Classical Meets Electronic In Vienna: Synthbeat Speaks With Stefan Oberthaler
In the heart of Austria lays Vienna, the nation’s capital and home of the great composers. It was here that musical icons Beethoven, Mozart, Strauss, Salieri and Schoenberg created and performed many of their legendary works. Even today, the place is alive with sonic creativity; on any given day, young musicians train in the shadows of these superstars, reveling in classical influences while charting new musical territories of their own .
Also here, just-out-of-high-school Mozarteum pupil and soon to be 21st century electronic composer Stefan Oberthaler fervently pursued his studies of music classic and modern. As immersed as Oberthaler was in the Austrian classical culture, the world of jazz opened up new possibilities for artistic creation, when as a teenager he attended performances in Austria of jazz leaders including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Carla Bley, Steve Coleman, and Pat Metheny. “This was a completely new world for me,” says Oberthaler, who trained on the accordion starting at age four in his hometown (a small village near Innsbruck, Austria), playing folksongs and opera melodies. “The rhythm, feeling and sounds, and also the biographies of musicians like Theolonious Monk, Miles Davis or John Coltrane gave me a deep insight into this kind of music.”
And he never looked back. Excited by the possibilities, Oberthaler wasted no time forming a series of jazz fusion bands as a keyboardist, playing to enthusiastic crowds (he also began teaching piano, and does to this day). After graduation from the Mozarteum, he went on to study jazz piano and theory from the Anton Bruckner University of Music and Arts, then to form several projects for his “killer virus” label under the names “Keyminator” and “Out of The Volcano,” bringing in a variety of collaborators, including several vocalists. “That’s one of the things I really love about music – to collaborate with other creative and inspiring people” Stefan says. “Music is a language from face to face, from soul to soul. And I am glad to have some really extraordinary musicians surrounding me, who surprise and touch me.” The tunes are suitably strange, dreamy soundscapes with lots of ambient and jazz sensibilities. There’s something here for lovers of fusion, nu-jazz, and space rock. If you’re looking for a spaced-out electronic musical experience from Europe with jazz influences and a sly sense of humor, you’ve come to the right place.
Oberthaler’s sonic creations can be purchased from the iTunes Music Store and CDBaby.com . The songs are very much in the nu-jazz mold, with ambient and minimalist leanings. Atmospherics are what it is all about. “To improvise with minimalist soundscapes and electronic drum sounds in a reduced way, but with a very deep sense – that’s what Nu-Jazz means to me,” he says. Many of Oberthaler’s works are in the form of remixes; as a compulsively creative person, he finds himself revisiting his works, tinkering here and there until often the result is nearly indistinguishable from the original, thanks to Oberthaler’s devoted synthesizer tweaking and carefully chosen chord structures.
Telling A Story
As a musician, Stefan lives to communicate. “That’s an important aspect of music to me,” he says. “I think a special mood or atmosphere opens the mind and lets the listener get in touch with my basic thought as a composer or musician.” As a piano instructor teaching the classics as well as improvisation, he has come to learn that everyone has a story to tell. “There’s a way for anyone to get involved in this secret of playing chords, progressions and so on,” he says. “Miles Davis said ‘tell a story.’ So get your story!”
Considering his strong theory and composing background, I asked him if he was irritated by the seeming simplicity of today’s popular music. “No, not at all,” he says. “From my point of view, music should be a democratic and wide field. And also it is a mirror of society. We as composers and musicians should be honest with our work and talk to the public about our thoughts and ideas, our workflow and goals.” Oberthaler states that one of his goals is to popularize electronic music as a quasi-classical form. “One of my visions is to perform electronic music in concert halls, like classical concerts, and bring a kind of understanding of this genre to audiences.”
Given his classical training and ambition, Oberthaler is a good candidate to pull this off. Stefan’s latest disc, “Journey Man,” will be released in May; he will begin promoting the disc throughout the summer. To learn more, please visit www.stefanoberthaler.com .
(Note: Stefan Oberthaler’s domain is no longer active, but his music is still available at Stefan Oberthaler aka Keyminator, on Soundcloud.)