No yodelling, no old hits
Comeback: After 4 years absence, Hubert von Goisern, star of the new folk music, returns with two new albums and lots of commitments
He went away, now he is here again. Almost 4 years have gone by since Hubert von Goisern audibly said goodbye to the concert stage and leaving the live album Wia die Zeit Vergeht, as he said, "had finished". Finished: that is a big word if you are called Niki Lauda and overnight had got fed up with going round in circles.
Hubert von Goisern prepared his finish sensitively. He had simply turned out the light of new folk music - the trend which via Hiatamadl he had spread with powerful thrust in all the households of Austria and South Germany. When Goisern made his exit, the art of being able to yodel with the electric guitar was lost in the corner of the folksy schlagers. Klostertaler, Zillertaler, Hardbradler were already waiting there in order to come into Goisern's inheritance. Yes, certainly they inherited their audience. But they do not manage to naturally keep their work different from a commercial identification for a second. Heast es ned? Mei, san die Leidln bled! (Can't you hear it? Well, people are stupid!)
Goisern has laid out a beautiful picture in order to illustrate his estrangement from the world of schlager. "When I started," he says, "I shook people up. At the end, I had been worried that I was just being shaken up myself." That is why the end came, because: "I had to create room to be able to experience something."
With Goisern, not only the by far and away most popular new folk musician said goodbye, but above all the only person who could establish a connection between traditional music and pop and formulate the result so that the general public understood it. From there: Goisern went away and there was deep darkness in the corridor of new folk music.
Foreign feathers? However, when Hubert von Goisern presents his two new albums next Monday, no familiar light will fall in this darkness. For neither Inexil nor Gombe are Goisern albums in the conventional sense. No folk songs. Scarcely a yodel. Seldom an accordion. No rhymes. No jokes. No quarrels.
Goisern and Tibet: "Disappointed by the SPÖ"
Goisern would not be Goisern if he was not conscious of his unbroken popularity - and did not feel himself obliged to use this in the service of the Tibetan situation - as incidentally many other international stars also do. Not only Richard Gere and Martin Scorsese commit themselves to Tibet, also the wild youths of the Beastie Boys who a year ago organised a huge benefit concert in New York. Hubert von Goisern will also take up the stimulus. For the coming year, he plans a big Tibet benefit in Austria, Germany or Switzerland.
Before that though, he must still make the acquaintance of the Austrian politics of the day. After his visit to the Dalai Lama, Goisern developed the idea of inviting his Holiness to Austria. In the Bad Ischl mayor Helmut Haas, he found the official authority who could deliver the invitation. The Dalai Lama promised to come.
Completely in order. The visit of whom in Parliament, which ought to have supported the invitation, turned out to have surprisingly difficult consequences. While Goisern, through arrangements of Madeleine Petrovic found an ally in ÖVP club representative Andreas Kohl (Goisern: "As a human being, he is completely in order") For the duration of the Dalai Lama's visit, the SPÖ representatives all let themselves be neither seen nor heard. National Council President Heinz Fischer account for this by saying: "The Dalai Lama does not represent a state." Which is why Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schüssel also only met the Tibetan's spiritual leader "as a private person". Goisern commented:"I grew up as a red and it pains me to see how lacking in any distinct image all the SPÖ politicians have become. They have behaved shamefully. I would not mind if they were out of the game."
Obligatory awkwardness. Also in Bad Ischl the Austrian ÖVP provincial head Josef Pühringer sided with the Dalai Lama. (Goisern: "Pühringer has never had such a good sound from his microphone") while Fritz Hochmaier at the time chairman of the SPÖ, had still tried to make his Bad Ischl party friend Haas change his mind about the idea of the invitation.
Then anyway the local traditional group took care of the obligatory awkwardness. In all seriousness, they put a Styrian hat in the Dalai Lama's head.
Goisern has tried much more to examine the connections on which his previous work was based in the outside world. He has released a CD with African music and one with Tibetan. He has looked in the corners of the world for musicians and helped himself to their traditions, their ability to improvise and their stubbornness. In a countermove, he put his money and his opportunities at their disposal and finally took responsibility for the result.
In other words: Goisern provided the original playing of the African and Tibetan musicians with his musical commentary and with that levered the authenticity out of the corner. That also gave him the right to publish both albums under his name although he will probably not be spared the accusation of decorating himself in foreign feathers. André Heller knows a song to sing about it.
With that Goisern can very credibly explain that what is now available digitally processed did not arise from any long term plan or rather no concrete long term plan.
One day, Jane Goodall the chimpanzee scientist stood at his door (the connection between the musician and the behavioural scientist was Michael Neugebauer, born in Bad Goisern and an employee of Nord-Süd-Verlags. He made a chimpanzee book for children with Goodall which was a great success and after that took over her management.)
Goodall invited Goisern to Africa and a year later he travelled there. He stayed a month on Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania and a slave to his unbroken urge to be active, cooked up a plan to make a film. The music for this film (which ran in the ORF series Land der Berge) laid the foundation for Gombe.
The Tibet project was no less accidental - Goisern always strongly maintained that he believed in chance. A call from Tseten Peldon: whether Hubert would be able to make a little publicity for a concert tour of Tibetan musicians and dancers through Austria - sales were going slowly. Goisern allowed his name to be used on the condition that he be permitted to present the event - so that there was juggling with names. He was allowed to. During two weeks, he got to know the TIPA musicians from the Cultural Institute for exiled Tibetans based in Dharamsala in northern India, and discovered his fascination for their unwieldy but nevertheless insistent music (for the political aspect of the matter, see the box on the left).
Mundane observations: This time the Goisern project came in to being from the analysis of mundane observations: during the day the Tibetans heard exclusively Western pop. In the evening they slipped into their national costume and played their traditional Asian music. What could be made out of this imbalance? How, Goisern asked himself, would you be able to extend the audience's sphere beyond an esoteric circle of Tibet freaks and those interested in Buddhism?
But before Inexil, the best loved of the two new Goisern CDs could be developed, first of all various difficulties had to be moved on the way.
First of all, Goisern's doubt: Whether in Tibet it was really as wild as his friends described. He travelled to Lhasa, came back from the situation depressed = motivated. He devised an album that would offer more than traditional folklore. For example, the Goiserisation of Tibetan homesickness. Why, Goisern asked his colleagues, don't we tell the story of the girls from the Eastern Tibet region of Kham who missed their parents in our own words? (A question in Austria to which the answer has become new folk music).
Not so easy. For Tibetan culture is holy. Goisern had to undertake a long wait to receive formal approval in a private audience with the Dalai Lama to be allowed to "Goiserise" Tibetan cultural possessions.
He got an audience as well as approval. He describes his meeting with the Dalai Lama: "We had an hour. This hour seemed to me as long as a whole day. The man impressed me enormously. He was so open and interested. He did not cling to anything. If that's the way it is, he accepts it. Of course, he said, we should do what we want with the old songs."
Goisern came back to Austria, packed his mobile studio together and travelled to Dharamsala with Wolfgang Spannberger, his friend and sound man for many years. However, they could not work there at all. Goisern told of constant power failures and of chimpanzees dancing on the roof of the temporary studio, making a murderous hurly-burly. That is why they returned to Salzburg, where Goisern established a studio in the former room of the local chess club. With four TIPA musicians as well as Austrian and South American friends, he recorded the twelve tracks of Inexil, with the exception of a few pieces of traditional Tibetan melodies, in a new, in parts very contemporary, arrangement.
Window on the world. What is the value of Goisern's work? Undoubtedly he invested a great deal in the current albums (time, money, enthusiasm) because of that the accusation that Goisern wants to swim with the ethno wave, for the moment comes to nothing. Goisern wants, and this is an honourable intention, to fling open windows to let the world in. He does this not with authentic or guaranteed musical truths, but with real emotion in the face of new impressions. That is presumably also the only workable approach for projects like these.
For example, Kham-Lu the mentioned homeland song from East Tibet. In the original, a woman's oppressive lament just on the edge of a scream, a cappella; in Goisern's arrangement a monumental basic instrumentation or organ and strings which relieves the agonising shrillness of the song. On other tracks, traces of percussion, loops, here and there a wandering guitar, a trumpet solo. Goisern has taken the stranger by the hand and taught a smattering of Austrian music.
Goisern's Kham-Lu is therefore not suitable for the museum any more. But for the radio and for the stage, to which Hubert von Goisern found his way back for a 25 minute programme: three songs from his new albums plus Heast as Nit Goisern's most beautiful composition. When he played in the open air at Hallstatt weeks ago the wind almost blew the stage away, an amplifier exploded and began to burn. Three thousand spectators went wild. If anyone like Goisern has a feeling for the dramatic then those are magical circumstances for a stage comeback. (The comeback with a completely new show, for which new songs will first have to be written, is incidentally planned for early next year.)
He was away and suddenly he is back again, in places which already before he left he only entered as a Trojan horse. When Goisern was invited onto the ZDF show Alpenrock on Tour typically enough presented by schlager terror duo Marianne and Michael, he promised defiance to all doubts. He stood in the alpine nightmare scenery and sang, and everything was as before.
Only one thing wasn't. When he was in the line-up, Hubert von Goisern unfolded the banner "Freedom for Tibet".
Gombe and Inexil
Von Goisern is an Austrian producer and traveller whose latest works, Inexil and Gombe, are innovative and highly sophisticated forays into Tibetan and African music. Inexil features invigorating music and production techniques that are resolutely modern, yet still reflective of ancient traditions. The album effectively wipes out any stereotyped notion that one could have about Tibetan music. The music sparkles with originality and passion to the extent that the whole album has a timeless quality to it. Gombe, which seems to have been inspired by Goisern's meeting with Jane Goodall, explores a variety of African music, much of which is performed by Goisern himself. Some tracks are highly percussive, while others, such as one which includes his vocal renditions of monkey chants, are playful. A few others are fusions of Austrian and African sounds. The album doesn't quite reach the transcendent heights of Inexil, but it is nonetheless a fascinating impressionistic soundscape that reflects the musical richness of the continent.
Fear through ignorance
After the ethno-albums Gombe and Inexil, Hubert von Goisern comes back to his musical roots with his new disc Fön. However his dream is developing further away in Africa: the Salzburg artist wants to organise a cultural festival there.
You're on the way to success with your new album Fön, but let's talk about your two 1998 works, Inexil and Gombe. What were you really aiming for with these two ethno CDs?
On the one hand they came about through intensive meetings with people, so that I was looking for a creative outlet. I wanted to work through these impressions musically. On the other hand it suited me quite well because through my work with Austrian folk music I have an image of someone to whom tradition is important. That's right too. But I don't want it to be interpreted differently. This way: only because tradition is important to me, is Austria important to me. Seen like that the discs were just what I needed to show that I am allied just as much to the people in Tibet and Tanzania as the people in Goisern. Nothing more, nothing less.
What lasting marks has the stay in Tanzania left on you?
Above all I was fascinated by the people in the region around Kigoma, which they retain in spite of immense problems. When I was in Tanzania, every day thousands of refugees came from Burundi and Zaire. Allied to that was famine and chaos. Just think of the reaction in Austria if a few refugees arrive. There the population have nothing and then 1.5 million refugees arrive. At home that would be the death of us all. There they would try to put everything in order and not simply to say: "The boat is full". Even though the water is up to their necks. For me that it totally right.
You have a personal dream don't you: to organise a cultural festival in the region around Kigoma. Why?
I believe one simply needs one reason or another to meet with people. If every day there it's a question of naked survival, then naturally there are no resources to arrange a festival yourself. My dream is: to organise a festival where people come together and learn know and value others and their culture and their handed-down identity and reduce fear. Fear is indeed always built on ignorance of other people. The only thing is that somebody gets through it. Sometime I will have enough strength again to do something about it.
Thank you for the interview.
"I just need more ecstasy"
Hubert von Goisern wants to go back on stage to present two new CDs
One day on the stage, in front of ten thousand fans, Hubert von Goisern knew that not everything would be done. He decided to chuck in the Alpinkatzen project and henceforth search for new challenges. That was in early 1995. In the newly won free time, among other things, a fashion collection came into being that would be presented in New York. And von Goisern, alias Hubert Achleitner, journeyed around Tibet and central Africa, in order "to study the people". For 1998, Hubert von Goisern has got to work on lots more. Next to the work on the documentary about him and behavioural scientist Jane Goodall, he now publishes two albums. The two CDs Tibet and Afrika will be presented in the next few days. And: Hubert von Goisern wants to come back onto the stage. PNP worker, Alex Schütz, gets an interview with the 45 year old Austrian.
You find yourself at the moment in the editing room, in order to work on the documentary about Jane Goodall. There was trouble there ...
Actually we had, or rather "they" had to be ready in November, but I was not happy with what ORF had delivered. Because of that the seventy minutes was cut again. That was simply crude, it pleased neither me nor BR as co-producers.
Is the experience as editor new for you?
No, with all my videos I worked earlier at the editing and have always said exactly what I wanted. Only ORF did not want me around, sometimes they put the brakes on me.
You also composed the music for this film. Did you adapt yourself working purely instrumental to the soundtrack for Schlafes Bruder? And do you plan to release it as an album?
As it was not a feature film, it was also not normal film music. I worked a great deal on it and so far I am quite happy with the music. And because it is so successful for me, this music will come out as an album sometime. Indeed there is neither a film title nor a deadline, but if everything goes smoothly, it could be out in March or April. The problem is the following: I do not want to bring out a soundtrack, I want to incorporate my voice too. So I must still alter a few songs, do some new arrangements and also new compositions.
Does that mean "back on stage" for you?
I would like it, I would like to be back on stage again this autumn. Whether I shall succeed in having enough material together by then, of course I do not know. I was busy with other things for a long time I came back with to musical work with the Tibet production. I hope that through that I can above all compose songs, it is difficult at the moment. And now I am waiting to be kissed by the Muse. Yet quite honestly I have no idea how to do it.
Because of your popularity you are under enormous pressure to succeed ...
... This pressure has already caught me, and if only it climbs into the subconscious. Now and again then it simply catches me. Then again they say free yourself from this pressure. But about a year ago the desire stirred in me to appear again before an audience.
Are you burdened with the Alpinkatzen image?
Far from it, I have a relaxed relationship with the Alpinkatzen. On a personal level, we're in contact on and off. But it's over now. Unspoken expectations hang in the air, that they want to be in the party again - again a form of indirect pressure. But I don't know who that will look. That is currently a process which I must go through - only I don't yet know how.
Another project is your Tibet story. Will these experiences come out on stage or in an album?
I hope that a little money will be left over and it can definitely happen that one or other of the Tibetans can be on stage. Perhaps there will also be a block with Tibetan musicians.
Provocative question: Can you not imagine at some point singing your greatest hit Koa Hiatamadl again?
If I was quite relaxed, I would do it. But it really is a very provocative question as it would be very difficult not to play it if the audience comes with the expectation of hearing one song or another from earlier times. That will be particularly exciting for both parties: Will he play it or not? Songs like Heast as Nit I can definitely imagine singing again.
So not a complete break with Alpinkatzen times?
No, I don't think so. I would like it to give some sort of continuity, but we will see. I simply need this ecstasy and that needs rhythm and that need strength and that you can only manage with drumming. That depends then on an ensemble.
In the documentary about you and Jane Goodall, Bayerisches Rundfunk speak of you being kindred spirits, and having a philosophy of life in common.
I can only say why I like her. I simply like to be near her because she is such an unbelievably strong personality, velvet combined with starch, which I find fascinating. I accompanied her on a few of her journeys. And I was impressed how she calmly and levelheadedly makes everything turn out well. She does not need to get angry with anyone, she does not shout at anyone. She has unbelievable charm and she is a person full of wonderful stories. The contents can still be tragic, with her there is always a positive centre. And all this although she almost daily finds herself in a borderline situation. The lady is simply positive about it and I like that. I am working towards that way of living.