Your music-making experience now covers a time-span of more than two decades. Could
you describe how the ways in which you produce and perform your music has changed
over the years?
When I started out in the early eighties the use of noise and loops in so called popular music was
considered a revolutionary technique. We would gate and trigger subsonic bass frequencies or
white noise onto drum sounds in order to enhance them. Usually there were tape-loops running
around the studio on a construction of multiple microphone stands which would contain edited
material of complex rhythmical matter. We were using samples before there was samplingmachines
by “flying in” various snippets of sounds with a quarter-inch tape-machine. Sounds
were constantly chopped and ducked by using noise-gates. With the ongoing development in
electronic equipment and also the ever changing habits of listeners, most of these techniques
are now obsolete; or to put it differently: are part of the current musical culture. Even the most
commercial pieces nowadays make use of these elements. To interrupt the constant flow
of information we get hammered by on a daily basis, injecting silence in order to re-vitalize
concentration and intensity is the most disturbing and therefore effective thing the creative mind
can apply today. The task is, I believe, to make use of the given tools in a non-conformist way and
basically stir the shit up real good in all ways possible.
Besides the technical development of tools and endless options for producing music, the
means of distributing that music have also changed dramatically. What’s your perspective
on these constantly changing music formats (vinyl, CD, mp3)?
[When I was a child] I would skip school and hang out at the Zensor record-store in Schoneberg.
I discovered a completely new world there: Very small editions of 7 inch singles, with obviously
hand-designed covers, bagged individually. Music so entirely weird and adventurous like you
would never find in the “regular” stores I used to frequent before. This experience basically opened
my eyes, got me acquainted with the artists which were to influence me up to now and gave me
the motivation to try and produce and distribute my own material by myself. For me it started
with cassettes, compact-cassettes that is. A format to be totally extinct and forgotten by the time
my sons generation turns, say 20, which is very soon. I copied batches of these tapes and went
door to door selling them. I travelled as far as London to sell them at Rough Trade and financed
my stay that way. Eventually, when the initial creative rush of the early eighties was fading I also
stopped buying records and just taped everything. This lasted until I got my first cd-player in 88
if I remember correctly. The discussion back then about the sound-quality of tapes and records
was a lot like today’s ongoing quarrels about mp3, digital and analogue formats. It bores me no
end. Cassettes and mp3 are cheap, available to every one and therefore fine by my book. Back
then there was already networks of mail-art communities for example. People would exchange
cassettes, drawings, photocopied pamphlets and the like. I appreciate the fact that communities
like that have been popping up online in a massive way lately.
There have been some very creative decades in the history of electronic music. How can
artists endevour to keep themselves sounding “fresh” and original – is technology the
I like the concept of current generations picking up old structures, concepts and technologies
to create something fresh and new. Like rhythm-boxes and bass-sequencers where invented in
the late 70s to accompany “traditional” musicians while rehearsal and such. This didn’t really work
out for the industry. The machines ended up in pawn-shops and on flea-markets. The house- and
techno generation then picked up these items and created a brand new style of underground
music by misusing them. Same thing with myspace: It started as a dating-portal and now you
have all these unsigned bands and artists relentlessly promoting themselves on it. In addition
to that you get something like design-anarchy. People get to learn HTML-codes and just make
everything look the way they want to. Again, perfectly alright.
You are an 80s kid – back then there was a dust-cloud left by movements such as Punk and
all the social changes of the 60s and 70s. Who would you cite as highly influential projects
from this period? What gave you the motivation to do music and start working with the
likes of Einstürzende Neubauten?
Punk, after all wasn’t that revolutionary of a concept. Yes, it had a tremendous amount of energy,
and I am a sucker for that. I’m an energy-junky. But it was still using the same old instruments and
structures. People like Throbbing Gristle and Suicide really took it one step further. I remember
first listening to this music, staring at the grooves on the vinyl, thinking: “What the hell is going
on here?” First it shocked me, then I was amused, chuckling to myself. Eventually I was convinced
of the radicalism and exited. Very fond memories, indeed. Feeling so glad to be alive. So, most
events and decisions in my life were, and still are, if not influenced by, at least accompanied by
music. I am very grateful to each and every one of these artists. If what I do has only a fraction of
that effect on my listeners, that’s something to make me very proud. It is so important for your
development as a human being to be able to get a kick out of, say music. Be a fan and don’t be
ashamed of it. I’m certainly not.
What are the main differences between Einstürzende Neubauten and Alexander Hacke
the solo artist in terms of musical process and working methods?
Neubauten is a band, a group of individuals that communicates and develops music in a fairly
democratic manner by simply playing together. No matter how conceptual or heady our work
might seem, it is mostly the result of the creative process based on interaction with each other.
When I work by myself, on commissioned pieces, in collaboration with other artists, or on my
own stuff, the music is conceived in a different rather solitary way. I tend to gather information,
analyse it, try to distil the essence of it and then go to work by processing, re-arranging or simply
mutilating the various materials. Of course it all comes back to the old playing process when
a performance is called for, but I like to stay in total control as a solo artist. That goes without
In the film Crossing the Bridge by Faith Akin we could see and hear you travelling and guiding
us through the musical scene of Istanbul; capturing all the sounds. We all remember
you having set up your workspace in an old famous hotel with windows open towards the
That’s the Buyuk Londra Oteli, The Grand Hotel Londra (London) in Beyoglu.
Would you describe yourself as a nomad musician? If so, what are the needs of such an
artist? What are the advantages and drawbacks of this kind of freedom?
When I started working on my recent release a Sanctuarya, my intention was to make a record
in the same way a film director would do a road-movie, which is a format where a small team
goes on a journey with not a lot more than an expose as opposed to a finished script. On that
journey the people the team meets are to be incorporated as characters in the story. I did a similar
thing by travelling around for a period of three years, recording music with friends all over the
place, processing the material on the way and by these means, getting artists of many diferent
backgrounds and genres appearing on the same record. Generally I don’t feel very comfortable
in traditional recording-studios. I very much prefer to work in different rooms and atmospheres.
Luckily the modern times make this way of working possible and in fact that is one of the reasons
why the traditional recording-studio is a dying breed. With the exception of very few places, which
do house a certain spirit, I do not feel sad at all about this trend. Also, it is a lot cheaper to just
move myself and my equipment around than to fly in artists from remote places, accommodate
and feed them in order to, on top of it all, produce great music together.
In addition to being constantly on-the-go, you are a familiar face in Berlin. The people of
Berlin see you, not only as a musician performing concerts of wildly-varying genres, venues
and styles, but equally as a frequenter of these events. How do you see this town and
your way of participating heavily as a musical consumer?
The city I was born and raised in doesn’t exist anymore. It’s name was West-Berlin. It was a small
elitist community of artists, musicians and basically outsiders of all types. We all knew each other
in the narrow circles of this village and spending your time as part of the nightlife felt like a never
ending ride on a merry-go-round. This was the only place in western Germany where there was
no obligation to do your service in the army, so young men from the mainland who wanted to
avoid the draft moved to the island behind the iron curtain which was well erect back then.
I may be sentimental, I may be wrong but I have the feeling that there was more solidarity between
people at the time. Also, in those days there was a strong air of local-chauvinism amongst all
German cities, so you where proud to be hated by the scene of, say Hamburg. The 80s were a very
creative period, as has been celebrated time and time again, and I was part of many innovations
launched then. But Berlin was also integrally important in the rise of the techno-movement in
the nineties, only that personally I was experimenting with completely different genres at the
time. Still, I acknowledge and appreciate each and every development coming out of Berlin. But
my life-style has somewhat changed. I don’t go out a lot and if I do I get easily impatient with
all the talk. In fact to me it seems to be all talk these days. I know that people from all over tend
to complain about their home-town sooner or later, but it is a fact that what I do, I can do now
everywhere I want.
Alex, you are using the Lemur as a center-piece in the studio and live. Could you describe
the difference between the ways in which you use it in both contexts – or do you not make
a distinction? How does it aid you from day to day?
I am just so grateful for the ability to express myself and create art with my hands. Well, I do have
quite an alright voice and can hold a tune but it is my hands that make the instruments sing.
In addition to the fact that I consider myself an Anarchist and I am never short of questioning
any given rule or concept, the Lemur allows me to actually touch the parameters of software in
an almost sensual fashion. I am not reduced to having to fiddle with buttons some corporate
drone has designed based on terms that I am happy to ignore altogether. But if my spontaneous
decision is to raise the volume or change the pitch or reverse the direction of the playback with
a grand dramatic swipe of my left fist or a subtle tap of my right pinky, I can very well do so and
program it myself even.
What do you see in the future?
I just want to be able to support myself and my loved ones by doing the things I love. Of course,
if there was a way to annihilate stupidity, ignorance and cowardice from the face of the earth, I
would be all for it. Until then I wish you a very nice day indeed.