Lumpy Gravy

In nearly 30 years of spending my time on the most useless endeavour known to mankind - writing about music - I've been lucky enough to meet and interview many of my heroes. My general interview archives are elsewhere. 'Lumpy Gravy' is reserved for the lumpiest, and most exquisite, artists.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Burnt Friedman

The Burnt Fried Man

Everyone knows that Germans have hi-tech minds, but who ever heard of a German with a sense of humour? Bernie the Bolt, otherwise known as Bernd Friedman, or the Burnt Fried Man, is both a maverick tech-head par excellence, and a man who looks at the absurdities of the world with more than a wee wink and a smile.
Oh, did I mention that he’s a genius?
Operating and innovating for more than a decade now under catchy names like Drome, Some More Crime, Nonplace Urban Field, and even Burnt Friedman, the Cologne-based cyber-composer has finally found since the turn of the century that the world is turning on to his twisted yet infinitely attractive vision of future music.
Navigating an anything-but-typical musical expedition, Friedman’s unusual trajectory curved its way through an adolescent obsession with percussion, and a singular dedication to the amassing of a self-recorded sample-library. What followed was a period of academia (art school), then immersion in the first flurry of collaborative music projects Some More Crime and Drome. Like many whose formative influences came from the late 70s and early 80s (Friedman cites the spooky synth-pop of Gary Numan and the proto-industrial rhythms of German legends Einsturzende Neubaten), his early projects vibrated with a cold, mechanised alienation that was often capped by sampled documentary dialogue.
Cut to 1995. The mini-album ‘Raum Fur Notizen’ is released to ecstatic if uncomprehending reviews, and miniscule sales. Years later, this landmark recording will be referenced by artists like Stefan Betjke (Pole) as the first entry in a new electronic sub-genre called Glitch, as immortalised by the recent compilation ‘Clicks & Cuts’ (Mille Plateaux). The subsequent ‘Golden Star’ still stands as a peerless achievement in contemporary electronica. Nominally a remix album, it’s a masterly exposition of Friedman’s skill and wayward creative flair: flowing, seamless blends of low-key, hypnotic techno disguised the micro-melodies and insect rhythms within, but these were the very elements that kept its intrigued listeners coming back for more.
This was contemporary electronica - incorporating an eclectic take on techno, dub, jazz and other music forms - working at a far more sophisticated level than practically anything else on the market at the time, and working with a technical exactitude that might frighten even Aphex Twin.
But Burnt Friedman is nothing if not a perfect paradox. Wilfully eccentric and deeply philosophical, he’s keen to eschew the usual gadget-boffin-geek approach to technology. In fact, as far as he’s concerned, the technology is practically incidental; simply a means to an end. And the word ‘electronic’ itself can go take a jump.
"Electronic’ has become an indication for a certain music style,
referring to its outlook not to its processing," says Burnd in thoughtful, halting English. "If it was referring to its processing then Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and even orchestral recordings would be considered electronic."
More worrying is "when the recording techniques of studios permits the
engineer and programmer an abundance of quality enhancements which do not necessarily correspond to the ability of the musician, but rather to the
performance of electrical instruments. In the event of such trick
applications, the end product as a sound recording is no longer
distinguishable from the assiduity of the soloist."
Friedman himself has survived four years of failing record companies and constipated release schedules to emerge as the perfect 21st Century future jazz one-man-band, with a clutch of beautiful, perfect, shiny recordings all released over the past year including his dub project ‘Just Landed’, his Latino project ‘Con Ritmo’, his celebrated collaboration with Uwe Schmidt/Atom Heart as Flanger, and the newly released ‘Love Songs’.
I interviewed Friedman on the day ‘Love Songs’ was released, and it had ALREADY sold out of its first pressing; this is an album that, due to record company machinations, was delayed so long that at one point it was called ‘Fucking Long Time’!
Cop an ear to any of these recordings and expect to be stunned with the naturalistic yet somehow impossibly tight performances. They SOUND like real instruments interacting in a more-or-less conventional way, but what we have here is cyber-enhanced. Gone are the synthetic blips and bleeps of ‘Raum Fur Notizen’, replaced with real (or at least beautifully sampled) guitars, organs and horns. What separates Friedman from Kruder & Dorfmeister and other cool groove merchants is the intricate, often rhythmically complex detail; the layers of subtle definition and the sheer ODDNESS that results from music that sounds almost too perfect, too tricky for real musicians.
On the widely popular second Flanger project ‘Midnight Sound’, for instance, the contemporary jazz fusion is so well-rendered that when a song temporarily breaks down into a series of expertly crafted scratches and clicks right in the middle of a song, it comes as a great shock.
Is this where the new technology is leading? When quizzed on this matter, however, Friedman claims innocence:
"I just love the sounds of real instruments, they are somehow richer than
virtual sound sources regarding dynamics, tuning and colourscale.
"In order to gain maximum effect my approach as a painter of music would be photorealistic, like the well known art genre. Painters usually have a photographic model and translate it via a grid on the canvas but I would not want a model. Thus I could choose infinite, alien characters and combinations,
with no degree of abstraction.
"Actually, I do incorporate synthesised, abstract sounds, but they’re not
dominant, and they’re ‘played’ as if they were traditional instruments."
Friedman doesn’t hold that there’s any great difference between musicians working with tradition instruments and those involved with new technology - "players are working with some representation of notes and grids, too" - but does have one compelling reason for taking the newer path:
"I claim that the electronic technology of our days is made for dilettantes, compensating for lack of technique. I’m a dilettante... I didn’t properly ‘learn’ my favorite instrument, drums. I started playing in 1982 without a kit... mercy for my parents! I stroke whatever objects I found, the sound of things interested me more than increasing success playing tools. Today, sampling technology helps me overcome physical boundaries of instrument playing: gravity, inaccuracy. It also helps reproducing it. I think if I had learned ‘traditional’ instruments, maybe I would not have investigated
sound production that much."
In performance, Friedman is neither dj nor player, but some in between space that belongs uniquely to him, and has only a passing relationship to his recorded output. His custom-made methodology utilises five mini-disc players simultaneously, effectively allowing him to set up some kind of rhythmic matrix and layer various components of sound as he wishes. This can make for a compelling night in clubland, far from the predictability of the typical dj scenario, yet sonically thrilling and rhythmically worthy of dance action, if sometimes requiring nimble footwork.
Recently, Friedman has begun an intermittent live relationship with the legendary Jaki Leibezeit (drummer for ‘Kraut Rock’ kings Can), and as his profile soars, 2001 promises a blistering array of appearances, including dates with his sparring partner in Flanger, the prolific Uwe Schmidt (catch him in a variety of guises, including Senor Coconut, LB, Roger Tubesound, Erik Satin and Atom Heart).

The Burnd Friedman equipment arsenal:

"The set up changes all the time. Rack units die away or I trash them. The following has survived":

24 channel Mackie mixing console
Atari Computer
Macintosh G3 Computer
Akai Sampler XL 3200
Yamaha TG 77 rack version
Clavia Nordlead 1 , rack version
Korg Ms 20
Korg Micro Preset
Roland R 8m Percussion module
Roland and Korg tape Echo units
SPL Qure, Valve Equalizer
Homemade Valve preamps
Homemade parametric Equalizers
Homemade spiral reverb
Aphex Compellor
Aphex Exciter Type 3
Crystal Phasematic
Behringer Multigate
Rocktron Hush
Rocktron Intellifex
FMR Audio Compressor RNC 1773
DBX 166 stereo compressor
Sony MP 5 effect processor
Korg A 3 effects processor
Korg DVP 1 Voice processor
Yamaha Model R1000 reverb
Digidesign Digi 001 24bit interface
Waldorf Mini Works 4 Pole
Low Frequency Unit, Maurer Bass Booster
Ibanez classic Phase
Morley wah wah
Morley echo plus
Kef BBC LS3 5a speakers
Denon amplifier PMA 860
Pro Tools 5
14 channel Mackie mixing console
5 Sony Mini disc players

Friedman adds:
"Apparently studio musicians invest into virtual set ups.
I believe the tools I have listed will soon be considered vintage treasures.
The progress takes place fast, the quality of the simulated tools doesn’t
even suck. The species of instrument players seems to be extinct, although the sentimental listeners yearn for songwriters and soloists. So far the
scenario, the future of any music technology was and will ever be creating
tunes." Uh-huh.

* Semi-official Burnt Friedman site:
Official Burnt Friedman site:

* Published in Australian music technology mag, NextMusic


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