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Music

Danielle De Picciotto: What Transcends Walls?

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Sylvia Steinhauser
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Deliverance is the latest album from Danielle de Picciotto. The American-born musician, artist and filmmaker and co-founder of Berlin’s The Love Parade focused this time on much of the travel that she’s done in her life. Raised in a military family, she has also lived the last few years as a nomad. She and husband Alexander Hacke, a founding member of Einstürzende Neubauten, have divided their time across continents and cities with one important finding: It’s increasingly difficult to be an artist anywhere.

de Picciotto spoke with KMUW via Skype from Berlin.

Interview Highlights

What was the writing process for Deliverance?

I’m always writing. I have diaries and notebooks for lyrics. I collect ideas until I think I have enough to work with. I had wanted to do a solo album at the end of last year and I had enough lyrics and sounds by then. I had done field recordings. It all came together and I felt that I was ready.

The songs on this album fit together so nicely. Do you see them as separate compositions or do you see them as being part of one large piece?

It’s all a line of thought. So, in that way, it does work together because I’m constantly jotting things down. I could have made one long symphony but it was recommended to me that I should turn them into songs or shorter pieces. So I did that. But in a way it is one stream of thought. I was surprised, though, because I was originally thinking of doing an album that was about myself and it ended up being more about the state of the world as I experience it on my travels. I was surprised by what it ended up being in the end.

How is travel different for you today?

I became a nomad in 2010. Since then, rents have risen to such an incredible level. My husband and I became nomads because we thought it was only happening in Berlin. Then we noticed that it’s happening in London. Paris, New York, Melbourne, Sydney. No matter where you go, people are saying that the cost of living has risen so much that it’s very difficult for artists to survive. There’s also a general feeling that times are becoming more and more chaotic and people are having a difficult time knowing what’s happening and how to react to it.

Is it harder to be an artist now?

Absolutely. We can still live off our art and our music but a lot of people I know have started working on the side and a lot of people have said that their real job is something else despite being artists. I think it’s important to have independent artists and I think this is a very serious issue.

It’s interesting because so often people tout new housing developments as being near arts districts and yet those developments price the artists out of the neighborhood.

Artists are always trying to survive. The moment an area gets more expensive they move to a cheaper area. Lately artists are moving into the suburbs or even outside the suburbs because even those places have become too expensive. Lately I’ve had the feeling that real estate and advertising agencies just watch the artists to see where they’re going because they tend to make a place cool.

They go somewhere that’s dangerous or rundown. They build it up, they make it beautiful, after they do that, the real estate agents buy it and the artists have to move on. It’s become very extreme in that way.

How does your nomadic existence look on a day-to-day basis?

We had a house in Berlin. We gave that up. We got rid of about three-fourths of all our things. We have our art, photos, instruments, personal stuff but mostly got rid of the stuff we had. We put things in storage and started traveling the world because we thought that maybe there’s a place where we could live in a way that’s appropriate to make art. You’re not constantly struggling for money but you can actually spend time and really delve into what you’re doing. We’ve been in Berlin more this year but we basically move every two weeks or two months.

When you’re making an album do you think about audience, or do you think, “This is the art. The audience will come later”?

I don’t think of the audience at all. I’m very interested in sound. I play around with field recordings, changing the sound so that I like it. I work with the instruments, looking for something that is a little weird, a little odd. Ghostly, mysterious. I don’t start with a rhythm. I start with a sound and I work with the words. Those two things are the most important and then, when I throw them together, I have a piece.

You use a lot of natural sounds. For me, that’s always been as fascinating as music itself. I grew up by railroad tracks and I would go out and throw rocks at the rails as a child for maybe an hour at a time and listen to way that different stones resonated with the rails or different parts of the rails.

I started doing music in 1990 and would say to my bandmates, “I want this to sound like fog.” They’d say, “What?” I’d say, “Like fog.” They would say, “We don’t know what you’re talking about, we have to concentrate on the drums.” I’ve had a lot of experiences where people would focus on the structure of the song but I was always about having specific sounds. I’m happy that technology is cheaper these days so that even someone like me, who is not a tech nerd, can make their own sounds in spite of it.

You helped found the Love Parade in Berlin It originates in a period when people were discussing a still-divided Germany.

It first happened in the year when the Wall came down in Berlin. I think it was the magical time in place and history when so many people were feeling and hoping for the end of the Cold War. When we started it, we thought, “What can transcend walls?” Music is definitely one of those things.

We wanted to celebrate that. We wanted to do a demonstration that celebrated the idea the idea that music and art and culture are all things that cannot be walled in. The critical thing is that the Wall collapsed in exactly that year. I think that’s why it became so incredibly successful. A couple of years later there were 1.5 million people who came to the parade because there was so much joy about the walls coming down. The East and West were together again and could start something more positive. It was a pretty intense thing.

And yet, in 2019, we’re talking about building walls.

It’s strange. Things happen in waves and sometimes it looks like everything is going to be amazing forever. It’s like your personal life. Then you get hit from a place you didn’t expect. Maybe that’s the way that mankind develops too. In Europe there’s a move toward right-wing politics and it’s very scary. I guess there’s a force of both sides that helps keep it swinging, somehow.