The Klagenfurt-born singer, composer, performer and musician ANNA ANDERLUH moves skillfully between jazz and literature, music theater and performance, experimental and new music. A large part takes place in the improvised realm, also the unfinished is included. As a performer she is interested in the sung and spoken word. In her projects she enjoys making connections with other musicians. While still a student, she co-founded the Dada music theater HANS with flutist Helgard Saminger. In 2017 she received the annual scholarship of the province of Carinthia for music and performing arts which enabled her to deal more intensively with acting in addition to music after her studies. She participated in several interdisciplinary and theater projects, such as being a choir member in the Burgtheater in the production “Antigone”, as an actress in “Das Schloss – nach Franz Kafka” and as a singer and actress in the Vaginas im Dirndl, among others.
Currently, she is a member of the ensemble Einfache Einfahrt, the 13-member band collective Little Rosies Kindergarten and the Porgy & Bess Stage Band 2021/22. She plays in various constellations with the blues guitarist and songwriter Alex Miksch, in a duo with the pianist Verena Zeiner and in the quartet Squamata with Judith Schwarz, Lisa Hofmaninger and Matteo Haitzmann. She is the founder of the vocal ensemble Hals – freefall a-capella, as well as a singer with Christoph Cech‘s Jazz Orchestra, and a regular collaborator with accordionist Stefan Sterzinger. In 2019, she joined Verena Zeiner, Sara Zlanabitnig and Milly Groz on the leadership team of the association Fraufeld – for making female musicians visible in the fields of contemporary, progressive composition and improvisation. In 2020, she received the BMUKK “Startstipendium” for her musicianship. In 2021 she will be releasing her first solo album “Leave Me Something Stupid”. It combines performative and poetic moments with socio-critical content. Michael Franz Woels asked the artist questions about the beautiful, small things, songs in the making, and potential areas of longing.
Why did you release the songs collected on “Leave Me Something Stupid” under your own name and not include them in your countless collaborative projects?
Anna Anderluh: I didn’t dare to perform solo for a long time. For me, music has a lot to do with communication. Making music just for myself, one day I realized that I was playing with the music itself as if it were someone else, and that the instruments had their own will and were responding to me as well. That’s how some songs came into being, but I never thought they would leave the living room. Finally, it was then that my colleague, Stefan Sterzinger, called me one day, with approximately these few resounding words: “You need a solo project. Concert date is in April 2019 in the Sargfabrik”. And then there was no turning back.
Your “signature sound”, with which you often accompany yourself, comes from a self-modified autoharp, an American box zither. How did you land upon this instrument?
Anna Anderluh: The first time I heard about the autoharp was through a friend who is a big PJ Harvey fan. She was excited about it and at the time I just thought to myself, “What a stupid instrument. This is something for people who can’t find the chords themselves”. A few years later I encountered the autoharp again in a rehearsal with Alex Miksch. He took it out of a dusty corner and lent it to me to experiment with. That’s when I fell in love with the sound. Nevertheless, I did not want to accept its harmonic limitations. So I started looking for models that expand the chord possibilities on the autoharp.
The usual system with the autoharp is: Press a button per chord, which dampens the strings via felts. You have a maximum of 21 chords at your disposal. With extensions you combine two or more buttons and have more possibilities. Most autoharpists are quite purists and strictly against any modification of the instrument: “You are taking away the “auto” of the autoharp”. Finally I decided to use a system called “Prizim Zither” and cut the felts accordingly. However, I am already on the lookout for something new.
Some of the pieces still have the self-explanatory title “improvization”. All the other songs, after all, originated from private improvizations. You like to try to keep them in an intermediate stage, as you call it. What do you appreciate about the open-ended nature of your song designs?
Anna Anderluh: I never want to have the feeling that now a song is finished. That leads to the solidification of the songs. No matter how old they are, the songs should always feel like something is being created at this moment. While I was preparing to record in the studio, I would often pull out the cell phone recordings and listen to the very first version of the songs. At that stage, they’re still between improvisation and composition, often just using fantasy language. There’s a very specific energy there in which everything is still open. I want to preserve this openness. But it’s also not about keeping these songs in this in-between stage – that would also be another solidification. They can and must continue to develop structurally. Of course, a recording is always a preservation, but it makes a difference whether it was recorded energetically or not.
You describe your pieces as “pop with a rift”. When I think of pop, I think of flashy, beat-heavy and thereby danceable, emotional consolidations …
Anna Anderluh: Maybe it’s more like a rift with pop. (laughs) I think that’s one side of pop music. The Beatles are also pop and don’t fit that description.
With the FIRST LOCKDOWN, I HOPED THAT THE SHUTDOWN OF THE CULTURE INDUSTRY WOULD ALSO LEAD TO THE DisCONTINUATION OF THE SELF-PROMOTION HELL which occurs in MY BUBBLE.
In your video “Let Go” you execute a radical form of Digital Detox. First, you douse your cell phone with a broth of earth, and then the small, time-consuming all-purpose device is rudely chopped up. How else do you keep control over your screen time apart from this delicate form of destruction? How do you escape the social compulsion of digital?
Anna Anderluh: Not at all (laughs). Even though I have rules for myself, like banning cell phones in the bedroom or days when I hide the thing in a drawer and am not allowed to take it out. I still live in a time that is shaped by smartphones and social media and experience their effects. I’m not just concerned with my own use of it, but rather what the misuse of this technology is doing to our society. I also deliberately say “misuse of this technology” because I am generally a proponent of technological progress and my problem with it is rather that a per se useful device has been turned into an addictive, sickening mini-gambling machine, only for it to sell even more unnecessary junk.
In the case of “Let Go”, however, the cell phone hacking had another background as well. It’s been bothering me for a long time that I have to follow a market logic that I criticize in my music, so that my music can be heard in any form at all. This is an inner conflict for me. During the first lockdown, I hoped that the stagnation of the cultural industry would also lead to the halting of the self-promotion hell in my bubble, and that this would initiate a rethinking. Instead, that pressure has only intensified on social media. No one wanted to be out of the picture or left behind after the pandemic, and I don’t exclude myself. I neoliberally marketed my frustration about this with this video (laughs).
You are attracted to physiological work with the voice, even apart from aesthetic considerations. What aspects of vocal experimentation are exciting for you right now?
Anna Anderluh: I have to say, what feels physiologically good is usually also very aesthetic, even if not oriented to an external aesthetic ideal. I trained in Germany at the Lichtenberg Institute for Applied Voice Physiology. That was very fascinating and formative for me and opened up a new world for me. I have several anatomy atlases at home, including a photographic one. I’m just interested in how it all works and how the body sounds and behaves under different conditions. I make contact with it through singing. It’s exciting to ask questions of the tissue or organ itself and never think you already know the answer. The sound and the body must dig their own tunnels to each other.
In cognitive science we talk about embodied cognition – the theory of a mental representation of the interaction of motor, sensory and cognitive systems. Besides autoharp and piano, you also play with “beautiful little things” on your solo album. Which ones did you choose for this, what meaning do they have in relation to thought and improvisation processes?
Anna Anderluh: I choose the little things primarily for their sound quality. Do you know ASMR? That’s where people record videos of sounds for hours. For example, they scratch on a sponge or rub their fingers together, or they whisper. When you hear it, you feel the sound creeping into your ear or you feel it all over your body. Sounds have the potential to be perceived sensorially, on the one hand because certain frequencies trigger physical states, and on the other hand because they are often not assigned to music – which is of course bullshit, but at the same time the great opportunity. This frees them even more from judgments and classification. As soon as the objects are visible on stage, very different associations come up with a plastic bag than with pine cones or a coffee pot. I also consciously play with that.
On the cover you are surrounded by leaves, there are also photos in which you protectively hold a root with a ball of earth in front of you or even fill your mouth cavity with earth and the roots protrude like manifested word-embranchments. What emotional or spiritual relationship do you have to plants, to the spirit and being, to the healing knowledge, to the “plant spirit” …?
Anna Anderluh: My relationship with nature has nothing to do with spirituality. Religious, man-made, interpretations of nature often place it either under man – along the lines of “subdue the earth” or in the form of gods or a spirit. Both give the appearance that we are separate from nature. This makes no sense to me, but much more the fact that we humans are also only biological living beings who have to find our way and arrange ourselves in a critical position.
MANY PREJUDICES OR INJUSTICES I DIDN’T EVEN PERCEIVE AS SUCH BEFORE.
Anna Anderluh: This week, the recording days for the 3rd compilation “Fraufeld Vol.3.” With “Vol. 2.” I was also already part of Fraufeld and I ask myself every time: “Why did I not know these musicians before?” And there are so many more who also deserve more visibility. We would like to contribute our part to that. The discussions among the team are also important. I’ve noticed what it changes in me. Before, I didn’t even perceive many prejudices or injustices as such because they were so normal for me. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way, even though awareness of this issue has increased significantly.
As the closing song, you cover Neil Young. A romantic love song to close the collection. What other songs do you like to cover at the moment?
Anna Anderluh: Actually, this is more of an encore than the conclusion of my song collection. It has developed at concerts in such a way that I have played this song over and over again. It seems you can stop time with it. So it was also clear to me that it would find a place on the album. Apart from that, I rarely cover songs.
HOW COULD WE MAKE OUR LIVES MORE SUSTAINABLE AND BENEFIT FROM IT?
The song “124 1827” ironically describes vacation consumerist behavior. To which country would you like to travel right now? Is there something like a place of longing?
Anna Anderluh: That’s a totally funny question for this song, and as understandable as it is paradoxical – you watch “We Feed the World” and afterwards think to yourself “hm, now I feel like getting some McDonalds”. In the same way, we get information about climate change paired with disaster scenarios and the first impulse is: “now hurry up and take that trip to Bali, because soon we won’t be able to.” If on one side is: “the world is ending” and on the other: “a place of longing”, then of course I have more desire for a place of longing. I love to travel, and I look forward to it when it’s possible again. But I also have a longing for positive visions for the future, where it is not a question of what we would have to do without. If we don’t, then terrible things await us. How could we make our lives more sustainable and benefit from it?
Thank you very much for the interview!
Michael Franz Woels
Translated from the German original version by Arianna Fleur
“Leave Me Something Stupid” was released on May 7, 2021 on Session Work Records.
21 May 2021 Album Release ORF Radiokulturhaus, Vienna
25 Jun. 2021 Rockhouse Salzburg
15 Jul. 2021 Donnerszenen Klagenfurt
15 Aug. 2021 Theaterfestival Litschau