BERNWARD KOCH
Filled With Light
(Real Music)

 

German multi-instrumentalist and composer Bernward Koch is kind of a 21st century J.S. Bach. Inspired by the drama and memorable notes of the timeless classical masters from his native country, Bernward Koch is also a modern day contemporary instrumental music maestro in his own right. The legacy of the great German musical masters comes into play on Bernward’s 2017 CD called Filled With Light. On Filled With Light, Bernward is again assisted by his family members—wife Christiane Böhm (flute) and brother Christoph Koch (twelve string guitar, percussion). Even though that classical music sound of old Germany is never far off in Bernward’s music, on Filled With Light he brings in a range of new musical influences—for example on “That June Feeling” there’s a kind of Americana feel and you can almost hear the folk music influence of Bob Dylan and, although the track is a New Age instrumental piece, it's clearly a memorable album highlight. As on his other Real Music albums, whatever musical inspiration dawns on Bernward, he’s sure to make the most of it with a deep and mysterious twist that more than connects the musical dots. Those seeking avant garde or musical shock had better look elsewhere but if you’re seeking a sonic solution to stress or you want to hear a great sounding headphone album, look no farther than Filled With Light. Bernward Koch and his New Age instrumental keyboard sound reaches new and intriguing heights on Filled With Light. www.realmusic.com / www.facebook.com

 






mwe3.com presents an interview with
BERNWARD KOCH
The “Filled With Light” interview


mwe3
: I hope you’ve been well over in Germany this past year. I can’t believe the seasons and the entire year is fleeting fast. How have things been over in the old country and what’s new in your life?

Bernward Koch: Yes, time flies, so it’s important to fill the time with sense. I think every second counts, actually no matter what you do. In political things we will have a new and a little changed administration, like “Jamaica”, that means the colors of the parties, we will see. I think one of the most important things in the world for all creatures is to protect our planet. It’s our home and still we have only one…

mwe3: Did Filled With Light give you a chance to try out some new keyboards and other effects? Last time around you mentioned some of the early keyboards that were used on your early albums. What pianos and other keyboards did you feature on Filled With Light? I remember you saying you were happy with the Yamaha CP4, the Korg and Omnisphere. Can you mention some of the other keyboards and effects used on the Filled With Light album?

Bernward Koch: I know I have a unique sound, but I try to change a little on every new album, so that you can find always new sounds too, among new tunes of course. This time I played, for the first time, on a very old and incredible good sample of a Bechstein piano, on several tracks. It reminds me of my first piano, a Bechstein from Berlin, constructed in 1923, that was a gift from my father in 1972. It made a good inspiration for new and exciting tunes, with its very warm and natural sound too.

On other tracks I used the Korg SG1D piano again, the Yamaha CP4 that the Rolling Stones’ Chuck Leavell uses the same on their current tour, a new Yamaha refaced DX, Nord Electro 4D, microKorg, Roland D50, alphaJuno2, Korg Triton plus, Yamaha DX7IID, many VST-Plug-Ins and among other acoustic instruments like very specially chosen percussion, bells, chimes, cymbals, guitars, drums and more, in addition to the Muramatsu flute, played by Christiane
Böhm.

In addition to an SPL Vitalizer, I have a new effect Lexicon PCM91 reverb, the same model that was also used on my Walking Through Clouds album already then. It has a very special, pleasant sound, the only one that perfectly fits the music.

mwe3: Is it the same using the high tech keyboards as it is using the grand piano you keep in your house? Is it more fun to record with the high tech Yamaha stage pianos or the traditional pianos from the old days? Is Bach happy in the after life?

Bernward Koch: Yeah, Bach is probably happy, but he lived from 1685 to 1750! I often use different pianos on one album. The thing is that every sound must fit well to the composition, but always my musical handwriting must be recognizable and the music must be expressive.

mwe3: Your wife Christiane and brother Christoph sound great on Filled With Light. While making the new album, did you record with them live or did you add overdubs to fill out the track. Is there a set process that you use when recording with other musicians?

Bernward Koch: Mostly I compose everything, the flute melody, the exact guitar and percussion parts and so on. Sometimes I try different possibilities for the arrangement. It’s good to instantly hear the effect on the track after overdubbing recordings.

mwe3: You also played guitar and bass on Filled With Light. Are those instruments crafted into the mix to underscore your keyboards? What guitars do you have in your collection? I saw the pic with your classical guitar in the Filled With Light CD booklet. Do you double melodic lines on keyboards and guitar or does your brother handle most of the guitars on Filled With Light?

Bernward Koch: The basic sound of my music accrues in my head. Then I write some chords and melodies on a paper of the new idea, no notes, in note form. Later I record it on my computer. I use Steinberg Cubase, like a tape recorder first. Then I arrange it with other instruments. I play concert guitar—a Takamine and/or an old Höfner like the photo in the booklet of Filled With Light—as melody and chords, synthesizer bass or I use my Music Man Stingray bass guitar.

Everything must fit to the song. I add synthesizer and other instruments. Then my brother plays different percussion instruments and drums, and if necessary, his 12 string Takamine mini-jumbo acoustic guitar as rhythm guitar too. It’s interesting that on the new Filled With Light album, for the first time, there's a duo. The piece is called “Provence”, and it’s only an old piano and a flute.

mwe3: How do you feel about comparisons of your music with other famous German composers and musicians? I heard that the famous German drummer Jaki Liebzeit also passed away last year too. So many great musicians are leaving now so what’s the key to longevity? I guess people asked Bach that question too.

Bernward Koch: I met Jaki Liebezeit about 3 years ago at a concert at my hometown. It was experimental and funny, he was a nice guy. Otherwise, most of my contacts with the German music scene are many jazz musicians - Sigi Busch, Jo Thönes, Christoph Spendel. They all work as professors today. The jazz-rock band Kraan and I played a few gigs together as keyboard player and many young people attended. I think we all “live” longer when our music does the same.

I visited San Francisco last September, met my label, the Real Music staff. I played a little gig at the Steinway piano gallery and met friendly musicians, especially the bass player of the Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh, in his famous place Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael. (see pic below) It was such a great experience to talk with him and hear and see Phil live on the stage. He has a new liver since 1998!

mwe3: How soon after your best of CD Touched By Love did you start recording and planning your 2017 album Filled With Light? I remember you saying that last year you already had several new songs written that I guess are now on the Filled With Light album. What did you set out to achieve with Filled With Light and how do you feel the album stands next to your other titles?

Bernward Koch: Sometimes I have many ideas for a new album or two within a few weeks, and sometimes no ideas for a while, so I’m happy with the new album. It’s a new record with new tracks. I think it sounds like Bernward Koch and that you can discover something new.

mwe3: Do some of the tracks on Filled With Light offer a kind of Deja Vu type experience. I was thinking that about the tracks “Summer Anthem” and also track three which is just called “Free”. Is “Free” a kind of plea to become free from what ever is enslaving us? Is “Summer Anthem” a happy song or more deep considering the short summers in much of Northern Europe?

Bernward Koch: “Free” means for me to feel free, just free. It’s a special moment for me and also perhaps for the audience, too. Like walking alone through a quiet and vast landscape…

“Summer Anthem” is for me being grateful to experience a wonderful and pleasant summer, it’s like a gift. Well, this summer we had mostly rain, too much rain, with only very few days with sunshine, but those days were worth it.

mwe3: What gave you the idea for “That June Feeling”? For some reason, I hear a Bob Dylan influence in that track! Is that the most Americana flavored song on Filled With Light? Does that track also pay tribute to summer itself.?

Bernward Koch: Oh, thank you. Well, you can probably find that chord sequence in “That June Feeling” in many songs, too, it’s a good basis. But I composed that song through improvising on an old Fender Rhodes piano, building a melody and different parts in the verse, chorus and bridge. Yes, it has a warm feeling like a summer breeze.

mwe3: “Crystal Light” is very Bach / Procol Harum influenced wouldn’t you say? For some reason, those chords and key changes seem bring up the spirit of Bach its impact on rock musicians for example?

Bernward Koch: Bach is like an ocean, an unending great and ever-flowing river. Of course his music influenced every musician in almost all music styles in the world, from Beethoven to Bartók and jazz, and rock music, too. Many come from his “Air”, especially for Procol Harum, and for example the Bach/Baroque trumpet in the Beatles' song “Penny Lane”, too.

mwe3: Are there folk elements used in Filled With Light? Some of the tracks have a bit of folk music themes in them. Germany has a lot of traditional folk music and lots of classical music to draw on. I mention that because “Treetop Glide”, which is followed by “Elfin Dance” sounds very much influenced by folk music themes.

Bernward Koch: Honestly, I usually don’t know where the ideas come from, but I’m always very open for many styles of music. But after hearing it I forget it, and later a new tune accrues anyway. On a melody like “Elfin Dance”, I produce the arrangement to get the feeling in the track, this time a little folk feeling. And if you listen to instrumental music you have plenty of room for your imagination.

mwe3: “Evening Calm” is more New Age in scope while sounding both modern and timeless at the same time. Do you like contrasting the new, cutting edge with that mix of folk and classical so to speak?

Bernward Koch: Well, first “Evening Calm” was a typical track to calm me down. While in the arranging process I discovered new possibilities, especially the long outro. This is a complete improvisation. You can hear the first take, and still it fits so good with the track and opens new spaces! In such a moment I think of nothing like a musical style or so, but only of the expression of the music alone. It has to stay exciting.

mwe3: “Quiet Day” is another very relaxing track with a nice mix of piano and synths. In that track are the more traditional melodic elements enhanced by your modern synth sound? Where did the main melody of “Quiet Day” come from? It’s very smooth sounding but deep.

Bernward Koch: “Quiet Day” is an idea and a composition that came instantly on the piano, at the right moment. For me it’s always important telling a story, so it is a story in musical notes for me. And a kind of traveling in the center section, which is an improvisation at first playing. Yes I think so, the track is smooth sounding but deep, a good assessment.

mwe3: What inspired “Tidal Flow”? Is that one of the more rhythmic tracks on Filled With Light? The key changes again, make it one of the most interesting tracks on the new album.

Bernward Koch: On this track you can hear the waves, the tides, again and again, it’s sweeping. I use a piano (Korg SG1-D) with an echo, and a tempo-delay that fits to the rhythm. On this track I use the most instruments: piano with delay, all my synthesizers, the Yamaha reface DX for the melody, a Rhodes from Nord Electro 4D, many VST-plugins like Retrologue and Groove Agent (from Cubase), different guitars, percussion, shaker, drums, and cajón with brushes. All of it was mixed with any number of electronic sounds to get the right dramatic feeling, which comes from the echo melody and the chords, too.

mwe3: Does “In Her Eyes” come back to the more Bach-like or neoclassical style? What about “In Her Eyes” and its origins and possible influences?

Bernward Koch: This track is like sitting in a room with dimmed light, or a few candles. Let the music flow, thinking about good things and reading a good book with wisdom… The influence is more classical like Beethoven.

mwe3: “Underwater Sunbeams” is an intriguing title to end the Filled With Light album. It’s very airy sounding, almost like a feather. You wanted to close Filled With Light with a track that floats the album off into the horizon?

Bernward Koch: Why not? When the track was finished, I had no title for the music, like I do for almost for all tracks, so first I use working titles. But if I hear that track now with a little distance, I imagined “Underwater Sunbeams” and remembered a holiday in the mid 1980s when I visited the Maldives island. The colors underwater were magnificent, because through the sunbeams, there were underwater sunbeams, making an unforgettable impression.

mwe3: Do you consider your music to be always a kind of film score? If not to an actual movie but more to the movie of life, in your mind’s eye? While we’re on it, can you mention a couple of your favorite film soundtracks and your favorite soundtrack composers?

Bernward Koch: Yes, I think instrumental music is often like a kind of film score in the mind’s eye, which is good for the fantasy. I very much like the all-time greats among soundtrack composers like Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Alan Silvestri, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Dimitri Tiomkin, Max Steiner and more, and the younger ones like Hans Zimmer, Cliff Martinez and Reinhold Heil, too. John Williams has composed such great catchy tunes, but many styles of music can work very well, like Johann Strauss and Richard Strauss in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

mwe3: Are you still hopeful that the world will find one day find peace through music? Is music still a valid type of peaceful form of global unification in your mind?

Bernward Koch: Well, I think music can be both, making the world make a little better and more bearable. And like a reaction, like a kind of free jazz for example from Peter Brötzmann or hard rock and so on, it can be a way to endure this crazy world. Yes, I’m hopeful and I think music can help to make the world a little better. What would the world be without music?

mwe3: You are like a well that keeps bringing forth fresh musical waters with each new release. How will you recharge or renew your musical / compositional batteries for the next round of musical inspiration while seeking to make your finest music yet?

Bernward Koch: Good question. But actually this situation of composing and recording new tracks for a whole album is, in the meantime, like a normal process. Yes, I relax a little, but having a really good idea for a new song is always a magical moment. Sometimes I have no ideas, but suddenly there comes enough for an whole album in a few weeks! For my last records I had on average 40 or 50 new ideas, and then I select the best of the best tunes. It’s a good thing, and always hard work.


 

 
   
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