ART ABSCONs - Der verborgene Neofolker
Ein Interview mit dem Mann hinter der Maske
ART ABSCONs - The Hidden Neofolker
An interview with the man behind the mask
How can I introduce an artist on whom there is no information, an artist who even rejects any responsibility for his creations and who lives anonymously behind a mask? Difficult. What if we resorted to a quote? The Quote of Quotes of literary Symbolism?
"L'art pour l'art". Art for art's sake. The pun on "Art" is rather pertinent, but there is more to it. On the one hand, the label informs us that ART ABSCONs was influenced by Symbolism and German Romanticism as far as the current album "Der Verborgene Gott" (NONPOP-review) is concerned. On the other hand, this quote could even be the central leitmotif for ART ABSCONs.
Indeed, many things seem to evolve just for their own sake, without any ulterior motive. And truly, his oeuvre has a very unobtrusive quality. The songs' Romantic lyricism is far from being cheesy. Even though we can detect a certain neofolk affiliation, clichés are either avoided or on purpose placed in a different context. And, apparently, the mask supports a genuine anonymity – and not a pretended one, as is the case with DEATH IN JUNE – that is to say, the main focus is on the music.
"Der Verborgene Gott" – rereleased on CD after the vinyl in 2010 – is a wonderful neofolk album presenting a very peculiar, Romantically ironic view of the world, free from embarrassing stereotypes. After more than two years of musical activity with ART ABSCONs, this is a perfect occasion for us to try to unmask the man behind the mask with a couple of questions.
Interview part 1 : Music, Neofolk
How am I to address you? ART or Mr ABSCONs? Or differently? And what does the project name mean?
You may call me ART – as long as you address ABSCON's earthly representative – that is to say: my humble self. The name ABSCON has a very complex and strangely accumulative meaning. For the time being, however, I am only permitted to tell you three things about its meaning. Firstly, it references a small town in northern France, Abscon, which was called 'Abscondinium' at the time when Gaul was invaded by the Romans. Secondly, it refers to the Latin term 'absconditus', which means 'hidden' or 'secret' and to the French word 'abscons' which means something like 'not to be understood'. Thirdly, it references THOMAS VON AQUIN's teachings concerning 'Deus Absconditus', the Hidden God.
ART, if I understand your project's philosophy correctly, you see yourself as a kind of medium who is inspired and filled by the persona of the 'Grandmaster ABSCON'. Who is this Grandmaster ABSCON, is it a real person or is it rather your lyric persona? Or, vice versa – are you the Grandmaster's lyric persona?
Inspired art always follows this principle. The term 'inspiration' already implies that something is 'breathed' into the artist's mind. A true artist is never responsible for the origin of his or her ideas. The general notion that artists were particularly 'imaginative' is seriously erroneous. Each time I am confronted with it, it raises my hackles. An artist is someone who is haunted by ideas coming from the outside. These ideas come and ask for a tangible shape. As soon as the artist accepts their request, he is confronted with a great responsibility, since now he will need all his technical skills and all his dexterity to give this idea a shape which is worthy of its supernatural quality. Strictly speaking, an artist is nothing but a craftsman being commissioned from the beyond.
I do not know who or what ABSCON is exactly. All I know is that he makes use of me whenever he likes. He plays me his music in dreams, he dictates me his poetry in sudden epiphanies, he makes me find and discover things that serve his purposes, he drives into my body when I wear his mask. After our shows, I sometimes can hardly remember what actually happened on stage, and some people in the audience have told me that there were moments when they thought the mask had been alive – which, apparently, was both frightening and fascinating to them.
But, what is even more interesting: Who are you? And why do you hide behind a mask? Does the mask have any historical significance like, for example, the masks worn by the Perchten?
I don’t think the ANSWER to these questions is particularly interesting. The man behind the mask is no-one special. He is neither very handsome nor very unsightly, neither very well-read nor very dim-witted and so on. He is in his mid-thirties and, apart from that, doesn’t have any interesting traits. The mask indicates that he as a person does not deserve any credits for the work of ART ABSCON. Any nitwit could be ART ABSCON, if ABSCON would choose him. That’s the only thing I can be proud of: that I have the honour to be allowed to carry out his ideas. Beyond that, the mask has no further meaning. It only helps to subtract myself as a person from the work of art called ART ABSCON. Most people in my private environment don’t even know that I make music. It is not important who I am. The only important thing is what is being communicated through me.
But, the singing voice is yours, isn’t it? Have you had any formal musical schooling? The recital sounds very professional…
Yes, in some way it is my voice and in some way it is not. It’s quite strange, but people knowing my everyday voice very well don’t recognise it when they hear ART ABSCON speaking or singing. I for myself did not receive any formal musical schooling; I am nothing but a very idle autodidact. If someone lends me an instrument, I simply do what I do. Even though I play a lot of instruments here and there, I play none of them particularly well.
Are there any other members of ART ABSCONs apart from you (and the Grandmaster)?
Except for my collaboration with various artists such as GNOMONCLAST, I have played all instruments on the ART ABSCONs albums myself. Only for live shows, a friend of mine will play the keyboards and melodica and another friend the electric guitar.
Like you said, you play all instruments on the albums yourself, and you have also served as guitarist for NORMA LOY as I have found on the internet on the NORMA LOY page. Can you briefly outline your musical career?
NORMA LOY? Strange! I’m a huge NORMA LOY fan, and I have even met them once, but I don’t think ART ABSCON has ever played guitar for NORMA LOY! I guess I should know this, shouldn’t I? Who or what gave you that idea? Prior to ART ABSCONs, I have created nothing worth mentioning with regard to music.
Are you a nice person? Your mask looks quite creepy, but on the DISCOGS photo, for instance, you are playing an accordion, and there are some laughing kids standing next to you. This conveys a friendly spirit and atmosphere. With what kind of attitude do you go through life?
He he he! Of course, I‘m nice! Or at least, I hope I am. But with ABSCON, things are a little bit different. He once disclosed the following formula as the ultimate principle for all his creations to me: Good + Evil = Beauty. I can’t say whether I will ever be able to understand this equation in all its complexity, but what I know for sure is that ABSCON is as friendly as, for instance, the universe or nature itself …
The mask (more) and your music (less) are reminiscent of DEATH IN JUNE. Is there anything, if at all, that connects you?
I make no secret of the fact that I have already listened to DEATH IN JUNE in the early 90ties, when I was 16 or 17. Needless to say, but such things certainly make a deep impression. Nevertheless, I don’t think – even if it seems to be very obvious – that DEATH IN JUNE is the reason why I am wearing a mask with ART ABSCONs. I think, if compelled to reveal who has inspired me to use a mask for this project, I wouldn’t mention DIJ but the RESIDENTS. On the whole, I think the decision to wear a mask was rather an interesting twist of fate than mere epigonism. At least I hope so.
I have worn the mask for the first time on the First of May three years ago. I have found it on the banks of the River Rhine where I had a picnic with a friend. I happened to have my accordion with me at that time and thought it funny to put the mask on and to hop along the meadows playing said instrument. This spectacle attracted four children sojourning nearby. I’m very glad that my friend had a camera with her and was able to capture this moment. This was perfect First May Magic and the first time I experienced what it means to be ABSCON.
Would you call yourself a neofolk artist? What characterises neofolk nowadays – a perishing genre according to the opinion of many?
Sure, apart from a lot of other stuff, I also have plenty of neofolk albums on my record shelf. I was already interested in DEATH IN JUNE, CURRENT 93 and SOL INVICTUS at a time when hardly anyone knew these bands. I was quite surprised by the delayed interest in this phenomenon that set in a few years ago – almost 20 years after albums like "But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter?", "Thunder Perfect Mind" and "Against The Modern World"! Nevertheless, this circumstance appeared as a piece of luck to me since the nineties and the early years of the new millennium were a musical wasteland to me, which was, of course, due to a cultural stagnation in general. The turn of the millennium had raised high expectations in many of us. Be it that we hoped a sudden fundamental change of cultural paradigms would take place or that we expected the world to end in 2000 – none of this happened, everything remained the same as ever, nothing seemed to have changed, neither in political, nor cultural or spiritual terms. Our entire western culture seemed to be at a dead end. But, despite the total stagnation, general perplexity and mental disorientation, our era has given itself a simulacrum of progressiveness. It is claimed that our civilisation was particularly far advanced, that our moral concepts were noble and righteous, even though an honest scrutiny of today’s state of affairs will reveal that our civilisation has never been in a more miserable condition than it is now.
The neofolk phenomenon is aware of this stagnation and the blatant dishonesty of our times and tries to unmask these with drastic and shocking means while it tries to accomplish an intellectual change by having recourse to our cultural roots. This is a very good and important approach. However, neofolk’s current problem is the fact that this approach is, in many cases, a mere pose. The boom has created a huge new generation of neofolk musicians. But, more quantity inevitably means less quality. This scene is currently characterised by a pathetic and idle rumination of a few formulas, empty phrases and gestures by a great bunch of untalented and uninspired dilettantes (with a few very glorious exceptions). One can easily foresee a declining interest in everything that has hitherto distinguished neofolk. However, this does not mean that it doesn’t go on. It is up to a handful of artists destined for greatness to lead the way out of this artistic mire. On we go. Yet everything will be different. And if it’s then no longer called ‘neofolk’, who cares? I, for sure, don’t.
You seem to play with neofolk imagery. For instance, one song on your album "Der Verborgene Gott" is called "Rune". In my ears, this song turns out to be a love song that has nothing to do with runes at all. Is this irony, your special way to deal with neofolk stereotypes?
So far, one peculiarity of ART ABSCONs creative work lies in the fact that, apart from the mystical dictations and the universal, sempiternal and timeless statements made by ABSCON, he has also given me the freedom to lend the whole a personal tone and, once in a while, to reflect on contemporary issues or my own sentiments. However, the way I treat such reflections never allows for a definite interpretation. If you call it 'irony', you have hit the nail on the head, albeit, I categorically refer to Friedrich Schlegel’s concept of irony. According to this, everything I say is at the same time characterised by profound solemnity and frolic jocoseness. Everything is in the balance and in motion like a perpetuum mobile. Thereby, I certainly hold up the mirror to the ‘scene’ every now and then. If, for instance, I hadn’t already mentioned that I have come across the mask incidentally, I could now claim that this cheap rubber mask is nothing more than a ridiculous mockery of DEATH IN JUNE only intended to satirise the grim seriousness of some neofolk followers. But, this would only be a tiny fraction of the truth; because I am also a deeply reverential person.
I think especially Germans have forgotten to accept that art can at the same time be – and even has to be – dead serious AND full of humour. That’s truly deplorable because, as German Romanticism has shown, we once were masters in the use of irony.
Interview part 2 : Romanticism, Symbolism, Religion
The label info tells us that your art was deeply rooted in German Romanticism and Symbolism. Both eras share a dreamlike, phantasmagorical quality; and your lyrics are truly Romantic. Are there any authors of said periods who have particularly influenced and inspired you, and if so, by what?
Yes, as I have already mentioned, FRIEDRICH SCHLEGEL has given me a deep insight into what I’m actually doing. I think his poetics are still up to date and truly timeless. For me, his theoretical essays on the nature of Romantic Universalpoesie or “universal poetry” are even more fascinating than the works of art that were inspired by them. Although, one should mention the early works of LUDWIG TIECK, in particular his admirable Kunstmärchen (art fairy tales) "Der blonde Eckbert" or "Der Runenberg" in which SCHLEGEL’s ideas and concepts were adopted to perfection. Later on, E.T.A HOFFMANN and HEINRICH HEINE have turned the Romantic screw even further by ironising SCHLEGEL’s theories and propelling them to fantastic absurdity.
While early German Romanticism has this very fresh and spring-like nature which I love, Symbolism is more like a late bloom of Romanticism which has lost all its childlike innocence – the dark side of Romanticism. Similar to neofolk today, Romanticism and Symbolism were the products of a widespread cultural disenchantment and a deep scepticism towards the validity of western values and a purely scientific view of the world. The artists following said aesthetics aspired to go through every imaginable situation, sensation or idea in order to catalyse the search for new solutions, unafraid to turn the world upside down or to tackle issues igniting anger, fear, enthusiasm or other passionate responses. Naturally, suchlike artists reap distrust and are misjudged by inconsiderate people who try to nail them down to a definite point of view – be it a spiritual, aesthetic or political one.
There aren’t and there haven’t been many German musical projects that have Romantic lyrics, at least not many that are not absolutely corny or embarrassing. Do you know ENDRAUM? Your lyrics remind me of this German band from the nineties…
Indeed, I think that a misinterpreted Romanticism and a one-sided artistic standpoint will always lead to embarrassing results – in particular if a self-mocking tone is missing. Unfortunately, there is a lot of evidence for this in the entire German-speaking music.
I’m sorry, but I don’t know ENDRAUM. I have come across the name several times, but I have never dug any deeper. Maybe I should catch up on this. Thanks for the hint.
At night, I dream of music, and by day, I dream of being able to play what I have heard at night.
The title of your latest album as well as many passages of your lyrics indicate that you assume that the world, nature and people are left to their own devices. A creator or guide does no longer exist, which at the same time implies that something supernatural must have existed in the past. Can you explain your spiritual view of the world? Do you believe or have you believed in God or the Devil?
What we need is a fundamentally new way of thinking. The banishment of religiousness and mysticism in favour of a scientifically oriented attempt to explain the world has led us into a blind alley where pure faith no longer suffices to endow our lives with meaning since science has proven the inadequateness of most religious models.
It is totally incomprehensible to me why we have burdened ourselves with the task of having to decide for one or the other alternative. Alchemy, for example, was a wonderful fusion of scientific and magical thinking. We have to relearn how to embrace contradictions because only then we will be able to understand the true nature of the world and of ourselves. Especially the Romantic worldview teaches us that it is quite legitimate to meet contradictions in creation by being contradictory. Even ADORNO insists that our thinking in a contradictory world has to be contradictory as well. Truth is never static, but oscillates between two poles which keep the world in balance. Only those who are able to understand that it is true that the universe is nothing more than a meaningless coincidence AND that, at the same time, there is a creator who has conceived it for a special purpose are able to come a little nearer to the truth since they begin to resonate with it, or, as DENIS SAURAT puts it: “One can only love truly a god whom one does not know for sure to exist. One can love truly only the god that does not exist.”
Is this point of view in line with the Romantics who regarded nature as a medium between divinity and science, as the principle of all being? What does nature mean to you, how do you live with it?
This concept of nature is true for the Romantic transcendentalists who saw nature as the mirror of the divine. I share this view to a certain degree, for example, in the way Jesus elucidates it in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas: “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.”
Apart from that, I do not own a car, separate my waste, save electricity, rarely eat meat and love bicycle tours through the forest. You’re laughing? No, I mean it!
This was merely a smile! You often seem to contradict yourself in your lyrics. "Die Welt ist mein Traum … im Morgengrau(e)n" (The World is my Dream at Daybreak), and then: "Erwacht ist der Drang zum Weltuntergang" (Awake is an Urge for the World to end). What does the future hold: dream or apocalypse?
The basic concept of the Hidden God rests on a special type of solipsism. The insight that nothing of what lies beyond our senses can be proved or analysed with certainty throws the individual back on its own self as the only trustworthy point of reference. Each individual naturally deems itself the universal centre of perception – and is right and wrong with it at the same time. Thus, the dispute of two solipsists who both want to prove to the other that each of them was the only existing consciousness, producing the other one in its imagination quickly illustrates the absurdity of traditional solipsism. But on the other hand, each individual is responsible for creating its own world since its personal way of perceiving the world is absolutely unique. Following this, mere perception is already creation because this world would not exist if it would not be perceived. Hence, every perceiving individual is a potential creator – a god. And if this world is nothing more than my conception, my dream of it, then it expires the moment I awake. This awakening, however, is the hour of the potential god’s birth, the god that slumbers deep within us. Thus, the awakening of the Hidden God within us could be equalled with the end of the world as we know it; and we are naturally just as afraid of this end as we long for it: "Wollen wir wecken / Was in unseren Ahndungen dämmert? / Ob Schönheit ob Schrecken / Was immer dort schlummert?" (Shall we rouse / What dawns in our Premonitions? / Beauty or Horror / Whatever it may be?)
Be that as it may, even if we do not want to awake him now, we should be more aware of this god that slumbers in us, and we should try to listen more to his voice – since he sometimes speaks in his sleep.
From the future of the world to your personal musical future: ART ABSCONs’ discography is not older than two years. So, may we expect quite a lot more?
Knowing ABSCON, I think we may indeed expect a lot more. But, to begin with, an unusually designed, outstanding vinyl edition of "Am Himmel mit Feuer II" has been released this August. At last, this album is a professionally produced version of its same-titled predecessor, including some new tracks as well as revised and improved versions of the old songs. On the whole, it’s a completely new album and a nice collector’s item. I’m really pleased with the result. It is very harmonious and well produced and will probably not be released on CD until next year.
If everything goes well, ART ABSCON will play a live show in Rome on October 31st this year. This show is planned as a release party for a Halloween EP on vinyl which can already be pre-ordered one week before Halloween but must not be listened to before the 31st of October. Another show, this time with DERNIÈRE VOLONTÉ and TRIARII, will take place on New Year’s Eve in Leipzig at the Theaterfabrik.
The next real ART ABSCONs album is planned for the beginning of next year. I already was so fortunate as to hear it in its entirety in one of the most sublime and significant dreams I ever had. By now, I even have begun to record parts of it. This album will be a perfect testimony of ABSCONs impartations because I know that I have finally gained enough experience and technical knowledge to give shape to this mystical form of poetic inspiration, or afflatus. I’m really excited and curious about the outcome! A huge responsibility is bestowed on me! The album will be called "Les Sentiers Éternels".
In addition to all this, there will also be a musical version of BAUDELAIRE poems together with L'HORRIBLE PASSION, a soundtrack for a film and a very promising collaboration with a visual artist. But, I’m not going to give away anything about it now … Beside all that, N2 ITINITI, J1 STATIK and SASHA FELINE from GNOMONCLAST have stayed at my house for a few days after our show in Italy with LUFTWAFFE and GNOMONCLAST, and we have recorded some very nice things …
ART, thanks for the encyclopaedic interview. Long may your inspiration continue for new ART ABSCON projects!
Michael We. für nonpop.de
Verweise zum Artikel:
» ART ABSCONs @ facebook
» ART ABSCONs @ myspace
» GNOMONCLAST @ facebook
» LUFTWAFFE @ facebook
» ART ABSCONS: The Separate Republic
» Angespielt: MARROW MANDLER, ART ABSCONS
» ART ABSCONS: Les Sentiers Éternels
» ART ABSCONS: Der Verborgene Gott
» Neues und Wiederveröffentlichtes von ART ABSCONS
» ART ABSCONs interview now in English
» ART ABSCONs im Dezember in Leipzig
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