Janek Schaefer trained as an Architect at the Royal College of Art, where he developed his focus on the relationship between sound, space and place. The context of each idea is central to its development and resolution, often exploring themes of appropriation, accident, & alteration. He exhibits and performs worldwide, from The Tate Modern to The Sydney Opera House, and is a Visiting Professor at Oxford Brookes University. The Bluecoat gallery exhibited a Retrospective of his career in 2009, he is represented by the Agency gallery, London, and has released over 25 albums inc collaborations with Charlemagne Palestine, Philip Jeck, and Stephan Mathieu. He lives and works in Walton-on-Thames, England .
1: It takes 17 muscles to smile, and 42 muscles to cry.
2: It is worth bearing in mind that in just one hour, the sun sends earth enough energy to power the whole of humanity for one year! Time to get our heads out of the sand and look up for the answers.
3: I recorded my first collage composition 40 years ago, on cassette in 1976, age 6.
My son Phoenix is now also 6 and uploaded his first improvisation for the funeral of sister Scarlett’s pet hamster Pepsy, which she did the artwork for…
1.What is the biggest inspiration for your music?
Context is everything.
The inspiration, the reason, the limitations, the opportunities, the ambitions, the expectations, and in the end, the realization of the ideas and the various rewards. I love the process. Serendipity rules!
2. How and when did you get into making music?
In my youth, I trained in classical musics on flute, piano, and was a head chorister [before my voice broke]. Looking back I realise that the formal system of having to learn, practice and play other peoples music was not for me. During my MA in architecture at The Royal College of Art, I discovered the power of sound. It’s ability to define space and place. I designed my architectural projects around sound ideas.
While I was there I attended a symposium given by Touch records seeing Panasonic play, Chris Watson talk, and then Philip Jeck conjuring new abstract sound worlds from discarded vinyl and cheap effects pedals. He showed his work for 180 record players, and I had an idea.. to make a machine that was the opposite. Several record players in one, which would enable me to change sound on vinyl in several places at once, in as many ways as possible. The Tri-Phonic Turntable was born in 1997, and that was the first time I played live with my own scored improvisations… then I started to tour worldwide, for 20 happy lucky years now.
3. What are 5 of your favourite albums of all time?
My top 28 – in no particular order
Aladdin Sane – Davie Bowie
This was the first album I ever bought, in 1983. No idea how that happened, but I took the cassette home and played it in the lounge to my visiting grand parents from America. God only knows what they thought. I loved it.
Still – Joy Division
Having left home to retake my exams in Cambridge at 18, I ended up with a part time job in a pub, where I met Jill from the north. She opened up my horizons and showed me the door to the darker side of life, and the joy of Joy Division. I ended up going to the Polytechnic in Manchester and lived opposite where they began playing at the Factory nights at the Russell Club in Hulme. Full circle. I found my first bass guitar at the rubbish tip this week. and gave it to my kids and taught them a Joy Division bass line within minutes.
Old Skool Podium on Poppers – Mr Manic
My own compilation of classic dance music from 1990/91.
The stuff I learnt to dance to in Manchester, on a podium at the No1 Club and The Hacienda.
Pick up your free copy here
Loopholes – Philip Jeck
This was his fist CD on Touch and was just released when I first met him… it continually perplexes me and opened my mind to the new avenues without rules ahead for my work… it turned out by chance that he was my oldest friend, a my mum knew him and his partner for years. I actually went on holiday with Philip when I was 9. Another full circle of serendipity. Philip and I made an album together too, ‘Songs for Europe’.
Purple Rain – Prince
I was 14 and this blew me away, still does. I’ve learnt a lot more about how it was made in recent weeks. At age 25.. this was his first ever performance of Purple Rain, live at First Avenue, which was in fact the version used on the album. Wow. First take.
Sounds Sensational – Bert Kaempfert
This LP turned up in my father’s possessions after he died in 1986. It is a gloriously fantastic set of compositions and arrangements for orchestra. It just makes me happy every time. I think we should be given a copy at birth! Easy listening a million miles better than his contemporaries. Great musicianship and passion.
Stepping into the Dark – Chris Watson
We made an installation & DVD together ‘Vacant Space’
Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone – Charlemagne Palestine
We made an LP together ‘Day of the Demons’
The Sad Mac – Stephan Mathieu
We made an album together ‘Hidden Name’
Motion Pool – Main
We made an album together ‘Comae’
The Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France*- Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelli
Jazz Samba – Stan Getz / Charlie Byrd
Piano Nights – Bohren & Der Club of Gore
Turiya Sings – Alice Coltrane
Vakio – Panasonic
Music for 18 musicians – Steve Reich
Poppy Nogood and the all night flight – Terry Riley
Primal Image – Alan Lamb
Discreet Music – Brian Eno
Decay Music – Michael Nyman
Capri – Celer
Film Music of Jacques Tati
Sleep – Max Richter
The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld
Selected Ambient Works 85-92 – Aphex Twin
Playthroughs – Keith Fullerton Whitman
Endtroducing – DJ Shadow
Melancholia – William Basinski
Radioactivity – Kraftwerk
Records – Christian Marclay
4. What do you associate with Berlin?
My first trip there: 1990 just after the wall had fallen. Went on a trip all around Europe with Jill driving all the way sleeping in the little car and got to Berlin by overtaking a Porsche on the autobahn. The thing I remember is walking between the walls and all I could hear was the chip chip chipping of little hammers taking souvenir pieces of the wall itself!
My first gig abroad: 1998 playing at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. I brought most of my studio kit on the flight, total 90kg’s… my biggest flight case was 45kg on rollers.. and when I arrived at Heathrow I skated across the check-in hall on my flight case to the BA desk.. smiled and asked if they could take the lot.. which they did – for free! Oh those were the days.
5. What’s your favourite place in your town?
My small town is on the left edge of London on the river Thames.
I have an inflatable Canadian canoe and I take the kids out for picnics with the wildlife. It’s always instantly relaxing.
6. If there was no music in the world, what would you do instead?
Sing again, and run sticks across railings.
7. What was the last record/music you bought?
A longplay cassette by Charlemagne Palestine. One of his divine organ drone pieces I love so much.
He was another early inspiration in my new music learning in the mid 90’s. I went to a concert of his in a church in London the same year I saw Philip etc 1995. Charlemagne played a recording of Brooklyn where he grew up, and then started walking then running then sprinting around the audience in the pews. A total nutter, but it suited his personality, it was physical and unusual, so it worked brilliantly. I learnt that night to express who you are, and to not limit yourself, but push onwards and explore the adventure that creativity is.
8. Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Yes, my sister is the widow of Sir John Tavener, but she does not appear to have an ear for what I hear.
9. What was your best gig(as performer or spectator)?
It has to be the one I went to above [Q2] that started everything going for me, where Chris Watson, Panasonic, and Philip Jeck blew by brain up, and set the loose template for all my work ahead using location recordings, electrical modifications, and vinyl manipulations.
10.How important is technology to your creative process?
Insanely essential. I would not be a sound artist, were it not for electronic devices of all sorts. A bit obvious maybe, but I choose quite tactile devices and tools to create, change and capture sounds. The type of technology you choose and use is an integral part of the creative process. My favourite effects pedal is a Dod DFX 94, with its beautifully simple knobs that can capture and layers sounds into new textures and rhythms and lock them on 4-second loop. Not long, but I’ve been using them in the studio and live for my entire performing career. I bought the first one not for music, but for an installation I was making in 1996: The Memory Museum. When things are captured I simply collage on screen with Logic and the basic editor Amadeus Pro and very few DSP effects.. cut & paste etc.
11. Do you have siblings and how do they feel about your career?
My first sound art installation ‘ Recorded Delivery’ was curated by Brian Eno for his group show Self Storage produced by Artangel. We have kept in touch, and recently I invited him to join a project I am working on with William Basinski, and he was up for it, but but the moment passed… Brian inspired William to make music at the start of the 80’s… so maybe one day someday hey!
In fact last year I produced a 24hr rand om play broadcast work with both of them, with 100+ other artists I’ve wanted to collaborate with. A live radio collage of foundsound places to underscore your personal spaces. A day of sonic serendipity.
Imagine a world..