Interview with Boris Blank

Art-prankster, tech-provocateur and mainstay of Swiss electro-pioneers Yello, Boris Blank, talks to Gigslutz ahead of the release of his three-hour opus Electrified in September. Boris candidly reveals his past and present influences, opens up about his work with The Associates’ Billy McKenzie and Shirley Bassey and (surprisingly) his fears surrounding the pervasive effects of technology.

As the man himself might utter ‘Oh Yeah’.

KQ: Your work has always appeared infused with surrealist tendencies. From the Avant Garde world, who have been your main inspiration(s)?

BB: In different ways : Pierre Boulez, György Ligeti , the collagists from Dadaism and Peter Scherer.

KQ: Who, if any, would you categorise as your present day progeny and inheritors of your anarchic, play-derived spirit? If pushed (like now) how would you describe yourself in 3 words?

BB: Ellen Alien, Hakan Libdo, M.I.A., Royksopp.

Haha! Maybe humorous, ironic, childlike.

KQ: What films, past and present have and continue to inspire your creative process?

BB: There are somany. I love for example Films from Luis Bunuel “Belle de Jour”, Pier Paolo Pasolini`s “Das 1. Evangelium Matthäus” I`m a big fan of “Despicable Me”. Also, I like old low-budget sci-fi like ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ and the original b/w ‘Outer Limits’ series.

KQ: The film soundtracks that comprise Electrified; are they for the films inside your  imagination or do they accompany completed films?

BB: There are always visuals going on in my head. For instance ‘Big City Grill’ was an experimental film that Dieter made in 1974 with 81,000 edits all made inside the camera. The Electrified animation I made along with Kevin Blanc this year. I’m making a few myself with Final Cut Pro.

KQ: What was it like working with Billy MacKenzie and Shirley Bassey?

BB: The collaboration with Billy remains for me my whole life in my heart. He was a professional singer/songwriter, very unusual in his way. The working process was always very emotionally deep.The collaboration with Shirley Bassey was too short to tell big story’s about it. We recorded her singing the lyrics and melodies of Billy’s guide vocals in the Yello studio in only one hour. She needs only two takes and that’s it.I remember the situation.

Billy started to sing a Billie Holiday song spontaneously in the elegant hotel lobby where Shirley was staying. Shirley responded by singing the whole of ‘Something’ by George Harrison. She really belted it out too. You could hear a pin drop and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

KQ: Although it is much easier to disassemble, reassemble, copy and paste recorded sound with the aid of technology; do you think it has detracted from the essence of bricolage?

BB: I never saw myself as a live musician rather as a sound painter. This has madethelast 35yearsa lot offun for me. I’ve never been afraid of modern technology. Like when Bob Dylan first used an electric guitar. it’s a tool for a purpose.

KQ: Your style appears to be one where nothing is fixed or static, a song is more than a foundation and more like a building block. Would you agree with this statement?

BB: Thanks for the compliment, nothing should be fixed or static. Each song is a blank canvas without the frame.

KQ: The philosophy behind your Yellofier app “Anything becomes music “sounds perfect for a school curriculum and ideal for people of any age to become creative. How successful has it been?

BB: Yes, over 150,000 downloads (mostly free) which isn’t bad. The feedback is much more important though. For example, a kindergarten in California use it to help children make music with everyday noises. Sounds for me, are more essential to learn music than using a conventional instrument. It’s all in the word ‘playing’.

KQ: The line “Mobilize, globalize, hypnotize, homogenize, Shut your eyes don’t criticize” from The The’s ‘Global Eyes’ (remixed by you) seems apt for our tech-obsessed, screen-addicted sedate society. Discuss.

BB: There are many great aspects to this word combination. Technology is our Achilles Heel, the grand elixir that is now in complete control. It’s scary that people are losing their authenticity and their individuality.

KQ: What’s next for you?

BB: The new Yello Album. Preparations are welladvanced!

Kemper Boyd