Photo of J.Peter Schwalm © Anja Hahn
The well-known slogan “One picture is worth a thousand words”, created by the advertising industry in the early nineteen-twenties and now a general cultural meme, could equally sensibly be applied to the field of music. Instrumental music, in particular music generated by electronic means, has, over the last several decades, become of central importance to popular culture: you only need to think about Brian Eno’s “Music For Airports”, which helped define the genre of “Ambient” music and create a permanent bond between music and everyday reality. Similarly, the compositions and music productions by J.Peter Schwalm ;are testament to the power of tones without words.
Since 1998 and for six years, Schwalm worked continually with Eno, releasing numerous joint works, including the album “Drawn From Life” and the soundtrack to the film “Fear X” by Nicholas Winding Refn, all the while giving celebrated joint performances in Europe and Japan. Since 2006, Schwalm has been repeatedly invited by the Punktfestival in Kristiansand, where he performed as celebrated live-remixer. As one of the most respected exponents of this particular art form, he collaborated with several well known music ensembles, including the Ensemble Modern from Frankfurt. In 2013, the London New Music Icebreaker Ensemble commissioned Schwalm to write a piece of music from material originally composed by Kraftwerk; the resulting composition, “Kraftwerk Uncovered – A Future Past”, was successfully toured by both in Germany and Ireland.
The new album by J.Peter Schwalm, “The Beauty Of Disaster” continues this tradition, by exemplifying the suggestive powers of instrumental music, while drawing inspiration from contemporary images:
“I had been deeply impressed by satellite images of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico while composing new pieces for this album. These surprising photos, which so reminded me of paintings, seemed to embody the very same deep duality between the dark melancholia they depicted and a continuous, meshed sense of hope, an embedded ray of light, as did the compositions I was working on.”
As such, these compositions of J.Peter Schwalm seek to balance the aesthetics of electronic with that of orchestral music. His swelling arrangements mark the difference between opulence (desired) and bombast (to be avoided at all costs), while his electronic sounds highlight his unique techniques, developed way beyond what is achievable by regular plug-ins. Many passages are completely devoid of beat, thus achieving a deep sense of contemplation in music.
“Some works are based on the principles of “Live Remix” which I developed during and since my repeated appearances at the Punkt Festival” explains Schwalm “while others are rooted in the technique of Multi-track composing I developed.” Also, emotional depth is more important than technical detail: “While, for example, Zirkeltrilogie, was created on the basis of a traditional notion of harmonic resolution, I am less concerned with concepts and more with the question “How can I best express my inner feelings, my inner tensions?”” continues Schwalm “If anything, I have focused my attention primarily on the philosophical notion of attraction towards the Limitless, towards Change, which has influenced so many writers and composers. I feel in fact most germane to a thought formulated by the psychologist Robert A. Johnson: “Death, which awaits us in romantic love, is not destruction of life, but the blossoming of the inner world”.
The abandonment of speculative noisiness, which thoroughly characterizes Schwalm’s nuanced, atmospheric music, is nonetheless also a conscious choice in opposition to the spirit of our times:
“I find a number of my pieces to be already quite loud or at least tempestuous” says Schwalm “while others only reveal their emotional loudness after several listening sessions. All in all, I compose music with inquisitive posture, and I am not interested in generating adverse of positive reactions by means of quick, overwhelming noise."
J.Peter Schwalm, was born in Frankfurt Am Main in 1970, where he conducted his studies in music and drumming. He founded his first electro-jazz music project ‘Slop Shop’ in 1993, positioning himself firmly between music genres. A number of maxi-single releases were followed by the ensemble’s first album in 1998, ‘Makrodelia’, which eventually reached Brian Eno’s hands, leading to an offer of collaboration. The two met and performed a few months later in the German Hall for Arts and Exhibitions, together with Kraut-rock legend Holger Czukay.
Two albums and film scores later, the two went their separate ways. In the following years, Schwalm composed music for the Stuttgarter Ballett, for the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield, for London choreographer Hofech Schechter and the Series “Das Neue Werk” of German radio NDR. Since 2008, Schwalm has been regularly playing with Norwegian electric guitarist and sound-sculptor Eivind Aarset and with bassist Tim Harries (of Spin Marvel fame). In 2013, Schwalm was commissioned to write and perform a piece by the Deutsches Jazzfestival in Frankfurt.
Schwalm counts jazz innovator Miles Davis as early significant influence, as well as film work by Stanley Kubrick: “In a certain way” he laughs gently “I am still inspired by Bitches Brew. The piece “Himmelfahrt” arose following similar principles: there is a rhythm, a theme, but rather than studio improvisations, a large number of live cuts which I injected into the piece.” Other pieces, such as “Zirkeltrilogie” or “Endknall” were rather more influenced by György Ligeti:
“Since seeing Lux Aeterna at the age of 15, I became deeply fascinated by his compositions made of tonal surfaces.”
It was of course Ligeti’s music which significantly contributed to the metaphysical depth of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey.
The Beauty Of Disaster is J.Peter Schwalm’s most personal work to date: Its partly microscopically developed, partly dynamically driven tonal landscapes absorb the listener into an unconventionally modern, yet timeless world; His use of abstract form serves purposes of beauty and elegance, rather than complication, as he invites the listener into a voyage of discovery of new perspectives rather than excite her with conundrums. Herein lies the meaning of the pictures of the Gulf of Mexico described at the beginning of this piece, when the discovery of a new perspective allows perception of the beauty of disaster.”
The Beauty of Disaster