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Horst Königstein - A German Interview

Conducted in Hamburg, 24/10/1997

Very few Germans were significantly involved in the creation of an album by Genesis & Co. in the past. One is Horst Königstein, who worked with Peter Gabriel on his two German albums. We met him on October 24, 1997 in his Hamburg NDR office for our first "German interview". This interview has been translated into English in March 2021).

(The quote in the header image says: "It was exciting, very exciting. I don't want to miss a second")

it: How did you get in touch with Peter Gabriel?

Horst Königstein: In 1979 a marketing specialist called me and said that Peter Gabriel had asked if he knew someone who could translate his lyrics into German. He would like to make a German album.

it: Did you know Peter at that time?

Königstein: This is rather unbelievable - I didn't know who he was. I knew Genesis but never heard them. They didn't interest me. Then I got the Lamb Lies Down ... and the Solsbury Hill LP and I listened to them. I was impressed by the Solsbury Hill LP. The Genesis was too cryptic for me, so ornamental and too playful. I didn't like that very much.

I then suggested we should meet. If we liked each other, then we could also find out if we could work together. Well, I wasn't interested in him, I wasn't a fan and that's why I didn't throw myself at his feet, I was pretty wait-and-see. I was a tried and tested filmmaker with a funny relationship to language, but not someone who wanted to get into the pop business.

it: How did your first meeting with Peter go?

Königstein: A flight had been booked and I was picked up at Heathrow. A Hit & Run man took me to Bath, straight to Peter Gabriel. Peter had this farmhouse there. It was totally cold and damp and he was down there in his kitchen stirring some kind of cereal soup. We watched each other. We both said something to introduce ourselves, and then he went to the "Barn" with me. There I got in touch with all these things that he wanted to do with the Fairlight synthesizer he had just discovered and loved. He played me Intruder and Games Without Frontiers. That was already in the charts, but the album hadn't been released yet. Peter then played me the stuff (that had already been mixed for me) in these rooms, which actually only consisted of old gray slate. My ears really flew away. He told me how he sampled certain sounds. For me at that time it was all Greek to me.

The next day I met his wife, then he showed me Bath, and we just talked about each other. We both introduced ourself to the other a bit more.I found out quite a lot about life there straight away. Peter told me that Solsbury Hill is a story about the conception of a child. I got all the mystical stuff, which always bothered me a bit about him. Well, and then I worked on the lyrics for eight weeks.

Peter Gabriel und Horst Königstein

it: How did it work with the translations?

Königstein: Well, I tried to capture not so much the meanings directly, but rather equivalents of his singing. The English should have a connection to the German. "Eindringling" for example is actually an old-fashioned word, but it has so many strange vowels in it. I thought it fits perfectly with Intruder. Or Through The Wire - Peter gets hard in Durch Den Draht. It's such a sado-masochistic fantasy. For me, as I experienced him, Peter Gabriel is one of the most erotic people, who is really quite soft and amorphous, but who is a real erotomaniac, almost charged with sex. I tried to express this much more dramatically in the German lyrics than in the English original.

it: Did you have problems implementing the ideas that Peter had in his lyrics, or was everything clear?

Königstein: Well, it was never clear (laughs). If you take a song like Intruder - it's a song about someone jerking off into his laundry. But I didn't get that either, Peter told me. He reads a lot of books. Sometimes a song is like the answer or a brief synopsis. He has, for example, read something about the protocols of assassins and made Snapshot Into The Light (Family Snapshot, the editors) from it.

it: How did you introduce Peter to the German translations?

Königstein: I always did a back translation for my German translation.

it: Why?

Königstein: Because it often had nothing to do with the English lyric any more, but was merely onomatopoeic.

it: Did you need to have musical knowledge?

Königstein: No, I was a total amateur. That is also a good prerequisite, because otherwise you are far too precious with a composition. You also have to want to destroy it. And I did that thoroughly. For example "Geh weg, geh weg", just such a scream, it made it really wonderful. This could come about because I also gave him different words. Sometimes he would say, "There are other words," and I just gave him words. Then he said: ""Those words sound even better, I would like to use them."

it: Are you less interested in music than in spoken word?

Königstein: No, the two belong together. When I started working with Peter at that time, I learned that language can simply be disintegrated and that language is not only there for listening to the narration - so it is the connection that language is music and language is not based on music. That's something I learned from Peter and I think you can hear it on the album.

it: Absolutely yes. How did you come back to work together for the fourth album in 1982? Has that been arranged beforehand?

Königstein: No, that was quite an interesting moment. Peter had prepared himself for that, and I said: "Let's do another album." And he said: "Yes, I think I would like to." And we did indeed get it done in a fortnight this time. I thought Rhythm Of The Heat was great, but the album as a whole was weak - so Peter felt himself. He felt that the album was like a dead end, and that had a lot to do with private crises.

it: So the whole thing wasn't that intense anymore?

Königstein: No, I wasn't that interested anymore either.

it: Peter also tried to put out an album in other languages. Why do you think there was so little interest except in Germany?

Königstein: He wanted to do it in Spanish and French, as far as I know. But there just wasn't enough initiative. However, the power got also a bit lost.

it: Jetzt Kommt Die Flut doesn't come from the third or fourth album. How did it come about that Peter recorded this piece from the first album in German?

Königstein: I didn't even know it before. He played it for me and it completely enchanted me. You must not forget that 1979/80 was the time of the great apocalyptic fantasies: the nuclear fears, the story of Star Wars, the nuclear threat from the Cruise missiles, etc. So I actually see Here Comes The Flood as a song about a cleared earth with only two survivors. I completely detached myself from his lyrics, but he thought it was a good thing. It was recorded live in a small studio, and for me personally that was the most intense experience I've ever had with a singer. I deepened this apocalypse picture for him and told him that for me, England is the piers, the old dancing piers. I wanted Brighton - an empty seaside resort where the animals crawl ashore and everything is destroyed. Then you see a pier like this, covered with seaweed, and at the end of the pier there is a glittering palace and you can already see the paint peeling off, and there is some music playing and a couple is dancing. And only the two hear the music, which may not even be there.

it: There is another song sung by Peter in German, Me And My Teddy Bear. Do you have something to do with it, or who did it?

Königstein: No, I have nothing to do with that. I don't know who did it either.

it: Was there a collaboration between you and Peter for So?

Königstein: In 1985 I visited Peter when So was in the final production phase. I liked it a lot. We talked about each title and that cleared up his private life. It was an album that had a serenity and joy. I said to him: "Let's make an album where only two or three tracks are German, or do an EP."

it: So there was definitely the idea that So should be translated as well?

Königstein: Yes, but then it turned out that everything had progressed too far already and the promotion machinery was up and running so that the record company simply did not want it.

it: How did it come about that Peter sang Jetzt Kommt Die Flut on your television program "Haus Vaterland" in 1984?

Königstein: The idea of "Haus Vaterland" was "German myths meet young artists". I wanted images from German entertainment history to collide. I think Peter belongs in there in a mysterious way. In broadcasts of mine you can see things that he did just for me. As I said, that was once the show Haus Vaterland, where he sang Jetzt Kommt Die Flut. And then there was "Reichshauptstadt Privat" (A German TV drama, the editors) with his version of Illusions. Both are unique. Friedrich Holländer was never sung better than by Peter, and he tormented himself with the song. But he did it as a service of friendship. That came about in 1987 during the tour. We couldn't go to a studio so we shot it on the tour stage. He practiced for two weeks and that was it. He never sang Illusions again afterwards. Incidentally, I only dared to propose that to him because I noticed that he can sing certain pop songs in a strange way. In 1980 I saw his concert in Bristol. We talked a lot about Abba before, and I said my favorite song was The Winner Takes It All. So he sang it to me as a present in Bristol.

it: Have you seen Peter's concerts regularly?

Königstein: Yes, I've seen pretty much everything. The staging by Lepage (Ed.: Secret World Tour 1993) was impressive. I practiced with him again on three tours, whenever he sang in German. On the first tour - the one with the black overalls and those pit lamps - he sang most of the German titles. He had really practised, really worked hard. He knew everything by heart. The people knelt down. It was a crazy mood.

it: Would you do it all over again today?

Königstein: I would work with him again anytime. But a whole project? I think it just can't be repeated. It was the time when everybody wanted to say something in German. I wanted to say something as an artist, and so did he. And that doesn't come back together like that. Peter will have to redefine his role. As a singer / songwriter, as a narrator with music, you can still count on a few decades. But one must also be careful not to slip into pomp and embarrassment. The aging artists of Genesis in particular are in an extremely difficult situation. On the one hand, they have become purveyors of elevator music, Genesis above all. Genesis now serve the 40-50 year olds. This is music for nicely furnished apartments. But it is no longer music that is a disruptive factor. And if Peter Gabriel wanted something, he wanted to be a disruptive factor. When I hear Phil Collins, I tune out. I can't hear that anymore, all his pastiches of Diana Ross titles. There were things that I liked to hear. I thought the first album, Face Value, was terrific. However, you could hear certain things that he took over from Peter, e.g. this "hardcore drumming" that you could only record in stone caves. It's the same with Intruder as with In The Air Tonight. There are certain things that make you realize that the keyboard sounds and the drum sounds are very similar.

it: Are you still in contact with Peter?

Königstein: Yes, we have met every time he was here. We meet every one or two years in London or New York. Peter says we'll do something together again. I don't really see it that way. I don't know, he always takes an incredibly long time to do his work. In many ways he was a hobbyist and avant-garde player. Everything that he has now worked on together with Apple, these CD-ROMs, is now being done by others too. Peter will surely get into a real crisis. He looks very soft, but he is an absolute domineering character. We both also had hard times together because I can also be very dominant. It was exciting, very exciting. I didn't want to miss a second. It's the greatest avant-garde work I've ever had to do with.

Many thanks again to Horst Königstein for patiently answering all of our questions!

Horst Königstein died on 12th May 2013 in Hamburg, Germany.

Interview: Bernd Zindler + Peter Schütz (1997)
Transcript: Peter Schütz
Translation: Christian Gerhardts (2021)
Photos: Peter Schütz (1997) / unknown (Königstein and Gabriel)

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