Hubert von Goisern
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AUSLAND

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The alpine gypsy

Leonart Kulturmagazin December 2005 | Text: Dagmar Steigenberger | Photo: Robert Haas

Whoever speaks of new folk music can't avoid Hubert von Goisern. At the same time, the musician, who became famous in 1992 with the song "Koa Hiatamadl", has long been someone you can't pigeonhole. His music style is a mixture of traditional songs, blues and world music, which is above all attributable to his second passion – travelling. Leonart met the artist in a coffeehouse in Salzburg.

Hubert von GoisernYour agent told me that you were recently at the Ringsgwandl concert in Bad Ischl. What did you think of it?

Wonderful. I really like Ringsgwandl. I hadn't been to a concert of his for a long time, so that's why I'm happy to have seen him live again.

Which musicians are on your CD shelf at home?

I seldom listen to music at home, I prefer it live. But mostly I find out about the interesting things when they've already happened. The culture coverage in the newspapers is really meagre, in contrast to the sport section, which is blown up on x pages. Music only arises for me when it is played live. An individual magic can then unfold when it is played and listened to at the same time. As opposed to the studio, which is there for practicing, for creative work. What comes from this work is good. But it can only be the foundation for a live concert.

You play an unbelievable number of instruments – accordion, trumpet, guitar … - and you often travel. What's it like at home? Is there a lot of clobber around the place?

Much too much clobber. Sometimes I have phases where I don't care, then phases where I have to muck out. I have such a phase behind me, but the box of effects equipment and other stuff is still standing around in the studio.

Which instruments survive such actions?

I have many stringed instruments – from the electric guitar to the ukulele. And even more flutes, of which are some are really offbeat. A noseflute from the Philippines for example.

Do you buy such things on your travels?

No, I don't buy anything then. Friends sometimes bring me back an instrument from holiday. But they usually only half work. When I find something that I really want to bring home with me, then I have it prepared by the specialist here before I play it.

How do you two passions, travelling and music, fit together?

They're not in the way certainly. As a musician, you're always a gypsy. Without this gypsy pull, something's missing, you notice that with the people who stay here and don't go out into the world to look around. Of course there are good musicians among them, but something's missing.

You were also inspired on your journeys by people who had nothing to do with music: by Jane Goodall for example. After a visit to her in Africa, you released the Gombe CD.

Goodall is an unbelievably impressive personality. Everyone who has the good fortune to meet her feels that. She communicates such a positive attitude towards life, although she has experienced catastrophes just like the rest of us. She has the firm belief - you could even say a knowledge – that humankind has endless spiritual resources, that we are united with everybody and can overcome every crisis. Even if it sometimes seems so impassable.

What do you do in such a case?

When I have the feeling that I'm up against the wall and simply can't get any further and can't get over it … then I usually turn around. Sit down and think about whether there's another possibility. We have an expression: "Es is leichter wos dawoat ois daloff'n" ("It's easier to wait for something, than to chase after it"). Of course it's good to remain obstinate and not to give up. But when someone just wants to put their head through the wall, then I want to say: "Just go three metres to the left, there's a door!"

You once had an audience with the Dalai Lama, you meet together with Muslims and Hindus on your travels. Which religion will you stand for next?

I feel like a Christian, even though I have left the Catholic church. Religion is almost like skin colour: it was handed down to you and you wear it your whole life. I left because of the naivety of the Catholic church: the infallibility of the priest, Mary's virgin birth, the patriarchal structure … A grown-up can't adhere to such a thing! This picture of a jealous, punishing God, as he is portrayed in the Old Testament … God is unimaginable. And at another point in the Bible, it says: You shouldn't have an image of him. I try to keep to that. That's why I feel at home in all houses of God, in churches, mosques, temples, cloisters…

Is there something that you would identify as characteristically alpine?

(considers for a long time) Nothing comes to mind that is here and not elsewhere. People are the same everywhere, they just live under different conditions.

Do you think that music can be understood everywhere, almost as a universal language?

You can't lie with music, you can with words. You can't hurt anyone with music, you can't musically say: you're an idiot! The music divests itself of the wordliness, it is something superhuman. Mind you, when you have lyrics for a song, then it mixes it up again.

On your new DVD Warten auf Timbuktu, time and again you see Africans in the audience who are laughing during your yodels. Don't you feel misunderstood there?

I feel understood. You must be able to laugh when you find something funny. It's all so serious with our folk musicians – I don't know what it's like with those in Bavaria. They look so stern when they play music. Only when lots of beer has flowed do they thaw a little.

Can an African learn to yodel too?

Yes, certainly. Everyone can yodel, just as everyone is musical. It's just easier for some than others.

But we can't pronounce the clicks of Xhosa for example.

Of course you have to practise it, like everything else. The Xhosa have grown up with it and had time to learn it.

In 1998, you made a CD, Inexil, with Asian influences in 1998. The African influence is to be heard on Gombe and on the new CD Ausland. Why did the collaboration with Tibetan musicians not go any further, but it did with the Africans?

That just looks like the African influence would be so big. Actually, it was only the Gombe CD with Africa music. What is to be heard on Ausland is the concert that we gave at the Festival au Desert, but no African music. The artistic collaboration with people who come from another culture is enriching, but difficult. I always needs breaks after such projects, in which I can recuperate.

At the end of Warten auf Timbuktu that this concert in Mali was disillusioning. What illusions were taken from you there?

We were invited to the festival, I'm pleased, they'll be pleased too, I think. The feedback from the concert audience was also enthusiasm, they bought cassettes and CDs from us. But the organisers didn't give a shit. They didn't show any hospitality and thought they could squeeze money out of us. It wasn't just a few hundred Euros I left there, it was a couple of thousand. Doing this, they ruined so much of the understanding among nations that arose through this festival.

Hubert von GoisernDo you have a utopia as far as living together in one state is concerned?

I'm a communist at heart, but I have been to Cuba and I must say that Castro is a complete idiot. Perhaps he is charismatic as a person, but otherwise he is an old prat. The people there do not have permission to talk to foreigners, unless they are tourist guides and have a licence to do so. Such lack of freedom overwhelms me. My vision is that we learn to choose people, not parties. I am against this party-thinking, against ideologies, religions, against national thinking. But I'm a realist and know we're not ready for that yet.

Were you a revolutionary as a young man?

Yes. I had long hair and didn't do what my parents would have liked to have seen. My mother wanted me to be a doctor, my father wanted me to do an apprenticeship. I did do an apprenticeship – as a chemistry laboratory assistant – but then I had to go. My parents were constantly worried because I earned no money. It made me sad that my parents worried so. When I was then away …

… in South Africa

… yes, I went there when I was 21 – when I was then far away, I felt better. It didn't make a difference to me, whether I had no or little money. I could always do what I wanted to do. Back then, it just took longer until I'd saved together the money for it.

How do you get on with your parents today?

My mother died four years ago. I get on well with my father, above all when we make something together. He is a craftsman, who, back when people had very little money, learned to make everything himself. I admire that about him, he can always help himself. I am not so talented in that respect, except with electronics.

Is there an event from which you have learned something significant?

Hm. Perhaps when I met the Colosseum drummer Jon Hiseman in 1986 at the Messe in Frankfurt. It was the two of us and I asked him if he, as an experienced, successful musician could give me, an inexperienced, then still unsuccessful musician, any advice. He said: "Rule number one: Whatever happens, never give up. Rule two: Never play at parties." I've abided by both.

What has the money, which you now earn, changed for you?

Before, I had to plan very long-term. Now it's the case that something seizes me and a few days later, I'm sitting in the aeroplane. But travelling around is no longer so important to me. Earlier, I always had a geographical objective in mind.

What is your objective now?

I do plan to a certain degree. But I leave a great deal to chance. It's important to me, to appreciate everything around me and also to react, not just agitate.

A few days ago, you celebrated your 53rd birthday. What plans are you contemplating?

I have many ideas – we'll see which of them are realized.

Can you imagine settling down?

I already am settled. I always was actually. I just change my seat now and again. I've lived in Salzburg for 14 years.

Where do you see yourself at 70, 80 years old?

If I live to see it, as a teacher. I could imagine later teaching at the Mozarteum. Later, not now! Because most of my colleagues stop being musicians when they teach. Something is lost. I'm shit scared of that.

And of getting older?

Not of that. I'm fine with that. Aging is like puberty. And that wasn't dramatic for me. You just need a bit of time to sort out where you stand. And sometimes you must be alone.

What animal would you like to be?

(considers) There are two. One would be an eagle, because it can fly. It moves in an element in which I cannot move. The second, a whale: he is away on long journeys. And he's a loner.

Acid test with Warten auf Timbuktu

Kleine Zeitung 13th November 2005 | Text: Annelies Pichler | Photo: APA

After 100 concerts and a trip to Africa, Hubert von Goisern withdrew somewhat. But not totally.
In Vienna he told us about his "Ausland" experiences and other projects.

Hubert von GoisernAusland is the name of the Hubert von Goisern doublepack, consisting of a CD with folk songs, as well as the DVD documentary of your ninth trip to Africa. Why "Ausland"?

Where to begin. I think: abroad actually begins at the threshold. As a Goiserer, who grew up with a neighbour, of whom it was always said, that's the "newcomer". An old woman, from whom I found out sometime, that she came to Goisern from Gosau by marriage at the age of 20! So I think to myself: yeah, ok, abroad. Nobody should say, abroad is far away. And the term is a super one, I only think of good things in connection with it.

How do folk songs suit the documentary of an Africa trip?

The desert concert in Timbuktu, Mali, closes the circle. We only did there what we did in a hundred concerts for a year in the German-speaking countries. Finally just one more time in Mali.

A journey, which could just as well have had the title "Disappointment". Why was that?

I kind of cried that it was over, that it went so fast and also that it was so lousy. The lack of respect there. The equipment was absolute junk and had my technicians not been there, the whole festival couldn't have even taken place. And these "organisers" come along and say, only the five musicians get a sleeping place in the tent, the sound technicians must pay for a 300 Euro festival pass in order to be allowed in. They invited us there and so should have looked after us, not this: "How much money do you have with you, put it on the table and clear off." That was disappointing and offensive. And it wasn't just like that for us. Everybody. The African artists too.

Nothing good at all?

On the DVD, there are at least three moments where I must say, I got something back there. How Bil Aka Kora and I sing Hiatamadl. During this I only thought, hopefully it all goes ok. I couldn't enjoy it, we couldn't hear each other, all the monitors were broken, we were flying blind. It crashed and banged and we didn't know whether anyone outside could hear anything. But when I listen to it now, I think: It was worth it for this alone, that this version is documented. Or the meeting with Kele Tigi, the balaphone player. A gift. Then this band that we came across by chance on the last evening. You can't buy moments of happiness. The fact that something like that happens is connected with risk and there is always the risk that nothing happens at all.

A year with one hundred folk music concerts. How does one feel after that?

I can't listen to any more folk songs, or any more yodels, but: that's normal. If you eat only schnitzel for a year, it can still be cooked just as well, at some point it doesn't taste nice any more. But I'm looking forward to the moment when I open myself up to it again. But after a year with folk music, you also long to be able to play other harmonies again.

In the meantime, you have also composed a football anthem for the Salzburgers. Is it true that "jo mei" is now always played in Salzburg when someone gets the yellow card?

In was only like that at the first game and only in the first half. It's not really an anthem, it doesn't have any lyrics, only a cried melody - a rudimentary yodel.

And to conclude the résumé of a year: your sound installation in the Giant Ice Cave in the Dachstein doesn't sound at all "underground".

Because I usually only accept commissions when I want to try something. Such a composition for bells and voices had appealed to me for a long time. I want to do something even bigger there and that was a good opportunity to try something out. It would have been easy to make a "cave sound", but I thought that I would do something where only I get it. The Dachstein cave really has something of a cathedral about it, that suits it there.

New plans?

Nothing concrete. I only want to be on stage again in 2007 and then with something new in any case. At the moment, I'm just letting the ideas affect me, instead of working with them. And I want to maintain that for a while yet because it's actually the most creative condition, later you're only really putting it into practice.

CD TIP: Ausland is the name of Hubert von Goisern's CD with live recordings of a tour, which led him through Austria, Germany, Switzerland and to Mali - and during which he let the songs and yodels of his forebears come to life again in compelling and stirring ways. "Ausland" (Abroad) because the music was recorded in places, which are abroad for it: Basel, Trier, Soest, Vienna. In addition, he packs in the DVD Warten auf Timbuktu, on which HvG brings Africa right up close to us with wonderful sounds and pictures.

Coincidental Hubert

Wienerin November 2005 | Text: Chris Haderer | Photos: Peter M. Mayr

Austria's most charismatic folk musician on taking away, attentiveness and letting things happen
- and why there is so much homeland in "Ausland"

Hubert von Goisern

"We thank coincidence for the best things," said the once most famous lover in Europe, Giacomo Casanova. Europe's most famous Goiserer also has respect for so-called coincidence: "Coincidences have played a large role in my life, "says Hubert von Goisern in the Wienerin interview, to which he came on his motorbike.

The alpine avalanche rolls. Probably the greatest coincidence was that in the middle of the eighties, when he was sounding out the Wiener Graben with his accordion, a passing CBS manager pressed his business card into his hand. From that, the "alpine avalanche" was then let loose by Hubert von Goisern and the Alpinkatzen in 1986. "Attentiveness belongs to coincidence," says Goisern. "You must take back your ego a little, in order to give coincidence space and to realise that you can neither determine everything yourself, nor do you have to. A great love, for example, where the world and time stand still, is basically a coincidence. You must just allow the meeting to happen."

Hubert von GoisernNorth German yodelling. Ausland is the name of his soundwork. In the Dürer-inspired cover you find a CD with live recordings of the Trad concert tour from 2004, which all arose in the so called foreign parts around Austria, as well as a DVD, which shows Hubert von Goisern's journey to the Festival au Desert in Mali. There was initially opposition to the title from the record company, who said, "Ausland could give a few people the wrong impression." Goisern was not to be persuaded: "In principle, the term "Ausland" (abroad) is used positively," he says. "I like to travel, and as a Goiserer, Vienna is abroad too. Apart from that, I really liked the fact that abroad is on it and, in truth, homeland is within." Accordingly traditionally, the disc once more contains folk songs hunted by the Goiserer sound converter, songs which bring the north Germans to yodelling to, a "balancing act that shapes my life," says Goisern. The trip to the desert, recorded on the Warten auf Timbuktu DVD, once more represents a conclusion. It was the last tour, on which I had only played folk songs." The fact that the film is to be found as a bonus DVD in the new album, is down to the ORF, who did not want to broadcast the production on alpine TV.

Musical do-gooder. Outside the ORF, Hubert von Goisern also finds "another load of people for whom I am a red rag. I assume that it's down to the fact that I play folk songs in such a way that they become my own. Many then believe that I would take something away from them." Even if, for many ears, it doesn't sound like it, Hubert von Goisern is something like a musical do-gooder. Less because of the nevertheless down-to-earth lyrics, and more because of the musicians with whom he collaborates.

Africa, Tibet, Bad Goisern ... With which we are once again with coincidence - like the meeting with the British chimpanzee research scientist Jane Goodall, who led Goisern to Africa and to the album Gombe (1998). A further chance acquaintance, Tseten Zöchbauer, head of the organization "Save Tibet", also assisted at the birth of Inexil (1998), which came into existence with Tibetan musicians. The fact that hardly anyone overseas can get on with his lyrics is not the main issue for the Goiserer. "I brood for a relatively long time about my lyrics, but the primary means of transport is the music. And that," he is convinced,"is understood just as well in Senegal as in Hamburg."

He has meanwhile been chosen as an honorary citizen there, despite the unanimous resistance of the party, whose guidance figure, also a Goiserer, shared the school bench with Hubert. "That made it acceptable. Nevertheless, someone from Hamburg probably gets along more easily with my music than someone from Goisern, who associates something completely different with the songs, from which they must first separate, before they can get involved in my interpretation." He makes it easy for his clientele on the Ausland album: from country to western to Ambros, all find yodelling nuances.

And now, a soundtrack? Nevertheless: There must be an end with this kind of music, Hubert von Goisern lets it sound out and thinks about a totally new project: a soundtrack. Exactly ten years after Schlafes Bruder. What a coincidence.