opera Archives – Telekom Electronic Beats

“A certain luxury we call freedom” – Max Dax interviews Alexander Kluge

The world according to acclaimed German director, novelist and producer Alexander Kluge is full of veils, masks, and hidden agendas. And not always in a bad way. From facial expressions to DNA, life is illusory and coded. But masks aren’t just forms of self-preservation through misrepresentation; they also provide freedom through anonymity — or protection from radioactive exposure. In Munich, the auteur explains to Max Dax why masks are beyond good and evil and how novels are instruction manuals for deception.

 

Mr. Kluge, why do people wear masks?

That’s like asking why people don’t run around naked. Why do we wear clothes? Why do we have skin? Why is there external protection even at the cellular level? The answer is that life itself isn’t naked, and it’s for the same reason that you can’t transport water in the desert just by cupping your hands: you need a proper container. All forms of life need a house, a shield, a casing. It’s a basic human need to have a cave or an acre of land that belongs to you and you alone. In the end, there are only two kinds of human beings: cave-dwellers and prairie people. If the prairie person is denied mobility or the cave-dweller is denied protection, they’re badly able to survive. It’s a natural human tendency to light candles in the cave for comfort in winter, and let the sky to be your roof in summer. All poetry is about these two states of being.

You once said that the reality that human communities construct is like a second skin that makes life bearable.

And I stand by it. Our first skin serves us to hold us together physically; if our organs were exposed, we wouldn’t be able to survive. Skin is a casing that, first and foremost, protects us. But in order to survive socially, our physical skin is not enough–and that’s why people construct a second skin called “reality”, something that’s constantly changing. My grandparents had an entirely differently constructed reality than my children. We build our realities according to our personal, social and political circumstances … and we do it in order to survive. Human beings are simply unable to deal with an unadorned reality.

Is the second skin you call reality a kind of mask?

I would say the face itself is a mask. It has over two hundred different muscles that we can manipulate in order to form the most varied and illusory expressions. We’ve been able to use our facial muscles like this since our evolutionary forefathers and early man discovered language and the ability to deceive. That’s why every human being is a walking, talking mask. With the advent of language, deception and disguise became part of the game of survival. It reminds me of an interesting scene in Heinrich von Kleist’s Cathy of Heilbronn, where the princess visits a fountain at night, disrobes under the moonlight, and is revealed as a skeleton. She stands in stark contrast to the protagonist, Cathy, who is vital, rosy-cheeked, and made of flesh and blood. In theatre terms, the princess’s skeletal frame implies that she’s incapable of love–an aspect of her true identity she wants to conceal at all costs. Her clothes ad jewellery–conventional symbols of dignity and splendor–are nothing but masks for death. In Kleist’s attempt to distinguish between truth and deception, masked death becomes a woman’s false beauty.

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

That’s Oscar Wilde–and what a fitting aphorism. Ancient Greek actors and actresses were called “Personae” or “Masks that can be heard through” because they said things through the openings of their masks that they would otherwise never be allowed to say offstage. Even the oracle at Delphi spoke through a mask. Historically, people are better able to sort out their egotisms from behind masks. When free of the burden of their own conceits, they can speak certain truths. Man is undoubtedly a creature of illusion.

How would you say the practice of confession fits into that scheme? Is the partition in the Catholic confessional also a type of mask?

Of course! Without a partition that provides a certain degree of anonymity, there’s no way to confess so freely. As soon as people look each other in the eyes, they start measuring their words carefully, and that’s entirely natural. Whoever says that people should be totally open and honest with each other is operating under a false understanding of what it means to be human. Nietzsche said that man is a manufacturer of illusions–an illusion-making machine, so to speak. That’s why our basic human desires aren’t geared towards the discovery of truth per se. Sincerity and openness are byproducts of other more basic human needs.

But isn’t the mask-wearer potentially motivated by truth? Isn’t the mask a tool for producing knowledge?

That depends on your understanding of what constitutes knowledge. I think that lovers put on masks when they want to reassure each other of their love–something they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do in light of the reality of an unknowable future. I suppose this holds not only for lovers, but also in assuming any given role and the responsibilities that come along with it. By being “in character”, people can assess the reality they’re engaged with. But to know what these roles are, we need various forms of fictional narrative–specifically the novel, because, historically, that’s where these roles were made most explicit and played out. I don’t think there would be love without certain kinds of explorative fiction or literature, regardless of genre. Or should I say: there would be no love without roleplaying and no roleplaying without masks.

You believe that fictional narratives have such a strong effect on our behaviour?

Not our behavior, but rather our communication. Fiction allows us to communicate about our behavior. It’s similar to when people used to speak from behind fans: you could speak your mind and not be caught in the act. If you blushed, nobody would be able to tell, because, as a mask the fan is opaque. In contrast, the blush is a revealing mask. One is worn over the other.

You’ve mentioned the novel as a source of information on various roles we play. Opera is considered one of the most coded and artificial forms of the performing arts. What can it tell us about communication and disguise?

Opera has a stronger, more emotional thrust that the novel; or, for that matter, most literature. Take for example The Pretend Garden Girl, which Mozart wrote when he was still very young. It tells the story of a Count who stabs his lover, Violante, in a fit of jealous rage. Violante survives and realizes she still loves the Count. To heal her broken heart, she disguises herself as a simple gardener’s girl in an attempt to win him back. She succeeds, but only by masking her true identity.  The story demonstrates the importance of masks and disguises in communicating love in circuitous fashion. Contrary to popular opinion, love doesn’t always function magnetically or on terms of a direct attraction. The masks in literature and opera tell you exactly that. In fictional narratives, the mask is a medium of communicating emotion. It’s not for nothing that the novel was popularized as an art form at the same time as garden labyrinths. In a proper labyrinth, nothing is really grown; lovers get lost only to find each other again. And this is why they epitomize love: because they have no express purpose! Love that only serves reproduction or upward social mobility is sad and lonely. Love that allows for detours and impracticalities also allows for a certain luxury we call freedom. Its artistic expression can be found in music and opera. And let’s not forget techno–an art form dominated by the power of bass and the movement of dancing masses. Techno is also a type of opera, in my opinion.

Would you say that the club is the new opera stage–a modern masked ball?

Indeed. I remember being in the old Tresor in Berlin during the nineties and thinking to myself: what’s happening here in the old basement safe of the Wertheim department store is nothing other than twenty-first century opera… all night long.

What would the opera be like without masks?

It wouldn’t exist. Don Giovanni is one long masquerade, Cosi fan tutte even more so. You see, the important thing is that the audience knows more than the actors on stage. If that’s not the case, opera becomes incredibly boring. The characters have to be ignorant of their own demise; that’s one of the main appeals in opera. It’s a labyrinthine art.

In Aristotle’s writings on the etymology of tragedy, he traces the word back to ancient springtime festivals involving goat sacrifices. “Tragos” is actually the Greek word for “goat song”. During the celebrations, men wore masks and sang songs about social issues that would otherwise result in conflict. The participants all assumed prototypical social and political roles. These festivals were a way for people to vent: instead of mass brawls, conflicts were resolved on stage. This is the original form of theater and, therefore, of opera as well.

A sort of war by proxy set on stage?

Yes, just like in the Old Testament: Isaac was supposed to sacrifice his own child, but in the end, an animal did the trick.

What about the functional masks that people use for protection? The images form Japan’s recent nuclear catastrophe are ingrained in our collective consciousness–especially people wearing white surgical masks.

First and foremost, people wear those kinds of masks to protect themselves form radiation. But I also think they wear them to mask their own fear. Fear often takes control of facial expressions; fear exposes.

The nuclear disaster in Chernobyl figures prominently in a number of your books. How have you been affected by the images form Japan?

The disaster in general has affected me strongly. Nature once again has reminded us of the scope of her power. The last eathquake and tsunami of that magnitude in Japan occurred some fourteen hundred years ago. It sometimes seems that this is how nature confers and communicates with man. But because nature resists being “understood”, we sometimes speak of “nature’s mask”–which comes off when Vesuvius blows or a huge earthquake shows its destructive power. Of course, “nature’s mask” is just an illusory invention of man. There are plenty of nuclear power plants in areas we know are potential sites for natural disasters. Clearly, planet earth doesn’t wear a mask on its own. Rather, we mask the planet because we haven’t been able to solve nature’s puzzles.

We’ve recently seen television images of “masked”uprisings in Egypt and Libya. There, protestors have been veiling themselves to protect their identity.

The circumstances in North Africa are indeed unsettling, because the masked demonstrators make it even more difficult to determine of agent provocateurs are in the mix. Here’s an instance where masks create as much confusion as they do protection. I mean, Libya is in the middle of a civil war and neither the sides nor the fronts can be easily determined. Not even during the Third Reich was there such an intense atmosphere of ignorance and insecurity. It’s extremely eerie. Libya’s former Foreign Minister defected to England and also became a kind of shapeshifter. I’m sure he brought with him dozens of masks he’s created through diplomatic experience.

Would you be surprised if, say, club-goers in London’s Fabric or Berlin’s Berghain were suddenly wearing these functional masks as a fashion statement? Crowds dancing in surgical masks or the veils and turbans North African revolutions?

Not only would that not surprise me, I think it would be a highly sensible reaction to a really disturbing series of event. You can make whatever scares you less threatening by wearing it–it’s a natural way to get over your fears. Every child puts on a ghost costume at some point and, in doing so, makes the ghost harmless.

Historically, people have worn masks to cast out demons…

And they continue to do so! Just look at Carnival, Halloween or Walpurgis Night… But there are also more everyday examples, like COSPLAY, where people dress up like their favorite Manga characters to free themselves from the shackles of the daily grind. They’re developing new, creative rituals. I recently had the chance to film two Manga girls going to a COSPLAY convention. The one girl introduced her friend with the words, “That’s my dog!”–even though the girl wasn’t dressed like a dog, but more like an vil fairy. I appreciate that the Manga movement allows for these kinds of bizarre masquerades and surreal role-playing scenarios, because each individual possesses all sorts of different identities: we’re beings of a thousand characters. The fact that we can express them with masks–by putting on different faces–is a great thing.

Can you give me an example of a “fake”mask?

The “honest” banker in the television advertisement who tells you,  ”Come to our bank, your money is in good hands.” That’s the epitome of deception.

To what extent is Facebook a virtual masquerade or even a form of deception?

Playing more than one role in life isn’t something that’s exclusive to Facebook; it’s part of the essence of life itself and has been since man has been able to think. And why shouldn’t we live these roles out? In a metropolis, most people have multiple identities.

Is it a lie when somebody knowingly discloses false information on Facebook?

Not necessarily. Sometimes things become true when you invent them for yourself. What’s truth? Think about the modes of flirting popular in Europe between the 14th and 18th centuries. There was so much disguise and affectation involved in the communication between partners in order to determine whether one person loved the other. Of course, there was a big difference between the two genders. But even back then, men always promised the world when seducing a woman, just in “Don Giovanni.

How do we look past the seducer’s mask to see what he or she is really like?

Do we really want to? Do we need to know what kind of person he was in the past? How she grew up? Who his parents are? What she loves? How he lives? What she’s afraid of? Today, everything can be accessed on Facebook. Maybe after studying somebody’s profile, you can see behind the masks they wear in the physical world. Walter Benjamin once said that an actor can’t pretend to be truly terrified. If you really want to scare him, you have to fire a shot next to his ear–then you’ll really have him flinching for the close-up.~

Photos: Rick Burger


This text appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 26 (2011). Read the full issue on issuu.com:

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Bryan Ferry talks to Dieter Meier

Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry is one of the most iconic singers in the history of pop music and the picture of sartorial elegance. For Electronic Beats Magazine, Yello frontman and raconteur Dieter Meier visited Ferry in his London studio to talk about—what else?—the finer things in life.

Dieter Meier: Bryan, you have a marvellous studio.

Bryan Ferry: Yeah, I’ve recorded a whole slew of my albums here. It took me more than twenty years to build it though. It actually consisted of six different spaces, and I had to buy section after section from various owners until I finally had the whole complex together.

DM: Who lived and worked here before?

BF: The actual studio space in the cellar used to be the workshop of a theater costume designer. I remember coming here to check the place out, and I was quite impressed, that she had made the Batman costume for Tim Burton’s version in 1989. You know, some of these things are done in England, not in America . . . probably because Tim Burton has lived in London for some time. Anyways, when I went through her studio, I recognized so many costumes from films, that I’d seen over the years.

DM: It’s really cozy—do you also hang out here when you’re not working, or do you try to spend as much time as possible in the countryside?

BF: Occasionally I’ll spend my free time in the studio — I mean, it’s in central London. But I love quiet country life, too. It’s just the opposite of all the hectic and stress involved in touring or recording.

DM: Do you do any gardening?

BF: Oh, no! I’m not like you — all I have is a small apple orchard. But it’s not enough apples to sell commercially or anything.

DM: Isn’t one of your sons into farming and gardening?

BF: No, Otis hunts foxes. He’s become a master of foxhounds at the South Shropshire Hunt on the Welsh border. They’re beautiful, the Welsh mountains. Otis kind of lives in the eighteenth century — it’s a lovely life.

DM: But how has he been able to continue after the new law against fox hunting?

BF: Basically, they don’t kill the foxes they hunt. But sometimes accidents happen. The whole thing has become much more popular since the ban — it’s suddenly become cool, because nobody wants to be told what to do. Especially not country folk.

DM: Fox hunting can be quite dangerous, right?

BF: In Ireland it can be quite wild. That’s actually where he learned to hunt.

DM: When did he become interested?

BF: He went to live in Ireland after school with this old guy who was a horse trader. Otis cultivated an almost gipsy lifestyle, very romantic stuff. He loved nature from a very young age—birds and animals and trees . . . Unlike me, he doesn’t like cities. Isaac, my second son, likes the country, but he’s very much into the world we live in. He’s quite a good filmmaker too. He worked together with Mario Testino for three years. Mario’s a good teacher—he always has a huge team of young English apprentices.

DM: Your recording studio is quite old-fashioned . . . lots of analogue gear.

BF: Yeah, I’ve had this lovely old mixing desk for some time. We also have computers now, which is both good and bad.

DM: We used to own one of these sixty-four track consoles too, but my partner Boris always wants to work with the most advanced digital technology available, so we got rid of it. Now we’re working with a mixing desk that fits in a suitcase. It’s a laptop, actually.

BF: Everything is getting so tiny these days.

DM: It’s not good to spend your entire life in the studio. Whenever I can, I try to see the world. I do odd things, too. For example, I play polo—hopelessly but nevertheless. It’s starting to become more enjoyable since I figured out how not to fall from the horse anymore. The last time I played, there was a lovely lady who tried hard to make me into a proper polo player. She used to yell at me like a sergeant from an Oliver Stone movie.

BF: I think I might know her . . .

DM: As you know, I farm in Argentina, and I bought a few acres of land down south in Patagonia. I have a lot of friends there who all play polo, but none of them are capable of teaching me even the most remedial rules or skills. If you want to play with them, you have to learn it elsewhere . . .

BF: So, playing polo—that’s what you do these days?

DM: I wanted to ask you the same question . . .

BF: This year, I’ve played seventy-five shows, so far. That’s quite a lot for me.

DM: That’s a lot for anybody, I guess. We’ve barely done any shows with Yello—only a handful over the years . . .

BF: It’s not a lot for some of the blues guys, though . . . Look at B.B. King: He plays more than two hundred shows a year, and he’s far older than me. But he sits down when he plays. That makes it a lot easier, I suppose . .

DM: Where did you tour?

BF: We started in Miami and then traveled along the East Coast up to New York, passing through Atlanta and Washington DC. Then we went to Cleveland and Chicago. Of all the North American cities, I probably love Chicago most—a beautiful place with so many impressive buildings. And the museums especially are worth visiting. Chicago is real America to me. From there we went west to finish the tour in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

DM: Do you still get a kick out of playing so many shows back to back?

BF: Yeah. Some nights kick more than others, of course. But that’s natural. As a singer it’s sometimes hard, because your body is the instrument. Some days the instrument is better than others, you know? Occasionally I suffer from sore throats. But apart from that, I love being on the road and I really enjoyed last year. We’ve been touring with a big show and a cinema screen behind us. We’ve created visuals—films and collages and stuff—which we project onto the screen. These cinematographic snippets help to bring the mood of each song across, and they also help take some of the pressure off of me. In my opinion, they’re certainly more interesting than what I’m doing—I’m only the singer! The films are my visual input into the show. Don’t forget: I studied art. Of course, I didn’t put the films together by myself—I have brilliant people around me to help with the technical aspects.

DM: You’re constantly changing your set-lists every night. Not only do you play different songs, you also play them in a different order. How do you manage to improvise on such a sophisticated level of production?

BF: Everybody hates me for that. My people always have these two hours between sound-check and the start of the show to reprogram everything according to the new set-list. It’s pretty tough for them to adjust to the changes in time. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s good to keep it different each night. I’d say Bob Dylan has been kind of a role model with his ever-changing set-lists. Financially, though, it wasn’t the greatest idea. I mean, we play mid-sized theaters of three to four thousand people . . . sometimes only two thousand. The biggest shows we did were the Greek Theater in L.A. and the Beacon in New York. But we have to take thirty people with us on the road, which is really expensive. But artistically speaking, it’s a great show—certainly as good as I could possibly present. We’ve got dancers and singers, some older musicians and some young ones too. One of my guitar players is only 21 years old! The other guitarist, Chris Spedding, is a real veteran. He’s seen it all. And the saxophone player is a girl, very glamorous. It’s great to have women in the band—we’ve got seven in total.

DM: I envy you a bit for that. I love playing live, but my partner Boris won’t let me do Yello shows on my own.

BF: How unfair!

DM: He’s a very hardheaded guy. But don’t get me wrong: I like him for that. As a result, I started to do my own Dieter Meier shows with a guitar player and a violinist. I love being on the road with such a stripped-down set-up. I travel light—I can improvise with the songs.

BF: But you still have to stick to some kind of pattern, don’t you? Something that repeats every sixteen or thirty-two bars? Otherwise, your violinist and guitar player get lost.

DM: Of course, but with less people, we’re always able to immediately react to the audience. It’s just easier.

BF: You’re a man who likes to entertain a crowd. You’re a natural raconteur, unlike myself. You seem to have plenty of stories to tell. What I do is almost the opposite. My show isn’t acoustic—it’s a big production. Maybe I could do an acoustic thing after I’ve taken it all over the world. But I’d really have to be ready for it, because the audience knows when you’re left to your own devices, when you are improvising. That’s when you can hit or miss.

DM: Indeed. You’re pretty naked on stage with an accoustic set-up.

BF: The thought is scary to me. The closest I ever came to doing something acoustic was playing together with a huge symphonic orchestra.

DM: You should give it a try someday—you’ll get used to it sooner than you think.

BF: Maybe . . . For me it’s interesting enough to see how the interaction with the audience can lead to different concerts night after night. In my opinion, the audience is fifty percent of the show.

DM: The audience is like the chorus in the Greek tragedy . . . who, of course, plays an incredibly important role. These days I’m much more disciplined, compared to when I was doing improvised Fluxus-like art performances, screaming at the audience . . . That’s when every night really was totally different. It’s a huge thrill not to know what the outcome of a performance will be, at least for me. Do you like to talk to your audiences?

BF: No, I don’t really. First, I’m not skilled enough. Second, what should I say? “Hello Berlin! I’ve had a great day at the Bode Museum. How are you?” It doesn’t make any sense to me. And still, in some countries, people seem to expect it from you. I’ve always felt uncomfortable doing that. I like the music to speak for itself.

DM: I always tell stories. For me, it’s an impromptu sharing experience. Sometimes I’ll talk a whole five minutes to the audience before starting the next song.

BF: I would certainly spoil the magic of the moment if I would start talking in between songs. I can see it now: twelve musicians onstage bored to death as I tell the same story to the audience over and over again, night after night. Of course, everything changes as soon as I’m offstage talking to people after the show. Then I’m relaxed. Somehow I just don’t feel comfortable talking to a larger audience.

DM: I know what you mean. I’ve played gigs with Yello at huge raves in major sports arenas where I felt really alone on stage, really disconnected. Everybody felt so far away. The first time we did this, it was actually quite shocking.

BF: Where was that?

DM: It was in Dortmund in the Westfalenhalle. I went on stage and everything was so calm. I couldn’t believe it—I could make mistakes and nobody would notice. It was frighteningly anonymous. But when you’re singing with a piano player in a bar, it can be tough.

BF: The standout show of my current tour was in Vienna. We played at the opera house . . .

DM: I would say that’s somewhere in between the two extremes.

BF: I felt so proud performing in that historical venue. Opera houses seem to really affect people. I like it when audiences are quiet when they should be quiet.

DM: I used to live in Vienna.

BF: Did you study there?

DM: Actually, I was a professional gambler.

BF: Of course!

DM: It’s a great place to gamble.

BF: Why?

DM: Because the Jewish-Austro-Hungarian gambling tradition is still very alive there, you know?

BF: I suppose people dress the part too?

DM: Unfortunately, they don’t. They actually gamble quite casually.

BF: That’s the pity about gambling nowadays. I like the idea of wearing a black bow tie and a tuxedo when playing cards.

DM: I was never a casino gambler. I was more into poker and semi-legal private gambling.

BF: What else did you like about Vienna?

DM: Certainly the fact that the working class also goes to the opera. In Vienna, opera isn’t at all an elitist thing for the super-rich or super-educated. That impressed me a lot. They have standing areas high up where tickets don’t cost much. But you’re on your feet the whole, say, three hours—like at the Scala in Milan or Teatro di San Carlo in Naples.

BF: You have cheap general admission sections high up at the Royal Albert Hall in London as well. Every venue should have areas like that.

DM: Are pop concerts a normal event for the Vienna opera house?

BF: It was a Sunday night. I think that’s the opera’s day off in Vienna. And if they don’t find anything better, they put people like me on the bill. I think during the week I wouldn’t have had a chance. Also, we played there in July.

DM: Fantastic.

BF: The night before, we played in Waterford in Ireland. And the night before that in Tel Aviv.

DM: What a crazy itinerary! Did you have breaks in between?

BF: A day or two, maybe. But Dieter—you have to attend the exhibition of the photographs we did for the Olympia album. It’ll be held at the .HBC in Berlin and will feature all the photos we did with Kate Moss, as well as the vintage Roxy Music photos, of course.

DM: So I’m guessing there will be photos by Anton Corbijn too, right? He’s actually an old friend of mine. When he was young, he called himself “Ze Famouz”. He was a big fan of Yello and would always travel to wherever we happened to be shooting a video. Unlike me, Anton’s a very systematic guy. When I shoot a video, I always have a very basic idea of what I want to do, but the rest was always improvised. Anton, who always documented the shoots, used to say over and over again: “Dieter, this is total chaos!”

BF: That sounds just like him. He left London a while ago and now lives in La Hague. In the meantime he’s become a successful director, hasn’t he. I thought The American with George Clooney was very good. And Control, too. It’s not that easy to have mainstream success from scratch.

DM: He’s a real character.

BF: Absolutely. He engages me—he makes me laugh. Some photographers say, “Please laugh”, and I tell you there’s nothing more difficult than doing it on command! But with Anton, it’s different. He would stand on one leg and continue a conversation as if this was the most normal way to communicate. Of course, he always gets a reaction—and that’s what he wants. It’s always a pleasure to work with him. Currently, he’s doing portraits of major artists and painters from all over the world. It’s an archival approach as well as an artistic one, I guess.

DM: So, what’s your next project?

BF: As I said, I’d like to continue this tour to wherever it will lead us. Sometimes it happens that we do private shows in countries like Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan—or somewhere in the Caribbean. Usually, it’s rich people who invite us to these kinds of private gigs. Of course, this means that a lot of people can’t attend. But accepting such invitations is what allows us to play bigger shows for less money in more far out cities. I think these are some of the most interesting places a tour can go.

DM: I just had an exhibition in a museum in Tbilisi, Georgia, which was the follow-up to one I did at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg. It was mostly my films and some of the performances.

BF: Would you have gone there without the invitation?

DM: Definitely not. But it’s an incredible place. Everything is totally falling apart, especially in the city center. The funniest thing was that my exhibition was held in a big hall where they usually hang big Georgian painters. I had to hang my pieces on the same nails—meaning that the order of pictures didn’t make any sense at all. It was like trying to orient yourself in London with the map of Rome. This wouldn’t happen to you in any other city on the planet, I imagine. In the end, I liked hanging my pictures in a completely unrelated order . . . on nails intended for other pictures.

BF: I wonder how it would have been in Baku, because there there’s such big money involved. On my tour, though, I liked Budapest most. It reminded me a bit of Prague and Vienna: elegantly run-down. It had an imperfectness that I always seem to chase.

DM: That’s central Europe for you . . .

BF: Absolutely. In America you couldn’t find places like Baku or Budapest. Even in the UK every city has been destroyed by all the franchises that make cities look the same.

DM: I once was looking to buy a house in Ireland, but all I could find were old houses that had been terribly rebuilt by the British. Didn’t you once own a house in Ireland? Maybe I’m wrong but . . .

BF: My ex-wife’s mother used to own a beautiful house on the west coast. We used an image from there for the cover of the album Avalon—a gorgeous sunrise on a lake. I love Ireland, and especially Dublin and Cork. The people there are so poetic. They love words. But they certainly aren’t very good architects.

DM: Do you still like to go out, when you’re on tour?

BF: No—I’m simply not that age anymore. I’m happy, if I can get to sleep after a gig.

DM: Of all the cities in the world, I like the Berlin nightlife most. It’s a very late-night affair, with a swinging art scene and so many great bars. I don’t know any other city in the world where you can get lost in the night life that easily . . .

BF: That’s exactly why we’re doing the exhibition there.

DM: Did you ever live in Berlin?

BF: Me? No! But I wish I’d made a record there.

DM: So, you still believe in making records?

BF: At the moment, I’m out of contract. I have to decide now what to do. But of course, I grew up with the idea that the album is the proper format for a recording artist to release music. I certainly can’t complain at all about the way EMI has marketed my back catalogue over the years. They are very good at doing new things — box sets and all that kind of stuff. Creatively, I never gave up control. I guess that’s pretty important when working together with a label. But I understand that we’re living in times of change. It’s not only that the format of the album is being replaced by endless iPod playlists. Lots of artists nowadays fancy the idea of managing themselves and even founding their own labels. But they seem to forget that it’s a lot of work, too. To be even more precise, it’s a kind of work that has nothing at all to do with the creative process of making music. I think it’s always better to delegate everything that isn’t part of the music to other people. You wouldn’t be able to do your farming or to learn polo if you had to run your own record company.

DM: That’s true.

BF: Life wouldn’t be that rich anymore.

DM: I agree.

BF: Have you ever done a clothing line? It would fit you perfectly.

DM: No. Have you?

BF: Oh, I don’t do that kind of thing. But you seem to be more of a businessman than I am.

DM: I only do business when I happen to meet the right people. It’s not like I have a business idea and then go searching for investors. But when I’m sure I have met the right people, I’d do everything—from Swiss watches to farming in Argentina.

BF: So you’re not interested in starting a men’s clothing line?

DM: If I did it would have to cover the most basic things—the stuff that’s usually the hardest to find—pajamas and such. But why don’t you do a clothing line? With your name attached to it, it would be an instant success. You’d just have to make copies of what you already wear.

BF: Well, I do like to design.

DM: You do design your own clothes — come on, be honest!

BF: I wear suits all the time. But giving my tailor hints about little details — I wouldn’t call that designing. In the end, it’s still just a suit.

Photos: ©Frank Bauer, ©Karl Stoecker

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