Hubert von Goisern
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INTERVIEW

Miscellaneous: 1997

"I search for the blank areas of the landscape of the soul"

Land der Berge April 1997 |Text & Photos: Klaus Haselböck

Hubert von GoisernHubert, you appeared with the Alpinkatzen, you come from Salzkammergut, a mountainous area, and you wear lederhosen. A strong mountain relationship is probably hardly to be avoided there.

First of all: I have not worn lederhosen since I was 14. Then I grew out of the ones that my grandfather had bought for me.

But you are not the first to have believed that I constantly wear lederhosen. It is crazy that many believe that. If people see me as I have always been dressed, that is without short lederhosen, they think that I only really have none by chance. But exactly the opposite is the case.

I think that lederhosen are simply not comfortable. They are too hot and inhibit my freedom of movement. I have also not yet seen a climber who wears lederhosen.

Well ok, I hope that an alpine relationship is also available to you without lederhosen.

All right. I grew up in the mountains and they are very close to me for this reason. And the older I become, the more conscious I will be of what leaves me if no mountain rings are around me. Earlier I never knew at all what it is I feel there. Today I notice distinctly if I come back to the mountains that it is the place where I can relax.

I am certainly shaped in this respect. If the mountains are there, then I know that I can go up, in order to get a new perspective on life from above. If one is only in the plains, one can go as far as one wants and nevertheless it does not change the perspective at all.

Do you also have a sport relationship with the mountains that goes above hiking?

No, not actually. Indeed I climbed all my life and it still appeals to me. But I pursue it far too little. The friends with whom I climbed before have either given up or live elsewhere today. I like to hike alone or perhaps do a climb in the second degree. But a third alone is no good for me today. I love the overcoming, but only if I am hanging from a rope. Also, I have never done anything more difficult than a V+ before. Then I was always the alpine climber rather than going through the fine details in the climbing garden.

You became known via music as Hubert von Goisern. How did you come to this name?

I was born as Hubert Achleitner and took the name Sullivan through a marriage to a Canadian woman. I was also still called that when we divorced. At that time I began to occupy myself with folk music and translating in temporarily. I had therefore never said my surname, but I when I introduced us, I just said: That is Wolfgang from Vienna and I am Hubert from Goisern. Without thinking that it could be understood as something else. Until sometime a journalist, a friend of mine, said: that is actually a good stage name, Hubert von Goisern. It also "clicked" with me and I saw that one can understand it not only as a designation of origin, but also as a name.

In between, I bore my original name again, but the people still know me as Hubert von Goisern.

Hubert von Goisern The concept of folk music that you mentioned just now, fluctuates between dulcimer-playing and Musikantenstadl in Austria. Where do you see your place in this spectrum?

I don't like to fit in. I express myself through music, I also write lyrics - there is also the level of poetry as an artistic form of expression. But I can't create a label for what I make. There is simply no need.

If I write film music now, I am a film music producer or composer. If I make something as with the Alpinkatzen, then I concern myself with our alpine or rather, inner alpine folk music. But that is still not to say that I am therefore a folk musician.

A few years ago I had the luck to find quite wide acceptance with one of my numbers. In this period I was probably a "folk musician". For the people sang the lyrics and made my song theirs.

Now, naturally one can say that "folk music" must not be called that which every person knows. Carl Orff says for example: "Folk music is the music of a region, not of a people." One can also argue with this. For if the Turks come to us, they also play their folk music.

But if people live long enough in one place, then I believe that the elements that are existing there as tradition in their thoughts penetrate. Just the same as the countryside in which the people live flows into their songs and will shape them.

Is there a credible "folk music" for you today?

There is in any case. Naturally I suit the folk music from Salzkammergut because I grew up there. These have on the other hand a common basis in the harmony and melody with the folk music in Pinzgau and Pongau, but also out until Switzerland and France. But it is therefore certainly not identical: the people in Goisern speak differently from those in Gosau and the people from Ischl play a different Steirer. If one comes from Vienna, perhaps one does not notice that. If one grows up in Goisern, one probably notices it a lot.

It shows how strongly people - in spite of, or exactly because of the smallness of the region - identify with their landscape.

Which role comes up with the mountains?

The mountains mean that one does not enter as easily as in the plain. The differences could therefore not be so easily smudged and remain striking. One could say: the mountains structure the music.

But I also believe that the mountains are noticeable in music. One notices the music where it is practised and one also experiences it most immediately there. That is as with a wine: one drinks a wine from Wachau or South France, then one also has the atmosphere from there, and that works best there, where one drinks it. But one drinks a Retsina here and it will also still taste good, but not coming out with all the wonderful smells.

Is the music that you make transportable?

It is transportable, but it must be good quality and solid. There is a wine that must be drunk quickly and there is also a wine which one can store for 10, 20 or 100 years because it was simply costly to make and is transportable for that reason.

With the music that I have made, I have equally really not known, but I felt and hoped. And that has certainly given us success: we have travelled around the whole German-speaking area. We have played in Denmark just the same as in Paris and America, and overall, it worked.

Hubert von GoisernHow do you explain your success?

I succeeded with my music in letting the people "fall in". Independent from country or language, it is possible, provided that there is interest for the listener and an openness for something different. If an African makes music for us, we also don't understand his language and therefore his lyrics. But very probably, his feeling of being alive spreads over us. It was nothing else with my music.

In hindsight, have you seen yourself as an "ambassador of the mountains"?

Yes. But not because it has been a need for me to transport this content out, but because I am simply like that. I grew up in this area and it shaped me. Mind you, positively I had a very happy childhood in Goisern. After that I was pulled abroad for seven years and had various experiences that made lasting changes to me.

Not without reason that's why I live in Salzburg today. As much as I love the village idyll, it is too small and close for me.

Nevertheless that absolutely contradicts your "ambassador function".

Certainly not. However, the word "ambassador" is a problem for me. For me it sounds too like missionary and I certainly don't want to be that. I am what I am. And I have the talent with which I can step before the audience and express myself with music and poetry and the descriptions of stories, and I have the good fortune that the people find it interesting. But I think up not stories according to the motto: "the people would like to hear that", and I will just not insist on explaining to my audience "as it is with us at home".

Many themes in my songs have nothing at all to do with Goisern, except perhaps that I have experienced these things as a Goiserer.

With what aim do you go on stage? Do you want to entertain the people, make them laugh or inspire them?

The inspiration is certainly closest to me. As an artist one is asked again and again the question whether what one is doing makes any sense at all.

As a shoemaker, one makes shoes for people with which they can then go from A to B without hurting their feet or getting frostbitten. As a teacher, you teach your pupils so that they can later find their way in the world.

As an artist you must again and again answer for: "no idea whether the music brings anything to the people". Then without music people go on just the same. Certainly people go on without shoes and schools. But at the end of the day, art is actually something very unnecessary. You can only measure the reaction of the public, whether it is of use to them for some reason or makes sense in the end.

I believe that it is quite a subtle theme with which one has difficulties talking about.

Hubert von GoisernA few years ago - exactly on your artistic rise - you ended your musical career. Why?

I told my band and those around me a year and a half before. I knew at that time that I simply needed a break and to start something new. The thought did not come spontaneously or from anger, but it was clear to me that I had reached the ceiling with that ensemble. We played hundreds of concerts and naturally we could have appeared with further success - not least therefore - because the whole project had also finally worked out well at that time.

An end also at the high point of financial success?

Yes. But I have never done things just because I can earn lots of money with it. But I had seen a definite aim and wanted to try out exactly that. When it then worked, I was content, but straight away I thought about the next experiment. I am someone who is always on the search for new tasks and new limits.

It is like mountain climbing: One can pick out a mountain and then constantly climb it and get to know it in every state of weather. But one can also say: I have now been up it ten times and the mountain is very familiar to me. I still love it, but nevertheless I want to try something else once. My way is certainly not valid for everyone else, but for myself I know that I simply deteriorate if I do something for too long.

So success is not the main motivation for you?

No. I always think of the quotation from Popper: "an experiment is that from which one finds out whether a train of thought is right or wrong." If you also find from the experiment that the train of thought is wrong, then the experiment has succeeded. Naturally it is also ok if you see that the idea was right. The main thing is always that one is cleverer than before.

So I have used a "falsifying" of the hypotheses of the artistic sphere, in my case music. It was always important to me to conquer "virgin territory" - in this respect I am an adventurer. The world is so explored and so travelled, that it has become difficult - also for itself - to discover something new. In geography there are almost no more blank areas on the map. But as an inquisitive spirit I don't go out and search these most awful blank areas of the inner landscape, the soul's landscape. I search them to discover, I want to break open these taboos and translate them with artistic vocabulary.

And I have also pushed ahead with an exclusiveness that in comparison nothing else has had no more space. At that time I must have antagonised the public in order to bring a real change to my music. So a clear break was good for me.

How did you make use of the time after that?

I bought a house here in Salzburg and renovated it. At last I found enough time in order to look after my children. Unfortunately both have grown up in a time when I have not been at home at all. I have noticed that a lot of my quality of life has been lost through my career.

Because if I do something, I concentrate fully on it, not looking left or right and I am very cold to everyone who wants something else from me.

Hubert von GoisernSince your exit, you have engaged yourself for Tibet and also travelled to Africa for a film project with the ORF. Nevertheless, we are interested: will there be a reunion with the stage sometime?

Probably in spring next year. A few months ago, at a Sting concert, the idea germinated of how great it would be to stand on the stage again. It was fascinating to see how the spark from zest for life spread quickly to the audience and how everyone went home relaxed. The idea has meantime seized hold of me, and I know that it must happen.

On the other hand, I cannot rush at it now, I must still finish other projects beforehand - like the Africa film. Just the same, I first naturally need a concept and a meaningful record for the concert. It simply needs its time.

And with which music?

I still don't know. Most probably there will be no Alpinkatzen musicians with me, but I want to start with a new ensemble. Through my long break, I have musically started from scratch again.

With me, it is always that I sit down with a blank white piece of paper in front of me, and something comes. Then I work to a formulaic construction and it gathers momentum and sometime everything fits together.

Will the mountains have something to do with your music?

For a long time, I would not imagine that I would ever make something with folk music again. In the last weeks I have recognised that in singing, as it is yodelling, I would in any case like to carry it further. In no other way of articulation does one come so well away from words.