Schneider TM: Construction Sounds

Schneider TM has made an album from field recordings of Berlin construction sites. Sisi Cronin finds out more…

Dirk Dresselhaus aka Schneider TM has enjoyed a pretty eclectic career. Initially part of the indie rock circuit in the 90s, he plied his trade as a member of bands such as Hip Young Things and Locust Fudge before sliding casually into the world of electronica.

He released his first solo material as Schneider TM in 1997, culminating in the Binokuler EP, released in 2000, which contained a surprising (and absolutely gorgeous) remix of The Smiths classic ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ named ‘The Light 3000’.

After exploring film composition over the last few years, the Berlin-based maverick has expanded into various musical territories with a range of individual and collaborative projects. His new album, Construction Sounds, is based on collections of field recordings taken from construction sites around the city throughout the 00s…

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’re currently up to?

My name is Dirk Dresselhaus, I’m a musical performer and one of my projects is called Schneider TM. Under this name I do electronic freefrom (sometimes pop) music and improvisations with all kinds of different instruments and non-instruments. I’m currently working on a new Schneider TM album, new projects with people like Jochen Arbeit (Einstürzende Neubauten), Ilpo Väisänen (ex-Pan sonic), Reinhold Friedl (Zeitkratzer), Damo Suzuki (ex-Can), Japanese dancer Tomoko Nakasato (JINN) and others as well as on some film music.

Your background lies more towards the indie and rock circuit but in recent years you’ve explored a broad range of music. What triggered these shifts in direction?

When I played with those bands in the 90s, I always had the wish to transcend form and sound to get a step further, see and hear things from other angles and experiment with my guitar-pedals, cheap plastic keyboards and drum machines etc. In that time we already had improvisation and noise-parts in some of the songs, so it was a kind of natural process for me to end up doing freeform music with only field recordings of construction sites for example.

For this new project, a mix of curiosity and fascination for sound and structures drove me into that direction. Also the fact that I worked such a long time with sound probably made me able to hear everything as music…nature, city sounds etc., which is sometimes a pain in the ass and other times much more beautiful than human-made music as it is not happening on purpose but by chance. Cosmic music, so to speak.

How does the writing and thought process differ between these various fields of music for you?

Basically I never ‘write’ any music, I just kind of organise it. When I compose songs I use myself, my thoughts and feelings, as a tool to get something together. Field recordings are more about letting things happen and using the ears first. Songwriting comes from inside and field recordings from outside. In both cases I have to follow my intuition to capture interesting and powerful moments.

Are there any artists or records that you feel have particularly influenced you and your writing?

Of course, there are many artists and records from many different directions that influence my music directly or indirectly…and the list expands all the time.

Just to name some of them randomly:

And so on. I believe that all real music (and everything else) is connected through separation and just shows the same things from different angles. That is interesting and probably about spirit. When I start new music I never have a fixed plan. I just always follow the sounds and ideas as they come.

Where does the specific inspiration for Construction Sounds lie?

For around 8 or 9 years I’ve lived and worked in my former apartment, which was located in one of the most vibrant renovation areas in East Berlin. The noise of the construction sites literally took over my music and I just surrendered at some point. I started to record and play around with the sounds.

In that period I also recorded a lot of basic electronic improvisations with a small modular system and feedback effects at night, and realised that my music is kind of imitating the noises of (de-) construction. On Construction Sounds I reorganised and combined these field recordings and electronic improvisations.

How did the recording process go for the album? I assume field recording was quite important?

Whenever something interesting was happening, I just located microphones at windows, water tubes etc. and recorded. Sometimes I even recorded in bed, always having a small field recording device at hand.

Production wise, what tools did you use to mix the different components?

I used Logic and some software effects with analog mixing desk and analog effects. The main thing for me was to not overly process the material and leave it quite rough to keep the original composition and energy of the construction workers and my improvisations. It’s easy to put field recordings through a lot of reverb and delay to let it sound like nice ambient music, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I tried to extract the essence of the recordings and find the right edge somehow.

What pitfalls did you encounter whilst writing the album? Was it difficult to obtain the necessary recordings due to their nature?  

The album could have been totally different because I have so much different source material. I just started at point A and followed the path to the end somehow…maybe there will be a second album someday.

Tracks like ‘Container’ are considerably mysterious and sinister. Are there any over-arching themes or narratives that you wanted to convey?

Not on purpose, but I think there’s quite heavy emotion on the album because that time was very difficult for me. I had constant feelings of anger, sadness and depression because the area I lived in got somehow destroyed and gentrified. Relationships broke. It really felt and sounded like a war for a couple of years and it almost sent me to a mental hospital. For some reason I couldn’t just escape the situation and leave. I had to pass through that period.

You have also composed music for films. How has this experience influenced your current endeavours?

Maybe there is a little influence from the soundscape parts of my film music, but there is certainly a big influence from my work with Angel, a freeform noise-project I’ve done together with Ilpo Väisänen and guests since 1999. I think everything influences everything in general.

How do you view the current state of electronic music in Berlin?

There are so many different things happening in Berlin at the moment, so it’s a bit hard to talk about ‘electronic music’ as a genre or something, but I somehow feel that people are experimenting again and improvising a lot. There are lots of small concerts happening and you never exactly know what is going to go down. That’s what I really like. But it’s not only about electronic music, it’s music in general and I think there are less borders than a couple of years ago.

Would you ever consider composing music for the dance-floor? House, techno etc?

I had some kind of clubby stuff on the first Schneider TM album Moist in 1998, but somehow moved away from that because I didn’t want to hang around in techno clubs so much and I find four-to-the-floor rhythms a bit boring. But I consider all the previous Schneider TM albums as a kind of dancefloor music, although it is partly songwriting and most of the times polyrhythmic. It’s still very danceable to my ears. Pure house and techno with its defined rules is not really my thing but I would never say never…maybe it would be interesting to do something else in that direction.

The scene in Berlin is notorious for its trail-blazing nature and for the enthusiasm its followers have. How much did it help you achieve your goal?

As I’m a traveller between different worlds and always feel a bit like an outsider or at least not deeply rooted in a certain scene. I’m very grateful to have found an audience for different and sometimes far-out projects most of the time. That is what is really cool about Berlin and the journey is the goal.

Could you point us in the direction of others that are exploring similar territories to your own?

Hmm. There certainly are some others if you are talking about songwriting vs. free improvised sound music. Maybe Oren Ambarchi, just to name one, although his musical parameters are a bit different.

If you were asked, would you play at Berghain?

Any time! I went to the electro-acoustic salon at Berghain many times and really like the program and sound system, of course. It would be pure bliss to play Construction Sounds through that system!

Finally, where would you say the best places are in Berlin to discover new and interesting strands of music?

Construction Sounds will be released in late September via Bureau-B. Find out more about Scheider TM here. You can also catch him playing ausland in Berlin tonight (11th April) or check his Facebook page for upcoming gig dates.