Theo Bleckmann – Not With My Brain But With My Heart

Could you expand a little on the Hello Earth/ Kate Bush project? It seems very timely in the sense that this year has seen two records from her, and also that there she is involved in a kind of continuous reappraising of her work, what is it about her that draws you in?
I have always loved and admired Kate Bush’s work but when I started being inside her music, I realised how complex and deep it really is – the lyrics, the melodies, the chord changes and the musical forms that are so far away from regular pop song forms, and there’s not much like it to compare it to. The entire idea started about two years ago, way before there was any talk of her releasing her own reappraisal of her music. How serendipitous, but I feel that her songs need to be heard more and in different versions by different artists, like The Beatles, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell or other contemporary songwriters .

How do you feel about musical education in schools and such? Philip Glass said that he believes a musical education is an essential thing, or should be viewed as such, as it can provide the basis for so much more, what are your thoughts?
Philip is right. How can you expect to have an audience for adventuresome music when all you feed them is American Idol? We need to have exposure to all kinds of music at an early stage in our lives to feel and hear that there is as much of variety and nuance in music as there is in people and feelings.

When did you start to really experiment with your voice, and realise that this was something that could be viewed as an instrument, also?
I always played with my voice. As a child I imitated car noises in order to trick my father into believing something was wrong with our car – and it worked! Perhaps I realised then that sounds can have a suggestive powers. Meredith Monk calls my ability “vocal photography”, which I have moved away from a long time ago but it serves me well in learning sound and languages. I don’t try to imitate instruments or other sounds, but try to come up with original ones for myself.

What was the idea behind the beautiful record Solos for Voice and Toys, is it true you went to a monastery in the Swiss Alps to record it? How did you find out about the monastery? What was the experience like?
That was producer Stefan Winter’s idea to do this record in a monastery and use the room and its reverbs and acoustics. We wanted to play the chapel like an instrument. The repertoire and variety of instruments came from me.

You have collaborated with so many amazing people, from Laurie Anderson to Philip Glass, and Meredith Monk – what have some of your favourite collaborations been and why?
Every collaboration has had some incredible merit. Laurie, Philip and Meredith are such different and deeply inspiring artists. I learned so much from each of them, especially Meredith, who I have spent fifteen years with, very closely working and developing new work and getting inside her process and being part of her vision.

Do you find that you listen to many different kinds of music, and who is exciting you at present?
I am right now discovering singer/songwriter Judee Sill for a possible project with jazz/rock group Kneebody. Incredible songs and amazing recordings. Also on my top favourites these days is Jimmy Webb performing his own songs.

Poetry and language seems hugely important to you, and I am thinking in particular about your projects that feature poetry, how did that come about and how do you find the response to those performances?
A lot of my music is wordless, but when I use texts, I often like them to be concise, I am drawn to shorter poems, especially haikus, for that very reason. But when I do sing a lyric I becomes even more conscious about singing words and their meaning.

Your work as a sound improviser has also seen you work on films and other mediums, how do you find the experience of working in film?
Well, films are tricky because often you’re working into the void without having a sense of the whole – you do a take of one scene then skip to the next without getting a chance of real continuity. On the other hand, it’s extremely rewarding and exciting to create music or sounds that supports telling a story and works in tandem with images. It can bring out something in a song that wasn’t there without the film.

Do you think at the base of it, your true love is performance art, and all of these projects and facets are really babbling brooks that lead back to the huge ocean that is performance art? How did you relationship with it begin?
I like that, can I use it? In reality though my true love is live performance, whether it’s in music, which is my home base for everything, or most other mediums. My relationship probably began with watching Pina Bausch on TV in Germany as a very young kid. Even though I didn’t understand very much, I was completely drawn into what was going on and I actually felt that I was understanding everything, not with my brain but with my heart.

What are you working on at present?
I have finished my Kate Bush record and am writing a new piece for string orchestra. I am very excited about my first exhibition of my artwork – I have been doing collage work for many years and it’s been taking off recently. I wish for more time in the studio to work on new art pieces, but my love for performing would probably get me out of the house before too long!