Elliott Sharp on Playing the Nozart Festival in Cologne

March 16, 2010
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fields 3Mar. 5 Nozart Festival - Cologne, Germany

A pretty typical day: drop the twins at school and off to the studio for some last minute tasks: copying files, burning CD's, and general pre-flight idiot-check. A few more errands then it's home to spend a little quiet time with Janene before the German film crew arrives to continue work on the documentary for Bavarian Television on the opera I'm creating for teenage performers which will be premiered in Munich in July. J and I are wired for sound and then required to act naturally so that our usual talk and rituals preceding my departure are digitally captured to "broaden the portrait of the composer." The crew drives to the airport with me and I'm interviewed in the car. We're also filmed from another vehicle much to the delight of Tito, my usual driver from the car service. Smooth flights to Munich and then Cologne where the festival organizer meets me and brings me to my hotel for three hours of much needed sleep.

Double-espresso on awaking and soon after, Scott Fields arrives at the hotel to bring me to the venue, the basement of a Unitarian church with space for 200 people. This is the 14th year of this international festival and what it lacks in grandeur is more than made up for by the enthusiasm of the audience. Scott and I spend two frigid hours rehearsing our compositions upstairs in the church. The 5-second reverb makes our guitars sound magisterial though the temperature turns our fingers into frozen sausages. For my use, Scott has borrowed a gypsy-style, oval-hole archtop guitar made in 1985 by local luthier Thomas Reg'n with a European spruce top and Indian rosewood sides and back. Scott (who lives now in Cologne) uses his Collings cutaway 1998 OM-2H with Sitka spruce top and Indian rosewood sides and back. We're bringing four pieces each to this gig and we have just enough time to be able decode their intricacies.

Scott and I are very different composers. His pieces have many detailed elements, completely notated, but a great deal of openness in how they are played with exact synchronization happening only sporadically. I try to create a "sound design" for each of my pieces with an approach unique to itself including specifically defined techniques or gestures. We go upstairs for a quick sound check and there meet Keith and Julie Tippett who have just completed their check. Scott and I are opening the festival but we have enough time to duck out for a quick bite before the hit. The house is packed by the time we commence at 830 p.m.. Too many smokers for my taste (it's banned but many seem to ignore this), but still quite a welcoming atmosphere (and warm!). We open with my "Krash Area" then proceed through the set to excellent response. Decent monitors and an attentive crowd allow quiet and subtle gestures to work as well as frenetic flailing (though the latter seems to always go down well with German audiences.) Our encore is completely improvised, we bow, and quickly pack up to allow Keith and Julie and drummer Willi Kellers to take the stage for their improvised set followed by Eberhard Kranemann, one of the founders of Kraftwerk who performed a freejazz-meets-techno set on guitar, tenor sax, and sundry keyboards.

The next day, Scott collects me at 11:30 a.m. and we head across town to the well-equipped Topaz studio to record our new material for the Neos label. Our first duo CD, Scharfefelder, was released on the Cleanfeed label and was recorded at my Studio zOaR. Topaz' Reinhard Kobialka has put together a comfortable room with two control rooms, both packed with vintage and modern gear. We're each miked with Neumann U87 large-diaphragm condensors, as well as vintage Neumann KM84 small condensors. Placement of mics is tweaked a bit until the optimum is found and then we dig in and record eight compositions and two improvisations in five hours. The sound is large, warm, and detailed. After returning to NYC, I'll mix the recording in ProTools at Studio zOaR and probably won't need much EQ at all, just some compression.

Scott Fields, guitar
Julie Tippett , vocals 
Willi Kellers, drums
Keith Tippett, piano
Eberhard Kranemann, sax, guitar, synth, loops
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