How To Transform Pressure Into Treasure
Story online since: 15.12.2007 / 16:41:57
Explorers of the mysterious and of the surnatural, Austrian KorovaKill should be known to you by now. Ever since 1994, they have been disturbing the most underground of undergrounds with their three mind-bending albums, all of which never made it to commercial proportions but nevertheless investigated many new forms of metal expression. Now that we can evaluate their historical importance, it's quite easy to realize that they were one of the few real avant-garde artists whose passion and creativity always have pushed further the great art of music. Call them dreaming spacemen, neo-baroque thrash orchestras, astro-oceanic divers from unknown worlds and dimensions! I say whatever, they're basically here to expand your sensory systems. And that's what matters the most, or isn't it? So for the last few months, I had an ongoing conversation with mastermind Chrystof Niederwieser, in order to clarify what's going on with his daily projects. And here it comes, for your own pleasure...
Cheers Chrystof, I hope youíre doing pretty well nowadays. Ever since you released your last Korovakill album, namely WaterHells, approximately six years have passed by, without any subsequent information to be found regarding the band. Therefore most of your fans, including myself, are starting to wonder if Korovakill is still alive and active as a musical entity. There arenít many bands out there equally pushing the boundaries of music like youíve been doing it since 1991, so I had to ask you: what has personally kept you away from composing and releasing new music throughout all these years?
Thanks a lot, Olivier! Yes KorovaKill are still active, though nothing new has been released since WaterHells. There are many reasons for this break, and it would go too much into detail to name them all.
One important point is my emigration to Berlin in 2002. This makes regular rehearsals very difficult. Another one is the fact that Moritz and Renaud have several other bands and projects that are far more successful than KorovaKill. So of course those activities have priority. Especially Moritz is touring permanently all around the world. And when he's back in Austria he also needs his time to regenerate and to be a private man.
Nevertheless I never stopped building music in all those years. Many hours of new material have been composed since WaterHells. But it still will take a while before all these fragments will be a complete entity that can be released as an album. Actually we hope that it can be finished in 2008.
Discovering WaterHells back in the day was a delightful experience, mostly because finding an experimental, boundless metal band merging itself with real watery musical themes and ambiances, astrological imagery and a fishermen narrative story is such a rare gem. Can you still listen to this album for what it is, or has it become only a musical step that you have now surpassed as an artist? And in retrospect, how do you understand WaterHells particular textures and colors, when you compare these with your personal growth within the spheres of experimental music?
I don't spend too many thoughts on our former albums. And I wouldn't say that there is a huge progression or "growing" between A Kiss in the Charnel Fields, Echowelt, Dead like an Angel and WaterHells. They all just try to explore different worlds in different ways. But I wouldn't put one over the other.
The only point where you can see a progression is the quality of production. WaterHells was the first album that we did with an excellent producer. Markus Stock has conjured a marvelous sound. So WaterHells definitely is our most professional release so far. But I am sure that all the other albums are on the same level music-wise. They just were recorded in bad studios with very small budgets.
In some ways WaterHells is our least experimental album. There aren't tons of different parts, rhythms, harmonies and languages like on Charnel Fields. It's much more homogenous and repetitive. The reason for this is the very strong concept orientation. The great Ocean cannot be acoustified with lots of breaks and complicated metrics. It just has to flow like the waves and tides. So the single songs are very homogenous in themselves. The variety just happens between the songs, within the course of the album. It starts with repetitive heavy mid-tempo songs, goes on to soft acoustic and orchestral tunes and ends with high speed, furious staccato hymns. So the flow of this album starts with water and ends with fire - WaterHells...
I also think that WaterHells has been your least experimental album, but only if you compare it to your own discography, because once you start observing the whole metal scene back in 2001, experimentation wasnít at its speak to say the least. Is experimentation something you would like to rediscover and push further next time?
You never can say what will come out. It just happens. For example with Echowelt we tried very hard to make a very catchy, commercial album. When we had finished the songwriting we thought that it was much more simple and direct than A Kiss in the Charnel Fields. And I still think so.
Actually, everyone else thinks that Echowelt is by far our most experimental and innovative album. No record company dared to release it. The listeners decide whatís experimentation, not the songwriter. So maybe we should try to write a very experimental album now. Then people will probably find it very commercial and buy it...
In your listening case, and I know youíve been concerned with the question of avant-gardism in metal lately (smile), what defines the experimental, avant-garde and furthering nature of metal? If only listeners decide what experimentation is, does it mean that the whole avant-garde culture only is a biosocial phenomenon that could be reduced to an always-changing herd fashion?
It depends. On an individual level there are thousands of musicians trying to create something innovative. And there are thousands of listeners perceiving it as experimental or conventional due to their personal listening experiences. If you sum up all these activities you get the construct of a collective level. Just take all the different bands featured on www.avantgarde-metal.com. A few of these bands may be perceived as avant-garde by 90 or more percent of the readers. And there are many bands where maybe just 20 or 30 percent of the readers think: "Wow, this band really surprises me with their innovative sound!" Itís very relative. The more experimental bands you have listened to, the less albums really are able to surprise you.
Personally I never tried consciously to be progressive or experimental. Songs come out of the feelings, not of the brain. You can do what you want, but you cannot want what you want.
I always had a feeling that within Korovaís earlier releases, from A Kiss in the Charnel Fieldís more uncertain, nervous approach to Echoweltís total blasting force, you certainly had a flirt or two with complete mental confusion and pure musical strangeness, while some sort of a rebellious bizarre malaise was carried on the whole time with your uniquely troubled, if not broken vocals. As a performer and composer, did it have any link with your own personality back then, whereas with WaterHells, a certain peace of mind had been found, thus the more relaxed, laid-back atmospheres?
Like I already said in earlier statements: the songwriting is just an act of self-defense. So of course itís connected to our personality in some way. Although I donít think that there is such a thing as personality Ė we have countless and none. Itís not personality. I would call it "decision" Ė decision to act in a special way, to wear a certain mask, to choose a certain shape, to let a certain spirit flow through you for a period of time. Thatís all.
After Charnel Fields and Echowelt more extreme, more bizarre, more dissonant and eccentric would have been very boring. It wouldnít have added something new to our sound anymore. So already with Dead like an Angel we headed towards the opposite direction. There are some mysterious ballads and even pop-like songs and parts. Maybe itís not so obvious on that album, because the production is pretty bad and hence doesnít sound commercial. And also WaterHells partly went into this calm, relaxed direction. Here itís more obvious due to the excellent sound. So most of all the reason for this changed performance was the wish to explore further terrains of expression yet undiscovered by our former songs.
Self-defense, alright Ė but what is the self defending itself against here? More specifically: how is musical creation taking shape in your case?
When the flood of inner pictures has reached a certain amount of pressure there are two ways: The destructive one where you get totally overwhelmed by it or the creative one where you canalize it into songs or writings. Only the latter way is able to transform the pressure into treasure.
Already in Dead like an Angelís booklet, there was a special mention about Katalypse 2025, an album you were supposedly working on back in 1998. What was that all about? There seemed to be quite a complex, sci-fi and philosophical scenario written down for this new record, but what about its musical content? Why did you finally abandon it in order to complete WaterHells?
Katalypse 2025 was a futuristic scenario for a book and for an album. It was about the massive expansion of human senses by the means of technical progression - biomechanical sense-transplants, massive omnipresence of information, mind drugs, etc. It starts with two world epidemics of schizophrenia and telepathy. In the end all individuals merge into a single collective being. The whole globe transforms into a single eye with view all around in all directions, receiving all waves, atoms, movements, stimuli at all scales and zooms at the same time - vision, sound, smell, taste and sentiment, even thoughts and feelings all melt together as one Ė the All...
But when you look at history thereís nothing more old-fashioned and worn-out than former future scenarios. Trying to write about the future always catches you in the present zeitgeist, in fashions and trends. It catches you in time. I didnít want to step into this trap and preferred to choose a more timeless concept. Thatís the reason why I decided to complete WaterHells. People 5000 years ago can understand its deeper meaning and people in 5000 years will still understand it. Not so with the meaning of Katalypse 2025...
Itís possible to frequently read from your writing hand, as much in lyrics as in interviews, words such as the Great All, the One, the Hidden Force, the Ocean, the Eye, the Sea, the Total Sum, the World of worlds, the Entity, etc. Despite the multiple word identities youíre using here and there, I get the feeling that all of these could be in fact boiled down to one pulsing phenomenon.
Tao, Brahman, Apeiron, Hyle, Quintessence, Bosenazelo, Hunabku, Manitu, Orenda, Wakonda, Wakan, Mana, Ain Soph, Central Monad, Substance or also Primal Force and Great United Energy in modern physics... There are countless words for it. It took me quite some years before I realized that all these are just words, nothing more...
Nothing more, nothing less as we sayÖ I would even go as far as to say that most words are just words Ė right! But being the lyricist and should I say, your own bandís great writer, is there something one can do to push up the words to something more involving so to speak? So that they are indeed "just words", yeah, but they can also achieve maintaining kind of an evocative or emotional power when you do sing yourself through them. To which degree of importance are your lyrics accomplished within Korovakill?
Lyrics always have been very important for us in the past. Maybe too important, because the lyrical flow always has been much harder and slower than the musical flow. So 95 percent of my compositions always remain unfinished, because there arenít enough words to finish songs out of them. Itís very easy for me to create music. Itís also quite effortless for me to develop lyrical ideas and concepts. But itís heavy like a stone to catch them into the shapes of words. On one hand the sound and rhythm of the words must fit the music and the atmosphere perfectly. On the other hand the meaning of the words should create a perfect flow of visions and pictures in the head of the listener. Itís very difficult to achieve this perfect unity of sound, rhythm and meaning.
I think that you have nowadays started mentioning an upcoming album for 2008. Itís probably a bit early to work out a whole prognosis regarding your own future, but if you do consider the already composed material at hand, do you have an idea about what the new album will become like? Will it be another concept album? Whatís on your mind, Chrystof, this time around? Are you Korovakillís sole and only composer when it comes to the arrangements and the sound-shaping?
More than half of the new material is already completed. The overall vision is fixed. In my head the album is finished. But itís still a lot of work to put everything together and to do the whole recordings. Somehow it will be a mixture of our first four albums and something completely different at the same time. Letís get surprised...
On our former albums I did most of the songwriting alone. When a song was finished we went to the rehearsal room and the others arranged the lines for their instruments. With our drummer Moritz Neuner it always has been much more. His rhythmic creativity is enormous. I conceived the songs. But his drum lines gave birth to them and made them live. On our last album WaterHells also the work of Renaud Tschirner had a huge impact. He did many additional arrangements and orchestrations. And he took care of all the electronic sounds. At the moment both are extremely busy with their other bands (Elend, Leaveís Eyes, etc.). So I will probably do it completely alone this time.
Do you have any lyrics already written, or some sort of overall conceptual indications? Any particular themes youíd like to work with this time?
Yes the whole concept is finished. But of course it will remain my secret until the release... Afterwards it will be your secret.
Well I can only wish that the tasks ahead will not leave you completely dead! By the way, how did you meet Renaud Tschirner? Both of you seem to know each other pretty well. I understand he already was there with you on Korovaís first album, playing violins and pianos if I remember well. Should we think that he always sort of was a second-ear friend when it came to your personal compositions?
We know each other from The Village. He was number 7. I was number 29. We were neighbors for many years. In 1992 we started to enjoy music together. When he formed his first metal band I helped on guitar sometimes. And he also helped on violin and keyboards at several Korova concerts and recordings.
Making music with Renaud always has been a big pleasure and very inspiring. Sometimes we listen to the newest compositions of each others. It helps a lot to decide between several possibilities, though a second ear doesnít change much in our creations.
Boring question but, are you going to stay with Red Stream? I thought you had a better distribution, at least in America, with this label.
I havenít spent thoughts on that yet. But Red Stream is definitely a great label, very reliable, dedicated and honest. Doing WaterHells with them has been a big pleasure.
A while ago, there were some rumors around that Korovakill would re-record the whole Echowelt sessions with a much improved sound-picture. Has that been put on ice indefinitely? If itís never going to be done, why arenít you releasing the songs to your hungry fans via internet?
Yes, I am really sorry that you have to wait so long for Echowelt. Already more than 10 years have passed now since the demo got rejected by more than 50 labels. But we definitely will do it! The first test recordings already were realized this summer. At the moment I am very busy reconstructing the whole original midi tracks with click and basic keyboards. We used a pretty stupid midi format back in the 1990ies. And itís pretty difficult to integrate that in current programs. But I am sure weíll manage that.
We wonít release the original Echowelt demo recordings, because we already were totally dissatisfied with them during the recordings in the summer of 1997. It was a 100 $ production in a small amateur studio with a totally drunken producer who didnít know his gear at all.
Who was the Echowelt Man and what were his purposes in life?
Was there an Echowelt Man? I really donít remember... Arenít we all Echoworld men, living in our pictures and imaginations of the world without knowing at all whatís really going on out there? Who knows will understand...
Now to something different. I know you have been working very hard with your scientific career in the past few years, even publishing a book out of your results, ‹ber die magischen Praktiken des Managements. I just would like you to say if you can see any functional similarities between your work as a Ph.D. and your work as a musician and composer. Do you sometimes get musical ideas out of your studies and vice versa, are you acknowledging any research ideas out of your Korovakill activities?
In both areas I try to experiment and create new ways of thinking. In both areas just a small circle of people enjoys to dive into it. These are the only similarities. When I am a scientist the musician is dead. And when I am a musician the scientist is dead. Scientific work most of all means reading a lot of books and papers. It means filling your brain with countless thoughts of others. In contrast creating songs means totally rejecting any others thoughts. It means freeing your mind completely from the outer world. So during the times when I wrote WaterHells University had to rest. And when I wrote my last scientific work Prognosis in Magic and Modernity (800 pages), I wasn't able to create full albums for several years. Thereís no synergy at all.
For the German readers, when will Prognosis in Magic and Modernity be available in a book format? In a few words, can you present what it is all about?
Itís the history of prognosis from Babylon to Wall Street, from Marxist-Leninist society prognosis to market research, from culture cycles to genetics, from science fiction and utopias to futurology, from astrology to technical chart analysis, from African necromancy to macroeconomics. The first 600 pages contain the different methods of prognosis Ė visionary methods, methods based on reading signs and methods based on patterns in the timeline. The last 200 pages contain the different philosophic and psychological aspects of forecasting, the second oldest business in the world...
It hopefully will be released in four books over the next couple of years.
Were some of your university colleagues aware of your music? I mean, it could have been funny to hear during a seminary classroom someone whispering to his right-placed friend: "Before coming to our meeting, I did some internet research on this Dr. Chrystof Niederwieser, and I got to listen to some of his music. Well, I donít think we really know who this man is!"
I never made much fuss about my musical activities at University. Anyway itís already some years ago that Iíve attended seminars. Something like internet research wasn't common in these days.
Artistically, I believe you were much more active before, for example in numerous musical side-projects, writing lyrics here and singing there. Then only recently youíve surprisingly worked with (in)famous bizarre director Bill Zebub on his 2006 dolls movie, Dolla Morte, lending your voice to one of the characters. Can you please present what was the role you had to fulfill in there? And is this something youíd like experiment with in the future?
After Charnel Fields I was involved in a couple of other bands and projects. But one day I realized how much energy this takes away from Korova. So I stopped all foreign obligations by the end of 1999. Actually there have just been two engagements that I really enjoyed Ė the vocal work for ANGIZIA and the electro songs that I did together with Renaud.
The voices for the Bill Zebub movie were much fun for an afternoon, no big deal. I had to talk English with hard German accent. Probably there will be more narrator work in the future. Itís a good possibility to push vocal expression further. Some radio plays in German language are loosely planned. And if a young movie maker needs strange voices for his next film, feel free to contact me.
Speaking of cinema and of theatrical voices, when listening to your music and extravagant performances, I imagine you must have been (and still would be) quite a special live act. How did that go in the past, and why in the end did you stop playing live?
Yes, our concerts always were pure madness. I donít think that my old body would still be able to do it. It was so exhausting. We stopped to play live in 2000. It just became too much organizational work. I love organizing. But in the case of our live concerts I just had the feeling that I could use my energies more effectively. With KorovaKill I want to create music, not spend 95 % of the time with management activities. Our live line-up for a gig consisted of 6 to 10 people Ė musicians, guest musicians, light and sound engineers... and I had to work out the whole performance with each single of them and organize everything.
So at the point where my scientific work intensified a lot we decided to quit the live line-up and regular rehearsals and just continue with a very small studio line-up: Moritz on drums, Renaud on keyboards and sounds and myself for the rest. This helps a lot to concentrate very effectively on our musical creations.
Are you at least kind of proud to have participated in the awakening and pioneering phase of experimentation within the metal world? I personally think that what youíre doing now with avantgarde-metal.com is a direct continuation of that and a pretty cool gesture in itself. At least from what I know, I guess itís fair to say that youíre quite a modest and reserved man, but I say there should be more creative individuals like you in every artistic and scientific field. I honestly hope that the inner floods of pictures are going to keep you boiling deep inside, Chrystof.
Yes, I really enjoy to see what came out of our activities started in the early 1990ies. When we released Charnel Fields in 1995 most reviews have been very negative. The metal scene was quite narrow-minded in these days and hated experimentation. But we needed the mainstream magazines and labels, because otherwise nobody would have been able to experience our work. Probably there already were many people interested in avant-garde metal. But it was extremely difficult to reach them.
The internet has helped a lot to democratize the music scene, to connect people who love the same kinds of music. So some years ago I was very positively surprised that avant-garde metal is more and more becoming a widespread term. More and more weirdos are enjoying the experimental sides of metal. And they can get cool albums very easily without fighting through the big walls that were built by labels and mass media in former days. I hope avant-garde-metal.com can help to cultivate the styleless styles a little, the metal beyond borders and to support all freaks and weirdos, scientists and philosophers, libertines and mavericks of metal music.