Classical, contemporary and electronic music coexist in Martin Kohlstedt‘s multifaceted productions. Born in Germany, he started playing the piano as a young kid and continued his musical education with commitment and devotion, graduating in Interactive Piano at the Bauhaus University of Weimar. His two albums, “Tag” (day) – released in 2012 – and “Nacht”(night) – released in 2014 – present instrumental tracks that make the listener live a kind of experience aimed at relaxing one’s mind and feeling a special moment of pleasure. As the titles suggest, the first record is fresh, airy and easily enjoyable, the second one is definitely deeper in sound and rhythm.
Your music has been labelled as “neoclassical”: do you agree with the critics or do you feel like the genre you play is something different?
“Neoclassical” is, in my opinion, not the suitable denomination for it; the genre of my music is too new to be put in a box like that, to be categorized in such manner — “neoclassical” is already too firm in its foundations. The music I make is far more intuitive, stemming primarily from my heart and guts than from my conscious. It is created anew every time, warps itself, settles on a quiet note that can swell to a sonic wall of unthought proportions — with an emphasis on “can”, it doesn’t have to. The determining factor is the audience, the location, the “aura”, so to say; not the composition manifested on sheet music or the like. This results in fundamentally different areas of the conscious being triggered and the music leaving behind the one-dimensional notion of linearity. Sometimes it feels like a score to your own imaginary film; it can be just a thought, an idea that quickly disappears again.
Who inspires you the most, both in classical and contemporary music?
Hard to give a definite answer to this question. From a musical standpoint I am fond of quite a number of people reaching from, to name a few, Arvo Pärt to Michael Jackson. Mostly I am inspired by the person’s vision and approach; by the goals they set for themselves to aspire to and who they achieve that; by how they delve deeply into their person and try to defragment and transcribe the findings into music or their medium of choice. It’s a long and rocky road to find your focus. On the other hand there are those completely different contexts that bring inspiration; I don’t listen to a lot of music and prefer quietness, nature, travelling. This is enough food for my own thoughts.
During live sessions do you meticulously reproduce the notes recorded for the albums or do you follow your instinct and maybe change the song according to what you feel in that precise moment?
Definitely the latter. My pieces are modules with a three-letter title that, at least at first sight, do not have any specific meaning and who can, like compressed files or memories thought forgotten, blossom, flow, grow or amalgamate with each other and either find consensus or even fail to do so. The moment and the environment provided; in solitude or with an audience; solo piano on a sunny meadow in summer or damp nightclub with electronic influences — the pieces evolve and change continuously. And to be honest: I can not really control that. I have to trust my »offspring« there as they do what they want anyway.
Do you think that any other instrument can compare to the piano or that a sort of hierarchy does exist?
The piano is quite the machine. Like a closed off room you can »step« into the wooden corpus with the hundreds of strings and the 88 hammers and be alone with yourself; express your most childish thoughts or the gravest lament through the use of the whole bandwidth of possible chords and tones and dynamics — develop your own language. It’s about communcation either with yourself or with a big audience. So far I have not encountered another instrument capable of pulling your thoughts into a maelstrom like that — but that might be subject to which instrument you discovered and learned to love firstly in your live. My brother enthuses about his guitar in the same way.
Do you find more excitment in playing simply for yours or your audience’s amusement or recording songs for tangible products such as, for example, computer games?
I once thought that these would require fundamentally different approaches. By now I’d say that comtemplating your own experiences musically and to impose what you find on a fictional character in film or game is not necessarily so different. It’s about empathising, it’s about looking at something from different angles and perspectives. I think those things might actually nourish each other. All emotions can be expressed differently depending on the surroundings and the context — this dependence and the iteration helps the pieces to »mature« more quickly and thoroughly, I would say. But I will always start that journey alone at my piano. After roughing it out I add some audience to reduce the overly intellectual tones that develop when you’re only with yourself and try to hard and if that last big knot is opened up you can take the remaining composition devoid of any ballast and use it to give life to a computer game dinosaur.
Interview by Margherita Rho