Hubert von Goisern


Miscellaneous: 2006

Shamans and priests are artists too

Denken & Glauben No. 143 Autumn 2006 | Text: Annelies Pichler | Photos: © Sommer

The musician Hubert von Goisern never lingers on the surface. He probes folk music to find its heart and develop it anew from there. He deepened his understanding thereof in Europe, Asia, Africa in collaboration with musicians from different cultures. Today he stands for a down-to-earth as well as cosmopolitan nature.

Annelies Pichler spoke to Hubert von Goisern

Hubert von GoisernNot only in music do you cut to the chase. Life and art seem to have found a common denominator in your body, as with only a few people the subject of life art imposes itself upon you.

I see life as the greatest piece of art that one can accomplish. Life is basically an art, as natural as it is too. But from at least a certain age one discovers one's own power for design. Certainly if you are Palestinian and live in the Gaza Strip, that only applies with great restrictions. Nevertheless, it is always possible that you can make something or other out of your life. You can also drift of course, but even that can elevate itself to an art form. It's clear to me that that is perhaps the privileged view of someone who makes a living from his music and in getting older has slowly gained an understanding for artists, or has developed the self-image of an artist.

What does this self-image look like?

That one is not conscious of this power for design, this will for design and does not life simply as a banal from eating, drinking, retirement, birth, looking for a partner and then death. But rather that it is exactly our abilities to design that distinguish us from animals. For me anyone who has the courage for an independent interpretation of creation and puts this into action is an artist.

Nevertheless, the word "artist" is generally accepted as a job title or much more the name for a job.

For a long time it was hard for me to see myself as an artist in the narrow sense of the word. Pretty slowly I'm realising that it simply is so. I fit in there too. The word "artist" for me always had something of a dirty word about it. Perhaps, because I am the only artist in my family, I have taken it as too narrow a concept. On the other hand, I always had great reverence for it and thought it rather presumptuous to call myself one. I expect an artist to help design the world.

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

I am simply a musician. That is the pair glasses, or rather the membrane through which I experience the world. If I was a painter, the whole thing would be more pictorial. But it is the sounds that create avenue number one for me. Time and again I think about how meaningful what I do actually is. When I see that someone has the skill to build a house, or to make shoes or clothes, those are very useful things as far as I am concerned. An educator, who passes on knowledge to children, is very useful, but music is - like painting or poetry - basically a swindle that nobody needs in order to survive. There are now people who immediately contradict that, who say that it is nourishment for the soul and very, very important, life needs something visionary and dreamy. But mainly: it is not vital for survival. And for that reason, from this position as a musician or artist, I see many things differently from someone who is a teacher, a shoemaker or builder. Or skier. I think of that now because builder makes me think of Hermann Mayer.

But so seen skiing certainly isn't any more vital for survival than music, is it?

There are a few concerns which are simply pointless. An artist or a dancer is not needed, but it is exactly these concerns that make the difference. Chimpanzees make nests too; beavers and moles build wonderful caves and homes. What distinguishes us from the animal kingdom, is art.

And so also the art of designing one's life. Do you think that one can teach one's children the techniques with which they can do that better?

I'm not so clear about techniques, because I'm not very well versed technically. Neither am I someone who is also only technically really good on one instrument, not even on the accordion, where I at least always have the feeling at the end of my tours that I can play it to a certain degree. But in principle music is my language, with which I can communicate, I can teach my children something of it when, for example, they say: show me how things go on the piano or on the guitar, or wherever, then I can do that. But they must first have the feeling that they are interested in it.

Do your two children come to you with such problems?

As far as my daughter Laura, who is now 13, is concerned, I think it could be that she will stand on stage one day. Her musicality permits it. She paints and draws really well too, she has a creative self-image, but it is exactly that which lets her looks for solutions. It's different with my son Niko (18), when I see him paint, he paints very little, but when he paints, he cuts out things that often make me think: he is the true artist of us all. It's so unobjective, so otherworldly, so transcendental. But I think that the career of artist does not comply with his self-image. His is nature, plants, trees, animals, the earth and everything he can touch.

Hubert von GoisernWorks of art also develop through one leaving out the banal. That requires discipline, which is a theme in the raising of children too.

It happens very quickly where children are concerned, in school or kindergarten, as a parent you are, thank God, not the only one who can and must prepare the child for an independent life. Children do come home with problems, with which they must cope, and where one can help them. There are some techniques there. But I am too much of an individualist and don't have the need or the feeling that I should pass on the technique I have developed in order to make something of my life. I do so when somebody is interested in it, but it would never occur to me to say to someone, do this or that. There are are as many ways of being happy as there are people in the world. Somebody said that once. My techniques have developed because they are the ones I need. Because I have deficits and talents - assets and liabilities even, and these define what I must learn. There's no sense in looking, aha, that's the way he does it and I'll do it that way too. That way only something dull and tasteless ever comes of it. A copy of somebody's life. This ant-like nature of our existence. Viewed from a little way above, we just scurry about like the ants. Certainly, in the meantime there's a trend towards individual life design, which is then expressed in such a way that there are ever more single people and people who are alone and ever less a sense of solidarity and community. But that doesn't change anything of the ant-like and remote-controlled nature of our society.

That poses the question of meaning. Do you think that priests would have a function here?

Priests? Priests. As far as I'm concerned, shamans or priests are artists too. Priests, that sounds very Catholic or Christian and that narrows things down a great deal. But it is a word that one can use without anything further, when one is familiar with the concept. When one says "shamans", one thinks of someone dressed in a loincloth or someone done up in flowing white robes. I think that basically the artist also performs a shamanistic function. Because he concerns himself with subjects which are absurd, untouchable and yet palpable. One can say that one can still demonstrate the absurd via the sound waves in music, nevertheless: also a picture, as much as one needs colour or pencils for it, it leads into the unworldly, into something that goes beyond this banal, animal, material world. Priests are part of that too, certainly. I think that being a priest or shaman is closely connected to being an artist. I have actually always had the feeling that a good concert is like a mass. People come together, concentrate on something and celebrate a togetherness. I have experienced so many pop concerts that were more spiritual and lasting than many masses.

And that leads further to a question of faith...

In this sense, the word faith is only right to a certain degree. I am a religious person and I try to teach my children a piece of this belief, only faith is something very personal. To be honest, I'm not in favour of the way in which religions or churches extend faith to something organised. One can teach knowledge, but faith? I think it's very arrogant and dangerous to proselytise with a very certain belief. In that respect I'm with Billy Wilder, who said: if someone has a message, they should write a telegram. I can only believe in God. I can believe in my children too, or in people who are close to me, or in a fit of emotion for the German football team. But that's somehow absurd. I would say that faith or religion falls somehow under technique, it is a technique for dealing with life. But since I am not a great technician, I find it somewhat suspect.

You have described yourself as being not so versed technically, neither in the techniques of the art of living. That's not easy to understand.

I have just been on a trip to south east Europe and have met many musicians and heard a lot of music which is consistently very, very masterly. No matter whether it's brass musicians, accordion players or violinists. Amazing! That is, where I feel a trepidation and think to myself, well, I should practise again. But it is not really my technique. Technique mostly goes along with tempo and complexity, I tend to look for the simplicity instead. The inner approach to life is my thing. The technique comes from oneself.

One gets the impression that you want to effect something social, Keywords: Tibet. Africa. Your musical journeys.

I am a great egotist. For me it's just about me experiencing something. When I realise that I would like to understand and get to know this southeast European region, the way I wanted to get to know and understand Africa and still want to (because it never stops. But I have gained a bit of a feeling for it), or Tibet ... Then it's not the case that I think: one must do something for Africa, attract attention for Tibet or for the Balkans etc ... No, it's a totally egocentric approach. I think to myself: ok, I've got a burning interest in that at the moment, and my key to it is music. In the meantime, music makes up only ten per cent of my work at the most. The other ninety I am organising, preparing and doing things, in which music only provides the framework. And I often think that I should withdraw and really only make music and leave everything else to management and the surrounding environment. But I don't want to just make music. Life isn't just music.