Interview with Martin Kohlstedt
We had the chance to put some questions to Martin Kohlstedt ahead of his gig in the Unitarian Church tomorrow night. You can find the results below.
“This fall, Martin Kohlstedt will be taking his acclaimed album “Ströme”, on tour through four famed cities in the UK and Ireland. The 2019 title, which means “streams” in German, is as much about music, as it is a social experiment which comes to life through its performance. A collaboration between the German composer and pianist and the renowned Gewandhaus Choir Leipzig, the album is made of Kohlstedt’s signature modular compositions – not ‘works’ as such, but rather compendiums of interconnecting musical ideas.”
Find out more about Martin Kohlstedt here
Martin Kohlstedt – Unitarian Church – 27/10/19
There was a recent Irish documentary called ‘Making the Grade’, which showed the relationship between a student and their piano teacher. It seems quite an intense relationship. Do you have a piano teacher that made a big impact on your life?
I haven’t heard of that documentary, but it sounds very interesting. I’ll watch it later! I can definitely relate to the intensity of this kind of relationship where the spoken word is amplified through music. Especially on the piano with its ability to accommodate not only two, but four hands, these musical discussions can be fierce.
Everything started in the melodica classes we had in elementary school – I wish I could tell a more romantic and interesting story, but here we are –they were all but interesting or intense. It was just incredibly annoying and felt more like simply an additional school subject than anything else. Later I had some private keyboard lessons, but no teacher of mine was able to connect to me in any meaningful way, especially when I started to be interested in Jazz.
The urge to play came more from the inside, and I found no other way to satisfy this urge than to misuse the out of tune piano in the living room to pick apart my own inner workings as a teenager. The reason was seldom of the normal, “inspirational” nature but more of a need to sit at the instrument to have a discussion with myself and put my thoughts into order. It was not until my time at university in Weimar that I finally found like-minded people in whose company I felt at home with my intuitive way of playing piano.
What music were you listening to as a teenager? What albums made the biggest impact on you when you were falling in love with music?
Besides the sometimes crazy rock/pop radio stations that were available in Germany during the turn of the millennium, artists like Sigur Ros, Camille and the scores of Cliff Martinez are the ones that stood out from my big brother’s Mp3 collection. But the most important album, the one I was almost begging for and truly altered my taste in music is “Into the Blue Again” by “The Album Leaf”. Its first title called “The Light” gave me an understanding of what it means to let the music just flow and in a way act by itself – as if no one consciously composed it but rather tapped into an otherworldly aether that keeps creating.
Live performance seems very important to you. Do you strive to create something unique for your audience, rather than a straight performance of your music?
Definitely the most important thing for me is playing live. Usually, I play the first 30 seconds as planned and then let the audience, the space, the moment react with each other and influence the piece. I like to see the audience as a mirror or a dialogue partner, that brings up things that are on my mind — and vice versa I have a similar effect on the people in the audience. This creates a special kind of communication and intimacy that makes me aware of details and affects how I interpret or even recompose the piece. That, of course, can either succeed or go wrong, but either way it creates a special aura.
My pieces are modules with a three-letter title that, at least at first sight, do not have any specific meaning. But like compressed files or memories once forgotten, they can blossom, flow, grow or amalgamate with each other. The moment and the environment provided, be it in solitude or with an audience, solo piano on a sunny meadow or in a damp nightclub with electronic influences, make my pieces evolve and change continuously. And to be honest: I can not really control that. I have to trust my »offspring« as they do what they want anyway.
For this tour, you’re taking an electronic choir on tour with you, with individual streams/ layers of the voices of the Gewandhaus Choir combined live on stage! Where did you come up with the idea?
I will bring my “choir in a can”, so to say: The voices of the Gewandhaus choir are dissected, sampled and discussed in a new way by means of electronic reproduction. All of the instruments, the piano, the Fender Rhodes and some synthesizers are recorded live and end up in the loop station to be layered and arranged in new and unforeseeable ways. The resulting pieces stay true to my modular approach and remain a work in progress as always.
But as it is my first concert in Ireland I will return to my beginnings: Just the piano and myself. These “unplugged” solo concerts are important stepping stones in between the other concerts with all the extra instrumentation and are in my opinion, the best way to establish the first contact with a new audience.
For your Dublin date, you’re performing in a church. Do you often perform in unusual locations? Are there any ones that are particularly memorable?
Another reason why every concert is different from the ones before is due to its varying locations. From massive, classical concert halls via ceremonial apple orchards, night clubs, living rooms, rooftops or ships to being at home in solitude, the location does not really matter – the key is to remain focused and that has, so far, worked every time.
But there is one crazy memory from St. Petersburg – the police broke up an electronic music festival where I was supposed to play in the evening. The visitors were dispersed into all directions. Three or four hours later about 2,000 people regrouped via a chat on Telegram on a high-rise rooftop about eight kilometres away and the festival continued. At around 2:30 a.m., in the middle of this “white night” four buff Russian men carried a piano into the middle of the dancefloor on the rooftop – the ongoing techno set was paused and I played my piano pieces, the audience sitting in a circle around me; you could hear a needle drop. I had never thought something like that could happen, but I stand corrected and this story will definitely be told to my grandchildren someday.