FACT mix 223 is a selection by Dramatic Records, inspired by The Endless House.
Followers of oddball synthesizer music and tall stories will doubtless already be familiar with the Endless House Foundation, thanks to various tracks, articles and blogposts appearing online in recent months and then the physical release, a couple of weeks ago, of Endless House archive pack: 05/1973, a beautifully packaged CD compilation from Dramatic Records which serves as an introduction to the EH project and its principals: Jiri Kantor, Felix Uran, Earnesto Rogers, Rasmus Folk, Johannus Arpensium, Walter Schnaffs, Ernest Kantor and Klaus Pinter.
Still confused? Allow us to quote the CD’s sleevenotes in full:
An obelisk of noise that rose rudely above the treetops of the Bialowieska Forest, the Endless House project shone for a mere six weeks in the spring of 1973.
The outlandish brainchild of wealthy audiophile/maniac Jiri Kantor, its stated mission was ‘to become the cradle of a new European sonic community…a multimedia discotheque’ that should ‘surprise and delight’ artists and dancers alike.
For all the wide-eyed optimism of its manifesto, however, the enterprise was never unknowing in its flirtation with disaster and self-destruction. The brilliant Czech [Kantor] may have made his millions as the midas-touched entrepreneur/taste-maker behind Paris-based magazine Otium Internationa, but Endless House was always a vanity project as irredeemably vain as its maker.
Still, determined to enjoy this most glorious and (perhaps inevitably) most fleeting of follies, Kantor did succeed in attracting a host of weird and wonderful sound artists to The House’s utopian terraces. Indeed, when Felix Uran and Rasmus Folk performed opening night on the ‘Spaceship Earth’ stage, 500 revelers were there to enjoy the party.
Alas, with its five pneumatic dancefloors, domed ‘environment bars’ and unmanageable cyber-baroque decor, Endless House was in decay almost as soon as Dutch beat scientist Earnesto Rogers had sent his first bass drum rippling through its cavernous underbelly. With journalist berating the club’s indulgent, excessive sonics, and the dance (under)world increasingly unwilling to brave its unreasonable location, Endless House was losing $60,000 a night by the time Kantor himself played out with his melancholic proto-techno anthem ‘Warum ist alles so schnell passiert?’ (‘Why did it happen so fast?).”
So the, er, legend goes. Dramatic Records’ FACT mix aims to capture the spirit of the Endless House, its hedonistic heights and its cash-hemorrhaging depths alike – in the words of Walter Schnaffs, its “low frequency oscillation between heaven and hell”. From the kosmische drift of Emeralds and Tangerine Dream to the punchy minimal wave of Sudeten Creche and Deux, via the louche orch-pop of Serge Gainsbourg and the harrowing ambience of The Caretaker, FACT mix 223 is, fundamentally, a celebration of electronic music at its most emotive and idiosyncratic, and Dramatic’s canonical selections provide the perfect context for tracks by Endless House artists like Rasmus Folk and Johannus Arpensium.
You can download and stream the mix below. Scroll down for the tracklist and for an e-mail exchange (continued over the page) with Jiri Kantor, arranged via his PA in Trieste, about the life and legacy of The Endless House…
Raymond Scott- Memories
Michael Bundt – La Chasse Aux Microbes
Pauline Oliveros – Unknown Interview
Emeralds – Now You See Me
(Interview with Nikki Lauda)
Sudeten Creche – Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?
Johannus Arpensium – Ostend (Invisible Cities)
Spectre – Arkham
BBC Radiophonic Workshop – Sound Effect No.21
Selda – Gitme
Milton Babbitt – Philomel
Deux – Game And Performance
The Caretaker – Von Restorff Effect
Amon Duul II – Wie Der Wind Am Ende Der Strasse
Tangerine Dream – Invisible Limits
Excerpt from the film ‘Breaking Away’
Kraftwerk – Franz Schubert
(Interview with Delia Derbyshire)
Serge Gainsbourg – Ballade De Melody Nelson
Rasmus Folk – Coupe
Hype Williams – Blue Dream
(Commentary on Jacques Anquetil)
Laurie Spiegel – Appalachian Grove I
JIRI KANTOR Q&A
Tell us about Bialowieska Forest. Why did you choose to establish the Endless House there?
“A good question, and not something that others have so far spoken much about. From a pragmatic perspective (sorry to shatter journalistic illusions about Endless House as a ‘knowing folly’!), I suppose we were attracted to the opportunities arising from its unmanageable vastness, while, thinking more ‘emotionally’, we were allured by the dark romance of its primeval appearance. In fact, the great oaks that spar for position hundreds of metres in the sky made for a spectacular sense of disorientation. For this was the primary objective of the overall environment – disorientation. I saw Walter Schnaffs describe it, in typically oratorical style, as a ‘low frequency oscillation between heaven and hell’. He captures the spirit perfectly. This was Eden gripped with vice. ”
Did you encounter any ill will from the local authorities or community when you decided to build there, and to throw your parties there?
“To be honest, I distanced myself from these petty logistics. I wanted to make the Endless House happen, and so I put together a team that stopped at nothing to make it concrete. Yes, in the process I understand that our project contravened just about every rule of the land. I mean, this was an anarchic kind of ‘pop up’ (as you say these days), and ‘feasibility’ was just not in our vocabulary. This was The Endless House – the more striking, the more downright unbelievable its mark on the landscape, the better!
“This was Eden gripped with vice.”
Tell us a little bit about the founding concept behind the Endless House, and how the concept played out in reality. Do you feel the experiment was a success? In retrospect would you have done things differently?
“The vision of Endless House was that it should be a concrete realisation (quite literally) of an abstract ideology linked to a specific kind of community. My passion had always been for architecture, so I came up with this plan of merging this interest (i.e. Bauhaus, Constructivism, really aggressive modernism) with what I had seen going on in late 1960s, early 1970s Germany – i.e. the birth of super-bohemian ‘mini-states’…What we wanted to do was make an iconic ‘house’ that would hold our community together, and magnetize the most creative talent. That is to say, I admired everything about Amon Duul’s communes, for example, but I wanted to give these volatile abstractions some kind of ‘form’ and (as you say today) a ‘brand’ that would endure more meaningfully. It’s worth saying, by the way, that – by way of contrast – Endless House had no interest in politics outside of its aesthetics. In fact, to be clear, we loved the aesthetics of politics…I heard Walter Schnaffs talking about our manifesto documents somewhere on the internet, and it reminded me of this aspect.
“I wasn’t interested in the aridity of much of the early electronic music I had seen…this was about forces of personality.
“Was it a success? Well, I like to think more three-dimensionally than that. Commercially, yes, it was an unspeakable catastrophe. From a personal perspective, in truth the project’s demands quickly became a danger not only to my business empire, but also to my personal health. Artistically, however, I think we have some things to be proud of, some less so. In truth, I cannot tell you how much pleasure it gives me to hear people talking about these songs again. For you must understand: it was songs that we were interested in. On opening night, as Felix Uran began the opening bubbles and beeps of ‘Baltic Expo’, I remember a group of revellers dancing around a bonfire composed not of logs, but of Stockhausen’s Kontakte. This was the aesthetic theatre of Endless House!
“So, yes, if I see one person humming the tune to Rasmus Folk’s Coupe’, I shall die a happy man.”
How did you come into contact with Dramatic Records? Were you at all wary of handing over your music and your story to them?
“Yes, a few different people contacted my assistant out in Trieste. Where perhaps they expected opposition, they found only generous collaboration. It is a surprise and a joy to find the ego of my vanity project suddenly re-inflated. Of course, there are elements where their editorialisation offends me a little. The presentation of the disc is beautiful, but they seek cartoonish, technicolour dialectics that don’t always reflect the grey shades of the truth. The relationship with my younger brother, for example, is presented like some kind of emotional pornography.
“What I like, however, is that their presentation of the project reflects its original spirit. Dramatic Records must have a bit of Jiri Kantor in them, I suppose!”
“I remember a group of revellers dancing around a bonfire composed not of logs, but of Stockhausen’s Kontakte. This was the aesthetic theatre of Endless House!”
Forgive us if this is an impertinent question, but are you still prosperous, or have you fallen on hard times? What have you been up to in the years between the closure of the Endless House and now? What are the current activities of The Kantor EH Foundation?
“Impertinence forgiven, I have never been shy about my commercial prosperity. Let’s just say that, as seismic a financial earthquake as Endless House was, the fact that I tore it down after little over a month of activity tells you everything you need to know. Damage was limited. We moved on, and I now live happily with my brother Earnest here in Trieste. The Kantor EH Foundation is a very small operation, the (small) workforce of which I still fund. I believe there is a telephone number within the Dramatic Records package, so you can find out more there.
“I do not want to speak candidly about what the future holds, but let’s just say that we have some ideas about how we can work with Dramatic Records on future projects. Time is running out. As Earnest (my brother) is constantly reminding me, I’m not getting any younger!”
Tell us a bit more about the architecture and visual aspect of the Endless House…
“Well, I won’t patronise you by confirming that the project’s title took its name from Friedrich Kiesler’s work. We wanted to create a supremely modernist space, and one that related to the content and experiences that took place within it. The work of the young JG Ballard, I think, had also been on my mind, and – in my wildest imagination – I believed that the construction was somehow part of the music itself…This is crazy, of course, but I think that Walter Schnaffs’ ‘I Am Germany’, for example, captures an uncanny audio footprint of what the place felt like to be in: multi-textured, multi-dimensional (sometimes cavernous, sometimes vast) and as amorphous as we could possibly make it. Don’t forget, too, that there were generously stocked ‘workshop’ areas for musicians/artists/creators to develop their ideas away from the glare of public performance. That is, if you take Rasmus Folk, for example, who has this great reputation for laissez-faire philandering – the reality was that he worked very hard in these workshops, often putting in 6-7 hours behind the scenes composing the works that he would perform by night.
“‘Avant-garde with a smile on its face’ was the phrase I repeated to the artists working underneath me.”
Were there any prior party or club experiences that fed into the idea of the Endless House, that inspired you to do your own thing? What did you want the EH to provide that couldn’t be found elsewhere?
“Well, yes, you must remember that I had been editor of Otium International, a popular fashion/culture magazine in the late 60s, so it’s fair to say that my eyes had long been widened to the bright lights of debauchery. To intellectualise it, I suppose I was interested in the creative power of the ‘party’, the collaborative energy and force of like-minded people simply getting together to have fun. This, combined with what I had read about things like Kommune 1, inspired me to pursue the dream of Endless House. Music was supposed to be the fire-place around which people gathered at this ‘party’, and my hope was that it would ignite the creativity of all who attended. By that I mean, even though there were obvious ‘star residents’ (Rasmus, Felix, Johannus etc), everyone – even the pure pleasure seeking ‘fans’ – was part of the symposium.
How did you meet the acquaintance of the various artists who contributed to the Endless House, and what drew you to their work? Have you kept in contact with them in the subsequent years?
“The first thing to say here is that – although I considered myself the ‘creative overlord’ of all things Endless House – I always had a considerable team of artistic directors working for me. I called them my ‘aesthetic engineers’, and they took immediate responsibility for the programming and recruitment of ‘elite’ residents. The Maecenas to my Augustus, if you like. Anyway, so the vast majority of the talent came through them, and I would simply voice my approval or otherwise. Johannus (Arpensium) I knew personally, and he is the one I have kept in touch with to this day.
“What drove the programming? Well, I suppose I wanted anyone whom I believed brought interest and charisma to the world of electronic music. I wasn’t interested in the aridity of much of the early electronic music I had seen…this was about forces of personality. ‘Avant-garde with a smile on its face’ was the phrase I repeated to the artists working underneath me. I wanted waves of synthetic sound that could act a drama, and soaring arpeggios that whispered you stories.
“I’m still not sure if it was a dream or a nightmare.”
Talk us through the opening night of the Endless House, and the final night. Also, what are your salient memories of the Endless House? Any stand-out moments?
“Opening night was the most anxious of my life. As the Dramatic Records sleeve notes will tell you, Felix Uran and Rasmus Folk were the dream duo to make the impression we wanted. I will never forget the force of Uran’s ‘Baltic Expo’, the perfect standard-bearer for the club’s aesthetic mission. His Modular synthesizers cut through the House’s vast main atrium like a rainbow of laser beams, and the words he sang – of new technologies, new communities – were the club’s manifesto made lyric. As for Rasmus…Well, where to begin? ‘Coupe’ lifted us all up like on some kind of benign, warming tidal wave, a moment where a hint of St Tropez glamour washed over our forest community. The debauchery of the Endless House has sometimes been exaggerated, but – no question – Rasmus’s opening set was the soundtrack to a suitably liberal-minded evening.
“Just six weeks later, however, things were over as soon as they had begun. We were losing sums of money I wouldn’t want to share with you, many of the fans/participants had gone home due to the remoteness of the location, and the relative hostility of the living conditions, and I knew I had to finish it there and then. In a moment of absolute clarity, I called all the remaining attendees (there can’t have been more than 70, including resident artists!) up to the Endless House library, and told them we would be going home in an hour. There would be one last set and – much to their disbelief – I was going to play it…I spoke to them as I played, selecting my favourite moments from the archives, and – with our cars waiting outside – I played the final track at The Endless House: ‘Warum ist alles so schnell passiert?’ (‘Why Did It Happen So Fast?’). We said goodbye amidst the final throbs and sobs of my Moog Sonic Six, and then – as if a procession – we filed out to the men and women who would take us home. It had lasted six weeks, and I’m still not sure if it was a dream or a nightmare.”