Saturday, December 08, 2012

Five questions to Bernie Krause



The musician, composer, synthesist, author and soundscape ecologist Bernard L. Krause was born in Detriot (Michigan/USA), on December 8th, 1938. His first steps in music dates back to his early childhood days: when he was only 3 he began to study the violin and when he was aged 4 he began to study classical composition! In the following years he learnt to play several other stringed instruments (viola, violoncello, bass, harp) but it was during his teenage days that he found out the instrument that he most loved to play in that time, the guitar, and it was playing the guitar that he began his career as a professional musician, playing as a studio jazz guitarist and also on early Motown (yes, the legendary soul music label!) sessions. When he was 25 years old, in 1963, he joined the folk band The Weavers, playing with them until the group disbanded in early 1964.

Later that year Bernie Krause moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, mainly to study electronic music in the Mills College, during the time that composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pauline Oliveros lectured and performed there. It was also at the same time that electronic engineers like Robert Moog and Don Buchla were beginning to show the world their first creations: the Moog and the Buchla synthesizers. Of course Bernie was interested in the new instrument and his interest led him to meet another great name in the synthesizers history: Paul Beaver. Beaver & Krause worked together in their studio in L.A. in many records from another artists and bands, provided music and soundscapes to many films and recorded 5 great and important albums: The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music (1968), Ragnarök (1969), In a Wild Sanctuary (1970), Gandharva (1971) and All The Good Men (1972).

After Beaver's death (in 1975), Bernie found himself more interested in keep working with soundscapes than in playing and programming the synthesizers. He began to record the sounds of the nature in the '60s, both to use in his albums, to provide soundtracks for movies and for The Krause Natural Soundscape Archive, a huge collection that consists of more than 4.500 hours of recorded sounds from more than 15.000 species, marine and terrestrial! In the late seventies Bernie completed his Ph. D. in bioacoustics, at the Union Institute and University, in Cincinatti. He is author of 4 books and many articles, mainly focused in his recording natural sounds work and has more than 50 downloadable records with sounds of the nature!

My first contact with Bernie was via facebook, when I asked him to do this interview. He was very gentle and kindly accepted my invitation asking me to write an email to Katherine Krause (his wife) so she could forward him the message and he could send me the answers. And here it is, I'm proud to post this interview with the great Dr. Bernie Krause exactly in his 74th birthday! Happy birthday Dr. Bernie and thanks for giving me the opportunity to have you interviewed here on my blog!

Bernie and the Moog synthesizer (photo by Jon Sievert)


ASTRONAUTA - Bernie, how were your first steps into the musical world and how did you become interested in playing the electric guitar and, after that, in synthesizers and electronic music?

BERNIE - Since I do not see too well, my world is mostly informed by sound. So naturally, as a young child I gravitated to music studying violin and composition. When I became a teenager, I switched to guitar (when the hormones kicked in) because… well, you know. When I was in my 25th year I joined a very famous American folk group called The Weavers. After they broke up in early 1964, I moved to California from New York, and began to study electronic music at Mills College in Oakland, which was the leading institution for experimental techniques at the time. While there, I met Paul Beaver, who became my music partner, and together we helped introduce the Moog synthesizer to pop music and film on the West Coast and in the UK.

ASTRONAUTA - You've met Robert Moog and Don Buchla in the first days of the invention of the synthesizer. How was to be part of that emerging scene that changed so much the music and the way people compose and create music? And how about your partner Paul Beaver, how did you meet him and how the idea of recording "The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music" (1968) came to you and Paul?

BERNIE - Those early analogue (synthesizer) days were pretty exciting because the instrument became a magnet for many of the great artists of the time and they all filtered through our Los Angeles or San Francisco studios to work and engage. (as for the second part of your question, see #1, above).

Bernie, Beaver and their Moog III synthesizer (1967)
ASTRONAUTA - You and Paul Beaver are credited as the synthesizers players (mainly the Moog synthesizer, I think)  in some of the most important pop albums from all time and also to present the Moog synthesizer to some of the most well known artists in the pop music world, including Sir George Martin and George Harrison, from The Beatles. In your opinion, what was the most important, the most funny, the most grateful and the most hateful/unfunny thing (if you have one) about of the songs your recorded on other artists albums? And what about the movie soundtracks you provided with synthesizers sounds and/or natural soundscapes? What were the ones you most enjoyed to be part of?

BERNIE - For the most part, after we introduced the synthesizer to the LA and UK studio scene, we were constantly busy -- each of us often working 80 hours a week and just shuffling, zombie-like, from studio to studio in those towns to work. We got hardly any sleep and although we played on the sessions of many artists and for many film soundtracks, only a few stand out as memorable. The following is an excerpt from my 1998 book titled, Into a Wild Sanctuary: A Life in Music and Natural Sound" and an atypical but notable experience with the late George Harrison:

     San Francisco, November, 1969. Late one night I picked up the phone only to hear George Harrison’s voice on the other end of the line. He called to ask if I would come to London and bring a Moog synthesizer with me and teach him to play. Paul Beaver and I had already sold one to George Martin and to Mick Jagger. Harrison, who a month earlier had asked me to play synthesizer on his Jackie Lomax album production at Armin Steiner's Sound Recorders in Hollywood, had to have one, he said, and he wanted it right away. He didn’t want to be scooped by his buddies.

     After the Lomax session wrapped up, Harrison asked me to stay behind and demonstrate the Moog set-ups I had used on the session and other possible sounds. It was already quite late, around 3:00 AM, and I had flown in from San Francisco early the previous day. I told him I was tired and that I needed to return in the morning for a scheduled session but would stay for an hour. In my exhausted state, I didn't notice that he had ordered the engineer to keep a tape machine rolling and everything I was demonstrating was being recorded. Had I been aware that this was happening, I would have never shown examples of what Paul and I were considering for the Warner Brothers album we were planning (Gandharva). As I showed him the settings and gave performance examples, Harrison obviously seemed awed with the possibilities. I had no idea at the time exactly how impressed he was.
     
     At the end of the demonstration George asked me when he could get a Moog III delivered to London. I told him that he could have it thirty days after we got a fifty percent deposit. He reminded me for the first of several times that he was, after all, a Beatle, and the Apple Music Organization generally didn't give deposits. Trying to remain calm, I responded that as soon as I received a deposit check from Apple and it cleared the bank, a synthesizer would be on its way within a month. He asked us if we could move up the schedule for him – again, because he was a Beatle. I told him that there were no exceptions – even for the Queen.

     After months of silence, there was another late night call from Harrison asking where his synthesizer was. Feeling that I was speaking with an idiot, once again, I repeated the terms. Finally ready to spring for the instrument, George asked if I would personally travel to London when the instrument was shipped to help it clear customs and to teach him how to operate the machine.  I agreed, as long as he paid for my expenses and time, thinking that it would be wonderful to meet the other members of the group. I had heard news of their split and wanted to experience the inner circle before the final strophe of the ruin.

     Early in January, another call came from Harrison telling me that a deposit had been sent and that I should arrange to come over to London to work with him the moment the instrument was ready. Speaking as if he were addressing a servant, he never asked if it was convenient or possible or if the timing was right, he just ordered, "arrange to come."  He reiterated that he would pay expenses but nothing for my time. "You're selling the bloody things!" he reminded me.  "Now show me how to play it!"  After all, he was a Beatle.


 A first class ticket arrived in the mail, which I immediately cashed in for two coach tickets so that my wife, Denise, could accompany me. Even though we were childless, she never held a job or offered to help with certain practical aspects of our lives although making ends meet was often an incredible burden for me to carry alone and added strain to our already-troubled marriage. Unconcerned about how the practical issues of our lives would be addressed, when it came to travel, particularly when it was close to Paris where she grew up, she was always ready to cash in on the perks. The Friday before we left, I checked with Harrison’s secretary to confirm the trip. The Apple office verified all the arrangements and said I was expected. The first Tuesday in February of 1970 we were on the noon TWA flight from LA.

Seated in the aisle and middle seats in the first row just behind the first class bulkhead of an old 707, we had a clear view of the first class cabin. As the plane pulled away from the gate, a female passenger in first class jumped up and began to rip off her clothes screaming "The plane's going to crash! Everyone get off 'cause the plane's going to crash!" Robert Mitchum, who was apparently sitting a row behind her, calmly got up and wrapped a blanket around the woman as the plane returned to the gate so that the personnel could eject her from the flight. Dory Previn, in the throes of her breakup with her conductor-husband, André, endured a mental collapse that subsequently led to a period she would later write so eloquently about. The trip began dramatically and never varied.

London, February, 1970. Apple booked us into the Dorchester Hotel. It was within walking distance of the office and so, after settling in, I walked alone to the Apple shrine to find out what was happening. The approach from the street looked more like a circus with lots of kids milling about in different costumes gawking at whomever entered the hallowed gates. When I went into the office, I was greeted inside by the first security battalion with an air of incredible snottiness and indifference.  No one seemed to know that I was expected or what I was doing there even though they had ordered the synthesizer, sent me a ticket, and arranged for my stay in one of the better hotels in town. Finally, after about an hour, someone volunteered that Harrison had had his tonsils removed the previous Friday (the day I called to confirm the trip), and that he would be out of commission for about a week. I'd have to cool it, they told me. They would call when George was ready.

With lots of work scheduled in California, I hadn't planned to stay in London for more than a week to work with Harrison and felt in my gut that this was going to turn into a major ordeal. Having finally located Harrison's assistant, I told him that I would go to Paris, where my wife's ailing stepmother was living and that I could be reached at a particular hotel. I gave him the hotel number in Paris and told him to call me when Harrison was ready and able to meet. I also gave the forwarding number to the Beatle's business manager, a couple of the secretaries, and to the concierge of the Dorchester. Satisfied that I had covered my bases, Denise and I flew to Paris.

Several days passed; I don't remember how many. It just seemed like a very long time. Scheduled sessions in California were postponed or cancelled. Every couple of days I would call the Apple office to see if there was any news. Curt answers were always the same, "He'll call when he's bloody ready." Finally, one morning after about a week, Apple called. "Where the fuck have you been!?" a very nasty and imperious female voice screamed from the other end. "George has been sitting around waiting for you for days," she screamed into the receiver. "Why aren't you where you're supposed to be?  And furthermore, we haven't been able to get the synthesizer out of customs, and we need help because they can't define what the bloody thing is and we sure as bloody hell don't want to pay the tax they want to charge us!" Before slamming the receiver on the cradle, I told the woman on the end to shove her attitude where the sun don't shine and to call me back when she got it straightened out. When she finally called back apologetically, I outlined in clear terms what I required if they wanted my help with anything and told the assistant that I would return to London in a couple of days.

Meeting our flight at Heathrow, the Apple folks drove us directly to British customs where the instrument was still held hostage. I made a point of asking the Apple office to send an amplifier to the airport with the driver so that we could play the synthesizer live, if need be. The suggestion saved the day. The problem from custom's perspective was that the synthesizer was still an uncategorized or miscellaneous electronic device. The import duty would therefore be some outrageous sum of around 60 or 70 percent. However, if it was an electronic organ, the duty fell to something below 10 percent – an enormous savings on a $15,000 instrument. I asked the agent if I could unpack the synthesizer and demonstrate it to him. With his approval, I plugged it into the amplifier, patched a few oscillators, quickly synthesized a Hammond B-3 organ sound, and proceeded to play a couple of musical lines. Satisfied that it was only an electronic organ, he allowed Apple to pay the requisite tax and cleared the instrument for entrance into Great Britain.

Late that afternoon, two cars came to the hotel to take my wife and I, separately, to Harrison's house in Esher, a suburb outside of London. So obscure was its location that the driver was provided with a radio telephone so that our convoy could be "talked" through the maze of small streets to get to the house. In the beam of the headlights, the façade appeared as a low-lying one-story suburban ranch style residence that would tend to look more in place somewhere around Houston suburbs. I only caught a glimpse but its only distinguishing mark was the garage door outrageously decorated with some kind of psychedelic graphic partly obscured by the huge Mercedes parked in front – a little obvious for one who supposedly desired privacy. Harrison's wife, Patty, better known then as an English Vogue model, answered the door and asked Denise and I, who had arrived together, if we would like something to eat. We were ushered into the kitchen where George and Patty were making a large salad. "We're vegetarians, you know. We don't eat meat and don't like to use products from dead animals." After a short respite, George offered the compulsory joint and escorted us down a short hall into the living room, promptly directing us to sit on the fifteen foot long leather couch centerpiece which overwhelmed the space. I didn't bother to ask which animal the leather for the couch came from. The room was starkly furnished with no cohesive plan, no obvious personal objects, and lots of unconnected detritus lying about. A leather wing-backed chair, here. An unconnected ottoman, there. A few unrelated floor lamps giving off stark, bright light. Nothing in the sections of house that we saw looked particularly comfortable or related in style, although it's hard to explain the bits and pieces people feel comfortable with. It was all so impermanent and made me feel a bit unsettled. There was an uncrated multi-track tape recorder in one corner of the living room (parts of the shipping crate still evident), and a two-track machine all lit up with a tape cued and ready to play. The Moog synthesizer had been lined up against the wall across from the leather couch, the only two things in the room that related. Any attempt to engage in an exchange with continuity was constantly interrupted by phone calls and people dropping by the house, distracting the already unfocused star to ask if he wanted to score things like a Mercedes or a Ferrari. Harrison seemed greatly impressed being the center of all the commotion. Finally, things calmed down for a while and he returned his attention to the synthesizer. "Before we get started," he said, "I want to play something for you that I did on synthesizer. Apple will release it in the next few months. It's the first electronic piece that I did with a little help from my cats." He hit the "play" button on the tape recorder. At first I didn't recognize the material. However, little by little I became increasingly uncomfortable, knowing that I had heard this performance before. After a few more minutes I realized that the recording was taken from the Lomax demo session I had played for Harrison only a few months earlier.

A bit flustered, I finally rallied the courage to say "George, this is my music – the same stuff I played while demonstrating the Moog at the Lomax session in LA. Why is it on this tape and why are you representing it as yours?" "Don't worry," he responded with assurance, "I've edited it and if it sells, I'll send you a couple of quid." "Wait a minute, George, you never asked me if you could use this material. It belongs to Paul Beaver and me and we need to talk about it." At which point he got red in the face, veins began to stand out along his neck, and he got pissed. Even Beatles don’t like to get caught. Beatles are not used to being told “No.”

"You're coming on like you're Jimi Hendrix," he responded, his voice rising in pitch and volume.  "When Ravi Shankar comes to my house, he's humble." Then, as if not to be undone and seeing that I wasn’t impressed with his defense, he screamed his most famous line, "Trust me, I'm a Beatle!" Without hesitation, I quietly got up, put on my coat, and asked him to order me a car because I had had enough and was going home. While waiting for my ride to materialize, he had the audacity to ask me if I would show him how to set up a bagpipe sound. Without saying a word, I patched one for him, and left thinking that all he had to do was to stick the chanter up his butt – and blow.

The album, "Electronic Music," by George Harrison, was released some months later. But not before I had it recalled and ordered my name taken off the cover. I didn't have the money or juice to sue him. The proper retribution would have to wait for someone more courageous and less intimidated by Harrison's tendencies to copy – like the person who wrote "My Sweet Lord" and chased George down until the matter was settled in court favoring the claimant and penalizing Harrison with a hefty copyright infringement fine. Rather then reprinting the album cover, Apple simply had my name silvered over. If you can find one of the old issues of the album, hold it in the right light and you can still faintly see my name – spelled incorrectly, of course. Although I did get credit on the inside jacket, along with his cats, I never did receive a single 'quid.' Also, the son-of-a-bitch never did invite me back to his house so I could show him my "I'm-as-humble-as-Ravi-Shankar" routine that I've been practicing ever since.

When I tried to tell the story to a reporter at Rolling Stone Magazine, his editor declined because Harrison was their media hero of the moment.  Instead, they ran a story about George shopping for shoes. They even refused to publish the full text of my letter to the editor describing what had transpired although, with some pressure, they finally printed a heavily edited form many months later. Mostly, at the time, I was astonished and confused by the difference between Harrison's hip media image and what I experienced in the studio and at his home. His refusal to acknowledge the source where he acquired the expropriated material left me frustrated and angry, but also with a feeling of powerlessness, a little more cynical and with an increased sense of value for my efforts. I try to understand greed and the endless need for power, but to this day, I cannot accept that some people feel the need to act so opportunistically toward one another. Certain members of my family were no exception.

My exchange with Harrison was especially disappointing because I had different expectations of what our relationship could have been. By that time, I was a confident synthesist, an excellent programmer, and could have been helpful had the environment been more amenable. The regrets didn’t last more than the time it took to get back to our hotel. I had much more on my mind – like the new project with Paul that would include jazz and blues immortals like Gerry Mulligan, Howard Roberts, Mike Bloomfield, Leroy Vinnegar, and Bud Shank – and all of us in the same group!  We had long dreamt of creating a song-cycle that spoke to noise in our environment beginning explosively and gradually transforming the music to a quieter and more peaceful ending in the long, fading echoes of last note heard.
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ASTRONAUTA - Where did you record the five Beaver & Krause albums (including the "Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music")? How was/worked the Beaver & Krause studio in L.A.?

BERNIE - The first two albums, The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music, and Ragnarok, were recorded in our LA studio mostly. In A Wild Sanctuary, Gandharva, and All Good Men, were studio albums recorded at various other locations in LA and San Francisco.

Our L.A. studio was only equipped with an 8-track 3-M recorder (and Dolby A), and, of course, a Moog III synth, and was more of a warehouse than an actual sound-proofed studio. So it wasn't very practical for orchestral or acoustic recording. That's why, when we advanced to combining traditional instruments with the synthesizer, we needed a better-equipped facility. Hence, our recording in larger and more accessible facilities on our later albums.

ASTRONAUTA - Since the late '60s you record the sound of nature, both for your albums, for films and for your archives. I read somewhere that you have more than 4.500 hours of sounds of nature and more than 50 downloadable album with more than 15.000 species recorded. How is the process of recording it? What equipment you use to record it? And have you ever came (or are you planning to come) to Brazil, to record some species someday?

BERNIE - Basically, my idea was to record whole natural soundscapes -- what I refer to as biophonies. These biophonies represent all of the living wild organisms that vocalize in any given natural habitat. So the equipment I use has always been some form of stereo. From the late 1960s to the mid-1980s the equipment was analog tape recorders -- technology that was typically very heavy and required lots of battery power to operate. In addition, audio tape was very heavy and weighed nearly .5kg per reel and lasted only 20 minutes. So you had to carry lots of heavy items into the field to record. In the mid-1980s the technologies began to change and became a bit lighter. It was a transition time from analog to digital with the DAT (digital audio tape) machines and of which we had the first versions to experiment with. Also, mic techniques were improving so that the systems were not so badly affected by humidity and wind. Just around that time Sennheiser introduced MS (Mid-Side) technologies that were great for the field and a vast improvement on earlier XY stereo versions. They are still used, today. Now I use a Sound Devices 722 or 744 digital audio recorder which records both to hard drive and compact disk (as a backup) at the same time.

My microphones are a combination of Sennheiser MKH30 and MKH40, mounted one on top of another and housed in a shock mount and wind protection unit. My backup microphones are DPA 4060 lavalieres which I sometimes tie to a tree so that the mics are mounted 180° opposite one another.


I've been to Brazil several times, mostly to record in the Amazon region around Manaus. I have many good friends there (Rio, São Paulo, and Brazilia) so it would be great to return at some point. I love the country.

ASTRONAUTA - Well, thank you, Bernie! It's a pleasure to contact you and an honor to interview you! Best wishes!!!

BERNIE - Thank you, Astronauta. Please note that my new book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places, is now being translated into Portuguese and should be issued in Brazil in the coming year. And please forgive the delay in my response and contact me if there are any questions. 

Ciao,
Bernie.



New Book:
"The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places" by Bernie Krause (Little/Brown, Spring 2012)
http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/books_9780316192392_WhereToBuy.htm

Website:
http://www.wildsanctuary.com

Facebook:
http://wwwfacebook.com/TheGreatAnimalOrchestra
http://www.facebook.com/BernieKrauseAuthor

Twitter: 
http://www.twitter.com/berniekrause

YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/user/BernieKrauseTV

Email: 
info@wildsanctuary.com

NOTE: This interview may contain material (text, audio, and/or video) that is the property of Wild Sanctuary, and protected by copyright. Any unauthorized copying, changing, commercial distribution of this message elements, is prohibited without permission of this office.


4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Hi Alain! I agree, looks very good! Thank for your comment and be always welcome to read the interviews and comment here on this blog!!! Best wishes to you!!!!

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  2. I cannot thank you enough for such an amazing, insightful and informative interview. Though I have been a fan of electronic music since the early eighties, for some inexplicable reason, I have only come across the work of Bernie Krause and Paul Beaver in the last few years, though of course, unknown to myself, I have heard their electronic contributions on various legendary release.

    Dr. Krause comes across as such a warm human being, definitely one of the good guys. The story about George Harrison is particularly illuminating and utterly explains the mystery of "Electronic Music" namely, how he suddenly became a virtuoso of Moog programming without any apparent training in 1968!
    When you play "Electronic Music" and the early Beaver And Krause albums, it all becomes explained, he stole Bernie's music and presented it as his own, what an asshole! Like Bernie says, it could have been all so different. It is a shame it was GH and not John Lennon or even Paul McCartney who invited him over!

    I heard that it was Beaver and Krause who also showed Mick Jagger how to use a Moog, as heard on the legendary Performance film. It would be interesting to know, how much was Mick Jagger's contribution and how much Beaver and Krause.
    Perhaps you could ask him about that if you interview him again.

    Many thanks again.

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    Replies
    1. Hi!
      Thank you for your nice comment here!
      I will ask Bernie about Performance next time I have the opportunity to talk with him!
      Best wishes!

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