[November 13 2021]
JOHNNY LE: What was your first memory of seeing the moon?
WOLFGANG TILLMANS: I can tell exactly. And strange. Strangely, I know the date, it was the 16th of September 1978 because it was a lunar eclipse. And on my birthday, the 16th of August 78, I was given a telescope which I wanted because I had fallen in love with astronomy and wanted nothing more than a telescope. I got a small one. And yeah, and so I’m sure of course, I’ve seen the moon before, but that night, I spent looking at the moon for three hours. And it was this copper, red moon color that I never forget. And somehow the date 16th of September 1978, I guess, it’s I think of it, every year when the 16th of September, that was a moment of visual initiation.
JOHNNY LE: Tell me about MOON IN EARTHLIGHT, your new music album, what is it about?
WOLFGANG TILLMANS: I guess, well, it’s hard. Hard for me to say what a picture is about? When you ask, what is an exhibition about? That seems a more valid question. So I guess the album is a collection of 19 different tracks, or at least for the tracklisting, I divided it into 19 pieces, and because it is one consecutive 53-minute piece of sound, and it consists of very different differently originated material from across four years, sort of half, pre-Corona, half post-Corona, and or in-Corona since we’re not even sure when post-Corona will be… It brings together different interests in music and sound that I’ve harbored within me for many years. But like sound recording, field recordings I’ve done for like 10 years but have done little with whereas singing, I’ve loved doing when I was younger, and I’ve kind of kept it personal. In 2015 I started making music again. There was something in me that wanted to get back in touch with a more performative side. And so they are very expressive parts and various observational parts in the album.
And what I like about it is that they don’t feel like they’re all speaking in one on one frequency when broadcasting. They are multi-vectored coming from different directions and in that way, why I feel this is a new step for me. I feel it is like an exhibition of mine.
It feels like to me because one photograph is a passing observation, the other is, observation of something that I looked at over many, many years, then there’s something I intricately staged and arranged.
Another thing that happened by me… influencing a moment. So all the different ways of adding chance and control, and the varying degrees of how they make my photographs happen, and how I make them happen that is happening within this album.
JOHNNY LE: What does music-making mean to you?
WOLFGANG TILLMANS: What does music-making mean to me… I love playing with words. I make pictures mainly, but that language is always there, like this book, exhibition catalog from 2003. One day, this line, the sentence, If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters, came into my mind crystal clear, and it was there, and this is the title, and this is the exhibition, and this is the book.
It’s language and on the other hand, it is recording sounds which I like and photographing the sound. And then recording, the music-making is really also a kind of capturing. Interaction, photographing, being together what happens when musicians are together when I play with others.
On the one hand, it brings a solitary sight in me to the outside, in a different way. The thinking of words and saying them, speaking them, sculpting them, singing them is, and melodies. The words come with melodies that are then the starting point of a song.
And on the other hand, it is, it was a totally new experience for me as a solitary artist making photographs. Not working in teams, at work, of course with teams, assistance, many people that helped make all of the exhibitions and books and everything happen. But making art I always do it by myself alone. And music, playing with other musicians, was an incredible experience because it is only complete through the contributions of others. And so in that, it’s become an incredibly valuable experience. Experience. The word experience is much overused these days.
JOHNNY LE: And to add to that note, you mentioned earlier for your walkthrough that you live in the world through your eyes. And with this album, do you feel like you live through the music-making through your ears with your friends and collaborators?
WOLFGANG TILLMANS: Yes, and it’s exactly. It’s a good description because it’s not, you know. I like to focus also on the making on the process on recording, and then zooming in on things that maybe just happened on the way, or a sketch that was never meant to be released. Later, like, the song is Insanely Alive, as it is published now, originally was never meant to be finished. It was just a sketch with placed vocals that were electronically pitched down and an octave off. But over time, I learned to love this particular way it was done and made and, and so it is, in fact, listening that, made it. Makes it. That completes it. Yeah, so it’s not working on the finished product, always projecting. When is this finished? No. During there are things that I have put that I hear and that are exactly that balance of chance and control that I’m after, which is always different. There’s not one balance. It’s always different.
I tried to work on that with my own project called Playback Room in 2014, and 15, which was also installed at Lenbachhaus [Museum] in Munich [Germany] in 16, and at Tate Modern [London] in 17. So this idea of the what I called Playback Room, I don’t own this, I mean, I coined this name, but of course listening spaces, listening rooms are something that is definitely catching on. And I am really glad it’s coming from different places I heard in Japan, they have been existing for some decades now. It’s really overdue because a lot of music is made not to be performed live, and it is only coming together on tape, in that moment, or in the computer in that time, and then it’s recorded and it’s perfect. There is nothing to be added in life in a live performance. But what can be helped is the quality of sound reproduction. Not everybody owns great speakers and people are listening to music, in cars, in the shower, etc., and that’s fine. But to allow and create spaces where people can listen to sound in the best possible quality is really great.
JOHNNY LE: What’s your favorite instrument?
WOLFGANG TILLMANS: On the album, I play the kalimba in one track which allowed this very simple, is it percussion, is it… There’s a tiny bit of triangle that I’ve been using for all the five years, the last five years [made of] a special metal alloy. I don’t really know how to play instruments. All of my writing comes through the voice. But the favorite instrument certainly is the cello. In 2019 I actually rented a cello for six weeks and learned some basic ways of using it and improvised with it then made loops of a very few notes. These cello loops are on the album in a couple of places.
Photo Johnny Le