14 August 2010

Various - Hans Eisler Recordings

From: The Wire (Issue 292)
Date: 13/06/08

Unknown designer(s)

When I was invited to stay and work at a residency in Villa Aurora, Los Angeles, in 2003, I was confronted with the work of exiled German artists such as Arnold Schönberg, Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann, who had all lived in that area during the 1930s and 1940s. I was staying in the house where the Jewish novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger had lived when he fled Europe in the 1940s. After his death, the German government had bought the house and converted it into the venue for a residency programme. One day my attention focused on an instrument that was installed in the wall of the main living room and had been used to entertain the host and its visitors – a big automated organ with a glockenspiel. When I tried to find out about the mechanism that controlled the organ’s play, I entered a back room, in which I found, hidden in a corner beneath the control system, a pile of old records and sound foils that had obviously been forgotten.

Along with the records, I also found some documents and pictures. Among them, I was amused to find a drawing of Hitler attached to a wooden board and totally perforated. The exiled artists apparently used it as a dart board during their get togethers. I discovered that the records and sound foils contained some test recordings of the well-known East German composer Hanns Eisler, who like so many other German intellectuals had lived in exile in the area of Santa Monica, California, during the early 1940s. Of course I knew his work quite well, as he had been one of the most influential composers in the former East Germany. After the First World War, Eisler had been a disciple of Schönberg and later became a member of the German communist party. He soon took a leading role in the politically oriented music scene in Berlin − later, he was best known for his work with Bertolt Brecht and for his East German anthem, composed in 1949. I found out that he had tried to establish an additional career in Hollywood as a film composer and now I had some evidence of this in my hand. For me this created some fascination, as it showed the alternating focus of Eisler, first in the Weimar Republic, then in America and finally in socialist Germany.

Due to the excitement about this discovery, I documented both the covers and the sounds. Some of the sounds I used later for my loopbased work bausatz noto ∞. But the covers I favoured even more because of their original, clearly defined and simple quality. Most of the records were still wrapped in their industrial, standardised sleeves, some with handwritten notices and indications. This kind of ‘nondesign’ was very striking as it has always been very influential, both on my work and that of the Raster-Noton label. It conforms to our notion of using sound as pure material, which can be used to transport abstract concepts. The ‘ready-made’ design of these records, with their plain typeface and hardly any significant reference to content, mark a possible and highly appealing alternative to conventional image design that could be regarded as a perfect example of this idea.

Carsten Nicolai is a co-founder of Raster-Noton.

No comments:

Post a Comment