On Improvisation with Samuel Rohrer

On Improvisation with Samuel Rohrer

August 12, 2017

Written by:

Eduard Alexandru

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Samuel Rohrer, born in Switzerland and based in Berlin since 2003, is one of the influential improvisational musicians of his generation and has toured worldwide, performing at major festivals, like Punkt Festivalen, CTM Berlin, Nuits Sonores Lyon, NorthSea, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Portland Jazzfestival, MoldeJazz, Vancouver Int.Festival, Montreal International Jazz Festival, Sunwaves Festival Romania, among many others.

He worked with numerous artists including Sidsel Endresen, Ricardo Villalobos, Skuli Sverrisson, Nils Petter Molvaer, Laurie Anderson, Nan Goldin, Eivind Aarset, Max Loderbauer, Mark Feldman or Jan Bang. He recorded several albums for ECM and built his own label arjunamusic records in 2012, on which he implements his idea of overlapping improvised acoustic music with electronic club music.

Besides working on many new projects including AMBIQ (with Max Loderbauer and Claudio Puntin) or with Nils Petter Molvaer, he collaborates with Soundwalk Collective, Nan Goldin, Harmen Fraanje, Daniel Erdmann & Vincent Courtois, Max Loderbauer & Luigi Rangino, Tyler Friedman, and many others, and is focusing on his solo work in the field of acoustic/electronic music.

You say you consider yourself a world citizen, so how do your travels and collaborations influence your musical approach?

Samuel Rohrer: Traveling teaches you to accept whatever happens. The more I`ve traveled the more I felt at home wherever I was. I would say this is very similar to playing music and improvising. To accept what ever it is that comes your way and to try to keep an alert mind without overthinking every move and step you make, makes you free.

I am sure that a voyage and playing improvised music are pretty much the same. Only, there must be the rule of no rules. You might have an idea about where you want to go and with whom, but the possibilities of the outcome are endless. I needed to learn to have trust in the surroundings or the music. Which means in myself and the people you meet or play with. This, i guess, i learned the most from traveling in India by myself and without having a clear plan where i wanted to go and when. I just kept going and trusted the environment, to bring me to the right places and people. It was the most amazing trip i have made so far.

Range of Regularity

Is your new solo album ”Range of Regularity” to be considered a highly engineered sound experience, or did you rely on a freeform factor when recording it?

Samuel: Both. It took me quite a long time to find out in which musical direction I wanted to go with this album. My working process became more clearly when I knew what the content would be and where i wanted to go. All the pieces came out of hours of improvisations. After I have recorded lots of material, I had listening sessions and chose the moments where i felt there is something to work with. After I reworked, edited, arranged and designed the sounds, I added whatever i thought was needed and tried to find the right moment to stop. The biggest challenge for me was to keep the overview and not get lost in details and not loose the flow and the form. The way I worked on this album was a huge change in how I create music. From a live musician - composing at the piano, writing lead sheets - becoming a sound sculpturer and producer.

Through your experience this area where more traditional jazz and electronic experimentation meet, what would you say it is leading towards?

Samuel: I would not call it traditional jazz. I can relate more to a tradition of improvisation. If we look closely, we all do have this tradition. or let´s call it intuition.

For me it is the most natural thing to be influenced by and to combine different musical forms, it happens naturally when you digest what you hear and feel and then let it into the music you create. But since the possibilities are endless, I think its very personal how to approach this, as well as the individual process one can follow. I guess its all about taste. Or the mix of ingredients that make each time sound like something „new“. I would be very happy if i succeed to create something absolutely personal.

— And to come back to your question, it leads towards questioning what you were doing for so many years, and finding new inspiration to start seeing things in a new light. Its challenging. I don’t want to loose the quality that music has for me as a live musician. But its important for me to find new ways of how to create it, to look for new possibilities to surprise myself and find inspiration in the unexpected. There is so much more to explore, a lot of room for research.

The art of living

Photo credits: Barbara Klein
Photo credits: Barbara Klein
Can it become its own type of tradition?

Samuel: I think there is only one tradition of music, then there are many branches and forms, as much as there are tribes or humans. But basically I would say in its root, it is all the same. We could even say, if we break it down to the essence, there is only one music. Its only about the form, the shape, the size, the meter and its complexity and personality we than give to it that makes one different from the other...

What forms of art influenced your work, so far?
Samuel: Maybe its the art of living. If we master our life with all our struggles and difficulties, we can master anything.

I love all kinds of performing arts and especially its combinations and through that the possibilities you have with multimedia work. When i started to work with dancers, i learned a lot about creating space with the repetition of simple ideas, or for ex. creating a room with specific sounds. I love architecture and photography. It has all to do with symmetry and balance. With holding on to a moment and keeping it. What music actually cant do. The beauty in music lies also in the fact, that it´s gone in the moment you play it….

And I finally saw a few paintings of Anselm Kiefer in real proportion, i was impressed by the power of his work not only because of its sizes but also because it´s depth. These are more sculptures than paintings. I am also impressed and inspired by people like Hannah Arendt. She was incredibly clever and brave and way ahead of her time.

How do you relate with the current scene of electronic music?

Its a new chapter for me. i meet so many new and interesting people every week. It is absolutely inspiring to find my place in this, for me, a total new world. And I think that the combination of electronic music with acoustic instrumentation in an improvised context is still a huge field that needs to be explored.

About the Author

Eduard Alexandru

Eduard is one of The Attic's editors and music reviewers, as well as part of the team organizing the Outernational Days festival.

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