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The Smiling Buddhas – Far Off

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Wolfgang Dorninger Interview

by Briyan Baker, 21.12.30

You call this “another travel guide.” How do these places play into this music?

We like to travel and create musical travel diaries to create audible spaces for lucid daydreams for people who are not allowed to experience faraway places. And also for ourselves when we can’t get away from home, like now in the pandemic. We travel to satisfy our interest, to gain new experiences and to expand our consciousness. We don’t go on holiday to relax, let off steam and get a tan.

Tell me about The Smiling Buddhas recording process and collaboration.

John Fitzpatrick lived in Linz for years, then in Berlin, and then went back to Hong Kong. He now has a job in Berlin and unfortunately has very little time left for The Smiling Buddhas. Travelling together is almost impossible, so is making music. When he went to Berlin and Hong Kong, we always shared our files via an ftp-server and later via the cloud. Someone starts a piece, uploads it and then the other picks up the ball or not. If no one continues to work on a piece, then it’s out. In the end, the pieces that remain are the ones that both have worked on.

Tell me about the cover.

The building is in Grado, Italy, near Trieste. It is on the promenade and has a nice cafe on the ground floor. A double espresso and then later some Campari Sprizz with olives and a view of the sea is a little rush of the senses. The Brutalist-style building is a setting surpassed only by the pilgrimage church of Monte Grisa near Trieste. A beautiful place that I also visit privately very often with my wife.

How are the places in this travelogue related? Should we take each piece on its own or the collection as a conceptual work? Or as another part of a series of works that is building a narrative over time?

Actually, all of The Smiling Buddhas’ recordings are acoustic travel diaries. It started with “Lo”, then followed “Atacama”, later it went to “Latium”, “Homekong” and other places that were regionally and culturally contextualised. With “All-Nighter”, “Cote”, “Acoustic Postcards” and now “Far Off” we created compilations that were guided by our feelings and interests. “Far Off” could also have been called wanderlust. The places in “Far Off” stand alone, but there are a few invisible threads that connect places. It’s about a lot of water and no water, it’s about conurbations and emptiness, but also about loud and quiet, sustainable and wasteful. In the early days of techno, we used to spend our nights in Berlin. We always danced in places that were non-places, but always close to the water, where we then chilled during the day. A new way of tribal living, characterised by kick drum and bass. When we took the Greyhound from White Sands to Denver, we went from emptiness, silence, to a metropolis with a vibrant subculture, because in the 80s and early 90s life was so cheap there. A new urban tribe emerged in this place where once indigenous groups lived very sustainably in harmony with nature. Unfortunately, the new tribe could not build a bridge to the old cultures and decayed. And so there is a story to each piece and connections to each other. If I were to elaborate on this now, it would fill a small book.So we put these complex experiences into short pieces of music.

What, if any, is the idea behind the dichotomy of juxtoposing the techno against the ambient musics on this album? Or is this happenstance? (I love the change; it works for me).

The first two records “Lo” and “Atacama” were more ambient albums, “All-Nighter” of course a techno album and others are in between. Some places don’t have a rhythm, because time is not perceptible there. Other places drive like a techno track. “Espresso Doppio, Trieste” is a driving techno track because in Trieste we always drink so much espresso and then our heart beats fast, sleep doesn’t want to come and we turn night into day. And there’s good techno in Trieste too. “Fog In The Bay Area”, on the other hand, is slow, because everything becomes flat in the fog. San Francisco, Oakland and all the other places on the Bay seem to disappear and we dream of the indigenous natives, the Miwog, rowing their boats through the Bay completely unmolested. But the sound is still threatening, because their presence is still perceived as a threat by the indigenous people. In “Four Corners” the hot air shimmers and we march on foot into the canyons of the Hisatsinom or Anasazi. Triggered by dryness and heat, we slowly begin to fantasise and fall into a trance. But we march on and slowly enter a semi-real state where the knowledge from books slowly begins to merge with the place.

It’s nice that you can go along with this stylistic change. In some pieces, the ambient pads combine with the beats.

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