Andreas Vollenweider, tell us about "Midnight Clear"
Key questions on the history, philosophy, motivation etc...
the topics are
- 1. How did you get introduced to music?
- 2. How important was the influence of the family tradition of storytelling?
- 3. Did you go through formal musical education?
- 4. Who were these masters?
- 5. Your music is very distinct. When did you decide to break loose and find your own musical identity?
- 6. Evidently your music seems to attract many people, who are going through difficult times in their lives. Do you know why your music has this effect?
- 7. How did you end up playing the harp? And what role does the harp play?
- 8. Your project is also known as Andreas Vollenweider & Friends. Who are these friends?
- 9. What made you stop the extensive touring?
- 10. How and when did you meet Carly Simon for the first time?
- 11. When did you start working together?
- 12. Tell us more about MIDNIGHT CLEAR. Is it really a holiday album?
- 13. What is your relation to religion?
- 14. Do you believe we are capable of ever meeting these quality standards? Does peace have a chance?
- 15. Tell us about the DVD? Almost four hours of the 25 years of Andreas Vollenweider & Friends!
"I had the privilege of growing up in a very artistic and especially very musical family. At a very young age, I realized, that music can not and should not be reduced to its entertainment factor, that it is not just acoustic decoration, but much more a very potent means of communication.
What made you realize this?
My father was an extreme case of someone, living almost entirely in the world of music. As wonderful as this might have been for the music, it wasn't always that easy for the rest of the people around him. I so much hoped he would take me on a bicycle tour, or to go fishing together, so he would somehow connect with my world, but he just wasn't able to.
But still I was very fascinated by this man with his wild hairstyle, who everybody treated so respectfully, and I wanted to get to know him. Over time I did find ways to communicate with him; quite simply, by playing music with him, improvising, sometimes for hours, just the two of us. I think we both came much closer then we probably would ever have, if there wasn’t the music.
What instrument did you play?
I already played several instruments, still looking for the perfect match. Piano, guitar and various wind instruments were the main choices at that time. My father was organist at the Grossmunster, the Cathedral of Zurich, where he played on one of the largest organs in the world. And sometimes we went to the church and while he gently played on this majestic instrument, I mostly played wind instruments. For a long time this was somehow my musical homeland.
Besides the music, the folks of my family were traditionally great storytellers. Very early I always liked to combine the music with a hidden story. This combination would make the music to be more visual and narrative. I think, the fact that I always saw myself as a musical storyteller is certainly an important reason, why the music sounds the way it does.
No I didn’t, or better, I couldn’t. I was much too independent. The early seventies were so full of interesting things to learn in all aspects of life. The idea of going to school at that time seemed for everybody more of a limitation than a true benefit. It was the first hand experience we were all looking for, some of it was maybe questionable, but all of it was intense and very demanding.
Demanding, in what way?
If you decide to walk the path of learning by doing and to teach yourself, you must first generate an enormous amount of curiosity. Secondly you must unconditionally commit to the everlasting principles of „life is learning and learning is life“. After that you must become a true master in the art of tirelessly asking questions, because as we know, the quality of the answers directly depend on the quality of the questions. That can be pretty exhausting at times. But I have no regrets, it was worth all the sweat, because instead of spending my time in a classroom, being feed what’s already been eaten before, I have been in the kitchen of many masters and inventors and I saw how they cooked many breathtaking “meals”, meaningful and touching. I also saw the ingredients - only the most sublime...
What were these ingredients?
Quite simply; being unconditionally true to oneself, understanding the signals of one’s own intuition and not ever being afraid of what we may find when opening the gates of our imagination. I must admit though, all of that this is as demanding as it sounds and many times I am still falling short... (smiles)
I had the privilege to meet wonderful artists from all artistic fields, some of them celebrities, some of them live and work more as hermits. But all of them have been tremendous supporters and willing to provide me with answers to my many questions.
5. Your music is very distinct. When did you decide to break loose and find your own musical identity?
I never really had to break loose, I always felt very free and I must have been very hard to tame for my parents. I really had my own way... But as much as I enjoyed exploring my musical roots with my father, the musical world of my family was mainly classical and it seemed very limiting to me. So very early I already went on musical adventures in Rock, Jazz, Blues and Folk etc.
After a very intense phase of experimenting in the field of the so-called „Free Music“ and Avant-garde, I have more and more realized, that a very particular musical vision began to grow within me like a tree. I still was looking for the perfect instrument for this sound vision. It took many experiments, until I finally began to modify the one instrument, that seemed to come closest to the sound I was looking for; the harp. One day I thought I was close enough to "go out to the world" and I went to the studio and have recorded the first album with this distinct sound: „Behind the Gardens – Behind the Wall – Under the Tree“. And that was the beginning of a magical journey...
6. Evidently your music seems to attract many people, who are going through difficult times in their lives. Do you know why your music has this effect?
Well, I think there’s not just one simple explanation and what is most interesting will probably always remain a secret. But I also believe, that if you suffer from something and you search and find a remedy for it, that this can also work for others with a similar problem.
And what was your problem?
In my childhood I was deeply scared of violence in any form. In some ways, that didn’t really make me too compatible with the world’s principles of the survival of the fittest. To me, the entire concept was much too violent and disgraceful and I deeply hated the daily fights of the boys at the schoolyard.
Instead, I was longing for an atmosphere of peacefulness and general goodwill. I remember, always looking forward to rushing home after school, throwing my schoolbag into the corner and heading straight for the piano. I played for hours, just improvising, and traveling to my imaginary worlds.
That is how music became like a shelter for me, a safe and peaceful place, it became a survival strategy, my remedy. You could call this an escape from reality, but it is my experience, that over time this remedy has made me much stronger for the unavoidable confrontation with reality. And it has been an essential source of inspiration in the process of understanding this world and reacting to it in a more appropriate and effective manner. I do not think you can be of any help for anyone, if you’re exhausted and weak. We all need a resting place from time to time, to regain strength, only to later go out and lay hands on the world. Music can provide such a high quality resting place!
I am tempted to believe, that this approach, however, may be the reason, this music resonates in people in times of profound crisis. But whatever it is, I am aware of the responsibility and I am just deeply grateful.....
(find more on this in the article “stories and testimonials”)
In the search for the perfect instrument for me, I accidentally became a multi-instrumentalist. Although I enjoyed playing all of these keyboards, guitars and wind instruments, I always knew, that ‘somewhere out there’ still was an instrument for me to discover, and I was already a touring musician, when I finally, by ‘coincidence’ stumbled over a Celtic harp. For many years it was just another toy in my collection. I loved playing it, but only after I have discovered a way of rhythmically and percussively ‘grooving’ on this instrument, I have suddenly realized, that my search must have come to an end.
I strongly believe we should not be resting until we have found the perfect match, because only then the instrument can become like an extension of ourselves, of our body and – even more important – of our soul.
Being a musical storyteller, makes the harp even more the perfect choice. I have already played the harp for many years, when I have learned, that since thousands of years, the harp has been the instrument of the storytellers, from ancient Egypt to our medieval troubadours and minstrels. And still today in Africa, if someone is playing the harp, like the Kora, it is said, that this person can get in contact with the spirits and this way receive their stories from them. I really like that... (smile)
Seriously, what the instrument itself brings into the music is absolutely crucial. It just has this miraculous ability to create and exude this amazing and uplifting atmosphere. That is why for me, the harp is more than a musical instrument, it is an experience.
I am definitively a family person. Family means long time relationships, it stands for loyalty and high quality friendship. This is probably one of the main ingredients of this music. Our family of friends, musicians as well as technicians and the folks of the management, has grown over all these many years and has been efficiently helping to protect the source of the spirit and the motivation of this music.
One of the friends, who is with me since the very beginning is Walter Keiser. As the drumming heart beat of the music, he always made sure the music had at least one foot on the ground, while the rest was flying all over the place.
Some years ago two young musicians have joined us; Daniel Kueffer, on saxophones, clarinets and other wind instruments, keyboards, accordion... you name it. While being a virtuoso on the saxes, he also is a great multi-instrumentalist. Andi Pupato brings in a whole universe of percussive sounds. He also tastefully adds contemporary technology of loops, sampling and sound effects.
Over about three years, together with Walter, Daniel and Andi, we started to re-activate our touring project, which has been reduced to a minimum for more then thirteen years.
First there was only one reason to take a break. It was the fact, that we have excessively toured the world for many years and it seemed important to allow the music and the people to rest for a while to regain strength and to closely examine the motivation for a possible continuation of the project. The nature of this music did not allow any routine and un-reflected materialistic motivations. Looking back, I must admit, that, as a child from the early seventies, I was almost too strict and uncompromising, “more catholic than the pope” as we say.- And what was the other reason?That other reason were my children, the most wonderful reason. Right in the beginning of the break – we still played some smaller tours - my first son came, followed by his brother and just two years later we received a daughter. That has naturally made a break even more appropriate and so I had the privilege to be around for them during this very important time. It was wonderful and I do not regret any minute of the experience. In fact, I believe that the music has tremendously benefited from these years.
Now, the kids are more and more building their own lives and the time seems right to make room again for more touring with this music. Fortunately I also get a lot of support from my family – I believe not just because they want to get rid of me (smile) – but because they know that playing live for people is my passion, which I, frankly speaking, also have missed very much.
It was one evening in the early eighties, when I suddenly received a phone call. A low and warm voice said ‚hello, this is Carly Simon speaking...’. The call came so unexpected, I almost dropped the phone. For many years Carly was one of my absolute favorites and I was very familiar with her music, and here she was on the phone. We immediately connected and only a few weeks later we met in New York for the first time. She was very warm, open hearted and supportive, determined to help this music to find it’s audience in America. She took me by the hand and has walked me through the experience of getting familiar with a world, quite different than the one I came from. We did all of the major TV talk shows in the US, programs which I would have never been invited to if it wasn’t for Carly. She presented our first concert in New York at the Beacon Theatre and has organized cocktail parties with all of her illustrious friends at her Central Park West home, tirelessly promoting our music. It was breathtaking, very intense but wonderful and I am deeply grateful for all what she has done for the music and me.
Over the many years we have worked together on different projects, have written songs together or just shared the beautiful friendship of our families. In the winter of 2004 we spent some time at her home on Martha’s Vineyard, writing songs together with Matthias (Teese) Gohl, a fellow Swiss and a highly talented musician, who is a long time friend of Carly’s as well. I am sure, the fact that we got snowed in and had nowhere else to go, contributed as well to the very intensely creative and productive atmosphere. Among the songs that were written then was also „Forgive“, one of the tracks on MIDNIGHT CLEAR. In the summer of 2006 I went back to spend more high quality time in the company of the two. The fruits of these days are the songs „Midnight Clear“, „Suspended Note“ and „Hymn to the Secret Heart“.
Well it is and it is not! You can listen to it even in July, I actually really hope some people will, because the values, this album stands for, are not limited to this small time window in our calendar.
The fact that it is released just in time for Christmas could justify the label ‘holiday album’ as well. And also the selection of the songs could be an indication of that; most songs are based on ancient melodies from the old world, songs which are also known in the context of Christmas. But allow me to become a bit more specific.
Although I opened our musical world for the first time to traditional and „external“ musical elements, some of them with even specific spiritual content, this album is dedicated to the message of love, peace, hope and compassion, in the very same way as all my previous works are. For thousands of years, in all the cultures of the world, this message, wherever it came from, has been the most powerful source of strength and motivation to lay hands on the earth and do our part, in the liberation of the good in ourselves. As we all realize these days, this struggle has not lost anything of its profound relevance.
I always have been very interested in the religions of the world, since this world has been profoundly shaped and molded by the religions. Therefore, in order to understand history we need to understand the role of the religions.
MIDNIGHT CLEAR was certainly a very big challenge for me. In fact at first I wasn’t even sure if I was going to really do the album. But after spending some time with the music and doing all the research, I became more an more fascinated and it became part of an intense personal process of renewing my own orientation towards religion and spirituality.
Religions have played, and still do, a highly controversial role in the history of our civilizations. Besides essential contributions to education, healthcare and social development, the religious institutions have, over thousands of years, also been responsible for a violently blasphemous abuse of power beyond imagination. This could be, and is for many people, reason enough for a fundamental rejection of religion in general, and for a long time this was very much my own personal experience too.
So what has changed for you?
I have more and more realized, that it is high time to finally acknowledge, that we are by our nature profoundly spiritual beings, whether we like it or not. We will always be magnetically attracted by the miraculous. We will always have countless questions which our intellectual minds can not provide answers for, and the process of enlightenment will always be like touching the horizon; it slips further away the closer you think you get to it.
It is high time to focus on the content, on the essence of the message, which can be found in all existing religions of the world. There’s no need to create new doctrines. It is time to find ways to concretely incorporate these values into our lives. Regardless whether you are a Christian or not, alone the “Sermon on the Mount” e.g. contains enough very valuable guidelines, how to ethically and spiritually organize a highly complex society such as ours. Let us not loose more time we don’t have. The actual quality of spirituality is reflected in how we live it. A sophisticated spiritual dialog is indispensable in the crisis management of today’s world.
14. Do you believe we are capable of ever meeting these quality standards? Does peace have a chance?
Oh Yes! Absolutely! We just had a very bad start. For thousands of years now, we all have been taught a concept of man as a sinner, a primarily negative being. And we surely have lived up to these expectations! Didn’t we? But is that really all we need to know about ourselves?
Fact is, that only very little effort has been made to tell us about our positive potential, about our sophisticated ability to transform the negative into the positive, through our most profound human faculty of love and compassion.
Of course, this seems all new to us and we may first have to get to know this “other side” of ourselves, before we can really use it to our benefit. Think of how we are encouraging and motivating our children; “You can do it, if you try!” I wonder if they would ever learn anything if we would tell them: “You really want to do this? I am sure you won’t make it, it’s useless”
What is the role of music in this process?
Music can be of essential help in finding this ‘other’ potential and bringing it to the surface. This process requires a very sophisticated dialog to our subconscious, to our soul. And what else is music if not the voice of the soul? I am even convinced, that this was the very reason for man to discover music.
Oh yes! My goodness, what a project! Digging in our video archives really was a very intense experience. The 25 years passed so fast and it seemed, that I had forgotten many of the precious moments and exiting adventures. Going through all the footage was almost like a form of "psycho-analysis". It struck me the most, how light hearted we all were and how everything seemed possible. Time and space seemed not to matter, a quality, which we fortunately successfully have been able to preserve and transfer to the present time.
One hour on the DVD is a portrait of the 25 years of our project with many precious moments, many which have never been shown before. The other elements are rare live concerts, documentaries and music videos. I am very happy about the result and I am looking forward to introduce “the magical journeys” to our listeners.