Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Plaza of the Mind Interview with Barbara Morgenstern!

I heard Ms. Morgenstern's song 'The Operator' while I did some apparel shopping with my wife back in January. The song blew me away and I carefully memorized the main refrain of the song to ensure that I could later find it online. What I found was an artist who had recorded a number of albums - which I picked up - and a singular voice that seems fresh and yet familiar at the same time. I contacted her right away to tell her how much I had loved the single and she was gracious enough to accept an invitation to the Plaza of the Mind.

[The Plaza of the Mind quotes appear in Bold-type, Ms. Morgenstern's in normal-type]

How long have you been performing in the electronic medium?

I started to work with a a sequenz-keyboard in 1990, I kept on working with an Atari and after that I bought my first Macintosh. Since then I love to arrange my music with electronic instruments, because they give me the opportunity to create a special sound.

What does a day in your life look like?

I wake up at 9 in the morning. Have coffee with my boyfriend, then take my bike and our dog and go to my studio (which takes about an hour). Then I start to work on my music, have lunch (from time to time with friend who work in the same area) then I take a walk with my dog. After that I do music again and go back home at around 7 - 8 p.m. I stay home read a book or meet friends/go out. Seems like a normal working day, isn't it? On Mondays I stay home and prepare a choir-rehearsal. I am conducting a choir since May 2007.

What kind of choir are you conducting?

It is a choir at the "House of World Cultures " (, which is a cultural institution, presenting unknown (and sometimes know as well) arts from foreign countries. The music director had the idea to form a choir and asked me to be the "bandleader" of it and I agreed. We are trying to be a modern international choir, trying out things a choir normally would not do. For example we did an improvised concert with Harmonia (Moebius - you know him - Rother and Roedelieus) in November 2007. We developed soundscapes we could add to the electronics of Harmonia, functioning more like field recordings then human voices. This was a lot of fun and worked really well!

Your music seems to have been influenced by the ephemeral sounds of the late seventies and early eighties – what do you consider the sound that you are looking for?

I´m a child of the eighties (born in 1971). I entered the Pop-world by Joy Division, Bauhaus, Depeche Mode, Kate Bush and all the eighties hits. What still impresses me, although the sound is awful, is the harmonic structures of the songs - for example "the riddle" by Nik Kershaw. I am a huge harmonies-freak which maybe comes from that period.

What is your favorite form of architecture?

It´s hard to choose one specific form, but there are a lots of houses I had wonderful experiences with. For example: me and my boyfriend (he´s an architecture-fan) visited the Bauhaus in Dessau - not far from Berlin. There is one room in the second floor - I guess it was used as an atelier - it is huge and no walls, but windows, which are divided by thin black steel. When i
entered the room I had such a feeling of openness, that I am still impressed. Generally the Bauhaus apartment houses (in Stuttgart there's a whole area) are wonderful. I had a similar feeling when I entered Sagarda Familia, the church by Gaudi in Bracelona. I know it's very very mainstream, but I had the impression, there there is a lot of tension in Gaudi´s structures I felt familiar with ( I sometimes have the a feeling of tension between form when I´m photographing). So the biggest impression is, if buildings activate a strong emotion.

I like Rem Koolhaas as well - I visited the McCormick Tribune Campus Center in Chacago, running there, because it was minus 20 degrees. he worked with a lot of different materials, shapes and forms, which makes the buildings so vivid and like an adventure. So - this was my architecture monologue, hope not too long/ boring.

What music do you listen to the most?

In fact I do not listen to music that much, because I do music all day long, which I feel sometime is a pity, but I love silence as well ;-)

I somehow fell in love with some modern Classic, as there are wonderful piano pieces by Bela Bartok and a great piece by Benjamin Britten called "Serenade for Tenor, Horns and strings". What I love about this music is, that there are short glimpses of pop music, but this moments do not last, so I find it very inspiring. On the major side of music I liked the last Arcade Fire album and reardings electronics a friend of mine just gave me an album of the drummer Sven Kacirek. He´s doing some loops of his percussion and then adds some nice sounds (like Vibraphone and so on). Very lovely.

Of course, I was also weened on the bands you mentioned [although I must admit that I was also a huge heavy metal fan as well] and I agree. Your harmonies are quite soothing. The only German bands I am really familiar with [Kraftwerk, Moebius und Plank, Einstuerzende Neubaten and Rammstein] don't make the language sound as lovely as you do and I wonder if there are any artists that you could recommend because feminine German vocalists seem to be quite under-represented here in the States?

There is AGF from Berlin (her full name is Antye Greye Fuchs), she´s doing wonderful experimental electronic music. She is part of the band "laub" as well, who was signed to Kitty Yo (no idea where they are now. And the other big female musician I could highly recommend is Gutav (she sings Engliush and is from Vienna) - Check out her first album on Mosz Records (I´m a labalmate with the Improvisation Trio I´m part of called "Septmber Collective") called "rettet die wale ".

What has been your strangest fan interaction?

Fan interaction - I think I never was involved in that. I feel a bit uncomfortable with "stars", because it´s always an unnatural situation - you never meet eye to eye. So maybe there is a funny story: I once supported Nick Cave at a show in Hamburg (he´s friends with my label owner Gudrun Gut). He treated me like I am an annoying fan, being eager to talk to him. Then I got really angry with him (shouted at him), because it was absolutely not the case and I felt mistreated. From that moment on he got far more natural (then his band members are) and it was a nice evening.