Hubert von Goisern
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S'NIX

S'NIX >> Interviews: 1 2 3 4

How the mountain calls

FAZ 14th June 2008 | Text: Andreas Lesti | Artwork: Helmut Neie

In conversation: Hubert von Goisern

It is early summer on the Haller Alm above Bad Goisern, only on the Dachstein do clouds hang: The Austrian folk music rebel Hubert von Goisern sits in the alpine pasture with his dog Bongo.

Hubert von GoisernHow are you addressed now? Mr von Goisern? Mr Achleitner? Hubert?

Here they just say "der Hubert".

You have been living for some years now in Salzburg. How often do you come to Bad Goisern?

Unfortunately not often enough. I have a little house above Goisern, on the sunny side, not far from here. I love it deeply. It's a kind of pension insurance. Up there I have water and wood for heating. And if it comes to it, I'll go to the market once a week with the accordion until I have enough money. Then I'll go shopping and go home again. I bought the house with the first money I earned in 1992 with the hit Koa Hiatamadl, since then I haven't needed to work again.

Is money important to you nowadays?

Money doesn't help you at all in putting an idea into action. You have to just do it. You can't use your money to get someone to read a book for you, or go up a mountain. You have to do the really exciting things in life yourself.

Would you like to grow old here in Bad Goisern?

I can imagine doing so. This is a good place to reflect. But I don't know if that will really happen. I live in Salzburg and feel very happy there. My children are 14 and 20 years old and because I very much valued the continuity my parents gave me at that time, I want to offer my children that too. I don't know whether I've subconsciously steered myself back here time and again. When I lived in Toronto, and was for the first time in my life so far from the mountains, I became depressed. Is wasn't my environment. And it took me a long time to realise that.

Why had you left back then?

I had the feeling that the valley had spat me out. I always felt sick when I did something. I was and am someone who needs harmony and I suffered as I seemed to always offend people with the way I lived and thought. I didn't feel understood here and didn't want to have the fights. But I wasn't someone who rebelled and said: they're all too stupid and don't get it. That's why I left.

Back then you left the brass band because of your long hair.

My long hair was just one of many things. But this constant nagging annoyed me: I should cut my hair, because otherwise people would think we've got girls in the band - at that time that was not the case. There were just a few, they played clarinet or flute. People pointed their fingers at them and said : that's the downfall. But there was also real trouble with the clear hierarchy: the older ones told the younger ones what to do. And then at some point they threw me out.

You just accepted it?

Years later I found out that the bandleader had always thought that I wouldn't hold out and would apologise a few days later.

But you didn't.

No, but that was very difficult. Especially because I had to give back the trumpet. Aside from that I had a wonderful, highly musical and gentle music teacher. He never scolded me and said: you haven't practised again.

You didn't practise?

I have never practised. I can't practise. I think that in general practising is stupid. Playing cadences and etudes breaks musical character. There are a few things that come to mind, but my fingers don't go along. Then I have to search for it. But for me that's more of a trance into which I fall.

So for you playing is also composing?

I am my first and most attentive listener and can astonish myself time and again. If that doesn't happen I find it dull. And then I leave it.

You play trumpet, guitar, harmonica, clarinet, piano and accordion. With which instrument do you compose?

All of them. Today I took along the trumpet and accordion.

You came to the accordion through your grandfather.

Yes, and that was very late. I was 33 or 34.

And when did you learn yodelling?

That was later still - at 37. I was convinced the whole time that you needed some defect, without which it wouldn't work. But then at some point the slow yodels that are found here fascinated me so much as a singing technique that I taught myself with a cassette.

And was it the case that you could suddenly do it and you yodelled here on the mountain tops?

No, I have to confess: I learned to yodel on a motorway bridge in Regensburg during a tour.

How romantic.

It was terrible. When you do something that you can't do it sounds terrible the first time. I didn't want anyone to hear. But it was so loud on the bridge that I couldn't hear myself. Much later the Tibetan singers told me that they go to loud waterfalls to learn their singing technique.

You are one of two famous men from Bad Goisern. The other is Jörg Haider, the Governor of Carinthia. You even went to school together. Do you know each other well?

No, we've never met. We did go to the same school, but he is two years older than me. But we were more or less neighbours. My grandfather was a very good friend of his father. It was only much later that it occurred to me that my grandfather was also what one would call a Nazi. The pair always got together on their birthdays.

Haider is known as a radical right-wing populist, you are known as a cosmopolitan. You can't get more different than that.

But I probably wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for Haider's father. My grandparents were refugees from the Sudetenland in 1945 and came to Goisern by chance. They had twenty-four hours to find a house and a job, otherwise they would had to have left immediately. My grandfather then met this like-minded person, Robert Haider, and he organised a house and a job for him. I think if there was something good in it, it was that.

How are two such different biographies possible in a small village like Bad Goisern?

There were probably just two options for Jörg Haider: to either make a complete break from this family, or to continue this legacy. There is no middle ground, or it would be very difficult and would require a strong character. His father told my grandfather that Jörg wanted to go to America after his Matura exams - to emigrate. But maybe we should be happy. He might have become President of the United States.

Two years ago you clashed with Heinz-Christian Strache from the FPÖ, Haider's former party. Strache used one of your songs for an election spot. In an open letter on this you wrote: "I stand for an open, tolerant society, for the destruction of fear of the unknown and new, and not for the fomentation thereof. I stand for looking changes in the eye and looking forward, not for the attempt to stop time, or to even turn it back."

Hm, yes. But that was rather a penalty box dive. But I couldn't avoid it. I had to take it as a chance to take a position.

Strache stands for xenophobic slogans such as "Home instead of Islam", "Understanding German instead of nothing" and "Pummerin instead of Muezzin". The Pummerin is the biggest bell in the Stephansdom in Vienna.

Yes, that's really terrible. But you shouldn't be afraid of something like that. Jörg Haider was of another calibre.

In 2003 you newly interpreted the song Abend spat. It was one of Adolf Hitler's favourite songs.

I didn't know that at first. A good friend of mine told me when we were in the studio and recording the folk songs. When he saw that Abend spat was on the programme, he said: You can't do that. But for me it was one more reason why I should. You can't surrender to these people.

Do you see a political duty in your music?

Music is a priori unpolitical. Music is much greater than politics can ever be. And a beautiful song can't do anything about being liked by someone who is not liked.

Isn't there also a point of contact between your view of tradition and that of the right wing nationalists?

On the contrary, interestingly some of the clientele have overlapped. This nationalistic and backward-looking way of thinking is not my thing. But nonetheless: I have brought tradition to life in the here and now and so certainly twenty per cent of my concert audience comes from the right wing. Many of my colleagues have said: Ah, that's unpleasant. But I don't think so. I actually think it's great that they're not just hunkered down in their beer tents, but they get an alternative programme at my concert. They leave the concert different from the way they went in. That must make them think.

There are no folk songs on your new CD S'Nix, but once more there is pop music sung in dialect - like before.

The more rocky and poppy material will perhaps be a certain shock for the audience, who have indeed grown older with me. And they are not all as keen to experiment as I am. But I can't play folk music ad nauseum.

There is a football song - the treatment of a World Cup report from Heribert Meisel from the year 1954. Did you do that deliberately for the European Cup?

The idea for Rotz und Wasser has been around since 1991. If we hadn't done it now, it would never have happened. We were successful with something that has to do with football and euphoria and emotion. Apart from that I let someone speak who is a far greater authority than me: radio reporter Heribert Meisel.

S'Nix begins very loudly with a lot of drums and guitar.

The CD developed last summer where we were travelling on a ship on the Danube and playing on deck. The stage was always a long way from the audience, so you have to work with great musical gestures.

Towards the end though, it becomes ever calmer.

When you listen to the record all the way through, then you arrive at nothing: S'Nix. It starts with a band and becomes ever quieter until the last instrumental piece Hermann - then you arrive at silence and hear that it is at an end. Then it's over.

A house for nothingness

Mittelbayerische Zeitung 31st May 2008 | Text: Mario Kunzendorf

Hubert von Goisern is travelling the rivers of Europe once more - this time he will be starting in Deggendorf

As Hubert von Goisern once said: the goal of a European collaboration is not "for everyone to be eating Wiener schnitzel at the end of it". The goal is to become acquainted with differences between the cultures. As far as this goes the 55 year old Austrian multi-instrumentalist is in agreement with the political head of the European Union (EU) in Brussels. But then must their paths have gone separate ways. Or, as Hubert von Goisern put it in the MZ interview: "We can be proud that Europe also exists without Brussels."

You have to understand the man. By the end of the year Hubert von Goisern will have covered 12,000 kilometres through Austria - just on rivers, on a flotilla with a floating concert stage. The journey began in Regensburg in 2007 and ended at the Black Sea, in 2008 it goes from Deggendorf towards the North Sea.

The project is costing about 4 million Euros and has cast not just the artist and technicians into unknown waters, but consequently all the bureaucrats in the various countries too. Only the EU government is keeping itself dry, waving from the shore with a written note of its enthusiasm. The project has no concrete help from Brussels, even though it is no simple commerce: in Eastern Europe for example admission to the concerts was free. "But that way it's even," says Hubert von Goisern, closing the EU chapter and delighting in how full of experiences the shows in Serbia and Ukraine were. "The population there is very open to adventure."

Spaces full of stories

The title of his new, eleventh studio album S'Nix (Nothingness) happens to suit the bureaucracy: the singing flotilla still often swims against giant waves of officialdom. But seriously: "S'Nix is a state of being still and looking at the spaces in which supposedly nothing is happening. But in fact everything is happening there." And that is how the CD is meant. Or, as is said in Leben: Nothing belongs to us and nothing is free, so our whole life is the greatest art."

Musically translated it conveys itself in a rare variety of expression, in the courage to combine surprisingly hard rock with pop and folk music, to sing in dialect, to roar and to yodel, or to give pieces the nowadays practically epic-seeming length of nine minutes. It is not the inspired loop that characterises S'Nix. But as Hubert von Goisern says: a bad composition is like a monument - and only through the one arc of melody that stays; a good composition is different, "like a house with many rooms that you can visit".

The pieces are certainly shaped by the first part of the European journey. The songs sound without a set location, baulking at an unravelling of the tonal network of roots. Culturally seen the discography of the freeman of Bad Goisern remains an open question. But his fans are accustomed to that. "I can only make the music that comes out of me," says Hubert von Goisern. And that makes him different from the EU: something special comes out of him, at time from the politicians in Brussels it's just nothing.

Hubert von Goisern ...

The Red Bulletin May 2008 |Text: Christian Seiler | Photo: Jürgen Skarwan

... takes care of elements, particularly at moment: water. Last summer he travelled down the Danube, from June he will be on the Rhine. In between, fire, earth and air: S'Nix, the elemental new album.

Hubert von Goisern

But this time Hubert von Goisern did it very, very differently. He first summoned the band to the studio and then the work on the new album began. A new album that in the musician's life history is incentive and reward, burden and punishment, all at the same time. It's certainly the opportunity to try out new sounds, to tell new stories. But what sounds, what stories? How does the melody that sounded so incredible in the mind finds its instrument? Where are the waiting words hiding?

Hubert von Goisern has already tried out a great deal. The list of his songs is long. He found a good number of melodies rummaging around in the province of Salzburg, albums arose with fine traditional folk music from back home. He brought a good number of them home with him from world, from Africa, from Tibet and married them with the sound of the harmonica, with the heartfelt feeling from which his yodelling is made. Then the electrical storm. Hubert has shown that wild rock music is as natural to him as strict folk that ran together in chart successes and anthems. Thus the Goiserer became a leading figure in Austrian music. But now it should be about something new. A handful of people, door shut, controls on. Let's make music.

To the mouth. Last summer a journey came to an end, a journey that Hubert von Goisern had begun in order to see where the water behind his little house above Bad Goisern, into which he sometimes throws his apple cores, flows. This stream flows into the Traun, which finds its way through the Traunsee, enters the Danube at Linz and then the Danube flows into the Black Sea.

But what is the name of the place where the Danube takes on a new form, at the mythical kilometre 0?

Perhaps Hubert wouldn't have been able to answer this prize question four or five years ago, without have a secret peak in the atlas. He wouldn't need to now. On 3rd August 2007 the Linz Tour sailors moored the stage ship Wallsee at the pier in Sulina and Hubert and his friends took their instruments from their cases, tuned up and let loose playing their "home is very far away" concert.

The concert in Sulina was the furthest point of the Linz Tour, the greatest geographical amplitude of a daring experiment.

On a journey through Africa, when he docked on a boat at various coastal settlements on Tanganyika Lake, Goisern was caught by the longing feeling that, if you just look at it right, a ship is a mobile stage that can come to the audience rather than the other way around.

He kept this feeling back in Austria. Then he found the Wallsee in a Danube harbour between Linz and Pöchlarn and then the idea of transforming a stage into a ship came to life and started to move.

It should be about understanding language, about looking for seclusion, but for allies too. It should be about docking in as many Danube harbours as possible and playing concert for people who would have an ear for new sounds. Wherever the ship docked musicians should come on board and play. New sounds, new beats, a new understanding. That was the vision.

On 22nd June the Linz Tour started in Vienna. From there it went first to Melk, Passau and Regensburg, then downstream. The Wallsee flotilla - the stocky concert ship with containers and large stage, a barracks ship and a tugboat - trudged past Vienna into Slovakia, to Hungary, southeast to Serbia, Romania, the Ukrainian stop of Ismail, to Sulina. 23 concerts, countless experiences. 300 spectators in Vukovar, 7000 in Ismail, 10,000 at the final concert in Linz.

Exhausting happiness. Hubert von Goisern does not like to transfigure his Danube tour. It produces strong images. It produces strong feelings. It makes him happy, but who is to say that it can't be exhausting to be happy?

"The further from home we were the better it became," says Goisern while he sits in Bulls Corner, the restaurant at the Red Bulls Salzburg football stadium, eating a salad. He means, for example that in the first river kilometres it wasn't so nice, that enthusiasm wasn't going to transmit to the visiting musicians by itself; that in many places the band had to develop the very specific strength of street musicians: playing so grippingly that the spectators decide song after song not to go yet until the last encore.

It was chaotic, says Goisern, anarchic: wonderful.

And if he were to describe his relationship to the Danube in just one word? - He takes a forceful, hissing run-up on just one consonant: "Ssssuper!"

Now the time after the tour is also the time before the tour. The Linz Tour will be continuing this summer. It will continue from Linz upstream along the Danube, along the Main Danube Canal north to Bamberg, along the Main from Würzburg to Mainz, finally travelling down the Rhine through Cologne to Rotterdam.

Part two is an expedition into known territory, making the second stage of the Linz Tour somewhat different from the first. Yet however well you may know a country, it is a completely different place seen from the river. It is with this cheering and tempting perspective that Hubert von Goisern will be setting off on his journey this summer.

The new album. In the meantime the new album took shape. It came together in just four months. It is not just the speed, but the whole story of how it came about that is unusual. When the troupe met in the studio in Salzburg there was no material. No songs, no lyrics.

Instead there was a history: the history of a boat trip together, the 23 concerts played, the hours on stage, the days on the ship.

When work was to begin Goisern said to his colleagues: we will make an album by all of us. Everyone will compose. Everyone will be credited as a composer. The better idea wins. Let's start.

A rhythm was often enough, driven energetically by the drums; a bass figure; the guitar. Goisern didn't stop his lineup. He forbade them from changing too often from major to minor. Major, Hubert says, is more compelling.

Thus arose a powerful, charged CD on which Goisern puts aside his usual markings. His accordion is only used now and again and there is less yodelling. Instead resolute wind instruments appear and the unusual sounds of the gadulka, a three-stringed fiddle, played by the famous Roma artist Darinka Tsekova.

Confusingly the album is called S'Nix, the Salzburg dialect for "das Nichts" - nothingness. But what could promise to be meditation is on the contrary a pretty wonderful amount of observations, atmospheres, fights and punch lines.

S'Nix is not a folk album, it is a pop album, a confident piece of pop music aimed at attentive listeners, not a sprinkled programme. The songs revolve around the eternal themes of pop and poetry, asking simple and difficult questions, impressions often hatched in Salzburg dialect, which touch your heart without an explicit message, then another song comes along as a musical monumental painting with sounds from all parts of the world, the Balkans included.

Goisern, who has meanwhile finished his salad, doesn't hide how happy he is. How relieved he is that the unconventional way of approaching the recording proved to be fruitful. "They all let themselves in for it," he says. "They all saw it as a chance."

The fact is that Hubert von Goisern finds pleasure in the unpredictability of his projects - at least when they work out well. The Danube journey. The work on S'Nix.

"Sure," he says and a sarcastic smile spreads from his eyes to the corners of his mouth. "The first feeling, as soon as it's over, is always: thank God."

And then?

"Then comes pride. Pride in how well everything has gone."

Going to the limits

SWP 23rd May 2008 | Text & Photo: Udo Eberl

Hubert von Goisern continues his Linz Europe Tour

Hubert von GoisernLast year Hubert von Goisern played 30 concerts on a concert ship travelling the Danube from Passau to the Black Sea. The Linz Europe Tour now leads along the Main, Rhine and Neckar.

Has the Linz Europe Tour fulfilled a dream for you?

There were 15 attempts before our project to set something like it on the water, but such an undertaking is so complex that they all ran aground. A dream came true for me that became even greater in reality.

You made a conscious decision to barely leave the ship on this journey.

You are exposed to nature and the elements there. We lived outside. That was one of the best things about the tour. The Danube is a continent within a continent. When you're in the middle of a storm the urbanised, civilised world is very far away. It's a very different feeling of being alive.

Water unites. Was this also the case with the guest musicians from the various Danube states?

Many meetings exceeded my expectation, like the concerts with Zdob Si Zdub, Rambo Amadeus and Karandila. A good many setups didn't work though. It was in countries such as the Ukraine and Serbia, that is just where we thought things would get hairy, we experienced our highlights.

Did you feel like a European ambassador?

I am a disciple of the European idea. I found it very during the trip to look for the similarities - but the differences too. I'll probably never understand Bulgarian well enough to be able to really play along.

What awaits you this summer on the Rhine, Main and Neckar?

The bar has been set high, but I'd like to think that it will be very adventurous again, as we're meeting musicians like Xavier Naidoo, BAP, Konstantin Wecker, and Passport.

Has the Danube and its sound helped to shape the new album S'Nix?

The Danube is audibly squeezed in. Many of the songs something rather epic about them, just as the Danube does as a river. But it's all in the flow, I never had the feeling of being under pressure in the studio. Just as on the trip, I wanted to go to the limits, to areas with which I am not familiar.

Hubert von Goisern's Linz Europe Tour will bring him to Ulm for the Donaufest on 7th July. He will also be presenting an exclusive evening concert with his Danube friends Zdob Si Zdub, Rambo Amadeus and Karandila there on 8th July. On 18th July he will be playing in Stuttgart Harbour.

"Nothing" isn't right at all

Kleine Zeitung 18th May 2008 | Text: Bernd Melichar

Hubert von Goisern likes to get his feet wet: his Danube tour as ambassador for Linz 09 will soon be taking him off towards the North Sea. And he has recorded a CD too.

He is so appealing, genuine and solid, when he stands in front of you and relates in broad dialect and with bright eyes what he will be doing in the near future and what he has done recently; he, being Hubert von Goisern. He has a lot before him and he has accomplished a lot too. In recent times. Hubert von Goisern was seldom to be caught on dry land in recent months. As ambassador for Linz 09, the next European Capital of Culture, the Upper Austrian started a unique project last summer designed to bring people together: with a barge that had been converted to a combined stage and barracks ship he sailed along the Danube from Linz to the Black Sea, giving 29 concerts along the way.

Sunshine and shadows

"There was a lot of sunshine and a bit of shadow during these months," says Goisern the meteorologist. " I was afraid of this wild east, where everything is negotiable - and I am so bad at negotiating." A short pause for thought. "But we talked, sometimes fought, negotiated and then hugged again. That's the way it was."

Now "Goisern's water music" is being continued. On 27th June he will be starting the second part of the exploration of Europe by river, chugging with his flotilla in the other direction. This time the route leads via the Rhine Main Danube Canal, Main, Neckar and Rhine to the North Sea. 25 concerts, played from the ship to the shore, are planned and partner artists will also be taken on board. Those being hired as seamen for a few days include: BAP, Xavier Naidoo, Konstantin Wecker and Klaus Doldinger. "This part of the journey will be very different from our east tour", Goisern believes. "Because for example in Germany there's no negotiating. You need five stamps. And if you're missing one, then that's it." Goisern and his team are accompanied by a film team. The result, a kind of "road movie" on the waterways, will be shown on the ORF as a five-part documentary, probably in July/August.

A disc with rough edges

However, since Hubert von Goisern is not just ambassador and ship's captain, but also and indeed above all a musician, he has meanwhile recorded a CD, whose title S'nix (Nothingness) should not be taken programmatically. Recorded with young musicians, who were also on board for the Danube adventure, the former "Alpine Cat" is putting forth a disc that is indeed round, but still has many rough edges. "Many people have said that you have to listen to the CD at least three times," he winks. "And that worries me a bit. How many people are there still who will listen to something three times?"

Don't worry, such people still exist. Water music? Could be. But it never just gurgles in, it is much more that it pours down. It rains hard rock, then breezy pop, time and again with earthy yodel passages in between. World music? Could be that too. But not the type that meshes all the continents together, where at the end you have a meal on your plate that tastes boring because you can't taste the individual ingredients any more. "It became very ... music," Goisern searches for the right word - and finally finds it. "It became very full music."

The twelve songs on the new album grew from long sessions as a continuation of the ship music. Some songs reach out far beyond Goisern's previous cosmos. In a collage of the legendary radio broadcast of the quarter final between Austria and Switzerland ("Heated battle from Lausanne"/World Cup 1954) reporter Heribert Meisel becomes a rapper. At the end come some epic works that are as beautiful as a sunset on the Danube near Odessa.

"Nothingness"? That's not right at all! "That's right," laughs Goisern, "that that's not right. Lots is happening at the moment."

That's right.

Overcome by the variety of the world

Kurier 16th May 2008 | Text: Brigitte Schokarth | Photo: Markus Kucera

Hubert von GoisernThe cause for "cultural eastwards expansion", for the "integration of the Danube region" was taken up by Hubert von Goisern with the Linz Europe Tour. On this tour he is docking with a ship at chosen locations to make appearances with musicians from the region. In the Kurier interview the globetrotter takes stock and explains why the journey has barely influenced the new album.

Half time on the Linz Europe Tour. On 27th June you'll be setting off on the westward route. What were the experiences of the eastward route?

Many were painful, but it mostly went well. And the further towards the Black Sea we went, the more relaxed it became. Because the friendliness with which we were welcomed was far greater than in Bratislava and Budapest. We gave free concerts everywhere and I think in the places close to us the people are so westernised that they think: if it doesn't cost anything, then it can't be anything. But I wanted everyone to be able to come. My main objective with the tour was to form friendships so that I am not dependent on information from the media alone.

To subvert manipulated coverage?

Exactly. An example: In Serbia I was deeply touched by the openness and friendliness with which we were received. And I think that can only be so because I was expecting something else. So although I fight against it a great deal, through the long-standing reports that the Serbians were the bad ones, I too developed prejudices.

On the new album you show yourself to be harder, rocky and strongly influenced by western musical tradition. Why are there barely any influences from the regions you travelled?

I used to have the feeling that I wanted to learn the musical traditions of foreign countries and integrate them into my music. But nowadays I find the regional identity more exciting than making everywhere-but-nowhere music. I could do something with the Kyrgyz and the Inuits and and and. The world is so varied and at some point the flood of what still remains overcame me.

So that's why I now think it's smarter to stay at home and carry what is exciting in our country. The only influence of the journey is the new band: because I knew that people will be far away on the bank on this ship tour, I needed a band who could thrust forward And S'Nix is the document of how I sound with this band.

In the song Weltuntergang you take the hopeless state of the world with humour. Are you less angry?

I'm trying. Anger only suits the young and from a certain age it becomes laughable. This nonchalance with the status quo that I describe in the song is wishful thinking. I'd love to have such an attitude, but never manage it.