What’s he planning next? – “Nothing really at the moment”. – “Reduction” seems to be a constant topic in your work. – “I don’t know about that. Let me think about it”. – For example, the titles of your works are often very concise, like "Oscillations", "Continuum", or "Structure-borne Noise" – “I simply can't come up with anything better”. – Martin Lorenz looks at us defiantly, and laughs. When you meet this Swiss percussionist, electronic musician, composer and founder of a record label, you shouldn’t rely on your first impressions.
It’s an afternoon in mid-December, and it’s already dark outside the Museum Café in Berlin’s Hamburg Station. Martin Lorenz has just come from a rehearsal with his synthesizer trio Surberg–Berweck–Lorenz. A few days ago, he finished this year’s work in the theatre at the Gessnerallee in Zurich, with the final performance of Egoisten. It was the fourth production of the company Schauplatz International that he’s been involved in. “For my first collaboration with them in 2013, on Idealisten, my task was simple: write ideal music for it. And that was very obliging towards me”. Taking his cue from the ideals of the Renaissance, Lorenz wrote a suite for accordion and percussion with a variable sequence of movements, alternating between his own compositions and arrangements of pieces by Andrea Gabrieli.
“I have also often written incidental music for others. Depending on the director, however, I kept getting requests such as: ‘Can you do something with some drive to it, or something melancholic, or like Prince?’. These are all topics that are difficult to conceive using numerical series”. And these series play a crucial role in Lorenz’s oeuvre.
These inner points of reference are fundamental to Lorenz’s structure-based aesthetic, and they have made him receptive to adjoining disciplines. They have also led him to a collaboration of many years’ standing with the painter Silva Reichwein. SINE GREY is the name they give to the “audio-visual configurations” that they have developed together. They have set up a dialogue between Reichwein’s oil paintings and Lorenz’s sound installation Rotation; the surfaces and colour rhythms of the former are determined as much by numerical series as are the oscillation cycles that emerge from the six loudspeakers of Lorenz’s work, which was created for their joint exhibition at the Berlin Association for Promoting Art and Culture in 2016.
“I wanted to set a picture of hers to music at one point, but I wasn’t able to derive a proper numerical series from it, because you can read it in so many different ways”. The craftsmanship and patient attention to detail that is characteristic of both artists can be observed in a book with audio documentation that has just been published as a record of their cooperation, one year after the exhibition in question.
Perhaps it is this scrupulous attention to detail in his work that makes Lorenz unwilling to reveal too much about his current plans. The sheer diversity of his activities alone is a testament to his joy in experimentation. Lorenz, who was born in 1974, gave up his job as a percussion teacher shortly after completing his classical training, because the everyday tasks of working at a school were no longer compatible with his many private projects. He wanted to perform his own programmes with large-scale solo works. Back then, he increasingly encountered the Zurich composer Edu Haubensak, with whom he had already worked several times, including as a member of the Collegium Novum Zürich. Since 2010, their collaboration has resulted in various commissions and recordings for small ensemble, starting with Three Timpani. “I like pieces for small ensemble. Playing without a conductor can often provide a lot of pleasure. It’s simply more exciting if there’s still a little chaos in it all. I try to master the musical text and then improvise within it. The score has its own laws, but there are also the laws of the moment”.
It’s 28 November 2017 in the Zurich arts venue “Kunstraum Walcheturm”. The air is buzzing. Out of a stream of constantly shifting patterns, beats suddenly emerge like pointed columns. Martin Lorenz stands opposite his duo partner Sebastian Hofmann. Both are deep in concentration at their respective vibraphones. One of these has slight indentations underneath its metal bars. This instrument was adjusted to a unique tuning of its own back in 2012, for Edu Haubensak’s solo vibraphone piece H. But such a custom-made tuning isn’t worth carrying out for just a single work, says Lorenz, which is why he subsequently commissioned Haubensak to write the duo Ponds.
The evening programme closes with Dans une Cascade (2012) for 4-channel backtape and percussion by the French-Swiss composer Antoine Chessex. Using a pure tone glissando and pianissimo rolls, it features a composed-out crescendo over several minutes. This concert programme, entitled Schlagzeug Duo & Elektronik (“Percussion duo & electronics”), intentionally features a certain degree of freedom, as Lorenz explains: “Every musician brings his own expression through his own gestures and body posture. If the composer adds his expression too, then the two contradict each other and cancel each other out. Many people hear music like they read a sentence, according to a particular logic. I like music that I can listen to, and then also turn away from occasionally”.
Lorenz’s aesthetic led him early on to the boundaries of classical and contemporary music. He often oriented himself on what was happening in the USA, and he acquired an increasing interest in vinyl. Starting with hip-hop, he moved on to Christian Marclay’s experiments with cut-up records. Ultimately, he founded his own label, DUMPF, and his own group, Trabant Echo. This began as a duo for turntables and acoustic bass guitar (played by Tobias von Glenck), but today it’s grown into the Trabant Echo Orchestra comprising three string instruments, piano and percussion, whose repertoire encompasses the American avant-garde and pop.
But Lorenz has also long been forging his own path as a turntablist, working with prepared records that he’s scratched himself and recorded for his own sets, and which could in themselves be regarded as small-scale artistic objects.
So we come back to the question: What’s he planning? Well, there’s a concert for 35th anniversary of the trio KARL ein KARL, world premières of a piece by Bernhard Lang in Luxembourg and of a piece by Alfred Zimmerlin in Switzerland. Several releases are due from DUMPF, including a recording of Michael Pisaro’s Concentric Rings in Magnetic Levitation. Together with the composer Luc Döbereiner, Lorenz has developed a software program that enables him to determine the individual frequency of a sine wave for every oscillation cycle. They intend to commission several works using this process. “The focus of the records that we release was until now very much on electronic and electromechanical music. I would like to open that up a bit”. When asked what direction he intends to take, however, he becomes cautious again. “I don’t quite know that yet. It would be nice if others would help to curate it. But I haven’t found the right people yet”.