Faust Workshop and Performance
I had a once in a lifetime chance to attend a workshop by the legendary Krautrock band Faust at the International House in Philadelphia. The workshop was hosted by two original band members, bass player Jean-Hervé Péron and drummer Werner "Zappi" Diermaier. The band encouraged the audience to leave their seats and sit down in the stage area. There were miscellaneous instruments laid throughout: flutes, trumpets, electric guitars, drums, plastic bags, sheets of metal, and even power drills. We proceeded through three improvised movements: (1) "who are you," a type of finding your identity composition; (2) destabalization, where they switched your chosen instrument with something else last second to throw you off; and (3) a cover of the song "So Far".
For the first movement, I jammed on a tiny black acoustic guitar. We started out quietly, getting to know the instruments. I saw Zappi lightly caressing the drums. Gradually, we began playing, building in volume and intensity, until we reached an incredible crescendo, and then Péron (like a conductor) waved his arms for us to stop. After we all stopped, only the sound of a vacuum cleaner could be heard before it too came to a rest. Sound Faustian yet? In fact, I almost felt like I was on Red Crayola's first album. I was very tempted just to play the pick left beside the guitar. We all sat down and discussed the composition. Péron said that he noticed people getting too focused on their individual performance, that we had to listen better to our fellow musicians. This is what the band believes in: listening and working together. He said the hardest lesson is to know when not to play.
The second movement was meant to be funnier. I got to be in the group that imitated "a little girl chuckling". There was a guy banging on a metal sheet, so Péron handed him a table saw and he started sawing away at the metal. Sparks were flying every which way, and this guy holding the guitar in front of the amp for feedback had to move as they were hitting him! Afterwards, Péron took a poll: was it better to abruptly stop the performance or let it fade out. Most people were in favor of the former choice, while Péron and few others were in favor of the latter. Someone called out "It depends on the song." Yes, said Péron, taking everyone's comments seriously. He asked how we felt. Some guy called out: "It's better than drum circle!"
The third movement -- not unlike "Miss Fortune" on the debut -- was the highlight of the evening. Before we got started, Péron discussed the power of finding beauty emanating from the unlikeliest of places: in this case, a recent trip to a manufacturing plant where the band witnessed sardines being packaged into tins. (It was the efficiency and intelligence they admired). So, they broke us into different groups again to perform the cover of "So Far". I was holding a maraca. Zappi approached me and asked if I could handle 2/4 rhythm. After demonstrating, he said "That's right" with a big smile on his face. There was also a 7/4 rhythm section. A trumpeter led the tweet-tweet part of the song. This British woman (who seemed to be Péron's girlfriend) played a riveting electric guitar in a Syd Barrett fashion while leading a group of female voices. I saw Péron with some people pounding on an upside down garbage can. After a false start, they moved everyone closer together. The percussion was supposed to lead. To my surprise, Péron turned to me with the count-in and I kicked off the performance with my maraca. We jammed this thing for at least 10 minutes. Nearly everyone was digging it; smiles galore. At the end, Péron said it took the band five months to rehearse that song, but it only took us 5 minutes to get it right.
I shook Péron's hand and thanked him for the workshop. I was about to leave when I realized I had a question only he could answer so accurately. I asked him -- "How did you guys create that amazing sonar-feedback noise in 'Why Don't You Eat Carrots?'" He could not remember initially, so I cued up the part where it takes center stage on my iPod and let him listen! "Ah," he said, handing it back to me. "That is Arnulf on the organ. We had this old organ and he played with the transistors. We could never take it on tour. It always fell apart!"
Both Péron and Zappi were incredibly nice and laidback guys. You could tell they loved making music and wanted to share their technique and philosophy with everyone. There is something enthralling about building the music to that level of intensity. It's what makes Faust so special.
I would completely recommend trying to see them on their tour. Check this website out. http://faust-pages.com/. The first night is a workshop and the second night is a performance. I will report on that tomorrow!
Excellent. Amazing energy. It started with the British woman vacuuming and Péron ironing his shirt. An electronic vibration pulsed every few seconds. The band went through a found sound/spontaneous song creation. It involved everything from Zappi dangling wire-hangers above a cymbal to the clinking of beer bottles to a strange rotating device into which Péron emptied debris. It ended with Péron simply walking around the stage area, his footsteps picked up by the microphones. Péron introduced the band and no one knew what to do. Just stifled applause. Péron said "This is not serious" and the band launched into a blazing version of "So Far". The band's lead guitarist had pedals galore and would erupt with ear-shattering Faustian white noise every so often. The band played more avant-garde material and would segue from one composition to the next. Throughout the show, there were excerpts of Murnau films and fascinating Super 8 movies projected on the screen behind the band. One of the highlights was a reading of the immortal poem in "Miss Fortune" between Péron and the British woman (I wish I remembered her name!). Toward the end, more familiar material was played. "The Sad Skinhead" was hilarious. It started off with Péron and the British lady sparring like ex-lovers and they turned the whole thing into a lovers' quarrel/duet. At one point, Péron threw a mallet at the high-hat, pretending to be angry that the jam left him in the dust! When I heard the guitar riff to "Psalter" (commonly mistitled "Giggy Smile" on IV), I was in heaven. They tried to lead the audience in clapping the tricky 11/4 rhythm. They even ended it true to the song with a cymbal crash and ragtime piano noodling. I kept thinking, please play "Jennifer," please play "Jennifer" and then Péron began plucking those bass notes and Zappi had the drum beat down, and well, it was worth the price of admission. The song is incidentally about a beautiful redhead they met in England. After a rousing set closer, the crowd was hungry for more. Everyone on their feet, clapping and stomping in unison. We got a double encore. First, a song about "rocks, both the pretty and nasty kinds," which elicited laughter. "Wait," said Péron, "that's not supposed to be funny." It was quite good. Then, the mutha. After a brief preface alluding to the British music press calling the music of German bands Krautrock and a fond F-U to said critics, the band played a pitch-perfect, monstrously intense "Krautrock." The lead guitarist had the riff down solid, and Péron and Zappi jammed their hearts out. The feedback squall reached levels that could only remind me of "Sister Ray" or even Metal Machine Music. I thought, if my ear drums rupture know, at least it will be pleasurable. The band even had a false ending, then resumed, bless them. When they were done, Péron quipped: "We're Faust. We're a German group."