Published in Mondo 2000 circa 1993, the following interview was posted to numerous fan sites of Einstuerzende Neubauten in the late '90s. Herein, Herr Bargeld bandies a variety of topics to the inquiry and repartee of two witty gentlemen: Kenneth Laddish and Mark Dippé (who contributed to the impressive visual effects of The Abyss, Ghost and Terminator 2, and wrote the fatuous script of Spawn's execrable film adaptation). Exercising some sedulity, I've reformatted, proofread and accordingly revised this text. Enjoy, and you're welcome.
by Kenneth Laddish and Mark Dippé
They stood out from the morning's delivery of musical junkmail, two slim Eurostyle packages with Northern Renaissance graphics. Einstuerzende Neubauten: Tabula Rasa - German and Latin words I hoped would spell relief from the sampled, sequenced, Hyphenated-Kletopop: Alternative-Grunge-House, Techno-ska, Gangsta-Jazz...
Before digital samples existed, Neubauten used tape loops for foundpercussion and sampling. Before Trent Reznor's testes descended, EN had largely abandoned chain saws and drills for the subtler textures of rocks and razor blades on glass...
I was prepared for something to make my neighbors move away - but, as I overheard at their performance: "They're actually playing music." Blixa Bargeld, past member of the tormented caterwaul, straight-up sings - and he has a voice!
I compressed a sound kilobyte and fired it through the Internet to my man Mark Dippé, cyberpunk poster boy and infant terrible at Industrial Light & Magic. By day Mark deals with digital dinosaurs, but at night he hangs with living monsters in the murky borderlands of Performance Art. Equally happy with neo-Tyrolean bloodletting rituals, Mark was eager to join me for an evening of baiting Blixa.
Blixa Bargeld is - as front man and lyricist - Einstuerzende Neubauten, along with NU Unruh, Mark Chung, Alexander Hacke, and FM Einheit. He is also infamous as the guitarist for Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, and for Wim Wenders' film cameos, and his galloping groupies. But erase from your memory the graffiti scrawled about him by mainstream urinalists. We offer him a clean slate.
We meet Herr Bargeld for dinner at his rock'n'roll motel. He is ineffably pale in an ebony suit, smoking contemplatively, affecting not to see us. He is Bowie's Thin White Duke, or perhaps a never-aging St. German. More like Huysman's des Essientes than a Dieter from Sprockets. A vampire-poet, an undead monochrome dandy. We exchange introductions and welcome him to our city. He does not offer his hand.
MONDO 2000: Blixa, I know you hate journalists. That's OK: I hate pop stars. But we're not journalists-and while you're certainly a star, I don't think your music has ever been exactly popular.
BLIXA BARGELD: I don't hate journalists; I hate what they write. What do you have against popstars?
M2: How do you talk with people who have nothing to say? But your Tabula Rasa IS a statement. And its music, text, and graphics harmonize perfectly. Is it intentionally a Gesamtkunstwerk?
BB: Definitely-but still you should see the European original. It's part of a three-record set: Interim, Tabula Rasa and Malediction. We were lucky to get Tabula produced even approaching the quality of the original. The American Interim is a highly abridged EP. Mute has promised to release Malediction, but not as we originally conceived it.
MARK DIPPÉ: It's good to holler about things like this in print: conditions might improve.
M2: Unless Mute is also deaf! This record is a departure from your earlier work, often called "unlistenable." Compared to Grunge and Grindcore it's almost Easy Listening. Does Tabula Rasa represent a new musical beginning?
BB: Not in the sense that we erase our past. Tabula Rasa references our new label. It also refers to our liberation from Some Bizarre, who didn't pay us for 7 years-our eternal suit against each other was finally settled in our favor...though we still haven't received a penny. Tabula Rasa is also simply a beautiful expression.
MD: I like the Renaissance stillben [still-life] references in the artwork-triple entendre, visual puns... Strange, perverse happenings here?
BB: Our working title for the project was Still-life With Explosives, and this concept wormed its way into every aspect of the production. Within the formal methodology of the still-life, the table-tabula, tableau-represents the universe... The various elements en tableau - fruit, flowers, or rotting meat - are always symbols, metaphors. Have you seen our fly? No? The circular ridges which CD disk snap onto are called "spiders" in the industry. Have a look at ours.
M2: A fly! An Old Master fly inside the "spider." Leave no turn unstoned... Only master craftsman and serious speed freaks.
BB: There is a different fly for each album of the trilogy. They come from the still-life by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Younger reproduced on the front cover.
MD: This imagery really speaks to me: overripe half eaten fruit crawling with flies, a glass of wine and a locust. It radiates pestilence... Hey! There are wires sticking out of this cantaloupe!
BB: I have embedded perhaps a dozen puzzles into the record, with all the clues an intelligent person needs to solve them. I know our new material seems more accessible, but that is only on the surface. It remains elitist and hermetic underneath. Why do we have a song called Zebulon? One of the songs is a palindrome. Did you know that if you take the first letter from each of the songs we have ever done it spells out the true meaning of the universe?
BB: No, but I will tell you that work is composed of many independent fragments, particles that go in different directions. This interview is itself one of these particles. The idea of the "Opus" - a complete work, created in a vacuum, unchanged till the end of the world - is anachronistic. We wanted to do something totally dynamic: a still-life that explodes in different directions.
M2: When you hear the word "industrial," do you reach for your potato gun?
BB: This term is no longer used in other areas of the world-only in America. The whole non-existent genre was conceived by your record industry as a marketing ploy.
M2: What arbitrary label would you prefer to have stuck to you?
BB: I think "Crossover" is good...
M2: Crossing over from what to what? FM [Einheit] classified the work as "Contemporary German Folk Music."
BB: That is satisfactory. We have also called it "Hard Core New Age."
M2: I have always wanted to ask you: in your early work you must have really tried to avoid falling into melodies, rhythms and similar cliches.
BB: It was not difficult at all. We began in a state of pure musical naivete, free of any cultural biases. Our music is not that unusual from the Global POV - only in terms of Pop's Eurocentric harmonic chauvinism.
M2: Is EN a continuation of the prewar Atonal movement?
BB: Schoenberg, Berg, Webern...Neubauten! [laughing] I should say yes, and break into the huge Serialism and Chromatism market. In truth we are much closer to Kurt Schwitters that to Arnold Schoenberg. I can tell you now from the beginning we had absolutely no concept of music whatsoever. Our body of work records our progress of self-education, which continues to this day. At first we studied sounds themselves, working with objet trouvés, tape loops. Later we progressed to structure, eventually coming to grasp the concept of rhythm. Now that we're discovering harmonics, I think we're doing pretty good. Melody was something we couldn't comprehend before.
M2: I've been listening to your music for years. I used to hear it as violent dadaistic catharsis. Now these same works sound highly restrained to me.
BB: Just as I predicted 10 years ago! In 1980 I said that the entire pop culture would change while we would remain the same, and that day would come when our "noise" would sound like their new "music." A really radical change has taken place. Starting in Rap and Hip-Hop, and now everywhere is all this noise. I am almost sick of it now that everyone is doing it.
M2: Others tend to decontextualize source material, reducing it to pure aesthetics. You seem aware of the attributes of your instruments.
BB: Yes, the semiotics. When we are at our best, our sounds form sentences as surely as words, which reinforces on another level what we are trying to express. The idea of using sound, stepping away from notes, occurred to BeBop and earlier generations of the avant garde. But add to this quality of what the instrument actually is: this is burning oil. Put in a certain context you compose a sentence dealing with burning oil.
M2: Didn't Depeche Mode sample you?
BB: Yes, for their hit People are People. They had guts to admit doing it. They actually asked us to support them on their European tour, but it didn't work out. Of course now we're going to be touring with U2. [laughter all around]
M2: Let the record indicate that Blixa brought this up himself, without any prompting. Their name certainly comes up a lot around here.
MD: I can see it now: a couple of sledgehammers could turn their video wall into a found orchestra. I love the subtle undertones you get from exploding cathode ray tubes. You could "find" The Edge's guitar and let it do a duet with your burning oil. That might sound good...
M2: Beamed around the world with their live network feed and personal satellite uplink!
BB: I don't think they'll let us do that!
M2: Will you let them suck up all your proprietary Berlin imagery into their image processors? Turning Trabis into U2-mobiles, dancing on the ruins of the Wall like it was their healing message that brought it down! They want to sample you, not your music - your SOUL. The Spy Plane wants to make you a PET GERMAN IN THEIR ZOO.
MD: Hey, give the guy a break. Bono is probably a hardcore Berlin kinda guy. Hangs at Bahnhof Zoo every night sharing needles with junkies and prostitutes.
M2: Not! He's a good Catholic boy - Achtung Blixa, they will fuck you over. Like Burroughs said: "If you are doing business with a religious son-of-a-bitch, get it in writing - his word isn't worth shit, not with the Good Lord telling him how to fuck!"
BB: We just got the fax yesterday. We are supposed to open for them tomorrow in Rotterdam. The Edge seems to have requested us. We have never supported anyone before, so we decided to see what it's like.
MD: What was it Breton said? That the ultimate artistic act is firing a revolver blindly into a crowd of people...
M2: Er, when you first came out, everyone was outraged - but now you attract crowds who like what you do. So if you're tired of preaching to the perverted, it will be great fun for you: you'll know what it's like to be hated again! These Benelux Benetton teenies will be expecting "One life, one love..." but they'll get a dose of HEADCLEANER!
BB: That is what they are going to get!
(Detailed here, this gig was a castastrophe instigated by surly, hypocritical U2 fans. --Robert)
MD: Headcleaner should satisfy the fans of your original work.
BB: The original Headcleaner was a 45-minute live performance we did in Vienna, in a midnight procession down Vienna's closed main street. We performed in a specially designed vehicle, a giant skeletal steel Phallus-tank. There were explosions, artificial-snow storms, huskies on conveyor belts...with us playing a version of Headcleaner which will never be equaled at full volume. Vienna is the most morbid of cities, and the text dealt with natural catastrophes, such as Pliny's account of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. A good film was made of this event, but it has been banned. We're working on a video from this footage, which we will release over here.
M2: The transition from the prolonged tone to the wall of noise sounds like it might be the sound of a real head-cleaning tape.
BB: It is actually two tones - the two opposed standard tunings for the note used by the Viennese and Parisian schools - played simultaneously. An allusion to the musical Cold War which divided Europe for years, with repercussions still felt to this day. Headcleaner is a metaphor for a mystical substance, a universal solvent, the Philosopher's Stone in liquid form.
M2: Cool - you mean liquid acid? or is it some hallucinogen fresh out of Sandoz?
BB: I was speaking of an alchemical substance, you know? It's not the same as a chemical substance.
MD: Where can I find treatment for my alchemical dependency?
M2: Alchemists Anonymous?
Where do pop acts stay when they play the Bay Area? The Phoenix, a piece of Hollywood real estate grafted into the heart of San Francisco's Tenderloin. It even features a Caribbean restaurant with authentic So-Cal cuisine. Blixa orders a rock shrimp quesadilla.
MD: You like Jamaican food; what do you like in music?
BB: Generally I like things I cannot tell what is happening in four bars. I like Henryk Gorecki, Symphony of Mournful Songs, third movement. He's the first contemporary composer to make it onto the English charts in a long time. And I rather like the Kronos Quartet.
M2: What do you think of Grunge?
BB: Is he from Finland? I'm surprised we are talking so much about Art.
M2: Art whom?
MD: Hanging out in Vienna, you must know Herman Nitsch and Otto Muehl.
BB: Some of my favorite people are Actionists.
MD: Mine too. The Actionists' images have permeated the culture..
BB: We performed at the last Dokumenta that Joseph Bueys did. Aside from ourselves and Bueys, the thing that really touched me was the Nitsch Retrospective. It possesses a dimension I call "pressure," as in physics. What do you think of Schwarzkogler?
MD: When his pictures were first published in America, it was presented like, "Here's an artist who chopped off his own dick and bled to death for performance art." (According to sculptor/performance artist Chris Burden, the source of this canard was a scurrilous Newsweek article published in the '70s. --Robert) So I had to find out more. Which lead me to Peter Weibel - I worked with him on some virtual rituals - and from him I met Nitsch. I was supposed to meet Otto Muehl but he got arrested.
BB: People see Schwarzkogler as a horrific character. They look at his S & M fantasies, but his pictures are quite beautiful. He was a true romantic. I know one of his best friends who doesn't believe he suicided. Otto's in jail right now, for supposedly having sex with minors again. It's sick, really - he's Reichian and he has two camps, on in the Alps and one in the Canary Islands, the two camps of the so-called AA commune.
MD: That's great, creating a cult as an art piece: the artist as God who demands sex from everybody.
BB: It's not like that! It's not a cult: it's based on Wilhelm Reich's thinking. The women have the only rooms and they choose whom they'll sleep with. These communes have been in existence for a long time. Somehow a video was released and used to convict Muehl. The woman judge called it the sickest thing she'd ever seen...
M2: AA? Does this have something to do with the Crowley AA, the "Great White Brotherhood?" I could see them using Reich for cover these days. Crowley's got a bad rep.
BB: For good reason. Wilhelm Reich has nothing to do with Crowley! AA stands for something totally different! Reich, you know? Orgone accumulators. Bions. Vegetotherapy! And, of course, sex...
M2: I'm down. But Crowley... If you think Crowley was crazy, read his Diary of a Drug Fiend. And if you think Reich was sane, read his self-suppressed Contact With Space.
BB: Reich's work is better known in America than in Europe, so maybe you know better. You should - it was you folks who fucking killed him!
M2: How did you feel about the Red Army Faction when you were growing up? I liked the hands-on-the-trigger approach to having war criminals for parents.
BB: The RAF were my heroes.
MD: Are you in a sense terrorists? Einstuerzende Neubauten translates as "Collapsed New Buildings," which reminds me of J.G. Ballard's book High-Rise. A future of a 400-story politically independent superstructure, with competing cultures on different floors, like towering Bosnia. These buildings need to be collapsed.
BB: That's interesting, but the name Einstuerzende Neubauten is not originally an anarchist slogan. It's an architectural phenomenon, like your "sick building syndrome." Neubau means "new built" - the official designation for postwar. Many Neubautens were constructed of steel-reinforced concrete; the walls are held in place by the ceilings, and the weight of the floor above stabilizes the building. But succumbing to "material stress," they are known to collapse - einstuerzende - of themselves. The classic example of this was the Berlin Kongresshalle, which was a gift from your government. This collapsed in the first week after we formed. It seemed like a good omen.
M2: How do you feel about Berlin?
BB: I love the Potsdamerplatz - in that empty lot is a greater historical presence that anywhere I know. The Nazi Government ministries were here - gone without a trace. The wall went straight through it, and now even that is gone, every last piece sold to American tourists. Of course, now it's the most valuable real estate in the world and has been bought up by Sony and Mercedes-Benz.
MD: Do you see WWII as a pivotal event in your psyche - that destruction?
BB: I will tell you two things about our psyche. First, I refer you to Walter Benjamin's essay on the destructive character, which he describes as handsome and friendly, whose only motto is "to create space." How do you think a destructive personality creates space? This is another tie-in to einstuerzende. The Neubau/Altbau dichotomy points to historical dimension in our work. It's not architectural destruction that haunts us. It's the rift torn in the culture of Europe and especially Germany. The prewar avant-garde tradition was completely severed. There was no German tradition one could refer to without feeling guilty. That culture which existed before the war is rightly forbidden to us, because of what it led to - or at best, did not prevent. Connect the "destructive character" with this historical perspective and you have a key to our method and madness. It means that love songs are possible.
M2: You see this as uniquely German? Our avant garde was destroyed...
BB: You had Bugs Bunny before, during and after the war. The war you won. The point I am trying to make is that the German tradition is gone. We hate our culture and our language. All our philosophy and music was appropriated by the Nazis: Durer, Bach, Friedrich N-Punkt! We cannot redeem that tradition. We can only re-invent. This is the only way that there can be love songs. There is a famous quotation - I believe it's Adorno - "After Auschwitz you can't write a poem anymore." He was right, in his time, in that culture. I believe war created a space, a void that makes it possible for me to re-invent German culture out of this pure nothing.
M2: You are one of the few German artists that speaks in your own tongue.
BB: For the last 20 years they tried to make people believe that you can't do "rock" music in German. It's a cheap lie but everyone in our country seems to believe it.
MD: You can. Interimsliebenden could be the biggest German language international hit since the Beatles' Komm, gib mir deine Hand.
BB: I can't believe you would even mention THAT SONG in an interview with me!
M2: Sorry, Blixa...uh, but it is a beautiful song: the words are profound [hastily covering his gaffe]... I think you deserve more of a reputation as a poet. This must be some of the finest contemporary verse in the German language, and it comes across well in English, too.
BB: Thank you. I do have an honorary professorship in Poetics from the Vienna Academy of Arts. So I have not gone completely unnoticed.
MD: Your primary subject matter is not politics or philosophy, is it? It almost seems that all your songs relate to an emotion - uh, what is the word I am looking for...?
BB: Love? I know you were ashamed to say the word, and so am I. It's true: that's the basic subject. I know we are called Teutonic and destructive, but now you know the truth.
M2: "Love" - who can define that?
BB: I can. A functional definition of love is that feeling shared by two lovers in their kiss. Our single, The Interimlovers/Die Interimsliebenden, which is also the first rack on Tabula Rasa, is a description of this kiss, and is thus a critical, dynamic definition of love.
M2: Oh... OK!
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