Ernst Horn »Johnny Bumm’s Wake«
Interview at Orkus 1998

Ernst Horn

Beautiful new television world?!

Automatic translation:

With the recently re-released album “The Skies Over Baghdad” in 1991 Ernst Horn went solo, although at that time the work almost inevitably had to fade into the background because of its main engagement in the cult bands Deine Lakaien and Qntal. While on that record he still tried to deal with the horrors of the Gulf War in a very critical and serious way, the new project “Johnny Bumm’s Wake” brings him closer to the topic “media flood” with a combination of winking irony and biting criticism. Thus, a myriad of samples from all conceivable television programs, assembled in a very satirical to cynical manner, form the basic structure of the album, which stylistically seems to perform an almost absurd tightrope walk between weird pop, ambient collage and industrial noise/ritual. “Johnny Bumm’s Wake” is hard to describe and extremely multilayered, so we’d better let the maestro speak for himself.

I get the impression you don’t like watching TV. Is that true?

FIRST: Yes, that’s terrible. I always had to adjust the TV after a long hesitation, and then I also had to buy the video recorder (laughs). But there is also a certain self-criticism: I am one of those people who watch too much television. Now I’ve reduced it!

Did you even think about making that sound collage on TV, that project?

Yeah, sure. Television was an occasion. The other one was a long time ago, which is a bit odd. At the beginning I worked in the studio in different directions, we did the very first Lakaien production in our own distribution, then there was silence, and I also did a few instrumental pieces at that time. But I also made some funny pieces on it, which from the beginning were only designed to be ironic, some kind of electro fun or something. I submitted a demo called Johnny Bumm to a competition, and I took first place. Shortly afterwards a record company came along and made a maxi single out of it. Then I had to make the piece a little longer, should give it a contemporary rhythm and so on, and I have to say honestly, I have it terribly screwed up, this story; and that went away very quickly. But over the years there was always the desire to do something in this direction; but this was out of the question in terms of time. In the meantime, however, I repeatedly set up the video recorder and ‘89 recorded a lot during this euphoria about Germany, because I thought to myself, maybe at some point you could burn it in some way. That was also the time when the private stations became so strong and this miserable permanent advertising began. This upset me so much - at some point it had to be shaped; and two years ago I sat down. There was just a little time there once.

But it has nothing to do with your last solo project “The Skies Over Baghdad”, although it has a similar effect?

Yes, that’s right, “The Skies Over Baghdad” is of course also a story, but television was basically at the same time when it came to collecting material. But when it started with the Gulf War - that was such a crazy and absurd story that I thought I had to put it into practice right now. There was no question for me. But, of course, “The Skies Over Baghdad” is a more serious thing, more intellectual in its approach, more sarcastic and much drier than this story. But this is the first time I have done this technique of combining language with music. Later, in radio plays, which I have also done in the meantime, I have continued this. Then we went in the direction of Johnny Bumm.

Who is Johnny Bumm anyway - just anyone?

Yeah, that’s right. That was originally a pseudonym, I was looking for a name that sounds as stupid as possible for me - and I think that name sounds stupid too. When the production was finished, I was told by another party that this is not far from the radio plays or from “The Skies Over Baghdad”, so we decided that I would do it under my own name and call the character Johnny Bumm. It’s a fictional character. The CD consists of twenty-four pieces, each representing one time. The CD starts at seven in the morning with breakfast television and ends with breakfast television. This Johnny Bumm is a creature who wears the TV at home, who maybe goes to the balcony and watches the ducks in the pond, then he shuffles back again, maybe shoves in such a discarded roll, has a good drink and picks up what comes out of the TV. And probably after a short time he can’t tell whether there is a politician talking or something being promoted; it all flows into each other until he finally has his sad telephone sex and falls asleep. And then in his dreams it appears backwards again, and nothing else. That’s how I imagine him, but I don’t know exactly how he is either.

You said you did all this for the fun part. Do you not think that it is a clear and very clear message against all television consumption? That you’d be told that’s the index finger raised again?

Yeah, sure he is! That’s my misery, that I can’t sing like this Mr Johnny Bumm, “I don’t care about anything”, but that I can get upset every day, also about this World Cup and about this terrible, miserable permanent advertising. Oh, it used to be so much nicer! If you imagine - in my time as chief conductor I always had Saturday afternoon off in my really very hard job, and then I lay down on the bed and turned on the TV, and there came the Maya the Bee and then came the Muppet Show, and then an hour of sports show. I dozed off a little in between and then I was awake again, and that was wonderful. What should you do today, with a program like “ran”, for example? Of course it upsets me. But I wanted to make a funny record, I didn’t want to tell people not to watch TV. Of course, I’m such a jerk myself. I watch too much TV.

Do you still have any hope for the media landscape if you already see it so dramatically?

I have to say quite honestly that I am already a pessimist in this relationship. There are so many sience fiction authors and I agree with those who say it will be about money and nothing else. Commercialization is the worst. And it will subjugate every other medium. This lives from its widespread effectiveness, which will try to blow everything up, to see everything from the point of view of commercial exploitation. That’s what it’s gonna look like. And I don’t think that’s good for me.

In the end, your work is also a piece of medium!

Yeah, that’s it (laughs). Of course, we must also be aware of this. But that’s just a little story now. There will always be alternative niches. These are now also available on the Internet, as well as later in virtual media, when holographic forms of representation are available.
If I were to have a big success with it now, which is not so likely, then of course it would also go through the media again. Then I’m already a part of the whole game. One has to admit that.

You’re also making a political statement. Why did you work through reunification again? Actually, the topic is already a little bit through.

Yeah well. It was just a time I thought this was really good stuff for that. I must also say that the election campaign or something would not be an appropriate subject. I wouldn’t see any way I could do something like that. And whatever else happens. I think that was a very incredible time, and in Munich you only saw it on TV. A few Trabants came to Munich, a few weeks later, otherwise we didn’t notice. I just saw the pathos coming out of the screen, and the reality will be different. Some people realized that, but of course they were buttered in. I just thought that this national anthem scream was a wonderful foundation for such a thing. And it has also had an effect over time. What we have today in national thinking started back then. I can still remember well after the World Cup, when the emperor stood on the balcony and the cameras swivelled down, there were already the imperial war flags with underneath.

Can you imagine there’s a sequel for Johnny Bumm?

No, I can’t do that. First of all, this is not possible at all because lackeys and Qntal are queuing up now. Otherwise - a live conversion would be extremely complex and it would make no sense at all, if I stand on stage with the keyboard and the samples go off. You really have to present this in a multimedia way and make a performance out of it, that’s just not possible. I’m just in the mood for songs again now. It is also for me the most essential aspect to write and realize songs. I also have a great need for the atmosphere of Lackeys and Qntal. Something like Johnny Bumm’s Wake serves to make me feel like it again.

Just experiment in between?

Yes, and just vomit me out to say it so banal and primitive and then I have the need to do what for the heart again. Cynicism alone, I can’t do that in the long run. That would make me sick, too.

So you’re busy with Qntal and Lakaien again right now?

Yes, there will be a Lakaien CD in February - also with tour - and then a Qntal CD. I hope with live performances. But it won’t be until next year. A lot of work has already been done, we’re already in, but not that far yet.

What kind of music do you listen to?

That’s difficult. I am actually a classical musician, so I listen to classical music the most. My wife hears a lot of BritPop, pulp and stuff like that right now. I don’t have a definite trend at the moment, I hear all kinds of things that are so hot. I also have a sampler with English electro stuff. A year and a half ago, I also heard some pretty tough crossovers. At the moment, however, I have not really made any arrangements, but that is because I have little communication and work a lot. I’ve been a daddy for a good year.

So it’s not to be feared that your next record will be a drum’n’bass album?

No, no! We’re already trying our own way. And if a lyric comes that for some urgent reason requires a drum’n’bass rhythm, then we make one. But not to jump on a train. At the Forest Enter Exit we had a high speed techno at “Resurrection Machine”. I don’t think anyone said we had to play that at the Love Parade. (laughs)

Alexander Maciol

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