An interview with Reinhold Friedl of zeitkratzer


zeitkratzer was founded in 1999 and is an ensemble of European soloists. Its ambitious projects, that include performing works (such as Lou Reed's Metal Music Machine and works by Whitehouse) perhaps once thought beyond the abilities of regular orchestral instrumentation, have been instrumental in bring zeitkratzer to peoples attention.  A steady stream of releases encompassing their take on John Cage, Carsten Nicolai, James Tenney, Alvin Lucier, film scores and much more made an interview with Reinhold Friedl the artistic director  of zeitkratzer an attractive proposition. The email interview below was conducted by David Bourgoin.


PR: What is your musical background prior to zeitkratzer?

RF: I started at 5 years of age in the Dome boys choir in Augsburg, where I actually made my first money with music, as I was paid 50 cents every Sunday for singing in the mass. I also started piano at the age of 5, violin at 7 and later on also flute, saxophone and guitar. I didn’t have much else to do, as I grew up in the countryside in South Germany. At fourteen I played Liszt in public, and I started to be interested in jazz music. Later on I studied mathematics, but made my money with music, so I kept it going.

PR: Where your parents musical? What sort of music were you exposed to at home?

RF: Yes, my mother played guitar and studied piano with Wilhelm Kempf, my father was a fan of Lou Reed.

PR: How did zeitkratzer begin, where and how did you meet the rest of the people involved?

RF: I met those people in very different places, At that time I had already lived in France and Italy and other different places and I know a lot of musicians from touring in the contemporary music and improvised music context. I have chosen the musicians because of three criteria: 1) they should be advanced players on their instrument, also including new techniques 2) they should be open minded for different kinds of music and not have only one musical background 3) they should be ready to rehearse intensively


PR: So is being in zeitkratzer a full time activity for the people involved or do they also perform in other groups/ensembles 

RF: I do not want to work with fulltime ensemble musicians. This would be too boring. And if you look at the line-up of zeitkratzer, you’ll find the most interesting instrumental players you can get in Europe or for sure worldwide

PR: How do you go about scoring pieces like Metal Music Machine or pieces by artists like Whitehouse do you use some sort of frequency analyser or is it a more time consuming process done by ear?

It's by ear. To use a frequency analyser would consume much more time.

PR: How long does it take to transcribe something like a piece by Whitehouse and is it just you on your own doing it?

In this case yes, it took me a week or so for the whole material. But for sure we worked out the details with William, first in Edinburgh, then in the rehearsals in Marseille.


PR: With Whitehouse you concentrated on their newer material did you think the earlier material was too simple in that it mostly consists of a high tone and a low tone with not  a huge amount of movement or was it just a subconscious decision?

RF: Actually I concentrated on the last seven CDs or so, but only because I did not know the work of Whitehouse very well. Actually it was Ed Benndorf who introduced me to this music and brought up the idea of a cooperation. So I listened to all the material he first gave me, and this did not include the old ones. In the meantime I would be really happy to work out a next project with William Bennett, concentrating on other material including some earlier stuff.

PR: There have been a couple of performances of the Whitehouse pieces live but the performance that was scheduled for the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival was cancelled.
Do you plan to perform these pieces in the UK? It would seem fitting to have these pieces played live in the country Whitehouse came from.


RF: I got the impression that the contemporary music scene in UK is really scared to invite zeitkratzer with a WHITEHOUSE program. It might really touch current political issues 

PR: William Bennett was involved in one of the live performances in Europe wasn’t he? What part did he play in it? 

RF: He came and worked hard with us in the rehearsals in Marseille. We had like 35 degrees. Promoters for sure wanted to have him on stage, but there was no musical sense, to do so, so we didn’t even discuss it, we concentrated on the music. And had a swim.

PR: Do the pieces you are playing by artists such as Whitehouse, Carsten Nicolai, Lou Reed etc require the learning of any new or special techniques by the players?

RF: No

PR: Do you tend to use the same selection of instruments for all the pieces as in string, brass, woodwind, percussion sort of set up or do you have a wide variation depending on the pieces and their original sounds?

RF: zeitkratzer is a strange hybrid thing in between an ensemble and a band. This means that we always play with almost exactly the same musicians  - with the same instruments for sure.  The percussion set-up is pretty schizophrenic, as it includes a full double bass drum, drum set and a full orchestra percussion set-up (gran casse, tam-tam etc)

PR: You tend to choose more experimental/left field pieces to play with zeitkratzer. Could you ever see zeitkratzer doing something more conventional or is the challenge of performing these more avant garde pieces part of your motivation to begin with?

RF: Well, I always go for the music, not for the ideology behind it. zeitkratzer means sound. For sure we also did a cheap imitation of Bach's St.John's passion, or several variations of Volksmusik (folk music). But for sure, we do not deny to be avant garde.

PR: You have just released "Inside Piano" what made you decide that now was the right time to release an album like this.

RF: I probably can tell you in a few years, if it was the right time.

PR: You titled it "Inside Piano" was this a purposeful decision to distance it from "prepared piano"? Many people know only of John Cage when it comes to this type of use of a piano whereas as you point out in your notes for the album there is quite a history of people using the inside of the piano to make music.

RF: No, John Cage never used the piano like this. He used a fixed preparation that takes around 3 hours to prepare the instrument, before you can play. And then you cannot change anything while playing. His idea was to get a surrogate for a percussion group, and he succeeded pretty well. Inside-Piano means you are playing inside the piano and you learn how to treat the sounds on the strings etc. This has nothing to do with the methods of John Cage.

PR: How did you go about writing the pieces for "Inside Piano" did you start by improvising or did you score the pieces by how you thought they would sound and then try them and work from there?

RF: Yes, trial and error


PR: Do you have any plans to perform "Inside Piano" live?

RF: Yes, I have already performed it in Paris, Belgrade, Berlin, Warsaw etc and for sure, there are other concerts coming up. 

PR: What form do the performances take? Is it just you playing or do you have others joining you? If it is just solo could you see yourself taking Inside Piano into a more group setting?

RF: Fuck, what do I play in zeitkratzer? What else is zeitkratzer than an extended inside-piano???

PR: What's the next release we can expect from either yourself or zeitkratzer? 

RF: A release just coming out on the Australian label ROOM40 is an algorithmic composition of mine, I realised in a studio in Marseille in France, called eight equidistant pure wave oscillators, while slipping very slowly to a unison, textually spatialised on eight speakers, concret, 60 minutes

PR: Eight Equidistant…. seems quite a departure from your usual areas of work. It’s a very challenging piece to listen to as the sounds move so slowly into unison. Have you used it in a live setting and if so what was the audience reaction? If you haven’t is this something you plan on doing?


RF: I actually used it in a sound installation in China this year, and I was really astonished that those people from another continent could obviously get the idea and enjoy it very much. They came after the performance and were really touched by the sensuality of the sound developing slowly. So I plan a few installations with that for 2013, that even move very much slower, but include a multi-channel speaker set-up, that makes an even more intense experience possible.  

PR: Did you use a specific frequency to start from or did you choose one you just felt was the right one?

RF: I just choose 440 Hz as an ending, what for sure includes an occidental joke…

PR: Anything else coming from zeitkratzer? 

RF: With zeitkratzer we are just now releasing a Stockhausen CD and then a CD called SONGS, with completely new material including vocals. For myself, we just released on a Polish label a radical version of Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe, one of the most famous romantic lieder-collections. The singer is a pretty famous actor, Bernhard Schütz, (with whom I worked at Volksbühne Berlin) and with whom I worked out a "real" version of the Schumann lieder, not an aesthetic one.


Our thanks go to Reinhold for the interview and to Ed Benndorf at Dense PR for organising it for us. Photographs of Reinhold are by Christoph Voy. For further information about Reinhold Friedl or zeitkratzer then visit and