Spotlight: Martin Siewert

Every now and then I will discover a guitarist in a certain context and then find out I have already heard his or her work in another band. I found Trapist’s minimalist masterpiece, Ballroom many years ago, but when I discovered Martin Siewert’s  Radian video’s more recently was unaware that he was the guitarist from Trapist. Part of the thriving Viennese experimental scene that gave us Christian Fennesz and Burkhard Stangl, his solid grounding in American roots music almost makes him a candidate for Roots Moderne. Siewert’s actual output though retains only hints of that inspiration—enough to lend it an emotional weight not found often enough in deeply experimental music.

What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?

Coming from a rock and punk rock background, I got into jazz in my late teens/early twenties. I studied some more traditional jazz styles for a while, but the stuff I was doing was always more on the free and wild side.

What led you to create experimental (non-mainstream) music?

Personal interest mostly; but in the mid-late 90’s there was a very active and interesting scene here in Vienna, with a lot of contact and exchange between electronic musicians, free improvisers, and new music (contemporary composed music) players. In my early twenties I met and played with people like Burkhard Stangl, Christian Fennesz, Werner Dafeldecker, Dean Roberts, Oren Ambarchi and many more who all were a big inspiration.

Whose music inspires you?

Some examples (mostly past I admit) are Charley Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ray Charles, Bootsy Collins, Sam Cooke, Lenny Tristano, Billy Bauer, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Larry Young, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, and Eric Dolphy, Morton Feldman, John Cage, James Tenney, Lamonte Young, Tony Conrad, Christian Marclay, Arthur Russell, and Angus Maclise, The Velvet Underground, The Shaggs, Captain Beefheart, Mayo Thompson, Shirley Collins, The Flaming Lips, Jah Wobble, Judee Sill, Townes Van Zandt, Jack Nitzsche, Speedy West, Buddy Emmons and Roy Nichols, Wilko Johnson (Dr. Feelgood), Robert Quine, Skip Spence, Spacemen 3, Richard Thompson, Joe Henry, Lowell George, Can, and Neu!, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Camarón, Caetano Veloso, Tom Ze, Hans Reichel, Bohren und der Club of Gore, Sparklehorse, Talk Talk, My Bloody Valentine, Wire, Cody Chesnutt, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, Ground Zero, The Necks, The Boredoms, The Suuns, Keiji Haino, Colin Stetson, and The Low Anthem

How did you get better at your current style?

By playing and by exposing myself to things that at first sight might have nothing to do with the style I am associated with.

What are you trying convey with your music?

I always like it when I get very diverse reactions from listeners, and when people have completely different experiences when being exposed to my music. Apart from (but also linked to) that I think that there’s a lot of parameters in music that can be abstracted or dealt with in a creative way, and personally I am more interested in the abstraction/re-thinking of the macro-structures (meaning form, structure, durations, unusual combinations or “clashes” in arrangements etc.) than in the micro-structures (sound, extended techniques, etc.) that so many people deal with.

Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music?

I usually play a Jazzmaster or a 70’s Bigsby-equipped Les Paul Junior copy by Hoyer, and a 60’s Supro lap steel. My effects setup consists of a Z Vex Fuzz Factory, a Devi Ever Rocket fuzz, a Way Huge Red Llama overdrive, Prescription Electronics Outbox fuzz, a Volume Pedal, a T-Rex Room Mate tube-driven reverb, an Austone Vibro Stomp tremolo/vibrato, a Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone compressor, a Digitech PDS 8000 Echo Plus 8 Sec Digital Delay/Sampler, an Electro Harmonix Frequency Analyzer ring modulator, a Guyatone MO-3 mini octaver, a Lovetone Ringstinger ring modulator/fuzz /octave doubler/repeater/dirt box/optical synth, an Electro Harmonix 2880 Looper, and an Empress Superdelay.

All of this is summed, mixed, and re-distributed with a little four-channel mini-mixer and goes either into a Marble Club Reverb amp, a ’62 Brownface Fender Super Amp, or a Sovtek Mig 60 w/ 4×10 cabinet.

In the studio I use a wide variety of guitars, including some exotic thingies like a 70’s Godwin Organ guitar, a couple of ’30’s square neck Hawaiian guitars, a Gretsch Spectrasonic Baritone, a Jerry Jones Longhorn Bass VI, a Tacoma Papoose, a Mandoguitar, a Mexican Guitarron, and a vintage Emmons pedal steel. The studio amps include a Sampson-era Matchless C-30, a beloved National/Valco Glennwood 2×12 combo, a Tone kIng Meteor II, a Groove Tubes STP-G and Solo-75, a Supro Trojan, Bad Cat mini cat head, and 1972 Orange OR-120.

For recording, I use additional processing tools including a Fulltone Tube Tape Echo, a Roland RE-501chorus echo, a Roland SPV-355, a Roland RV-800 stereo reverb, an Ursa Major Space Station digital reverb, a Maestro USS-1, Dynacord Tam19 flanger and SRS 56 stereo analog delay, a Lovetone Doppelganger twin oscillator phaser/vibrato and Lovetone ? [sic] Flanger, a Waldorf X-Pole synth, as well as Synth Mangler, OK Fuzz, and Truly Beautiful Disaster pedals from Effector13 (Devi Ever).

Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?

I like and need both, and I have found out that regular alternation between the two works best for me.

How have you built up an audience for your music?

I don’t know; to me personally it’s more important to have releases out there and not just play 25 nights a month, so a good amount of my time is spent in the studio—more than for most free improvisers.  Whether that helps with building up an audience is hard to say.

With whom would you like to collaborate and why?

I am more than happy with the people I collaborate with, no concrete wishes at this point; if dreaming I would have loved to meet and/or play with Angus Maclise and Arthur Russell.

What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?

The next release is the collaboration of Radian with Howe Gelb; it will be released in October 2014, by our own brand new label, Radian Releases (in collaboration with Trost Records). The most recent release already out is Soundtrack, by the trio Fake The Facts, consisting of Swedish saxophone player Mats Gustafsson, the Viennese turntablist dieb13, and myself. It has been out since April 2014 on Trost.


2 thoughts on “Spotlight: Martin Siewert

  1. very good…. (why don’t you try and hunt down Burkhard Stangl next?…. 🙂 )

    i keep coming back to your site (it’s like a drug… 🙂 ) … i know i’ll always find something entertaining…. 🙂

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