Volker Böhm is an electronic musician, composer and software developer living in Basel, Switzerland. He writes music for theater and dance pieces, envisions and designs interactive sound installations, developes custom made software for various art projects, and plays electronics in several ensembles and groups ranging from contemporary, over jazz to free improvised music.
Last but not least, since more than 10 years he has been a lecturer in electronic music and head of the ‘Audiodesign’ departement at the ‘Elektronisches Studio Basel’.
Starting out as a classically trained pianist, Volker became interested in composition and contemporary music early on. Since the mid 90ties he has been active in the performance of music by Nono, Stockhausen, Maderna etc. with Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Heinz Holliger, Ensemble Aventure and many more. On the other hand, jazz music has always had an inspiring influence on his way of composing, playing and thinking about music in general. The opportunity to play with great instrumentalists like drummer Gregor Hilbe or pianist Hans Feigenwinter and others was an invaluable experience for him.
Volker Böhm’s main instrument nowadays is the computer, which he programms to his needs and uses with a rich palette of sound sources, that range from acoustic and electronic instruments, such as the piano, prepared guitars, fender rhodes, old synthesisers to found objects – things that can be touched, scratched, tapped on etc. – and anything that can be picked up by microphones.
The ability to record and manipulate sound to create something new has always had an fascinating appeal to him.
In recent time, he has rediscovered his appreciation for offline sound processing techniques, where a predefined algorithm is applied to a recorded sound or specific formulas are used to generate audio files.
“You do something and then sit there for some time to wait for the outcome of a certain treatment or process: what will it sound like? – it feels a bit like christmas as a child – full of curiosity and pleasant anticipation…” he says.
One may find it strange to pick up this obsolescent workflow of early computer sound production, as computers are fast and memory is cheap nowadays. But offline processes offer certain approaches especially concerning the treatment of time and frequency or the analysis of sounds, that are not really or hardly possible with usual plug-in effects in a DAW or effect boxes and synths that operate in real-time.
Besides composing and production work in the studio, one of Volker’s main concerns is the playability of electronic sounds. “As an instrumentalist, I’m looking for quick and differentiated access to the sound material, which is essential especially in the context of free improvised music.”
The definition of the electronic setup as an ‘instrument’ is important to him and a question of interface- and software-design that isn’t simply solved some time, but acts more like a moving target.
Finally it is both parts that Böhm strives to integrate into his recent work: the silent observer and discoverer of sound landscapes that originated from a specific algorithm, chance or random process on the one side and the intervening instrumentalist, who wants to take a hand in the sound and directly interact with it, on the other.
Photo of Volker Böhm by Roland Rossbacher.