Lou Reed died 27 October, 2013. Zeitkratzer's Reinhold Friedl remembers Reed, and performing Metal Machine Music
I got the sad message – that Lou Reed had passed away – on the way back from Paris. Just when we were finally preparing the first release of the full version of Metal Machine Music, including all four parts. I’m sad that Lou will not be able to listen to this anymore.
When I came to know his Metal Machine Music I was blown away. I was pretty young when some friends played it to me, and I didn’t even know at all who this guy Lou Reed was. I had no idea about his rock ’n’ music. I was convinced that the person who made this electroacoustic music must be a kind of strange contemporary music composer. I loved Metal Machine Music as a tape piece, like I listened to Xenakis or Stockhausen.
Years later, I got this telephone call from a manager asking if I might be interested with my group zeitkratzer to do something with Lou Reed. I was indeed! And then? Nothing was easy. I remember sitting with him in a hotel in Dresden at four o’clock in the morning after he’d played a concert with his band trying to convince him that zeitkratzer could play Metal Machine Music with violin, cello, doublebass, percussion, piano, accordion, saxophone, trumpet and tuba. For sure, he took me for crazy.
Later Lou remembered: “Zeitkratzer gets in touch with me, ‘Can we play Metal Machine Music live?’ I said, ‘It can’t be done.’ They said, ‘We transcribed it. Let us send you a few minutes of it and you tell us.’ They sent it, I played it, and there it was. It was unbelievable. I said, ‘My God! Okay, go do it.’”
And we did it. The transcription was easy, due to the incredible ears of Luca Venitucci, the accordion player of zeitkratzer at that time: he could even hear the tuning of Lou’s guitars in the original recording! An open fifth, nothing else. Once you have that, combined with the experience of having worked with musicians like Zbigniew Karkowski or Merzbow, you have got the music. Zeitkratzer rehearsed it for three days, trying out, proposing sounds, fixing them. The music was written down in three days, during afternoon rehearsals for a conduction with Butch Morris, another incredible musician, who died this year!
And then we performed Metal Machine Music at the Berlin Contemporary Music Festival! It was a musical attack, but also a social experiment, to confront this rock ’n’ roll animal with a contemporary music ambience. An interesting and even dangerous experiment. Lou started to speak about his “composition” and said things like “please play it like I wrote it”, even though he had never written down this music. We were pleased! On the other hand, two members of zeitkratzer were so impressed by his rock ’n’ roll appearance that they decided to leave after these performances and start their own rock ’n’ roll careers. And some people in the audience, among them the director of the Berlin Jazz Festival, shouted four letter words during the short breaks between the four movements. We played the piece a few days later in Venice, Laurie Anderson came backstage, Lou cried after the performance… Grace Jones came to the late night party and stripped in the bar, while Phill Niblock sang drones. A real party.
And Metal Machine Music! What music! We have now played it for years at different festivals all over Europe, and it became a kind of classic in zeitkratzer’s repertoire. We finally recorded the full version of all four parts of it for the first time in Italy last year, and are just about to release it. We are sad that this great musician passed away too early, and we will include the fourth part in our programme at the Worldtronic festival at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin on 1 December. That’s what Metal Machine Music has become: worldtronics! And Lou Reed was not only rock ’n’ roll – he was a real composer! Thank you, Lou.