Hidden beneath a slew of new music through all kinds of formats and channels, one sometimes discovers artists that might not have gotten the same kind of attention as some of their peers, but who make even more exciting music. My first encounter with the music of Polish born and German resident Paul Wirkus was through his 2004 solo album ‘Inteletto d’amore’ that came out on the Staubgold sublabel Quecksilber. At that point, Wirkus had already been making music for around 20 years with several solo and collaborative releases on his resumé. On ‘Inteletto’, Wirkus shifted and layered sounds with such a subtlety and love for detail that only those who listen closely got the opportunity to discover the true appeal of it. Next to his solo work, Wirkus also plays in the September Collective with Barbara Morgenstern and Stefan Schneider of To Rococo Rot and Mapstation as well as in a trio with Johannes Frisch of Kammerflimmer Kollektief and Mikolaj Trzaska. In October 2006, his new solo album ‘Déformation professionelle’ will be released on Staubgold Records. This interview was conducted via email in August 2006.
I´ve been making music since the early 1980s. When I went to a punk concert back then and saw the drummer I thought: ‘That’s where I have to be – on stage behind that drum kit!’ I was fascinated by the energy of the music. Two years later it became true. I was playing drums with the band I had seen on the exact same stage.
Just like for ‘Inteletto d’amore’, the material for the new album was mostly assembled through playing live shows. I don’t like editing sounds on a computer. That’s why I record most of my tunes live. I’m trying to develop these personal and slightly unusual methods of recording to keep my music alive without recurring to those typical clichées like using midi, playing loops, using plug-ins, etc. The technical side in electronic music doesn’t interest me very much because all the possibilites and advantages of technology can easily turn into creative barriers. I’m interested in beautiful and unusual sounds, but not in technical gimmicks. Everything I play on my electronic devices, I’ve taught myself through rather tedious work. In fact, in all those years I’ve been making music, I never dared to ask anyone what devices or software it takes to make good electronic music. I believe that you have to go through all the technical stuff on your own to find your own voice. Those who didn’t go through that process and prefer the premade solutions usually sound boring to me. For me it’s elemental to have your own and unique sound. The technical gadgets are interchangeable anyway.
Good that you’re saying it: the new album is indeed more raw, melancholic and melodious. Those are the main three differences to the previous album. The new one also reflects my inner state of mind during the time it was recorded, i.e. between the release of ‘Inteletto d’amore’ in 2004 and the finalisation of ‘Déformation professionelle’ in winter 2005/06. My solo recordings have become a sort of personal diary. I have to experience something in order to record a tune. Otherwise it wouldn’t work. I like this certain melancholic atmosphere that doesn’t have anything to do with whining or sadness. Generally, I’m trying to separate my music from political or ideological ideas. On the other hand, I don’t want to get comfortable in this small world of festivals, electronic music and multimedia projects. I like to be close to life by doing simple things like cooking food. Therefore, I prefer to record live to DAT instead of shifting loops and patterns on the computer for hours.
I’m very excited that you think the album sounds less electronic because it is electronic throughout. It was my goal to disconnect the album from the usual minimal electronic environment. I wanted to build a bridge to the wide open field of experimental music without doing without the means and progressive character of electronic music. In this particular case I see myself as an artist who plays his music solo like a pianist or singer for example. I’m just a bit more abstract and fragmentary. I wanted to sound more plastic and organic and less obvious. If I’ve achieved my goals, we’ll have to see with the next album. I’m very curious about what will happen next musically.
As to the devices and instruments used, they’re not really of importance. As I said I’m not interested in the technical side of music, that’s just coquetry. I’m more interested in the music itself. For example, I’m a big fan of Thelonious Monk, but I never wanted to know what piano he plays. It doesn’t matter much.
When I migrated from Poland to Germany in the late 1980s, Cologne was my first and only choice. Already back in Poland, the city had a reputation as being open-minded. Of course, the city also influenced me musically, especially the close relation to the a-Musik people has been very important. Since my punk days, I wanted to make my own music. Probably, I could make it somewhere else as well.
To be honest, I rarely listen to Polish music. Of course, I receive the CD’s my friends have recorded, but that’s just a very small portion of what’s out there. I feel like the recent appreciation of Polish music could only happen now. Despite many difficulties, many small labels emerge, e.g. Kilogram Records, Lado, ABC that release music that’s more than a copy of Western examples. The biggest problems are still in the lack of distribution and promotion structures whose importance has been underestimated until now.
The mentioned Jazz tradition has luckily survived in various formats. I get the feeling that people still listen to a lot of Jazz. Therefore, Jazz music is more than on the fringes in Poland and I like that. Jazz has always been a symbol of freedom for me. In the mid-1990s, there was a great scene in Gdansk around the band Milosc, which has fallen asleep a bit. Current productions are oftentimes too groovy and club-oriented, but that’s my personal opinion. I totally dig the music of Krzysztof Komeda and the early Tomasz Stanko with Edward Vesala on drums, i.e. rather the stuff from the 1960s.
The September Collective was founded during a tour through Poland where I, Stefan and Barbara, each played solo shows. After we had played several shows together we started improvising after the concerts, which was really relaxed. Afterwards, we played several shows in Germany as a trio which we taped. Of those recordings, we picked the tracks for the album on Geographic/Domino. Our next album is already finished and will be released in February 2007. We’re all excited about it because we all found some time to record together again despite all the other engagements we have. Also we like what we’ve recorded very much.
My music is created through improvisation. I especially prefer that mode of working when playing the drums. I like the kind of improvisation that involves improvising when arranging. It’s important to me to find an ending and not just noodle around for a long time. I really enjoy playing with Johannes and Mikolaj as Wirkus Trzaska Frisch, sort of in the tradition of Coleman, Dolphy and Coltrane. I’ve been dreaming for years of such an acoustic free jazz trio.
My solo recordings are actually very concrete most of the time. They may include some room for improvisation here and there, but I’m usually content with the thought that I would have had the opportunity for improvising parts of them. Most of the time really, I concentrate on improving versions of already existing concrete songs.
As I said, there will be a new September Collective album in early 2007. Right now, I’d like to play drums more. I feel like I’m slightly under-worked as a drummer. Most recently, I did some recordings with Joseph Suchy. In addition to my electronica albums, maybe I’ll also record some solo drum music in the future, which would be rather untypical compared to what I’ve done so far.Photos by Martha Wirkus
Thank you for the interview.
-- Stephan Bauer (11 September, 2006)