Percussionist Johannes Fischer comes with serious baggage. The sort of baggage that involves patient conversations with tour managers (“OK, so your flight case is too big for a taxi”); an invested feat of logistics to get him and his equipment on and off a flight; baggage that has violinists – maybe even double bassists – re-appreciating the beauty of their neat, self-contained cases.
He’s joining us for a tour of two contrasting halves. On one side, there’s ‘traditional’ Baroque music in the form of Bach’s achingly perfect Air on the G String and the uber-Baroque contrapuntal rhythms and melodies of Purcell’s Fairy Queen suite. On the other, there’s two of his own compositions, which take Baroque forms and features and twist them into something altogether new.
Newness really is key here – the idea of plucking something out from previous non-existence. Inside the endless flight cases lies an impressive, Willy-Wonka-eque array of instruments and implements, all neatly folded and packed away, betraying the excitement that happens when they are re-assembled and brought to life on the other side of that plane journey as part of Fischer’s ‘sound table’.
It’s from this that he performs his re-interpretation of Telemann’s Tafelmusik – literally, ‘table music’, Fischer’s bespoke table of tricks being a nod to this. From the first rehearsal, the Wonka reference is fitting; Johannes is like a child in a sweet shop, tapping a bit of this here, stroking a bit of that there, alternately looking fascinated and intrigued and curious and happy the whole time.
There are bottles with varying amounts of liquid in (a cheap and vile-tasting German spirit, incidentally, that Fischer has bottles and bottles of in his house); there are also brushes, sponges, scrubbers, shakers, nails, a whisk. Looking at half of the objects, you can’t really understand how he’s going to make a noise from it – until the table is amplified, that is, and it becomes a playground of subtle, uncategorisable sounds that morph in the air around you.
When they finish rehearsing this fascinating piece – full of contrasting sections of Telemann ‘samples’, rhythmic interludes similar to a drum and bass breakdown, musicians using their own instruments as percussion, and so much more – I ask him if he gets tired of lugging around his cases, monitors, cables, boxes. He says no, he’s used to it now – as a percussionist, you’re accustomed to being responsible for heavy equipment from the very start of your career. But he does then pause, saying, “Actually, I’m part of a trio back home and they said the other day that they’ve noticed that each time we tour, I’m bringing less and less stuff – I think over the years you try and work with the very least equipment that you can get away with…”
Ahead of the Baroque Dance Party tour, starting on 16 March 2017 at Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirk and taking in Dundee (17 March), Inverness (21 March) and Glasgow (22 March), Fischer kindly answered a couple of questions for our Work & Play series about life at home and on tour.
What’s your favourite venue to play?
Among the best experiences so far have been: the Gobi Desert, the caves of the Halong Bay, an old disco in Odessa… and, of course, the philharmonic halls in Vienna and Berlin.
What’s your favourite piece of music?
It’s too difficult to decide – it changes all the time, but there are only few pieces that stay on the all-time greatest hits list, the ones that I can say have changed my life. Psappha, by Iannis Xenakis, is certainly one of them.
What’s been the moment of your career so far?
To realize that there are still lots of good moments to come!
What’s been the biggest challenge?
To stay focused on what I really want and what feels essential, artistically and personally.
If you hadn’t become a musician and composer, what do you think you’d be doing now?
I would probably have studied architecture and take it from there, or more likely: travelling the world and finding waves to go surfing.
What’s the first thing you do when you get home from tour?
The glamorous answer: go out with my lovely wife and have fine food and drinks. The true (and not so glamorous) answer: unload my truck and get all the equipment back in the studio.
What are the best things about being on tour?
Experiencing new places, cities, food and concert halls, and meeting interesting people, having inspiring conversations and getting new artistic impulses.
What are the worst things about being on tour?
An early flight on the morning after the last concert.
Where in the world would you most like to live, and what’s your favourite city/place to visit?
Another tricky one. I would love to live somewhere near the ocean to be able to go surfing before breakfast. My favourite city to visit is definitely New York City – but another of my favourites is Haeinsa Temple in South Korea in the autumn season.