Writer and musician Björn Gögge combines digital and analog sounds to craft an album of pure poetry.

Photo Credit Jakob Kielgaß

Björn Gögge is a writer and slam poet but his album CRACAU has no lyrics or spoken words. Naturally, this led me to search for his poetry’s influence on his music. Can musical sound be a replacement or expression of spoken word? Music as poetry is a beautiful and useful metaphor. Each key of the piano becomes a word, each melody a phrase. The layering of piano and electronics is lyrical. Listen to CRACAU like you would read the lines of a poem. An entirely new technique for understanding classical music emerges.

How would you describe the similarities between creative writing and music? How are they different?

I think one of the most obvious similarities is that both writing and composing are beautiful ways of creating something out of nothing. Or to put it better: to create something from everything that you have seen, experienced, heard or even imagined so far. Your creative product is what you are in the moment of creating it. Usually, when I want to write a new text, there is a clear topic in my mind. I’ve got a starting point and, most of the time, something I want to end with. The work then is to fill out the space between the beginning and the ending. That differs when I compose a piece. I mostly sit down, improvise a little and when I’m lucky there is an idea that seems promising. I could never imagine doing that with text because there would be just a chaotic bulk of words on a piece of paper making absolutely no sense.

But that is why I really like doing both. They are somehow limited in their natural forms (texts: words, you can use; music: notes, you can play or sounds, you can create), but ultimately it matters what you make out of it. In my opinion, the best works come from people, who either are capable of dealing with those limitations or are constantly pushing the boundaries further and further. As Mr. Chilly Gonzales once put it very nicely: Limitations force you to be creative.

Photo Credit Anna-Lisa Konrad

CRACAU embraces the minutia of creaks and buzzes produced by Björn Gögge’s instruments. Digitally produced tones and clean ambient layers are juxtaposed against the effect. At certain moments sonic landscapes form distant horizons just before a single strike of the piano pulls you close to Björn’s fingertips. The percussive quality of each piano hit gives every note a physicality. It’s not an uncommon technique in Contemporary Classical but more often than not it’s erased for digital consumption. I’ve come to understand the technique as a kind of artistic fingerprint. Every musician does it differently. Recording the imperfections of a performance allows a listener to picture the artist’s unique presence.

Can you describe the type of piano you use on CRACAU and the effect that it has on your sound?

The piano I use is based on the sound of the Una Corda, an instrument built by David Klavins. Due to having only one string per key, it has a very warm and fragile tone and this is what I actually need to create this kind of intimacy that characterizes the album. I want the listener to put on some headphones and make them think that I am playing right in front of him/her. I would like them to hear every sound the piano makes, even if it’s rather unusual or seems wrong - for example, to hear my chair creaking. To me, hearing everything (even some mistakes) is the antidote to basically every perfectly-designed digital composition nowadays. Additionally, I have been working with my standard piano by Feurich in the living room and a Rhodes. I also play around with some sounds one might recognize from the Roland Juno.

Photo Credit Marian Heuser

I enjoy how your work merges digital and analog sounds. How do you determine when and where to depart from the analog and use electronics?

Thank you. I haven’t thought about that yet, but my first instinct would be: whatever fits better. I cannot imagine being so rigorous in the choice of instruments that you only use analog or digital devices for certain pieces. In the end, I think, it is about balancing those two. If I am hearing an idea that I recorded earlier, I have more thoughts in my head regarding that particular piece. And usually, that comes from listening to multiple genres all day and thinking: "Wow, this is nice! Maybe it works in a whole other arrangement as well." So I guess it is about intuition and in almost any case: trying, trying, trying. Figuring out what sound fits perfect to your idea is what makes composing so delightful. Surely there is a certain set of devices you use more often or you have a sketch in your mind of how it should sound in the end. But then again: why not try out more stuff to make it even more interesting?

Photo Courtesy Of Björn Gögge

Each track of CRACAU is inspired by a painting by a famous artist – Yves Klein, Paul Klee, and Magritte, to name a few. A written synopsis of each is available on Björn Gögge’s website. Read them. They are lighthearted and fun. They won’t take away from your experience. Each interpretation reveals a little more of Björn’s perspective on art. Distilling the essential qualities of a famous painting is difficult. Translating those qualities into music may be impossible but it’s a joy to discover where Björn found his inspiration.

Tell me about the process of translating visual art into music. How do you feel about the results?

Before I really go into recording an album or an EP, I almost always think of a purpose that it could pursue. My first album (about three years ago) was based on the idea that the German composer Franz Schubert had about 200 years ago. In his song cycle "Winterreise“ (Winter journey) he has this fascinating theme of traveling - but in this weird, quirky, romanticist way. I liked that. So I thought: why not compose eight pieces that sound like a journey, call it "Oktaven“ (octaves) and put it on the internet.

With CRACAU it was quite different. When friends and family were listening to my pieces online, they sometimes said that music without words was rather unusual and that they only knew it from scores and soundtracks. So I thought: What if I break that down even a little further and concentrate on only one picture instead of a whole film?

And so this idea of translating famous painting into music was born. I picked out some paintings I already knew very well but also let friends give recommendations. What I did next was print out all of those paintings and sit down and analyze them. I tried to capture their main theme, their expression and everything they try to communicate. And I can say, I am very happy with the outcome, but what I did on this record is not written in stone. These are only my interpretations and feelings that I had when I was studying those paintings. I am always joyful when people come up to me and tell me why I got everything wrong with a painting or when they don’t see why I thought something was sad/melancholic/cheerful. But then again, when someone tells me, he or she knows what I was thinking when I composed the piece in a certain style, I am even happier.

Photo Credit Jakob Kielgaß