Limpe Fuchs: Muusiccia

Navel-Gazers #9 is an interview with the wonderful Limpe Fuchs who is going to talk to us about Muusiccia. Limpe has been a recording artist since at least 1972, the year of the classic self-titled album by Anima Sound - and when I first got in touch with her I was temped to cover one of these older records. Yet the hyper-textural music of 'Muusiccia' which is from 1993 (still the earliest recording yet covered on Navel-Gazers) captivates me in a way which is so personal and so intense that I knew that was what we had to talk about instead. Before reading this interview - or perhaps while reading - I recommend you to put in your favourite headphones and allow Limpe's handmade percussion sounds to usher you in. 'Muusiccia' is no mere album, it's a sublime sound art gallery where surprises lurk around the corners and where music and sculpture seem to collide. Let's find out more!

AC: Not to lead off with anything too topical, but you had mentioned to me that 'Muusiccia' was recorded when you were living in Italy, which is a place that has been all over the news lately. And it sounds as though your surroundings were remarkably calm and serene then, living in a quiet house in the woods... So the timing of our discussion is quite interesting. Could you tell me how it is you found yourself in Italy at that time, and/or anything else about the environment this music originated from?

Limpe Fuchs: In 1976 we sold part of our house in Bavaria and bought 12 hectares of land and an old farmhouse in the Colline Metallifere of Upper Toscana. We wanted to expand our agricultural activities. In this area the wives of the workers in the Pyrit mines each owned a piece of land to grow a garden and some animals. When the mines were outgone, they sold the land to foreigners - Germans, Dutch, Swiss. The place was so lonely - no road, no water, no electricity - that we only got there with an off-road car at daytime. But step by step we built up what we needed and enjoyed the lovely wilderness. Only on holidays were we disturbed by lots of hunters driving through the woods with their small Fiat cars.

I think from this time on, my instruments were better-developed, and also my playing of them. One thing I would like to say about 'Muusiccia' is that at this time field recording was a practice I followed nearly every day. Especially when I had the opportunity to join the Squadra Malossi though the woods to record their chase of the wild pigs.

In this time - between my solo percussion work - I also did experimental theatre work, sponsored by the city of Munich, by taking parts of a poem and working out with my music, to a play. One was called 'Gesang Zur Nacht' with the expressionistic poetry of Georg Trakl, who lived from 1887 - 1914. For this "shooting track" I chose his poem about the battle of Grodek. He was involved as a sanitary assistant in the camps of the wounded soldiers. He was so scared that he suicided.

I am part of the first generation of Germans not involved in war in hundreds of years, and very engaged in peace. So I took the opportunity to work with this poem as a warning.

AC: Of course you're referring here to The Chase, the magnificent 17-minute piece at the centre of 'Muusiccia' where we can hear your recitation of Georg Trakl's poem. The theatrical component was unknown to me. I'm interested to know more about your experience on the wild pig chase with the squadron in the woods - we can also hear your field recordings of this throughout 'The Chase' and the effect is quite dramatic. Who were the Squadra Malossi and how did you come into contact with them? How did you come to accompany them on the chase? How did they react to your field-recording the event?

Limpe Fuchs: The members of the Squadra were our neighbours. They also had a house in the wilderness, but normally only stayed there on holidays - or for the chase. I did not tell them about my project. Perhaps they thought me to be a fan of the shooting - I really was not, I liked the peaceful surroundings.

But I also had trouble with the pigs, because we did not have large fields. The harvesters from the Maremma, where the flat big fields were, always came very late up the hills and in the meantime the pigs were eating the grain - also the grain from the neighbours! But I followed a different more creative strategy. From an organic farm in Germany I got two plants of a variety of wheat with kemp on the grains. I planted two rows in my garden, then 10 m2 in the field, and in three years we could harvest our grain without loss!

I was very influenced by soundscape artists. I do not separate noises and music: all of what comes to my ears is interesting and influences my thinking. Especially for this project, I worked it into the title: MUU is mooh (in German pronounced muuh!) for the song with our cow and my bowing of the pendulum string instrument. MuSIc is in the word and CaCCIA (pronounced katscha), the Italian word for chase. My compositions revolve around these terms. After the dramatic chase track, the water sound soothes-down and opens the ears for different sounds, and the end is very light with the dance track.

AC: Did you also use the field recordings in the 'Gesang Zur Nacht' production?

Limpe Fuchs: In this time, from 1992 to 1999 when I got funding from the city of Munich for experimental theatre production, because I was very fond of Georg Trakl's poems I also used one for the play 'Gesang Zur Nacht'. I engaged a famous cello player - Anja Lechner - whom I knew, and she suggested the actor Hans-Michael Rehberg to recite the text. I made the stage design with a big wooden stand of the pendulum string, a lot of gravel on the floor for the noise of the going-around and an old leather sofa, where Anja played also lying on it!

I also made a radio play for a Bavarian broadcast, and here I used the chase track and more of the life-sounds of the Squadra, like driving their cars, calling in the woods, the walkie-talkies... and called it only CACCIA.

AC: Your description of the theatrical production with the big pendulum string and the gravel on the floor reminds me of one of your performances I attended at Cafe Oto a couple of years ago. You had strung up these massive metal objects from an edifice on one side of the room to produce deep, vibrating sounds, accompanying a film. It was really something!

You mentioned earlier that your instruments were well-developed by the time of 'Muusiccia'. Could you tell me about the resonant metal and stone objects used on pieces such as Listen and Song? How did you get started with this kind of handcrafted instrumentation?

Limpe Fuchs: In the sixties in Munich I studied classical piano, violin and percussion, and to compose something you had to write down your ideas and first study the whole of musical history from Neumen, Generalbass to 12-tone music - not even graphic notation was allowed! In the Academy it was different - students could choose their material and realise their own ideas. There I met the sculptor student Paul Fuchs. Before, he had worked as an artist blacksmith. We both were interested in sound research. We married and bought part of an old Pfarrhof (clergy house) in Bavaria. So all the metal work like cutting iron or bronze or electro welding was done by Paul.

In 1989 we already had two workshops - one in Toscana, where we had bought the old farmhouse with 12 hectares of land - and one in Bavaria. Paul stayed in Italy and makes big sound sculptures in his "Giardino dei Suoni", and I rented the workshop to a former assistant who now builds the instruments I need according to my plans.

The pendulum strings have two roots. We had a Greek version of an Ektara, a string fixed in a small gourd. A physician friend knew that Pythagoras had weighted the string of his monochord with a stone to keep the right tuning. We took a big open can, hung it up, fixed a piano wire in the middle and hung on a VW axe!

I tried different stones, all sorts of marble and granite and I got in touch with a quarry in Valmalenco (Bernina), where I could try many pieces of Serpentinite. Among a hundred stones, a maximum of ten made a sound! I only play on found pieces. In 1999 I produced a theatrical work 'Sie Dachte An Das Geordnete Chaos' (She Thought Of The Orderly Chaos) with the four seasons and for "winter" I wanted to have a row of Serpentinite stones on a 4m curved iron stand "bent from frost". From that time on, I used it for every concert!

AC: It's interesting that you fixated on Serpentinite stones. I watched a documentary on the sound artist Z'EV, who mostly worked with metals. I noticed he was very particular about certain types of metals, and different cuts and shapes and even the different stages of oxidation and decay which would produce different sounds. I guess it's the same with stone.

You're credited playing lithophone which is a name for a mallet percussion instrument constructed from stones. Was this handmade from Serpentinite? I think we're hearing this on 'The Chase', and maybe on 'Listen' and Tone?

Limpe Fuchs: The development of my lithophone - lithos is Greek for stone like xylos - for wood - has a long history. I had tried out different kinds of stones in the shops nearby and arranged rows of all kinds of marble and granite. I think on these recordings I used a mix. It was later on that I got in contact with the Serpentinite quarry in Valmalenco - the special granite found in the Bernina Mountains. I traveled there with foam rubber strips and mallets (to the great amusement of the bulldozer drivers) and tried lots of stone plates. The big blocks are sawn and then split into plates with wooden wedges. Again, of a hundred, maybe ten have a good sound!

Sometimes people want to know what kind of tuning my row of stones has, or they try to play a melody they know - which does not work! I only use these found ringing stones - I do not cut them myself - and change my "melody" however I like from my big stock of stones. Beats are especially interesting: one stone has an even finish, another as well, but struck directly after each other, they resonate and the sound has a beat, that can be different: wah wah wah or wawawa depending on the pitch difference.

AC: I'll have to go back to listen for that!

I'm also curious about the track Mooh, I certainly hear a cow (a real cow!) but what are the other sounds?

Limpe Fuchs: In these times we had a jersey cow named Ruby on our small farm in Italy. I had learned to milk her and also bought sheep milk to make very good pecorino cheese. We had built a cantina to have the cheese well-ripened - I was really busy with this job! And so she also had a male calf in these days. I wanted to record his moohing, but when I approached him with the recorder, he was silent! I did not feed him half a day, and finally he moohed! I wanted to integrate good sounds with the weird shooting recordings. And for our duo I bowed the pendulum strings. I use a bass bow and it has this scratching sound.

AC: These animal stories have been amusing! You reminded me of the last topic I wanted to ask you about - the bird on the front cover of 'Muusiccia' which I find so humorous and surreal. Where is this image from? It reminds me a little of an African Shoebill.

Limpe Fuchs: I have taught improvisation to the students of Figurentheaterkolleg (puppet theatre) in Bochum for years and at this time I learned to make papier mache masks. Since my theatre projects were supported by the city of Munich, I was able to invite the Italian artist Antonino Bove, who had the idea for the 'Realizzazione dei Sogni': that means he wanted to make dreams come true. We created a surrealistic play. Antonino modelled the shoe-bird for me and I made it out of papier mache. I use it still sometimes: I put it over my head, it has holes at the eye level that are covered with gauze.

AC: It's great to know that the bird is still around! ...there were so many excellent cover images on the Streamline label back in the 90s - how did you come to be affiliated with this label?

Limpe Fuchs: I've known Christoph Heeman since 1987. He invited Anima to his studio in Aachen, but Paul had no interest. So I went alone and made my first solo album: VIA, which means 'away' in Italian - I wanted to go ahead as a soloist! I made 'VIA' using a Korg synthesizer I found in Christoph's studio, together with voice and percussion. I then made 'Muusiccia' and another album Nur Mar Mus on Streamline, and in May 2008 a trio album with our Belgian friend Timo Van Lujik. Since then we've had good contact. Now Christoph's planning a new solo LP with Ronnie Oliveras...

AC: And a new solo LP with you as well, is that right?

Limpe Fuchs: Yes, Christoph wanted me to work again with the Korg synthesizer, along with the new development of the pendulum strings. So it's side B with the Korg synthesizer, side A with the other instruments. I call this 'SOLAIA' and it will appear later in the year.

AC: Can't wait to hear that! Sounds amazing.

'Muusiccia' has always struck me as a story waiting to be told. Sure enough: the pig chase, the Serpentinite quarry, the papier mache masks... what a chronicle! Thanks very much for talking to me.

Limpe can be found at her website,

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