.:.ABOVE THE DARK WATERS.:.
An Interview with Anemone Tube by
Introduction by Sage
Anemone Tube is the solo experimental project of Berlin, Germany’s Stefan Hanser. With a range in sound that dwells everywhere from subtle dark ambient textures to maelstroms of harsh noise, all the while experimenting with field recordings whose captured locations are all too relevant to the themes at hand, Hanser has absolutely earned the “post-industrial” tag as it becomes more difficult to categorize or define his sound within Anemone Tube as the years pass. With themes that are profoundly dominated by visions both experienced in reality (Death over China), and imagined through dark literary icons like H.P. Lovecraft (Dream Landscape), Anemone Tube continues to prove with every new release that it is one of the more complex and interesting long-running projects to inspire minds within the post-industrial underground. As anyone who has held one of his releases can attest to, however, Hanser is not an artist who is strictly defined by his aural art, and a visual grasp of his works is a crucial step towards fully understanding his overall aesthetic and purpose.
Heathen Harvest: What is Anemone Tube, and what are the reasons / conditions / circumstances that lead to its creation and sustainable existence?
Stefan Hanser: Anemone Tube is the project name under which I present and publish my musical works. It is the possibility to pursue, deepen and process my diverse interests in music, visual arts, literature, design and photography and to merge them into a holistic work of art. Anemone Tube stands for desire, romance, passion and beauty – it is lived escapism, a descent into a parallel world. The name “Anemone Tube” arose from the idea of sound “flowing through a tube” – like an ever-flowing stream of emotions. The anemone is known to be a beautiful, mysterious sea creature and represents my vision of beauty in music, in an escapist sense for its strangeness; music as something that puts us in a different world.
HH: In all genres of music, why would a person choose the harshest, most difficult and hard-to-swallow way to express himself? Have you ever tried to create music in a form that may be easier to comprehend?
SH: The perception of what is “harsh, difficult and hard-to-swallow” obviously depends on the person listening to the music. Music can be incredibly emotionally intense and psychologically powerful. For me personally, dark experimental, industrial and death metal are the most intense genres of music, for they stimulate a certain emotion that most other styles of music fail to. I am mostly triggered by the emotional and psychological quality of music. It surely demands a certain level of harshness and intensity to affect me – independent of how aggressive or loud it may be.
The music of Anemone Tube cannot really be dispatched with a few adjectives, as the spectrum of styles I bring together varies a lot, whereas the emotions I create with my music are rather unique and stimulate that feeling exactly. Anemone Tube connoisseurs recognise my music, despite the styles and sound sources used. However, to nourish my lovely side, I started the project Oublier et Mourir, which is nevertheless emotionally as intense as Anemone Tube but in a more quiet way.
HH: From 2003 until 2010, you were absent from the scene and then returned with two astonishing records. What caused this long-term absence, and did these albums (“Dream Landscape” and “Death Over China”) signify a change in direction of sorts?
SH: In connection with my graphic design studies, in 1998, my personal interest shifted towards visual arts. By 2000, I completely gave up my musical activities and concentrated on design and constructivist art. However, this journey into different creative fields eventually paved the way for the re-birth of Anemone Tube. Through my master studies in The Netherlands between 2006 and 2008, while strongly connected to urban development, psychology and creative writing, I had been introduced to new possibilities of artistic forms of expression. Also, I have developed a strong interest in poetry, societal development, art from the 15th to the 19th century (fantastic painting and literature, especially the Romanticism, Symbolism, and Surrealism movements, but also contemporary art) and Buddhist teachings, meditation and psychology, which, all together, build the conceptual basis for the recent works of Anemone Tube.
Compared to my old musical output, my new approach is more mature and well-considered; with obviously a strong focus on the conception of each release. Also, the composition and sound editing is much more sophisticated, which makes my work much more holistic and focused.
HH: In 2007 you visited China, in particular Nanjing and Shanghai. A series of photographs and field recordings were the result of your trip. What was it about the experience that drove you to take several steps further than the expected tourist activities one usually engages in? Is that experience still a part of your artistic vision as sounds from this journey have been subsequently appearing in all your releases since then?
SH: When I visited Shijiazhuang in early March 2007 as part of a study tour, the whole city lay under a dense cloud. It was as if a grey haze would push against the sky as the sun sets, mystically shimmering in the exhaust gases. In the cities of China, the smog is ubiquitous and many people wear masks when they go outside.
This massive, overwhelming natural phenomenon as well as the frenetic energy in the cities, which is omnipresent both day and night by the sound of machinery, engines, and the enourmous amount of people, intrigued me and eventually directly inspired the concept. During my second stay in China in Nanjing and Shanghai in late 2007, the field recordings for Death Over China were made.
My work with field recordings is not exhausted yet. I am still working with chinese recordings as well as with recordings made in Japan.
HH: On your website, you mention the environmental disaster caused by the relentless industrial progress observed in modern-day China, and you link it to the self-destructive drive that is inherent in human nature. On the other hand, your previous two albums were a part of a generalized concept named “The Suicide Series”. Can you tell us a little more about it?
SH: The Suicide Series refers to the suicidal behavior of our society, whose social and highly industrialised development adopted self-destructive tendencies, which is undeniable. With our hypocritical hedging rate, we always lay the blame, the evil, on the other, the stranger (“L’enfer c`est les autres”; engl.: “The others are hell”, Jean-Paul Sarte), we try to defend all the achievements and the hard-won. After all, our greatest fear is to lose our identity or identifications and our prosperity, and we do everything possible to maintain this. In truth, we are not only victims, with hands tied like internees in a societal cage, but also perpetrators, who bear responsibility.
Dream Landscape as the first part, and Death over China as the second part, as well as the two forthcoming releases, The Golden Temple and The Sea of Trees, build The Suicide Series, for which field recordings made in different parts in the world provide a conceptional basis. Whereas the first two parts of the series were largely based on Chinese field recordings, I additionally incorporate recordings made in Japan for the other parts, particularly Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as recordings made in Toijnbo and Aokigahara Jukai, Japan`s most notorious suicide spots.
The title Dream Landscape derives from a passage of Lovecraft`s The Call of Cthulhu:
“… and a fantastic painter named Ardois-Bonnot hangs a blasphemous Dream Landscape in the Paris spring salon of 1926.”
This passage is about a painting being the result of Cthulhu`s rising from the sea bottom, the underwater city of R`lyeh. However, when literally interpreted, the title Dream Landscape describes a “perfect dream” landscape and shall consciously suggest something positive – particularly an apocalyptic vision. For me this vision is an ode to escapism within the meaning of a total refusal of reality, a retreat of real life, or like J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in his essay On Fairy-Stories:
“…a possibility of the imaginative fulfillment of wishes and desires, the real world cannot offer.”
However, the escapism evoked here is not the result of a dark, pessimistic mind, but “an explicitly proven aesthetic conception” as Michel Houllebecq indicates in his book about H.P. Lovecraft, Against the World, Against Life. and can be understood as a poetic resistance against the monotony and banality of the empiric reality.
Dream Landscape conjures up an apocalyptic landscape. Entirely in the line of H. P. Lovecraft, it is all about a total, all-embracing threat in the form of a holistically, morbidly stretching nature and not about single events. Whereas Dream Landscape is purely fantastic, in the main free of a realistic context, imaginatively suggesting a morbid excrescence, the landscape in Death Over China is slowly spreading as thick smog blankets the city, loudly cracking with its last breath, as a consequence for China’s uncompromising economical and societal development which has created an irreparable legacy of environmental damage, and is therefore “wrapped” in actual context.
This fantastic realism is supplemented with The Golden Temple, which suggests a physical landscape in the form of global cities and metropolises proudly and brightly soaring above the dark landscape. Through its intrinsic dominance of light, the city-scape bestows golden radiance and divine beauty. With its alluring metaphorical world of images, signs and sounds, it is the very symbol of our innermost longings, desires and fears and our attempts to escape from a disconcerting reality. “The Golden Temple” consoles and threatens. It consoles as it promises to reveal the secrets of beauty, and it threatens as it becomes a mirror of our (in our collective action inherent) secret death wish.
The series concludes with The Sea of Trees, relating to a very particular place in Japan`s back country, Aokigahara Jukai, which is a dense, dark forest bordering Mount Fuji (legends tell of monsters, ghosts, and goblins haunting the forest, adding to its sinister reputation), and is the world’s second-most popular suicide location after San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Conforming to the visions of J.G. Ballard, The Sea of Trees aims to dissolve the distorted and alienated relationship between humanity and nature – like an implicit agreement between both. In this vision, the forest is a tranquil place, a pilgrimage for people to find their eternal peace, a repatriation to man`s actual destination. The Sea of Trees offers a healing counter-concept for the complete regression of man to his true psychological aims: the devolutionary return in an almost mystical, nature-loving ancient existence.
HH: Do you feel that, given its unprecedented historical background, China is a unique case, or is it possible for it to serve as an example of industrialization practiced to the extreme? Did you notice any similarities with Western societies in an individual, as well as collective, level?
SH: The concept about China, first of all, comes from a real experience intra muros (me standing under a heavy pall of grey smoke obscuring the sun). However, China perfectly serves here as a model, simply because economical and social developments appear in a more extreme form (and as we follow recent news, it is getting worse). In other places (Europe and America rather than the Third World), environmental damage manifests itself in a more subtle way: the causes and ultimate consequences can rather be derived from statistics, than clearly visually or physically perceived.
Conceptually I am concerned with a problematic nature specific to all societies. For example: the denial of self-responsibility in environmental issues or the hushed up disequilibrium between the West and the Third World. We all live permanently with feelings of guilt. Everyone becomes guilty, whether he/she wants to or not. As being part of a society, a system, we inevitably become guilty. The question is only how we deal with it. Mostly we are copping out.
HH: Death is a significant part of Asian culture, as opposed to Western civilizations, where people engage in their everyday activities and complete their life-cycles without including the prospect of death in their point of view. Both in “Death Over China” and “Dream Landscape”, an atmosphere of suffering, loss, decay and death is evident, albeit in a spherical way as if part of a greater natural process. What is your personal stance on the concept of death, and on its significance with relation to human behaviour and history?
SH: For me, death as a projection is absolute beauty. It is a wonderful and highly exciting topic to deal with, appearing in my work in many different facets. Of course, real death and violence is something I (we) can hardly stand, as in our consumption-dominated society, there is no space for death. This leads to a total rejection of it in our daily lives, which is of course an easy thing due to all the distraction. My strong personal connection to Buddhism and Buddhist meditation gives me the opportunity to sometimes step out of that vortex. Sometimes having the hour of death before my eyes is very important to see where I’m at in my life right now and how I want to continue with it.
In Dream Landscape and Death Over China, I play with the idea of death as a long-awaited final rule over mankind (“I dream of a day, they shall rule again”), which is an inevitable product of nature, being caused by the action of previous forces (“They shall soar above, the haze of the polluted sky”) and the logical consequence for our blindness and repression (“For we cast down the demoniac reign, with our adoration of the scorching sun”). In another poem, death stands for the alienation from ourselves, as false projection, lovingly and tenderly embracing us (“Black death rise, Embrace me with your arms (…) Fuck with me, thrive on me (…) Deathly kingdom of desire, you sustain the life in me”). Here, Buddhist idealism is turned upside down, wrapped in sweet (seemingly pro-life) sarcasm.
HH: There are mentions of significant names of literature, animation and film among your influences, such as H.P. Lovecraft, Michael Haneke, Hayao Miyazaki and Yukio Mishima. How were you influenced by them, and what other names have affected your work? Maybe musicians too?
SH: I combine critical elements of Michael Haneke (who claims that our society is living in a lie and evading moral responsibility, and that our consciousness is successively blurred through the constant medial diversion; see his movie Caché) with visionary ideas of the fantastic author H.P. Lovecraft (with his inhuman philosophy of indifferentism, that claims that human existence is merely a small part of a long cosmic process and totally insignificant) and the science-fiction writer J.G. Ballard. Similar to Lovecraft, Ballard is dealing with the relationship between human and natural history. In Ballard`s first novels – the visionary disaster tetralogy – he envisions a world over which man no longer has control, but in which nature “detaches itself from the varnish of civilisation” and leads man to his real determination, in peace with nature, where he is revived with new life and is united with nature as an “animalic-unconscious creature”. In H.P. Lovecraft’s philosophy, the history of mankind seems to be a natural series of catastrophes which appear to make certain its ultimate doom. However, he reverses history and natural history: “The Great Old Ones” are of cosmic origin and the original inhabitants of Earth, from which they had been displaced only temporarily. According to H.P. Lovecraft, the search of mankind within itself means self-destruction (suicide), because it finds its true identity only in these beings.
Yukio Mishima I appreciate rather for his metaphors and his beautiful descriptive language and imagery. Furthermore, Hayao Miyazaki is an important influence with his naïve — yet at the same time very profound — anime movies; especially Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke are highly beautiful (some people may have noticed that I have used audio samples from his movies in my most recent albums).
My musical influences are simply the things I listen to daily, which is, by the way, neither power electronics/noise nor ambient/drone, but rather song-oriented, melodic and rhythmic music, such as Nocturnus, early Dissecting Table, O.L.D. and early James Plotkin solo, Anenzephalia, Turbund Sturmwerk, Meat Shits (Fuck Frenzy), Les Joyaux de la Princesse, Brume, Blut Aus Nord, Ondskapt, Laurent Garnier, and others. I could now go into detail and explain just how much one or another song is inspired by each respective project, but that would maybe flood the banks here. However, one might find elements of O.L.D. / Nocturnus / Anenzephalia / Meat Shits in Dream Landscape and elements of Dissecting Table / Brume / Turbund Sturmwerk in Death Over China.
HH: H.P. Lovecraft’s absolute nihilism and Michael Haneke’s unadorned realism, for instance, portray such a dismal, despairing image of things that it seems no outlet for hope is available, no opportunity for an improvement of the human condition. Do you take such an approach yourself, or are you more of an optimistic, hopeful kind of person?
SH: My fascination with the above mentioned authors, among others, surely comes to a certain degree from an identification with their views and concepts. Hope is not really something which I can apply to myself, as it is more about sitting quietly and waiting for things to happen. I am more of a realist with escapist tendencies, oscillating between optimism, pessimism and indifference.
HH: Even though your latest outcome has been based on field recordings from China, all Anemone Tube albums showcase a completely different touch leading to the dominatingly atmospheric “Dream Landscape”, the more industrial and rhythmic “Death Over China”, and your material in the split with Dissecting Table where your sound is sometimes calm, sometimes eclectic, but always extremely lively. What are the specifics of working almost exclusively with field recordings?
SH: In contrast to synthesizer music, which is inherently abstract, music largely based on field recordings has the ability to communicate specific information. I obviously take advantage of this fact in Death Over China. The inner vision of a roaring city being covered under a threatening black cloud of death immediately comes to mind. The content of Dream Landscape, which seems – viewed in isolation – rather abstract, is more comprehendible through Death Over China. It is also my intention to capture the work as a whole, as part of a series, as it is supposed to be.
HH: The whole concept around the split vinyl with Dissecting Table showed a deep knowledge and interest in Buddhism. “Dream Landscape” had several demonic references in the track titles, which climaxed in merging the fantastical and realistic idea of hell in the closing track, “L’Enfer C’est les Autres”. Are you religious?
SH: The quote “L’Enfer c’est les autres” (“Others are hell” by Jean-Paul Sartre) refers to the concept of societies` repression of responsibility and blaming the other (as explained in detail elsewhere in this interview).
I am not religious. My connection with Buddhism has nothing to do with religious belief. I would not file Buddhism under the term religion anyway because it is free of any dogmas, questions of (blind) faith, or institutionalized hierarchies. It is practical guidance to increase awareness, based on the teachings of Buddha, that´s it.
Due to my Catholic upbringing and the Catholic social environment of my youth, I have a strong bond to the Catholic church. Independent of any religious feelings or art-historical relations, I have great respect for churches, being the representatives for a culture which is 2 millenniums old. Being based in the middle of Europe, I have easy access to one of the world`s greatest cultural heritages. Every now and then I donate money for the conservation of churches and chapels. All the stories and parables with morbid references, the paintings, sculptures, sarcophagi and epitaphs with its Vanitas symbols, etc. – whenever I enter a church, I go hunting for them. The Catholic church had been the commissioner for one of the most powerful paintings in art history and, at the same time, the provider of universal themes. Masterpieces like the altar triptychs The Last Judgement by Hieronymous Bosch (Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna) and Hans Memling (National Museum, Gdańsk) wouldn`t exist otherwise.
HH: Besides the sources and technologies, what do you need to record an album? Is it a controlled and considered process or an impulsive one requiring a special place or condition?
SH: My music is as moody as my approach is uncontrolled and impulsive. Most of my work comes into existence in a few intense recording sessions that occur at irregular intervals. There are times that I don`t record any music at all for one or two years, but only concentrate on the production of releases. What I certainly need to record music is inner rest and a decent environment that I can immerse in for several hours.
HH: Lately, Anemone Tube has been performing fairly often. What do you bring that is different to your live performances? What are your methods, improvising, or strictly sticking to a predetermined concept? Can you see your project existing only in the studio or do you feel the need to play live?
SH: I am surely more of a studio person, who is lovingly refining compositions and sounds. However, live performances are always an additional challenge. As a performer, I have much more control over the hearing and reading behaviour of the audience, than if a person listens to a CD at home. At a live performance, I can additionally support the narrative quality of my compositions with images and video material. For my Dream Landscape performance, I use video footage which is psychologically and emotionally monopolising and increasingly intense, so that the music works as the perfect soundtrack to the film. The narrative structure of the set and its length are very important to achieve the effect I desire – ideally emotional confusion, negativity or fascination, depending on the character of the person.
Each live set has its own context, more or less a prefabricated sequence of tracks, especially created for live use. Additionally, I use analogue effects, contact microphones, diverse objects, metal, flute, gongs, voice, etc.
HH: Talking about live shows, one of your latest initiatives is the Epicurean Escapism Festival, which has already been happening for two years, and I suppose this is already a request for its transition into a great tradition. What lead you towards curating this event?
SH: First of all, I wanted to make a festival with my favorite musical projects. However, I felt the need to create something new – something I have personally missed at live events. There are many festivals in Middle Europe, but most are either uninspired and limited to a certain scene/genre/style year-in and year-out, or their approach is predominantly commercial. In my opinion, there is much more potential in experimental music than what is usually presented. Industrial music has always been strongly connected to art and literature and has always been – by definition – confrontational within a certain context. My aim is to explicitly expose these aspects. Besides the music performances, there is a special emphasis on visual arts at the Epicurean Escapism Festival – naturally an exhibition with art works from selected artists, who are either musicians or in a certain extent related to industrial or pop culture. This also includes video installations and one-time screenings of audio-visual works, i.e. by Martin Bladh, Mike Dando and Rudolph Eber. Another special feature is the fact that I bring together artists of different scenes. It is my particular concern to break down the formal barriers, which most labels tensely try to maintain.
HH: However, Epicurean Escapism is not just a music event. The festival so far has been accompanied by two fascinating releases, showcasing not only the works of artists and bands taking part in the event, but strongly accentuating on visual arts too. Is merging and symbiosis between arts the only way to attract people to events nowadays, or is it just the arts that need to interact in order to exist?
SH: Actually, it is not a compilation accompanying the event, but the other way around. When putting together the line-up for the event, I first try to imagine the short list of artists on a compilation. So once I can approve the artists for the compilation CD, they will be invited. Festival compilations are usually horrible because it is mostly a higgledy-piggledy mix of tracks that no one wants to listen to. I hate that, and this has nothing to do with it. My intention is rather to create a document of the state of the art of European industrial music. It has proven itself. I am extremely happy with the result of the first two compilations. In fact, most people are overwhelmingly positive about it.
My focus is dark experimental, industrial music and arts, and this is beyond mere entertainment. This integrative concept will never attract a larger audience. I welcome any single music fan who appreciates this.
HH: The above mentioned compilations have been released by your freshly founded label, The Epicurean. Will this endeavor be serving only the festival, or do you plan on turning it into a full-scale label or publisher of music and arts?
SH: I plan to extend my label activities. The main motivation surely is to release music of projects that I highly admire. Later on, I plan to re-release some old, forgotten material — mostly cassette tapes — in a new format. This Spring, I will publish the Epicurean Escapism I CD/DVD (which will not be a mere rerelease of the tape/DVD-R version, but with new tracks and a full-length DVD of Martin Bladh`s video works), a very limited edition of a DVD by Con-Dom, and an LP by the Australian band Last Dominion Lost.
HH: What are your plans for the near future (releases, live appearances, etc.)?
SH: This year I want to slow down live activities to be able to concentrate more on recordings again and finish The Golden Temple. Furthermore, there are collaborations in the making with Dave Phillips and Post Scriptvm.