This interview was conducted summer 2005 by Igor Matyunov for the Russian Stigmata Magazine in a succession of three e-mails.
Since I cannot read Russian, I'm not quite sure which questions he selected for his magazine and which sequence he used. Though I felt the first round a little off target(Sorry Igor!) I omitted nothing (just corrected a view mistakes I really should have seen before. Again, sorry Igor!) and stuck to the original order indicating the different mails in the numbering of the questions.
1. I'd like to start this interview from the very beginning. So, who is Mister Andreas Wahnmann? Could you tell us a bit about your background: age, place of living, job and so on... I know that this sort of info doesn't have any link to music, but I'm doing a publication about people, so it's really interesting to discover a person who stay behind you favorite music.
Well, what is there to say? I’m 42, married, two cats, I live in the southern part of Germany and I make a living by struggling with hard- and software. I started to learn guitar at the age of 5 and do not expect to stop learning any time soon. In the early Eighties I began to assemble recording gear and had my share of recording sessions and live gigs with various line-ups since, none of it making it beyond notoriety. A friend and I founded Fir§t Law 1992, released a track on the sampler side of Turbund Sturmwerk’s “Sturmgeweiht”-MC and declared our project deceased in 94 when he left it. 1998 I revived it alone and recorded the “Revelation 5.2”-EP. One year later TS introduced me to the guys from LOKI and this lead to four more, soon to be five, fulltime releases.
2. Let's formulate the terminology we use and state what kind of subject is FIRST LAW: is this just another musical project? is this some sort of conceptual piece that deals not only with music itself but with politics and ideology? is this something else? I ask the question because I believe that FL albums are very "thematic", they all have a concept they try to explore and this concept is as important as music...
Do I have an actual message I want to impress on my audience? No. Do I have a topic in mind during the construction of the recording? Yes. But do I evade making it blatantly obvious in the final product? Yes. When I come across the necessity to convey relevant information I sincerely trust in a more subliminal approach over blaring one-line slogans. So, makes this FL another musical project or more/something else? I don’t think it’s on me to decide.
And, politics and ideology in my music, well, we’re all constantly confronted with politics and ideology and let me add, religious believes. In all these fields I am an absolute non-believer, so most of the time these subjects just piss me off. And this bad mood often enough manifests in my music as the sole connection.
3. I had no chance to listen to you latest offering Beyond IO, because it is partially released on vinyl, and I do not have a player. So, could you tell me a bit about this album? Is it conceptual one, like your previous albums? How much it differs from other albums?
Well, I hope it differs enough to keep it interesting! My “blueprint” was a little less existential than on “Refusal As Attitude” which circled mainly around corporeal decay and mental restlessness. This time I went for at least a thin impression of hope or relief, of course drowned again in dysfunction and distorted by determination but I’m sorry, this was completely unavoidable. In the music itself I tried to reflect this hopefulness by bringing it a little closer to the old German tradition of avant-garde music back in the Seventies. A time of surely unfounded but nevertheless still unbroken optimism, so I think. The vinyl part you mentioned, the “Encores”, consists of two reworks, or to use the bland word cover-versions, of two Seventies classics. But excuse me if I don’t want to spoil the mystery by spreading too much information about this particular subject.
4. How much of Andreas Wahnmann is in FIRST LAW? How close your music to your inner self?
Do you really think someone could be as warped and twisted as a Fir§t Law track? Well, on a second thought, I must admit there actually could be a lot of me in this music. Unceasing chaos in a sworn-to-logic shell. This could be a good description of me, at least if it wouldn’t sound so pathetic.
5. I have noticed that your album Velochrome has started a new period for FL career - now FL has it's very own and easy to mark sound, we can call it a "brand". And, for example, Violent::Sedated pretty often reminds me the best moments of Velochrome. So, may we state that FL has discovered it's very own sound and it will dig it on future releases, or you prefer chaos and your future albums will continue experiments?
First of all I don’t like to make the same record twice. So every record will be different and maybe today you could call this experimental. But on the other hand in my opinion Fir§t Law stands for a special way of working with musical raw materials, a thorough dose of analogue sounding electronics and a final product with a specific surreal quality and to these parameters I’ll certainly cling to!
6. What makes you to write a new album?
I’m not a singer/songwriter. I don’t sit down, embrace the wickedness of the world and start writing a new album to vent my malcontent. For me, creating a CD is a permanently shifting process. As an example, parts of “Beyond IO” were finished before the release of “Refusal As Attitude” but they simply did not fit into RAA. They were just not the right mood, too light, maybe just to positive in their whole approach (in particular “Creating Worlds”), so I omitted them and they became the first and, as I think, a very important backbone of the next release.
Or did you mean why I started making records at all and keep on doing it? I must be cursed I guess.
7. In your artworks for FL you are using various politically-oriented images and quotations. So, I guess you are sending a message to a listener not only through your music but also through "material" matters. How important to you a fact that this message was understood right? How deep you would affect your listeners?
As I said before, I don’t believe in any kind of politics or ideology. Well, you could call THAT my ideology! So whenever something seems to hint on some kind of political content it’s actually targeted for the response or the mental picture I connect with. But I do not expect the associations caused by my music or the artwork to be the same I had when I made it! That the message received is the same message I sent. No two minds are identical so anything like this would be truly preposterous. I’d settle for causing any associations or inspiration at all and would call this a huge achievement for any artist.
8. If I recall it right, LOKI had a special evening at WGT this evening and all bands from the label took part in it and played live. What do you think about playing live? Industrial music is mostly "studio"-oriented, so pretty often bands do not play live at all.
I’m sorry but you are misinformed on this. Only a small part of the LOKI projects participated in this concert and Fir§t Law wasn’t part of the line-up. Like many projects not representing the glamorous world of rock’n’roll I don’t feel the urge or have the means to put my music on stage.
9. Let's come back a bit and talk about roots of FL. What has influenced you on creating the project, or even on writing music in general? What forced you to transform from a listener to a composer?
After days of pondering these questions, I still can’t truly answer them. As I said above, I was very young when I started to develop a deeper interest in music and I think it is just a logical step to create new music when you just develop your ability to recreate existing far enough.
10. What do you consider your main achievement as FL so far?
Another question I find hard to answer! Maybe… to sound pretty much unlike any other project I know? To recreate my imagination to an extent I never would have dreamed of fifteen years ago? Or, a more sombre assessment, to get four CDs released without showing off a belly-button piercing and an ass tattoo. Anyway, it’s again not on me to decide.
11. Let's imagine that everything would develop as you would like to what would you like to achieve with FL in long run?
Artistically, I don’t know. If I would know, I’d already be working on it. So maybe it is to keep on finding ways to improve the music and develop it to heights even I can not imagine yet. Financially, I guess infinite wealth and god-like admiration wouldn’t make me grab for a shotgun.
12. Ancient Chinese used to say that "damned the one who lives through the time of changes'. We all experienced change of centuries, change of political regimes in the world and I'm pretty sure more changes will come - for example, oil will depleted in a couple of decades or even sooner... do you think that we are "damned' or it was a luck - to witness all that and more? How excited you are with latest development in Europe and in the world?
When I compare today with the time of my youth there is always one question pestering me: It is 2005 and where is my bloody jet pack now? Or my flying car? Or a weekend trip to the moon, damn it! Do you really feel that there is so much change at all? Yes, the century or even the millennium has turned but the next year felt uncomfortably unaffected by this incident. Big events happen and they for sure make a difference. A difference in the headlines, a difference for the TV shows, a difference in the small talk topics. Let two months pass and we’re all back to the petty marketplace chat that is on since men started building their huts in a circle. But it’s even worse for political changes! Ageing “villainous” regimes get replaced by the new boy-wonders of diplomacy which earn their share of shoulder clapping and head shaking from the rest of the world and go stale the day after. Net change: zero. Maybe the depletion of oil, or whatever else is throwing a major spanner into the gears of capitalism, could cause real changes, so much conceded, but I wouldn’t hold my breath and I’m certainly not far enough up the food chain to expect to like it.
And to estimate my excitement precisely I would like to know which developments you mean in particular. Terrorism on the rise? Federalism in Europe? Ring tones on top of the British music charts?
13. About 20 percent of Austrians believe that life at Hitler's times was much better than today, and about a third of Germans think that pro-Soviet GDR was better than current Germany.... what do you think about changes in Germany? Do you like what happens with your country?
It is said that hindsight is perfect. It can be, for a short while, but then it seems to get blurred and rose-tinted in no time. I think it is just an expression of a heart-found malcontent with their own lives and since there are no obvious blue skies ahead even this past seems to become a “good time”. Maybe it is the same misperception that makes the grass on the other side always a lot greener and apparently no meadow is further away than the one that lies safely behind you. Do not mistake a whimsical yearning for the past for truly wanting it back!
For my part, I prefer Germany as it is now. It’s a madhouse. Incompetence meets disinterest and I’m utterly amused by watching. For example; it is election time again, a little premature but the ruling Federal jester found his unruly plan disliked by the restless natives, threw a tantrum and gave back his jestership. Now, apparently for the first time in years, the natives take a look at the other combatants and still find them a pretty repulsing sight. They are colourful painted yet, but nonetheless as useless and ugly as always. There is not the least indication of any acceptable ideas or the impression of competence or at least unity. In fact, there is not a thing they spare to help give back the dedicated ex-jester his fool’s cap! Next stop: the big TV talk!! The icky-slick funny bone versus the painted lady-monster. Pour down some beers and open the Valium and we’re all in for a great night!
14. Your web-site has a name "secretlab"... so, how much "secret" in your work, and how much "experiments" in it?
Since not much of my work consists of experiments the best part must be secret, even though I would lift some of them if I’d be asked nicely. But beware; when it comes to technical matters I’m not a master of the simple answer.
1a. You have mentioned that you are 'an absolute non-believer'. You don't believe in God, you don't believe in politics... Does this mean you a nihilist?
I don’t think so, quite the opposite in fact. As a nihilist I would have to judge anything on face-value and dismiss any deeper layer of existence but I believe we barely scratched the surface of what our minds render to us as “reality”. It’s easy to mistake the ground beneath your feet as a solid mass, it is harder to think of it as void scarcely scattered with electrons and neutrons, barely covering any space at all. More than this, considering Planck, we even have to discard the illusion of linear existence. There is so much to find out and so many close to mystical angles, but usually we pass through time and space perfectly content with our over-simplified approximations or entirely wrong conclusions like religion.
2a. Well, for us, people from behind the iron curtain, main change is the downfall of Soviet Union. It has caused a lot of smaller changes like re-union of Germany or war on Balkanes... but let's talk a bit about above mentioned rise of terrorism. It's really hot topic these days.
Do you believe that terrorism is rising? When I look back... for example, on Germany, I see that your country had more problems with terrorists in 70-ies than England or States today. Am I wrong? Don't you think that all that 'War on terrorism' is total shit made up to start more wars and to spend more money on arms? Personally, I believe that 9-11 and acts in London were made up by secret service like CIA or Mossad - too many facts show that those acts were planned not by Muslim fanatics from caves. As I recall German ex-minister of Police said that he doesn't believe in 'official' version of 9-11 and he thinks it was a cover-up operation by secret service...
Oh this… well, you know what’s been said about capitalism; it makes you a desensitised self-centred piece of shit and I’m afraid there is a lot of wisdom in these words.
So OK, let’s talk about terrorism, but your fully wrong to compare the rather pitiable German RAF to real terrorists like Al Quaida, CIA or Mossad. By definition the goal of a terrorist is to spread fear amongst the population and that never has been a concern of the RAF. Their targets were the American army, politicians, business tycoons and an especially nasty publishing house. Of course, these folks wetted their knickers, but due to the RAF’s incompetence (e. g. committing a bank robbery but being too drugged to actually load their guns) and their resulting inefficiency (about 15 killings in as much years that’s less than on a regular sunny Iraqi afternoon), they actually were more of nuisance than a threat. The one thing the RAF ever accomplished was less freedom by giving the government better leverage to demand more police, more surveillance and more restrictive laws and that’s not just in my opinion the only thing the RAF has in common with a terrorist.
I don’t know who is behind 9-11, and in fact I couldn’t care less. Fanatic religious airheads and violent government thugs, they both make me sick! And anyway, in the end there will be more money in the bank for the rich guys, more death, fear and pressure for the poor and some secretly pleased governments telling the people it’s all for your own good. What I am sure about is that every time doubt and malcontent will become more intense SOMEONE will cough up money for more bombs and we’ll have the next incident. Causing again more pressure, more money, more bombs… That’s what I call a smoothly running system!
3a. Since my English is far from being perfect I'm not sure I could ask you more nicely than I have done already. So, please do not reveal any secrets, but shall we talk about your future plans for FL? Do you have any ideas about your next album? When shall we expect it?
I’m sorry; I honestly didn’t want to offend you! I just was a little puzzled by the choice between secret and experiment. Aren’t experiments the standard procedure for lifting secrets? And more so, whenever I experiment with something and I’m through with it and it ceased to be a mystery to me… it’s neither anymore, isn’t it?
I already started to work on the next album this summer and up to now I got about 45 minutes of material, finished for about 80 percent. Preliminary title: “Chaos Structure” and that’s what I’m going for this time, some more obvious structures and some less obscured chaos. I think it calls for more steep transitions than most of my material had before and the same time any recognisable pattern must be dissolved more violently. I hope I can show the people what’s all this supposed to stand for about spring next year.
4a. Let's come back to your music. 'Traditional' composers usually know what kind of music they will write, they have a melody in their head or at least some ideas... people who write music with computer pretty often have another approach - they play around with samples and programs, try things and in the end they get something. Quite often this 'something' is a surprise even for it's creator. What about you?
How do you write your tracks?
In this case I’m more a traditional composer despite the fact that most of the time it’s not a specific melody I have in mind but what the track has to be like, depending on the flow of the whole CD. I don’t create single songs and stick them together in the end, right from the start I have a montage of all the existing material and this helps me to hear in my mind what the next track should be like or sometimes what’s still necessary in between. Maybe you could compare it to the game of dominoes, just reversed, I invent a pattern I want to end up with and then provide the stones I need to fill it.
The recording of the track itself often divides in two different phases. The first part is pretty much like standard song writing. A basic selection of sounds, I make up the melodies or better melodic fragments and I create an elementary sequence. This takes about two or three days then it is time for part two and I spend the next weeks “blurring the edges”. I record tons of mixer animation, add effects, add layer over layer of “non-essential” sounds and noises… what ever it takes. Often enough the song grows from initially about ten tracks in a 30k MIDI file to 40, 50 tracks and easily 10mb of controller data.
5a. Could you tell me a bit about your hardware and equipment? A lot of bands create their own hand-made machines... some musicians spend days on field-recordings... what about you?
I certainly know how to use a soldering iron, and I had my days of climbing through derelict power plants or invading the local water tower to gain a recording of the annual full clearing, but I do not need it for Fir§t Law and that makes both a thing of the past to me. The only real world instruments I still utilize are guitars/amps, a turntable and things that fit through my studio door. OK, it’s a fairly large door and I’m truly grateful my wife doesn’t mind my growing collection of metal parts; or 4 m long plastic tubes in the hallway; or dangling wood blocks in our living room. But this happens just very occasionally anyway. Only when I’m collecting raw material as the actual process of construction takes place in my computer. I switched to hard disk recording mid of the nineties, as soon as you could do it on a PC. This is not the right time for a commercial break but I’d rather “fly for the Empire” than buy a “Hippie box” (*), you know. In the early years I built me some small apps or utilities but nowadays this isn’t necessary anymore. Modern standard music software (for example those made by Steinberg, Propellerheads, TCWorks, Waves or Native Instruments) is certainly flexible enough to create truly sophisticated, complex interconnected, controlled feedback generating and n-times sound processed structures and does this with a remarkable quality. Stuff I didn’t even knew how to pronounce back in the old days of ever scratching faders and crappy spring reverbs. Yes, I do know it sounds like the introduction page of an owner’s manual but I really like working with this technology!
6a. Do you listen to your own music from time to time? Have you ever had a feeling, something like 'Yes, I have done in! I rule!!!', when you were listening to your own stuff?
Well, sometimes I think about dressing solely in garters and parading around on my balcony to celebrate my greatness. … OK, I promise to cut down on the tasteless jokes! No, actually I do not listen to my released material a lot; in fact I only can recall one single occasion I put on “Violent::Sedated” and “Velochrome” and yes, I was rather pleased. I found them to be better than I had in mind, but that is easy to explain, because whenever I FINALLY declare a CD perfect enough to be released, I must have heard it literally a thousand times and I’m pretty fed up by my own music. This takes quiet a while to recede and until then I get hardly more than the feeling “Bugger! I should have put a notch more pressure on the drum sounds!” out of it. But hey, self-satisfaction just makes you lazy!
7a. You have mentioned, that you were playing in various bands long time ago, so you were a part of underground scene when I was just a kid... and you have witnessed it's development and progression. What do you think about experimental music today and, let's say, 20 years ago? Do we talk about the same thing or experimental music has changed since then? I try to explain, why do I ask this question. I have a feeling, that music 10 years ago was much better than today... I recall excitement when I was listening to some albums. And I do not feel anything so great right now. My opponents say, that the reason is simple - I'm getting old, so music does not affect me that much.
I’m sorry, but I just can’t get used to calling music “experimental”. OK, it implies “breaking new ground” and that is something I like; but, more than this, there are strong connotations of “tends to go wrong” and “maybe it’s a little of a stretch to call it music at all”. And failure and doubt aren’t things I want to see associated with my work.
This out of the way, go tell your opponents: occasionally age refines taste. There is nothing sadder than a “music aficionado” still creaming his pants over the a-hundred-and-fiftieth project sounding exactly like the reverb track on an unfinished Laibach recording. So, if you are truly less easily affected by music, this actually might be a good sign. Think of it as a wave, it’s OK when the frequency goes down as long as the amplitude remains the same.
But on the other hand, there might be truth in thinking of the nineties as a more fruitful period for electronic-based or industrial music as it is today. Perhaps it’s been the best time for it ever! After decades of being no more than music for nerds or, maybe it’s most popular form, sci-fi dance music, it came fairly close to becoming some sort of a new folk music. The audience loved it, the bands obtained a nice anything-goes attitude and, thanks to the inflation of the prizes for computers, this line of music thrived from an abundance of new artist unhindered by the necessity of paying for over-prized studios. But still, good ideas come in a very limited supply, therefore it’s no surprise it couldn’t go on forever.
8a. Banal question: what is the first law for FIRST LAW?
Banal answer: I can’t remember what we originally had in mind. We were young, plastered, it had a good ring to it and so it stuck. But if I would have come up with it today, it would surely stand for: “Survive!”
9a. Secretlab is the home not only for FL, but for TURBUND STURMWERK as well. As far as I know TS is some sort of organization, it's not just a regular industrial band... do you have some relation to their activities? Or you share the site because you are just a friends, nothing more?
I can’t talk on the behalf of TS, so you better ask them what they are or what they don’t want to be.
I got acquainted to TS by Manfred Lenz, mastermind of TS and the Turbund organisation and, as I’m proud to proclaim, one of my best friends since more than fifteen years now. As it is with friends, we’re not necessarily always of the same mind or share each and every interest, but still we have a lot in common and we like to help each other. For example, I hosted their original internet approach and gave them access to my studio and in return he was the one who introduced me to LOKI.
10a. This question was asked to every band I interview for this issue.
Let's imagine that world is about to end and you may choose only 5 albums that would be saved for future generations. You may choose any albums you value most - industrial, pop, classical, etc. What would you save for our grandchildren?
Oh dear, you’re asking a guy who spent a good part of his life hanging around in a record store to pick five(!) essential albums? … What kind of a miserable “end of the world” is this anyway when you still have to bear in mind the benefit of future generations, huh? And is it a good idea at all to impress our sense of culture on them or aren’t they better off with a fresh slate? … OK, I’m stalling again.
I spent a whole afternoon working through my collection. One record max per band and only absolute highlights permitted and I ended up with no less than fifty; every single one perfect and in my eyes the true milestones of contemporary music. Therefore, I made a random pick and ended with this rather eclectic selection:
Electric Wizard: Dopethrone (2000, Rise Above)
Hallucinator: Landlocked (1999, Chain Reaction)
Mark Stewart & Maffia: Learning To Cope With Cowardice (1982, On-U Sound)
Revolting Cocks: You Goddamned Son Of A Bitch – Live! (1988, Wax Trax!)
Swans: Children Of God (1987, Product Inc.)
What do you mean by: "This is not the right time for a
commercialbreak but I'd rather "fly for the Empire"
than buy a "Hippie box", youknow"? I mean - "fly for
the Empire" and "Hippie box"? I do not understand.
Well, I like writing in English.. and sometimes I get carried away. A little. What I tried to say was, I prefer Windows/PC over Apple/Macintosh. Did you ever play "Tie Fighter"? Then you might have noticed that the evil Emperor looks a lot like a withered version of Bill Gates! And "hippie box"... do you know what you have to do to open the CD drive of a Mac? You have to move the icon of the drive into the trash can. That is deep!! In a philosophical way. There is this poor piece of data, innocent and immaculate in it's way, protected from all evil by this holy altar of hipness and you SPIT it out in this hell hole of a world. This filthy "big blue" dustbin! Only a hippie could come up with something so ridiculous.back