including substantial booklet
The album version of LAMENT should be heard as a studio reconstruction of a work primarily designed to be performed live, rather than an official new Einstürzende Neubauten LP proper.
In truth, the piece can only be fully realised, as well as best experienced, in its physical embodiment, performed on or by founding member Andrew Unruh’s gigantic instruments and noise generating devices that visually evoke the horrors the work describes or embeds in the sounds they conjure from the filth and terror of the industrialised 20th century world at war with itself.
But in fulfilling what at first appears to be a surprise commission for such a formidable longtime outsider group, Einstürzende Neubauten transformed the earthy, idiosyncratic contents they mined from academic, state, music hall and internet archives with the help of their two researchers into a richly complex cycle of original and cover songs and performance pieces.
The music often originated in LAMENT’s storytelling needs, be it in terms of sounds used or compositions structured along First World War flow charts or scored from calendars of the involvement of the 20 plus countries embroiled in it. The way LAMENT plays off pre-existing and composed materials, pieces clipped together from historical records next to direct cover interpretations, or indeed their Frankenstein like construction of an ur-anthem/national hymn delivers a differently angled history of the war.
Finally, LAMENT opens Bargeld’s case that the First World War never ended - the interwar and postwar periods being essentially pauses for breath as the great military powers carry on their conflict at some remove in faraway wars fought by proxy.
LAMENT opens appropriately enough with a hellish miasma summoned from a collection drawn from the Einstürzende Neubauten archives of their biggest and most sinister looking self-made instruments, some of which look more like medieval torture devices than sound generators. Bargeld describes the setup as an onstage musical leviathan performing a score derived from “the diagram of the war spendings of the European nations just before the first world war. Most of them are rising. Weirdly enough, just as they are now.”
Bargeld composed lyrics for the piece but they go unsung.
“I don’t want to disturb the noise, so I just show the lyrics by signs. And the signs say something along the lines that war does not sleep: ‘War does not break out. It waits/For a singular but thousandfold:/Hurrah’.”
Pitched straight, this is Neubauten’s bitingly witty reconstruction of a commonstock national hymn rooted in an old anthem variously shared by a number of participants in the war, including the UK, Germany and Canada. That the major opposing powers were ruled by related monarchs didn’t blunt their desire to beat each other down. Here, the lyrics change language every two lines over its overfamiliar sombre melody.
The song changes tack in the last verse, which overwrites the multilingual doffed cap tributes to Europe’s monarchs with a few scathing lines of beery doggerel scrawled by Heinrich Hoffmann, author of Struwwelpeter/Shock Headed Peter.
The royal court was not amused, jailing Hoffmann for his wit. The last stanza is an anonymous persiflage which compared a king’s feasting on Christmas goose to his people’s diet of potato and herring pricks scraped from packing paper.
THE WILLY-NICKY TELEGRAMS
The Willy-Nicky Telegrams is a mock tenderly sung duet characterised by the duplicity of two royal cousins conducting a running dialogue via telegram: Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm and Russia’s Tsar Nicholas, with Alex Hacke singing Nicky’s lines and Bargeld singing Kaiser Willy’s. Bargeld basically adapted the texts of the duo’s telegrams into song form, with each calling on their undying affection for the other to promote peace, while slyly maneuvering their troops for the inevitable war between their nations.
“Within Europe, France is a republic, and England was the only country in Europe run as a constitutional monarchy,” says Bargeld, “while of course the Russian empire and Prussian Germany were both completely ruled by old fashioned monarchies. The thing that saved England was having a constitutional monarchy. Well you saw how the war ended. There was no Tsar after that, and no German Kaiser anymore.”
IN DE LOOPGRAAF
IN THE TRENCHES
In The Trenches is the first of two LAMENT songs setting texts by Paul van den Broeck, a Flemish writer with possible links to other dada and expressionist writers and artists across early 20th century Europe. But it appears that he preferred to work alone rather than go with the flow of fashionable movements, and unlike such affiliated artists who opposed the war or fled their homeland out of fear, the pacifist van den Broeck chose to sign up even after he had been medical exempted to find out the truth of the war for himself.
The title might also allude to one of the first major battles of the war fought over Neubauten’s host city Diksmuide, which the Belgian forces held through October 1914 before capitulating to the Germans early the following month. Musically, the trauma of battle is evoked by a barbed wire harp constructed and played, dulcimer like, as a deceptively stately dance by Andrew Unruh.
DER 1. WELTKRIEG (PERCUSSION VERSION) WORLD WAR I (PERCUSSION VERSION)
“This is an example of a Wikipedia supported composition,” smiles Bargeld. “I did a mathematical calculation. saying each beat is one day, we're doing it in 4/4, at 120 beats per minute, and each instrument is one of the powers involved. We tried it in 60 bpm it is true – that was 26 minutes long, which was quite annoying. We could have sped it up to 160 bpm and it would have been comical. So 120, it’s a good medium decision. We had 20 different pipes to represent all the different nations and the duration of their involvement. It starts from beat 1, Serbia, Austria, Germany, and tak tak tak tak, whoever comes in joins this big party of the First World War run until the start of armistice.
“It's a statistical piece of music,” declares Bargeld, “a statistical piece of dance music in fact, because if you hear that, you want to move around to it.”
ON PATROL IN NO MAN’S LAND
LAMENT’s two songs that focus on The Harlem Hellfighters is one of the major revelations coming out of Neubauten’s research into untold stories of the First World War. Largely made up of men from Harlem, the Hellfighters were the marching band to the US army’s first ever solely African American regiment sent abroad to fight for their country. But in an era still governed by racism and segregation, the US army resisted placing a black regiment under white command. Instead, this brigade of patriots ready to die for their country were assigned to French command so as to avoid them mixing with white American forces. Driven by the band’s indomitable optimism, the two pre-jazz-like pieces here concentrate on their combat successes.
Sung by Alex Hacke, the song is the only track on the record to vocally simulate the sounds of combat, and that’s only because they’re written into the lyric. By all accounts they proved fearless in battle, and were feared and loathed by any Germans luckless enough to come up against them, as a line sung by a German officer played by Bargeld confirms. “Basically we did a postmodern reworking of the song, and we used the original Harlem Hellfighters’ record somewhere in the middle of the track too, like “Come on boys, let's get them, let's get them on the bayonet”, and all that, that's actually the original Harlem Hellfighters record, not us, that's them.”
Translating as Hinterland, Achterland is the second LAMENT piece with a Paul van den Broeck lyric. Taking a break from the frontline, van den Broeck’s words describe the act of delousing. “Lice suck on blood,” says Bargeld, “and his text does this whole thing about blood, about how everybody lives off blood here, and so on.”
“What I originally wanted to do was write a vignette for each member of the band. The vignette that Andrew did was with the barbed wire harp. This ended up with Andrew as the Kriegszitterer, that is an uncontrollable war shaker, in the beginning. Then it goes to Alex walking with amplified crutches from left to right, Rudi Moser is playing ammunition shells, and I play an air compressor, which you could also see as a delousing station.”
L A M E N T
Written in three parts, the title track Lament is the project’s centrepiece. “I originally wanted to write a lament, in the sense of a Klagegesang,” explains Bargeld. “You know, the song blames this, and I do this, etc, etc, but that idea reduced more and more, until the track ended up with just this one sentence. Only two words are left at the end: Macht Krieg. Which mean: Power. War. But in German macht Krieg also means: make war.”
Translating as Winding Down Spiral, the second part musically does exactly what it says, tumbling through a downwards spiral based on a pattern taken from the four numbers making up the final year of the war: 1-9-1-8.
The musical basis of the third part is a drastically slowed down version of a motet about the Prodigal Son called Pater Peccavi, composed by the 16th century renaissance composer Jacobus Clemens non Papa who lived most of his life in Diksmuide. Over the resulting drawn out drone, Neubauten members each ‘play’ the voices of prisoners of war, recorded during their incarceration in Germany on wax cylinder by German linguists, who asked them to recite the Biblical parable of The Prodigal Son in their own tongue. These amazing recordings were discovered by Neubauten’s researchers in Berlin’s Humboldt University. “And some of the languages on record are nowadays extinct,” says Bargeld. “Everything, from Occitanic to Corsican dialects, was recorded, and we played them through small speaker cubes. We treat them like eggs, open them, let them play on the microphone. We treat them like treasured eggs, fragile objects. Between us we play 36 or so voices taken from the wax cylinders.”
Elsewhere Bargeld told Danish TV viewers, “I was very, very careful to not use these recordings as sound effects, and not use these recordings as some kind of validation of authenticity. It had to be treated like eggs, like raw eggs. Like something that is very... they’re very carefully not to be interfered with. These are people long dead. These are people that had to speak this under pressure. They were in prison. So, there’s a certain amount of delicacy involved in composing something with these kind of ghost voices.”
HOW DID I DIE?
The song has precedence, remarks Bargeld: “It's a song that Kurt Tucholsky wrote. You can see it on YouTube. It’s called Die Rote Melodie, and he signed it: gewidmet Ludendorff (who commanded the German army in the First World War). He wrote this wonderful song about his experiences in the war, and dedicated it to Ludendorff. So he didn’t have to say anything, but every chorus goes against Ludendorff. Though he never says it directly, it’s clear that the dead soldier will come back and haunt him.”
Over a string quartet setting with a featured solo cello part, Bargeld describes different ways of dying, tempered with the feeling that lives shouldn’t end like this. “So they come back, sing a different song, and Europe is a different place afterwards.”
SAG MIR WO DIE BLUMEN SIND
WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE
Blixa Bargeld’s cover of the German version of the Pete Seeger song made famous by Marlene Dietrich is a solo tour de force, with all other studio intervention kept to an absolute minimum. Leaving Germany for Hollywood in the interwar years, Dietrich later made her anti Nazi position very clear, and went on to join the US war effort against Germany, an act for which some Germans still brand her as a traitor, rather than as a woman acting out of principle. The song’s appearance on LAMENT bears out Bargeld’s assertion that the First World War continued into the Second, while those Germans who carry on condemning Dietrich as a traitor after her death suggest that the war goes on.
“We recorded the song one day before Peter Seeger died,” says Bargeld. “I’ve always been a great admirer of him. It took several attempts to do that, until we found a Neubauten way to do it. It is basically just singing, and a bit of support for the singing. It’s a great song. The version we do here is the one that Marlene Dietrich made famous. Pete Seeger later said the German lyrics are better than the English ones.”
DER BEGINN DES WELTKRIEGES 1914 (DARGESTELLT UNTER ZUHILFENAHME EINES TIERSTIMMENIMITATORS)
THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD WAR IN 1914 (PRESENTED BY AN ANIMAL VOICE IMITATOR)
Einstürzende Neubauten go music hall on this cover version of a performance text by Joseph Plaut, aGerman actor, orator and regional poet from Lippe, who after the First World War performed in cabaret shows with his wife Maria Schneider. As the title says, the song presents an account of the start of the First World War in the voice and style of an animal voice imitator, with animal impressions added where appropriate. Bargeld appears to relish the opportunity to reenact the opening days of war from the viewpoints of the animal witnesses he mimics throughout. “The fantastic thing is that right at the end of the piece, Plaut says that this peacock jumps out of there, and says Hitler! Hitler! It’s 1920, the first time Hitler appeared in public at all!”
“In all the time that I have worked on LAMENT,” he continues, “I kept noticing that the Second World War is just the unfinished business of the First World War. The war just carried on, and in between there is this story where Hitler makes an appearance.”
ALL OF NO MAN’S LAND IS OURS
Featuring Jochen Arbeit on electric melodica, LAMENT’s second Harlem Hellfighters track sees the regiment returning home in triumph, greeted by street parades in Harlem. But the black servicemen’s moments of glory were short-lived. “These black people came back to a USA still divided by racial segregation. And here they are singing All Of No Man's Land Is Ours!”
Lament - General notes
Peace is war continued by more devious means, the field of battle relocated to the negotiating table where the victors impose a succession of draconian treaties and crippling demands for reparations designed to control and punish the vanquished for years to come. While working on LAMENT, a new performance piece commissioned by the Flemish city of Diksmuide to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War in 1914, “I noticed that the Second World War is nothing but the elongation of the first one”, remarks Einstürzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld. “It is a necessary ending of the First World War. It is grounded completely in the First World War. Therefore as a child of the post Second World War era, and the resulting division of Germany and Berlin, etc, I’m of course hugely influenced in my upbringing about the results of that.”
Talking on the Danish TV culture show Det Chokerende Nye, he continued, “But I had the great luck of growing up and living so far in a time without war that directly inflicts on me. But I also learnt, and that is probably quite important right now, that war is not something that appears and disappears. War is something that is always there. It sometimes moves and it sometimes doesn’t move. And it is also not something that breaks out, the way people often say, ‘There’s a war breaking outside’. It doesn’t break out like the plague. It’s there. It sometimes moves.”
Having arrived at the notion of war without beginning nor end, the 100 years separating Einstürzende Neubauten from the 1914 events they’d been commissioned to mark quickly fell away, overcoming the group’s initial ambivalence towards the project they’d agreed to undertake. That the issues fought over by the world’s imperial powers a century ago, and then again with even greater ferocity 21 years later during the Second World War, remain unresolved made the project that much more vivid to Einstürzende Neubauten, a group that has been manically dancing along the unstable fault lines of 20th century history ever since they formed in the Western sector of the then divided city of Berlin back in 1980. “It was never something dear to my heart to write something about the First World War,” Bargeld. “But having been commissioned to do so. I put my everything into it. It’s not that I said, ‘Wow, now I have to write ten songs about the first world war’.”
Instead, all they had to do was to seek out those voices telling First World War stories that hadn’t already been told a thousand times, most of them in the act of being regurgitated yet again during 2014’s centenary commemorations. With the invaluable aid of two historical specialist researchers they combed the net, libraries and archives, official and otherwise, for those lesser known or undersung figures whose participation in the conflict, or ways of writing about the horrors they witnessed, gave the group the fresh perspectives and materials they needed to weld and bolt together a massive war leviathan that’s distinctly Neubauten while remaining true to the spirit of their sources.
People should not treat LAMENT as a straight Einstürzende Neubauten album, Bargeld states emphatically. It’s a documentation of the performance and installation commissioned by the city of Diksmuide, where it will be premiered by the group in November 2014, before they take it on tour. Indeed LAMENT is constructed from various pre-existing parts, including two pre-jazz age war songs from a marching band nicknamed The Harlem Hellfighters, which led the US’s first ever African American regiment into battle; two settings for texts by the mysterious Belgian writer Paul van den Broeck; Bargeld’s reenactment of an early 1920s cabaret style piece by the even lesser known German writer and performer Joseph Plaut, which tells the history of World War One through the medium of an music hall animal mimic; and, finally, Bargeld interpreting the German version of Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”, as sung by Marlene Dietrich. The group also recomposes a bastard version of an national anthem once partly shared by many participants of the war, including Germany, the UK, and Canada. Finally, the three part title piece, Lament, incorporates a mass of historic wax cylinder recordings made by linguists in German prison camps of prisoners reciting the biblical parable of the prodigal son in their own languages, some now extinct, over a drastically slowed down recording of a motet telling the same story by the 16th century Flemish composer Jacob Clemens non Papa, who lived and died in Diksmuide. Bricolaging pre-existing sound elements has always been a signature working method of Neubauten. On LAMENT their bricolages and reenactments remain more selfconsciously true to the spirit of their sources, be it through the juxtaposition of covers of Seeger/Dietrich and The Harlem Hellfighters songs with sonic constructions made on selfbuilt instruments, noise generators and domestic tools, and string section-driven compositions. More a byproduct of their compositional requirements for the commission than conscious design perhaps, but LAMENT’s use of van den Broeck texts, a writer with trans-european dada interests and connections, evokes how the First World War ran parallel with the advance of modernism and aggressively anti-state art tendencies like dada and futurism. Indeed the early 20th century avant garde first scarred itself into the world’s public consciousness through quasi fascist futurist manifestos, dada silliness and German Expressionist responses to the horrors they witnessed during the conflict. Bargeld clearly acknowledges the impact of said nay-saying art movements on young Neubauten, but this time any such elements are parts of the period weave rather than a shaping force.
“First of all,” Bargeld told Danish TV viewers, “I have a problem with the avant garde. Because it’s a military term. It means the garde that runs before the rest of the soldiers and if I want to see myself represented in military terms, I don’t want to be part of that. I want to be one of the deserters.” |“Break the rules, yes,” he added elsewhere. “Break also the rules of the avant garde because the avant garde is already established. The avant garde can’t be avant garde once it’s established. The avant garde is way back. I am happier being a partisan, hanging out in the woods and then at the right time, I come and attack.”
all texts by Chris Bohn