Oscillating Loops and Dreaming Drones, An Interview with Fritz Pape by Blake Edward Conley
by Blake Edward Conley
Who are you?
I’m Fritz Pape, I make music with electronic objects.
Your new record, ‘No One Has Reached the Ocean’ (great title, btw), is a beautiful, gentle, cascading meditation. Given that it was improvised live, was this performed with the intention of release, or did you decide that upon hearing it? And if we are talking about the title, where did it come from?
Thanks for the kind words! For the past year or so I’ve been recording almost all of my live performances, just in case a particular night happens to be particularly good, which was thankfully the case for this release. Somewhere around the 20 minute mark of the performance I definitely had an inkling of an idea that this was a good one that could maybe be listened to by other folks.
As for the name I honestly can’t remember where it came from – I have a lengthy note on my phone with mostly garbage possible song titles, and that one jumped out at me. I think it’s origin was significantly less profound that it might imply
Was the entire piece improvised, or did you go in with any ideas/preexisting motifs that you intended to expand upon? Were there any rules you put place for this performance in order to guide you (limited or expanded instrumentation, for example)?
The piece was more or less a very structured improvisation. It was performed on my modular synth, along with some Max/MSP patches, and the way I mostly like to work with that is setting everything up to plunk away in a pre-determined key, with a cavalcade of random manipulation to keep things interesting. The performance (as most of mine are) involved me taking these sets of notes, slowly telling all the sound-making-things to start playing some/all of those notes, building all those notes into a massive wall, and eventually chipping that wall down to nothing.
Given you are rather prolific, how much time to you spend on improvised concepts vs more composed material? Do you prefer one approach to the other or do you feel it all comes from the same place? And with that, how to you prepare for an improvised performance vs a composed one, if any preparation is even involved?
For the past number of years, more or less all of my music has been made from similar modes to what I described up there. Back in the day I performed under the name Zijnzijn Zijnzijn!, which was almost strictly a guitar-pedal-volume based project with much more acutely composed pieces. At some point I just sort of naturally moved away from strict composing in favor of playing with sets of rules.
All that said, I do also have a sporadic but fruitful project called Fritz Pape’s Guitar Buddies, which involved varying sizes of guitar orchestras performing(mostly) very strictly composed pieces. There’s been six of these so far, ranging from a trio to a group of 27 guitars. That project is where I get out my love for following very strict musical rules, all of which are meticulously/ridiculously documented in scores, rehearsed for a month or two, and performed exactly once. So far none of these recordings have been released but they definitely will be!
You are also a steady collaborator, do you have preferred people for this, or is it an open door policy? What do you look for in someone to collaborate with? And what really makes a good improvised set vs a bad one?
I love collaborating! I mostly have an open door policy, and I’ve noticed that most folks I’d want to collaborate with have a similar appreciation for extended performance and glacial but purposeful movements. I suppose what frustrates me with some improvisational performances, especially when it’s collaborative, is when you’re able to tell that its two folks playing their own music at the same time, rather than intrinsically working together to make a singular space with a purposeful movement to it, however paced.
You’ve released and performed music on a variety of instruments. Does anyone instrument feel like your home one? Or at least, is there any one that you feel most comfortable on?
Lately I’ve been really engaged with modular synthesis, but a guitar with a looper will always be my ultimate home base. Plenty of folks have said much more poignant romantic things about what it’s like playing a guitar, but for me it’s mostly about the physicality of it and the range of sounds you can make that don’t necessarily sound like a guitar.
Tell us more about The Hum. And any other projects you have in the works.
The Hum (https://thehumcincinnati.bandcamp.com/) is a project that’s been around for almost two years now. Originally it existed as a weekly program on Radio Artifact (a local Cincinnati radio station), but now exists as a monthly Bandcamp subscription series. The premise is pretty simple and in line with most of the work I do: each piece is a newly made hour-long piece of music, sometimes staying very still, sometimes building very slowly. Before The Hum started in 2017, I’d been performing live a ridiculous amount, with basically no recordings to show from it, so the series was a really exciting way to actually produce sounds that could be listened to by folks at home. Nowadays it’s a series that I love making for, particularly in making synth setups that more-or-less perform themselves in interesting ways.
You are from Cincinatti and your performance was recorded at the Listing Loon there. Do you feel where you all has any bearing on the music you make? What are some of your favourite artists (musical, visual, etc) and locations to play in Cincinnati?
For me, the most important (or at least what I most want) out of a performance space is an atmosphere where the audience is there to listen to the performance. This can be particularly tricky when playing at bars and such, but that’s something that just can’t be avoided I suppose. Here’s a very incomplete list of bands and buddies I love from here:
My personal favourite question, tell us about the gear you use in your various forms. Also, how did you engineer such a staggeringly clean live recording for thus set? (non gear nerds, skip to the last question)
The most dangerous question!!
I’ve been a big pedal dork for a long time. For a long while, I performed with a massive case full of pedals and loopers, laid out on a table, slowly but surely tweaking knobs over the course of a performance. My main goal in all music making is to create piles and piles of sound working together and swirling around each-other, so looping and delaying is my #1 favorite thing in the world. Over the past year or so I’ve been exploring modular synthesis and falling head-first in love with it, so the pedals have been pushed to the side a smidge in favor of oscillators and modeling synths. Ultimately (no matter what I try to tell myself) I thrive with excess in choices, and act as accordingly with my gear as much as I can.
I also do a little bit of computer music with Max/MSP, which I took a class on in my last year of college. Mostly in that I have huge banks of oscillator drones, as well as some delay and granular/stutter devices that I use. I also have it nicely set up to multi-track record live input/oscillators/effects all separately, which is how I was able to get such a clean recording for this release
What are some things that inspire you to create? Doesn’t have to be just music, it can be books, art, people, times of day, etc. And finally, anything you’d like to add (philosophies on art, upcoming releases/dates, personal shout outs to your peeps)?
Everything inspires me to create, almost to a fault. As much as I love creating music I absolutely adore consuming music as well, and almost everything I take in I pull a tiny smidge of concrete inspiration for later use. Numerous times I’ve been frustrated with whatever stuff I’m making and try to take a break from everything, but I’m basically unable to stop thinking about making some sort of structured sound at all times. It’s a usually very rewarding kind of stress!I have a few releases coming up from a few labels, though nothing is at a point where I can quite talk about it. Every last Friday a new piece for The Hum goes live, so there’s always something new happening from my end. I did also recently release an album of organ/oscillator pieces on Humanhood Recordings, which you can peep here! https://humanhoodrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/of-paradise-hhr56
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