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ltgpanik on 11/19/2012 at 09:45AM

Kraus, The Man from Uranus

Some say Kraus is from the other side of the planet. Some say he is from another planet. That is what gives him the right to re-release Supreme Commander on outer space wax (aka. black vinyl with white specks) which turned out to look like the moon. Joeri Bruyninckx recently interviewed Kraus for the November isssue of L'étranger's flyaway bus-seat bulletin 'Phantom Of The Factory'.

In a lot of the reviews of your music, adjectives like spacy, trippy or psychedelic return. So I was wandering: how much of your music is made while being drunk or stoned?

Exactly zero percent. I tried a couple of times to record after drinking, but I was surprised to find the results were really boring and obvious.

I don't know if it's the same for other people, but I find recording music by myself is completely different to being in a band. Recording with a band is a fun communal experience, where it can be conducive to drink alcohol and so on. But solo work is more like being a writer. It's not fun, it's work where you have to concentrate for long periods of time. I'm usually writing and performing and patching a synthesizer and operating recording equipment at the same time, so any drink or drugs would just make me give up and go do something more immediately enjoyable.

Why did you want to re-release 'Supreme Commander'?

 I think 'Supreme Commander' is a strong album, at least as good as 'Faster Than The Speed 0f Time'. The best songs on it, 'Guinea Coin Blues' and 'Praeludium', are as good as 'Beloved Girlfriend' and 'Royal Princess'. I like the balance of the instrument sounds, and the atmosphere of it is nice. So I always hoped it would be reissued at some point, because the tape run was only 50 copies.

Do you feel like a vinyl release is a more official release than a tape release?

For me vinyl isn't more official than a tape, but it is desirable. I can be equally proud of a tape or CDR if I think the music on it is good. Most of my albums have come out on CDRs, but I don't think less of them for that. But I love the sound of vinyl and the beautiful big 12” covers. And in terms of my own vanity, it does feel good when someone says they're going to make 500 records for you.

Something you should realise is that it's hard for me and my friends to get vinyl records made. It seems like every band in America who wants to make a record can do it, and then just tour and sell them, but that's not the case in New Zealand. There's no pressing plant here. There's King Records, who make lathe-cut records on transparent plastic, in any shape you want. But you have to go to Australia to have vinyl pressed. The shipping costs a lot. So having a vinyl record is a dream come true and we jump at the chance.

Moniker records annonced that this record will be released on outer space wax. Whose idea was it to release outer space wax? And what is outer space wax anyway?

I think it was Robert's idea. It was supposed to be black vinyl with white specks, like the starry background on the cover, but there was a fuck-up at the pressing plant I think, so it came out grey like the moon. I'm claiming it's a tribute to Barry Gray, composer of the theme from 'Space 1999'.

You're mainly interested in music from between the '50s and the '70s. Why does your interest in music stops after the '70s? What went wrong after that?

The technology changed in a bad way. Firstly, the recording equipment got too sophisticated. For me, recording shouldn't clinically reproduce sound, it should be an integral part of the creation of sound. Up until about the mid '70s all recording and reproduction technology coloured the material it captured, and this colouring was beautiful. Hiss creates atmosphere, wow and flutter is eerie, distortion sounds exciting, filtering of high frequencies is mysterious. A recording from the 1920s sounds amazing partly because of the severe technical inadequacies of the recording equipment of the time. After the '70s the technology was just too good at reproduction, so everything sounds boring. Most of the music I like from the '80s and beyond uses old or bad recording equipment.

Actually I think it's wrong to say that modern recording equipment is good at capturing sound accurately. If you stand in a room with a rock band playing even at moderate volume, it sounds noisy and thrilling. It's visceral, that's part of the appeal of rock music. But a clean recording captured in the same room will often sound anaemic and flat. In a sense the technically correct recording is a distorted representation, because what the microphone and recorder hears is not what the ear hears. Maybe there's compression and distortion that happens in the ear, I don't know, I need to read more about it. The point is that non-linear recording systems like tape, while not technically pure, are better at capturing the experience of what loud music feels like. So a concert bootleg recorded on a walkman can often give the feeling of being at a show better than a hi-fi recording taken from the mixing desk. When you're at a show, you're a pair of ears in the crowd, not a set of microphones on the stage.

The other thing that annoys me about music after the '70s is how synthesizers changed. The '80s are probably thought of as the golden age of synthesizers, because they were so heavily used in pop music at that time. But really it was the end of the synthesizer as an interesting instrument. Until that time the possibilities for electronic music were much more open, and the technology could have developed in a way that would expand rather than narrow those possibilities. In the early '70s people like synth designer Serge Tcherepnin talked about everyone having a synthesizer in their home, and what they were talking about was a highly general sonic toolbox capable of producing an infinite variety of sounds. At the time this was exemplified by analog modular machines like the Buchla, which were expensive and complicated to use. I'm convinced that machines could have been developed that would have been cheap, good sounding, easy to use, but still flexible. Unfortunately synthesizers regressed from this kind of open architecture to something more like a glorified organ, with a piano keyboard and presets. That was the kind of thing that really did end up in every home, it's what you hear on a Human League record, but that's a pretty retarded outcome considering what it could have been.

Why do like dirty sounds so much?

I think it's partly environmental. My musical background is Dunedin in the mid to late '90s. I lived there from age 17 to 25, and it had a powerful and lasting effect on me. There was a shared aesthetic within that scene, a love of distortion and primitive recording technology. If you've heard the Futurians, that's exactly what I'm talking about. A lot of things contributed to that. The bands that I admired from the previous generation were people like The Gordons, Snapper, King Loser, The Terminals, Dead C, The 3Ds, basically all of Xpressway plus the freakier end of Flying Nun. I was friends with people like CJA, Witcyst and Crude. And in Dunedin at that time there was the whole Port Chalmers noise community, which I wasn't personally aquainted with, because they were a bit older than me, but I liked Gate and Doramaar and so on, it was there in the background.

I'm always surprised when reviewers say my work is noisy. By the standards of the New Zealand underground my recordings are pretty conservative.

All of your songs are instrumental. Have you ever considered singing on your tracks?

I would love to sing. Instrumental music is hard to do well, especially instrumental rock music. There aren't many good precedents to draw on. Rock music is almost entirely vocal music, and if you take away the vocals it can't really hold your attention, it's just some chords. Singing would make life easier, but I can't sing very well. I think anyone can get good at anything, but I'm too shy to practice, so I've never improved as a singer. I wouldn't even know where to start writing lyrics.

I wish I could sing so I could do covers. I'd love to cover 'I Am A Rock' by Simon and Garfunkel. I was listening to that song and saying “That's right, I am a rock, I am an island, that's cool, I agree with this song”, and Maryann said “What? Kraus, I think they're being ironic. They're mocking someone who would say that”. I was blown away by that! I genuinely didn't get it. It pissed me off to think that they might be taking that attitude. I would like to record a version of that song completely lacking in irony.

What did Simon and Garfunkel mean by "I am a rock" and "I am an island", you think? Or what does it mean to you?

To me it's an anthem for lonely nerds. I've always found social interaction painful, so the idea of giving up and shutting myself off from people is very tempting and makes me feel strong. I do lead quite a solitary life, so "A winter's day. I am alone. Gazing from my window to the streets below", that's very familiar. I'm doing it right now.

I like your electronic music and your tape loops, but I mainly like your guitar solo's, that's why I liked the 'Blank Mountain' CDR. Why did you decide to make a record with just you playing guitar? 

I generally like to have a balance between guitar, drums, and synth or keyboard, because they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Electric guitar especially is hard to make fresh music with. It's difficult to come up with good ideas for it. But guitar is the instrument that I can operate with the most skill because I've been playing it the longest.

The reason I did 'Blank Mountain' is that I wanted to make a record for anyone who wants to hear what a Kraus live show might sound like. To be honest I think it's a weird record, I'm not sure what to think of it. Maybe I was trying to be too expressive on the guitar. Thanks for your feedback, I'm glad someone enjoyed it. It isn't supposed to be a definitive live album. There are different possible ways to perform those songs. 

Could you make more of this kind of records? 

I'm planning to do more live albums with other combinations of instruments. I'd like to do a guitar solo record but with a fuzz guitar sound, and another one with drums and guitar. I realised after recording 'Sumer Is Icumen In' that a nylon-string guitar and synth record might be interesting too.

Is Kraus a recording project only? 

It's only a recording project, I'm too shy to play in front of people. 

Did you ever play live with the Kraus material?

There has been one Kraus live show. The Satanic Rockers were touring New Zealand in 2010, and they organised a Saturday afternoon show in a park near my house. I was a bit drunk and happened to have my guitar there, so I got up and played. Stefan Neville played drums and I borrowed a tiny battery-powered amp. I think we did four songs: 'Flute', 'Dear Giulietta', 'Wolfram', and 'I Love You I'm Sorry'. Afterwards people were asking why I kept my back to the audience. It wasn't intentional, I was just so nervous I didn't realise I was facing the wrong way.

When I was preparing for this interview, I read two other Kraus interviews, but the ones I most liked were the interviews you did with yourself. Why did you want to do interviews with yourself, using the questions of already existing interviews?

I wanted to write about my work, in case anyone was interested in it, but I felt too embarassed to write about it in a normal way. Since then I've done real interviews, but they're much more boring, like this one.

I would love to adopt the same petulant attitude in real interviews as I did in those fake ones. I would feel less of a nerd. But as I get older I get impatient with people being evasive and pretentious in interviews. I mean, I'm interested in music, and when I read an interview with a musician I want to find out how they work, and what they think of things. So when I do interviews I try to be as honest as possible.

__

'Phantom Of The Factory' is an infrequent and irregular flyaway fanzine scrubbed up by Groupe L'étranger (who are behind the show 'L'étranger' on Radio Panik, Brussels every Tuesday 21h00 which dips frequently into the FMA archives). For No. 28, Joeri Bruyninckx (who also records as Lume) interviewed KrausMan From Uranus sent a cartoon and ... Published to appear 'ense et arato' at the concert of Man From Uranus, Goodiepal, Volcano The Bear on 9th November 2012 @ Les Ateliers Claus, Brussels. Thereafter coming to a bus seat near.

Read the above interview in the original PDF here.

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