Das Kapital wants to believe in a better world

08. June 2012
Author: Marje Ingel

Despite it’s name that to some people might revive certain ghosts from the past, Das Kapital is a fiercely democratic band. They insist it’s not Daniel Erdmann Trio or Hasse Poulsen Trio or Edward Perraud Trio, it’s Das Kapital. It’s members decide everything together and as they have played together for ten years, they feel they are a bit like married couple although there are three of them. Das Kapital started out playing free improvised music but for the last three years they have been concentrating on the music of german composer Hanns Eisler. They have also released two CD-s with his tunes. In april the band performed with the same project at Jazzkaar festival. I had a chance to talk to two members of the trio, guitarist Hasse Poulsen and percussionist Edward Perraud.

Please tell me about your band’s name or the idea behind it. What’s the meaning of this „capital”? Does this mean money, resources, or did you name your band after the book by Karl Marx „Das Kapital”?

Hasse Poulsen: That’s for you to decide.

So you don’t give any meanings?

Hasse: No, we have a name! It’s like my name is Hasse. Hasse means „hate” in german – so if you’re german, it means „hate”, but if you’re swedish, it means Hans. Same with Das Kapital. Edward could be an english king, but he’s not. You know, in art you have to interpret, we don’t give the explanation for that.

Edward Perraud: I think a good name has thousand meanings. It’s like if you would have asked Picasso to explain one of his paintings. You have as many interpretations as many people look at the painting.

Das Kapital was created at a time when world was in crisis, just after the 11th of september 2001. And now we know one of the biggest European money crises and world crisis and we are in the center of Das Kapital, to my mind. And I like the sound of Das Kapital.

Hasse: The idea is also that music is not political.

Edward: Yes, he’s right. It’s like Stravinsky said: music doesn’t express anything, it’s sounds, it’s just physics. And of course musicians are around music, so… Obviously we come from some place and we carry our knowledge on, we try to learn as much as possible to be inspired by many kinds of art. But in a way, we just don’t know what is music. We just are around sounds, we put some meanings around sounds, but we don’t really know. You can see us on stage and after you listen to the CD of the concert, it’s two totally opposite things, but the music is the same. Because we are like expressions on our ways, trying to be connected, to be happy, it’s a bit like theatre.

Then it’s a bit misleading name!

Hasse: No, no no! Music is not political, music is just sound, music is esthetic. But we, human beings, we are part of the society and this society is very menaced from liberalism, capitalism, whatever, totalitarianism in many ways, economic totalitarianism. „Das Kapital” is a book of analysis made almost 150 years ago. And just by evoking this name, just by having that name means that it gives the whole context of artistic and political tradition to what we are doing. Which is very important for jazz music because jazz music – or any art form – is always very close to political movements. Just by having that name it’s possible for us to evoke this tradition.

You tried to tell me and I totally agree that music is not political. But on the other hand you play very plain works by a very political composer Hanns Eisler. There’s a big controversy.

Hasse: Everything in art is based on paradox. If we take things to a very low level of understanding then this is a telephone, this is a table. On other levels of understanding things become more altered and on the level of art it’s paradox. It’s always the thing and the contrary. So when we say music itself is not political, we know that music has been used to serve politics. Music is a very efficient way of touching emotions and making emotions live. So of course music is being used politically, but because a rhythm is the march it doesn’t mean you have to go out and kill somebody, there’s no such message, it’s just 4/4 time. But it’s been used in these circumstances: „let’s play this march, so let’s go out and kill the lithuanians or the finnish people over there or russians or other neighbours you have around” or whatever. But really it’s just music.

Edward: It’s linked with the text. Because Eisler used songs. And of course once there’s the text, it’s not just music anymore, to my mind.

Hasse: It’s a concept.

Edward: Yes, it’s a concept. If you give our records to african people for listening, like pygmies, they won’t say: „oh, yes, it’s for solidarity of the people!” They won’t say nothing. It’s a cultural question. So music is totally disconnected with politics but it helps to spread the message, to spread the message of politics or any kind of message. But a sound is a sound.

Hasse: Hanns Eisler is known as the composer of the national hymn of the Deutsche Demokratische Republic (DDR) and he was known as the composer of tunes of propaganda music. I’m sure in the countries that have been governed by the soviet tyranny he is linked completely to this period and to that experience. But at the same time his reason as, well, many people’s reason to believe in the left wing and to be caught up, to be used by this soviet tyranny, was that they had an ideal that the world could be better. I think that’s very often the case. He was trying to make very good music and trying to make music for people. He was an avant-garde composer and he wanted to make more accessible music. And then of course he was very left wing as many of us are. A wish to make the world a better place, that’s completely normal.

For us it was interesting to try to throw away this whole cage of tyranny that’s around his music and say: we play it because the dream is beautiful. The dream is right – that the world can be better and music can be better. Music can be something alive, music can be communication and we can be together in the world. Of course all those ideals go together. And I just play it as music, as if it was Sonny Rollins. I don’t care if Sonny Rollins is – or you can pick somebody else – is a republican or believes in the republican party in the US. He still makes beautiful music. Some other people might be extremely right wing or crazy bastards and they can still make wonderful music.

So things are not that clear, you can’t link them together like that. I think we’re liberating Eisler’s music from this.

Edward: I think we use the context around Eisler. We use the idea, we use this utopia from that time. He had a strange life. He had to escape many times from many things and… I don’t know, maybe the music… was some kind of escape?

Is it more that you are trying to free Eisler’s music from any context at all, or just give it a new context?

Hasse: No, we are throwing away the tyranny to liberate the dream!

OK, so there is still some idea attached to the music, it is not totally abstract?

Hasse: Music in itself is abstract, but we…

Edward: …we take benefit of the context.

Hasse: We use the context to create a room to hear the music. So we tell a few things about the sounds and we tell a little bit about Eisler during the concert and we hope also to have comments and do things that seem contemporary. Many of the things he and his brother and his generation were fighting against – the racism, the colonization, the extreme concentration of money and the poverty of most people – all these problems are still there today. And of course we put it into context and instead of trying to hit other people on the head with it we play music. That’s why we say there’s no meaning in the music, but the context we put it in gives the meaning of this whole humanistic artistic tradition.

Edward: In fact I think about your first question and now I realise that the name of the band we picked influences us in our project.

Hasse: Definitely.

Edward: Definitely. So it’s really interesting, this point, and we’ve never talked about it before. Like, for example, Daniel had an idea to play Eisler. Maybe he had the idea long time ago, but maybe because our name was „Das Kapital”?

Hasse: It seems obvious.

Edward: Yes, it seems obvious after that. So, the name is like a spark, you can light fire from it, so to speak.

Hasse: It influences other people as well, because this year we did a new concert with a french singer and 40 children. It was called „Hymn for democracy”. We were asked to do a new program based on politics.

We have also been asked to play Hanns Eisler tunes with 100-piece orchestra, with our kind of arrangements but for 100 musicians with us as soloists for The House of the People in Gent in Belgium. Again it comes back to Das Kapital – The House of the People. Also there was this film concept called „Lenin on tour”. There are constantly projects we’re asked to do, things constantly come from that name, so of course our name influences people. At first they like our music but then they think „what can we do with this context?”, so it gives the whole perspective…

To be quite honest, in music today… it’s not enough when you say I’m really very clever musician, you won’t sell many records. You have to have some concept around what you’re doing because there’s so many musicians, so many things happening that how can anybody possibly remember anything. So this is our package, our identity.

We were talking with Nicholas Humbert, a film maker, when we were starting the project of Wonderland. We played to the films that he made. What we were trying to say was: „How can we reinvent the left, how can we reinvent the dream of the left?” Which is the dream of a better world, a dream where everybody is equal. Not that everybody is the same, but that everybody is seen as valuable individual. And it’s very hard because it has all been sucked in by the whole tradition of communism, dictatorship. So how do we do it?

I think these days things are opening up with different movements in France, in Spain, there’s this Occupy Wall Street in USA, all these movements. OK, we’re the 99%, let’s make it 100%, there’s no reason to have the oligarchy or to have the „polit bureau” of the capitalism at the head of everything.

We are not still political in this sense but how do you reinvent it? Same kind of idea was also behind the democracy concert we did some time ago. The idea was: „Why nobody writes poems about democracy? There are very very few poems about it.” And the idea of democracy is still one of the most beautiful ideas in human history: that we decide things together. It’s not one person who decides. Which brings us to the leader thing. We don’t need a führer.

This is what music can do: how can we put a touch of emotion into this. People can write tons of tunes to make people go to war and to make people hate the other people. „We are the champions” or all this. It’s terrible, this kind of emotions that you can evoke. Can’t we evoke positive emotions? Can’t we put emotions in the idea of democracy and in the idea of humanity and so on.

What we want to do and what is important for us is just to play good music but we use the name and we use the ideas of Eisler and others to keep a context. And we’re meeting people everywhere and we’re playing music in a tradition that is very beautiful and very fragile.

You mentioned that if we go, let’s say, outside of Europe with this idea of Eisler’s music, then nobody recognises these contexts anymore. How much have you traveled with this project?

Edward: Kasakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Sarajevo, Scotland, Finland, Norway, Sweden. We played in Russia also, in Moscow.

Hasse: East Germany, West Germany, Switzerland, Portugal… We have traveled a lot with it.

Did you yourself notice that these reactions were very different? That if you were in a post-socialist country you could feel the audience recognising the tunes – „oh, this is t h i s music!”

Hasse: Yes, because we’re touching some taboos, we are touching some things that are allowed to touch today. I think that’s one of the things that art should do – to touch the taboo and open things up: „Let’s look at it! Let’s see.” For example when playing „The International” (sings the melody). Of course it can be difficult when you’ve seen soldiers marching though there… But the same song was – before it became the national anthem of dictatorship – it was international workers’ anthem: „Let’s stand together, let’s be together internationally!” And now until the international crisis these things were not allowed to talk about at all, not at all! So suddenly now these things are coming up again and people realising: „Oops, now we are heading for another soviet union with another name!” So actually people are really like this around the music. It’s really very funny. We are touching something very deep, it seems.

When you visited the less democratic countries, did you feel some resistance to this sort of re-thinking the music, liberating the dream?

Hasse: No, no resistance at all, no problems.

Edward: This year we are going to Marocco with the same project and I think the feeling of the people, they don’t care about what it is that we play in those kind of countries. Of course, if we play in Leipzig there’s a meaning, a huge meaning, but if we play in Marocco, it’s just music. Maybe some of the audience knows the tunes, but when we play, we are totally inside the music or inside the moment, in the middle of the moment. We only are now in life, and music comes out of now.

Hasse: Yes, jazz is out of now, especially when improvising.

Edward: And the now we are here – to my mind it’s not less important as the now we have on stage. Because we just have now. So we don’t know life (laughs). We only know about the now which escapes from us. But from time to time together we are really together, and we say: this now maybe is precious. We try to call in the inspiration and to be connected.

23.04.2012 Kumu Auditorium

Das Kapital:
Daniel Erdmann – tenor saxophone
Hasse Poulsen – guitar
Edward Perraud – drums