Andreas Schaerer : I don't suppose you know anyone that has a typewriter…?
S247: … I'll let you know. Anything else I should be on the lookout for?
Andreas Schaerer : Maybe a marimba?
Hold on. This isn’t how interviews normally work. But then, there isn’t much that you could really say is normal about Hildegard Lernt Fliegen, a Swiss band who are likely to be one of the most creative and esoteric acts on show at the JZ Festival. In all seriousness, if any of our readers do have a typewriter lying around the house, get in touch. If we give it to Hildegard Lernt Fliegen this weekend, chances are that it will end up being part of their set. And of course, if you have a marimba handy, that would be cool too.
It’s kind of difficult to explain what this band sound like using words. In fact, during our conversation, vocalist and musical director Andreas Schaerer frequently resorts to singing and beatboxing to explain his musical ideas. Do yourself a favour and seek them out on itunes or spotify before the gig. Essentially, imagine some saxes, a bass clarinet and a tuba joining up with a double bass and a typewriter and then doing a stand-up comedy routine. Then you might be getting close.
As the fantastic recordings of their live show in Moscow demonstrate, anything can and does happen at HLF’s gigs. Andreas admits that they don’t really have much of a plan or even a set list when they go on stage; they just kind of make it up as they go along.
Describing the creative process, Andreas is a firm believer that music should come ‘from the belly rather than the brain’, and his compositional methods usually involve him singing into his iPhone. He explains how composing for a band like Hildegard, with no chordal instruments, requires the horn players to work in a completely new way, providing rhythm, harmony and melody, often all in the space of one bar. This means the horn players ‘really have to work. Sometimes when I come with a new piece they are really angry!’
This hard-working and improvisational spirit comes through in everything that the band does. When touring through Russia, they were playing some of ‘the most fucked-up drums you’ve ever seen.’ Where most musicians would throw up their hands in despair and go off in a diva strop, the drummer would get to the gig early and start tinkering with the drum kit and turn it into a beautiful new instrument. ‘It was kind of a thrill for him.’
Schaerer also describes the joys of turning a ‘very fucked PA’ into a mean feedback-producing machine. ‘Sometimes it’s nice to play on instruments that you are provided with that are difficult to play and force you to play differently, if it’s not too extreme.’ The aforementioned typewriter was found by Schaerer at a second hand furniture store and presented to percussionist Christoph Steiner, who then just ‘went quiet’ for hours tinkering with it. As Christoph types on stage, he creates a ‘natural connection between rhythm and story.’
This almost survivalist attitude will probably serve them well as they hit the road in China. They’ve got themselves a good few days lined up here and are keeping their schedule open in the hope of finding some interesting collaborators.
Hildegard Lernt Fliegen will be playing at 6.30 on the River Stage on Sunday at the JZ Festival. This stage will host Swiss musicians throughout the day. If you head over there, you’re certainly in for a treat. (They'll also be playing at JZ Club in Hangzhou on the 18th, and at the JZ Lounge on the evening of the 20th of October)
‘Hiledgard for us is a kind of vehicle. It has to take off, it has to learn to fly...the best thing in a gig is when you lose control completely. The human mind always analyses, thinks, compares, gives things names. The best thing in a concert is if this analytical process stops, then you can start to fly…you just float away, it’s a kind of trip. Usually it works!’