Sometimes dreams come true - even if it takes a while. At the heart of Conrad Schnitzler's dream resides the belief, that everybody is an artist. This does not only mean that everybody has the talent to be one. The ways of producing and distributing art also should be within the reach of everybody and not a privilege for the few. The first musical projects Schnitzler was involved (Geraeusche, Human Being, Kluster) dwelled on collective improvisation and everything within reach could turn into a musical instrument. Schnitzler always worked on a low budget scale and was one of the first who produced records independently or distributed his music on cassettes. With the money coming in he fuelled new projects instead of selling his music in large in profitable quantities. The advent of personal computers and the internet sparked a worldwide movement based on the same philosophy. There are still millions of people who do not have access to this technology but the means of production, of producing music, film or literature by and for everyone are there. It only lacks the society with equal opportunities to use these tools.
Adorno wrote that the duty of art is to bring chaos into order. This is what happened at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab, founded 1968 by Schnitzler and the fellow-members of Kluster. Get rid of the old rules. That sounds simple - but it isn't. New ideas are the child of the old society. They only make cracks into its walls where the promise of a new world shines through. Turning people whose normal place in life would be the desk or the assembly line (or being completely useless for production and profit at all) into artists is such a crack in the wall. This is the key idea Schnitzler took from his time with Joseph Beuys. That Schnitzler could study art in Düsseldorf itself is part of that idea. He wasn't born into the privileges that lead into an academic career. He was a factory worker before he decided to drop out of a life, where the way from cradle to grave is predestined by society and not much is left to own decision. In post war Germany those with no money had only a few choices if they could not fit into the schemes of a still authoritarian society: become a hobo, join the foreign legion or sail the seas. Schnitzler did choose the latter. When he came back to Düsseldorf he met Beuys, who in the 60ties had opened up his class for everyone with talent regardless of formal education. In the 60ties the state of North Rhine-Westphalia was governed by the Social Democratic Party which has their roots in the worker's movement - and education for everyone independent of class, sex or money always has been one of the goals of that movement. So you might expect applause and support for Beuy's ideas. No, he got sacked.
In 1966 Conrad Schnitzler moved to Berlin and switched from painting and sculpturing to music. Music seemed to be an even better field for spontaneous creativity and the ideas of the Fluxus movement, that art should not be limited to the museums. In the beginning at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab three musical movements met. Coming from different directions but drawing the same conclusions from social developments were free jazz, psychedelic rock and the musical avantgarde with people like Berio, Nono or Stockhausen. All were brought together by the belief that a new society was necessary (after the old one had shown its ugly face in world war I + II and their aftermath) and that a new society needs a new sound - and a new kind of artist, too. A unique moment, that didn't last very long. The movement (if it ever was one) fell apart quickly. The jazz musicians returned to their tradition which guaranteed them status and audience. The rock musicians fell in love with the prospect of being stars in the spotlight of the stage elevated from the masses of admirers. And the classical musicians returned to the opera houses. Boulez had declared that operas should be blown up - now he became director of one. The collective fell apart. Schnitzler kept his course working alone and in numerous cooperations. He had to make compromises - but everybody has to do. The problem starts when you make yourself and the people believe, the compromise was your original goal.
Schnitzler is always described as one of the key figures of electronic music. In the beginning there were no electronic instruments. Nobody could have afford them. What was used were everyday objects or the remains of instruments, other musicians had abandoned. The new music was mostly the result of breaking the rules and treating these tools differently. The increasing use of electronics (first left-overs from physical laboratories and radio shacks) was not the normal attraction of new toys for boys. It was the attraction of a sound coming from outside the normal life. It is no accident that early electronic music was associated with science fiction movies - the picture and the sound of the future. The fifties and sixties were a time of optimism that the advance of science and technology will lead to a world, where hunger and poverty are forgotten and where humanity will be freed from dull and time consuming labour. In this climate, the discussion electronic versus handmade music made not much sense. Nearly everybody was fascinated by the new possibilities. The concert halls presented tape recordes on their stages, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis left the path of traditional Jazz with the help of electronic instruments. Even Mick Jagger tried his hand on a Moog synthesizer. Kraftwerk laughed at the idea of a so called authenticity, which draws its legitimation from the sweating rock musician posing as hard and masculine worker, and cloned themselves as robots which had to take the blows of touring and performing.
Schnitzler went even further. Perhaps you had to start as painter to get to his conclusion: when looking at a painting, no one expects to meet the painter or look over his shoulder while painting. With the concept of the "cassette concerts" he found a way to have his music performed without the necessity of his personal appearance. He recorded the building blocks of his compositions on tapes. The performer (not necessarily Schnitzler himself) can choose from an ever growing number of tapes (nowadays transferred to cds for easier handling and better sound quality) and mix them freely. Schnitzler is the composer - the performing artist acts as conductor with a large amount of freedom. Schnitzler uses this technique himself. He does not create his music vertically, ruled by a concept that leads from start to some sort of finale or promise of paradise. The music is created horizontally with the freedom to move in any direction and explore all possibilities - it is just free.
Japanese translation: Con-tributed article from Wolfgang "Sequenza" Seidel (16.4.06)
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