Martin Hall interview made by Daniel Jahn for Medienkonverter on the 26th of September 2008

The interview was made in relation to the release of the Catalyst album.

Last year you released ‘Catalogue’, a compilation featuring your previous work on five records and a DVD. Now you’re releasing ‘Catalyst’, a record that portrays a collection of your most important works containing 20 personally selected singles. Both records prove your versatility ranging from post-punk over pop to classic and avant-garde. Although this wide spectrum, at the beginning, is hardly within anyone’s reach, after a few listens to your music a central theme and an unmistakeable personal style seems to crystallize. Is there a connecting link between all your pieces of work

– When I started making music, I was fascinated and very moved by the way music was able to transmit feelings – from the person making the music to the listener receiving it. This is what art is to me: A matter of transmitting energy. Not just from one person to another, but also from one age to another. Music conveys an inner world, gives you access to places in yourself you might never have been before. I’m saying this to stress the fact, that to me this is the great gift of music: Its ability to lift you up, to allow a new sensation, to give entry into a world otherwise clouded and obscured by daily routines.

– By this token I’ve never been too concerned with labelling what I’m doing. Some emotional lifts take place in the vast fields of romanticism, other depend on the acid drops of rock music. I don’t, however, listen very much to pop or rock music anymore, but I’ve got no problems whatsoever with a Phil Spector-like arrangement overflowing with violins and horns. I love the greatness of popular music. I make music according to need. You make use of forms in order to translate an essence. I think people who listen to the music I’m making, appreciate this kind of journeying into the unknown, the fact that most of my records are different. They tune into the principle behind the various expressions.

– To me music is alchemy, something that’s in a constant state of becoming, something that never ends. In this context the ‘Catalogue’ box represents five doors into the same thing – the pop music, the signature songs, the instrumental works, my collaboration with other electronically inclined musicians and an entirely classical section – whereas the new compilation ‘Catalyst’ focuses on the singles I’ve made during the years … the more easily accessible songs you could say. In Denmark a new generation is beginning to listen to my music, and the singles collection might be an easy first step into an increasingly deepening musical experience. A box consisting of five records and a DVD is a bit too much to begin with for the general listener.

Your last record ‘Facsmile’ is one of my favourites. It sounds like coming to a destination after a long journey, being mature, expressive and yet fragile. For me personally, what’s especially impressing is your vocal interpretation, how your voice seems to be like an instrument fitting perfectly in the songs. How is your relation to your own voice?

– First of all, thank you very much for your comments concerning ‘Facsimile’. It’s definitely also one of my own favourite records. I’m very pleased with this record, in the sense that it seemed to capture the essence of my person, at least at the time when I was recording it. In many ways it’s a concentrate of what I’ve been working with ever since the beginning … or at least working towards. It is, as you said, a sort of arrival – or homecoming, all depending on your point of view – after a long journey. “From one to zero in a circle of ten” so to speak. It’s a destilate of a musical journey, the concentrate of a long process.

– In this manner of speaking my voice is an integral part of the process. It’s the media I work with, my given tool. I’ve had a lot of trouble relating to my own voice during the years, but on this record it simply went into the process as one of its natural ingredients. It’s like poetry, you try to express ideas or states of feelings through the words – the same goes with music. Perfection can be terrible. A lot of my records from the mid-80’s suffered from an almost pathological sense of perfection, but as the American writer Sylvia Plath once said: “Perfection is terrible. It cannot have children”. I really like this phrase. Things have to be genuine rather than perfect. I think that’s one of the things that happened on the ‘Facsimile’ album … that I surrendered to the process rather than constantly being subject to the idea of a perfect product.

As well as records with songs you have published instrumental records, soundtracks and collages. Are there any specific criteria to decide if you work with or without vocals or are those decisions intuitive?

– It depends. Sometimes you are approached with a specific request. When I recorded ‘Camille’ (the music I wrote for a Danish theatre production of Alexandre Dumas’ “The Lady of the Camellias”), it was obvious to me that this body of music had to be instrumental. The parts where vocals were needed were performed by the phenomenal mezzo-soprano Andrea Pellegrini, a fantastic singer. In this case, with the theatre play, I embraced someone else’s work, and by that token it had to be voiceless. “Faceless” you could say. Transparent.

– In comparison ‘Facsimile’ was a completely different process. This was a personal expression, a poetic display. A soul diary – a set of intimate journals. ‘Facsimile’ was a tale, something that needed to be told … a poetic expression that needed a voice. The writer’s voice. My voice.

You describe yourself as a romantic artist. Your songs are always expressive, but nevertheless they are no kitschy love songs. They posses a special form of melancholy that is more hopeful than lamenting, a kind of optimistic melancholia. Longing is a repeating constant factor in your lyrics. What does melancholia, what does yearning mean to you? How much do your songs reveal of the person Martin Hall?

– Well, longing reflects a search for completion – the need to be fulfilled. You yearn for that which you have not yet obtained. Longing is what drives all sensible humans. As living beings, we all want to be fulfilled, in one way or another. I think this is quite a beautiful process, not at all a hopeless project. Personally, I’m quite melancholic by nature, but at the same time I’m very defiant: I’m not going to put up with it. I want to see change, I want to see progress.

– The reference to the romantic tradition is also a hint to the zeitgeist of the start-80’s, the period in which I made my artistic debut. In recent years there’s been a lot of talk about the 80’s, but sometimes I get confused about which 80’s we’re referring to – the 1980’ or the 1880’s. There are quite a few parallels: The poetic nerve, the metaphors, the savage seriousness. The romantic tradition wants everything or nothing at all. It places the heart at the centre of existence and demands conviction. It doesn’t want to settle to any kind of mediocrity.

– Anyway, when I refer to the romantic, I refer to this kind of fierce longing – to the marriage between tender longing and bold demand. Personally, I think you’ll find the most fitting image of Martin Hall on records such as ‘Facsimile’ or ‘Camille’. Where the motive somehow stays elusive, where the real agenda seems kind of hidden in the details.

Your lyrics do not only mediate emotionality, but also a particular set of aesthetics. For example, in one of your songs it is said “Ash and lemon water shining on your lips” which is a quite fascinating metaphor that despite tenderness conveys coolness. Do you draw such literary images deliberately or do such lyrics rise from spontaneous moods?

– I don’t think you can distinguish what you’ve become with what you do. I love literature. You’ll probably find reminiscences of a lot of things I read in my lyrics … senses of Marcel Proust, Rainer Maria Rilke and Scott Fitzgerald. Of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Marguerite Duras. These names have inspired me during the years, elevated me, and obviously the shadows of some of these people’s works linger in my writings.

– I used to write very personal, very confronting lyrics, but in this regard I have definitely changed direction over the years. One of the greatest compliments you can get as an artist, I think, is when people find sanctuary in your works – when they find room, space to linger for a while. Imagery creates space and space allows growth. Combined with music you’re able to produce a haven, a sanctuary.

– When art acts as a catalyst – as something that enables other processes to get activated without losing its own momentum – it’s a magnificent thing. From the ‘Catalogue’ display to the ‘Catalyst’ function so to speak … from the external references to the personal experience.

I once read that you have a tense relation to the music business. I can imagine that your intense way of working and your multifarious output is hardly to combine with all those absurdities of the today’s music market. How do you succeed in doing these splits?

– The music industry is a grocery shop, everyone knows that, something that depends on wages and profits. Sometimes the machinery of a major company can be helpful, at other times completely destructive – you have to stay focussed on the project you’re working with. I’m not really into the “labelling thing”, the idea of the mainstream versus the alternative. I think a lot of the distinction being made between the mainstream and the independent scene is an illusion, something necessary to give people a sense of individual identity. So-called “rebellion” is the market economy’s biggest driving factor, so in many ways the term “alternative” has become just another label for selling people new goods. Being in opposition becomes a design-identity that gives the average consumer the feeling of being hip and trendy etc. The show goes on.

– However, if your musical aim is strong, pure, then this will shine though no matter what circumstances you’re operating in. In the end it’s all about control – about personal focus. I want things to work. You do one thing here, another thing there. As an example, during the 90’s I was as an active songwriter for several major artists which enabled me to finance some of my own, much more difficult and non-commercial works later. I financed the writing of my two-volume novel ‘The Last Romantic’, a process that took me almost five years to complete, with the money I had made on writing songs for other people.

– As I’ve already said a few times, it all comes down to staying focused. In the mid-90’s Sony “couldn’t hear the single” when I presented them to the first sketches of one on my most critically acclaimed records ever, ‘Random Hold’ (released in Denmark in 1996, in Germany 1997). I then raised the funds myself and recorded one of my best albums ever.

In your home country, Denmark, you already seem to be some kind of icon who is accepted and respected by mass media as well as by the independent scene. Do you feel honoured in this position, or is this of no importance to you?

– I appreciate the recognition of integrity, but it’s nothing to be thankful about. I do what I do, and the consequences are what they are.

The end of your collection ‘Catalyst’ is the current single ‘Delirious’, a twisting and euphoric pop song. Is this pop-appeal the beginning of a new artistic chapter?

– No, not really. As a matter of fact it might be the end to that particular chapter in my career, the one called “pop music”. I don’t know. The song is a couple of years old, but it just seemed to fit the singles collection. The collaboration with Danish newcomers Marybell Katastrophy also worked out incredibly well, so there it was, a new single – something that my coming album (scheduled for release in February 2009) is completely devoid of.



Martin Hall interview made by Michael Kuhlen on April 10th 2007

‘Facsimile’ is being defined as the reproduction or a copy of something very precious and sometimes very expensive. Therefore I wonder where’s the relation to your latest album, its title and the single songs of the album?

– To me all art is a reproduction of ideas and impulses, thoughts and feelings, so the notion of a facsimile is this – that the album is a reproduction of an emotional state. All art operates through this kind of displacement, a delay from the time of its origin to the time of its reception; both music and literature is a statement after the fact, and the statement is never identical with the artist.

– The cover photo also indicates this notion: You see a closed door, an entrance, a portal. You can’t be observing and experiencing at the same time – you need to enter the next room to allow yourself the experience. You need to leave something behind to acquire something else. There’s almost a notion of fatality about it.

Is it some kind of concept album?

– Not as such. I don’t particularly like concept albums. Once you’ve defined the subject matter, you’re tied down. On the other hand, most albums unwillingly are concept albums – that is, something fixed and defined by the artist performing. You can’t escape your own nature.

Would you agree that looking at the beauty of your songs and the intimate atmospheres they all reveal, even back to the ‘Random Hold’ album, the music is overwhelming with all of your passion, heart and soul you’re putting into?

– At heart, I am a romantic. A romantic in the classic sense: someone who seeks to secure his art through dedication. The romantic strives towards beauty, beauty at all costs, which often has fatal consequences.

– To me, music has always been about longings: I don’t think there is a better media than music to express human longing, whether it’s hope, alienation or elevation. Music has an overwhelming ability to cross borders, languages and ages – to provide you with glimpses beyond your experience. Music provides you with a sense of being able to express what can’t be put in words. Music is in a continual state of becoming so to speak. I’m sorry if I sound a bit over the top, but I can’t help quoting the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze when he talks about of becoming as a state opposed to being – that being is a question of becoming.

– Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that music, to me, has always been about elevation, about motion, about being able to change – to be moved by it or to move others through it. It’s the e-motion, the way to cut through all intellectual layers and create a room in which the receiver can act freely – a sanctuary so to speak. Music is compelling.

What kind of character are you? The music gives the impression of a very quiet character, someone who’s more of a thinking man, an introvert person rather than an extrovert person. Do you tend to think in such categories, even more as there were scientific studies saying that extroverted people have a much easier life, whereas the potential of introverted people often lies much deeper and can not display if not having the chance to unfold.

– I think it’s easier for other people to define your character. As a person, you live your life and go through different phases to then, in time, arrive at some kind of recognizable being or behaviour. In many ways the sum total is to be found in your character – what kind of person you are morally, how you behave under pressure etc. I love the English phrase defining true elegance: “Grace under pressure”, the ability to stay focussed during hardship. Most people think they know themselves, but experience tells another story. You’ll get to know yourself via the resistance, not by daily life routines or some kind of general easy going.

– I’ve gone though a lot of changes. In my early years, although I was seen as a fairly “intellectual” character”, I was pretty wild, did a lot of drug-taking and so on, but then an huge amount of people around me died which obviously makes you reflect upon your way of life. The death rate among the generation I grew up with in the 1980’s was very high. It did stir a certain seriousness. I think the lifestyle of this period, the “no compromise”-attitude and artistic ramifications of the post-punk movement, was a great quality.

– But to return to you question: In terms of my present appearance, yes, I guess I have to be defined as a fairly introvert person. I very seldom attend receptions, and I go to a few concerts and events as possible. Actually I find it quite exhausting to be with other people for too long. But then again, I think you need to consider this kind of behaviour in relation to my general output: I’m a fairly productive person in terms of my artistic endeavours. I had a complete breakdown in 1999, due to both psychological reasons and an extreme work schedule, after which I changed my way of living. I don’t have the energy to put up with nonsense anymore, particularly not the kind of nonsense you have to put up with in the music industry. Writing has become more and more important to me.

Except Nick Cave maybe I hardly know any other artist than you who’s so intense in his artistical musical work, therefore I wonder how you experience your own music? Do you feel the same or do you have some kind of distance to it when listening to the album? How much of stripping your soul do you experience when listening to your songs?

– I once read an interview with John Malkovich where he proclaimed that he never saw his own films. Once he’d done them, that was it. I think the same goes with Jeremy Irons. To some extent I feel the same way: Not that I never listen to my own music, but when I do, it’s always for some kind of reason. I don’t find any pleasure in listening to my own music. It’s like looking in the mirror – it’s not necessarily a wonderful experience.

– What I enjoy most seems to be the instrumental works such as the soundtrack Camille or other works where my own voice doesn’t appear. I get far too self-reflective when I hear my own voice. I never regarded my self as a singer as such, I’ve always viewed myself as an artist working with words and music rather than a singer, which might also explain the slightly introverted aspect of my works we talked about before.

– When I recorded Facsimile, I had to record all vocals at home. As soon as I got into the studio, I couldn’t perform. I hated the sound of my own voice. It had been like that for years. That’s why I basically recorded no albums with myself as vocalist from 1999 up until Facsimile. However, having finished the book The Last Romantic which I had written on during this period – from 1999 to 2005 – I suddenly felt free to act again. After years of difficulties with writing songs for myself (actually being completely unable to do so), Facsimile really appeared out of nowhere, so I rush-recorded most of the vocals. Three takes, that was the maximum amount I could perform on each song. After that I would feel “phony”, like some one imitating himself. It had to be clean, I had to focus on the connection to the song rather than the performance. I’m such a perfectionist that my career experience almost killed my natural instinct for making music. Facsimile was a great healing. I’m very pleased with this record. I think it’s the kind of album where you’re finally able to hear who Martin Hall is. It’s a fairly fragile album.

When writing in such an intimate and autobiographical style as you do and really laying your heart to bare, don’t you also see the danger of being hurt, of being vulnerable? Is this something you don’t care about? In that sense, do you consider writing lyrics and music of being some kind of therapy, of maybe getting rid of some of the problems you might have?

– In many ways you’re much more vulnerable all the time you’re trying to play a role … since you might get “caught in the act” so to speak. In the Danish media, I’ve always received a huge amount of attention due to my fairly obscure personality, this hybrid being caught in between the underground and an almost Liberace-like appearance in the mainstream media. This lack of definition has been a great advantage to me – a cover in many ways, since people never knew what to expect from me.

– When writing my music and lyrics, there isn’t any option though, there isn’t any in-between state. The only source to draw upon is yourself, and to me this is the only way to go ahead – to explore the results of the processes you’re going through and to accept the identities surrounding you, the results of the interactions between you and your surroundings. As I said before, I tend to get very self-reflective, so to me sincerity has always provided a shield – in the sense that the song or the lyrics express an endeavour or a longing, something archetypical, something beyond the sheer personal aspects of “this is how I feel and that is why you have to listen to me”. I know it might sound awfully pretentious, but by this token music becomes a matter of listening to a soul breathing, a matter of natural process. I relate to other people’s music by the same reason, not by wild gesticulations.

Lyrically speaking ‘Facsimile’ seems to be an album where loss, the loss of love, seems to play an important role. All the feelings that go along with it, the broken hearts, the shattered illusions and dreams. Is this the best source for emotional and intense music such as yours?

– Well, I don’t know. I think it’s true to say that loss plays a significant role on the album, but loss in the sense of moving on, accepting the consequences of life and leaving unnecessary luggage and debris behind. The English writer T.S. Eliot compared the process of human struggle and suffering to that of an sculptor carving a sculpture from a piece of stone: For every stroke with hammer and chisel, the sculpture is one step closer to perfection. It’s a very wonderful metaphor, I think … how loss and hurt release the true character of a person. Sorrow is sterile, but becomes a profound resonance for life when applied actively to reality. The only way to make sure you won’t repeat the mistakes of your past is to actively register the danger of doing so – you need to be reminded, day in and day out. I suppose that’s why pain plays such a significant part of our lives: It’s a course correction, a pilot, a way to secure the way ahead.

In our first interview you several times mentioned that you’re a very self-reflecting character, thinking and observing a lot and being very selective when writing lyrics and finding the right words. Therefore I wonder how long it might take before you’re satisfied with the lyrics or a song? Is the final decision to use a certain version of a song always a compromise to you?

– It’s a very interesting question … with a very different answer now and here, almost ten years later, than the one I gave you last time. Earlier I would go to extreme limits to attain some kind of personal satisfaction with a song and its contents, the lyrics, but nowadays, I’m pleased if they don’t make me uncomfortable – that is, if I accept the words as they are. I’ve become incredibly allergic to my own lyrics and it’s very difficult for me to write words I’m going to perform myself. It’s self-awareness gone completely astray. I didn’t write any songs for myself from 2001 until 2005. On the EP Introducing Roseland I managed to write four lyrics, so when the material for Facsimile suddenly came together very naturally so, I was very relieved.

– So to me, a lyric is good if I don’t get nausea by it. It’s come to that, really. I know it might sound terribly plain and vulgar, but this is the way it works for me now: If I can perform it without getting any allergic reactions, I’m pleased. Then it’s a 1:1 statement of how I feel, which is all I ask for. Too much invention is a terrible thing. Keeping things to the minimal has become a new way of working. That is why I probably end up only making instrumental music.

– On the other hand I can write a book of 700 pages. But it’s all got to do with the purity of the contents, I think – once you need to sing it, it becomes very difficult. Writing a book is like writing from another person’s view. I managed to write all the lyrics on Facsimile in the slipstream of The Last Romantic – the book cleared the way so to speak. I emptied myself into writing this epic novel and the few words left were the ones closest to the heart … the ones most fitting for a song.

Watching the videos to each single track I wonder what was the intention to use videos like these, always showing some kind of aesthetics, be it fashion and the walk over the catwalk, the cars or even the Japanese suspension bondage also being regarded as beautiful by some people?

– I think all objects become aesthetic when put into a frame. Like I began this interview with trying to explain how all art to me, in one form or another, is a reproduction, the notion of visualizing the songs with pure “surfaces”, the “skin” of our culture i.e. fashion, city lights and glimpses of bondage, seemed very appealing to me. I don’t think you need illustrations to the music anyway, but on the other hand, I personally like the images of the videos as surroundings … as a corridor to move through while listening to the music. Listening to the record at a Danish art gallery at the time of the release, having the videos projected on an enormous wall, really gave the music a nice frame. The more personal the lyrics, the more impersonal the imagery needs to be. At least to me.

Normally beauty is often related to people and human beings which is something that I’m missing in all of the videos. Was that a conscious decision to avoid humans being displayed?

– Humans appear as part of the sceneries displayed. We (MH and the photographer were only interested in showing surroundings, circumstances, the interactions between things, not the subject itself. As I said, the more personal a statement becomes, the more it needs to appear in an aesthetically purified environment.

All the videos were shot from an observer’s, almost a voyeur’s perspective? Someone being quiet and just watching what’s happening around him? Was that intended to be or is it some kind of coincidence? What was the idea of using that particular perspective throughout all the videos?

– To me, the songs needed no emotional persuasion. The images had to reflect that. Like people listening to the album on their iPod while moving from point A to B, the Facsimile DVD sets the visuals for a similar journey, an almost random walk through life. I very much like Pan•American’s records, since Mark Nelson seems to revolve around has the same sense of slowed down life-experience we wanted to portray. The alienation you might experience via the images cause you to move towards a centre of gravity in yourself – that, or be completely lost in the passing visuals. To me, both effects are equally fine.

You’re not just releasing albums like ‘Facsimile’, but you’re also doing more experimental works with ‘Racing Cars’ and used to work with on old opera singer which is really interesting as, if I remember correctly, your musical background originally lies in the (post)punk scene. How did this musical development happen and how did you end up with creating such intimate and intense music?

– I started playing classical guitar at the age of ten, but when punk broke through in 1976-1977 I quit that and started a band of my own. However, influences obviously remain, so I grew up listening to identical amounts of Stravinsky and Sex Pistols. A nice mix actually.

– As I’ve already touched upon, music, for me, has always been about conveying reality – a matter of passing on feelings and thoughts, of providing a room of reflection for whom it might concern … as other artists have provided for me. Music, art and literature is a passage, a channel of energy, a way to communicate and sublimate matters, but music without reason is pointless. I’ve always wanted to find new and other ways of working, so once a dynamic seemed used up, I’ve had to move on. Art is like this breath of life – you don’t just do a thing once, it’s a continual process. Life without development is a sad affair, and so is artists stuck in their past. Saluting a tradition can be a great thing, you’ve just got to relocate yourself every time you do so, approach the matter anew. Habits can be a foundation, but also blindness. As an artist you’ve got to embrace challenge. There isn’t any given formula.

You made a long break without performing live. What were the reasons for this long break and what did you do all the time in between? The info to ‘Facsimile’ also speaks of “avoiding the role as singer and autobiographical songwriter for years” and therefore it seems as if this has been a conscious decision. What were the motives for this decision, and what did you bring you back on track and releasing ‘Facsimile’ in the end? Maybe the fact that, in relation to the definition of a “facsimile” such as mentioned before, you had to find back to yourself again, to the core of what Martin Hall stands for as a muscian and human being and not just the image that people may had of you?

– I’ve never liked performing live very much. For many reasons. Mostly because I feel quite exposed. I get very nervous, particularly if it’s the first concert for years. I don’t enjoy the sense of people watching my every move. Obviously, once you’re into the music, you’re relieved of this pressure, but the time before the concerts can be very difficult. I hate touring. I’ve only ever done one tour and that was not a very pleasant experience.

– Ever since the early days with Ballet Mécanique, my first group, I viewed concerts as something similar to record releases – that it was a “work” in their own right. Even then, we played very seldom, and often the concerts consisted of entirely new material only played at that one gig. So concerts have always been more like happenings to me, musical exhibitions so to speak, not something you went on tour with or repeated endlessly. In the mid-eighties where my records were released in countries such as Germany, it was quite a problem with my attitude towards touring, and this aspect of my career is definitely one of the prime reasons for why I’m still such a cult act – why I’ve never gathered a bigger audience or had some kind of commercial breakthrough … apart from the fact that most of my records aren’t very well suited for a commercial break.

– Anyway, I also get quite depressed after shows. You invest a lot of yourself and then you’re left with this empty feeling, even though the concerts went very well. I can’t explain it – it’s just how I react. Another thing is that the venue for the show has to be special. I need the occasion to be special, the sight to be spectacular. So my latest concerts have been performed on a castle (Hindsgavl Slot), at an old Danish theatre (Aarhus Teater) and most recently at The Glyptotek, an exhibition hall in Copenhagen with marble pillars and sculptures everywhere. All of these concerts went incredibly well, the last one receiving 6 out of 6 stars reviews, but that was it for now. I’d like to gather myself again, to reconsider everything. I need some time on my own, time to write and re-locate.

Besides that you now begin working as an actor and somehow I guess you’re also painting and doing other kind of arts. Does that mean that you’re dedicating your life to arts in general?

– As you know, I’ve released a line of books, and I feel a great urge to continue writing. I’m looking very much forward to get on with my next book. At the moment I’m writing essays and chronicles in various newspapers.

– Then, on the other hand, as you mention, I was recently invited to play a minor role in a new Danish movie – actually the most expensive Danish movie ever made – an offer I just couldn’t resist. I had to play the part of a completely obscure character getting shot into pieces by the Danish resistance during WW2 … it was just too bizarre a role to turn down. I’ve just come back from shooting my scenes in Prague, and it was very a positive experience – very refreshing. So if someone asks me to play the part of a deranged English poet in the 19th century or something like that, I’ll probably say yes. But then again, I’m not going to start an acting career based on mediocre roles. If the part suits me, I’ll consider it.

Besides the movie you’re shooting in Prague what are your next plans? Do you think I can ever hope for a concert in Germany? Any plans for upcoming shows in Denmark so that I might come to see you perform there?

– In many ways, I would like to play a concert in Germany. Germany has always been one of the countries where there’s been a genuine interest for what I’m doing, so obviously it would be nice to play a concert here at some point. The only problem is that my live set-up is so difficult to travel with … I mean, the latest concert involving a chamber ensemble and 19 musicians, which does require a reasonable budget etc. Let’s see what happens. But as I’ve already stated, I’m probably not going to play in Denmark for a while.

– However, I’m preparing a re-release of some of the old recordings combined with new and previously unreleased material. It’s quite a compilation project, a box consisting of several discs combining club-tracks with soundtracks and remixes. A DVD with visuals and videos will be included as well. We’re in the selecting process at the moment, so nothing is definite yet, but as I said, it will be quite an extensive release summarizing my career so far. I think it’s a very good point in time to release this kind of work now. There have been requests concerning getting the old 12” singles on cd’s and downloads for a long time, and combined with the new stuff, it will be a fitting frame to view my musical activities through. The box will mark the end of one period and thereby the beginning of another.



A consumer’s guide to Inskription (“Inscription”) in relation to the cd-release of the original 1983 performance 20 years later, written by Steffen B. Pedersen

When punk hit the Danish capitol Copenhagen in the late 70’s, it became a catalysing factor in the formation of a much more experimental and fertile musical environment, which reached its artistic peak in the early 80’s. Leaving the original “three chords and the truth”-dictum of the punk scene behind, a vast number of bands, solo artists and musical workshops started exploring a huge variety of musical possibilities to take this influence to a new level of application. And then again: Punk did create a new sense of musical anarchism – but the nihilistic impulse, which tended to follow the angry roar of punk almost everywhere, also trapped many of the Copenhagen bands in a pseudo-goth identity, making most of the releases from this period sound fairly ridiculous today. Very few of the post-punk artists were able to infuse their material with enough originality and honesty to transcend that point in time – notably the darkly psychedelic rock group Sort Sol, the art-rockers Kliché (who came from a similar scene in Aarhus, Jutland) and Martin Hall.

Since then, both Sort Sol and Kliché have been the subjects of pretty thorough re-release strategies. But not Martin Hall. Consequently, most of the many releases, he was involved in between 1978, where he entered the scene as a member of the rudimentary punk band R.A.F., and 1986 – the year he concluded the post-punk phase of his career with the double album Cutting Through – The Final Recordings – have become expensive collector’s rarities today. Why? Well, Martin Hall is the kind of artist, who doesn’t like to dwell too much on his past. The intense sense of presence, which runs through his production, very much applies to his release strategy as well. What’s done is done – what’s next? Which is quite a shame, really: In the early 80’s, his work with groups such as Ballet Mécanique, Under For, SS-Say, Pesteg Dred, Front and Fantasy and Before was definitely strong enough to justify a thorough re-release programme today. The same can be said about his solo output from the same period: The Ritual 12” (1983), the Relief album (1985) and Cutting Through – The Final Recordings. For almost 20 years, the cassette-only release Inskription – a solo concert for violin, voice and tapes, which was performed 5/9 1983 at Radiohuset, Copenhagen, and put out in 1984 as an appendix to the Kong art magazine – also seemed destined to descend into the same well of obscurity. Now, however, this concert has been rescued from the archives to reveal itself as not only a classic in the Martin Hall catalogue, but also a true classic of its period.

In retrospect, Inskription is the culmination of several internal and general tendencies surrounding Hall and his musical production at this point in time. First of all, the work is almost a pure slice of industrial, incorporating and expanding upon the noisy, extreme cut-up aesthetics of British pioneers like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, who in their turn found their central source of inspiration in the beat novelist William S. Burroughs – the man, who invented the cut-up method with Bryon Gysin. The many “found sounds” and tape loops in Inskription make this connection seem pretty obvious – and like these two bands, Hall used an early kind of sampling technology, which methodically anticipated the house boom of the late 80’s. Unlike the house pioneers in Detroit, New York and London, however, he used this technology to convey a sense of extremity – to create a shock. A feature which referred more closely to the working methods of the early industrial pioneers than their dance-influenced heirs. This is demonstrated by the many playback recordings of sexual activities and screaming animals, which runs through Inskription. But also the accentuations of tribalism, physicality and absolute subjectivity in the parallel manifesto reflects a knowledge of the neo-primitivism of Throbbing Gristle as well as the deeper aspects of the cut-up theory according to Burroughs. To Burroughs, the cut-up method was a tool to break down the systems of significance, which penetrate and define the common human consciousness – the linguistic dualities, that trap the human mind in a constant countdown to a violent extinction – through strategic manipulations. In a sense, Hall cuts up his own reality in the same manner – even if he philosophically seems to be less radical. Instead of destroying the then-current reality completely, he speaks of creating an “existential synthesis of a given industrialism and a latent tribal identity” through his musical collages.

Another evident musical inspiration for Inskription is the American minimalist music of the 60’s, which found a new and enthusiastic audience in the post-punk climate. The many repetitive passages in the work might very well remind the listener of composers like Philip Glass and especially Steve Reich, who consciously used repetition as a tool for reaching a state of primal, almost transcendental being. After studying the trance-inducing methods of the Balinese gamelan-tradition, Reich started defining a new way of composition, which was able to unite the repetitive and generative dimensions of existence effectively. One way of doing this was to make the given musician play to same succession of notes a large number of times, recording each round unto tape and playing the loops simultaneously. Sooner or later the minor failures of each round became so evident during the performance that the theme was altered and expanded through pure imperfection, creating a kind of development through defective monotony. This fundamentalist approach was not entirely reflected in Inskription, but the fine balance between repetition and metamorphosis in this work at least echoed that methodology.

Finally, Inskription was a truly successful example of a central theme in the work of Martin Hall, which continues to permeate his recordings to this day. Even at an early stage in his career – as a member of Ballet Mécanique – he started combining the dynamics of rock with the vast sonic spaces of the classical tradition. The two essential albums by this highly experimental trio – The Icecold Waters of the Egocentric Calculation (1981) and For (1982) – as well as a succession of privately released solo cassettes were more or less different explorations of this basic aim, often incorporating the same cut-up strategies and repetitive elements that are so important to Inskription. Many of these early experiments leaned more to the rock side than the classical side, however, and Inskription was the first true synthesis between the two traditions, establishing a musical space which is violently dynamic and incredibly vast at the same time. The only real parallel in his early catalogue is the Ritual 12” – and even there the two impulses were less integrated for artistic and philosophical reasons. In the last few years, however, a similar and less tormented synthesis of the two musical principles has resulted in equally essential works like Metropolitan Suite (2001) and Camille (2002).

achieve with Inskription? Well, despite the academic rhetoric of the manifesto, the answer to this question is pretty simple after all: Everything and nothing at the same time. Through his performance – which, symbolically, is documented in real time without overdubs – he defines a stretched moment in the reality of the early 80’s. A musical moment, which – according to a number of strict methodological rules – encapsulates the essence of the there and now and makes it refer to more eternal principles. The basic structure of Inskription – which is repetitive and dynamic at the same time – reflects the basic modus operandi of existence itself. By incorporating both trance- and shock-inducing elements, he also forces the listener into an intensive state of physical and mental presence. Finally, the composition – through its use of noise, fractured structures and a consciously deformed tonality – reflects the undercurrents of pain and frustration, which permeate both the industrial society and the musician himself. That’s as close as you’re likely to get to the intention of the work … but it’s more than close enough. The actual interpretation – and that’s one of the best things about Inskription – is wisely left to the mental and physical subjectivity of the listener. Are you feeling pain or elevation, when you’re listening to the work? That’s your interpretation. Do you hear an aural reflection of heaven or hell? That’s more or less your interpretation again – even if most people might agree that the composition is more infernal than celestial. But as long as you’re present – and as long as both your body and your mind is involved in the listening experience – Inskription has worked its own particular magic: To inscribe both your name and the name of the composer into the moment as well as eternity itself.

When the work was originally performed, most listeners thought the composition reflected the nihilism of the post-punk scene. Looking back, however, Inskription was rather an attempt to exorcise the self-destructive mood of the moment than to emphasize it. In other words, Inskription was an attempt to replace the sicknesses of the modern mind with a primal, healthy human self. In that respect, the less you say about the sociological, philosophical and biographic circumstances surrounding the work, the better. The composition should be experienced as it is – and as you are. Actually the only reasonable way to end this introduction is to cut the academical crap and start to listen. The only thing I’ve left to write is my own inscription:

Steffen B. Pedersen, Geiger