WITH CLEMENS CHRISTIAN POETZSCH
During this interview, I change seats, place myself in front of another artist and ask him the questions I wish people asked me. Today, I speak to German composer Clemens Christian Poetzsch. The musician has just released The Soul of Things, a fantastic conceptual album, and expresses his views about music.
Clemens, tell us a little more about you. What have been the highlights of your career so far?
I started playing classical piano at the age of six and at the age of ten I was a bar pianist in restaurants in my hometown of Dresden. It did nott take long before I discovered my love for music — whether classical or jazz. I have played in many ensembles and bands, studied piano and then toured a lot. I have composed, arranged or recorded music for a wide variety of artists. It took a while until I started releasing my own music — I have waited for the right moment for the music to be ready. I think this is how I can sum up my life so far: by constantly dealing with music and in a wide variety of constellations, I have created my own voice — I discovered it to be between classical, electronic music and jazz. I have released four solo albums since 2016. There were many highlights, but if there is a career highlight, it is my new album The Soul of Things. I started writing this music when the pandemic started, and I think that in difficult times your own creative voice forms even more consistently; I have never been closer to my own vision of sound than I am now. And even without the opportunity to play concerts, I have got more love from my listeners than ever for an album.
Tell us about The Soul of Things, your latest solo project?
Usually I get my inspiration from the state of being on the move — places, encounters with people and experiences —, topics that are close to me. This is how my last albums came about. Last March, I went on a tour and then the pandemic started and all concerts were canceled; I was prepared for a longer period of time at home. No encounters, no being on the move, no other places. I started tidying up my apartment and sorting things out… In the process, I became aware again of things that I do not want to give away, that are around me.Some of them have been with me in everyday life for a long time and for particular reasons I do not exchange them for something else. Some of them, I just like to look at, others help me be creative. Some make me remember too. The album is about these things that you will not give away when sorting and tidying up because they have a special charisma. I then tried to find out for myself what constitutes this energy and special charisma and started writing music. On the cover of The Soul of Things you can find some of these special objects in a mixed-media installation by Lithuanian artist Jolita Vaitkute.
What is it like to be a musician — particularly a composer — in our modern times?
For me it always feels the same, I have never had enough of composing or wanted to do something different. I am a composer and pianist — the urge to write music is always the same. The COVID-19 times have not changed that either. Of course, these times are challenging and it has been very hard for artists to survive. Without culture, without sharing moments together, everything just becomes very calm and dreary. I am simply looking forward to the time to enjoy music with people again. And to spend time together… When it comes to the modern times and being a musician, a lot changes very quickly now; a lot of music is released through the fast release channels and there is more and more music available. The planet is literally flooded with music. On the one hand, the possibility of recording music yourself and releasing it quickly is a blessing — on the other hand, there is also pressure there to keep up with this rapid development. As a listener and creative, you quickly get used to such a pace. It feels more and more important to protect the music and the creative process, because you often cannot set the tempo. Ideas come by themselves, sometimes they take time — you can always hear how much love there is in certain compositions. Finding the space where the music sets the pace, where it naturally develops, is a challenge of modern times. But every time has its challenges for composers and performers, you just have to look at the biographies of Chopin or Mozart. And to be honest, I rarely worry about modern times and circumstances — if the times were different, I would write music as well. I just love it and it belongs to me.
You are therefore both a composer, and a performer. Tell us about the differences between both? How do set your mind to performing other people’s music too?
I always find it exciting when composers and performers are recognisable after just a few seconds — for example Chick Corea, Laura Masotto or Aukai. It has to do with a deep engagement with one's surroundings, the world and oneself. And of course how far you are willing to go in your music. There are so many aspects in music to explore, which then make up the big picture; harmonics, dynamics, phrasing, articulation, research on sounds, keeping an eye on tradition and the present. But that is what you do as a composer; similarly to a cook — to expand the range, refine it, add new spices to your portfolio, try out new mixtures. This work can be very lonely and tedious at times, but then also very fulfilling when you find what you are looking for. My motivation is to expand my music and my musical cosmos, to always learn, also from the musicians I play with. I am not interested in following a trend. But then I am still a fan and I am always looking for music that inspires me. Sometimes I find music and play it for myself at home. There are many great artists and you train your hearing in the overview of the many music that appears. How much depth, how much authenticity can you find in a piece of music? Is the musician close to himself, do the pieces function as separate worlds, do you hear the attitude behind them? Or is it just one of the many pieces that are written for background music playlists for instance? Sven Helbig, for example, writes music that inspires me — always in a different form. Sometimes it is music for choir, sometimes music for orchestra or string quartet. But it is always possible to hear his style and his intentions and that touches me. I interpreted his music on the piano and It felt good to act entirely as a pianist. The focus was on me as a pianist and interpreter and I was able to make my contribution to the picture by trying to get all facets out of the Steinway grand piano. An album has been released on which I play Helbig's contemporary classical music. It is comfortable for me when I know or hear the devotion with which the music was composed.
How did you approach the translation of senses — the sense of touch, of sight, of smell, which represent the basis of your musical concept — into sounds?
When I started to transform the charisma of these objects into music, I was always looking for exactly one point that was clearest to me. On the one hand the visual aspect. For example, the porcelain vase. It is in a glass cabinet, very rarely touched, you do not even put flowers in it, because it could fall over or be damaged. It is a little too precious. I tried to find out what fascinates me about looking at this vase. There is something very beautiful and attractive about it but because of the preciousness, it radiates dignity. Actually, it does not make sense to manufacture everyday objects in this precious way. There is something slightly absurd about it. This interplay of attraction and distance, paired with the noble touch of Meissener Porcelain, has inspired the piece for harp, cello and piano. Likewise the aspect of touch. I often write music on paper — always with the same pen. A fountain pen that has no particular story in itself. But it helps me write down effortlessly my thoughts in real time. If I am looking for this feeling, this pen is an absolutely reliable tool for me to get in the flow. I always find that effortless feeling of writing down thoughts in real time when improvising. I sat down at the piano and “Indigo Feder” was created — a completely improvised piece.
Would you like to tell us the specificity of it, for a piece or two? Perhaps “Stundenglas” or “Kashmir”?
“Stundenglas” is the german word for hourglass. When I hold this hourglass in my hand, I like to watch the sand run down in anticipation of turning it around and starting over again. You can also see how time is running out but you cannot hear it. The result is a partly improvised piece with harp, cello and piano — very gently, with drops in the harp. It plays with pauses and ideas that are thrown into the room, picked up and carried on — without a big plan. You know that you can improvise a new idea again, just as you have to turn the hourglass to start over. I have written a little text in the booklet for each piece about what makes this object so special for me. For “Kaschmir” it says: a special fabric. Rarely worn, as it needs the right moment. I wanted to write a gentle piece that plays with the right moment at the right time. For me, it is the modulation to the chorus. It changes the key, similar to lighting. At the right moment the light changes, perhaps from bright white to a more noble colour. Something that makes the situation more precious.
So after The Soul of Things what’s next?
First I hope to play concerts again, because I miss them a lot. As a musician, you need them, mentally and of course economically. It is different to share music with people live, rather than for example through live streams. My music always needs live context a lot, whether in solo concerts or with orchestras — but I shall build on that again after the pandemic. Let's hope that the world of artists and the infrastructures will recover. Otherwise, I am also going to composer more. I love the state in which you let go and the ideas come to you — I would like to come back to this state soon. The music sets the pace and the goal, nothing else.
Thanks very much Clemens. Last one for the road — one book, one album, one film —, tell us about your latest cultural pearls?
Book: The Inner Game of Tennis, by Timothy Gallwey. I do nott have much to do with tennis, but I love this book — it describes how to get into the flow and how to preserve emotional states. Explained here using the tennis game — but it can be transferred fantastically to all creative processes. It helps a lot when composing and preparing for a concert. Album: Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh & Thomas Bartlett. A fantastic album — Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on 10 string and and Thomas Bartlett on piano. Between structure and improvisation, it sounds so original. Exciting. Film: Jiro Dreams of Sushi. A great film about the now 94 year old sushi master Jiro Ono. About his daily routine and the devotion with which he practices his profession. Wonderful.