Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
The urge came from the inside, with very few outside triggers. I found no other way then to misuse the untuned piano in the living room to pick apart my inner workings as a twelve-year-old. The reason was seldom of the normal, “inspirational“ nature but more a need to sit at the instrument to have a discussion with myself and put my thoughts into order. Basically the same thing happens on stage – with the minor difference that people can look at me doing that.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
In the beginning I just listened: Besides the sometimes crazy rock/pop radio stations that were available in the lands of middle Germany during the turn of the millennium artists like Sigur Ros, The Album Leaf and scores of Cliff Martinez crystallised out of the ocean of untitled MP3s my bigger brother had on his computer. Sometime later I started making music: In addition to playing the piano I started playing in 8 or so bands at the same time like a lunatic and converted all those amassed dreams and desires into Hip Hop riffs, Funk tunes and electronic sounds together with countless, wonderful musicians. If you decorate these more obvious influences with the unbridled urge to strip away the immature shell of my eternal adolescence then one has to come to the conclusion that everything I experienced and every person in my orbit is connected to and has to be accounted for in the explanation of the work I do now.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The ambivalence – which will, no doubt, be always part of my creations – of being the boss of your own music label where you have signed yourself and where you try with all available forces, a team of friends and a ton of “gut feeling” to shield your art from the erratic bombardment of the international economy.
It’s a very labour-intensive, controlled schizophrenia that more often than not threatens to crush the freedom in making music.
What are the pleasures and challenges of working with other musicians?
Every new person and their perspective on life that enters the orbit of me and my music can be understood as a new conversation partner. My inner discourse, which is – to put it blatantly – the input for my output, gets altered through this new context and the seemingly impossible to untangle knot in my head suddenly changes its shape favourably or even just untangles in a heartbeat. Understanding that it becomes apparent that all my pieces stay a “work in progress” and are questioned time and time again; every concert, every person, every event has its impact. At the moment I am working with the Leipzig Gewandhaus choir: Gregor Meyer, the choir master of this marvelous troupe, forces me to into structuring and communicating my musical vocabulary in a completely new way to be able to improvise together with 70 human beings instead of being alone with myself. This way of playing makes a lot of my thoughts more graspable for me and gives me a lot of creative resources for my journey onward.
How would you describe your compositional/musical style?
An improvised, intuitive “just letting go” at the piano that gets recontextualized and discussed anew through electronic sound synthesis at every possible turn.
As a composer, how do you work?
Most of the time it begins with the attempt to put myself back in time and remember how I sat at the piano as a teenager – playing away without any expectations. When I found a theme that feels somehow familiar to me I continue playing it in a loop, over and over, until it slowly wanders from the conscious mind into the subconscious and I increasingly slump down on the piano stool and drops of saliva start dripping from my open mouth – maybe. Sometimes I have the presence of mind to hit the record button prior to my adventure into the strange depths of my drooling head and that is how I gather my pieces or, more precisely, parts or “modules” thereof: These shorter units are the vocabulary to the sentences that are the complete pieces. After that I intermittently cast them into a proper form for a physical record – nonetheless they stay in a state of progress and may develop, change or amalgamate with other themes: Predominantly at the extensive and incalculable improvisations on stage but also in solitude and calm at home.
Tell us more about your album ‘Ströme’….
My previous solo albums were put into a new context in different ways – while “Tag” got remixed, “Nacht” got reworked from the ground up. Now my third album “Strom” was allowed, with the seemingly surreal collaboration with the world-renown Gewandhaus choir, its marvellous conductor Gregor Meyer and the immense energy of the 70 voices of its singers to grow into my album “Ströme”. Working together with the choir – people that cannot read my mind – made it necessary to gain a new perspective on the pieces; their feedback served as a review for me, a mirror image distorted by their own reality. This made it inevitable that all the musical phrasings continuously develop, change and grow – it stays a “work in progress”, even more so in this instance.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
For me success means the trust of people that think like myself – gathering those around me that show me every day what matters most; be it in my own team or every single person in the audience of my concerts.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
At the risk of sounding teacherly: It happens quite often – to me as well – that the normally more emotional and intuitive right hemisphere of the brain is subdued by the controlling concepts of the left one when making music – it imposes things like compositional “goals” or the urge for virtuosity and puts abilities and framing wrongfully in front of the far more important state where music happens out of itself. For that I blame the theoretical over-education, the never-ending contextualisation, the stubborn fixation on success, the compulsion to learn and perform as well as the classical musical competitions: All of these things are, in my opinion, a danger to a fragile medium that is supposed to cause mental and spiritual wellbeing. My tip: Sometimes, just let go.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
On a veranda in northern Spain right by the ocean and away from civilisation as far as possible, teaching my seven-year-old son to surf and hope that the longing for “just letting go” has become reality.
25 OCTOBER 2019 MANCHESTER (UK) – St. Michael’s Church
26 OCTOBER 2019 GLASGOW (UK) – The Blue Arrow
27 OCTOBER 2019 DUBLIN (IRL) – Dublin Unitarian Church
29 OCTOBER 2019 LONDON (UK) – Courtyard Theatre
Martin Kohlstedt (born 1988) is a German composer, pianist and record producer with a contemporary approach of mixing classical and avantgarde music styles.