For Henrik Schwarz and Frank Weidemann (of Âme), their collaborative project Schwarzmann is like a musical vacation. Here these core members of the Innervisions family put aside the established songs and sounds used in their various other projects to to let their creativity loose. Each having grown comfortable with live performance after several years on the road, the German duo channel this experience into wholly improvised live PAs whose sounds are determined by the room and the occasion. In fact, they’re offering their take on ambient for Need2Soul and Oval Space Music’s event featuring the legendary Manuel Göttsching this Thursday, September 5th. LWE caught up with Henrik and Frank via Skype to discuss the roots of the project, why they value improvising, and if or when we can expect Schwarzmann releases.
How did you two decide to collaborate together as Schwarzmann?
Frank Wiedemann: Well, I think that’s quite a logical progression because we made music together for a couple of years already, different combinations, and we both had fun in improvising and playing, finding tracks together by improvising. At some Innervisions showcase, we just played back-to-back live sets, and that brought us to the idea to found this project and just do improvised music as good as we can.
I wonder how was doing stuff like A Critical Mass informing this new project? Did it sort of shape what you want to do, based on your past experiences?
FW: This is just one of the steps, you know what I mean? I mean obviously, Henrik started playing live since 500 years, and at a certain point, we all decided to form A Critical Mass. And that was a big step for all of us, I might say — music-wise and also performance-wise. And after A Critical Mass, I finally decided for myself to do the Âme live act, you know? And then I do this since four years, I think, or five years — I don’t know exactly — and since two years or three years, I’m also secure in what I’m doing, I was learning an instrument, playing live shows with Ableton. So we came to the point that we are ready now to do this.
Henrik Schwarz: At some point it just felt super easy. We felt like we got rid of the technical problems in the background. We can go onstage and even without much preparation — and we have a different setup every time — we feel ready and safe together because we know somehow it’s going to work out. When we passed that point, I think that’s when we thought, “Yeah, let’s try it out and see what happens.” If you really do it onstage — like, what we have done in the studio for so many years is now brought to the stage.
So what exactly is the nature of the project? Is it a studio project at all, or is it mostly just live?
HS: It’s improvised electronic music.
FW: When we do rehearsals, what we just do at the moment, it’s not that we are, preparing tracks for a show that we do, it’s more that we see, “OK, we can go this direction, this direction, this direction, and then we maybe have four or three — like, you know the Real Book? The jazz Real Book? If you play a song from the Real Book, you have, one page of eight chords or ten chords or sixteen chords, or whatever. And the melody. That’s what’s written down, and I think that’s our approach with what we also want to do, is like, “OK, this song contains these four harmonies and this melody and maybe this vocal sample that we just drop in. Everything else is free. Or we just improvise as we just did it here, and just play. And it’s super exciting to do this because you and the audience never knows what comes out at the end.
Have you guys been hitting “Record”?
HS: We should, actually, but it happens so often that we just say, “Aw, shit. Nobody recorded.” And it happens all the time, actually.
FW: Often, yeah.
HS: We have some recordings, but we missed some really nice moments. But yeah, that’s really part of the nature of the project, also.
So I guess we won’t be seeing a lot of Scharzmann records on the shelves any time soon.
FW: Or every day one.
Fair enough. Individually, the music that you guys make is pretty different from one another. Obviously, there are some common threads, but what should we expect sound-wise from Schwarzmann?
HS: Yeah, because, what we play next week is going to be a so-called ambient show. So we just play ambient, or what we think of it, or what the room gives us and what we think of it in combination. Even for us, it’s a surprise every time. We don’t know where it’s going. We just know it’s going to work out together. That’s the most important part. So we could play a techno stage, we can play a house stage, we can do whatever we want. That’s how we feel, anyway. Just like Frank said, we have some chords and maybe some melodies, but you can play them in any kind. You can play them hard, soft, slow, with a bass drum or without. And we choose the sounds just as they come out of the synths, and then we react to what we hear. It’s all real time.
FW: We played a show at Berghain — not at Panorama Bar, but at Berghain. We also played at Panorama Bar, which was different. But we also played Cocoricò, which is like Italian tech-house madness, you know? And then we played Melt Festival, which was really nice to do. Then we also played smaller clubs, and it’s like — you never know. Now we have this ambient thing, and the great thing about this project is that we can really react on this. When Henrik plays his music or I play my solo show or Âme’s solo show, it’s always a bit in boundaries. You have certain parameters that you can shift to play it faster or a bit louder or a bit deeper or whatever. But at the end, you had like kept them in the songs that are pre-made, the sounds and everything. And here, it’s everything really totally free. Everything can happen.
Since both of you have projects of you own, is Schwarzmann going to be a regular collaboration or something more sporadic?
HS: It is already a regular one. I would say so. We both have so many other things going on all the time, so —
FW: I would say it’s a bit like our playground. It’s like freedom for — you don’t have to do that many preparations for it. Just bring the stuff — more equipment than usual.
What kind of equipment is involved?
FW: It’s totally different. I mean the heart of everything is still the computer. We both have our laptops, which are not synced, by the way. And then each of us brings a couple of synthesizers, and the more — the longer we play, the smaller they get, like this little thing or, I don’t know, this little thing, which is a drum computer. Little tiny things that just sound radical good.
HS: A couple of synths, a mixing desk, and a sequencer. Or a computer as a sequencer, very classic electronic setup, in a way.
So what’s coming up from Schwarzmann?
FW: We could talk about a virtual album that has been released two months ago, plus the virtual 12″ that we released with it and remixes that we did on our own. [laughs]
HS: Well, let’s say maybe we have 10 or 20 hours of recordings, and there’s some nice stuff in there, I think. And we just need to find the time to grab it and make a record out of it. So there’s a lot of material ready already, and there will be something coming as soon as possible.
FW: Henrik had a lot to do with his band for the Melt Festival, for his show; I had this tour with Howling; I want to a new 12″ with Kristian [Beyer, of Âme]. Henrik just released something with Jesse Rose — that’s Black Rose. He’s obviously still in for Innversions, too. So there’s plenty of things to do for all of us. And for other projects, too, we cannot talk yet about. I’m really looking forward to this: Henrik’s playing his instruments for the ADE in Amsterdam, and I’m so excited about this. I just did a 12″ with Marcel Dettmann because of this ballet thing we did together. So there’s so much work. And this is actually, like I said, it’s the easy playground, and there’s no pressure, you know? We don’t feel like, “Oh, we have to put out something.” We don’t even feel that we need a press picture.
HS: It’s a special project. Whenever somebody is asking us for a show and, “Can you do something special?” we can do Schwarzmann because it’s always special. Because it’s absolutely a unique show. You don’t get two times the same thing. Never.