Oliver Clasper secures an interview with the notoriously elusive electro duo ahead of Clockenflap.
According to their Wikipedia page, the members of electro duo Dopplereffekt have conducted just one interview since their current incarnation came into being fifteen years ago, and that was with the eminent British magazine The Wire. And so it was with some trepidation that Oliver Clasper contacted them ahead of their performance at Clockenflap. Surprisingly, they agreed, but not without conditions. They flatly ignored some of the more revealing questions about genre or identity (they seldom show their faces, especially on stage), while Herr Müeller aka Gerald Donald’s participation in the legendary Detroit electro-techno group Drexciya went largely unresolved. Instead, Müeller and his partner To-Nhan discussed their unique approach to art and performance, their connection to machines, and the future of mankind.
BOOM: It’s likely that the majority of the crowd at Hong Kong’s Clockenflap festival won’t have heard of you, and even among the more musically aware your project is one that has remained clandestine, both consciously and unconsciously. You also have a rich back catalogue of full-length releases, E.P.s, and singles dating back almost two decades, but the performance aspect remains an integral part of your identity as artists. For the uninitiated, how would you describe your set up and any creative or sensory intentions you have for the live show?
Müeller: The performance aspect can be seen as sort of a user interface between concept and representation of these concepts in three dimensions. Vision and sound serving as a holistic entity for concepts.
B: In the past you have both come to recognise a simultaneous connection/disconnection paradox between man and machine. Whereas many artists have intentionally sought to channel or explore the future or other realms beyond the immediate present, by achieving some sort of symbiosis with it/them, you have stated that you are merely the facilitators of the machine’s abilities: ‘When one interacts with the technology, the technology is independent and the human element simply produces small adjustments/additional input in this sequence of events. The entire process is automation with human supervision in essence.’ In the near future where man and machine will fuse, merge, and combine beyond the addition of individual parts, what effect, if any, will this have on your music production and live performances?
M: The musical , creative process, based on current technical developments, will most likely be prone to utilize psychological and electromagnetic energy for its creation and control. More emphasis may be placed on less tactile interaction as opposed to a mind–to–technology interface or remote control of sound parameters at a certain distance.
B: Electronic music has long been the realm of the instrumental, and beyond a few phrases or looped samples in your work it is predominantly without vocals. Given that you are both fascinated with various topics and issues – from space and globalization to scientific research and the properties of water – how do you feel you can get any message across through the use of sound, melody, and texture alone? Is this when it comes down to the individual listener to interpret the elements as they like or are able, or is it important to make more explicit statements in your work? I’m also referencing some of the artwork you have used for your releases that often invokes historical movements, ideas, and ideologies, some of which could be deemed controversial?
M: Sound itself can represent materials, atomic structure and natural phenomenon. When these sounds are combined as one sonic unit, a universe is thus formed. However, the observer must ultimately draw his own interpretation of what he/she is experiencing sonically.
To-Nhan: I appreciate living in a democracy: being able to express my opinion, vote, and practice my religion freely. I do believe that democracy is the best political system. Especially here in Germany, you can live a good life. It’s a high standard of living.
B: I recently read Alvin Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’ from 1970, and in it he talks about the over-stimulation of the modern world. When I saw you play live at Bloc in the UK in 2011, I was struck by how still and measured your performance was, especially given the intensity of sound being produced. Is that a conscious choice as a way of letting the music do all the work so that people’s attentions aren’t taken by anything flashy or distracting?
M: The concept is the primary focal point of the observer. This is why he is present at the event. Personality is not a key issue in this environment, nor should it be. We are not here to entertain but to convey technical and scientific concepts through the media of electronic sound and visuals.
B: You both appear comfortable with the notion of working and creating art regardless of commercial or critical success. It’s ‘art for art’s sake’. As the years have gone by has this become easier or harder to live with, especially since the rise of the superstar DJ, who whether you like it or not works within the same field as you (to a relative degree)? I imagine when you were younger or just starting out you may have been more vocal about ‘the industry’, whereas now you’re content with yourselves as well as your place in the ‘system’. Or perhaps you don’t see it in such black and white terms.
M: This is a serious modern problem: to separate genuine artistic visions from economic and commercial concerns. The best solution for this is to have these situations run parallel, for if they merge they become detrimental to the maintenance of isolation from this force field. The music industry is not about the progression of music but more about commodification of this form: to dilute its power, narrow its range and ultimately exploit it for the service of mammon.
B: It would be too easy to presume that one of the messages derived from your work (both the music and the overall identities you have created and maintained) is that you are concerned about the direction we are headed, and have long been pessimistic about man’s achievements or intentions, even going so far as to feel that man is a parasite. I don’t presume that either of you have a crystal ball, but are you at least more hopeful than this about our place in the world, as well as the future? After all, the very machines we take pleasure from, utilise for art, and use as ‘necessary evils’ in our day-to-day lives, were created by man.
M: Required evil is unfortunate. But even beyond that, there may be self-imposed evils just to satisfy our own insatiable material and pleasure demands. Man is retrogressive in many aspects of his existence, namely social. War, famine, discrimination, etc. still exist in our world. So I do not see a very bright future for mankind at this point, there is much work needed to be done and more evolutionary stages have to be fulfilled.
T: Everyone can contribute to make this world a better place even if it is only a very small contribution. Buy organic food, support farmers in third world countries by buying their produce, reduce your meat consumption, become a vegetarian or vegan. Try to live a healthy life. Give your children and family the attention and love they require.