Ulrich Schnauss Interview/Metro Gallery Review

I have tried to apply the lede to nut graf format I learned during my brief print journalism career to Aural States posts. My former editor rode me for excessive “throat clearing.” I never got over that habit, and I’ll now take the chance to indulge.

I had gotten very little sleep the night prior to this show, and had been working outside in the hot sun all day. I came to the Metro Gallery badly sunburned and dehydrated. All I really wanted to do was zone out on the couches in the back. I seriously contemplated skipping out on the night, and going to sleep early.

Physically I was present for the opening acts, but not really mentally with it enough to make definitive critical judgments.

Luxa, the first act, did a good job of making my eye lids even heavier, but I don’t mean that as an insult. This is shoegaze we’re talking about, music that at its best leads to pleasant naps followed by beautiful dreams. I found their visual projections (photos of windows from high-rise buildings, along with the occasional shot of stacked vehicles in dumps) interesting. Shoegaze should, according to the cliche, conjure up images of natural beauty–clouds and green hills, and such– so to see man-made structures provided a nice contrast. A weak detail to latch on to, but I was really tired.

Here the review/narrative starts to fall off as I really started to feel exhausted.

Screen Vinyl Image, made up of ex-Alcian Blue members, were a lot louder than I had expected, but it was a welcome surprise. Are they formulaic, and limited by genre constraints? Maybe. I’d give a definite conclusion if I was more alert, but those questions came into my mind.

Ok, so for Auburn Lull I was on the couch with my eyes closed, fading in and out.

I was about to leave, and hit the sack, but I decided to stay. I figured Ulrich would completely put me out. This was not the case.

Ulrich’s setup consisted of a table full of electronics, a laptop, and a MIDI keyboard. He began by playing the keyboard, and not just a simple, one-handed melody, but hammering out melodramatic chords. I don’t think I had ever seen an electronic performance with someone playing the synth in such an emotive way. I admit it was slightly cheesy and over the top, and perhaps more in line with music heard on the NPR’s “Hearts of Space” or “Echoes” radio programs, but I was into it.

From there Ulrich left the keyboard and went right to work on the laptop, introducing beats. The music retained the atmospheric quality of his recorded work, but the live show was much more invigorating, due to the heavier use of rhythm. At times he flirted with a drum and bass 2/4 snare pattern, creating a driving force beneath the soundtrack chord changes, and producing a lot of energy amongst the crowd. Definitely not the serene snore-fest I expected.

Ulrich did a good job with the push and pull of tension in the set, building up, then backing off, only to go up again. Sometimes with live bands a set can go on too long. Just when you think the set should end, you get “Yea guys thanks for coming out. We got a couple new ones for you. Enjoy.” One of the benefits of an electronic show is the fact that you don’t have to play tracks in their entirety. Ulrich ended exactly when he should have ended, and in an impressive fashion. The melody stopped, and he switched to manipulating efx on his channel mixer. The last 30 seconds of sound were felt in the chest, then abruptly ended. Ulrich closed his laptop, and politely thanked the crowd.

I really enjoyed this one, and I tried not to gush too much. I’ll concede that his music may be emotionally over the top for some. I guess the proof lies in the fact that crap-trance producers love to remix his stuff. Saccharine? Maybe, but not for me. A little emotion is welcome in the stoic electronic world, I think.

On a side note, things have really come together for the Metro Gallery. It was the perfect venue for the artist, and the perfect artist for the venue. I like the aesthetic, both aural and visual, Sarah and crew are developing.

In keeping with the half-assed theme of this post, here are some question I haphazardly threw together to ask Ulrich after the show:

Aural States- What were some influences that really got you started? I know people talk about the shoegaze aspect often.

Ulrich Schnauss – I was lucky enough to develop my own music taste in the late 80s, and early 90s. That’s when I started to listen to music I had found, rather than my parent’s record collection. Obviously the whole shoegaze stuff was one of the things happening at that time. There was a lot of interesting things happening in electronic music as well–stuff that had a big impact on me.

AS- What kind of electronic stuff?

US- Just the early stuff on Warp Records– The Orb, Black Dog. Basically stuff when electronic music reinvented itself. Probably acid house is a part of that as well, like more on the dance side of things.

AS- How did geography effect your music? Warp Records and the shoegaze boom were English, but you were in Germany.

US- The thing is, at the time when I started listening to music, and finding out about music, there were still a lot of British troops in Germany. And depending which area you lived in, you could listen to English Forces Radio, or American Forces Radio. I think that we have a lot of people from that generation in Germany that grew up listening to Forces radio. They played a lot of that stuff—a lot of shoegaze stuff, a lot of early electronic stuff. So that was a good way of getting an idea of what was happening in the rest of the world.

AS- Your music, at least to me, sounds much more emotional than typical electronic music. When you write are you writing expressively, like a singer/song writer?

US- It’s probably quite a similar process, because I write all of my songs on the piano. Once I’ve got a chord structure, some melodies that I think could develop into a song, I take that to the studio and start arranging that using electronic instruments. I always start with a basic idea taken from the piano, which probably is a bit different than a lot of electronic acts where stuff comes more from experimenting in the studio with loops.

AS- What kind of software do you use?

US- In the studio I use Logic. Live, I used a thing called Ableton Live, which is pretty good for that purpose.

AS- I was a big fan Slowdive, and the Slowdive tribute album. How did that come about?

US- I was approached to do it. Thomas Morr had this idea to do a tribute album, and I thought it was a great idea. That’s how it happened, basically.

AS- The Baltimore scene has gotten a lot of press lately. Are you familiar with this at all, or is it not even on your radar?

US- I’m not quite sure. There is a band called Thrushes. Are they from Baltimore? I like them.

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3 Responses to “Ulrich Schnauss Interview/Metro Gallery Review”

  1. casey says:

    this was a good show. best i’ve ever seen screen vinyl image. thanks for the shout-out ulrich!

  2. [...] And after you do that, you may find yourself driven to have your eyes rolling into the back of your head, approaching a mental state of utter anticipatory, wordless, electro-psych glee at the prospect of their collaboration with that brilliant, kooky, kosmiche kraut, Ulrich Schnauss. [...]

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