Viennese artist and musician CONNY FRISCHAUF released her debut album “Die Drift”: Ten pieces jingle along the pop trail, spin around in language loops and move into the limelight on the German label BUREAU B without actually doing so. Dialectical sloppiness embraces personal integrity, love for old things is integrated in the new. CONNY FRISCHAUF spoke with Christoph Benkeser about real drifting in the wrong life, rotating roulettes of thought and the right kind of dialogue.
We are meeting for a walk in Schönbrunn. Why here?
Conny Frischauf: Walking is good for oneself. Besides, we are meeting outside. It’s not easy to find something spacious in the city center where you can have some peace and quiet. But it’s possible in Schönbrunn.
I was here for a guided tour after the first lockdown. The only thing that stuck in my mind was the story about tea butter.
Conny Frischauf: What story?
Why tea butter is called tea butter.
Conny Frischauf: Because … it was served with tea?
Because it comes from Teschen Archduke Butter. But that’s just a side thought, because butter, I must admit, is a terrible metaphor for your album: “Die Drift” is a wonderful way to slide into the new year. But those were certainly not your thoughts.
Conny Frischauf: I’ve been dealing with water and wind a lot over the last year. The drift is an exciting moment that happens when wind meets water, creating new movements on the surface of the water. It’s a coming together of elements in which new shapes are being created.
In which situations have you dealt with this?
Conny Frischauf: Among other things, I was in Marseille last summer, where I recorded ambient sounds for a short experimental film. I set the film to music with these recordings and other sounds that were created in Vienna. But dealing with water itself was ever-present all of last year, in my artistic visual works too and in dealing with this element on a theoretical level.
What is exciting about water?
Conny Frischauf: Water has its own visible materiality and takes on the forms of the bodies that surround it. Many other thoughts play into this, which would take us too far here.
Feel free to take your time.
Conny Frischauf: When you go into water as a human being, the water adapts itself to this body – and also to all other bodies that are in the water. It’s not only exciting how water behaves because of geological conditions, but also how it is embedded in different socio-cultural practices.
What do you mean by that?
Conny Frischauf: How water has changed in people’s perceptions. How it is used in everyday life and which different practices have emerged over time.
Which kind of changes?
Conny Frischauf: That water purifies, is an important medical finding, for example. This is accompanied by a kind of hygiene measure in society – and the emergence of early forms of wellness. Spas emerged and water became more and more synonymous with recovery and health. However, not every person had access to it, because it was reserved only for certain social classes. While this has improved significantly, access to water, in general, is still not possible for many people, which has social and political consequences. Not to mention the ecological damage that is caused by that. Meanwhile, it’s also clear that this resource will eventually be exhausted.
How do you apply the aesthetics of water to your artistic work?
Conny Frischauf: There’s an examination because different contents fascinate me about it. But I can’t simply translate it into my work, because there’s no concrete conceptual approach. In my dealing with it, it becomes part of my work and of what results from it. You think differently about certain things or reach new perspectives.
You also mentioned wind earlier. What perspectives arise from it?
Conny Frischauf: As a general topic and in combination with water, although I haven’t dealt with wind in the same substantial and theoretical way as with water.
Which kind of theoretical examination does wind require?
Conny Frischauf: One moves from one subject to another. I read something, move somewhere, look at something new – it’s a spiral of things that emerges in which you can drift, if you let yourself become involved.
Like drifting on waves.
Conny Frischauf: Yes, the drift has to do with drifting too, it’s not just the wind moving on the surface of the water, it also has to do with driftwood and its movements. It is everything and nothing, because it’s always both at the same time anyway.
“I LIKE GIVING THINGS THEIR SPACE”
Yet, with “Die Drift” you are taking a direction in which pop isn’t simply standing embarrassed in a corner, but is busily hopping along.
Conny Frischauf: I’m not thinking about what it is, what it ain’t or what it could be. It’s there somehow and that’s OK. Pop can be on board too just as the more awkward stuff.
Your approach to pop is different from the overloaded approach to pop aesthetics in general.
Conny Frischauf: What do you mean by overloaded?
Overloaded in the sense of overproduced and maximalized. With you it’s the opposite: pared down and approachable.
Conny Frischauf: Yes, maybe. Overproduced, loudness, a lot of elements – that never was my claim when working with sound.
In your music I see a sequentiality rather than a simultaneity. This can also be seen at your concerts where you have a lot of equipment in front of you, are playing live and can only do a limited amount of things at the same time.
Conny Frischauf: I didn’t use midi for a long time, but now I’m using it occasionally. However, I have to say that working in the studio and playing live require two different approaches. The limitation has a bigger role live. When I play concerts I have to think about what I can carry. At the same time, I like giving things their space. To pull myself out of the constant moment of having to deliver and thereby not to fulfil expectations of abundance. This creates space – for people to listen; for sounds that I’m creating and for a way of performing in which I can take my own time. For me, this is something necessary in my music.
And it works like in a jam-session?
Conny Frischauf: I am using the MPC as my main instrument, from which I can call up samples and rhythms. However, I don’t have stored songs that I play, but sequences that repeat themselves and that I can change at the same time. This gives me improvisational space, which allows the songs to keep changing as well.
How important is this improvisational space in your artistic work? You are also studying at the University of Applied Arts …
Conny Frischauf: I’m studying for my master’s degree in the interdisciplinary class Transarts.
Does your music play a role there?
Conny Frischauf: No, not at all.
Let me try another perspective: The way you are dealing with text in your music has something of its own, almost Jandl-like.
Conny Frischauf: On the first record that came out four years ago, there was only one piece which I sang in English. At some point more lyrics showed up and German lyrics were added. But I was already working with lyrics before my solo releases. Yet, on “Die Drift”, dealing with and within language has become more intense.
A more intensive examination of language on your part also means that there is more to decipher on the recipient’s side, because not everything is that clear.
Conny Frischauf: No, not at all. Nothing is clear, is it?
Yes, it starts with titles like “Parapiri”, runs through lyric passages like “What if it’s true – or longer or shorter” and ends in beautiful images like “Gedankenroulette”.
Conny Frischauf: With “Roulette” I first produced the song and then exactly what I’m saying in the piece happened to me. It was there the whole time, moving back and forth, and it got totally on my nerves.
Are you a person that is more often subjected to roulettes of thought?
Conny Frischauf: I don’t know about the roulettes of other people, but it certainly comes alive often in me. It should and may do so, that’s what happens automatically when you’re dealing with things.
How do you deal with it? Suppression or affirmation?
Conny Frischauf: When it’s there, it bugs me. When it’s gone, I don’t think about it. But I’m not trying to suppress it. Things should come as they come, because they have something energetic about them and can create inspiration for something new. That’s why I’m not cursing them when they are here.
Only when going to sleep a roulette of thought is unfavorable.
Conny Frischauf: If you don’t have to get up early, you can see it quite soberly as an intermediate use of a time of day.
That’s not at all that easy when you are – even involuntarily – part of an achievement-oriented society.
Conny Frischauf: Yes, that makes it difficult to put into perspective what is important or unimportant for you – precisely because the outside dictates how you have to behave. But I believe that you can manage to pull yourself out of it a bit and deal with it in a more relaxed way.
Maybe with “The Drift”.
Conny Frischauf: Well, I don’t know – maybe with it you can’t sleep anymore because you think it sucks so much and it upsets you so much.
But it’s difficult to disapprove of the record, because …
Conny Frischauf: But there’s the possibility to do so! That’s the beauty of it.
The most difficult thing about “Die Drift” is to think it’s a bad record. At the same time, this circumstance turns it into a target for an attack.
Conny Frischauf: Do you find it pleasing?
There’s something pleasing about it, especially because of the herbaceous elements.
Conny Frischauf: Yes, that’s what you are hearing.
Maybe I’m calling it that, but the atmospherical parts inspired me to do so.
Conny Frischauf: This mood varies, but I can’t control it. Maybe in some moments, there was a different urgency that surrounded me. The album was made in parts during the first lockdown and in parts before. But I don’t think it made a difference.
“Die Drift” will be released on the German label Bureau B, a meeting-place of the music-scene where artists like Neuzeitliche Bodenbeläge, Kreidler and Andreas Spechtl are releasing their music.
Conny Frischauf: That came about without much excitement. Bureau B asked me if I wanted to record a song for a label compilation. After that, an eventual collaboration was discussed, specifically the question of whether I could imagine releasing an album, which I thought about and then thought I really could do.
Personal integrity wins over artistic sell-out.
Conny Frischauf: Yes, for me such decisions have nothing to do with the size or reputation of the label. I have to be able to identify with the people, the label, the collaboration.
Speaking of identification: The cover is a composition of its own that draws a parallel to your music.
Conny Frischauf: The graphic design and the drawings are by Anna Weisser. I find the subtlety of the materiality exciting. How do the forms relate to each other, what kind of dynamics are they developing? I can’t describe exactly what it is in the drawing, it’s a feeling that’s there.
For me it expresses a playfulness that you are continuing on the album. For me, it triggered something from early childhood.
Conny Frischauf: Something from early childhood?
A feeling as if I were stacking toy blocks on top of each other.
Conny Frischauf: Someone once said about my music that it goes into the direction of nursery rhymes. I never thought about that before. But when someone gives it a name, it becomes a form.
Your music would also go down well in kindergarden – and I don’t mean that to be a denigration.
Conny Frischauf: I would even call that an appreciation. If it’s not just about a so-called target group or niche, that’s nice. I’m not thinking about that anyway. But it doesn’t hurt if the music is as open and accessible as possible.
An accessibility that also shows in the use of synthesizers. You worked for a few years in a store for …
Conny Frischauf: I worked for four years at Wavemeister and then another four years at Elektroakustik Wagner. I was lucky enough to learn a lot of things there that I don’t want to miss. Buying old stuff and trying out new things with it is fun for me.
You are using old instruments in a new way. Have you ever turned the approach around and worked with plug-ins?
Conny Frischauf: Years ago I did a course on Ableton Live at university. I’m also using the software for recording, but I’m not composing with it. At least until now, because I like working with the equipment. Besides, one is looking at the screen far too much anyway.
That’s in line with the trend that’s reflected in the synthesizer market since today many old devices are being reintroduced.
Conny Frischauf: I think that’s great because it makes them affordable for everyone. After all, the so-called vintage gear sector includes great instruments that hardly anyone could afford before. If it’s possible to create certain sounds for which you only have to spend 150 instead of 3000 euros, that’s the right trend. Of course, the instruments sound different and not identical to those built 40 years ago. The question is who can hear these differences.
Which raises the question of how people are listening to music today.
Conny Frischauf: Yes, of course. Nevertheless, I’m producing in such a way that I feel sonically comfortable. For “Die Drift” I worked with Sam Irl, who co-produced, mixed and mastered the album. I know he has a feel for the music I make, that’s why it was a nice fluid affair.
Unlike your social media presence. That doesn’t exist at all.
Conny Frischauf: That’s a conscious decision. I used Instagram until a few months ago and gave up Facebook years ago. It’s not my meeting zone, not a place that’s suitable for me and my way of working.
What is impeding it?
Conny Frischauf: Social media impose a short-term nature of things that extends to the levels of communication and brings about an abundance of information. One is tempted to absorb a lot of information in a very small amount of time – which in turn is only present for a limited time. This is not my approach.
A short-term nature of things is created that turns into a compulsion when the expectation of constant accessibility is in the foreground.
Conny Frischauf: For many artists, there’s a pressure to participate, to be present there, to be noticed. I see it quite differently, but I can only decide for myself.
However, it’s hard to deny the presence of an economy of hyper-personalization, in which it’s not the work that matters, but the presentation of oneself through one’s work.
Conny Frischauf: This form of individuality and the question of representation serve economic interests on social media. For a while, I thought it depended on how you used them, but I discarded that thought because they demand a certain kind of usage. Social media are like templates that dictate certain formats and forms, and thus simultaneously limit what you can do. Information is coded to allow further movement within categories so that statistics can be executed in a better way. Take the issue of political commitment via social media as an example. I often feel that it’s far too much short-term, doesn’t resonate, and that it would be much better if we would engage in dialogic exchange. Of course, it can be important to address certain things and share them with many people. But what is the point? Is it about representation again? Or actual commitment?
The short-term nature of things brings about the impossibility of sustainability.
Conny Frischauf: For me, it’s more important to enter into a dialogue, for example, to talk about it during a walk in Schönbrunn. But now it’s starting to rain again. Maybe we’ll do that another time.
Thank you very much for the interview!
Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld.