FM Einheit


Paradigm Shift Interview by Philip H. Farber

One of the pioneers of industrial music, FM Einheit is probably best known as a founder of the seminal group Einsturzende Neubaten. Over the years, with Einsturzende or in other forums, Einheit has pushed the envelope of contemporary music, mixing electronic music with found sounds, power tools, and archival samples.

A recent effort from Einheit, joined by Andreas Ammer, is a unique sound collage of spoken word and unusual music, "Deutsche Krieger," a kind of documentary opera that was commissioned for German radio. What makes this so unique is that, using recorded samples of Kaiser Wilhelm, Adolf Hitler, and terrorist Ulrike Meinhof, the duo have compressed 100 years of the worst of German history into about an hour of musical composition. The voices have been slightly manipulated so that they work on the level of musical instruments, but they are, as you might have guessed, entirely in German, which makes it a bit opaque for the non-German-speaking listener. Nonetheless, the feeling and sensibility of the work comes through clearly.

I spoke to FM Einheit a few months back, just before he was to begin a U.S. tour with Pigface.

PHF: I can't say that I understood all of "Deutsche Krieger."

FM Einheit: You got confused because it's all in German.

PHF: That's correct.

FM Einheit: It's about German history.

PHF: I'm interested in what the intent of using these voices was.

FM Einheit: Just let me say something in general about the whole thing: This is an attempt to put 80 years of German history into 60 minutes. It's divided in three parts, 'Emperor Wilhelm Overdrive,' 'Adolf Hitler Enterprise,' and 'Ulrike Meinhoff Paradise.' Kaiser Wilhelm, of course, stands for the first World War, Adolf Hitler, obviously, the second World War, Ulrike Meinhoff was a terrorist in the '70s. So, we said it would be like three leading political pictures of Germany in this century. I was always very unsatisfied, when you read history books, that all the information you get is channelled by the author. So I was very interested to let these people speak for themselves, and you can decide for yourself what you think about it, without somebody telling you 'that was in that circumstance, so that's why, because blah blah blah.' Of course I was interested what made Hitler so appealing to people. Was it the way he sounded? So that's why we are using the original words of the people and put them in a different context, a context with music. While we were doing that, we found out when we do a radio drama like that about German history in this century, it's the history of the media, of recording media. The first part, obviously, is using only sources that were recorded on records, based on the invention of Thomas Alva Edison. In the second part, the radio was used as the propaganda machine. In the third part, the source of the recordings was television. So this is a history about recording machines, recording media.

PHF: Since I wasn't understanding the words themselves...

FM Einheit: Why not?

PHF: Because my two years of high school German that I took 20 years ago wasn't up to it. I was listening to the sound of the voices and it occured to me that you were using them as instruments.

FM Einheit: Yes, that's true. Something I was especially interested in what the source itself sounded like and what made it appealing to people or not appealing to people. Why would millions of Germans follow Adolf Hitler?

PHF: Any conclusions?

FM Einheit: Yes. Cheap tricks. He wasn't a very good actor, but he learned his lesson how to speak. It was just cheap tricks.

PHF: What do you consider a cheap trick?

FM Einheit: Just to use some acting methods to get yourself across. It's a cheap trick. When you don't have so much to say, it's boosts your 'blah blah' to sound very important. But it wasn't very important, what he had to say.

PHF: I guess he thought it was important.

FM Einheit: Yes. He thought it was, and of course it ended in disaster.

PHF: How has this been received in Germany?

FM Einheit: It was divided. Some people say you can never put those three people in one role. When we got the CDs pressed, from the CD factory that we use in the Netherlands, they didn't want to press CDs because Adolf Hitler was on it, so we had to prove to them that this was not a Nazi record. On the other hand, the third part, Ulrike Meinhoff, the terrorist, the commissioner of Bavarian broadcast would only do the first two parts, but wouldn't do the third part because it was about a terrorist. It was mixed, the reactions, very mixed.

PHF: The few people I played the record for here, who also didn't understand German, their main question was if you were glorifying these characters, or exposing them.

FM Einheit: As I said, we just let them speak for themselves. You have to make up your mind. Of course, it's much more difficult than in the German-speaking part of the world. But the idea was not to glorify or to be against it, but to [unintelligble] and let them speak for themselves, and you make up your own mind and think about it.

PHF: The new record out on Invisible is Sensation Death.

FM Einheit: It's very, very, very different. That was made for a modern dance theater. It was an imaginary game show. Most of the music is written in the genre of game show music, so it sounds very, very different. It's a commissioned work I did and I thought it would be interesting to release it as well, because I really like it.

PHF: Some of your past work has used found sounds and power tools as instruments... is there any of that?

FM Einheit: The instrumentation is mostly electronic music, which does not mean I'm using for other records totally different sources of sound. It had to be that way because it was written in this genre of game show music, and most of the time it is repetitive and electronic.

PHF: Are game shows in Germany much different than game shows in the US?

FM Einheit: No. Most of them are licensed from the American original. Like Jeopardy. It's an American game show. It's pretty much the same.

PHF: When you tour here with Pigface, what kind of stuff will you be playing for that?

FM Einheit: We're working on some new songs that we're going to play. Of course, we couldn't bring too many people -- we have bass, drums, I play metal percussion and of course some electronic, and a human beat box.

PHF: Human beat box? What is that?

FM Einheit: It's a human that sounds like a beat box.

PHF: This is vocalizing?

FM Einheit: Yes.

PHF: When you play a show like that, is there some particular way that you are hoping the audience will respond or something they will take from the experience?

FM Einheit: Basically, I guess a concert is all about having a good time. You can get a lot more out of it, if you want, but you go to a concert because you love music... If there's a secret message or something deep behind it, you have to find out yourself.

Check out more about FM Einheit at the Invisible Records web site.

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