What luck! To wake up one day in 2014 in the sixtieth year of my brief life and discover a sound I always knew existed because I heard it haunt my late nights after taping a Miles Davis record back in 1972 on my father's old reel to reel for a sonically dark soundtrack for Luis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'échafaud. Surprised that Miles could go to France in 1958 and with a bunch of unknown sidemen create a slumbering and hypnotic drone that would follow me to the end. So what a surprise to find a European hardcore band adapt the principles and develop this so called "doom jazz" of today. Lovely midnite sounds.
No matter if you like it or not, Bohren’s music is unique (after a concert a friend of mine said that it was like watching Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now” endlessly repeating “The horror, the horror”), and in a similar attempt to pigeonhole it critics have indeed described it as “horror jazz”. It has also been described as a doom jazz version of Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtracks for David Lynch’s films or the perfect music for a modern European film noir. Albeit there is a grain of truth in these categorizations - particularly in the fact that there is a certain scoundscape quality to their music, for example in “Komm zurück zu mir” (Come back to me), in which Morten Gass plays guitar chords which he seems to have taken from Twin Peaks - Bohren’s music is much more that.
The band’s central idea is to build up textures – usually with endless organ or mellotron chords – in which they sink monstrous piano and bass chords with an unprecedented creepiness, like in “Fahr zur Hölle” (Go to Hell). There are drums, but they do not deliver a beat or at least a pulse, they are more like red wine slowly dropping in slow motion on a white table cloth – over and over again. And more than anything else Bohren try to illuminate the imaginary space a single chord or a single note can create and they savor it to the fullest because they stick to their concept in a relentlessly consequent way.
But there is another side to this approach as well – a heartbreaking emotionality. A track like “Ganz leise kommt die Nacht” (Night comes very silent) starts with lost vibraphone notes, they seem to drift through the air before Bohren add their typical chords. Then Christoph Clöser intersperses a forlorn melody on the saxophone which vanishes as suddenly as it appeared.
This music drags you away from your daily routine, it offers respite from the fast pace of our cities, it lends you a hand, it gives you solace – like a friend.
One reason Bohren persists in being so interesting despite their uneventfulness is that their music contains a kind of secret history. Lounge jazz, dark ambience, the languorous adagios of classical-music requiem, and the saturated romance of Italian film soundtracks: All of it is folded into Piano Nights. Heard at a distance, the album can sound uniform and insubstantial; up close, it not only covers a lot of ground, but ground you might not expect to overlap.
For as gentle as their sound is, the band has always played with intensity and conviction. At their slowest tempos a Bohren song feels like a series of notes both disconnected from the ones before it and yet articulated with total clarity, like bright stars forming a constellation in an otherwise dark sky. When I saw the band live in 2008, the tension in the room wasn’t a function of volume or speed, but the contrast between the certainty of the notes they played and the silences that followed.
Watching them—four hunched German men in charcoal and black—was like watching horror-movie zombies lumber toward their next kill: Each blow was just a matter of time.
If there’s been an evolution in the band’s approach, it’s mostly sonic. Their earliest recordings were chilly and even brittle; Piano Nights is luxurious in its warmth. Nearly every track is backlit by vaporous ambience; the cymbals seem to ring in slow motion.
The sharpest voice in the mix is usually the saxophone, which Clöser plays with the persistent, exhausted tone of someone trying to explain something they’ve tried to explain a thousand times before—too tired to fight but not tired enough to give up.
Do you enjoy playing in a festival environment and do you think festival environments are condusive to listening to your music?
Christoph Clöser: We like playing on festivals because of the atmosphere and because we have the chance to listen to the music of other bands. Of course, we prefer to have a comfortable soundcheck and that's not always given in a festival environment, but if necessary we play with a line-check, too. It doesn't really matter where we play. We always offer our music in the same way and with the same enthusiasm - and if the audience is strong enough to suffer uneventful music we and the listeners can celebrate as a kind of a mass.
Your last album, a short three tracks, was recorded in 2011. What are you working on at the moment?
CC: We are working on a new CD, which will (hopefully) be released in late 2013. It's strictly instrumental. The three songs on Beleid didn't fit our last album and won't fit our next one, but we had an uncanny desire to record these songs. So we made a mini-album to bridge the time until the next "real" Bohren album.
What can we expect from your set at Supersonic Festival? What is your usual approach to playing live, and are you mindful of the audience when performing?
CC: That's a difficult question. We love our music we made, and still make, if first of all for ourselves. We are still interested in playing slow music in all its facets, we still like it to get lost in details and we are very happy and emotionally touched (and surprised, too) that there exist a great number of listeners, who follow us and are interested in our stuff. We like playing live, as we like working on new songs - two sides of one thing. We don't have any expectations to our listeners. Everybody is welcome, everybody is able to find something special for himself in our music and if they don't, it's okay, too.
You have said in the past that the rarity of your live performances is related mainly to your other commitments - full time jobs, etc. Do your professions have any influence on your creativity or affect your creative process?
CC: There has been always our daily lives with its experiences and inspirations and jobs, who steal time, around us - and that will continue in future, but despite all that we create our music. We are how we are and our music is how we want it. We don't think too much about us. We try to keep things simple and try to stay snoopy and lowly. Our creative process has not really changed over the years; we have learnt some things and, probably, we work more economically now.