Interview with Tri Atma

Interview with Tri Atma

May 9, 2014

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First steps, first recordings

Tri Atma was a band founded around 1977. The German-Indian band was founded by sitar-player Manfred Flathe, the tabla-player Asim Saha, woodwind-player Herbert Koschmieder, guitar player Jens Fischer and Martina Specht playing Tamboura.

Khidja talked via skype with Jens Fisher from Tri Atma.

Khidja: How and where did Tri Atma come together? Is the name a Christian reference?

Jens Fischer: [laughter], haha, Tri Atma was founded around 1976, initially we were 3 people, the tabla player Asim (pronounced Oshim), a saxophone player Herbert Koschmieder (Herbert died in 2013) and a sitar player, Manfred Flathe. They started it and after the first jam session they came out with the name Tri Atma. It has absolutely no religious meaning, what brought us together was just music and nothing else.

Khidja: How did you join?

Jens: I came in really short after the group was founded, after that we brought in a tambura player, a girl. Her name is Martina Specht. When we started we were an acoustic band.

Khidja: Were you classically trained?

Jens: No, not at all. Our sitar player Manfred first started learning with a german teacher and then went to India to study with a local one. Asim was also trained there, but not in a classical way, more towards Indian folk. Manfred also studied jazz guitar in Munich and i studied classical guitar in Hannover.

Khidja: You all met in Hamburg or Hannover?

Jens: In Hannover, that was our base during that time. Asim lived in Bremen, 100 km away. We kept on driving between the two.

Khidja: How did you start recording the first album? Were the songs outtakes from jam sessions or did you do classical song writing sessions?

Jens: It all started in the practice room, we would just sit down and write everything together. We would then practice for hours or days and after that we would just record it almost live in a regular studio, 24-track analog tape machine. But we had a short fuse that helped us initially. There was a festival in 1978 in Munich, put together by the "Bayerische Rundfunk", "Pop Nachwuchs" festival, the first one of it's kind in Germany actually. The festival had three categories: Jazz, rock and singer / songwriter or something similar. They couldn't fit us in any of the categories but liked us very much, so, what they did was make a special category just for us and give us a prize. This really helped jumpstart Tri Atma, and land us the record deal.

Khidja: What happened after the first release?

Jens: It came out in Germany and we had a lot of live gigs all over Germany and Austria. That was our main job, playing festivals and gigs everywhere we could.
We had a big band bus; we would arrive on stage, get the PA going, put on a big white or orange carpet on the floor, sit down on it, tune up and just jam. After that, pack up and go home...
Tri Atma
Tri Atma

Influences and live shows

Khidja: Were you dreaming of making it in America? There was such a wealth of music coming from there. What were your influences?

Jens: No, not at all. We were inspired by everything from everywhere. I was very much into jazz, Miles Davis especially, Indian music, blues, reggae. Actually when you listen to the first album you will notice that all the bass lines were just reggae riffs. And we weren't using a regular bass guitar but an acoustic one, I was tuning down my low e-string to c.

Khidja: That's why the strong grooves; I never really noticed the reggae influences in the bass lines. Was it a common practice for you to use instruments in an unorthodox way?

Jens: Not really, just me. Thing is, the tabla is tuned to exactly one note, the tambura as well. Indian music is modal, which means all melodies are based upon one fundamental tone. In our case it was usually c. Only my guitar was tuned
different all the others were tuned normally.

Khidja: How were your live shows?

Jens: Live shows? Hahah, the word "show" sounds very funny to me. That would imply entertainment and it really wasn't the case. We had a big band bus; we would arrive on stage, get the PA going, put on a big white or orange carpet on the floor, sit down on it, tune up and just jam. After that, pack up and go home...

Khidja: So, not as rock and roll as we imagine the 70s, or?

Jens: Actually yes, that was exactly how it was for all the bands. There were very large numbers of crowds and people would really listen to the music. Also, we could make a living out of it. This changed completely in the 80's with the appearance of the discos. When they got invented, a lot of bands couldn't find any gigs anymore, and many disappeared. That's how I perceived it, a sudden change after 1980.

A synthetic sound

Khidja: Right around the time when "Sehnsucht und Einklang" happened, right? The band became more electronic.

Jens: It happened before "Mighty Lotus" and "Instead of Drugs". For a short period I left the band and a keyboard player named Gerd Lueken came in my place. That was the first time that Tri Atma was using electronic, synthetic sounds. Tri Atma was not a pure acoustic band anymore. The band actually disbanded for a short time as well and was brought back together by Erdenklang's producer Ulrich Ruetzel.

He called both Asim and me and said that he is working with an artist called Klaus Netzle, alias Gyan Nishabda he was a sannyasin and this was his sannyasin-name. Apparently he had been working with a new sampler that was gigantic, the new Fairlight Computer. Uli said he wanted us to record a new album with the help of this thing. A pure studio album. We said yeah, let's do it, and all of us, including Klaus Netzle, started composing.

Then, in 1982, we met in Munich, and made the record. This was actually our most successful record, with a mainly electronic sound. Erdenklang was an electronic music label, but the difference was that the sounds were not necessarily synthetic sounds but sampled ones. Today this seems normal, but during those days it was a novelty.

Khidja: So, the Fairlight was the main reason for that?

Jens: Absolutely, and only a handful of people were having one. It was Klaus Netzle who also distributed them to the guys from Yello, and later on to my friend and colleague Eberhard Schoener, with whom I worked a lot.

Khidja: Why did you leave the band before "Mighty Lotus" and "Instead of Drugs"?

Jens: Let's say, we had been playing extensively everywhere, had done a lot of things together and were successful doing them, but i was having trouble going on. I wanted to develop things further but felt it wasn't possible in that constellation,
so i left the band.

Khidja: Was it because of the newly found electronic direction?

Jens: No, I left before that happened, in 1979-1980.

Music got 'midified'

Khidja: What happened after "Sehnsucht und Einklang" ?

Jens: After this one had been a success, we continued with an old friend of mine from Berlin named Achim Gieseler, as co-composer and keyboard player. I studied with him together and were also involved in a jazz-rock band called Cyklus. We made the album together in Berlin and this was also around the time that I had set up my first personal studio. Also, music got ''midified'', I had been using a commodore computer, had my first sequencer connected, and everything that we could connect went into hardware, haha, via midi. Very exciting times as this had just been invented. I had a studio full of synthesizers and samplers.

Khidja: Do you remember the song "Yummy Moon" of "Ka Jakee Music" ? How did you guys make that glided synth sequence? Was it a Juno 106?

Jens: Of course I remember, haha, but I think Achim would now better. He programmed that one, it could be a Juno or a dx7, and we also had a lot of the Yamaha stuff around. I will ask Achim and let you know, hahaha.
Tri Atma
Tri Atma

The sense of an ending

Khidja: I heard that Jaki Liebezeit doesn't like to be coined with the term Krautrock; did you guys see yourself in that group of musicians? Were you friends?

Jens: Can, Holger Czukay, Jaki and all those guys were one generation older than us so there wasn't much connection there, we used to be friends with bands like Musikgruppe AERA, Missus Beastly, Dissidenten, Embryo. It was a big network, there were many festivals, most of them were living in different housing facilities, and every time one of the bands would travel in the proximity of another band we would stay overnight.

Khidja: Were you collaborating with musicians from East Germany?

Jens: Zero, absolutely. The wall was up and sealed, nothing would go through. In West Berlin you would feel at home, everything was identical with the rest of Germany.

Khidja: How did Tri Atma end?

Jens: It was the album "Belong to the Sun", which I did mostly by myself with Asim. He would deliver tabla grooves and i would work on it alone in my studio. Our last 3 albums were studio albums, there wasn't a live element anymore and I think this is what stopped the band from evolving. I believe that every band should play live as well. Whether to present something new to the audience or to at least show them that the band is still there, but also to evolve their own music. Also, i think you have to test it live in front of a crowd, to see if it's any good, if it has energy. Only studio work is not good for a prolonged time.

Khidja: Where is Asim now?

Jens: He turned a bit away from music. You get older, you have to start making money for the family, and it wasn't really working for us during that time. He traveled a lot between India and Germany, tried everything possible, but still plays the tabla. We recently met and he couldn't wait to record something, haha.

Khidja: So, there's a chance for new stuff?

Jens: I don't know, never say never. In the last two years I played a couple of times with the Sitar player, Manfred. I work as a film composer and needed him for a job, we had a few sessions and I'm sure they are not the last.
Tri Atma
Tri Atma

Indian influence

Khidja: What about your time with Eberhard Schoener?

Jens: In 1984, we tried to change the Tri Atma sound completely, so we made a live concept with English vocals, electronic machines, a drummer with e-drums, and classic song structures. We made one tour and it was a complete failure for the people who knew Tri Atma from the past. They hated it so we decided not to pursue this concept. But, during this live tour I met Eberhard Schoener and we started working together. This collaboration lasted for 20 years, i played on 4-5 of his albums, toured in Japan, Bali, Australia, and many other places, remixed one of his songs.

Khidja: I noticed there is a strong Indian influence on many of Eberhard’s works, at least concerning song titles, as with Tri Atma. Was this a coincidence?

Jens: He was engaged in Balinese music. Once he brought a gamelan orchestra and we performed together on a small tour and on German tv. That was really unusual because nobody had seen a gamelan orchestra before, it was really exotic. Im not sure what his connection with indian music was.

Khidja: Was the new musical direction too electronic for your fans?

Jens: It was instrumental music with an Indian background, and this made it ethno music. That was not a term back then, it only became one later. It was euro orientated but sounded Indian, and with English words it was just a combination that people didn't like. They found it too commercial or pop. After this 2 more albums were recorded: Ka Jakee Music (1986) and Belong to the sun! (1989) - both characterized by electronic midi instruments.

Khidja:> Are there recordings of the 1984 venture?

Khidja: Yes, but they are unreleased.
Tri Atma
Tri Atma

Falco and Georgie Red

Khidja: What about your time with Falco ?

Jens: Yes, we once made a small tour and wrote a couple of songs together before his last album.

Khidja: He was already famous, right?

Jens: Oooh absolutely! He was already huge, and the biggest success was already behind him i would say. I met him after "Amadeus".

Khidja: How do you remember this period? It must have been a completely new experience.

Jens: Yes, we understood each other really well as humans, nice short friendship.

Khidja: What about your time with Georgie Red? "Help the Man" is a secret classic many of us djs adore.

Jens: Hehe, I remember that one well, and I know that it is, hehe. I played that one so many times live. Georgie Red was a really fun band and we had a great time together, we toured extensively and two years ago we made a private reunion party that was immense fun. Since then we keep saying that we will put the band back together, but we are all older men, and not everybody wants to do it, hehe.

Tri Atma
Tri Atma

Mad material

Khidja: Tell me about your first solo record, "Mad Material".

Jens: It was my first possibility to make everything that i wanted because i had my own studio. I was able to let myself go and do everything that I could imagine.

Khidja: So you went out and did a cover of "I'm A Man"! Hehe

Jens: Yes, hehe, I did that. I always found that Spencer Davis Group song really great as a teenage student. I was also involved in a Munich band called Patrick Gammon, and the bass player from that band had sung the vocals and played that amazing bass solo. His name is Reggie Worthy.

Khidja: How did you convince Beethoven to perform? He is listed in the personnel.

Jens: Hehehe, that was an alias for Achim Gieseler who at that time was still living in Paris. He had a scholarship and lived in a special housing that the university provided. All the rooms were named after famous composers, and he lived in one called Beethoven. Since then, the name stuck.

[laughter on both sides]

Khidja: I've been following your latest work as well. What are you up to now?

Jens: Since 2004 i have a solo program, with loop samplers and delays, a little bit influenced by my heroes from the minimal music. It is called Metavista, I'm still active with it and it's close to my heart. Of course I’m not into modern minimal music, but classics from the 60s that evolved side by side with the minimal art scene; I mean… Steve Reich, Philipp Glass, Terry Ryley. This music has been fascinating me for a long time, and it still influences me to this day.

Khidja: Thank you very much !

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