Michael Brückner is a musician, artist, and writer who has found his calling as a “sonic story-teller”. He was born in late 1969 in Heidelberg, Germany, and grew up nearby. He relocated in 1995 in Mainz, Germany. He keeps claiming to me that his english isn’t good, and yet he manages to pull out words like “autodidact” when describing his musical background.
He’s been writing and recording music for twenty-two years, and has releases on quite a few labels, including: INQBR, SynGate, Luna, Klangwirkstoff, BI-ZA Records, Carpe Sonum, Plataforma Records. When looking at his internet releases, he’s been on Sound For Good, Aural Films, WeAreAllGhosts, not to mention, he has self released quite a bit of work through his own BandCamp site. But, to really get an idea of his overall output, look at Discogs, LastFM, or his Wikipedia (in German) page for complete discographies.
His current release is Ombra – Revisited, 2014 which he tells me (and says in the interview, being the consummate marketer that he is) he wants to sell 66 copies of. Yeah, needed to get that plug in as early as possible. 🙂
Michael sat down to do this interview a few weeks ago, and honestly, this is one of the most open interviews I’ve done so far. Michael talks about a lot of things that I hadn’t expected to come up. And, despite his misgivings, he writes better in english than many people who speak the language natively.
Part One: General Questions
Please introduce yourself to our readers?
Well, I’m an ambient and electronica artist since more than 20 years, I have a couple of albums out and I perform live occasionally (which is, actually and much to my displeasure, not very often…).
I started with music rather late in my life (with 21), encouraged by some positive experiences with mantra chanting in a Yoga class. Before that I dabbled in illustration / painting and writing, in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or later more generally the surreal, or maybe “magic realism”; there was also a youth novel and some illustrated children’s books. Nothing of that ever was officially released though, except for some early stories and illustrations in amateur science fiction magazines in the late 80’s.
Maybe it’s worth mentioning that I also was a great record collector and listener, and had created hundreds of mix tapes between 1984 and 1992…
The first 14 years of my “musical career” I was more or less a recluse (concerning music) and worked in the privacy of my small apartment (except for one or two exceptions, I took part in a contest in 1999, and sent a few albums to German Keyboards magazine, the first of which was reviewed in 2002).
In early 2006 a (then new) friend (who was a hobby techno DJ) persuaded me to present my music via the internet (on MySpace, then…).
Since then, I’m here – now see how You get rid of me again… 😉
Apart from my artistic side, I have a little family (one wife, one daughter) and earn us a living as a graphical designer (a profession which I have studied at university) in a small but fine printing and design company located in Mainz (which is a middle-sized city roughly in the upper south-west of Germany).
Do you have any aliases?
Not as a solo artist.
However, I used to be part of an art rock trio called B4 SUNRISE (I’m still part of it, however the project is hibernating since some years).
More recently, I formed a duo with electronic musician Mathias Brüssel; we call ourselves “La Mansarde Hermétique”…
Do you focus on specific styles of music?
You could say that the center of what I do is (drone) ambient, both the dark (or abstract) and ethereal (or beautiful) variety, and in more recent years (since about 2009) also retro space music, or “Neo Berlin School”. From this center, I stray into all kinds of other territory, like (different forms of) dance, new age, synth pop, rock, jazz, “ethnic” music – anywhere.
Whatever I feel is needed to tell the story I’m about to tell…
What are you working on at the moment?
Answering this interview… 😉
Well, actually all these years I have been working on several projects simultaneously at a time. And it’s the same thing right now, I think there are more than twelve projects in the pipeline at different states of (in)completion. However on top of the list is:
- promoting my latest release, “Ombra – Revisited” (…more)
- finishing the long overdue album with drummer Tommy Betzler, which we hopefully will release (finally) around christmas (2014!). It will be more of a traditional EM / space rock thing…
- finishing a collaboration with Rebekkah Hilgraves, setting a cycle of her wonderful poems to music
What inspires you?
Well. This is so much, what can I say…? The experience of life as a whole, and many, many elements of it: good experiences, unpleasant experiences, funny, interesting, or even sometimes boring experiences, people, feelings, nature, art, music (ancient music, old music, classical music, contemporary music, serious music, pop music, whatever…), literature, all kinds of structures, philosophy, science, colours, sounds I hear, sounds my equipment offers, or produces accidentally. The mix of it all. It’s all in my pot, gets stirred well, and the flavours end up in the soup I cook, and contribute to the taste, in varying degrees.
Who inspires you?
Again, actually faaaaar too many to mention them all – and hard to decide who to mention; so many who I feel would have deserved it…
For simplicity’s sake I mention a few symbolic names (…idols, perhaps – and just the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg), to hint into the direction of what I appreciate, and what fascinates me:
Musicians / composers: Klaus Schulze, Brian Eno, Peter Michael Hamel
Writers / poets: Michael Ende, H.P. Lovecraft, J.G. Ballard, Peter Sinfield, Stanislav Grof
Illustrators / painters / graphic artists: Patrick Woodroffe, M.C. Escher, Hans-Ruedi Giger, Moebius
Film directors: Andrei Tarkovsky, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick
I’d also like to mention that I have a big interest in the mystical branches of different religions or philosophies, and of spiritual practices, like different forms of Yoga, Zen Buddhism, Kabbala, Sufism, etc.
Another continuous source of inspiration is the contact to my fellow ambient musicians via different places in the internet.
There are so many unbelievably talented artists on this planet! It’s simply breathtaking, and hearing their music and exchanging ideas has inspired me in so many ways I just can’t ever hope to count it all…
What drives you to create music?
Sheer uninhibited drive for recognition, megalomania, greed and self-centeredness. Why…? 😉
On a more (cough!) serious note:
I’m not entirely sure; as long as I can remember I take delight in losing myself in creative or artistic activities of one sort or another, even as a boy.
And – probably since I recieved a little attention for some of my early drawings and stories – I have that spleen…a feeling like a “calling” to produce something “artistically meaningful”.
Since then I try to follow that calling – may it be “real” or illusory – as good as I can…
Another hint might be found in Erich Fromm’s theory that the most basic human need is to transcend the fundamental experience of separation we usually have; he says there are various “strategies” people have developed to overcome separation, and one of them is uniting with one’s own work. I guess that’s what I tend to do (…not sure if it’s the best strategy though; Fromm recommends love – which leads us to Your next question… 😉 ).
What values do you wish your creativity to express?
There are two aspects to this – one of them is about digesting, reflecting, commenting on and sharing my experience of life through music (or other forms of creativity). This is not about values as such (although values of any kind can be part of it), as it includes all of life’s aspects (and my own nature) in all its facets, some of which are (according to some values) “good”, others “bad” – and most of them located somewhere between these pairs of opposites…
Then again, there ARE certain values which I personally regard as valid, and beneficial, and I…
- attempt to live by them and…
- also try to consciously promote them (to a certain extent) through my music. Although I’d like to state that I strictly believe that my, erm… beliefs are but assumptions that help me to have some structure, orientation and a feeling of purpose in this world, but I don’t believe that they are, in any sense, an absolute and final truth, or whatever. (We can speak about that once we really see – for the time being, we are, at best, perceiving the truth through mist, like shortsighted people without glasses…).
Those values themselves are, I guess, no big surprise. Just some old friends all of us are familiar with (the idea of them, at least…):
Love, compassion, peace, nonviolence, humility towards creation and our fellow beings, truthfulness, honesty, responsibility (for ourselves, for our community, and for all of creation), open-mindedness, justice – and so on. Well, actually I think, all other values arise from love…
What role does community play in what you do?
Well, at first it did play a big role, in that it was with the help of a community that I was able to take the step into creating music – this was the Yoga community I was a part of during the first half of the 90’s. Or, in a way, which I’m still part of. However, once I had received that initial kick, for the following 14 years, I more or less worked on my own.
So, You could say, that I developed my musical skills and (hopefully) my personal style, or my voice, without any community (unless all those musicians that ever had inspired me, but who I never met in person, would count as one…). However, apart from one or two close friends, there was no “reception” of my music nor much of any kind of feedback. I think if I had been in the right company already back in the 90’s, both my style, my skills, but also my “career” would have developed very differently.
Anyway, today the kind of community provided by my circle of like-minded virtual friends and fellow musicians (but also listeners) is vital for me, a great source of mutual inspiration, feedback and thought exchange, of help when needed, and generously given support. Nothing of any significance ever would have happened without it. For example, I guess I would never have been invited to this interview… 😉
[Ed: Well, the interviews are open to anyone who releases music under a Creative Commons license, and responds to my open call…]
Part Two: Creative Commons
How did you get into Netaudio and/or Creative Commons?
I fear I don’t clearly remember when I became aware of it for the first time; but a rather safe guess was that I’ve read about it in some music magazine like Keyboards or Keys which I used to study avidly during many years.
Since then, I’ve come across the topic many times in different contexts. Sometimes it’s one of the options offered when I upload / publish music somewhere. And sometimes I make use of it…
I’m curious about it and think basically it’s a good idea, or a promising new way to think about copyright etc. that could, or should developed further in the future; on the other hand I’m not a strict “follower” of this idea, and, to be honest, didn’t give the matter too much thought until now. Just because, I guess, it didn’t seem to matter much anyway, in my case, and so far. If things evolve further for me in the future, there might come the day when I have to make a definite decision about what way to license my music. But that situation has not arrived yet (or maybe, I’ve just not realized… 😉 ).
When and why did you start releasing Creative Commons music?
To be honest, I don’t remember that either. I guess one or another of the music platforms I uploaded some music to one day demanded it, or offered it as an option, and I just did it.
Probably that was when I uploaded the bigger part of my “back catalogue” to LastFM. But, no – sorry: I’m just not sure…
Do you release all your work under a Creative Commons license?
No. I also have gone many times for “all rights reserved”. But to be honest (again) I never noticed that it made any difference, or had any consequences which I’m aware of so far, either way…
If I ever should be in the situation to generate any considerable income through my musical activities (which I would appreciate), I might have to decide if I go Creative Commons all the way, or opt for GEMA, which is the German musical royalties collecting company (actually, I don’t know what the proper term for them is in English).
As far as I’m informed, for getting a record deal with one of the major companies, and for being played on big radio stations, being a GEMA member still is a must. Not that I like it that way. There are also friends (musicians since many years) who recommend me strongly to join the GEMA. However, I still hesitate. I would prefer Creative Commons (or nothing), but still: I might feel forced to go the other way, one day…
Have neat things happened because you used a Creative Commons license?
Well, again I’m not sure – some neat things for sure have happened to me because I’m NOT a member of the GEMA (or any royalty collecting society) at least.
Just today, incidentally, a music journalist knocked and asked if they could use parts of one of my tracks for the trailer of their interview video, which will be on a DVD that comes with a print music magazine. On my request he told me that one of the reasons for asking me was that I’m not a GEMA member (so they don’t need to pay me properly… 😉 ).
I also think this is the reason why most of the labels I have released with are accepting me – apart from liking my music, of course.
But anything that happened positively BECAUSE a track was released under CC – well, I’m not aware of that…
Have any negative things happened because you used a Creative Commons license?
Well, one or two bigger (= public) radio stations were interested in airing some of my music, but they work strictly with GEMA members only, because anything else would upset their routine (or whatever…). So, it didn’t happen…
Part Three: The Future
What is next for you?
At the moment: sharing a new track on a few spots in the internet, then taking the bus home, and be with my family, before editing some recent recordings…
Do you have any upcoming events / releases / etc. to mention?
No concerts, unfortunately, in 2014 – at least not as far as I can see…
I’ve already mentioned the albums with Tommy Betzler and with Rebekkah Hilgraves – I will be ever so happy when these will be released this year, and of course if people take interest in them.
However, at the moment I’d still like to highlight my recent release “Ombra – Revisited“, which is very close to my heart. It also was a hell of a lot of work, AND it includes my first industrially pressed CD ever. It’s a limited thing, only 100 copies, and there are still a considerable number of them left. So, if anyone is genuinely interested in my work and likes to support me, I’d like to strongly encourage her or him to purchase the album. Thanks! 🙂
And thanks a lot for the interview, George. It was a pleasure! 🙂
I really loved reading and working with Michael on this interview. It’s interesting to read how artists perceive their work, and what things or other artists have inspired them. But another thing in this interview, is the level of humor that Michael injected into the preceding. One of the things I ask artists when doing an interview is what is their real name (mostly because many artists have stage names). Michael’s answer? Jean-Michel Jarre. I’m still laugh every time I read that from the original email we exchanged.
Update: I was in a bit of a rush in getting this article put together and forgot there was something else that I wanted to comment on.
Michael tells a story about being approached to use his work in a video trailer, and is told that he wouldn’t be compensated appropriately because he isn’t a member of GEMA. I have two thoughts on this. First, I believe this is incorrect. Just because he wasn’t a member of GEMA doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be appropriately compensated, it just means that there is room to negotiate the rates without GEMA enforcing their standard. The fact is, Michael could have stated that he wanted the same rates as a GEMA artist would get, even if the likely outcome is that his work wouldn’t have been used. The benefit of this situation is that GEMA isn’t involved, taking their cut of the negotiated royalties.
Second, this is a question that has been mentioned to me before: shouldn’t there be an organization to serve as a collecting agency for artists releasing works under a Creative Commons license? I don’t think that’s an unreasonable idea. I could see an organization that allowed artists to sign up under a Creative Commons Plus contract to collect royalties for them. However, the structure of such an organization is something that would take some serious work to avoid the problems associated with the RIAA, GEMA, ARIA and other royalty collection agencies.