Gregor Hildebrandt / The immateriality of music

German artists Gregor Hildebrandt talking about his relationship to music and the artworks made for the Einstürzende Neubauten records.

We all are very fascinated with the technique you are often using on your artworks, elaborating old music cassettes. Is there any particular reason you choose this medium?

When I was developing my work in the nineties, cassettes were still commonplace and daily companions. Everyone owned a cassette recorder and a few cassettes. We all made mixtapes and even the car radio had a built-in cassette recorder. I had studied painting in Mainz and wanted to paint pictures that felt like songs by The Cure or Sonic Youth. I only made one or two paintings per semester, but I produced artist books to accompany them in which I compiled thematic references to the paintings. In my work “Wie die Motten ans Licht” (“Like moths to the light”) I came across a song by Einstürzende Neubauten called „Falschgeld” (“Fake money“), which I absolutely wanted to include in my book on this work. At that time, in ‘97, it felt logical to me to simply record the song on cassette and then stick the recorded tape over the pages of my book, strip by strip. I liked it so much that I wanted to make a whole series with this technique, and this series hasn’t stopped to this day.

What is the importance of music in your art and why?

My paintings, or rather artworks, are charged with the music that I like, admire and adore. I also like the idea that a particular song is hidden within a painting. If I really like a song, I will listen to it over and over again and yet never quite get a grasp on it. The immateriality of music really kills me. I would love to be able to see, touch and taste good songs. My record-bowl ready-mades are motivated by the idea of drinking music.

What is your musical background and what are you mostly listening to?

Musically, I was socialized by my uncle Martin, who is barely ten years older than I am and almost like a big brother to me. While the other kids in kindergarten were listening to children’s songs, I had already heard of Neil Young, Peter Gabriel and Konstantin Wecker. That has basically stayed the same to this day and of course many more followed after that. Some of the most important musicians to me are: The Cure, Stephan Eicher, Tocotronic, Einstürzende Neubauten, PAAR and ANNE, but also Lebanon Hanover or Rosin with her song “Sad Sometimes”.

What are your main inspirations and how do you elaborate them in your practice?

That really depends. My ideas mostly come from personal experience, for example a motif on a carpet in a hotel, the window at my grandma’s house, or a film I have seen.

What are your working on at the moment?


I have just finished two bigger rip-offs based on Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’. Apart from that, this year I will produce various head-cleaner paintings, for which I will only use cleaning cassettes – the ones that are only used to clean the cassette recorder’s sound head. Many cleaning cassettes contain white tape, which produces white images – I like the synergy this creates. These paintings make me think of Leo Erb, who was part of a battalion making artificial fog during the war and always set himself the goal of turning a whole city white. He made terrific white pictures.

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