Interview with Air Cushion Finish
The duo Air Cushion Finish is an experimental live act where everything can be in constant flux: their language is music that emerges in the moment. Out of the atmosphere in the room, influenced by their own mood. But above all out of the joy of letting the concert surprise itself. We drank coffee together and talked about punk, stages and magic tricks.
I meet up with jayrope and Lippstück from Air Cushion Finish on a rainy Wednesday morning at Café Dujardin in Berlin Wedding. Before I can get my notes out, we are already engrossed in a conversation about experimental music and the festival.
Pauli: Ok, that's not at all the start I had in mind, but it just fits so well with what we were just talking about: What is your toolkit?
Lippstück: At best, always a little different. Like a picture that changes piece by piece. It never looks identical, something is added, something is taken away and sometimes there are moments when I deliberately leave out a whole section to put myself in a different situation. Or something doesn't work. (laughs)
jayrope: Or your power supply is missing. Well, I always have a lower-tuned guitar with me and some wooden boards with steel wires and contact microphones that you can trap. We both sing and there's always a bunch of weird floor pedals doing something.
Lippstück: I like to have an echo and at least 2-3 different microphones that don't need any effects, but sound different per se. They create an atmosphere right away. For a long time I had a telephone on stage that you could sing into!
jayrope: I call my wired or unwired pile a cello.
Pauli: A cello?
jayrope: Yes, a cello, because it's the same: it's an instrument. It worked a little bit different, so more like a modular box where you can put stuff in or take stuff out or change the character completely, but it still remains your cello somehow. You always play the whole box, the whole bunch of stuff. It's open to everything: to found things, to bought things, to self-made things... What an instrument is is not clearly defined, except that you can hammer nails into the wall and saw through things with it. But things that work via menus or operating hierarchies are always immediately thrown out. It has to be something that somehow opens up in your hand - or with your hand and ear! Where ideally you don't have to look at all. Screens are also forbidden, they absolutely don't work because then you can't hear anything. This obviously happens to many people who play music on the computer.
Lippstück: Yes, if you are visually challenged on stage, then you don't make music.
jayrope: Then at best you're babbling along beside yourself because you're not able to develop anything in a concentrated way.
Lippstück: I don't play a classical instrument and yet my hands are very busy in many ways, even without knowing music. You can't do that with instruments that ask you questions. (short pause)
You can tell we don't have interviews that often, we have a lot to talk about. I also notice that we don't really talk about our music verbally that often. We mostly talk to each other on stage while we play.
jayrope: We only play stand-up concerts without rehearsals, everything is always improvised and over the years stylistically recognisable in parts, of course. But if you look at it over time, there are quite a few changes. For me, I'm just noticing that I'm like an old jazz musician who doesn't want to play jazz anymore. They all play free music. Everything that sounds familiar to you, you don't want to do, and I totally notice that that's what's happening to me.
Lippstück: I also notice that it happens to him. (both laugh)
Pauli: But do you record your concerts?
Lippstück: When there are releases, they are always concerts.
jayrope: Except for one album: Flink. We recorded that in Montreal at the Hotel2Tango studio. But we said that we would only do it in the studio if there was an audience.
jayrope: It's quite exhausting to listen to all that and I don't feel like it most of the time. We both just enjoy playing. That's why the following production steps have to go as quickly as possible.
Pauli: Once out of the system is out of the system...
Lippstück: But sometimes it only comes about because it's out!
Pauli: In the sense of generating an output, which is then simultaneously input again and which then continues to work subconsciously. Like a very long delay?
jayrope: Yes, or a loop machine.
Pauli: You have a classical background?
jayrope: I do. I am the child of two church organists. I was poured over with Bach, Reger and Messiaen and had 8 years of classical piano lessons. And I was a boy soprano, I sang Bastien und Bastienne at the German Opera when I was twelve.
Pauli: Oh, crass.
jayrope: I threw all that out the door and onto the musical rubbish tip when I was fourteen.
Pauli: And never touched again?
jayrope: No, you don't forget that either. But I actually had the idea for a long time to break these listening habits and the analytical processes that take place automatically all the time. So that I can react purely emotionally to things without always analysing everything at the same time. That's the problem.
Pauli: A problem of musicians in general, analytical listening.
jayrope: Well, certainly not from punks. That depends on the musicians.
Pauli: A flatmate of mine says that only young punks do real punk.
jayrope: Yes, that is also true.
Lippstück: That's also a question of definition. Is it about the way the music is made, the attitude or the charisma? Is it about what it triggers? So what is punk about punk?
Pauli: I read an interview with Inga Humpe from 2Raumwohnung yesterday that was also about that. As a young woman, she was seen as a punk and asked what it was like for her and punk today. She said that being a punk means to her that she is still making music in her early 60s and thus resists the idea that as a woman in the music business you should always stay young and crunchy. I found that an exciting thought. That is, punk is something that goes against the system and does not fulfil expectations.
jayrope: I'm not at all sure that's the case. I would say: outside the system and not against the system. I think a punk doesn't care about the system at all. He just sits down in front of the McDonald's in Schönhauser Allee and gets a present. And that has nothing to do with opposition to the system. Or at least not necessarily!
Pauli: But wouldn't punk then just be radical hedonism?
Lippstück: Yes, of course! But where are we now?
Pauli: We were at the classical music.
jayrope: My point now was actually that every growing person finds reasons to finally move away from the parental home. So I just wanted to get rid of the listening habits and especially the analysis. I find this analysis so annoying! Because it somehow prevents you from expressing yourself while you play. Or you are only in very narrow musical schemes. Like a cadenza, that's the nastiest example. A cadenza written down, at best - terrible! That is the worst thing that has ever been invented.
Pauli: But it's common practice...
jayrope: Yes, that is normal today! Just not in the original compositions, then you still knew what soloists were, now you don't. Anyway! It's all so stuck and so broken order and I wanted to get rid of that. My fingers can sing something through me that I can't analyse. So you can be a medium. Something is speaking through you, it's out of your control and you can't even tell exactly what it is.
Lippstück: It's me!
jayrope: It's you?! Oh shit, you tricked me.
These things are always swinging back and forth. It's typically human to put everything into polar systems. So I've been playing between acoustic and electronic for a long time and it's like a cycle: I start to totally hate one side or the other and only do one thing and after a while I probably get bored and go back to the other.
Pauli (to Lippstück): And do you have any points of contact with classical music?
Lippstück: (thinks about it for a long time) Well, I'll have to think about that a lot. Certainly, but not in a way that would have influenced me significantly.
Pauli: And how did you get into music?
Lip piece: Vacuum cleaning.
Pauli: (laughs) Tell me more about it!
Lippstück: Well, sound invites you to join in. I think that's it. Somehow I always sang along secretly somewhere. That's how we met: I was secretly warbling along with him. Otherwise it's the tiredness, from the spoken word to the direct expression in the musical non-word. I don't have to sing, I don't have to use language for it, and I still feel expressed. And I don't feel misunderstood and above all I don't feel misunderstood! That makes using my tongue on stage bearable. So it's not because you want to run away from your responsibility, but this immediate being on stage, I only know that from the kind of music we practise.
Pauli: That is still meaningful somewhere, but not in the literal sense.
Pauli: That means you are already working with a kind of phonetics.
Lippstück: Yes, so I formulate! I also manage to repeat the formulation, like a designed refrain or something.
Pauli: How important do you think the performance is for the listener? So the visuals, the visuals.
Lippstück: It gets exciting when you play two different concerts at the same time or one after the other or next to each other on stage (which happens or has happened). I find that incredibly exciting.
Pauli: How can you imagine that?
Lippstück: I just remember I had such an elegiac stand-up and jayrope didn't think he had it. Then he started throwing ping-pong balls and doing somersaults behind me on stage and it was so contrasting that people found it totally exciting. But I was in my world and he was in his. There was no trying to annihilate each other, he wasn't trying to drive me crazy and I wasn't trying to bring him around or anything. It was a conversation that didn't immediately agree on stylistic devices. Maybe it's not so much the kind of performance that's important to me, but the fact. This stage moment as one of the freest I know. There is no fear, no questions, there are no guidelines as to how or whether there should be a conversation. But it is simply an opening of an atmospheric something. Maybe that's why people keep coming to our concerts.
jayrope: I think there is also something democratic, something social, which I like immensely.
Lippstück: And the performance is obviously not important enough for us to sit down and have a good look at.
jayrope: I think the construction of an amphitheatre is much better. A tiger is being let loose down there and it kills the two ambient musicians. (laughter) But it's not as if you could formulate this stage as standing above the audience.
Pauli: But basically the energy of the performer or musician (or whatever) and the audience is already different... So I totally agree with you that it doesn't need a stage, but precisely because it is super exciting what happens when you let these energies flow so freely into the space.
Jayrope: Then the audience is not like: "I bought a ticket, now do something!"
Pauli: Yes, they are not so stiff, but much more open, much more flexible. I have experienced this so often, especially in the field of classical music: You are on stage, but then after the concert you come into the foyer and you are not looked at with your ass.
Lippstück: You are exhibited rather than highlighted.
jayrope: Yes, you are interesting as long as you are sitting up there in the box.
Lippstück: It doesn't elevate you, it frames you.
Pauli: That is a good formulation, yes.
Lippstück: Well, it's definitely worth thinking about it left and right.
Pauli: What do you actually do outside of Air Cushion Finish?
jayrope: I make music for contemporary dance.
Lippstück: I sell wood-burning stoves!
jayrope: Cool things!
Lippstück: Cool things. And I did a lot of events for a long time, concert events. I still do that sometimes, out in Biesenthal, small festivals or something. But not for making money any more. And I like to play a lot of records! We also do radio together, because I like to read aloud.
Pauli: Can you listen to them somewhere?
jayrope: At cashmereradio.com/shows/biesentales/
Pauli: And how did the band name Air Cushion Finish come about?
Jayrope: A friend of ours was sitting in the kitchen playing poker. And the cards have a coating and it's called Air Cushion Finish.
Lippstück: You can do magic tricks with the poker cards and the air cushion finish means that they don't stick together.
Pauli: You are the cushion through which you can do magic tricks.
jayrope: They are also slippery, they slip away from you. And this connotation of you being on the slippery slope. You can only glide. And even if you fall, it's an act that you enjoy, then you just learn to fall! That is still important today. That's why we don't rehearse, just look where we're going now, what does it smell like here, what are the people like? The concert we were talking about earlier: Our different roles only came about because I dropped a ping-pong ball and wanted it back! And Lippstück was just in a film like that and the contrast is great.
Lippstück: Performance definitely played a big role there! But it's not important, it's just what it is.
jayrope: It's situational.
Pauli: Thank you for the interview. We are already looking forward to your situational air cushion coating at the Detect Classic Festival in summer.