Alpine Cat on Mount Everest
After the dissolution of his band, experiences in Tibet
have inspired Hubert von Goisern to two exotic records
The proverbial day after: in winter 1994/1995 Hubert von Goisern must have felt like a top manager, who after years full of highly paid for permanent stress, suddenly has blank pages in the calendar in front of him. Psychologists know about it from the tales of woe from countless people who have given in their notice and dropouts. Goisern, tired from the permanent treadmill of tours and studio sessions, was on the point of dissolving his Alpinkatzen band after ten years, the band with whom he had turned the sleeping world of Austropop on its head within a few years. "I had only been programmed to output, and wanted to get round to reading books again, meeting other people, becoming acquainted with new ideas, listening to different music - but apart from the wish to work with the medium of film, I had no concrete ideas," remembers the musician from the alpine village of Goisern.
Today Goisern attributes the unconscious inner readiness to the fact that within two years, two equally strong women could prompt him to unusual projects in exotic areas. The 40 year old exiled Tibetan, Tseten, had already asked Goisern in November 94 to support a concert tour of Tibetan musicians through Austria as a presenter. In May 1995, Goisern found himself with the "Free Tibet" activist again at the foot of Mount Everest [....] On the other hand, the behavioural scientist Jane Goodall was introduced to Goisern at the end of 1994, just as he was mixing the farewell live album of his Alpinkatzen. In February 1997, Goisern visited the Englander in her legendary research laboratory in Gombe at Tanganyika Lake in Tanzania.
Both journeys also had political implications for the artist from Austria: "During our first collaboration, Tseten told me so many terrible things about the oppression of her people by the Chinese that doubts were also waking inside me. I said to her: "Tseten, I don't believe everything you say - now we are going there, you also only know it from hearsay, after all you have never been there since you left the country with your family as a two year old."" The renunciation-rich expedition with forged Visa confronted Goisern "with an unbelievably repressive system. Western reporting is indeed unbalanced in details, but in general the picture that is conveyed is right. The Chinese try to break religious and with it also the cultural backbone of the Tibetans."
In order to draw attention to the tragedy in the Himalayas, Goisern recorded the album Inexil in India and Salzburg with the artists from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts who live in exile. "I told them how I extracted the motifs of folk music from the dusty local history museums and provided them with lyrics and sounds which fit with the modern times. I suggested to the Tibetans that I do the same with their music, in order to not only reach ethno-specialists and emergent Buddhists."
From his journey to Jane Goodall, he brought the documentary film Von Goisern nach Gombe, broadcast by ORF and Bayerisches Fernsehen, a portrait proposed by him of the primate research scientist and environment activist. "She radiates an absolute magic. She is a performer with a great stage awareness. In that respect we are really similar." With his film, Goisern wanted to support Goodall's political war for the protection of species and the environment. His soundtrack for it, now available under the concise title Gombe, is inspired by the primate research: "Jane told me about a laboratory in Africa where chimpanzees are kept in cages. She wants to install a music system there in order to provide the animals with stimuli. She wants have two buttons with which the chimpanzees can choose whether they would rather listen to Mozart or Michael Jackson. Unfortunately, there is not yet anything like it. Through this I had the idea to make one number from nothing but animal sounds - but no stupid sound collage, but real music! That was then the first track for the album."
Time and chance
The transformation of the popular musician, the role of chance, the new album and the new programme. An interview with the founder of "new folk music", who stepped off stage four years ago and wants to step onto the stage again next spring
With which feelings do you think about your earlier success?
The time had a completely different dynamic and quality. It was all planned, one knew every day what one was doing and where the next concert was. There was no room to experience something new.
Was it much too close?
Like a family. We moved around like a circus, a baggage train of 20 people with our own cook. But nevertheless it was something special to go out every evening and to make a party with people. That is perhaps what we lack most at the moment, I do not know what the work in the studio meant for people.
Why did you make this break at this time?
I worried that I could become a fat carp if I stayed in business longer. I even began to break out of the rigidity of folk music, this unity. With the success, it took ever more attempts to examine myself. I just did not want that, but the expectations of colleagues, the record company and the public was unambiguous: carry on until the signal. However, it did not interest me to constantly sing the same message to the same people, people who go wild before you have played the first note.
Is the search for new the principle that stands behind your work? You have produced two new records with Tibetan and African music.
I simply wanted to newly define my location, jump to somewhere exciting. That it brought me to Africa and Tibet was pure chance. Chance has got space in my life again. If you are permanently travelling, nothing new happens any more, you get to know nobody new, you meet people only for a handshake, no more friendships develop, because you must get straight on the bus and be at the next concert in five hours.
Do you now know where you landed with your jumps?
Both jumps - to Tibet, to Africa - arose out of sheer curiosity, from the wish to experience more of a foreign culture. In the course of contact, the vision first arose to transpose the experiences into a CD. I did not know until the end whether something useful would come out.
How did you make this music your own?
I composed for the Africa album, arranged and produced for the Tibet album. It was the first try for me as a producer. I did not want the musicians from Tibet to explain the Western music, but to put my knowledge and infrastructure at their disposal, with which they learn to express themselves. And I have the feeling that it is their record, their music. Although I had to choose 12 titles from a repertoire of 40.
Was it difficult to bring together the two worlds?
There were fundamental misunderstandings. I fully underestimated it because I otherwise simply made my own stories. The body language is completely different, you constantly misunderstand. At some point you work out that they mean yes and not no when they shake their heads. For the Tibetan musicians, there is no one valid interpretation of a folk song. Each one always does it differently. That drove me to despair. Since I then have to insist that we decide. Therefore we came up against a brick wall again and again, being aware of others behind the wall, but unable to find an entrance.
How many of your emotions are in this music?
The first number on the Tibet CD is a good example. The people who sing it have never been to Lhasa, they only know Lhasa from descriptions. I was in Lhasa and had my picture of Lhasa in my head. If someone sings a charming song of praise to me about Lhasa, I hear a complaint in my head, I see the ruined Lhasa, I get angry. Accordingly this number does not sound charming. The people understood that and sang it a cappella (sings the song), then this hammering eighth arose in my head (sings again).
How did you come to a rhythm with the musicians?
I moved in their rhythm until I had it in my head, then I played to it with the electric guitar. I noticed how difficult it was and rearranged the song until it started to groove. I played it to the Tibetans, in order to know what they felt, to hear what has priority in their heads. Or I simply let them drum to understand where their pulse is.
What did Tibet release in you?
When I fight for Tibet, I fight for my own culture, for the little uneconomical places on the Earth, whose less is nevertheless irreplaceable. I would like to protect endangered languages - of which music is one -, because of that the fine differences do not die, with which we can look at the world from more perspectives.
Before the return you stand on the stage. How will this return be organised?
I would like to be on stage again next year in March, although I said that 18 months ago. But the wish is very great.
With which music?
The albums which I have just completed will form a part of it, a part will come from the old repertoire, but I must first compose and write the lyrics for the foundation.
What's it like when you hear your old things today, or see yourself?
When I watch the film (Wia die Zeit Vergeht by Dana Vávrová) I would really like to play a few numbers again, where my heart likes it, where I think that I would like to try out with a different ensemble. It will be less rocky and subtler in expression, without chucking away bass and drums. With that the force stays.
How is it to see yourself?
I see a stranger.
You don't recognise yourself any more?
I recognise myself, but it is like looking at photos from earlier and remembering a certain feeling of being alive. The heart is the same. I am still someone who lets the things on stage happen, who does not think I do this so and so, on this point I dance or close my eyes. When I play music, something takes control. That is why I need a polished concert programme because I can organise no more in the moment. It is like a kayak whooshing over a white water rapid. It is pure adrenalin. But I think that the fairway will be a different one.
A softer, withdrawn one?
A possibly much riskier one. With more knowledge, more experience, one can also take greater risks.
The rocky folk musician Hubert von Goisern returns - without his Alpinkatzen, but with two world music albums
"Wia die Zeit vergeht" sang Hubert von Goisern, and his fans could only agree in amazement. It was a droll comeback recently at the picturesque at the picturesque Hallstatt Lake: no more lederhosen, but in traditional Tibetan costume, not shorn, but with almost shoulder-length hair, and also no Alpinkatzen at the side, no sign, for example, of the lovely "Alpine Sabine", but a Tibetan singer called Pasang - so the 46 year old Austrian returned after a long concert break.
It became a reunion party full of surprises and improvisations, and similar is also to be expected from Hubert von Goisern's next appearance: on 20th June as a guest at the Open Air Patent Oschner. "In Belpmoos I will play two pieces from each of my new two albums, as well as an old song," Hubert announced. "Then we will see."
If a European pop musician brings two ethno albums onto the market in quick succession, it is inevitable suspiciousness stirs. Too often ageing rock star from the West delay their artistic sellout by means of raiding through the rich sound world of so-called Third World countries. What is behind it if Hubert von Goisern serves us an African record and a Tibetan record at the same time? "It simply turned out like that," said the defendant calmly. "The ethnic roots of music have always interested me, as well as the relationship of regional ethnic and global effect." He did not have any more to say in his defence.
But Hubert von Goisern has one or two things to tell. They are two completely different stories, that led to these two completely different albums, to Gombe, the African one, and to Inexil, the Tibetan one.
On 1st November 1994 the rocky folk musician and his Alpinkatzen absolved their last joint appearance - after three studio albums and an endless hour since 1988 with more than 100 concerts per year. Despite the unbroken success, for Hubert it was then high time for a final stoke. "I would have only been able to repeat myself. I still like the rocky body of sound of our version folk music like before, but it gradually became too constraining for me. Apart from that, I was unbelievably tired then."
The strength still stretched in order to supervise the production of an Alpinkatzen project concluding live double album. "There Jane Goodall suddenly turned up in the studio and talked to me." Like many hundreds of thousands of other people, Hubert had also read the world-famous research scientist's books. From the acquaintance soon grew an unconventional collaboration. The now 60+ year old Briton told Goisern of her fight for improved living conditions for chimpanzees in animal experiment laboratories. And the scientist wanted to achieve that these highly intelligent animals in their depressing cages at least get some acoustic variety. "Jane has in mind an audio system with which the chimpanzees can choose music from Mozart or Michael Jackson by pressing a button. I liked that, I only proposed that you should offer the animals a third variant: their own music, the sound of the jungle." Jane Goodall found the idea interesting.
So in February 1997, Hubert von Goisern travelled to National Park Gombe on Tanganyika lake, where Goodall has observed wild apes for 30 years. Like the Yello sound-hunter Boris Blank, Hubert collected all imaginable sounds, from the cries of the chimpanzees, sounds of other animals, to the singing and rhythms of native musicians.
In Austria again, from samples he mixed together his Gombe album, in which he supplemented it here and there with a simple instrumentation, for example with Reisejodler, his own singing voice and also his own cries are laid over. Whether the 12 tracks of the album can delight every laboratory chimpanzee and be accepted in their ears against Mozart and Jackson is admittedly still unclear. But it is certain that Goisern lets the record proceeds flow back into two relief projects established in Gombe National Park.
Long before Hubert was lured into the Tanzanian jungle, his personal history with Tibet had begun. On a journey to north India, he came into contact with the members of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala. "In conversation with those artists living in exile, the idea arose of a soft modernisation of Tibetan music," says Goisern. The result: 14 pieces in which, for example, extracts from Tibet's 500 year old opera tradition are combined with Austrian folk music and international dance rhythms. "Above all, I wanted to incorporate unfamiliar areas of Tibetan music. That's why I left out the meantime quite familiar monks' singing."
Unlike with Gombe, with Inexil Goisern did not just work with samples, but worked from A to Z with people. Accordingly, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts has a share of the proceeds of the album. Whether Institute members will also take part in the concert tour that is planned for the beginning of 1999 is not yet certain. "We must first clarify how sensible that is."
But either way, it is clear that the connection between Austria and Tibet holds good. After all, the Dalai Lama is patron saint of the project. "After he was convinced of the spirit of the project, he opened all doors for me," says Hubert von Goisern. "The Dalai Lama is an unbelievably serene, calm and serious person. He has become my most important role model."
Goisern - Gombe - Tibet - Return
Hubert Achleitner from Goisern, after a long absence from the record market, recently presented two new CDs, for which he in fact almost worked more as a producer than as a composer and musician, even if he yodels and plays the accordion and much more: Gombe and Inexil, results of two journeys to Africa and Tibet.
Albert Hosp eavesdrops, visits Goisern and notes down impressions
of this "careful daydreamer" of the Austrian music scene.
INEXIL, Cut 1
A prelude shaped by drums, bluesy guitars - the music first roughly establishes itself geographically with the entry of the song: it comes from Asia. A glance at the CD cover: Tibet - Inexil. Tibet - that sounds like isolation, what affects the country itself and its culture. But here on this CD: definite pop music.
"With the Tibet CD, I wanted to offer the musicians the opportunity to work contemporarily, because it is possible like it was with me and Austrian folk music."
The musicians, who are Tibetan artists living in exile, are members of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) in the north Indian Dharamsala. Hubert von Goisern played music with them in India and then invited four of them to Salzburg, where his and their vision took shape. Before that, he had naturally already been to Tibet himself in spring 1996 with his rucksack and without any instruments. In the house in Salzburg - in which there is a studio in the cellar - I sit opposite him having only just got an interview in time. Goisern will soon retreat to work in the studio, probably for quite a long time. For the two and half years work on Gombe and Inexil has fully occupied him; there is no time for songs of his own, even CDs. But are the two CD here not his own?
"In these two years I was very happy that I could produce and not have to be creative . Even with the Tibet CD I withdrew myself a lot and rather tried to convert a feeling of being alive into music."
With the other CD, Gombe, a more personal creative inclination seems to have infiltrated.
GOMBE, Cut 1
Forest, birds, insects, otherwise nothing at all. And still relatively quiet. Then the Goiserer's yodel hits the ears all the more. Unnoticed Cut 2 has begun and an arrangement principal is clear: behind this CD is more dramaturgy than on Inexil. The pieces flow into into one another, connected sounds of nature, but also through instruments. In which, for Goisern, there are not many differences at all between natural and man-made sounds:
"I wanted the many sounds that I could hear there to be an element of the music and everything did not always have to be equally loud. It bothers me with most pop productions: everything always the same sound level recorder, the quiet passages!"
All in all both journeys were not originally motivated by music at all. He went to Tibet because he wanted to get to the bottom of both the politically limited unapproachability as well as the musical exoticness. He began the journey to Gombe, a small town on the north-east shore of the Tanganyika lake after he got to know the chimpanzee research scientist Jane Goodall in the winter of 1994.
"I am not someone who does foreign aid, I am a musician. If I still have a plan to go there again, then it is to ground a festival of the different cultures. So many nationalities and peoples live there. Every day 1000 fugitives come from Rwanda alone."
GOMBE, Cut 4
Water, lots of other sounds of nature, a bit of celestial keyboard ("Naturally the keyboard needs an identity. It has a problem that it is only broad, but not deep. With a piano, you strike a sound and it goes very deep") and vocals: those from Goisern himself, clear, not singing, rather speech-cry-yodelling; and those from others, rhythmically fascinating, also a little reminiscent of yodelling. On the CD cover: "Freud: singer"
"Freud is a chimpanzee, the alpha male of a group. Sometime he lost his hair and was chucked out of his supremacy. We recorded his cry and the start of a cry forms the basis of this number."
INEXIL, Cut 3
A rhythm a bit reminiscent of a Reggae; the accordion plays the typical second helping. One of the rare moments, and that concerns both CDs, in which Goisern's most familiar instrument (although actually his first was the trumpet) comes forward anyway.
"I did not have my accordion with because since the last project with the Alpinkatzen I rather looked at it with greater awe. I would like to play again, but so that something new comes out."
Memory: the sound that we know from Goisern and the Alpinkatzen, that many criticised, insolent, but in the final analysis a completely legitimate mix of old and new traditions is not found on Inexil at all, somewhat more often on Gombe.
GOMBE, Cut 12
A Goisern dialect introduction, which then repeats over a happy high life rhythm. Not really easily understandable, but perfectly fitting for the song:
"In Germany they thought that I'm singing in Kisuaheli at that point."
"I also yodelled to the people in Gombe, so slowly from the Salzkammergut. They were pricelessly amused because they always thought that they were intros to a rhythm, but which then never started ..."
INEXIL, Cut 4
Solo voice, a traditional song, scarcely 50 seconds long. A short station to pause. No extra instruments. A piece of music from Tibet, pure. Most sources, from which Goisern's friends from the TIPA draw, are between 200 and 600 years old, for example, the old Tibetan opera. However: none of the musicians have ever visited Tibet, they are all "inexil".
"With the recording a synonym developed: if it is Tibetan, then it is actually incomprehensible. For example, they have no embarrassment to sing differently each time. It just naturally really grooves, but now and again there are four quarters, then three again, then five again. It reminded me of my very first compositions, where I didn't worry about anything, also because I had still heard so little." And Goisern still formulates it a little exaggeratedly: "It is perhaps best, we listen to as little traditional music as possible."
"At the moment it does not appeal to me at all to travel. Now I also begin the journey inside, in my studio in Salzburg, and in the refuge in Goisern."
He will stay there next time. Goisern certainly has not become a hobby ethnologist, but he is quite certainly one who can be astonished with open eyes and ears and - it can also sound kitschy - open heart. If necessary, he probably then lets his heart decide what experiences he starts. And it sounds on Inexil, more still on Gombe: most-agreeably irregular, very digestible here and there, but mainly quite well done and always mixed with care. Since his dreams are also probably set to music.
Hubert von Goisern in the heart of the subjective truth
Two new albums - exciting African (Gombe) and Tibetan (Inexil) musical traditions
"There are adventures in which you end up," says Hubert von Goisern. He ended up in Africa one winter evening in 1994. In the beginning due to his affinity with chimpanzee research scientist Jane Goodall. In the end there would be a film and the album Gombe. It is released today at the same time as Inexil (both BMG), his journey through a part of Tibet's musical tradition.
Goisern does not renew or change, but sensitively translates his interpretation of a foreigner's feeling of being alive. There are many impressions to feel that he must have gained on his journeys. Just as he once would not let his love of folk music turn into a partial revival through a revolution, he also feels at the heart of his subjective truth with the two new projects. Goisern got involved, worked his way along, constantly learning. From that developed a tension that revealed that nothing would have worked in stereotypical presentations (of course Inexil is about the political situation in Tibet, but many trends are important - "Free Tibet"). With both projects, Goisern has used the prevailing tradition without offending them. Instead he gave them - from the background of his European origin - new, current originality.