Pradžia / Garsas / Sound

Neofolk gem ART ABSCONs: No one knows who I am. I am many, just like everybody else

Interview with Michael Tellbach (ART ABSCONs), creator of wonderful German Neofolk music (2017 07 21). This new album of ART ABSCONs “The Separate Republic” (2017) is one of the most wonderful pieces of Neofolk music. More about it and the band You can read on the bands webpage:

Mindaugas Peleckis
2017 m. Liepos 21 d., 14:24
Skaityta: 190 k.
Neofolk gem ART ABSCONs: No one knows who I am. I am many, just like everybody else

You support artists in a non-profit endeavour. How did it start? Why do you do it?

I must admit that this endeavour is just about to get started, so I have no idea if it will actually be successful or even feasible. It will depend on my business skills. Up until now, I was only an artist who had his music released and sold by others, and, with a few glorious exceptions (like Blind Prophet Records and Brave Mysteries), my experiences with music labels have been rather daunting. To me, releasing albums with ART ABSCONs has always meant losing a lot of money rather than earning any – the labels earned it for me. As so many other independent musicians, I always paid the entire music production costs and have only been able to afford this because I have a full-time office job, but this leaves very little time to work on music. The days in which independent labels could support their artists by covering the music production costs are clearly over. The internet era with its focus on digital music formats, easily accessible free downloads and music streams has made this impossible. If you want an independent label to release your album these days, you have to provide them with a completely finished product, and all the label will then do is cover the costs for the pressing. However, pressing CDs or vinyl records is no longer as expensive as it used to be, so the support you receive is actually not that impressive. Contracts hardly exist. Often there is only a verbal agreement that the artist will get a share of 10% to 15% of the total number of album copies. It depends on how much you can trust the people you are dealing with because you can never be certain if the figures are correct, and labels can easily press further copies without informing you when the first edition is sold out. There is no transparency whatsoever. If you ask how many copies have been sold, you will often hear things like “well, you know it is very hard to sell physical albums these days, sales are far from good as you may have guessed, sorry”. The number of copies you get is just about enough to hand out as gifts to friends and relatives while the labels keep on selling your album for years. If you want more copies, you have to buy them. People who buy your album will probably think they support you and that you will get royalties. But no such thing exists. Artists who are a lot more famous than I am will probably still enjoy different conditions, but I know that many musicians who play in the same league as me are very familiar with the situation I have described. You pay thousands of euros to produce an album, they pay a few hundred for the pressing, you get a handful of copies, and they get the money for the sales.

People seem to agree that artists do not need to earn any money because they have great fun recording their music while the moneymaking is for the people who do the serious business. I agree that working on music can be fun, but it is a sad fact that an artist who has neither the time nor the money to work on his art will never be an artist. This is why it took me five years to finish my forthcoming album, “The Separate Republic”. I do understand the interests of those labels. They want to survive, and they would not be able to do so if they would offer their artists better conditions. However, if this is the case, I think that their time is over.

I personally had reached a point where it became impossible to struggle on as an artist under such conditions. This is why I founded my own music label, Opus Abscondi. I found out how cheap it actually is to have your albums pressed and how easy it still is to sell records and CDs on the internet despite the constant lamentations of record labels about how difficult it has become these days. In the beginning, I had founded Opus Abscondi just to support my own interests. Later, however, it dawned on me that I could also use my experience, my music production skills, my studio equipment and, finally, the label, to support musicians I appreciate. I would like to do this by offering them conditions that are only possible by reducing my own profit to a minimum. The idea is that I pay the production costs of the albums I want to release and then keep the sales proceeds until my expenses are covered. All profits that come in after that will go to the artists. It is entirely up to them if they want to donate me something for my support and the work I invest into promoting their music. I want to profit from my music, but not from the music of others. I expect that the recognition of my own music and my label will benefit from my upfront interaction with other artists and that mutual promotion will help everyone benefit from each other’s reputation. Apart from that, I will guarantee artists full transparency regarding how many copies I produce and how many of them I sell. At this stage, of course, I cannot promise huge sales since Opus Abscondi is a new small label, still waiting for its first release, and I have little business experience. However, I can offer honesty, passion and my full personal dedication.

What and how many artists did You support? How?

Apart from just covering pressing costs, musicians can record and produce their music at my studio. Over the years, I have accumulated very good music production equipment and a lot of technical knowledge. So far, I have a short list of artists whom I want to produce and release in the future. The first one on this list is Misty Bywater. We are currently recording her debut album, which is a collection of psychedelic lullabies. We are about halfway through, and I guess we will be able to release the album in about two to three months from now. Misty is an extremely gifted composer, musician and poet who happens to also deliver mind-blowing drawings. She was initially an ART ABSCONs fan who presented me with some demo recordings of her music that completely flabbergasted me. As soon as I heard the first song, I knew that Misty’s music had to get out there and I felt it was my duty to make this possible. I am thoroughly enjoying the role as a music producer and am learning so much from it. Once her album is out, I will work out ways to promote it properly in close cooperation with Misty Bywater herself. This release will show if my business model is feasible. If it is, I will look forward to turning my attention to the other artists on my list, one by one, and I am sure this list will grow.

Tell more about Yourself. In what bands/projects did/do You play?

I have been playing in so many music projects over twenty-five years that I would forget half of them if I wanted to list them. Most people probably know me as Art Abscon. However, since I use a mask to incorporate this persona, hardly anyone is aware of the other projects I have been involved with. I have been hiding my various identities on purpose while briefly flashing others from time to time, such as Mika Chrome, the guitarist who occasionally plays with Norma Loy, Black Egg and Die Puppe from France. The mask has given me the perfect freedom to explore and combine many different music styles. If people do not know who you are, they will not know what to expect from you. This means you can surprise them over and over again. Before I became the Grandmaster Abscon, each of my projects would usually follow one particular music style. It was only when I started using the mask that I managed to merge all music styles together and began to widen my use of all kinds of sound sources and musical instruments. I think this is a very great privilege, which I only enjoy because of the mask.

Apart from the musical aspects, the mask has enabled me to play a very complex game of deception. I have used this game to explore questions such as “What is identity?”, “What is a person?” or “What is fiction and what reality? Where do they overlap?” or “What is inspiration? Where does it come from?” The Grandmaster Abscon can be many things: a genius malignus, my alter ego, a part of me, my invention, a spirit, a fictional character, an archetype or my higher and true self. People have often been wondering who the man behind the mask might be. And of course, he exists: it is me, Michael. However, when Michael first made his public appearance, he quickly turned out to be just as fictitious as the Grandmaster himself. Just as Art Abscon, Michael is nothing but an invention of myself; another mask behind the mask. Michael’s development as a separate character has been progressing over the years. The next step will be to provide him with his own music project. In contrast to ART ABSCONs, Michael’s music will not be as changeable and complex as Art’s music. Michael’s music will follow a clear line. He is more like the musician I was before ART ABSCONs, and I have already recorded enough songs to be able to release his debut album in a few months. His project will be called “Tellbach”, after my family name. But do not assume that Tellbach is me. No one knows who I am. I am many, just like everybody else.

What do You think about Sound Art? Is everything said already, or the Music is an evolution?

If everything was already said, I would not continue to explore the territory. As long as there are humans, music will be there to mirror their development and respond to their needs. Music’s evolution follows linear time and history, and even if it sometimes seems to repeat itself by referring back to previous epochs, it will no longer be the same and have evolved with time. For example, a band that now plays medieval folklore will hardly sound like anything that was heard during the Middle Ages. It will reflect today’s expectations.

On a strictly theoretical level I agree that music had reached its end and final dissolution in the early 20th century with Arnold Schönberg’s twelve-tone music. However, the circumstance that everything that came from it was practically unlistenable actually paved the way for the breakthrough of entertainment music. Since this kind of music mainly reached it listeners by means of recordings, the art of audio engineering and manipulation moved more and more into the focus. By and by, the many different ways in which the sound of instruments and voices could be processed and altered became virtually more important than the actual musical content – a development that reached its apex in the 1960s. Just listen to Joe Meek’s “I Hear a New World” and you will know what I mean. Entertainment music itself was again deconstructed and disintegrated, for example, in industrial music. And all of this continues, on so many different levels, in so many different ways.

With ART ABSCONs, I have tried to create a kaleidoscope that looks back into the history of music. This approach has made my sound unique. I have not yet tried all possible combinations. They are infinite.

What do You know about Lithuania and its music scenes?

I must admit that it is not a lot. Like Scandinavia, the Baltic States are rarely on the news in Germany and seem a bit out of this world from this perspective. Two friends of mine, however, told me stories of first-hand experiences with the Romuva movement which have aroused my curiosity.

And a few days ago, thanks to you, after reading one of your articles, I listened to OBŠRR, VILKDUJA and SEMĂNAT and am so impressed with these bands that I hope you will recommend me more Lithuanian music!

Certainly. Now, please, a blitzkrieg. Lustmord or Metallica? John Zorn or The Residents? Poccolus or Omega?

I remember that I got into Lustmord exactly at the time that Metallica's “Black Album” came out. Somehow, you will always stay the teenager you once were. Having listened to Lustmord and SPK at the age of sixteen, Metallica will always be chart music to me.

John Zorn or The Residents? All I can say is that many people who want to force me by hook or by crook into the neofolk niche think I stole the mask idea from Death in June. They are wrong. I stole it from The Residents. I remember seeing a Residents concert in the late 90s that blew my mind so dramatically that it henceforth became my one and only burning desire to be like them.

As for Poccolus and Omega, I haven't got a clue. I sang in a crust and grindcore band when I was nineteen. We grindpunks used to distance ourselves from black metal heads, ha ha ha ha. [Poccolus is a pagan black metal act from Lithuania, right, but Omega is an old hard rock band from Hungary, ha ha ha ha -]

Thank You. I feel we shall continue our talk. Let's give a hope to our dear readers.