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Turntabling the Sound

By   /  1. Dezember 2017  /  No Comments

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What does John Cage have in common with Afrika Bambaataa? And Edgard Varèse with DJ Shadow? They were all turntablists at some moment of their lifes. In short, these personalities spent a lot of time in front of their record players, manipulating the sound of their records for producing electronic music. And this is also the case of Wolfgang Fuchs, the artist living and working in Linz. Enrique Tomás met him for knowing more about what he is producing these days.

Wolfgang Fuchs is one the most relevant turntablists in Austria. We can imagine him carrying a comfortable bag with no more than a small pile of records, arriving some art gallery of club, checking the needles of the record players on stage and almost being prepared to improvise a sonic perfomance. From loud and strange experimental music to calm and delicate pieces of improvisation, alone or together with other musicians. He soon admitted at our interview that he prefers a good conversation before the concert for preparing himself than many hours of rehearsals. “At rehearsals sometimes I feel as if we were consuming the energy for the concert” — asserted. When I ask him if he also plays with laptops, he quickly smiles and admits that he did it, “but only two or three times”. “I even once prepared a conceptual performance. It was just me on a club stage, faking clearly that I was playing live with my laptop. Everything was played back of course, nothing live. The point was clearly criticizing the lack of embodiment at many laptop performances. Sometimes I see laptop performers with mostly the attitude of checking their emails more than playing live!”. This idea resonated to me. Almost the same feeling impulsed DJ Moldover a decade ago to develop “controllerism” the next revolution after the decay of turntablism. Basically, it means the use of musical controllers (basically MIDI controllers) for live performance on stage, mostly for playing the music that traditionally was played with records. How is it possible that our technological advances have constrained so much the communication with our audience? “What I like of playing with records” — explains Fuchs “is that I can touch the sound. Everything I do is embodied and visible. I have direct haptic feedback with the instrument, and it is intimately connected with the musical content. Indeed I noticed how after some years of performance my earliest records begin to sound different. They begin to suffer the pass of time, and the use of many needles on many stages. But this makes me feel good. My records are evolving with me! I decided to archive the question about if he likes digital format of music, and I asked about the records he performs on stage. “In fact all the records I use at performance are bought from some other geeks like me. I prefer that the sounds used to build my works have some personal connection, some story”. In fact, that seems a strategy with a perfect logic. The more personal connection one has with the contents of a performance the easier is manipulating them. I can think of the same case when I played musical scores written by composers friends of mine. It was always easier to remember the notes. Interestingly, turntablism has had already periods of more and less activity. Golden years of experimentation and decades of commercial commodification. From the experimental years of avant-garde to the adveniment of the DJ phenomena. Probably the greatest days of turntablism were connected with the american hip-hop culture which started on the late 70s. But in the late 90s the appearance of computer applications brought a particular decay to the figure of the turntablist, even at hip-hop. In fact, one of the most popular definitions of the art, described by the composer John Oswald, directly engages this art with hip hop: “Turntablism is a phonograph in the hands of a ‘hiphop/scratch’ artist who plays a record like an electronic washboard with a phonographic needle as a plectrum, producing sounds which are unique and not reproduced. The record player becomes a musical instrument”. During our conversation, Wolfgang Fuchs clarifies his position regarding specific techniques with record players “I use plenty of techniques, but what I decidedly never use is scratching. It brings me to another aesthetics where I do not feel comfortable my art. It is strange” — continues “because the first technique which is explained to beginners is usually scratching. But this will affect all their learning about playing records”. And it seems coherent too. The culture of scratching has become almost a cultural cliché, a placeholder used when there are no other creative things to do with records. “My technique has evolved towards producing very abstract sound. Sometimes, when I play with other musicians, especially with those playing acoustic instruments, it is difficult to discern which sound is produced by each instrument”.

The conversation turns, and we dedicate our time to talk about more personal questions and about his recent years of career. Wolfgang Fuchs grew as a turntablist in Vienna, where he was surrounded by other artists and with the collective klingt.org he did his first steps as performer decades ago. “I still feel quite connected to the scene in Vienna. Still many of the projects I am involved were initiated there”. Then I asked about his connection with the Jazz Atelier Ulrichsberg. “Of course, I have been performing a couple of times there and this Summer I could produce one of the projects which I am more proud of”. He talks about the project ‘Kammerflimmern’, an artistic intervention with found objects at the Atelier spaces during the last festival Kaleidophon. “I was able to spend a couple of months collecting relevant objects from the corners of the Atelier. Like old posters, the saxophone suitcase of Anthony Braxton, and other strange objects too. For instance, tools used for fixing parts of the building. I decided to intervene various spaces with these objects alluding to the music produced around them at certain years. As well I wanted to remember all those important people who have contributed to keep the Jazz Atelier alive during so many years. For me and for Alois Fischer, the responsible of the Atelier, it was a very emotional project. We hope to have communicated it well to the visitors”.

Finally we commented the musical projects he is involved in nowadays. Among various formations Wolfgang Fuchs remarks the trio ‘SARROS’ with Veronika Mayer and Lale Rodgarkia-Dara. “I am quite happy about the combination of elements of this project. Electroacoustic music, experimental literature, radio artivism … The project does not look spectacular, but in contrast, the music produced is calm and meditative, but quite expressive”. He also reminds at the last moment the next release of a CD by Confront Recordings containing one of his works and that he is active part of the Baby Success Club … although that was already featured at another edition of Die Referentin.


Wolfgang Fuchs war im November in der argentinischen Stadt Lincoln auf Soundart-Residency, in der “Comunitaria – residencia de arte contemporáneo”: www.comunitaria-argentina.org

Vor seiner Residency war er ein paar Tage in Buenos Aires, um „u. a. ein Konzert mit Otomo Yoshihide, Luis Conde etc …“ zu spielen.

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ist in Linz ansässiger Soundartist.

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