Music In Conversation
LIMPE FUCHS with Cammisa Buerhaus
In the summer of 2014, Limpe Fuchs lived in a glass house in the mountains of Bavaria, where she arranged her serpentinite stones in a line and crouched over them, tapping the pieces of granite gently with a mallet to make them sing. She sent me that recording on a CD-R, and as I ripped the audio, I noticed a digital glitch at the three-minute mark. I sent an email asking her if she would like to mail another version, but she said it was fine and that we should proceed, so I dubbed fifty tapes, and on them the glitch remains.
Limpe has always felt homeless within the tradition of classical music. Inspired by a stay on a kibbutz in the late 1960s, she returned to Munich to start her own meditation group with the sculptor Paul Fuchs, whom she would later marry. This group based their meditations on the principles of existentialism and analytical psychology rather than religious ideologies, approaching these through music and sound. Their instruments were rocks, sticks, and pieces of metal, and their lyrics were passages read aloud from Heidegger and Kafka. This was the beginning of Anima-Sound, a free music group that defined the liminal years between krautrock and disco.
Anima-Sound turned away from representation and toward echolocation, using sonic ambiguity to reconstitute their world in post-WWII Europe. Limpe left Anima-Sound in 1989, and redrew her sonic territory. She pulls sound from granite and iron, coaxes inchoate sonorities from drums and flutes, creates wild, ephemeral, and mesmerizing compositions that confuse time and space while still retaining the structure that recalls her background as a drummer. Her soundings are the personal geographies of an artist who was born into the broken reality of postwar Germany.
Cammisa Buerhaus (Rail): What was your childhood like?
Limpe Fuchs: I was born November 15, 1941, in Munich, Germany. During the war, every house in town that had a cellar was painted with a white arrow pointing to the entrance. If a bomb alarm sounded, people could run to the Luftschutzkeller and take shelter from the bombs. When the bombing got really bad, women with small children left Munich for smaller villages.
My mother, brother, and I lived above a blacksmith’s workshop in the Bavarian village of Josefstal for the last three years of WWII. My mother was from Innsbruck and played the zither, and we children sat beside her and listened, and looked at her fingers.
My father was separated from us during the war, as he had to work at the Toulouse train station when the Germans occupied France. When our family was finally reunited and we returned to Munich, we found an American couple from the U.S. Army living in our flat. They stayed on for some months and kept the living room, while we had the rest of the apartment. They gave me the first chocolate of my life. My brother and I reacquainted ourselves with our neighborhood, playing in the ruins of bombed-out houses.
My mother sang in the church choir, and the organ player wanted us to have a piano at home so they could practice. We rented one for five marks a month, but when I opened it, I realized that I knew nothing, and that I had to learn! I found the formal study of music terribly boring, and would secretly read books for pleasure when I was supposed to be studying [technique], taking care to hide this from my father.
I was what some called a gifted child, naturally skilled at music and singing, and these I was encouraged to nurture through studying classical music and attending concerts at the philharmonic in Munich. But I always felt homeless inside of this tradition.
The first time I heard a drum was when I was six years old. My entire class was sent into the courtyard. I thought I was hearing a strange sort of fire alarm. At first, we could only hear the deepest frequencies of the beat because the noise came from so far away, but as the sound drew near we realized that it came from a big drum. Finally, twenty men dressed in strange, old-fashioned clothes came into the courtyard playing drums, flutes, and horns. This was the “Schäfflertanz,” or the “Barrel Maker’s Dance,” performed every seven years to mark the end of the plague of 1517.
When he was young, [my father] was a violinist and worked as an accompanist to silent movies, but he would always complain that he was not as good as Paganini. I thought that we might both be satisfied if I studied the violin, though I couldn’t stand to practice the instrument as a child. It would take years for me to realize this idea. It wasn’t until 1976 that I returned to the violin and found my own methods of studying, focusing on bowing rather than intonation.
I graduated high school in 1960, and our class was the first German group to be invited to work in Israel in the Kibbutz Nir Am. Together we traveled through Kinneret, Jerusalem, and Nazareth, and while taking this trip, I met a theologian.
He talked to us in a very open and interesting way and he impressed me, so I decided to join his discussion group back in Munich. At the time, I was an existentialist, thanks to Sartre and Camus. Upon joining [the theologian] Goergen’s group, I met sculptor Hans Dumanski, and he introduced me to the other members of the group, people who came from a wide range of religious backgrounds—Jewish, Protestant, Catholic. On Catholic feast days, everyone would meet at a collective house that the group owned near Herzogstand Mountain in the Bavarian Alps and have spirited discussions about religion.
It was during one of these feasts that I met Paul. He wasn’t my type, but he was studying sculpture, and at the time I was fascinated by the work of sculptor Henry Moore, and I liked Paul’s life plan, building a house and working together. For Paul there was no separation between art and life.
It was around this time that I decided that I wanted to exclusively focus on the piano, but my father insisted that I enroll at the Munich Musikhochschule, where I studied more instruments including percussion and drums. I would often go to a jazz club with friends. I loved jazz. I found an ad on the community board at the Musikhochschule: “drummer wanted for girl band,” so I bought a snare drum, and joined up. I don’t remember the name of the band. Dana was the singer and lead guitarist, a girl from Austria was on bass, and Jenny played rhythm guitar. I eventually bought a full drum set, and we covered Beatles songs. Sometimes Paul would join us after the lyric, “When the band begins to play,” playing his newly made copper “Fuchs horn.” I was a member for two years until I got pregnant with my second child.
Rail: Why did you build your own instruments?
Fuchs: Paul and I were born into a broken world and wanted to leave all traditions behind. Everything had to be different—the way we lived, our religion, our music, even our money. For example, after the war ended, the German government initiated Währungsreform, as a way to reform our currency and kick-start the economy. A new currency, the Deutsche Mark, was installed, and every citizen was given sixty marks. I was only seven years old at that time, but I remember this moment well.
This idea of starting from zero formed the core of our artistic practice and was the basis of our instrument construction. This construction began during one of Paul’s sculpture workshops at our house, when we asked: What material makes sound? Stones? Metal? Wood?
Rail: Who were the people that you spent time with?
Fuchs: We would spend time with Mani Neumeier from Guru Guru, Edgar Froese from Tangerine Dream, Gerd Kraus from Limbus, Holger Trülzsch and Florian Fricke from Popol Vuh, who lived also in Peterskirchen, and Vera Lehndorff, also known as Veruschka. For a time the composer Helmut Lachenmann stayed with Michael Ranta, a percussionist who lived nearby. I still play four tube drums that he built. The physicist Dieter Trüstedt, who built instruments for his wife Ulrike, also frequented our group and built our electronic equipment. Paul was inspired by a Greek ektara to build a string instrument for open air, and Dieter recalled that Pythagoras used to suspend a stone from a monochord in order to keep the instrument in tune. This was the beginning of the construction of the Pendel string instrument, a drum that is connected to a bronze bar with piano wire.
[With] my full drum set, our self-made instruments, and our kids, we would usually drive to gigs in a VW bus. In 1971, we came out with our first LP, Stürmischer Himmel, and wanted to go on tour to promote it, but our VW broke down. We decided to tour by tractor instead. We spent six months on tour, driving from Bavaria to the Netherlands, and a German TV station filmed our travel. This film was shown on all the stations, bringing great publicity to our band, Anima-Musica. We wanted to reach people on the road and in the open air, rather than remain cloistered in clubs and special festivals.
Rail: Why did you leave Anima-Sound?
Fuchs: We got into some troubles when we started theater work. Our first theater pieces were sound and visual collaborations with directors Achim Freyer and Niels-Peter Rudolph. Afterward, we decided to go forward with our own productions—and then I realized that we were not able to have orderly discussions. Anima was a totally nonverbal improvisation until around 1986, when I realized that Paul wanted to have full control. From this point on, I realized I am on earth to do music, even if I am alone!
Rail: It seems like your meditation group was a literal embodiment of Heidegger’s hermeneutic circle, physically, intellectually, and creatively. Would you say that your religion was existentialism?
Fuchs: It was a combination of the ethical tenants of Christianity sans morality, and the study of philosophy.
Rail: Where does your band name come from?
Fuchs: We were reading Jung, and Paul told me that he felt that I was his “Anima.” I originally wanted to call the band “Mystic Power!”
Rail: Are you still an existentialist?
Fuchs: No, I am very open to what will happen when I am dying. I know that before God, before the Indo-German patriarchy, there was the Goddess, the matriarchy, like Çatalhöyük in Turkey. My life is “energy,” and I don’t know where it comes from. The cosmos is so big, we can’t imagine. And my energy is with me, as long as I live, and I give away my energy. In the end, my energy is spent and my body goes back to the earth.