‘War is building itself up slowly in movements believed forgotten…’

3smallLately it is not uncommon for musicians to form their own narrative about the two major conflicts in the history of mankind. The task of reducing such a complex fact as a war to a few comprehensible and abstract ideas might seem like something easy to achieve. In fact, noise bands have already done this using their own often controversial way. However, when someone approaches this subject more wisely, showing a sincere interest for all the aspects of the subject as well as respect for the victims, then usually the result has a different quality. Zbigniew Preisner (i.e. ‘Diaries of Hope’), Max Richter (i.e. ‘Sarajevo’) and now Einstürzende Neubauten, are the musicians which, have interpreted interestingly and clearly, through music, such violent and shameful conflicts in the history of mankind
First of all I have a problem with the term avant-garde because it’s military term, It means the guard that runs before the rest of the soldiers and if I want to see myself represented in military terms I don’t want to be part of that. I want to be one of the deserters. I want to be in the woods maybe…(extract from an interview given by Blixa Bargeld to Andrew Lloyd Hughes of the University of Copenhagen)
Neubauten were commissioned by the authorities of Flandres to produce a music performance in order to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of WWI (this is quite unorthodox as commonly it is the end of wars that is celebrated not their beginning). This album was released a few days before the anniversary from the last battle of WWI and the band appeared live in the almost packed Koko, in London, 8 days later. Blixa Bargeld has openly admitted that he didn’t intend on been preoccupied with any of the wars and that he viewed this project mostly as a job that needed to be done. There was no support band but given the subject of ‘Lament’ and taking into consideration that this album is a complete music and theatrical performance, the presence of a support band would be a paradox. Unfortunately there was no dedicated dj for the evening and this didn’t help warm up the atmosphere during the two hours that we had been waiting for the band to appear on stage.


Art is nourishment. You can’t nourish everything…So you have to be careful what you turn into art and what you want to consume… (extract from an interview given by Blixa Bargeld to Andrew Lloyd Hughes)
The massive, original and specially made for ‘Lament’, sound constructions, had already taken their places on stage and have dominated the space and our interest before the live had begun. Einstürze9smallnde Neubauten respected fully the announced stage times and took their positions behind these sound constructions at 9pm. All the stage lights opened, the song ‘Kriegsmaschinerie’ started and Blixa Bargeld held in front of us, the first of the 25 in total, boards which read ‘War does not break out and it is never caught or chained…’ . The ritualistic presentation of boards lasted for the whole duration of this song while Alexander Hacke with Andrew Unruh were transferring massive metallic elements which they put together on a metallic basis . Towards the end of this song they moved with dexterity big and heavy chains and in this way they produced sounds that could be described as those heard in a weapons’ factory . Everything that was written on the boards could be interpreted as a clear antiwar 6smallstatement and a philosophical aphorism of war . ‘Hymnen’ that followed, is a cover version of the common music theme between the monarchy hymns of England and Germany (1871-1918). This is the theme of ‘God Save The Queen’ that can still be heard in celebrations of the monarchy today. This song is being sung in different languages which change every two verses and its purpose is to express a critique of the European monarchies. The audience applauded at the end of this song and Blixa Bargeld, being serious and saturnine asked ‘Are you sure you want to applaud this song?’ 5smallAs if our initial numbness wasn’t enough, once we heard this caustic remark, of course nobody from the audience replied (and how could anybody say anything to such an apposite comment by Blixa Bargeld ?). Did this mean that this live gig would be far from a conventional performance?

Sound constructions bearing architectural symbolisms

 The setlist is the same throughout the ‘Lament’ tour and the band doesn’t leave any room for requests or for losing our attention to what is happening on stage. Blixa Bargeld was a great 14smallnarrator as he explained each song and the role of the sound constructions, whenever it was important or significant,. For the song ‘Der 1. Weltkrieg (percussion version)’ the band used a huge construction made of connected plastic pipes. Each of them represented one of the countries that participated in WWI. Each pipe had a sticker bearing the colours of the flag of the country that it represented on it. As Blixa Bargeld explained, this song was a sort of musical timeline that reflected the order in which the various countries entered the war, beginning with America (28/7/14) and ending with Greece (26/6/17). Some of these pipes were connected in groups and this represented the colonial forces along with their colonies and the other dependencies that were created. The tone of this song, as was the case for most of 17smallthe songs of ‘Lament’, was narrative and the name of each country was being told in a critical tone. By representing each day of war with a beat, Neubauten were playing 120 beats per minute in 4/4 rhythm so as to cover the whole duration of WWI. The performance was organized to the last detail and the only thing that interrupted its flow was the very useful and important clarifications provided by Blixa Bargeld. During the two hours that the gig lasted I was thinking whether I would think about WWI or any war, if I didn’t know anything about ‘Lament’ ‘s subject. I wouldn’t probably make the connections and many parts would seem either incomprehensible or part of the resourcefulness of Neubauten.

The songs ‘On patrol in No Man’s Land’ (sung by Alexander Hacke), ‘All of No Man’s Land Is Ours’ were written having as a starting point one of the two major discoveries made by the researchers working with the band for ‘Lament’. It’s about Harlem Hellfighters who were the first all black regiment consisting of African American, and African Puerto Rican soldiers who served on the 369th Infantry R11smallegiment or else the 15th New York National Guard. They were one of the first and most famous army bands and therefore they were relied upon in order to boost the soldiers’ morale . Both these songs were based on the recordings made by Harlem Hellfighters. It has been considered that the Harlem Hellfighters introduced the British and the French to jazz music which was unknown to them up to that point. Specifically the song ‘On patrol in no man’s land’ was written in the trenches and it aims at representing through words, some of the sounds that were heard during a battle. For instance, the sounds of guns were represented by treating the traps that were used by soldiers, as an early version of drums. The song ‘All Of No Man’s Land Is Ours’ with which Neubauten finished the basic part of their live concert, is a song whose lyrics make everyone shiver. It is the song that Harlem Hellfighters were singing while returning in New York from the war shouting: ‘All of No Man’s Land is Ours, dear, now I have come back home to you, my honey true…’. Even though these soldiers have fought for their country and they expected this act, to lessen the racism they had to face or even make it disappear, sadly this never happened even though these soldiers were exalted in the streets of Harlem.

Through these two songs, together with ‘Lament’, ‘How Did I Die’, the older ‘Let’s Do It A Da Da’ and the cover of Marlene Dietrich’s song ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ Neubauten created an amazing atmosphere leaving everyone in the audience speec12smallhless. It was such a great feeling of completeness that traversed everyone that we turned to each other, complete strangers, just to admit that the music and the performance was just beautiful!

The second discovery that was made by the researchers that collaborated with Neubauten for ‘Lament’ was, the recordings that were made during WWI using wax cylinders and Edison microphones. During this war, scientists expressed an interest from a linguistics, phonetics and sonic point of view on what concerns the pronunciation of words from people of various ethnicities. Musicologists and linguists visited the prisoners of war detention camps on German soil and by using wax cylinders they asked British prisoners of war and colonial troops, to say a poem or a text in their native language. In the case where a prisoner didn’t know any text, they were asked to say in the microphone the story of the Prodigal Son from the New Testament. This story was chosen based on the fact that the New Testament had already been translated in various languages and scientists assumed that everybody would know the story of the Prodigal Son. The aim was to record the different ways of pronunciation in order to enrich the already established audio archives in libraries (the first of these was created by Wilhelm Doegen in Brussels in 1910). It has been considered that the study of the pronunciation of words would facilitate the teaching of these languages. It was a surprise for scientists and Neubauten, to realize that all these recordings and the wax cylinders have been preserved and the band found a way to include these on the third and final part of the song ‘Lament’ which is called ‘Pater Peccavi’. This title is the same used for an octet song of the Renaissance period, which was written by Clemens non Papa in 1630. Neubau26ten have revisited this song and created a version for string instruments . The tomb of Clemens non Papa is found in the Flemish town called Diskmuide which was the town where WWI started. Einstürzende Neubauten chose this town for the beginning of ‘Lament’ tour. During the live performance of this song, Blixa Bargeld, Alexander Hacke and Rudi Moser were holding in front of the stage miniscule (5x5cm) cubic speakers from which we could hear the authentic recordings of the prisoners of war! According to a recent interview given by Blixa Bargeld, these recordings have been approached as fragile items, with nothing but respect for the victims of war. As Blixa states, the use of these recordings in the song was not made for impression purposes nor do they require any proof of authenticity.

The a capella performance of the cover of Marlene Dietrich’s song ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ was part of the encore and Blixa Bargeld appeared on stage wearing a white sort of cape that seemed as if it was made from foam . With the stage lighting h21ighlighting only his figure, he obtained supernatural dimensions. Marlene Dietrich had openly and clearly expressed her anti Nazi views by participating in the American army that fought the Germans. This choice of hers was considered as treason. Neubauten have included this song in the album and the tour, as a way of expressing their own point of view. According to the band, WWII was a natural consequence of WWI and everyone that still considers Dietrich to be a traitor in Germany, proves that this war is still ongoing today. In my opinion Neubauten’s idea about the continuation of WWI into WWII and Dietrich’s case, is not so clear and the positioning of this song in the album blurs further the matter.

The energy of the audience was increasing by the minute and it exploded during the older song ‘Let’s Do It A Da Da’. This was the only older song that was included in the setlist because the band considered it to have common elements with the rest of this album. The performance of ‘Willy Nicky Telegrams’ was also an interesting moment during this concert. This song is the musical representation of the communication via telegrams, between Kaiser (Willy) and tsar Nicholas of Russia (Nicky). The nicknames at the song’s title, work as a critique towards everything that these two monarchs represented. Alexander Hacke played the role of ‘Nicky’, while Blixa Bargeld the one of ‘Willy’ while Andrew Unruh was playing percussion in Mors code! I couldn’t help but think that if Blixa Bargeld hadn’t explained the details of this song, our minds wouldn’t think that this song was about Kaiser and tsar Nicholas. For the song ‘In De Loopgraaf’ the band had created another massive construction consisting of a pipe which was fixed on a wooden basis using 5 rows of barbed wire that symbolized the traumatic aspect of a battle. To everybody’s surprise, Andrew Unruh was playing these wires as if they were the keys of a xylophone. One of the most emotional moments of this live was the part where Alexander Hacke walked on stage using a ‘musical’ crutch! At its end there was some sort of miniature speaker that made a muffled sound at each step. The purpose of this cust1smallom made ‘instrument’ was to symbolize the victims of war. Its use didn’t end there, as Neubauten had attached a chord between the two long wooden elements of the crutch and using a saw-like element as a fiddle stick, they produced sounds from it!

I can’t possibly know if everyone has left from Koko as puzzled as I was from this live. I can’t even know whether everyone appreciated as much as myself, all the information that Neubauten provided with such a creative way. I liked and enjoyed what I saw very much and mostly I appreciated the responsible and authentic way with which Neubauten have approached the subject of WWI. The choice of those aspects of a subject that need highlighting is neither an easy nor a simple procedure. It was important to stress the aspects of WWI which had a musical/sonic interest. What I will keep from this performance is the exceptional forms that Neubauten gave to the victims of war as they ‘presented’ them at times as tormented ghosts of the past that can’t find peace oscillating between two worlds (‘How Did I Die’) and at other times as haunted figures captured within objects (i.e. ‘music’ crutch in ‘In De Loopgraaf’)

You can see more photos from this gig by following this link: http://blaue-rosen.com/category/photos-from-gigs/

Blaue Rosen box

Spread the word by sharing this