By Brandon Hocura
Watching the documentary Anima Sound: Europa Tournee Mit 20km/h is nothing short of a revelation on what it means to be utterly uncompromising as an artist, or even a human being. The film documents the husband and wife duo, Paul and Limpe Fuchs, as they tour Europe in a handmade mobile home and stage pulled by a tractor. They are accompanied by a small German film crew, their two children and several sheep which they use for food and clothing. Shot in 1971, with the events of May 1968 still fresh in the collective European consciousness and the rising threat of the Baader-Meinhof Group, Anima Sound’s radical form of touring, living and performing outraged many of the spectators present at the group’s public shows. In the film some are seen heckling the group and others voice their disapproval on camera, telling them to get ‘real jobs’.
The film also shows some footage of the Fuchs at home, an ancient cottage in rural Bavaria, where they are seen farming, building, cooking and improvising on their wonderfully sculptural home-made instruments. On the one hand the Fuchs’ lifestyle is truly inspiring to anyone interested in what we’ve come to term D.I.Y. and on the other hand threatening to anyone moored in the trappings of class based capitalist culture. The Fuchs’ self-reliance is a point of pride; if they can do it themselves it means a certain freedom, an escape from a society where the means to do something almost always depends on economy.
The music of Anima-Sound is equally uncompromising, forgoing melodic composition based on the European tempered 12 tone system in favour of heavily percussive spontaneous performances. They built their own instruments; the Fuchshorn, Fuchszither, and Fuchsbass. Limpe’s incanted wordless vocals, powerful drumming and incendiary (sometimes nude) performances challenged both the sit-down love-in expectations of their hippy/folk image as well as the common role of female musicians at that time; either diva singer or accompanyist. Limpe herself has always championed egalitarian performance and even quit the group in the 80’s when she felt her voice in the conversation that is Anima Sound was compromised.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Limpe on the phone about the history of Anima Sound, the nature of improvisation and the importance of silence in music. Limpe still lives in an ancient cottage in Bavaria, performs regularly and is an endless source of inspiration.
BH: Could you tell me a little bit about the origins of Anima Sound?
LF: I began by studying music in Munich; piano, violin and two years of classical percussion. But it changed when I met Paul Fuchs because he was in the academy and studied sculpture. And I realized there was much more space to experiment, to discover your own way. Because in music you have to study so many things before you become a real composer. And in this sculptural environment you work directly with materials.
We started in a group when we bought this house. We were a group of students. We tried different sounding materials; we tried stones, metal and wood. During this time I was also finishing my normal studies and I had borrowed three tympanis to practice exercises. At the other end of our atelier, Paul had built his first horn, as a sculpture and he started experimenting with its sound. During my exercises on tympani he would join me on his horn. One day a friend came by and listened to our practice and asked if we would play at his festival. We had no idea that we were really creating new sound. We started by chance. That ended up being the first Anima concert.
Is the visual aspect of your instruments important to your performances, especially since Paul was a sculptor?
Yes. I bought a drum set in 1969 and Paul built me a tympani because I had to give them back to the academy. I played in a beat group for two years using the drum set. We added things to it like woodblocks and Paul welded a steel ring to the hi-hat stand that was strung up with seven strings which I played with my toes. I also used a saw blade and a shovel.
Once in 1979, we had a concert in a gallery and I tried to spread apart the drums; the tymapani on one side, the hi-hat on the other, and I walked around. I realized then that this felt more natural to me, to move around the set.
I didn’t use the drum set anymore. I built my own drums. I am still using them and standing now. Afterwards I had rows of stones and rows of wood like a xylophone.
Later the music developed from amplified to acoustic. The ballast string, wood and stones are all acoustic instruments. We chose not to use amplification, but to have the vibration of the air directly in contact with the audience.
This was a gradual change, I think in 1977 we made one last recording with electric instruments. Paul had built an instrument using elderberry wood, using a bassoon mouthpiece, and metal sheets with pick-ups. It made a big noise. You can see it in the film.
Why did you prefer using instruments you built rather than traditional instruments?
I now like to integrate them in my performances. After my studies finished I was so glad to explore other musical possibilities, like listening to the sounds of stones and wood. But now, I play violin and also viola. It is challenging to use instruments that require studying after you have played free for so long, but I really think they’re not contrary. I can integrate the strings of the violin with the strings of the my foot bass, they’re not contrary, they go together.
Now it is very important for me to love my instrument. The instrument is like a partner to me. For example, I played violin and viola for about 20 years I think, but I didn’t intonate. I forgot what tune I played. I had an experience in Egypt with Arabic violin players who tune their violins so that they have only 2 tones. The instrument itself is in harmony, unlike western tunings. With this new tuning I discovered a different approach to this instrument.
When you first started playing did you feel part of an artistic or musical scene?
Yes, we were interested in experimental film. Not really any particular music scene. I was a Beatles fan. In those days there were only Rolling Stones fans and Beatles fans. I was a Beatles fan. I didn’t feel part of the musical scene at the time because we were a family. That was really unusual at the time. It was more communities. Although, we knew Amon Duul from Munich and Tangerine Dream. I found Edgar Froese to be a very sympathetic man. We met at concerts. But I think our use of raw materials was a little unusual at the time. Perhaps we were the forerunners of punk and thrash.
People told us that we always had to do things differently just to be contrary to the ‘normal person’, but I think we really thought differently, so it came out differently.
From 1986 we started to do theater, we got funding from the Munich cultural committee. This was mostly organized by Paul and I didn’t like to only do what was in his mind, so we stopped in 89. Because our music was a non-verbal dialogue. We had real troubles coming together in the theater work. He wanted to be the director and the writer and I realized that my role was only as a musician who was only able to do what he wanted me to do. I didn’t play with him any more. From this time on I played solo and with other musicians.
I wanted to create form in music, not only spontaneous improvisation. Because I have this background in academic music and I wanted to use it. This reminds me of the time we played with pianist Friedrich Gulda. He was very fond of the duo and our way of just improvising. He was a famous arranger, but wanted to play in an improvising group. When we went in to the studio to record in Vienna, he wanted to bring in a bass player to join us. Paul with his horn and me with my drums. Still he wanted to bring in a drummer because he thought I didn’t know where the 1 beat is. But when we played back the tapes he realized that I do know where the 1 beat is.
I realized then that when we play together with another musician there is really another thinking involved. Paul plays like a sculptor, he doesn’t know any notes. He is a proser, not a lyric person. A lyric person makes verses and knows about forms. And a proser, like speech, is not cut or measured.
You mentioned as a duo your music is a kind of dialogue, how does this change when you play solo?
For every concert I first choose the material I want to use. I do drum exercises. I really work on percussion and my role. I make a concept. Sometimes when I start a concert I immediately change, but I know I change. I am conscious of the change. This is a very different way than before. Now when I play with musicians we talk about what we want to do. It’s not like we write down notes, but we have a feeling of the dimensions of where the music can go.
For example, today we had a meeting with a trombone, guitar and flute player. I’ve known them for about 5 years. We sometimes play together, but we haven’t met since August, our last concert together. When we first met, we played very free and didn’t talk about anything, we just listened to each other and played. Today the trombone player had the idea that the flute player make a soft melody and we play a landscape around him. In the next piece the flute player wanted to have a start that was only a small noise, and then stop. Then we all play a small noise and stop. And after a while a music develops out of these breaks with silence.
You see, with Paul we didn’t speak about the music. It was really a different time back then. When we started playing music it was a kind of protest. We protested against needs and against Classical and we really wanted to shock people and now it’s not necessary, all is possible. You have thrash, you have punk you have house music, you have noise. I think the future musician has to show silence. Sometimes when I stop in the concert it’s so intense to have a silence in between. This is the main possibility for musicians in the future. It will be hard for a musician when he says to an organizer ‘I am a musician and I play best when I play silence.’.
What made you tour with a tractor?
Our car broke down and the only other vehicle we had at the time was a Hanomag tractor. Paul had the idea to build a big stage wagon for playing music and living, all in one. We got a normal flat wagon with wheels from a brewery and built the stage and living quarters on top. We contacted TV stations to help finance the tour. And we had sheep at this time. You can see it in the film, we use the wool and eat the meat. At the time it was our goal to do everything by ourselves. So we wanted to invite people ourselves, also to have sheep, also to have knit sweaters, also to grow our own food.
The tractor only went 11km per hour so I know every tree from Bavaria to Rotterdam!
What kind of venues did you end up playing in?
We played in open places, but we had to inform the cities because in Germany and the Netherlands you have to have permission to have such a big vehicle in the middle of the town and to play live music.
How did people react to your performances?
As always some liked it and some didn’t. This was case right when we started in Munich. At that time we had just released our first LP, and the OHR company wanted us to play at the Viktualien Market, a big everyday market in Munich, and there some people said to us that we should do some work, that we don’t work or do anything. I played my drums so quickly and sang and Paul played his horn, and some people said we should do better work!
Where was Sturmischer Himmel recorded?
It was recorded in clubs, normal beat clubs. Sometimes we had difficulty because the DJs didn’t like our live act. Yeah, only the DJs. The audience mostly liked what we did and we were open to people bringing in their own instruments and playing with us.
This childlike being is something I’ve always had. I always find out new ways to do things. Perhaps not now, but at that time people thought I didn’t know anything about music, because watching me play it seemed so easy. Often after we played people came on stage and played too. Sometimes I had to wash the blood off my drums from people hammering on them with their bare hands.
Do you think the environment that you perform in plays an important role in the outcome of the sound?
Yes, I always integrate the sounds of my surroundings in a performance. I am not in a lifeless surrounding; there is noise there and clapping. On Sunday I had a solo performance with the stone row in a gallery. There were very upper class people there and after the performance was finished, a special guest wanted to listen once more so when everybody was eating or discussing I started without silence, and people didn’t realize that I was playing again. When I started some were talking, some were leaving, some were laughing, and I integrated that into the performance. During the performance I started talking and laughing, and the people who listened were really excited because it’s not the common way to integrate atmospheric sounds in a performance. When I hear a dog bark I also bark. I remember one time in a big yard there were birds flying around, and I used their songs in my performance. It’s not that I always imitate sounds, but I use them in the performance. People realize when I integrate that I am a performing person, they start to notice me and they realize what is in my heart. So when I listen they also start to listen. Sometimes people tell me that when they leave the concert and go to their cars, for the first time they hear the sound of their door clapping. And I think this is a success, for me this is a success.
Interview by Brandon Hocura, October 23rd 2010