"Hubert will be the same"
INTERVIEW: Hubert von Goisern on world music, the Dalai-Lama and his stage comeback
Hubert von Goisern returns with world music on two albums. On Gombe the godfather of new folk music has worked with African sounds, which he recorded on a visit to kindred spirit chimpanzee behavioural scientist Jane Goodall; Inexil is the audible collaboration with Tibetan musicians. The OÖN spoke to him.
The first number on Gombe is almost the music of nature. Is that a voice which is ever more seldom listened to?
I was split myself because I think that if people want to hear the voice of nature, they should go outside. When I put it on a CD, I must ask myself whether or not I am contributing to people consuming ever more in their living rooms. I would really much rather people listen to the voice of nature in its original form. I also prefer to go to original locations in order to get the crickets, cicadas, cries of the forest and nature. But I hope that you get the desire for the original through the recording.
You've yodelled in Africa. Did Jane Goodall like it?
Jane met me through my music. There is a number on my live album called Da Juchitzer and it really engaged her. This primal cry caught her the most because she has experienced that in the jungle too. That was also the most attractive challenge for me, on Delta on the CD, to work with just chimpanzee cries, voices from the jungle, with these primal sounds, and then, as far as I was concerned, to in addition work with a voice that comes from very archaic roots of our articulation. And I then refined that with a chamber orchestra, with strings, for the Gombe number - that is the civilised version of it.
Gombe sounds sad, dramatic.
It has a certain sadness in it and this is justifiable because these areas of our world are dying. The chimpanzees of Gombe won't be around for long either.
One knows that what one does is practically for nothing. Isn't that depressing?
Each should pay his due for what can be done in the moment. One may not take such dark prognoses as an excuse for not doing any more.
What about the African music, the way of life, fascinated you?
It's like in so many other parts of the earth that I have travelled: right in the areas where the living standards are very low, the people radiate a vitality and zest for life, which I find exemplary. And when I look at home, people are complaining about a minimal loss of security. The people there have no security at all.
Can the two albums be compared?
It was chance that these two projects superseded each other again and again in the last two years. Basically, they are not comparable, but there are, however, common roots: the examination of a culture, which is very different, which has other traditions of communication, other customs. That was unbelievably exciting, to make a bridge, find a way, and that went via music.
The Dalai Lama was in Austria in the past weeks and voiced his opinion very sanguinely about the further fate of Tibet. Is that an optimism that you can share, or was diplomacy in play?
I don't think that the Dalai Lama is someone who makes diplomatic manoeuvres. I also have the hope that something is done at grass roots within China.
Were you able to talk to the Dalai Lama?
Yes, in Bad Ischl. That's just wonderful. He has such an aura, it's simply great to be near him. I am repeatedly deeply impressed by his openness.
Has he heard your Tibetan music?
I visited him two years ago, I had a private audience with him in Dharamsala and we had an hour to talk about it. Six months ago I sent him the raw mix and he really liked it.
What do you say to the world music boom?
I think it's cool that there is interest in other cultures, for something different. It perhaps also contributes to the fact that people are becoming more divisive. We in the West don't have to tighten our belts, we all have such a paunch. I think it's right for ethnic music to gain a greater meaning with us - and perhaps displaces worldwide pop music a little.
With what will you stand on stage again?
A part of what I have done in the last two years will certainly be in the live programme. I must first write the majority of it. A smaller part of the old programme will certainly be included. I can't imagine not playing a number like Wia die Zeit vergeht.
Will the new be fundamentally different from the old?
I also don't have the feeling that what I am doing now is fundamentally different from what I have done before. I am still occupying myself with the roots of a culture, in this case, it's just not mine. I did with the Tibetans' music what I did with our own. The Tibetan musical and lyrical tradition has had no relevance to present times. It was the same situation here with us in folk music. Ten years ago it was a purely antiquated affair. If maintaining tradition is the only thing, then tradition is already dead.
But you will certainly now be dealing with your own roots again.
There will be new sounds, but the essence, Hubert, will be the same.
Return of a musician
He is among the most interesting representatives of the Austro scene, and found recognition beyond the borders of the country. Yet suddenly he announced his departure from showbusiness. Now Hubert von Goisern returns - and with two albums.
His last concert took place on 1st November 1994, since then there has been little to read or hear of the musician. He is accomplishing the return to the scene with two albums, which have been released on BMG: Tibet/Inexil (2157901 2) and Afrika/Gombe (21 57902 2). In the autumn, Hubert von Goisern wants to produce additional material, then even go on tour again at the beginning of 1999. He made himself available to "Musikmarkt" for an interview.
Let us once more disclose the reason for your departure at that time...
I had arrived at the zenith, couldn't see any more reasons to follow that line for all eternity. There was also no more room for new meetings. Hotel - stage, hotel - stage, it was running on automatic. I had become "exchangeable", so to speak. Now I know people who can constantly reproduce and feel happy doing so. That's not my thing. I needed new adventures with unknown outcome. And so I drew the consequences.
How did it come now to this change into the realm of ethnically-aligned music?
On 22nd December 1994 - I was doing the mixing of Wia die Zeit vergeht and working on the music for the film Schlafes Bruder - my friend Michael Neugebauer, a publisher, surprisingly brought Jane Goodall to my house. She had heard my music and showed herself to be very interested, invited me to Africa. I didn't follow the invitation until the beginning of 1996. The journey was an impressive experience. Jane suggested installing a music system for the chimpanzees, which are intelligent beings. With two buttons: one for classical, one for pop. I suggested a third button, with the help of which they could hear their own sounds. Jane didn't think it would be harmless, fearing unexpected reactions. I suggested that you could edge the whole thing with music.
How did this music develop?
I set off for Gombe with a tap recorder, captured noises, the smell of the earth, the whole wildness of this paradise and let it inspire me.
The "Tibet/Inexil" project must have developed almost parallel to it.
It did and after initial uncertainty, I thought it was good. The work on one gave me the necessary distance from the other. Originally, I flew to Tibet in order to film a contribution for the TV programme Land der Berge - a not necessarily successful journey, due to the surrounding circumstances. But the contact with the culture there fascinated me, it seemed so impenetrable. I was there a total of three time - once in Tibet, twice in North India, where the expelled and escaped Tibetans live in exile.
I spent many weeks there with my technician Wolfgang Spannberger and our mobile sound studio. Afterwards, I invited a team of singers to my studio in Salzburg, where my vision took shape in collaboration with European and South American instrumentalists.
What reactions were there when you first presented the finished products to friends and acquaintances?
I mostly heard, the "Africa story" is easy to listen to, but the "Tibet story" is very difficult. I beseeched them to nevertheless listen to it more often, you have to get used to it. And indeed, they came back after a time and said: "Now we're only listening to the Tibet CD."
Wasn't the simultaneous release a risk?
The Africa album was ready at the beginning of March, the Tibet album barely six weeks later. Naturally we discussed it, and came to the conclusion that a release after a short interval would be bad. You can't get the attention of the media twice in such a space of time. So came the decision to bring them out at the same time.
How does your new tour programme look?
It will consist of a small part of the old repertoire, in addition a part of Africa and a part of Tibet. I still have to write 50%.
Could there also be resemblances to hits like Hiatamadl again?
I have nothing at all against success, against hits, I've just never thought about whether one thing or the other will start up the crowds. At the same time, I don't want my music to only be understood by a handful of friends. So I hope that muse kisses me in such a way that something comes by which the public feel affected. Can I tell you another non-original story in connection to this?
To the horror of my friends, I had in due course, 1989 or 1990, decided to compete for the Eurovision Song Contest - and indeed with my later very successful song Heast es net. My then company boss Heinz Canibol sat on the jury, but the melody didn't once catch his attention. In the preselection, it wasn't among the first 100.
Hubert von Goisern and his new CDs
Hubert von Goisern presents his new CDs, which contain the culture of Tibet and Africa, in Parliament.
Bad Goisern, Vienna. The Austrian parliament, an unusual place for a CD presentation: Hubert von Goisern chose the Hohe Haus to present his two new albums: "I was always different from everybody else. And that is a reason for being here!"
The choice of the place also certainly lay with a much deeper consideration: "The new records are not just musically - I shouldn't say politically - but at least socially or sociopolitically relevant."
One of the CDs has the situation of Tibet as its subject matter. It is called In Exil and is the result of a more than two year long occupation with a culture, which was persecuted in its original country and which could only survive in India. Two years ago, the exiled Tibetan Tseten Zöchbauer asked Hubert to assist her with the organisation of a tour with Tibetan artists. A successful Austria tour with the artists of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), which also thrilled people in Bad Ischl, was accomplished.
Consequently, Tseten and Hubert travelled to Tibet - in order to see "that it couldn't be so bad!" "In fact, everything was much worse!" Hubert balanced after his return and plunged into a project with the artists from the TIPA.
The Dalai Lama ("He shames me with his demeanour, how he handles unpleasant things like hats being put on him and the general scrum around him") gave permission for the songs of old Tibet to be contemporarily arranged and "to open our music up for the youth", as Sonam Phuntsok, one of the collaborating Tibetan artists, put it.
The first attempt to the do work in India demoralised Hubert: Delays for days on end in Delhi, regular power failures and dancing rhesus monkeys on the roofs of the TIPA buildings made concentrated work impossible.
In late summer of last year, he musicians Sonam and Jamjang and the singers Sherab and Pasang finally came to the studio in Salzburg.
And even though it took while, a delightful album has arisen: beautiful ballads, carried by inner feelings, Tibetan melodies steeped in tradition, with modern rhythms to techno beats. The confrontation with the Asiatic music allowed an unusual album to develop, which shows a Hubert, who gets involved in other cultures and lends expression to the need for global thinking.
"We don't live on an island and cannot ignore what happens elsewhere," it says in the second album. It is called Gombe and is the result of his friendship with the behavioural research scientist Jane Goodall. The life around Lake Tanganyika awoke the wish in Hubert to shoot a film. From this idea finally came two different films: on Bayerischer Rundfunk was a sensitive portrait of Jane Goodall and her work, a living description of the natural and cultural landscape of Lake Tanganyika. On the ORF, the material was pressed into the Land der Berge track and almost mutilated.
Hubert in the Himalayas
Hubert von Goisern now establishes himself finally as an ambassador of ambitious folk music with expeditions to Africa and India.
You didn't really want to believe him when he gave his last concert with the Alpinkatzen in November 1994. Certainly Hubert von Goisern had gained a reputation as a good conscience of traditional folk music by renewing it. "I don't know," he explained back then about his surprising retirement, "above all, I need peace in order to think about things which are important to me personally. Values simply shift."
They have shifted damn far, over the equator and over the Hindu Kush. Because apart from his work for film and television - among others, he composed the film music for Vilsmaier's Schlafes Bruder and was also to be seen as an actor in Hölleisengretl - for the time being the man from the Salzkammergut is pulled to Uganda, in order to film a documentary there about the research scientist Jane Goodall. "The idea for film music came from Jane," remembers von Goisern: "Today some of her chimpanzees live in a zoo in the USA. And she asked me to make a sound collage from the recordings, which should at least acoustically suggest familiar surroundings to the animals. But I went a step further." So for Gombe, von Goisern condensed not only African music, but also wind, rain, waves, birdsong, insects buzzing and - naturally - the conversation of the apes into a fluid, ambient album. "It was worth the try," says the globetrotter with a little shrug of his shoulders. During this he fishes another Biddie out of the pack - these Indian cigarettes which consist of a rolled tobacco leaf. "I brought them back from Dharamsala, the exile residence of the Dalai Lama. They taste great, but unfortunately you can't get them here!"
Naturally someone like von Goisern is not holidaying in the North Indian Himalayas, he is making music. Together with the 30 member ensemble of the renowned Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, he began the recordings for Inexil in the ashram there: "I had to get permission from the Dalai Lama personally. I described to him what I was intending and was finally able to invite the musicians for the finishing touches to me in Salzburg."
There it was necessary to overcome the artistic and cultural chasm: "Tibetan music is older than the Pyramids and to Western ears is lacking all structure.," says von Goisern, "I wanted to try to translate this special kind of folk music into modern - and to point out the oppression of the Tibetans. I think we were also very successful!" Just like his eternal project, to snatch folk music away from the realm of fakery and lead it towards a higher meta level Totally without ethno kitsch. And without Alpinkatzen.
Primal roar and mountain air
The alpine rocker and off-beat folk musician Hubert von Goisern brought back astonishing sounds from his journeys to Tibet and Tanzania
His music makes your cats screech - and makes their eyes wet: The actress Cleo Kretschmer from Munich asks her alpine rock idol Hubert von Goisern, 45, about his journeys to Tanzania and Tibet, his CDs Afrika Gombe and Tibet Inexil and his four year creative break.
Why did you chuck it in back then? Your colleagues tend to draw out success like strudel pastry.
I needed time, I was totally estranged from my girlfriend and the children. And if I had been on tour, I would never have met Jane Goodall.
The ape research scientist led you off to Africa?
Not so fast. A friend introduced us, a year later I dropped in on her. Soon I couldn't drop the idea of doing a portrait of this wonderful woman. She is really very charming and pleasant. Unfortunately I never experienced her when she stalked through the jungle naked because the damp elephant grass would have made her clothes totally wet.
On one piece you sing dialect so fast, it sounds African.
I wanted to play music with the inhabitants of Africa in their way. I also used many animal cries. That is, I think, primal music.
To what extent has Jane Goodall inspired you?
She told me that she wanted to make a music system with three switches so that the animals could choose between classical, Michael Jackson and reggae. I suggested a fourth switch, for their own voices, their own music. And because Jane said that it didn't work, I made the piece.
The one with the chimpanzee roar comes off? Excellent.
When I copy the cry, my dog throws himself on his back, as if he wants to say: you're the boss.
What was the collaboration with the 30 musicians from Tibet like?
I first of all had to penetrate the seed of their music. It is like with our folk music - a life on the alpine pasture is sung about that simply isn't there any more.
Did the artists like your modernisation ideas?
Yes, everyone wanted to join in. I also got the support of the Dalai Lama. He gave me an audience, I played him the raw material.
Did he like it?
Yes. He had to laugh at one title and a text by the sixth Dalai Lama. The man was considered to be a slip-up - he hung around at night in the red light district and sang in the pubs. In the morning, he was in the Potala again and was the Dalai Lama. He wrote down his inner conflict in 60 incredibly beautiful verses, from which I made a song. The current 14th Dalai Lama thought that was amusing. After the incarnation teachings, they are his own words.
There are songs on the CD which make me cry.
Yes, you hear a lot of sadness ... the fifth songs, for example, comes from Kham plateau and is sung by nomads. They have terrible homesickness. And someone who has only lived in exile wrote the sixth song. He set off one day with a tape recorder to Tibet, where the Chinese arrested him for spying and gave him 18 years. Tibet is a hard country. There is nothing worse for a Chinese person than to be sent there. And the soldiers know that they are not wanted. They are in a corresponding mood.
Would you like to work more with the Tibetans?
Yes, although our cultures lie so far apart. It was very difficult to find how far I could go, without taking something away from their music. But it was really worth all the effort. Respect for one another bridges the deepest chasm and we are all proud of the result.