Special to AMFM Magazine – all photos by Claudia Weingart.
“In interviews I am often asked what inspires me – which composers, events, places. Then I have to confess that external events are rarely the cause of a blossoming imagination. If I were dependent on that, I would have to change profession. There is far more fertile ground for imagination and fantasy, far below the trepidations of life, deep down at the roots of the soul, the source of all inspiration”. -SVEN HELBIG
Sven Helbig has worked as a producer, composer and arranger with Rammstein, Pet Shop Boys, Snoop Dogg, Polarkreis 18, the Fauré Quartett, opera singer René Pape, German rapper Sido and numerous theater productions. He also directs music videos, stage shows and theatrical multimedia events. He produced the “High-rise Symphony” on Dresden’s 800th anniversary during which the orchestra’s musicians sat on individual balconies of an old East German apartment building. In 2009 Helbig produced Kinder der Freiheit on behalf of the MDR Symphony Orchestra to mark the 20th anniversary of the German reunification. Helbig’s work builds on the tradition of the Gesamtkunstwerk (all-embracing art form).
The film shows a variation of the first Parsifal scene. I love the Parsifal myth for formulating the idea of the a tradition that gets healthy and strong again with the arriving of the new – the young fool. This idea is very attractive to me as a classical composer as there is a tendency in the classical world to see new developments as a danger.
But we have seen so many fantastic traditions of mankind fading away because they have not been able to rebirth themselves. Saving a tradition means feeding the interest in it by nurturing the original idea – but the original idea was not saving, it was creating. When I look at the programming of some orchestras, operas or philharmonic halls, I miss the focus on the creative side.
Is there still a strong resistance and separation between musical styles?
It is a paradox, that the heaviest resistance survived in the artists themselves, the ones, that should have the highest knowledge and interest in music of different styles. For example: it is still a laugh in the classical world, when a conductor like Kristjan Järvi talks about his love for the band Maroon 5.
People that don´t even play instruments have less problems with a colorful mix in their playlists. I can see this, when I look at what kind of music people hear, that write me messages via Facebook. The wide variety is amazing. I have been involved in many contemporary classical projects, where it was easier to find an audience than high quality musicians. This kind of embargo politics is only changing slowly – the more pressure by a curious audience is put on the institutions and the classical players the better
How did growing up on the East side of the Berlin wall affect your music?
The every day life, expectations from the future, the view on history – all this has a massive influence on the artistic reflection. It forms a unique musical dialect. But since music is a universal language, those dialects are translatable. Art deals always with common ingredient: fear, longing, passion, desperation, joy, loss… No matter if it is a Bossa Nova, a Heavy Metal song or a symphony, it may translate even to people far outside the musical source, if the listener wants to. Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys always says, I would have an East German sound. I don´t know, what he is hearing, but I like it a lot, when artists have, what the wine makers call “terroir”.
Why do you use synthesized orchestras in the live performance of POCKET SYMPHONIES?
My music has to be played live. But excessive touring with an orchestra is not possible for many reasons – it is expensive and orchestras are not available for long time periods. Nevertheless, the orchestra sound is essential for the POCKET SYMPHONIES and I was looking for a solution. Since I also have a background with electronic music, it came quite natural to look for a live concept in this direction. I developed a method, that enables the quartet and me to play without technical backing like a click track. I follow the quartet with my orchestra sounds like with an instrument. Volume, sound, tempo and electronic effects are flexible and depend on the live situation. It is completely different from playing with a pre-recorded orchestra playback. Besides, I love electronic instruments and effects and think that they can beautifully blend with orchestra music. In my musical world I don´t want to miss one of them.
What is your inspiration?
For me, inspiration is an uninterrupted stream that is independent from certain unique experiences. This collection of endless moments will get activated by strong impressions. The collecting process never stops. To make a living by composing music would be hard if I would have to sit and wait for something special to happen. Of course, there are unique experiences that have a powerful impact on the music. But the basis of creation is breathing in every moment.
It is the same with classical as with any kind of music: some I love from the very beginning, some I have to discover and some doesn`t reach me.
For example: I have a Mozart & Beatles block. My brain always says that it is great and genius music. But I rarely get deeply touched.
But it is actually true – classical music came first. I discovered it by chance flipping through the few channels on my self-built radio back in Eisenhuettenstadt, my hometown. Night after night I was lying awake, listening to Brahms, Mahler or Puccini. The first music, in terms of “Please never stop!”, was James Brown. It is still something, that always works for me..
What do you want to tell people through your music?
I’m not the one to tell … I get a lot of reactions to the Pocket Symphonies and so many different interpretations. This is so good with instrumental music. It makes me happy when I hear that somebody uses my music like a small window, through which one can see the own life in another light.
At The 2013 Reeperbahn Festival