BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Have you ever felt a sense of doubt?
Jochen Gutsch has. Though, he doesn’t react in the way that many of us do by instinct – the way we let doubt consume us as a negative force. Instead, this Sydney musician feels doubt is something worthy of celebration. And he’s woven the concept into a new original album with his ensemble Hinterlandt.
Ode to Doubt is the composer’s latest offering after the launch of Hinterlandt’s Ensemble album last year. Jochen, who is preparing to perform these works live at Mona Foma this weekend and in Sydney tonight, chats about how the album came about. We are also excited to welcome him as part of our digital music store, where he is featuring his score for sale for the very first time.
Tell us how Hinterlandt’s new album Ode to Doubt came about.
Hinterlandt has gone through many formats; for example, it was a semi-electronic solo project for several years before this new indie-chamber phase. Sometime in 2014, I started writing music for string instruments and we started playing gigs as a quartet here and there. Then we released Ensemble, our first album as a group, in 2016. This was basically a live recording of the four of us sitting around one pair of stereo condenser mics. I liked the album for what it was, but quickly had the feeling I wanted to refine the formula and compose better, more coherent and fluid music. I also started toying with vocals, and wanted to add piano for some bottom end.
So I started composing and arranging new music, and developed an overarching lyrical concept. Once I had everything in place, I asked the musicians I really wanted on the album, and they all agreed to play on it. I’m blessed to be able to work with these people: Simeon Johnson on cello, Natalya Bing and Susie Bishop on violins, Brian Campeau and Nicole Smede on vocals.
Your album’s first single Chase a Dream sounds much like a pop song; though has a solid instrumental section that could easily standalone in classical performance. Tell us about this blend.
You’re right, the frame is like a traditional, simple pop song – however, the instrumental middle section takes up almost half of the piece and has some time signature and harmonic shifts you wouldn’t normally hear in a ‘real’ pop song. This part is an indication of what most of the other Hinterlandt material sounds like. It’s really mainly about string arrangements with a few catchy hooks embedded in somewhat quirky rhythms. More than half of the music on the album is instrumental. Only three out of seven movements have vocals.
What is your own stylistic background as a composer?
I don’t claim to be a classical composer in an academic sense. I grew up with classical music and had a proper trumpet education. However, since I was a teenager most of what I’ve done in music has been self-taught. I’m driven by a strong musical curiosity and some strange need for artistic expression. So I experiment and try and find out what can be done. This includes composing and arranging as much as the technical side of it, such as recording, mixing, editing, and getting my head around the equipment. It also includes the other instruments I play. Having said that, the musicians in Hinterlandt are classically trained, which I suppose is a prerequisite to be able to play this kind of material.
Who have been the influences to shape your sound?
This may sound misleading but the most important influence in my socialisation is punk rock. I don’t mean that the material I write is directly influenced by punk songs – I mean a DIY grassroots philosophy, and a sense of real independence from commercial interests, genres and categories. Ideas and creativity are more important to me than die-hard perfection in execution. Another nice side-effect of punk rock is the fact that political attitudes play an important role, which means the music is not ‘just there’ but it carries a kind of world-view as well. I don’t scream political slogans but I do see my music as a statement. Other influences for Hinterlandt come from the world outside of music – people, conversations, stories, landscapes, concepts, ideas, and other art forms.
Why is that sense of democracy and balance important to you in music making?
I do have a conceptual thing about balance – I try to write the music in a way so performances are ‘democratic’ in the sense that all instruments get the same share of attention and activity on stage. There are no leaders and followers in this music. Another thing I find important is gender balance: I maintain a 50-50 male-female balance in the ensemble, simply because that’s what the world is. I want the music to be real, and to be fair.
What are the key messages we can take away from this new album?
This particular album is about doubt. Doubt is often associated with negative feelings of uncertainty, scepticism and a fear of the unknown. The Ode to Doubt represents a lighter side of the same coin: doubt is celebrated as a positive force that fosters creativity, critical thinking, individual agency, and social awareness. Who knows, the most overlooked and unclear space in between our cultural reference points may offer some of the greatest beauty. We have enough people in the world who pretend to have all the answers. We don’t need art to participate in spreading fabricated pseudo-truths. If anything, Hinterlandt is more about questions than answers.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for the opportunity to publish the score for Ode to Doubt on CutCommon. This is a first for me; I haven’t shared the insights into my writing before. It would be lovely to see someone else performing these pieces. And now it’s back to the rehearsal room for us, so we can get things right for the album launch in Sydney and the Mona Foma gigs in Hobart! We hope to see you there. Please come say hi.
Listen to the album
Images supplied. Credits: Joel Hussain (main); Campbelltown Arts Centre / Photographer Chris Frape