‘Click Interview’ with Mark Burghgraeve: ‘We Were Multicultural Anarchists With A Rainbow Of Tastes And Opinions’
Does the name Mark Burghraeve make ring a bell? No doubt about it, ‘older’ electro heads know this Belgian artist born in 1961! Together with Marc Verhaeghen he set up The Klinik and created the band’s original look. Both ‘old’ mates are now back again working on new Klinik-stuff. You might also know him from his work under the Somnambulist moniker and M.Bryo & D.M.T. He also worked with artists and bands such as Niki Mono, Bill Leeb, Insekt, Vomito Negro, For Greater Good, Mike Shelter, Brain Pilot, Dark Poem, Hybryds, Les Boufons Tristes ao. Mark Burghraeve is a man of many talents and next to his music activities he’s also active as a multimedia artist and graphic-, video- & sound-designer and sound & light engineering. But back to music! The French label Nuit Et Brouillard recently released the album “Things I Was Due To Forget 1979 – 2005”. The work has been released on different vinyl formats and is now planned to be released on CD format as well. The music brings us back to the early and original sound of electronic music… to the roots. This interview will give you more background information about this passionate, fascinating and visionary artist.
(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: The least I can say is that you’re involved with an impressive number of very different artistic projects. Do you’ve some preferences in your artistic creation, what’s the importance of music and do you still have secret dreams in mind?
Mark: My preferred creations are the ones where I could sit at home and work on them in my own tempo and atmosphere, without any unwanted interference from the outside world. The ones where I could set my own deadlines and delegate some of the time consuming work. I like to see myself as a multi-media artist in the broad sense of the word. Music is one of the media I use to evoke or reproduce feelings, visions and dreams, based on my experiences and observations. I jump from one medium to another, sometimes mixing them. And the more I can use in one project, the more satisfying it becomes. The final result grows into a part of a viewer’s or a listener’s precious time. The artist has only this short period to take them on a small journey by exposing himself.
I try to keep my mind and taste open. My dreams are no secret. It would be nice to have my work survive the times, interpreted by others as it has already happened. The best feeling one can have is that his work is appreciated by as many people as possible, I guess. Making an immersive VR experience is on the want-list. Another film score would be nice too. A book maybe? A golden tie?
Q: You’ve been inspired by early electronic pioneers, but you in a way became a pioneer yourself. How do you look back at the early years of electronic music? Was there a kind of particular ‘spirit’, ‘philosophy’, ‘goal’… and do you see common elements with what’s happening today?
Mark: I always felt as a pioneer, out to get a taste of the future. Electronic music was the most futuristic music then. That time, synthesizers were expensive and not seen as a full instrument yet. They were more like an effect in a classic rock setting, an extra weird toy for the keyboard player, like Pierre Henry did in the sixties with “Psycho-Rock”. Or they were used as sound effect machines for cinema as Bebe and Louis Barron already did in the fifties for the movie “Forbidden Planet”. Apart from “Popcorn” by Anarchic System, full electronic music was not yet popular. There weren’t that many people in Belgium who had a synth and tried to make music that fitted the expectations of a new sci-fi future vision.
After the ‘No Future’-era, we were looking for one. Most of the guys who had synths made ‘cosmic’ music or just collected buttons. Pure electronic music was not regarded as ‘real’ music yet. But there was a kind of spirit of togetherness between the artists of that time in Antwerp, a lot of independent projects and disciplines crossed each other: theater, music, fine arts, fashion, performance. It was a period in time when we revolted more, as a group or as individuals, against anything we were opposed to. We used the new technologies. We walked away from tradition and uniformity. Sometimes we even had ‘goals’. From political- and ecological awareness to shared ethics and aesthetics. We were multicultural anarchists with a rainbow of tastes and opinions. We were the avant-garde. We were the underground.
I don’t see this anymore, it seems culture has been institutionalized, nationalized, censored and belonging to the happy few who get financial support from the government. I see increasing xenophobia and homophobia. I see aggression, racism, poverty and despair in this modern day dystopia. And cell-phones, lots of cell-phones. But then again, I don’t go out that much anymore, so I might miss out on a lot of what is happening today.
Q: One thing is for sure, the late 70s and early 80s were pure ‘underground’-like! I think it had something magic, connecting people a different way than today. Today we’ve the internet, electronic music became much more accessible… everything became that different. What’s your perception about this evolution? The pros and cons?
Mark: The pros are that it all became much more accessible and now more people can create, produce and put their stuff on the internet. One can reach a global audience immediately. A computer is now a household thing and most people have cell-phones. We are all connected by wire or by Wifi and have libraries of virtual synths and plug-ins at the touch of a button or screen, complete with professional production tools and low distribution costs, if any. Also you can get direct feedback from people all over the world who value your stuff. One can communicate faster. Co-operations over great distances get easier. Tools are easier to find.
The contras are that anybody can make music and put videos on YouTube. But without talent, proper promotion or attention of the media one can get lost in the flood of banal information. Today’s internet has become a marketplace, a big and busy one. You need extra skills if you want to get noticed as an artist. Like for instance opening an e-mail account to get PayPal. It also still leaves a very big and bad ecological footprint. Think of the control knob you ordered on e-bay, transported by trains, planes and diesel trucks.
The search for new music has also dramatically changed, we have robot programs that search for everything we want, telling us what we are supposed to like, based on databases and tags. Before all this, we physically went to the record shop to buy what they were offering. We had magazines with no commercials. No cell-phones, no social media sites, no e-mail, no internet. Just telephone, fax, modems and walkmans. Cassettes were the independent medium of that time. The home-studio was born. Affordable, but still expensive. I was lucky to have Stefan Van Elsen (Trans-4M, Brain Pilot, …) of Central Tapes who distributed my work. Teac, Tascam & Fostex competed with Revox. There were still U-matic, 12-bit Digital Recording, Commodore & Spectrum, Memorex. All these factories sold physical equipment. Nowadays, big companies sell or even just rent data for the same use.
It has it’s pros and cons. The thing is, it’s here. One has to use it as a tool and avoid distractions. It’s still very new and it already had a very radical impact on all our lives. Writers like Kafka, Orwell or Huxley couldn’t even have dreamt this up. It’s like their warnings became handbooks for the rulers. Are we in the hands of a system we don’t understand, own or even know anymore? Who collects and controls the data? Does all this ‘security’ make us feel safe or does it make us more scared or paranoid? Since the expression ‘Fake News’ has been introduced, nobody trusts the media anymore, from both sides. We have political propaganda and commercials in between the services we paid for. We’ve all seen how YouTube and Google have evolved from data providers to data collectors. Do we lose freedom and privacy and should we protect these values? What’s this thing with wars, money, power and persistent ecological & political unawareness?
We live in glass houses. Too many rats in a cage with an overload of information. Sorry, what was the question again?
Q: Nuit Et Brouillard recently released the double album “Things I Was Due To Forget”; I should say an appropriated title for songs taking us back to your first sonic compositions. How did this release come through and can you tell us something about the origin of the songs?
Mark: Sylvie, co-founder of the French Nuit Et Brouillard-label, once made a compilation tape from records she had borrowed from a friend to play in her car. One of the songs was “The Empty Street” by M.Bryo & D.M.T. from the “No Big Business” compilation. Years later she found me on Facebook on a picture with Marc Verhaeghen (the Klinik) and Bill Leeb (Frontline Assembly), from the time we worked together on Noise Unit. She knew both Marc and Bill, but had never heard of me until she did some investigations. Nuit Et Brouillard invited me to Lille to meet them in person, so I took all my courage, some luggage and a train to France. There I met Stéphane as well. We talked about music and politics and played with the idea of making a release. It was a bit like checking each other out, before we made this idea concrete.
For Nuit Et Brouillard it would certainly have been the most ‘commercial’ record they would have ever made, since they were mainly releasing more experimental and ‘obscure’ music. A bold step. They showed me their beautifully made releases. Some of them had handmade art covers. All their releases were treated as gems, showing a deep involvement and respect for the artist. They were not driven by money, but by passion. Of course I felt very flattered by the offer and I loved the people there in Lille who supported me. I had the chance to do everything from A to Z; music, lyrics, recordings, mastering and artwork. I am very lucky to have had this opportunity and I am proud with the result.
The songs had their origin in the late seventies, the start of punk, affordable synths, drum machines & multi track recorders. Bands like Kraftwerk, Tubeway Army, Ultravox and The Human League had just started and people like Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre, Tomita and Walter Carlos had already opened the door to popular electronic music.
I lived in industrial Hoboken and was a DJ for some time, pretty up to date. By buying the ‘trash’ the record shop couldn’t sell on a Friday, I got a lot of weird unknown stuff. The weirder it was, the more I liked it. Anyway, I had fun in my room with my machines, later got into computers and now I’m still trying to use technology as a medium, not only for making sound.
Q: When it comes to music, I think there’re very different types of artists; classical schooled musicians, composers, producers, self taught artists and experimentalists who clearly break the codes. Where do you place yourself and tell us a bit more about the different aspects of being the musician/artist you are?
Mark: I’m a self-taught mad experimentalist, composer, bad musician, an OK writer and from time to time, if I may say so, a very able producer with neo-classical ambitions, and some more… I cherish my work as a musician as much as I like using other media. If I get bored or stuck with one medium, I jump onto another one. It keeps the creative ball rolling. Sometimes one inspires the other. Bringing as much art forms as possible into one project is the most satisfying, I think. To me, programming is an art form as well. Sometimes a program can be written as elegantly as a poem.
Q: You’ve been involved with different music projects; M.Bryo & DMT, The Somnambulist, The Klinik… and you’ve worked with an impressive list of artists. What did you keep in mind from all these projects and experiences and tell us something more about The House of the Thepaphone?
Mark: So many stories to tell. So many experiences. Every contact has its anecdotes. Sometimes, it seemed as if I lived in a soap opera, complete with the melodrama and the intrigues. But the fun part was the work itself, trying to get the best results with the tools I had. Having my own rock-band KOYT! was great, but what I liked especially were the one-on-ones, like Les Bouffons Tristes with Peter Geysels, whom I knew from For Greater Good or the ones with Sophie from Dark Poem.
With The House of the Thepaphone, I try to create a cosy place for my friends and I on Bandcamp, a popular music site for independent use, with a possibility to get some money for the music. Not big amounts, but since money seems to be a handy thing to have on this planet, any return is always welcome. It’s where I put some of the collaborations with other artists and completed works from my archive. On SoundCloud I put my most recent sketches and portfolios. ReverbNation was one of the first music libraries I used on the web. I forgot MySpace, but who didn’t? I think of building some more websites. They open possibilities for experiment and promotion. Recently, I got on Spotify and iTunes, to keep up with the new tools and platforms. I’m still learning.
The House of the Thepaphone :
Nuit Et Brouillard:
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