Words by David C. Obenour
Taking their album name from the classic fairy tale, Rumpelstilzchen – Stroh zu Gold translates to the alchemical task of spinning straw into gold. This setting of taking the every day, the ordinary, and creating something more from it was the situation Conny Ochs, Sicker Man and Kiki Bohemia found themselves in at Trialogos inception. Trapped in their respective locked down worlds, the unrelenting orbits of creation spun the trio together. Working through guided improvisation with the benefit of distraction-free time, the common became uncommon and gold was formed.
Off Shelf: Trialogos was formed over the pandemic, can you talk about how the project came together at first?
Sicker Man: Almost exactly one year ago, in August 2020, we three performed for the first time together at an art installation on the island Rügen. Originally there was a regular festival planned there, where Kiki and me would have played our own regular set and Conny would have played his. Due to the Pandemic situation the festival was canceled in its original form and therefore the three of us improvised in an old refrigerated warehouse. It was after this concert, that we talked about creating experimental and instrumental music together for the first time.
Conny Ochs: Many improbable things happened after that which let the whole project fall into place. We all suddenly had a lot of time on our hands to experiment, and I feel we were all in need for artistic and social contact and exchange. We also had a label showing interest after that first improvised performance, which further backed up our already growing will to dive into this new set-up.
OS: I have to imagine that the world – or at least your corner of it – was a radically different place as opposed to where it is now. Can you talk a little about what you were feeling while you were writing and recording the music?
SM: Like many people we felt of course isolated in the new situation, though we also found comfort in the fact, that we were not completely alone, at least during the recordings. In response to the altered living and working conditions during the pandemic Kiki Bohemia and I had already started a daily series of livestream concerts Cleansing Drones For Locked Down Homes in March 2020. it was an experimental musical ritual to comfort, an instrument of mental hygiene in exceptional times, expressing personal experiences and emotions in a state of emergency. On some level the work on Stroh Zu Gold felt a bit like continuing in that spirit.
OS: Over a year later, some regions seem to have been fortunate enough to have turned the corner. How does listening to this music now feel different to you given where we’re at?
CO: The music feels as if it still changes all the time, actually, much like the general situation we all find ourselves in. I still hear both trust and a sense of uncertainty in it, a strange quality of escaping and emerging from deep inside the sound. It has been like that during the recording sessions, then when we first listened to it afterwards and after that with the first cut of the vinyl on the record player. It’s as if it is almost a quintessence of the tunes, the impossibility to get a hold of it but also an intimacy and closeness. There’s something in the way the improvised elements are entwined, meandering around each other. My impression is that’s pretty much a mood in the streets too, which was reflected in the music at the time and still does.
OS: You captured some amazing sounds and textures on Stroh Zu Gold, are there any moments that stand out to you from what you or your band mates were able to create?
CO: For me the most surprising moment was the session that finally became “Mali/Berlin”, quite different from what I had done before and even thought what could be the direction that we would head into. There is an easiness and playfulness in the track that keeps triggering me, it was a strange and intriguing moment realizing you suddenly find yourself in a very different place in regards to where you thought you would go. From that moment many new ideas have sparked.
SM: I am very happy with the sounds of the first track, Lavu Santu. This track was part of an hour long improvisation, where all three of us played very minimalistic with our instruments, Kiki on the Rhodes and effects, Conny on Bass and me on the electric cello. This combination of sounds feels really good to me and is in a way somehow a Trialogos signature sound.
OS: You also recorded the album in just three days. How do you think that short timeline expressed itself on Stroh Zu Gold?
SM: With a short production time comes quick and intuitive decisions, which can be in a way more authentic and interesting. In our case it also leads to a different approach regarding the composition of the tracks. Because improvisation is always a main part of it – or as we prefer to call it, instant composition, because for us it is more about improvising structures and melodies. In order to organize and guide these instant compositions, we also like to use methods, that are inspired by ideas like the I Ching or the Songbook by John Cage. Before we start recording and creating a new track, everyone thinks of a little headline for themselves. Can be really simple like, “for the next track, I want to play just on the A-string“ or more strange ones like “now I will play two colors at once“. Really similar of course to the “oblique strategies” by Brian Eno, an artist and producer that we really adore. There’s also a strong link to early Krautrock Artists in our work, may it be in style or in attitude. Bands like Cluster or Neu! are the rare examples of a fruitful German influence on the international music scene.
OS: On April 17 you played a set for Roadburn Redux. Can you talk about how that came together? Again, reality shifted so quickly over the past year I have to imagine that things were set in motion for this show during much darker and less certain times.
CO: We were given a shot to be part of the Roadburn Redux by the festival curators after they had heard a first mix of the album they had received from our label. I’d been invited to play at Roadburn a couple of times before and was really happy about the chance we were given here. It’s one of the most original and inspiring festivals I have ever been at, both as a performing musician and as a guest. Let’s say times got a lot less darker during the weeks we were preparing for the performance. I have to say it got me through some rough moments of isolation, feeling a connection with both Kiki and Sickerman artistically and in friendship, keeping on working and exploring a new open world from what felt like a cage around the spirit.
OS: During that performance you also sold a highly-limited vinyl edition of the album with manually screenprinted artwork and handnumbered. What was the importance to you in offering this pressing?
SM: All three of us are big fans of vinyl, so it was really nice, when Exile on Mainstream offered to print these special edition way ahead of the regular release. Also, as the whole project is very fresh and new, it was a great reassurance for us to see, how well the audience perceived the show and reacted to the special edition. It felt like, we’re on a good way here.
CO: Also, Roadburn really promotes artistic freedom and curiosity about music, art and life in general. They have a vision of transmitting some really important concepts of social thought and empathy. Just felt like the right place to do something special, you know.
OS: Stroh Zu Gold is Exile on Mainstream’s 100th release as a label. How purposefully and coordinated was that?
CO: Given that everything happened so quickly and without any real planning regarding how the band and finally the whole album came together, it all gave itself purpose along the way, really. We kind of found ourselves first suddenly building a train, then riding it, too. That Stroh Zu Gold ended up being EOM’s 100th release was not a plan, but maybe, a consequence! I think it’s peculiar but fitting, that this release is something surprising even to the label-family itself. Finally, that’s what illustrates EOM’s search for the unusual and uneasy quite well.
OS: Do you imagine doing another Trialogos album? What sort of parameters would you want to put on that?
SM: Yes, absolutely. The parameters would be similar to those of Stroh Zu Gold. It will be about experiments and sounds, Kraut and Noise, Improvisation and Instant Composition. Only this time, we might take 7 days to do that. [laughs]
CO: Same here, it just feels there is so much to discover.