Bodystyler-interview med Martin Hall, Tobias Matkowitz (18. december 1997)
A: I studied at the line of the pictorial arts, not painting as such, but the exploration of graphic images, collage-like pictures involving reproductions and photos as well as original material – drawings and writings etc. I quit during the second year due to personal problems at the time, as well as problems with the way things were conducted at the academy.
Q: You do much more than creating music. You write books, you produce theatre performances. How important is music to you?
A: Music is the most important field of my work. I’ve reduced – or rather focused – my activities into music and writing, these two areas being the foundations of my work. Music without a superior idea or meaning doesn’t interest me. I’ve always been very concerned with the contents of music so to speak, that the performing artist had something more to offer than just the music, that there was a point in what they were doing. In that way words and lyrics became a very natural part of music to me, not a foreign element.
Q: What were your books about?
A: The first books I wrote were very incomprehensible pieces of stream-of-consciousness writings, prose and poetry mixed in a very ”uncensored” fashion. They were extremely aggressive books about cultural alienation, and have been called the most imperceptible works ever written in Danish. Quite an accomplishment in itself, I would say. Anyway, the last book I wrote was more a kind of grotesque comedy, a farce, something that obviously surprised a lot of people. What I’m writing on at the moment is much more personal.
A: Multimedia performances. In the show Parade it got quite extreme, bodily self-mutilation and group sex on stage etc. Very violent. A very interesting phase, but not something I would do again. I think.
Q: You also wrote some soundtracks for movies. What musical style did you work with? Was it like the one we hear on Random Hold?
A: Well, yes and no. Obviously there are some recurring elements in the music I make, but the music for a film called Angel Of The Night was much more ambient-orientated, where the music for another film called Totem was more industrial-like. When I make music for films, I work to support the images I see, not to invent some surplus emotion.
A: When something gets a bit introvert or more reflective in its expression, it tends to be described as “dark”, so I understand what you’re saying, but I wouldn’t call it that. I find it very light, very open ended so to speak. I think the keyword in describing the music on Random Hold would be organic. But your description is equally fitting. I’m probably the worst person to describe my own music.
Q: The tracks on the new record are all very quiet. What moods do you want to create for your listeners?
A: A non-invading soundscape. An uplifted state of mind. A mental and emotional asylum from modern culture cancer life.
Q: What do you want to express with your music?
A: What it expresses. That’s why I make music. It expresses something that words can’t.
Q: I’ve read that you’ve released something like 31 pieces of music. When did you start making music, and how did you come to this point?
A: I started making music at a very early age and have continued to do so ever since. I think that’s the simplest way to answer the question.
Q: We don’t really know anything about your former releases. Please tell something about them. What were the differences to Random Hold, what were the biggest successes, and what else should be mentioned?
A: I’ve worked with a lot of different styles and genres, people and projects, so it’s a bit difficult making one single comparison to Random Hold. I think the most significant aspect of this album to everything that’s gone before, is the clarity of it, the focus. In many ways I feel like it’s taken me all these years to make that album. My debut album The Icecold Waters of the Egocentric Calculation with Ballet Mécanique was a very hysteric manifesto of diverging emotional states, where Random Hold is the calm of the journey, a much more singular state of mind. The Ballet Mécanique album did very well, although it was considered a very extreme release at the time. It was released in the Netherlands was well. Later solo albums like Relief and Cutting Through had a more commercial and grandiose sense to them. Both titles were also released in Germany. Then in Denmark I’ve had some radio hits as well, ”Beat Of The Drum” from the Presence album and some during the nineties, “Strange Delight” and “Pleasurama”.
Q: How known are you in Denmark and its music scene?
A: I’m a known name, but very “elitish” so to speak – a real ”cult figure” as the papers would describe it. Denmark is a small country, and if you’ve said something in an interview in 1981, it’s going to follow you for the rest of your life; since I have said a lot of things during the years, the myths and fantasies surrounding my person are amazing. It’s very interesting to watch things grow like that.
Q: Please try to make a short description of the Danish music scene, especially something about the electronic scene.
A: Well, there’s not exactly an abundance of flattering things to say about the electronic scene, as far as I’m concerned. The best act I’ve heard so far is a kind of obscure, hard-to-define ambient’ish group called Deepfried Toguma. Otherwise you might have heard about Future Three. Most of the electronic stuff that arises here is actually quite bad, at best a pale rip-off of foreign “in”-names. The rest of the Danish music scene I won’t even comment; it’s a very sad state of affairs.
Q: What kinds of music or bands do you listen to at home?
A: I have been listening to the music from the film Ulysses’ Gaze by Theo Angelopoulos, written by Eleni Karaindrou, for the last couple of months. It is absolutely incredible. It has moved me deeply. All in all I’ve been listening a lot to film music lately, everything from Zbigniew Presiner’s soundtracks to the Kieslowski trilogy Blue, White and Red to Brassed Off. In between that selected arias by Maria Callas. And then David Holmes’ Let’s Get Killed.
A: Random Hold was made very much without any external influences, very much in an inspirational vacuum so to speak, more out of inner necessity than any outer stimuli. But during the years, yes, obviously there have been a lot inspirational sources. The Pop Group’s album Y changed my idea of sound. And I still remember getting hold of a 7″-single called “Hearts In Exile” with the Homosexuals back in 1979; a true masterpiece. I could go on and on, but I’m always a bit hesitant with gushing out references. Periodically Lee “Scratch” Perry has been a very inspiring influence, although this is no way has been reflected in my music; the cutting edge of the drum’n’bass scene has its names to offer etc.
Q: Tell us something about yourself. Where do you live, what do you do when you’re not making music, what TV-series do you like, who is your favourite film star … you know, something that other “serious” magazines don’t ask and you would never tell anybody else but us?
A: I live on the topfloor of an old deserted chocolate factory. I read, I write, I record cassettes with great music to people I know. Occasionally I lecture on colleges, schools and libraries. I have no favourite TV-series or filmstars. I prefer to rent films, watching them in my own time. Quite a boring answer, but still an answer.
Q: What is your favourite track on Random Hold? Mine are “Cradlemoon” and “Skinline”, but I really like all the tracks.
A: “Performance” and “Skinline”. And “Cradlemoon” as well, particularly due to the lyrics; in a way it manages to tell the story of my life in about 16 lines.
Q: I think it’s sad, that there’s only 43 minutes on the album. Why didn’t you include some more tracks to make it last longer.
A: We recorded some other tracks as well, which have been released separately in Denmark on an EP called Extended Play. I didn’t include them on the album, first and foremost because it broke the natural state and connection between the tracks included. To me the overall importance is the integrity of the album; the quality, not the quantity. I get very pissed off by people judging a CD by its playing time. Like people complaining about a concert, “that it was too short”. Who are they to dictate? Buy a dog instead. This is absurd. The great thing about vinyl releases is, that you don’t have a display of seconds and minutes in front of you, but that you simply react to the wholeness of the release. A lot of great records only last for about half an hour, but nowadays even the contracts with the record companies demand this and that amount of playing minutes on the CD. It’s ridiculous. It’s like only wanting to have sex with someone that weighs over 80 kilo. Now, I understand what you’re saying, that if you like something, you’d like to have more of it, but in this case the magic of Random Hold lasts exactly 42 minutes and 47 seconds, no more, no less. Putting on an additional track to satisfy any consumer greed would simply destroy the wholeness of the record. Quote: “The artist speaks” etc. Anyway, this gave me an opportunity to state my irritation towards the product mania of the music business. Thank you.
Q: What’s up in the future? Are you working on new material now? Do you have other projects? Will there be a tour?
A: Yes, I’m working with new material. And Public Propaganda is trying to arrange a tour in Germany during the spring of 98. In Denmark the Indie-label Lidocaine has just released a concert I did in 95 with a string quartet, which has been very well received. It includes some Random Hold songs as well. I’ve made a lot of new material, but I’m looking for something entirely different at the moment, giving myself the time to be able to take a next step, not just making a “Random Hold 2”, if you know what I mean. I think it’s incredibly important, that you drive yourself towards new challenges all the time, that you resist the temptation of just repeating a formula, no matter how good it is. I despise artists who just “play it safe”; you need to sacrifice something every time you start on a new project, otherwise you die as an artist. It’s a ceremony, a ritual, where you need to confront yourself, challenge yourself. It’s not that you can’t work in the same field at all, it’s simply that your own attitude towards the present task should be new, different, that you remain willing to develop and transform. Ultimately your expression is a consequence of the personal development you’ve been through, whether we’re talking about your art or your life. Not that there should be any difference. My life has made my career, it’s not the other way around.
Q: Your music is a fusion of classical and electronic elements. When I read the CD-booklet, I see that you do the vocals and play guitar, drums and bass. What does “tape material” mean? And don’t you also work with electronic elements when you create the tracks? Don’t you like using electronic stuff as a musician?
A: On the Random Hold recording, myself and the co-producer Thomas Li lived on an – for the summer – abandoned art school, periodically joined by our keyboard player Ole Hansen. On quite a few of my earlier records I’ve played all instruments myself, very often based on keyboards and electronic equipment, so it was important to me to make a distinction on this one. The most significant difference was bringing in Thomas Li as a producer, which meant a lot to the recordings – we recorded everything mobile, on location, and he would as an example use the buildings to generate the ambience and the sound. Although I obviously had a lot to do with the sampling and the programming phases, Thomas would be responsible for the main areas of the electronic processes, like Ole Hansen would be defined as the keyboard player. The concept “tape material” was used to indicate that a lot of the sounds used on the record – like the breathing and heartbeat sounds on “Performance” – was collected by me, to make a distinction to the keyboard samples Thomas and Ole would contribute with. Like the noises at the start of “Another Heart Laid Bare”; there was this girl from a closed wing of a psychiatric hospital who kept phoning me all the time, so I took a sample of her messages from my phone answering machine, and although you can’t hear a word of what she’s saying, it gives a very clear indication of the state of mind, I’m referring to in the song. It might sound a bit academic, but this was simply a way of trying to shed a light on the recording process, emphasizing that the sound as a whole was made from collaboration between the involved parties, not as a Martin Hall solo feature like the earlier records. In my general work I use electronic equipment 90% of the time, and it’s a vital aspect of all my recordings, but as I said earlier, the prime importance of the Random Hold sound texture is the organic aspects of it – the strings, the ambience, the treatments, the way it’s been recorded.
Q: Please tell me your three favourite records ever.
A: Well, actually Ulysses’ Gaze must be one of them. Otherwise, I don’t know. I’m very fond of Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet as well as Virgina Astley’s Gardens Were We Feel Secure, but then that leaves out Richard Jobson’s The Right Man. Not to speak of Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa. I give up.
Q: Where have you been in Germany, and how did you like it? What was good, what was bad?
A: I’ve been in Berlin and Hamburg some times. On my last interview tour I visited Hannover and Dortmund as well, but these stays were very short, mostly experienced through a conference room in the daytime and some nameless restaurant at night. I like the German mentality a lot, the order and the effectiveness. I still haven’t figured out the German sense of humour.
Q: How come the girls in Denmark are so pretty? Being in Copenhagen a few times, I saw masses of blond, well-dressed, pretty girls everywhere … do you have one of them as a wife? In Germany we have many pretty girls too, but not that many …
A: I don’t know. Are they? Anyway, “let the veils be drawn here” as they say. Talking about brute sexuality, I’d rather discuss Nietzsche’s Anti-Christ or something.
Q: I love Denmark (not only because of the pretty girls I mentioned and the great “poelser”!!!) because of its quietness, its peace, its snugness. Do you think that these elements affect your music? I think it matches very well the moods I experienced being in Denmark.
A: That might be. I like the stillness of the country, the cleanliness of it, but I certainly dislike the over-cosy mentality it produces. The last place on Earth a civil war is ever going to break out is in Denmark. Wasn’t it Henry Miller talking about the Danes being the most boring people on Earth? Anyway, some of the inherent qualities of being Danish I embrace, some I don’t.
Q: Do you have a favourite joke, you could tell our insane readers?