Robert Polsterer from Austria creates with his umnachter project a silent sound where besides acoustical instruments a special kind of vocal technique gets realized called “overtone singing”. The music runs far away of mainstream and often enough of known spectres. Moreover he plays in some other bands. A dreamer on an archaic journey to his places of strength in Austrian mountains and forests…
Hello, Robert! It´s going about your umnachter project and your new album „Schall und Rauch“. First of all, about what kind of sound and message we are talking?
The aim of umnachter project is to perform images inside the listeners mind. I describe impressions of nature and atmosphere, a world full of fabulous creatures and spirits. It is a mix of guitar songs with vocal songs. A central part bases on the polyphone overtone singing. You can call everything “instrumental music”, because the voice, even in a capella songs, is used as an instrument (with the only exception “Da Capo”).
To be “umnachtet” in German language usually means to be lunatic or mad. What´s the reason to call your project “umnachtet“?
“Umnachter“, in fact, is a neologism. The reason was to put the rather passive used word to be “umnachtet” into an active form. This is generally not meant in a dark way, but with a wink to flatter and enwrap with music.
What is the difference between this new album and you first one „Gedankensplitter“? What developed, what for new aspects are added?
From my point of view the actual „Schall und Rauch“ is deeper. I show more of my inner substance and personality. While “Gedankensplitter” describes more the search for my own style about I think that I found it now and overcame the border to try musical experiments. With “Schall und Rauch” I take the listener by the hand and lead him to his own journey. The CD follows a contentual concept, but everybody has to discover his own little story in it.
Beside guitar, you play instruments like didgeridoo or jaw harp and use a vocal technique called overtone singing. Please, tell us more about this technique and expression.
With the overtone singing the singer emphasizes, similar with the jaws harp, the single tones of the natural tone row. Beginning with one tone each of the partials of the tone row can made be audible. This creates the impression as if additionally to the keynote another higher tone would appear. That’s the reason why overtone singing sounds so unaccustomed and special. The frequencies of the overtones are an integral multiple of the keynote. Common for all different techniques of overtone singing is to strengthen the tones vibrancy inside of the oral cavity. Is the size of the resonance-room “mouth” according to the frequency of the overtone, this tone will come forward and be audible. The challenge is to form the resonance-room as exact and fast as possible proportionately to the vibrations the tone requires.
There are European ways of overtone singing and Oriental like in Mongolia or in Tibet. What are the differences between those ways? Is there a kind of regional overtone singing existing in Austria which you specifically perform?
In Mongolia and in Tuva overtone singing has a long tradition. Inspired by sounds of nature like the blowing of the wind in the steppe, the swoosh of water or animals voices a variety of styles have developed. In Asia the overtone singing often is connected with throat singing. In the West only a few are familiar with this special technique, but mostly the overtone singing is based on the normal singing voice. Another difference lies in the fact that in Asia overtone singing bases on a continuous keynote, but the Western approach on the keynote melody. A specific Austria overtone singing is not known to me. Nevertheless some singers develop special nuances in their technique which characterize their singing – the same applies to all other kind of singing, too.
Can overtone singing be called archaic? What kind of archaic roots are inside of you or are shown by you?
Jaws harp and overtone singings are forms of very archaic instruments. This is because of their simple nature and way of function. There are certain hints that these instruments have ancient ancestors. Both function from physic-acoustical point of view very similar, both base on the natural tone row and both have developed independently everywhere on earth in related forms. I don’t know, if I would call myself an archaic person, but for sure somebody who has a lot of respect to the beauty of nature and who is very connected with her.
Does your music belong to the genre of „folk music“? You join also folk-bands like Ballycotton and Fresch. How far do you include regional roots or supraregional elements? What does folk music mean to you?
Folk is, in fact, a difficult term. Similar like world-music it’s more a hypernym or a summary of different types and styles (from singer-songwriting till, for example, Irish Folk). The term “fantasy folk” fits for me best for this music of umnachter project, because as the music of Ballycotton, from whom the term is borrowed, it should provoke a trip to fantasies. The term folk-music for me is on one hand connected with pure joy to play, on other hand to create music under influence and involvement of surrounding musical traditions and culture.
The crossover of acoustical folk to forms like rock and metal often are quite fluent. But you differentiate strictly between the genres – beside the umnachter you play electric guitar in the death metal band Final Aphorism. Two sides of your character?
For me these are no contradictions. With Final Aphorism often we played very melodic songs which partly – with different instruments – even could have been called folk. The other way round, with umnachter project I realized some ideas which had developed with Final Aphorism.
It looks like as if the „metallic“ side of Final Aphorism takes a rest since a couple of years and as if you would feel more comfortable in acoustical, quiet zones?
The band Final Aphorism is not active anymore since 2007. 2006 we recorded still an album under the title „Past and Future Concentrate“. This CD became pretty well, but we lost the energy to proceed.
A comment about umnachter declares it is about melancholic music full of desire and hope. It is your music – so, what are your desire and hopes which are inside?
I am a dreamer, a traveller. So often my thoughts stay at the places of energy in the mountains, but my heart is heavy, because I can too seldom follow my thoughts.
On your Myspace-side you show photos of foggy and mystic valleys and mountains. I guess, they are made in the Austrian Alps? Do those photos show special places where your soul feels quasi at home? Are you a mountaineer, although you live in Vienna?
The photos on Myspace show the Hochschwabmassiv and the Hohe Veitsch. Both are places to which I always go back to load my energy. Even when I live in the city, the mountains are my home.
: Is the umnachter project a pure studio work or will you present it on stage, too?
Principally I would like to present this project on stage. But in the moment there is a lack of time, and all my energy flows in the existing live bands Ballycotton, Fresch and Scharlatöne.
How about the future? Will you use the electric guitar some when again or do you stay acoustical?
I feel very well with my western guitar and want to stay with the acoustical music, but who knows what will be tomorrow. Just now I am in studio with my bands Fresch and Scharlatöne. At the end of 2010 both bands will publish new albums; 2011 followed by a new release from Ballycotton. The live highlights are the Overton-Festival in Bad Essen with the Scharlatöne and the Festival Mediaval III with Ballycotton.
Thank you fort he interview! Is there still something with which you would like to conclude?
I am looking forward to join a lot of fine concert shows and to meet interesting people!
Author: Andreas Torneberg, photos: Umnachter Date: 2010-02-28