ONE OF THE LAST INTERVIEWS WITH HUBERT BOGNERMAYR BEFORE HIS DEATH IN
by Nikki Talbot
Hubert Bognermayr is an underrated musical genius who has helped take electronic music into the 21st century. His professional title, when asked, is that of a computer artist. He is also known as being an inventor, a designer, a teacher, a musician, a producer and a highly-acclaimed award winner.
The strange thing is, although widely known throughout Japan, his work has not been fully acknowledged in Britain. I went behind the scenes of his studios to find out about his future plans and to recognise his achievements.
His home (and one of his studios) is known as the Elektronisches Försterhaus. It is half-way up the Pöstlingberg hill overlooking the town of Linz and the river Danube in central Austria. I'm sitting on the balcony of a beautifully traditional wooden house taking in the view and talking to this creative expert.
His career so far has seen the formation and management of the group Eela Craig. He has toured (together with Harry Zuschrader) with Mike Oldfield; made samples for Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer CD; and worked with the prestigious drummer Simon Phillips. He initiated and co-founded the Ars Electronica Festival, one of the most important festivals for electronic arts and music, which in turn gave ideas to invited artists such as the use of a steel symphony for Klaus Schultzers 'Tangerine Dream'. He also saw the development of the computer bell programme for the Parsifal performance at the Osterfestspiele in Salzburg with Herbert v. Karajan.
Hubert's musical career started in the early 1960's with the formation of the group Jupiter, a dance band which received vast recognition in his home town of Linz. A business trip to London changed his direction after seeing the band King Crimson play at the then - famous Marquee Club in 1968.
This band had a great influence on Hubert and he consequently formed Eela Craig. King Crimson made him think about the Austrian attitude to music which was heavily oriented towards the classics. He wanted to pioneer a mixture of classical and electronic rock. Other memorable bands he mentioned were Pink Floyd, Cream, Peter Gabriel and Genesis, all of whom have an echo of recognition in his music.
The success of Eela Craig went on to see over 400 concerts in Europe and the release of three CDs. Hubert's active roles in the band were providing both the rock voice on many of the tracks and, for the first four years, he was the group's manager. Only after major success did he pass the role on to the German company, Agentur Schlote, in 1978. The formation of Eela Craig was the basis for his present career.
The fascinating achievements of his career all stem from a unique, innovative approach to the music business. The Erdenklang Symphony was the first-ever CD world-wide to be made from natural computer samples. Hitting the media in Austria and Germany, documentaries were made about his enterprising techniques.
When asked about sample CDs, he explains: 'I don't use them and I don't really like them. There is one special sample CD for traditional instruments from a high school in Canada called Historical Instruments, but the others sound too industrialised for me. We make our own. I like to have a sampler range of over three octaves so I can then cut out single notes - this sounds more natural. For example, we have sampled oil drums to produce the sound of steel drums. We also use the subtractive synthesisers from Bob Moog."
This name brings a chuckle to his round, robust, bearded face. He goes into a story. 'I asked Bob Moog to perform at the Erdenklang Symphony. He agreed and I went to meet him at the airport. He arrived like most people with a couple of suitcases and we loaded them into the car. A funny smell filled the interior and I questioned Bob about this. He'd flown in from Milan, Italy, and had sold all of his musical equipment in return for gorgonzola cheese (his ex-wife is a cook and famous in America for her Moog cook books). I was astounded and told him that he couldn't play at my concert with cheese! It all worked out well when he took himself down to a technical store to get the relevant parts and built a new synthesiser in my house'. When asked if his wife was happy, his reply was; 'What do you think!'
Hubert and his son Martin (already an accomplished musician) have recently put up Bob Moog and are hoping to buy the remaining synthesiser left to add to his fine array of equipment - the 'big' Bob Moog synthesiser from 1968. Hubert has always kept the equipment he has bought and now has an excellent collection ranging from the Fairlight, Oberheim, Arp and other Moog synthesisiers.
His first organ when he set up his studio with his band Jupiter, was the Hohner. Before this they only had radio cassette recorders, but with the digital equipment of today he advises other young musicians to invest in a four-track recording system.
I questioned him about managing and selling his own concepts and asked about any ingenious concepts he has sold. Another funny story, he goes on to say, took place in Hamburg in 1985 with the artist Andre Heller. He chuckles to himself again and I soon find out why. 'A concert named 'Palace of the Winds' was a sell-out. Performing to 400 people, five times a day for a month, this production consisted of a violinist and two musicians farting. This was supposedly taken from stories of 16th-century France when artists were able to play fart melodies!"
To date he has achieved seven gold and three platinum discs. He has had media coverage in England, Japan, Hungary, America and of course, in his home country, Austria. One of the career highlights he mentioned was the live performance of BergPredigt (translated: Sermon of the Mount) in the cathedral of Linz in front of an audience of 10,000. Also two of Eela Craigs greatest award-winning CDs were the infamous computer oratorio "Sermon of the Mount" and the computer acoustic symphony, "Erdenklang." These reached number 2 in the Melody Maker charts and a special degree award was given from the USA for the highest-quality sound achieved on a recording. His career has also seen him winning the London BBC Radio Festival first prize for his CD, "Sermon of the Mount."
Hubert has since developed and become president of the Blue Chip Academy, which designs and develops new musical instruments exclusively for his Blue Chip Orchestra. This larger studio is situated near Linz in a village named St Martins and was completed in 1989. The musical instruments invented to date are the donau tuba, mirror percussions, reflective harp and sound sails. To tell you about just one, the futuristic reflective harp is functioned by an ultra-sonic eye built into the instrument which recognises and calculates the hand movements of the harp player. The movements are then processed into legible data for the sound computer. All of the instruments are stunning in appearance and completely unique.
The Blue Chip Academy is not only interested in music; it is of the belief that by the year 2000, music alone will not be enough. The academy has expanded to cover the areas of multimedia, internet art, computer animation and music videos. Hubert went on to explain: "With the release of the video audio CD within the next three years, the visual side will soon become as, or even more, important than the music."
Hubert's present project sees the release of his latest CD "White River / Red Spirit" out this summer, a cross-cultural CD combining Indian and European music. He is also concentrating on his Maria Madonna project, in which he has chosen to focus on Ireland, Hungary and Bulgaria. Taking a singer from each, he is working on the angle that an individual's home country makes the sound of their own voices. His intentions are to connect modern sounds from computers with old and traditional singing techniques.
Hubert Bognermayr who began studying keyboards at the Bruckner Konservatorium in 1968, also has a degree in teaching music. He taught himself all there is to know about synthesisers due to a lack of education about this equipment at the time.
It goes without saying that this man is a piece of musical history and has given many opportunities to others. He and his son are currently accepting student placements from, in particular, Bretton Hall College, part of the University of Leeds. He never runs out of ideas or energy for his only passion - being creative and I'm sure the forward thinking Hubert Bognermayr will be around for a long time to come.