to the supermarket, post office, etc. Then office work, emails. If I'm lucky, I can then start creative work in the afternoon, usually later, and then until 3:00 or 4:00.
And of course my daily life, my social and cultural environment influences my music, I can't separate that at all, it happens automatically.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I don't think I've ever had a work or a concert that could be called a "breakthrough". But there have been many moments that have given me the feeling that my work is being noticed and recognized. For example, when I heard my music (a tape collage) on the radio for the first time. Or when the band I had at the time was voted the most popular band in an annual poll by the listeners of an alternative radio station, and then when we were able to produce our first LP. Or later, when the raster-noton "20' to 2000" CD series won a first prize for digital music.
I think every artist needs some feedback from the public, not only as a confirmation for what he is doing, but also as an impact for further work. Especially when you produce this kind of electronic music that is very far from the mainstream and with which it is difficult to reach a public at all.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I can only really work creatively when at least the most important things of the day are done and in a reasonably orderly and undisturbed environment. During the day I hardly get to do that, it mostly happens in the late evening and night hours.
Probably a rural environment would be better, but on the other hand I don't want to miss the big city and its diverse impulses and impressions.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I suffer psychological pain every time I have to listen to clichéd music, in the supermarket, in the cab, on TV, in the cinema. Physical pain I have suffered only once, in 1999 at the Phonotaktik Festival in Vienna, when Zbigniew Karkowski played.
I am convinced that music can be used to heal or otherwise be used for medical purposes. For me, music is an art form, like literature or fine art. Using it for a specific purpose, advertising, fitness, warfare or propaganda, reduces it to a function.
A cookbook is not a novella, to use a comparison from literature.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I have absolutely nothing against copying, imitating, assimilating or adopting. I think the whole history of mankind is unthinkable without this. Our whole society is based on it. It depends on the context, the way, the purpose and benefit.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
What I find interesting is the visualization of music or the setting of images to music, especially for live concerts and installations. If you manage to balance both media perfectly, you can achieve real synesthesia effects, merge both senses.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I myself feel rather privileged socially as I am largely independent and can live off a job I love.
During the time with my band from 1986 to 1991, I dealt quite concretely with everyday experiences and political events. After that, I was more concerned with formal things like composition and sound.
But more recently I've felt like reacting to everyday life, society, again, for example in my project with Pierce Warnecke "No_Content", in which we extract, loop and layer snippets of the everyday or the extraordinary and combine them with sound via text and typographic elements.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I think music can express much more than language or words, intermediate tones and nuances, things for which there are no words, the inexpressible.