Bron: Offbeat, december 1993 - january 1994
Auteur: Agustin Luviano-Cordero
by Agustin Luviano-Cordero
Since 1970, the German group Popol Vuh has been producing some of the most magical compositions heard in western music. The constantly changing sounds that repeatedly push the boundaries of contemporary music and challenge the listener have earned this unique group such labels as cosmic, esoteric and mystical. The group's latest album, Sing For Song Drives Away the Wolves is a beautifully representative collection of this magic art.
The group has always revolved around composer Florian Fricke. A philosopher, writer and movie director as well as musician, Fricke has consistently sought in his music a timelessness and spirituality that reflect his pilgrimages to the world's sacred places. Fricke feels that music has the ability to change things, to call back the soul. This metaphysical awareness is what Popol Vuh’s music is all about.
The name of the group Popol Vuh comes from the sacred book of the Maya, written about 1555. This Common Book of the Quiches contains the cosmological ideas, ancient traditions and history of the origins of this ancient people. The cryptic book is steeped in mystery and the atmosphere provides a good foil for the music of this very modern group.
Over the years, Popol Vuh has remained on the periphery of some of the most influential movements in popular music. They predated and anticipated New Age and World Beat music, but never fit any of these classifications. The non-linear path of Florian Fricke's career has seen him collaborate with some of the most innovative musicians, including members of Tangerine Dream, Amon Düül II and Between.
Working with Popol Vuh have been musicians such as Daniel Fichelscher, Renate Knaup and Al Gromer. While these talented people have had an effect on the group's sound, the choice of styles and predominant instruments has always been Fricke's. These have ranged from the purely synthesizer music of the first two albums to the almost classical piano and vocal combinations of same of the later work. The scope of Popol Vuh's artistic composition is breathtaking.
It was early in the life of Popol Vuh (1972) that director Werner Herzog approached Florian Fricke to ask him to do the soundtrack for the movie Aguirre, the Wrath of God. The music was so different from anything previously heard in the cinema that it came to the attention of a much wider audience. It also had a profound effect on Herzog,, he came back time and again. The two worked together on The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, Heart of Glass, Nosferatu, Fitzcaraldo and Cobra Verde.
On October 15, 1993, Agustin Luviano-Cordero of CFUV 102 FM in Victoria had the opportunity to interview Florian Fricke in Munich by telephone. Special thanks for their assistance go to Peter Suciu from Milan Entertainment in New York; Burkhard Prael for interpreting and translation and Brian Lunger.
Agustin: I understand that Popol Vuh is the title of a Mayan holy book.
Florian: Yes, from the Quiche Indians. That's in today's Guatemala.
A: I am interested to know why you decided to choose this name for your group.
F: Back when I started in 1970, it was customary to do music with a group of people, as well as to give this group a name. But that was just a custom - whether it was necessary is another thing. At the time, the Popol Vuh played a big role in my life. I hod delved very deeply into it, and through this book it was possible for me to find the 'mystery keys' to other old texts. In a way I could read sacred books with new interpretations.
A: And does this name (Popol Vuh) have a connection with your music?
F: Yes, in a way. No one really knows what Popol Vuh actually means. It translates as “The Book of Counsel". But because Vuh aIso means something like 'sun', you could translate it as "A gathering under the sign of the sun". That would be another way to define it, and that should reveal a few things.
A: How did you begin with music? How did your music career build up to Popol Vuh?
F: That's a long road. Music doesn't just suddenly start after having graduated and after wondering what one should study next, but rather when one has a strong inner feeling and inclination towards it. And with musicians, that usually comes at a very early age. With me, these inclinations, and also the certainty that I would want to spend my life doing music, began when I was 11. Only after I finished my schooling did I know exactly what I wanted to do in music. And that's when I started to do what I had already done often early on: compose, with emphasis on pieces I wanted to release. That was a long rood - from the year I was 11 to the year I was 26, when my first LP came out.
A: At first you used mainly electronic instruments, including synthesizers. But then a move was made to acoustic instruments.
F: Yes, back then we were the first group in the world to use the first great Moog synthesizer (now legendary) to make a new form of music. Before us it was used more for electronic imitations, like the J.S. Bach by Walter Carlos in America, and, in my view, the Stones and the Beatles as well, but more as a gag. And we did, in a way, make a new form of music. The two LPs, Affenstunde (1970) and In den Garten Pharos (1972) created quite a whirlwind for us. But then this path became a little eerie for me.
A: You mean, with synthesizers? And that being the reason for changing instruments?
F: Yes, that's when I realized that I'd probably be happier if I lived my life with music that had acoustic instruments
A: How is it today? Would you say that there's an ideal combination of electronic and acoustic instruments?
F: Yes, due to the sampling technology, where it is possible to store natural sounds and such things, working with electronics in the studio is now possible, whereas before it wasn't. But that has really nothing to do with whether or not I value the 'electronic' sound. I actually don't, because it is foreign to all spiritual vibrations. Why? Because it has no overtones. It is like a person without a shadow.
A: How does a Popol Vuh album come together? Is every piece composed note for note, or is there also a lot of improvisation and experimentation going on?
F: The exact way is the imagination first: it starts with the vision of what would be the answer to time. And the music builds itself. In the past it started with the instrument itself, but nowadays it comes more from an inner, melodic sense .
A: Does that mean one person does the composing? Or is it a group effort?
F: No, it is not a group effort. I compose, and when Fichelscher composes, he composes, and I help a little bit, and vice versa.
A: How does your music come about? Do you compose on a piano?
F: It varies. For years no, then yes, then no again. I am, thank God, independent of an instrument while composing. I can compose when I'm in the garden, planting tulip bulbs, while walking around or when I sit in a pub.
A: When you compose, do you compose strictly by feeling, or do you take themes, that you may have heard in other countries and incorporate them?
F: It's difficult to say where you pick up your melodies, hard to say. I don't consciously take a theme in the sense that I'm copying other records, not in any way. But on the other hand, how do you get this or that musical phrase? Hard to say. Why is there such a thing as Anglo-Saxon pop music? How is that possible when everyone plays the same, basically?
A: Do you have a lot of unreleased material? Something which may appear on future albums?
F: No, nothing. It was once my wish to work on material that would not be released, but I've never gotten that for.
A: How do you select your musicians? It seems that the group does vary from album to album.
F: Well, there is the 'main core', consisting of me, FicheIscher, the second most important figure of the group, and Renate Knaup. In the past there was a Korean singer (Djong Yun), who lives in New York today. These three are the main components of our group. Every now and then we have other musicians.
A: Does this depend on the instrumentation?
F: Not the core of the group, for they are people who have been touched by the spirit of this music. The instrumentation, of course, changes and that's why other musicians are added. Sometimes it’s a choir, or a sitar player and others.
A: Could you tell us o little more about your last album, how it came about and what's behind it?
F: Sing, for song drives away the Wolves is a remix of two LPs. One is Heart of Glass, the other is Einsjaeger, Siebenjaeger. In the past on numerous occasions record companies have put together their own compilations of Popol Vuh music, and I was not asked. There now exist a few, and a little over a year ago, I had the idea of doing a remix of pieces that would be reworked to include percussion and bass and various other instruments, so that the essence, a very important part of the Popol Vuh music, could be expressed the way I interpret it. And with that I mean the inner fire that exists in this music.
A: How did you come to meet and collaborate with Guido Hieronymus, who works with you here?
F: We produced something together. I met him during a production, not a Popol Vuh production, and we understood each other very well. And so, we decided to work together on a Popol Vuh production as well.
A: When listening more closely, it seems that several pieces appear on various albums over and over again. Are these pieces significant?
One tries to maintain the level of creativity by changing one's work. If you always do the same work, then at some point you'll fatigue and collapse.
F: Yes, some of them have a very strong significance in my life, but l’ll just say that when I feel that a piece hadn't been produced the way it was originally meant to be, then I allow myself the liberty of picking it up again three years later and making another version of it.
A: You have used the same song in several albums, though. For instance, on the albums Einsjaeger, Siebenjaeger (1975), Last Days, Last Nights (1976), Nosferatu. On a way to a little way (1978), Agape, Agape (1983), and now your latest album Sing, for Song Drives Away the Wolves (1993), the same song appears with different inks: "Der Grosse Krieger", “They Danced, They Laughed as of Old”, “Kleiner Krieger" and "Little Warrior". Is there a reason for choosing this piece?
F: May I say the following to that. I don't make music for collectors. But instead, I make music for the people. When I release a piece that I love very much, be it in Germany, or in Italy, or in France, and the record company then changes trades or no longer exists, I see it as my right to use this piece and go to an American company, where none of this has been heard. I take advantage of the vagaries of the industry to get my music heard. And finally, why always the “Little Warrior”? That’s the signature piece of the guitar player. If you think back to the early pop concerts, every group had a signature piece. If one wanted to announce a pause, this piece would be played. With us, it’s the guitar player Daniel Fichelscher, who does that. And his piece is 'Little Warrior”
A: You have worked with various record companies over the years. How come? Doesn't a group usually stay with the same company?
F: Yes, that would be a dream come true for any group. However, what do you do if your radio station suddenly goes belly up, or flies to the Bahamas the next day, does a tax evasion, and never comes back? Then this company no longer exists. And I've outlived significantly more record companies then vice-versa. I’m happy now that I've been able to work consistently with Milan Records for five years. But before, there were various companies, including 'United Artists', that were suddenly gone, liquidated, or just non-existent. And what can you do? The tax department confiscated some of the originals, and for that I had to get a lawyer. I mean, what have I got to do with it, if a company evades taxes or goes bankrupt? Yeah, well that’s welt how the business works. It's kind of like the first steam boats; your LPs go under and then end up as wreckage somewhere on some shore. And if you love them, you try to get them back any way you can.
A: Is the order of the pieces on an album important?
F: Yes, to have pieces in just the right order is part of the work. That too, is an art and is very important.
A: How do you find titles for your pieces? Are they out of the Bible or some type of religion?
F: Yes, in the past, some of the titles were. But otherwise, I don't know. It's inspiration
A: Does it take a king time to find a title?h1>F: Well, if you hold a stop watch and time it, it will indeed take a long time. But it's like this - it's like when someone has achieved something, it’s inside them. Just as a pregnant woman doesn't' constantly check to see if the child’s coming. She carries the child, and at the right time, a title will fall into place. Maybe years later, you'll find it to be extremely unfitting, but still, that's how it works.
I love Arabic music above all and I love
The simple, honest, humane music of
People from cultures that live with the
very basics – day by day, under God’s sky.
A: You've remastered your LPs on CDs now. Did that go smoothly or did you come across any technical difficulties?
F: It actually went really well. There were the odd technical difficulties, and it was definitely time that the old tapes (38s) got digitally dubbed. Because tapes don’t hold their sound all that long, and they are over 20 years old.
A: in the music of Popol Vuh one can hear many foreign styles. It is also very remarkable how the music has unfolded spiritually over the years. Are there any traditions, cultures, or artists, that have been of particular influence to Popol Vuh?
F: Without question. The encountering of other cultures happened simply during my travels. And travelling itself was also very important in my life. I'd say I value the music in different cultures, but not necessarily the religious and political thinking of these nations. I love Arabic music above all and I love the simple, honest, humane music of people from cultures that live with the very basics – day by day under God’s sky. For example, people who live in mountains anywhere always have a very good, sincere, honest type of music that's based on the number four. It contains endless numerical mysteries, but that's how it is.
A: It Is noticeable how your music incorporates a lot of different musical styles. Is Popol Vuh trying to reach a particular goal there?
F: Yes. And yet, not quite like the word ‘goal’ sounds. I don’t sit there and think: I now have to do something for the Kurds, of something like that. Of course not, but perhaps I see a great goal in communication between one another and the idea of how to be human in our materialistic world with just the basics. How can one live one’s life in the simplest way? The simplest. That’s what I learn from people who live in the mountains of Africa, or Nepal and perhaps that’s the reason for me trying to get a new, very dangerous world to face the simplicity of a very ancient one, so as to show how a person could live on this Earth.
A: Would you say that your music has something identifiably German about it?
F: Big topic. We would fist need to define what’s German
A: Ok. How about in terms of German folk music?
F: The problem is this. When you speak op German folk music, historically the folk music and folk songs play a very minor role. Why? Because individual ‘art-music’ developed in Germany very early and peaked with Richard Wagner and others. And thus we’re fairly different from other Saxon countries, in that we don’t have the influential strength of folk music on other forms of music. Instead, we have this classical music in its highest complexity. And I am certainly influenced by classical music. But whether you call it German or not, that’s up to you.
A: Is there a particular author or composer who has influenced you?
F: Gustav Mahler. I've loved him since childhood. Not everything, but some things in particular. And Mozart, but he’s long dead.
A: How did you get to know. Weiner Herzog?
F: I met him very early an in my youth, end our collaboration began with the movie Aguirre The Wrath of God. He was looking for music In Italy, he was after some appropriate music by Morricone (Ennio). Apparently the music didn’t fit too well, and he was quite frustrated. And then someone said to him “You’ll have to ask F Fricke from Popol Vuh.” He called, I watched the movie, made the music, and since then we have worked together.
A: You collaborated with Herzog, made many movies and the accompanying music. Which for you is where the two of you work the best, where the film and the music are the closest?
A: Fitzcarraldo. Why? ..
F: I like this movie. It’s special. More than Nosferatu, or Cobra Verder or others
A: How does the future of Popol Vuh look? Can we look forward to a few more CDs?
F: Yes, were currently waking on a new CD, but then most of next year will be taken up with a production of video and music combined. I believe that we'll have everything completed at the end of summer.
A: And what's this video about?
F: It is based on pieces horn the lost few years. The film takes place in Greece, in Asia, and similar places, and it's about the confrontation of a very ancient world with a very modem one. We hope that this modern world will recognize itself in the mirror image of the ancient world.
A: So this is actually a real movie you're talking about.
F: Yes, it'll be a Popol Vuh video/music-film. the current working title is “Leuchtende Garten" (Glowing gardens).
A: Who is the director of this film?
F: I direct it together with Frank Fiedler, who's been a member of Popol Vuh for many years and who makes films.
A: And how long would you estimate this film to be?
F: About 50 minutes.
A: Who wrote the film?
F: I did.
A: What kind of experiences have you had with Popol Vuh so far that might be considered a highlight in your career?
F: Well, if you ask me like that, I’d only like to say that there have been personal high points with the group. And I mean for everyone involved. This was the case with Hosianna Mantra, as well as the album Agape, Agape, especially the last piece “Why do I still sleep?“
A: What was special there?
F: There was something special in this case during the recording and during the playing. Of course, there have been things during my music career which have made me very happy. But it is not so much the exterior things that are as exciting as when musician can play together, no matter what style. And that’s the most important thing in the life of a musician.
A: What other interests do you have, other than Popol Vuh and music?
F: Grek philosophy, ancient texts, and learning to understand what humankind is. Those are my hobbies.
A: In music, do you listen to any other groups?
F: None at all. No, none. I hardly ever leave the house. Every now and then, friends and colleagues come over, and I live in a world of imagination and contemplation.
A: What sort of literature have you read lately?
F: Pythagoras, Plato, and similar things.
A: Could you tell me what you do between albums, other than compose new pieces?
f: Yes, other things. Writing planning films, homework, or anything. One tries to maintain the level of creativity by changing one's work. lf you always do the some work, then at some point you'll fatigue and collapse. Do you know what I mean? When you go into a studio, this level remains relatively high, and you can maintain it more or Iess by changing your work. I love writing, and I love to think and imagine.
A: Do you favour any religion in particular?
F: Not really I love philosophy because it allows free, provocative thinking and I don't like religions in general because they do not allow this free thinking. With the exception of Buddhism. But I'm not a Buddhist.
A: Are you familiar with the works of Khalil Gibran?
F: Ah, the Lebanese poet. Yes, he's a good man.
A: Could there be an affinity between his texts and your music?
F: That is quite possible. I don't remember now. I have done so much. I once did something based on Arabic texts: “Behold, the drover summons: why do I sleep? “ It was inspired by Rumi, the Persian poet (13th century.) Back then Gibran really fascinated me.
A: In the album For You and Me (1992) you have “OM Mani Padme Hum.” Can you tell me how this happened and what it is? Is it a mantra? Or is it an inspiration?
F: That’s one of my main phrases, that crosses Asian people’s lips, if they are Buddhists. No matter what they do, whether they light a fire, or whether they put it out, they’ll say “Om Mani Padme Hum”. It is a mantra.
A: What is that, exactly?
F: A mantra, simply put, is a prayer.
A: And when is it used?
F: Always, with everything. At everyday gestures, when one enters a room, or when one walks by a beautiful mountain.
A: So, it’s also o type of greeting.
F: Yes, constantly being in touch with Buddha. Obviously, if you always mumble the name of your boss, you're longing for him.
A: Would you know what each word translates to?
F: It translates into something like “You jewel of my heart", but that's a very rough translation. By the way, this is the most famous Mantra of Asia. It's almost like the `Kyrie Eleison" of the west, at least as well known to
Asians, as the “Kyrie Eleison”is with us.
A: Do you have your own philosophy about life, about music?
F: I would hope so. If it really does take a lot to become one’s own person, then I hope that what I believe in matches, identically with what I am. I hope the older I get, the more of my own thoughts I’ll have, and the less I’ll be manipulated, like one is, while growing up.
A: So, pure freedom then.
F: Well, yes, the power to discern, and to become free.
A: How would you describe yourself?
F: (long pause) Probably like a faun (long pause). By the way, Socrates was also supposed to look like one – I’m not in bad company.
A: We see very little of you when it comes to live performances. Does it just seem that way, or is there a reason?
F: No, that is quite right. Our last live concert was four years ago. But that doesn’t mean that we might not suddenly play live again. The reason for not playing has to do with the life of those people that make up such a group.
A: We’ve asked pretty much all we wanted to ask. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
F: Who, me? No, I only answer when asked.
A: Just one last question. Do you do interviews often?
F: Not for years, but more and more often during the last year.
A: Was that a time of retreat?
F: Everything has its right moment. But now it's important to address the People It is not always possible, but when it is, it is important.
ON THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF MUSIC
Where you see the lights, what is there?
Love, tears, misery, laughing and singing: man!
When he sings, he follows the path of his heart.
When he sings, he drives away the wolves.
The wolf is a shadow of man. He howls in
the morning and in the evening.
We humans have the ability to sing.
This strikes the wolf as an encounter
of the supernatural.
So he retreats. Will he ever become a friend?
As a complement to this rare interview with Florian Fricke, Agustin Luviano-Cordero and Brian Lunger invite you to join them. for the January 6th, 1994 edition of Earmeals (8 to 10:30 p.m. on CFUV). This programme will present the two latest Popol Vuh albums: For you and Me (1992) and Sing, For Song Drives Away The Wolves (1993). The two albums will be aired in their entirety.