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Steffen Roth

“Being in verbal or nonverbal conversation is the most important thing”

My favourite solo drum records from last ten years are:

Toshiro Mimaki - Januari 22 2000 (Sloow Wax, 2014)
Eli Kezler - Catching Net (PAN, 2012)
Eric Thielemans - A Snare Is A Bell (Ultra Eczema, 2007)
Pascal Nichols - Nihilist Chakai House (Discombobulate, 2014)
Kris Vanderstraeten - Kan Da Na (Knife In The Toaster, 2015)
Will Guthrie - People Pleaser (Black Truffle, 2017)

Now you can add:

Steffen Roth - Kalbe / Milde (Ana Ott, 2017)

A talk. 

The first part of the first track sounds like it’s one repeating rhythm, played at several different speeds. When I listen to it, I have no idea how it’s made, so can you tell me? 

“Monodance”, the A-Side of the cassette, consists of one simple concept of playing the drums. Fast double-strokes over a long period. My main instrument to work with is the drumset so every sound that you hear on the A-Side is coming from several drums played with sticks hold by flesh.

Is this a live recording?

It’s improvised in the studio. No edits on the A-Side. 

Did you want to create some kind of ‘mechanical rhythm’ here, an imitation of a machine, created with a drum kit?

No. I haven’ t had the goal to imitate a machine. There are a lot of beautiful examples, most of them come from the drumworld, of where drummers try to ‘humanize’ an effect that originally came from a machine, like ‘drum and bass’ or looping ‘fails’ from a MPC, but this is not what I am doing here. 

“Monodance' is a 22 minute track, but it clearly exists out of 4 different pieces, so how did you make this? Did you do one longer recording session, where you took four pieces from, that you put together again?

Oh, this happened by chance. During my residency in Kalbe (Milde) I had the idea to make one solo album. The more I played solo pieces in my studio there, the more this playing responded very vibrant to myself and I decided to experiment with it in different tracks. After the recording session I chose my most favourite tracks and put them together on the A-Side.

Now, after recording, I decided to present this program on stage and match these different qualities together in one continuous piece. By playing this concept over a longer time period, it became more and more one meditation for myself and for the listener. I got great respond from the audience who heard a lot more than I played. Under all these fast strokes on the drum lies a great universe of overtones and dynamics.

The “Monodance” track has something tribal-like. Did you want to create some kind of tribal effect for this recording?

Seems like, but it was not my initial intention. But of course repetitive music is a very natural thing and exists as long as we live on this planet. When you hear bands like Master Musicians of Jajouka with their hundreds of years of experience, you understand the power of trance music. But even if I use the term ‘repetitive’ here, for me this is not repetitive at all. It’s continuous.

I had to think of the music of Steve Reich when listening to “Monodance”. An influence? 

I guess, yes. Of course I know some of his music and his idea of long and slow development while hearing a huge vertical structure. This was very inspiring.

Around 5 minutes in “Le Presente”, the sounds seems to stutter. I liked that part. Why did you do that? Do you feel like mistakes are part of playing?

This is no mistake. It is one more improvisation on a classic jazz drumset, with drums, snares and cymbals. I think it came unexpected, but this is what I love. 

What am I listening to in the third part of “Le Presente”? Because to me, it sounds like you’re playing a big metal scale with brushes, or am I completely wrong here? 

Ah, I love it. It’s my hands and finger nails on coated drums-skins. A little paning in the post production, et voilá. A sound that is inspired by the contemporary classic and noise scene, I guess.

Why did you want make this record as a solo record?

I play a lot of improvised music in different band constellations. With bands like PALAWA, the trio with Julia Kadel and in the duo with Bruno Angeloni, just to name a few. We know each other quite good and, like in every conversation, everybody brings in his or her point of view and it resolves in one product affected by each musician. In the last years I reflected this kind of playing very intensively and I realized that I have a need to play in this continuous idea with slow musical development, which was, at that point, not possible with other people. 

It’s this need to get to know yourself better. How do I act in different situations, and why? What happens when I do not respond to someone or something? During this residency in Kalbe (Milde) I thought a lot about this and I understood, for now, that it’s impossible to not respond. Every note that I play is affected by something; the news, current and past music, society, friends, people that I meet or feelings that come up with places. I am the product of these experiences. 

© L(v)(f)

You said the music on this record took you to unexpected places. Can you explain?

Kalbe (Milde) is a small town in the country side of Germany. A place where you don’t expect to be playing in the first place, especially when you have studied music in a bigger city and are part of a ‘scene’. You first focus on well established jazz clubs, to enforce your musical career. The way the universities, in Germany, teach music today is to ‘produce’ musicians who can successfully participate in the market. Not every single teacher works like this, but the general idea of these studies are like this.

When I got the invitation from an association who is working on reactivating old buildings by offering them to artists to work there, I thought: “Oh, this could be nice! Maybe a calm place could be good to work on some new music”. And it was inspiring in a way that I did not expect at all. When you usually play in bigger cities, you get used to an audience who is very well educated in music. They take your concert as a Friday night entertainment to have some drinks. Please note that, when I say stuff like this or what I said about the universities before, I am not talking about every single person. Everybody has reasons to do stuff in a certain way, but the process of commercialising ideologies or playing music to gloss their personal image is a fact that I experience everyday. 

In Kalbe (Milde), where most of the people never got in touch with experimental or improvised music, people listen completely different to your music and you are confronted with questions you never had to deal with before: “Why is there no melody?”, or “Do you really play together?”. Stuff that is very logic and clear for you, because you and your colleagues know a lot about music. But you have to explain this to somebody for whom it’s not clear at all. The more often I play there, the more people listen to this music and start to understand something when you talk to them. So the most valuable thing I learned there, is the social aspect in music, to talk and to listen to each other. Being in verbal or nonverbal conversation is the most important thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s schlager, where the audience can sing the lyrics, or contemporary classical music.

Do you come from a jazz background? Did you study jazz? 

Yes, I studied jazz drums in Dresden with Michael Griener, Eric Schaefer and Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer. All of them very very wise and beautiful musicians.

Photo © André Symann
- Joeri Bruyninckx
© Copyright

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for the interview and recommendations. Love this record so much.