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Functions like DNA

MC Textor discusses his work with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and issues of aging.

Henrik von Holtum
, alias MC Textor, lives in Berlin. As MC Textor he was part of the Ulm hip hop duo Kinderzimmer Productions together with Sascha Klammt (DJ Quasi Modo). After 13 years and seven studio albums the group disbanded in 2007. At the time MC Textor published a "Rapper Manifesto" in the taz, a final reckoning with the rap scene and the music industry.

In 2008 Kinderzimmer Productions gave a final concert in the Dortmund Konzerthaus. A live recording of this unplugged concert was released in 2009. After leaving Kinderzimmer Productions, MC Textor founded the singer-songwriter project Textor & Renz with Holger Renz. Their debut album "A chair is not a chair a house is not a home" appeared in 2011. At the invitation of the Austrian radio station FM4, Kinderzimmer Productions developed a reinterpretation of their songs with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. The premiere of "Gegen den Strich" (against the grain) took place in front of a live audience in the large concert studio in Vienna.

The Munich label Trikont has just released the live recording of this concert and is also releasing the first two Kinderzimmer Productions albums on vinyl.

Apin: Henrik von Holtum, in 2007 you left your band Kinderzimmer Productions and the music business - with a ranting manifesto that was published in the taz. Where do you stand today?

Henrik von Holtum: The emphasis has shifted for me. I was involved in hip hop for over 20 years, and you can't just let it go. I am still no sure if this is a blessing or a curse. At any rate, there are things that I should not abandon completely - talking about beats is one. But the question about which way around you're supposed to wear your baseball hat, that doesn't interest me anymore.

Did that every interest you? You and your partner Quasi Modo always tended to shy away from the scene...

We never shied away from the scene. The scene shied away from us! We always understood hip hop as having a very limited number of structural rules that function like DNA. We did wear baseball caps, but beyond that we tried to find a more original way of doing things, and this did not make us many friends.

With your current project, Textor and Renz, you stray in the singer-songerwriter direction. The recently released Kinderzimmer Productions album was recorded with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Are you still a rapper?

I never doubted being a rapper. As far as I'm concerned the supposed stylistic leaps are part of the personal thread running through my work. Sometimes this thread zig-zags, but overall what I do makes sense. My next project is going to be acoustic, but it is based on what I have learned: loops, repetition, directness. These are qualities that I value in singer-songwriter and hip hop albums.

Your new album and also the first two Kinderzimmer albums have appeared with the Munich label Trikont. How did you end up working with Trikont?

After we split up, we thought about what to do with our back catalogue. Because everyone at the time believed in the future of the CD, we own the vinyl rights to all our albums. And we're still getting requests even now. With Trikont we have a label where we feel we ourselves and our archive package are well taken care of.

With the hip hop duo Kinderzimmer Productions on the historical fringe, next to Bavarian bards such Hans Söllner?

I'll admit, at age 20 we would not have landed with this label. At the time we were totally uptight about what garage we parked our car in. But from our experience in the music business, this supposed purity of things does not exist. At festivals you find yourself backstage next to a darkwave band. What are you supposed to do - refuse to talk to them? This need to keep things all neat and tidy is absurd. That is not how making music works anymore. Given the prevailing lack of infrastructure and publicity, everyone who wants to live from their music has to stick together.

One of the reasons that you gave for disbanding was that the balance between the effort invested and financial compensation no longer made sense. How do you earn a living now?

Through a combination of jobs for radio, commissioned compositions, and teaching at the School of Design in Karlsruhe. And through touring as a guest musician with the instrument I trained with. My partner Sascha Klammt, alias Quasi Modo, continues to teach and tinker about with sound in Ulm. That works for each of us.

You are now 37. Is your renunciation of hip hop a sign of age? What is the age limit for creating good hip hip?

Hip hop is good when it is clear and compelling. To keep going as long as things are going well is one thing. But no one yet has been able to infuse hip hop with the quality of being 45 years old. On Gil Scott-Heron's last album there was an element of this, where the tone of his voice conveyed an inner attitude - a tone that makes you pause, even in the supermarket. Maybe something else will develop.

Parallel to your hip hop career you also studied at the conservatory. The songs of your band are full of quotes from jazz, blues, and film music. Where do these influences come from?

My parents' record shelf was full of jazz and classical music. These were the albums that I used for my first samples. You could say that I learned about jazz twice over. First at home and then at the conservatory. Although I loved jazz even as a child because of its wonderful acoustic aesthetics but classical music never really grabbed me. Too anaemic.

Did this change at the conservatory?

I gained a whole new respect for the resonance of instruments. The orchestra like the one we worked with is a sounding board, a powerful but permeable sound experience. The sound of every amplifier is disappointing in comparison. But the lifestyle and self-understanding of classical musicians remains foreign to me. My studies and my life as part of Kinderzimmer Productions were always two separate things. People noticed me - at the time we had a major deal and a video that got regular airtime. But there was hardly any overlap. For me, the world of classical music was a possible escape hatch.

With your new album "Gegen den Strich", on which the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra plays interpretations of Kinderzimmer tracks, you are moving in the direction of this former sphere of your life. Would this kind of cooperation between a hip hop crew and an orchestra have been conceivable at that point in time?

I experienced the Viennese as being more open than the orchestra at my conservatory back then. Working with the Viennese orchestra was incredibly uncomplicated. But due to time constraints it was impossible to go beyond just getting to know each other. There was no real translation; no one internalised our repetitive structures the way they might have with Brahms, for example. The musicians opened up their bag of skills and took out everything they needed - which was great. But in that short amount of time it was not possible to get to the equivalent of a late romantic take on hip hop.

Crossovers between pop and classical music always run the danger of teetering into kitsch. How did you deal with this?

I hate the word "crossover". Being considered anything close to this would was a major threat to our orchestra project. It's one thing to mix two dishes together in order to feel innovative, but in the end you never do justice to either. For us it was important to have a final product that transcended the effects you would expect. This works only in rare cases, but we still took the risk. And we were astonished by the results.

You only had one-and-a-half days of rehearsal time to record the entire album. How does that work?

I broke down the score into individual parts with Oliver Prechtl, who played the piano on the recording. After we clarified the instrumentalisation of the loops, we had to get down to the real craft – transcribing the individual voices so that the musicians could read them. Only in rehearsal could we hear how loud two bassoons were in comparison to four horns and how my rapping came across. We only had a day to do this, a total time of five hours. The next day was the dress rehearsal and in the evening the concert. It was impressive to see how such an orchestra machine starts to move and then takes off.

Was this a one-off excursion?

So far, yes. But I would be eager to have a whole week of rehearsal time. But in the classical music business time is money, because the musicians are paid union wages.

Would the unionised and secure life of an orchestra musician be preferable to you over the precarious self-exploitation that characterises the daily routine of many pop musicians?

If I had my wish, then I would like to live in a society that would allow me to work three months out of the year. And then to earn enough money in order to be able to produce and promote an album in peace. At the moment I don't have the feeling that my life is this porous. I can't disappear from one place for three months to be in another. That would be much more preferable than having prescribed lunch breaks and being in a unionised organization.


Nina Apin is an editor of the Berlin pages of the Tageszeitung.

The article originally appeared in the Tageszeitung on 20 October 2011.

Translation: ls

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