Hubert von Goisern on distance
Hubert von Goisern, as music and world traveller - where does distance begin for you?
At the peak of a mountain. When I climb up a ridge and can look down the other side, I look into the distance.
Does that have anything to do with horizon?
Yes, certainly. When I look into a valley from up there, downstream into the nothing, the concept of distance comes to mind.
Is this feeling connected to longing? Or with worry?
Mainly with curiosity, with fantasy. You imagine how things might be there. Then you want to see whether what you imagine is right. And then you set off.
Setting off also always means distancing yourself from something. Leaving something.
But you don't think about that at first when you have this longing. Even when you are planning the journey, you don't think about departure, but rather of the longing. Then just before departure, you think: I can't leave now without leaving something behind me. It is painful, but short.
You have already very often said goodbye. Has the feeling changed in the course of your life?
Yes. At the beginning it was clearly much more intense. And indeed positive. The curiosity and zest for action were so strong, that I faded out everything else. But at this age I notice: the travelling, also on tour with the band, almost stands in my way. When I want to be creative, I have to sit myself down. The longing for sedentariness is much greater now than it was ten or twenty years ago.
Your first big departure bout 30 years ago had Canada as its destination.
Yes, that was a long time ago. But one thing has remained the same: Wherever I've travelled, I've then stayed there a long time. I wanted to get to know the distance and have become sedentary there.
In Canada for example, where there are mountains like the Dachstein in Goisern, doesn't such a view also arouse homesickness?
After a certain amount of time, in which your head has filled itself with stories, the impulse comes: I must go home again, in order to let it out, to tell, to pass it on. I am someone who must communicate what has been experienced. For me it worked best playing music, playing live. I need that. I can't just travel and absorb stories. Otherwise it tears me apart. I have to empty myself again in order to get the desire to experience new things.
When away in the distance, do you use music to think of home? Do you play the "Ausseer Landler" in Africa, in order to visualise the Dachstein?
No, not at all. I use my music to express myself with people with whom I cannot made myself understood verbally, who don't speak my language. When I play my music, they can then classify me. Who I am, what I am. And although they have never been at home with me, they get a feeling for where I have come from. And where the music comes from. And if I play the "Ausseer", then perhaps they get an idea of the Dachstein. It doesn't have to be that way though.
Do you tour in order to make money?
No, it's more that I want to find an audience. To play where you are not yet known, where they don't know the music either, that's really the attraction of this way of travelling.
Is it something very special, being able to communicate feelings with music?
Yes, by all means. When I go to Africa. I want much more not to stand there with my compositions and my stories, since folk music from my homeland simply works much better.
When you play your folk music in Africa, in front of people who have their own folk music, does anything happen? Does anything spark?
Something always happens. Sometimes it sparks unpleasantly too.
The two trips to North Africa and Senegal were real eye-openers for me. I now also understand people for whom folk music and tradition and everything to do with it is unpleasant. Through these journeys, the traditions turmoil became very suspect to me. Whether its the drumming group in Senegal, or Lois Neuper with his band here in this country, it's all so exclusive. When someone says: we are this way, we define ourselves through our clothes, our instruments, our singing lines, our dances, then you either do that too, you dress exactly the same, learn everything, then you're in. If not, you remain outside. I don't like that.
You've never liked categorisation.
Right. But I used to always feel misunderstood when there was criticism that I make music which comes very clearly defined from a very small geographical area of Europe, yes of Austria even. Now I understand such criticism. Because it's such sink or swim a mentality: if you don't like the music the way we play it, then just go where they play music that you like. I sometimes have the feeling that tradition is an enormous ballast, an enormous rucksack, which sometimes makes it impossible for me to be at home all over the world. But that is my aspiration. One should throw this rucksack away, or at least clear it out, so that you get through the doors again.
In the time from the early Hiatamadl from 1991 to the album released a dozen years later, Trad II, your music has changed a great deal.
First of all there was the alpine rock, then came the jazzed alpine rock, then came the world music via you. Does that come through the distance?
It comes through the meetings with these indigenous people. Which were not always simple. My last trip went to north Norway, to Lappland. On the one hand, it's fascinating and wonderful how nationally proud the north European natives, the ethnic group of the Samis, oppressed for generations, act there today. On the other hand, they now only want to accept their language, only their music, only their tradition, everything else is bullshit to them. Now there are even those among the moderate Samis, who say: I'm not a Sami, I'm Norwegian. Because there's a load of Haiders among the Samis too. Haider is not an Austrian phenomenon. Haider is everywhere.
But the identification with one's own culture can be positive too.
Yes, of course. Earlier I only saw it positively. What I did with the Alpinkatzen was in any case a breaking open of boundaries. But when you get older, you feel: some things are not as you thought they were. Sometimes identification also constricts the view. Of homeland too.
As musician, one says: I'm at home on this instrument, that is more distant to me.
You're at home above all on the accordion, nevertheless you put it away in the corner now and again and play, for example on the CD Fön, trumpet or guitar.
Yes, that's right too. It is perhaps down to the fact that the accordion is rather an orchestra, with bass, chords, melody, everything is there. However, a trumpet has this whole freedom of melody, which you put over the harmonies that are in your head.
Which instrument do you play in your mind?
I hear singing and I hear the groove. Better: I feel it. It has nothing to do with going. It wafts something in me and a voice lies over it. Sometimes I hear chords which glide into one another, almost choral music.
When you stand on the stage, one gets the feeling that your band are not just physically close to you, but also musically and spiritually.
We are certainly physically close. But we are musically even closer, we work hard on that. The realisation is that it only works that way. If it was not that way, it would be like sex without love. I need that, I engage with the others. And I learn a lot in doing so. Each colleague must get involved too. I am unhappiest with people who only orient themselves towards me.
There was something almost erotic for the audience, how close you were with your singer Sabine Kapfinger, even sharing the microphone. How honest was this closeness?
As far as I'm concerned, it was very honest, I think from her side too. It doesn't happen with every female partner.
And then came the separation from her, from the band. That was very painful for the Alpinkatzen. And for you?
Back then, it was an enormous load off my mind that it now has an end. It had all become too intense for me, also the fact that we stuck together so. I do like that, I need that too, I open myself up too. Although, I know that the people will then be dead sad when it's over. The Alpinkatzen reproached me, that I simply wouldn't have allowed myself to open up. I didn't pretend anything to you all, it was all true. But at some point I became claustrophobic.
How much does it hit you when people you are close to distance themselves from you?
Each lives his life. When he or she leaves me, then it's painful, but I always have the same thought: it's not my life, it's his or hers. And if they need that, where they're going now, another partnership, another place, then it's simply that way.
Are you not nevertheless rather a mountain climber, who is able to make big journeys with different with roped parties?
I very likely have this need. It is at any rate the case that many people, with whom I have worked, lapsed into total jealousy if I ever directed my eye or my ear toward something outside of the project.
In the end do you much prefer to be away alone?
Yes, very much. I like to travel alone too.
Isn't there the danger that you run further and further, instead of discussing with someone what you have experienced? The sunset in the Caribbean? The snow on Mount Rainier?
No, I have this exchange when I sit down to compose. The sunset, the snowfall are then parts of the music. Travelling for me is "becoming ever fuller". It's also much easier to meet people when you travel alone because you depend on contacts. When you are in twos, you can talk the whole time in your language.
Lots of people who travel all the time are also running from something? And you?
It happened that I suddenly had the feeling that I simply had to get up the next mountain, away from the people, away from the situation that was prevailing. That happens during rehearsals too, if it hangs somewhere. Then I say: do what you want, I must get out of here for a few hours.
When you think back to Canada, Nepal, Africa, where were you furthest from home?
In Tibet, I think. I have never felt as exposed as I did there, not even in winter in Lappland. It is certainly do with the political situation, which was so unpleasant, because I had not known anything like it until then. But you're also away for many weeks in the absolute back of beyond, in a kind of one-dimensional life. In Tibet, everything is so far away, and even what is close is so big, the mountains, the valleys, the glacier, that you can't appreciate it. It perhaps doesn't cause you concern, but unease.
You nevertheless stayed there for months.
I'm that way. I can stay in a place even if I feel uneasy. Of course I'd been in Lhasa two days and could have flown home. But I didn't want that. I don't always have to have it pleasant. I must get through.
Can one practise this wanting to persevere in personal relationships too? Are you someone who fights for a relationship?
I don't like to call it fight. I can be very patient ... , no, that's not quite right.
Exactly. Persistent. And if it then really hasn't worked, I at least never had the feeling of not having done enough for it. Each time you run away stays with you for ever.
If there was a kind of ultimate destination of longing for you, a place, people - where would it be?
It almost frightens me. But I must say: Goisern.
The mountain and the desert
Hubert von Goisern shows how close music can be
(tsch) Hubert von Goisern sits in a somewhat cumbersome manner, cross-legged on the sofa, his dark eyes blink wide awake in the direction of his interview partner, but also towards the window, outside. And he first of all establishes that he actually doesn't really like giving interviews. It's going well, you think as a journalist. But never mind. When von Goisern, who has now released the live coupling Ausland, is engrossed in the subject matter, he shows himself to be a relaxed and amusing conversation partner, who pleasantly does without any kind of loquaciousness.
Hubert, you actually wanted to have time out in 2005 / 2006 - what happened?
Basically I am doing that. Under time out, I understand no stage, no publicity. The fact that we're still sitting here and talking about Ausland is unavoidable. You can't release records without communication. You want a bit of attention. Even if I'm no great fan of promotion anyway. You always feel like a chicken that clucks because it's laid an egg. Really, the egg alone should satisfy.
Ausland is a live record and nevertheless, as you say yourself, a continuation of the two Trad albums. Tell me something about the Trad concept.
I grew up with most of the songs from the Trad series. I have always heard them, they are the folk songs of my homeland. But I have never recorded them. Now the best of them have been caught of course. When I gave music lessons in the middle of the 90s, after my time with the Alpinkatzen, I noticed that the children don't sing any more, they don't have any songs. And these folk songs were simply the best opportunity to bring them closer to something. That was an unbelievable musical education process. The problem is: there are barely any recordings of these songs, they are only sung in very secluded circles, which you can hardly enter into as an outsider. But how should people learn songs that are barely on any CDs?
For Ausland you were on tour with very original folk music. How did the audience react?
Of course there are differences in the processing. The understanding of the language grows the nearer I come to the heart of the matter, that is, Austria. Those who grew up where I did know all these songs. But it can be an advantage, not to know or understand and then we are in Oldenburg, Berlin or Hamburg. But that makes it easier for the people to listen to it very openly. They don't have the difficulty of someone interpreting a song that they know very differently. At home the reservations are greater, starting with the instrumentation.
The finale of the tour took place in Timbuctu and Bamako - how did that come about?
It's a long story. It starts with the fact that the ORF wanted to document the Festival au Desert in Mali. Of course the Austrian connection was missing, which nobody would have made. And so I came into play, I was then invited. But the ORF was then not part of it, but I was myself.
How is something like that financed?
I had to pay for everything myself. The cameraman, the hotel in the end, although that was agreed differently. The complete board, that was really a pure rip-off. And so it came to the frustration that the DVD shows very well. It had nothing to do with the country, the people or the music, but rather with this kind of organisation.
In the past you have often worked with the Goethe Institute at similar occasions - although you are an Austrian ...
The Austrian cultural development programme is a very small group of people with a small budget. There were already grants there. The Goethe Institute came to me a few years ago and asked whether I would give a concert together with the Egyptian artist Mohamed Mounir in Assiut - it's a fundamentalist stronghold, where nobody has played for twelve years. Naturally I accepted straight away. It was a great success, certainly one of the most audience-effective things that the Goethe Institute has organised in the past few years. But the reproach that I am Austrian and using the German culture promotion, was somehow always in the room, incidentally also in Austria, it partly went off very strangely.
European and African music, do they always go together?
It always works. There are conditions in which the wrong sounds simply don't exist. It doesn't matter whether I now go to South America, Lappland or Africa, it works. When people meet, who are curious about their opposite and - if it works - also feel an affection for the other, then it works - no matter where they come from. In contrast, a collaboration between artists from the same cultural sphere never works if the people can't get on with one another.
15 years ago you were seen as a savage of folk music, also as the head of a new scene. When you observe your homeland today - what is the genre doing? Is much coming up from below?
I don't see anything, I don't hear anything. It's always the same protagonists. Attwenger, the things I do. Then there's a project called Der Berg. And even the folksy brigade. It's all as before. But there was no movement back then either, no new scene or anything. We weren't a family who worked together. It was a few people and some of them are just still hopping around.
Keyword folksy scene. Were they ever interested in you?
I was asked by Musikantenstadl three times, I turned them down each time - to the sorrow of my management.
So you've never had a discussion with Karl Moik about the concept of folk music?
Nope. But he's stopping now. Incidentally, he only lives four kilometres from me. I've already thought about whether I should then go over and have a beer with him. (laughs)
Yodeller in the desert night
Hubert von Goisern takes stock of a successful career phase with "Ausland"
Timbuctu is in Mali, but actually in the middle of nowhere, buffeted by sand in the dry wasteland at the end of the world. In January 2005 a man stands in the darkness of the Sahel night with a traditional jacket and hat, barely lit by dim floodlights - and yodels to the wrapped up Tuaregs. Hubert von Goisern knows no frontiers and certainly no reservations. "It was all very unreal," he says about his appearance at the Festival au Desert in Mali.
The journey with his band is documented as an encore to the new album Ausland (Lawine), a live record of the most recent Trad tour. The included 45 minute DVD shows a trip to the heart of the desert darkness. The band had to stand on a stage kitted out with adventurous technology. Hubert von Goisern: "I heard nothing of what I played. I didn't hear whether the audience liked it either, because the applause just disappeared into the distance." The fact that the band also had to play under the most adverse conditions after 100 concerts, is to be heard in spectacular fashion in the film. After viewing the recording, he concluded, "that we played very, very well, almost better than on Ausland."
That is not really possible, because the 15 pieces of the Ausland CD recorded mainly at shows in Germany, sound breathtakingly perfect and noticeably more alive than the studio versions. Goisern, the great fuser, succeeds with making the mix of alpine tradition and all kinds of other styles with a fascinatingly light hand. The yodels and folk pieces sound as if they would have always been played with Southern States slide guitar, or the ten-stringed Brazilian lauda (a type of guitar).
With this record, Hubert von Goisern ends another career phase and is withdrawing to the Salzkammergut until 2007: "I'm paying my dues to family life, preparing things that have been left undone and deciding what I'll do next. There have hitherto only been vague ideas."