INTERVIEW BY ANDY GARIBALDI

BERNARD SZAJNER INTERVIEW

Andy Garibaldi

This is an interview conducted by Andy Garibaldi with Bernard Szajner of ZED and ‘Some Deaths Take Forever’ fame. It was originally published eons ago in Faceout magazine.

“It all started around about 1967, when Karel Beer, who is now directing IRC (Initial Recording Co.), was manager of a group called BACHDENKEL and I was in France interested in light shows, and I was making my very first experiences in France of psychedelic light shows. Karel asked me to come and do these experiences in a concert at the American Centre in Paris, which I did, and I liked it a lot, so I got more and more involved in buying equipment, and working to buy the equipment as the lightshow in itself wouldn’t pay very much. So I worked in publicity making lightshows, which, by the way, I still do, but I’ll come back to that a little later, ok? I started working with a girl named Patricia, and she’s still working with me after these thirteen years, and together we worked, and worked (laughs) there seems to be a lot of work going on! But it was true – we had absolutely no money, it was very difficult. We practically had nothing to eat.

After a while, we started to work with French rock groups. One of the first we worked with was GONG, the original one with Daevid ALLEN. Some years later we made the first experiences with Tim Blake, ex-Gong at this time – well, I must say that in between, unlike most other light shows that existed in France, which were very big groups who had found money somehow or other, we were not well equipped, but we studied very, very carefully, how we could express pictures or visions on music, and that has been our aim and purpose over these past thirteen years. Now, that may not seem important, but in a way I think it is because that might be one of the reasons that all the other light shows disappeared. Because they were a reflection of the psychedelic era and people were just interested, in the sensations given by any film or slide or effect. Now, we were interested to find out how one could express something parallel to the music with visuals. I still have an article which was printed in a magazine which tells the story of the Festival Of Lightshows in The Museum of Modern Art about twelve years ago, and we were at that time considered, or became considered, as the best because we were the only ones who worked with the groups to create a complete event. The musicians composed the music and we composed the visuals on the same theme. For this moment it was a new concept, so we always worked it that Way.

After some time, we worked quite a lot with MAGMA. This is how I first came to meet Klaus BLASQUIZ and Bernard PAGANOTTI and we became close friends. At the end, we were practically working with only slides and very few effects. We also found that we had by now quite a lot of equipment, but this was not the major thing, it was doing the right thing to go with the music. After a while we could not go on with Magma because it was getting quite complicated to tour often and there was very little money. We were still making publicity and working for commercial shows, and this was when we met Tim BLAKE and started working with him (pre Crystal Machine – Ed). Now, we had quite a few problems with him

He was one of these very pop-star-ish people, who was more interested in the looks he had or in the appearance of his music than the contents, or in working very strongly to prepare a show, but we did make a few with him. Again, we really didn’t make any money. We would do one show a year, where we made no money but we would do the show that we wanted to do. The first of the interesting shows we did with him was in the Kinopanorama in Paris, which is the equivalent of the Cinerama for Russians. This was at night after the film, and things were complicated because we had to have friends looking after our equipment during the daytime. This lasted for three nights. The only publicity we had were some leaflets, and the place was full. We had, 800 to 900 people per night, and it was quite a success. This was the first time that we started to use little lasers.

Now, that was a very interesting experience because we were projecting onto a huge screen. This was during our, er… ‘cosmic’ period when we were into science fiction (which I still am, by the way, but in a different direction), and the whole thing was very SF-orientated. Now, the difficulty with working with Tim Blake was that he didn’t want to compose or to structure anything, and we needed structured music in order to make structured visuals. So we had quite a few fights with him, but we got it on anyway. After this show – I can’t remember the date, but it must have been about seven years ago, maybe more- I had a proposition to go to England and meet the people who were in charge of the Who, and after some very complicated events I found myself on tour with two big argon lasers (and the Who of course!), which were rented from an American company called Spectra-Physics, for eleven days in Germany – the first time that they had any lasers. I got completely ripped off, but it was an interesting experience. I learned a lot about how complicated it is to tour, with all the organisation involved and also how to use big lasers. Nobody in France was using these lasers at this time and I had found out how impressive it was, and through my publicity business I managed to buy my first big laser. So after this big Who event, the next year we had our laser. Of course, the Who, with all their money, had masses of them – I must say, it wasn’t the Who, who ripped me off, it was someone else, by the way (the curse of Watergate hits again!) but that’s the past. Anyway, we made another show with Tim Blake in a place called The Palace, which is now the biggest Nightclub in Paris. At that time it was a theatre, and our show was for one week. Again, a few leaflets and posters advertised it and it was a big success. The first laser show in Paris.

After that, we split with Tim Blake because we found that he didn’t work in the same way as us. That was our one show a year where we lost money as I mentioned before, but we were satisfied with it even though we weren’t satisfied with Tim Blake. A year or so later we made a show in the French Planetarium. This was in two parts, one in the afternoon with Beethoven’s ‘Third Symphony’ with slides and things like that, and the other in the evening, where we featured some small French groups and individuals, all completely unknown, changing weekly for the five-week duration. All played electronic music because I was very, very interested in electronic music. Our light show group was now bigger we had perhaps four or five people. The whole thing was most interesting, but I found out the same thing, which was that all these groups and musicians and so on would come to play their music and interpretations, none of them would compose music so that we could compose a light show.

So for this whole time we had to improvise, with about five or six of these groups, which was still an interesting experience. The Beethoven part was not improvised at all, because of the structure of the music. Some of the groups were close to contemporary styles, others nearer to the ‘cosmic’ side of things, so we had some diversity, a range for our improvising.   I thought to myself that if none of these people were going to make an effort to make some music to go in with our visuals, then perhaps I would have to do it myself, and that’s how it started for me with my own music. I was not (and in a way, am still not) a musician. When I had my big idea I had not touched a musical instrument in my life. So what I did was borrow a little Oberheim, an OB One, I think, although I don’t remember exactly – you might have guessed by now that I have the most terrible memory – which has a little sequencer inside it and I started making tapes on a Revox; tapes and tapes and tapes…

After about a week, I found out that I could not just make music or sounds in isolation, I had to have something to equate it to, a story or something in my head, or related visually. Now it happened that I had been reading Frank Herbert’s book Dune, so I became attracted to making music, or sounds that were for me symbolic of people or visions from that book. After a while I had a pile of tapes. I borrowed a four-track recorder and tried to make some sense out of them by mixing and cutting, and adding a few more sounds (I also borrowed an ARP from another musician at this stage). I also had some very special sound generators, which were used to make electronic shapes to compliment the laser. I used all this to make the first tape, the first mix, if you like, which I took into a studio and transferred from four to sixteen track, asked Klaus (Blasquiz) to add some voices, and also a guy called Clement BAILLY (who used to play with MAGMA) to put on some drums and that was it – a rough mix emerged. It lay around for a while until I met a guy, called Graham Lawson. Hang on a moment; things are getting mixed up in my mind. Ah, in the meantime, we had been to the Albert Hall to do a laser show for the (JO PROJECT with Stomu YAMASHTA, Klaus SCHULZE and others whose names escape me now (again, my terrible memory!).

Now, so Graham Lawson was Yamashta’s manager, and during the same show in Paris (The GO Live in Paris – Ed), Lawson was around, so I made him listen to my tapes. He thought there was a chance of a deal so he took the tapes around and went searching.

After a while he brought along a few people from some English record companies (even some French!) to my studio, which was now well-equipped, and we made them some demonstrations, with lasers and so on in an attempt to impress them, to give them an idea of the whole concept. It finished up with me almost making a deal with Island. However, they said that it could do with a slightly better mix, and suggested I come to England with thirty hours of studio time to work it out, to use any way I wanted. So I went to London for about three weeks. I did some re-recordings and what have you, adding some guitar parts played by Cohn Swinburne (from Karel Beer’s first Bachdenkel), and also some bass from another guy called Hansford Rowe who was the current Gong bassist (this was Pierre MOERLEN’s Gong, also managed by Lawson).

However, a problem arose with Island. They had some kind of trouble and Chris Blackwell decided to review the acts they were negotiating with, such as me! He said my music wasn’t commercial enough, and said that unless I could come up with something a little more like KRAFTWERK, then that was it. I said ‘I am sorry; I am not going to do this. Kraftwerk are not to my taste and besides, I am not a musician’. This all came to me via Lawson, and it was after all the work had been done, for months That was it, it could not be done, so I was left with my tapes until I met with Karel Beer who had just got his little company IRC off the ground, and he offered to take the tape. It got a bad reception in France I think because at that time French people did not believe in French electronic musicians, except for HELDON and Richard PINHAS who had been at it for years, I got no reviews at all but it still sold approaching 5,000 copies. Tim Blake was not considered French and he was ex-Gong, so that was OK for him, but me… I was unknown, and nobody in the media was really interested. These sales were a bit sensational for an unknown like me.

After this, I became very interested in music and I bought myself a very big custom-made synthesiser with a big modular synthesiser with many sequencers made the way I wanted them. I had a lot of technical problems, but I built up piece-by-piece, even before the record was released, and I had quite a complex synthesiser, but it was not working that well, although I was learning how to handle it. We did a show in Paris under a circus tent supposedly for a week with the release of the record. It was a complete flop, mainly because it was in the middle of January and awfully cold. People were freezing to death under this tent. The synth would go out of tune like every three minutes and there were four musicians playing with me; guitar, bass and keyboards. I played a bit, stopped to re-tune, and in the meantime had tapes of the album going, with the other people attempting to play live. The paradox is that we spent so much time on the music that my original visual thing I was so keen on went to pot. Perhaps the poorest we had ever had, despite the two big lasers, dancers, smoke and graphics and whatever. It was very un-together (wry chuckle). We had to make the music very quiet but it was still too loud and we got kicked out for this. So much energy and so much money, all for just about nothing. It was sad and it took us a while to recover.

Well, we did, and I continued working on the music, and the net result was that the system now is unique in the world, with direct and indirect linkups between the music on synth and the visuals. It is the result of two years work, which we hope to get on the road next year (i.e. ’81 – Ed). In the meantime I got into microprocessors, and the system has been worked on and worked on so much that hopefully by the end of the year I can punch one code to get out one complete piece of coordinated music. No tuning-up!

That is the state of the music, now, what happened with the second record was that I was still working on the equipment, when Amnesty International approached me with the idea to do a piece of music for a film they were doing against the death penalty in France. Just thirty seconds of music. They liked the music very much, and suggested I do a whole album. I worked for four months on this with some difficulties with Amnesty International. They wanted a certain type of image, and, I had to respect this and at the same time tell the story. When the record was made, I took it to the record companies myself (I had no manager). Pathé Marconi took it. This record is much more satisfying for me, because I had more knowledge but at the same time I was not trapped by any standard things. I still have no idea of music, and I can’t write or read it, so chords and things are not there to be worried about in the embryo of a piece. This can cause problems – when I play a chord, all I know is it fits in with the music, the sequencers or whatever, the sound, which is sufficient for me. The musicians would find that I had made some strange chords because it’s all played by ear. When composing, I listen to what’s there and whistle or hum a piece into a cassette for them.

It worked well, and it gave me the idea to form a kind of group to play live. All the reviews for this record, ‘Some Deaths Take Forever’, were good. One, in a magazine called Actuel, called it innovative, a bit further than ENO and FRIPP. This was a big compliment for me because I respect them, but I thought it was a bit exaggerated maybe in a way. Anyway, the thing is still going on, and I intend to record the third album in December (1980) at my own studio. I have a 16-track. I cannot say precisely what will be on it, because it is not recorded, but I would think it will be more towards rock, which I am more inclined to be interested in, and away from the more ‘German’ side of things, the TANGERINE DREAM and Klaus Schulze directions. If I find some intelligent lyrics, I might even sing them. That’s about it. Next year, perhaps there will be a show in England maybe, but after a concert in Paris if that is so.”

Thank you Bernard for taking the time to record a tape for us. If you’ve got to bring a tent over here with you, then make it the summertime and bring your umbrella!