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Biography

The Roots of Allerseelen.

"All art is at one surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.”
(Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)

Hallstatt

I GREW UP in a small town in Upper Austria. Not far from this town is the tiny village Hallstatt. In my childhood I got to know this unique place, which is famous for its amazing Celtic excavations – the so-called Hallstattkultur – as well as for its Beinhaus, an ossuary with hundreds of beautifully painted skulls: I went there with my school class. Already, then, Hallstatt appeared to me like a Toteninsel, an Island of the Dead, reminding me of the famous painting by Arnold Böcklin.

HALLSTATT IS NOT an island, but for centuries there existed no road to this remote village in the heart of Austria – one could only reach it by boat or approach it along dangerous mountain paths. Even today, those who go there by train still take a small ferry-boat from Hallstatt station via the lake Hallstätter See to the actual village. As a child, therefore, I was impressed by the isolation of this spot situated between a vertical peak and the horizontal lake. And I became more and more fascinated by its colourful folklore and traditions, its close synthesis of life and death, its connection of intense nature and magical culture – and still, today, these Hallstatt roots are a powerful inspiration.

I VISITED THE village again and again, alone or with friends. While there are dozens of ossuaries all over Europe, nowhere else may one find female and male skulls being painted in such a lovely, folkloristic way with flowers, oak-leaves, crosses, serpents and hammers. Actually, these skulls are not really manifestations of death but of a deep-rooted traditional love and devotion of those who are alive for the dead of the village; of a strong desire to stay as close as possible to the ancestors. There were two villages, the living Hallstatt and the Totendorf, the village of the dead. Unlike the chthonic underworld of most cemeteries, where dead relatives are hidden from the eyes of those who remain alive, today in Hallstatt the parents may still decide to visit, with their children, either their living or dead grandmothers and grandfathers – or both on the same day.

IN MY EARLY youth I did not think about recording music. It was my dream to be a poet. I typed each day for hours on a noisy typewriter, inspired by American writers like William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski and French poets like Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud. Dozens of texts, mainly surrealistic poems and symbolistic narratives, came into existence, some of them appeared in literary magazines or anthologies. I was full of passion and patience, and quite often the type-writers broke during these tours de force. So, sometimes I also borrowed the heavy black World War Two type-writer of my grandfather, Otto Hallstatt. From time to time he was curious to read the strange texts that I wrote on his machine. In some way, these loud and monotonous staccato rhythms, a by-product of my poetry, were my first musical expressions. Here grew already the noisy roots of my later musical endeavours. These sounds, like the fire of a never-ending machine-gun, made it easy for me to fall in love, years later, with the heavy beats of industrial music.

IT WAS ALSO on All Souls Day, Allerseelen in German, on November 2nd, in Hallstatt, that I noticed dozens of candles around the chapel alongside the skulls and on the tombs of the tiny cemetery. The villagers visited their visible and invisible dead relatives. So the sacred day Allerseelen and the genius loci of Hallstatt have been for many years in a close connection for me. Indeed one may find in many songs and soundtracks of Allerseelen motifs inspired by this little village and its way of life: Death and love, isolation, prehistory, traditions, folklore, the vicinity of dangerous mountains with subterranean salt mines and several other elements. Especially in the very early works of Allerseelen, which came into existence years later in Wien, the dark atmosphere of death was omnipresent. Those who got to know these recordings did not only listen to the rhythms of kettle-drums and melodies of violins, but also to the sounds of flutes, drums and xylophones that I had created from human bones and also skulls. But these bones and skulls were not from Hallstatt: They originated from another ossuary somewhere else in Austria. As even now, I am sometimes incorporating these prehistoric sounds in completely new recordings and an anachronistic Hallstatt spirit is still active in the music of Allerseelen of today – although the music, now expressed in real songs, has changed a lot from the dark soundtracks of the early beginnings.

FOR NATIVE SPEAKERS, Hallstatt is also a play on words – Hall means sound and Statt means site or shop, like in workshop, thus the expression could also symbolise a recording studio. Many years later, Allerseelen also released a CD named Hallstatt. Several songs and lyrics were inspired by the famous village, and most of the images had been taken from in painted skulls from the Beinhaus became one of the most colourful of all Allerseelen releases – and in a certain way this may also be due to all of the songs on this release.

Berlin

WHEN I WAS sixteen, I stayed in Berlin for several weeks. It was then still an island surrounded by the dark Communism of Eastern Germany. Berlin, not Wien, was the first big city that I got to know. Intense experiences on this urban island, which was in many aspects the absolute opposite of the Austrian countryside, had a heavy effect on my future way of life. Suddenly I got to know the apocalyptic sounds of Einstürzende Neubauten and the martial minimalism of Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft. Both groups have impressed and inspired me a lot. Another experience for me was the noisy and rhythmic underworld of the Berlin U-Bahn, the first metro of my life. I felt like I was inside a type-writer or a cassette recorder. I also was at a concert with tenthousands of people: Tangerine Dream performed live in front of the Berliner Reichstag. Back in Austria, I was all of a sudden an outsider and outlaw: I came back as another person, terrorizing my schoolfriends with songs like Kollaps and Mussolini. I felt like Je est un autre, I is another, the famous words by my favourite writer, Arthur Rimbaud who very probably made similar experiences in Paris.

THIS JOURNEY TO Berlin was the starting point for my passion for music. Intoxicated by adventurous vanguard sounds, I started creating my own raw and archaic soundscapes. The monotonous sound of a typewriter emanated from my room no longer. Instead, there were strange surrealistic loops. Several cassette recorders died like the typewriters: They broke. I had two tape recorders. When I was in need of a third one, I asked my grandmother Viktoria Kamarad if I could use hers. So in my room I had my own machines, but also the type-writer of my grandfather and the cassette recorder of my grandmother. She was also curious to listen to my soundscapes, which were quite contrary to the classical tunes she usually listened to. My parents were never really interested in my art, and I felt that I had more in common with my grandparents than with them. My roots were closer to them. Sometimes I also recorded myself typing texts or typed texts while playing my own soundtracks. I tried to find a synthesis of both artistic expressions. Although my first recordings were soundtracks without vocals, I still wrote poetry from time to time – I was aware that one day I might be a technological troubadour singing anachronistic lyrics against the modern world.

ANOTHER BERLIN INSPIRATION was a strong sense of individuation and individualism, an ardent desire of having absolute control about everything in my art and life – the anarchic virus of Berlin. This I had in common with dozens of people all over the world, who, like me, published their own audio cassettes and little magazines in a very archaic, autarkic way. Two years later I visited again this inspirational city. Berlin: For me it is still an island.

Wien

AT THE AGE of seventeen, I visited for the first time Wien with my schoolclass. I went there again one year later to attend a music festival with ritual music projects like 23 Skidoo and Z´EV. Twice I was also invited to read in Wien from my poetry but I was bored by mere spoken word performances, my own and those of other writers. Music had become my real passion.

AFTER FINISHING SCHOOL, I had to join the army for eight months. My intention was to spend the military service in the Salzburg area but I had to go to the barracks in Wien. During my time as soldier I was very active with the publication and distribution of cassettes and also little magazines in which I wrote about art, magic, music. These releases changed their names as often as my own pseudonyms. Back then, the project Allerseelen was still in an embryonic state of existence. It would still take some years until I came across this name for my work. I was the only soldier who came to the barracks armed with two cassette recorders and dozens of blank tapes: There was much to do in my very own field of force. Again I was an outlaw. At that time people from many countries were already ordering my cassettes. I remember a huge order from the United States that consisted of dozens of tapes that I had to copy within a couple of days. So in the daytime I was soldier, but my free evenings were dedicated to underground art. While the comrades spent their time in pubs, I stayed like a monk in the barracks, taking care of the cassettes and reading about alchemy and magic.

AFTER THE ARMY, I decided to stay in Wien. My first years in the Austrian capital were strange and intense. It was a magical time inspired by the occulture of adventurous projects like Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and Coil. I still have scars and a tattoo from this period. Apart from recording music, I also spent a lot of time in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek with its huge underworld of books, reading and researching for my early magazines, prototypes of the later editions Aorta and Ahnstern.

WHEN I WAS twenty-two, Allerseelen came into existence. Allerseelen or All Souls Day, is the Day of the Dead when visible and invisible reality, death and life, darkness and light, desperation and hope, are very close to one another. I was immediately aware that this was the perfect name for my musical adventures. Allerseelen is also the name of a beautiful song by Richard Strauss – and several years later Allerseelen would record their own version of this song.

FOR ALLERSEELEN, THEN still a solo project, 1989 was an especially creative year. That year I recorded dozens of songs and soundtracks at my place that I called Haus zur letzten Latern, House of the Last Lantern. These ritual rhythms and melancholic melodies were inspired by books on alchemy and shamanism. Another influence were Northern myths, and out of this mythological field of force rose songs about Odin´s wolves Geri and Freki, and his ravens Hugin and Munin. I released several cassettes with titles like Autdaruta, Requiem, Schwartzer Rab, Lacrima Christi, Morgenröte. Autdaruta was the name of a shaman in Greenland, Schwartzer Rab was German for Black Raven.

MUSIC HAD BECOME my obsession. Both the traditional roots of Hallstatt and the contemporary avant-garde influences from Berlin, were very important for my art, combined with the occult books that I was studying in my early years in Wien. This psychoactive synthesis manifested in dark and sometimes demonic recordings. I also was writing a lot and finally also found names for these small publications: Aorta and Ahnstern. In these bi-lingual magazines I wrote about a lot of different topics, about films and architecture, about cultural traditions in mediterranean countries, about technological and occult visionaries. Many years later these texts were compiled in an American and a French book anthology named Blutleuchte. The first concerts of Allerseelen in Wien were solo performances but when the project got the first offers to perform abroad, I asked fellow musicians who had become my friends to join me on stage. Allerseelen stopped editing cassettes and started working on the first CD and vinyl editions. Allerseelen got invitations to many countries, and these magical mystery tours brought us to apocalyptic cities like Los Angeles and mediaeval castles like Leiria, to World War bunkers, former prisons and prehistoric caves.

MUSIC HAS DEFINITELY become my mission. I could not imagine a life without this mission and passion named music. Musik als Medizin, Musik als Munition – this expression, from one particular Allerseelen song, is still valid for my way of life: Music as medicine, music as ammunition.

CREDITS

Text,translation and photos: Gerhard Hallstatt.

PREVIOUS PUBLICATIONS

These words, originally in German, were translated by Gerhard Hallstatt and Troy Southgate. A first version of this text appeared in the sold-out book Troubadours of the Apocalypse. Voices from the Neofolk, Industrial & Neoclassical Underground (Black Front Press 2015).

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Biography

Allerseelen

Gerhard Hallstatt

Hallstatt

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    Gerhard Hallstatt - © 2015