Secret Thirteen Interview - Atom™


Independence through isolation - the interview with Atom™

Uwe Schimdt - the man behind Atom™ moniker - operates within a wide range of musical narratives expressed by various eclectic guises. They guide us through the variety of spatial, geographical and temporal episodes of music history. Latin infused cover project Señor Coconut, the futuristic hazy downtempo/electro-jazz of Flanger (Uwe’s collaboration with Burnt Friedman), the beautiful and monolithic classicism of Schubert referencing Atom™ album “Winterreise” (not to mention many other works under different guises) serve as significant signposts illustrating Uwe’s vision. No matter how diverse this grouping might seem, all this comes from the same man, who found the needed cultural isolation after moving from Frankfurt to Chile.

Having such a rich background Uwe definitely developed his own peculiar artistic philosophy, which helps him to constantly evolve and reinvent his art. Secret Thirteen is proud to have his presence here just before his “HD” show in Arma 17 event in Moscow in April where one Secret Thirteen journal member will also play.

In the interview below Uwe kindly elaborated about his artistic explorations, painful and complex path to individuality, the purposes behind his move to Chile and other aspects of his adventurous and eclectic soundworld.


Russia is a controversial country and at the moment the world’s eyes are turned to it. Maybe your upcoming performance at Arma17 event “Space Love” will somehow reflect the nowadays militaristic tension between Russian and Ukraine? As far as we know you are not afraid of any social/political statements in your works. Should the listeners await for any kind of hidden manifest in your performance related to this conflict or will there be other musical horizons and topics you are going to explore and express through your show?

Well, actually due to the complex nature of the "HD" show, which is a pretty thoroughly prepared audiovisual show, it is pretty much impossible to make quick changes to it and modify it according to certain events. Preparation of the set, in terms of work needed for video and audio production and then, making it "playable" is quite huge. Therefore, I am afraid, that the set I am going to perform this time at "Arma 17" will not be different in that aspect. However, I have just updated the set from the version I played last year, and it will contain partly new material, which is the audio/video of "my generation", as on the "HD" album. Even though, this is not a video made specifically for current political developments, it certainly turned out to be a social statement of some sort, as you will see. The problem with making political and social statements in general is not to make an artistic expression too "banal" and positioned in time/place. In my opinion, the magic of music has to do with the irrational, rather than with the rational. Hence, when making political or social statements, I think the trick is to maintain artistic ambiguity.

Measured minimalistic aesthetics and forms, systematic content arrangement obviously follow you. By exploring your various activities, design, website we could feel that you somehow involved in cyberpunk movement, but is it true? How deep are you interested into it and does it somehow influence your works nowadays or in the past? It would be interesting to know how your visual identity born and how it developed through the years into what we have today. Also it would be interesting to know what other art forms influence you as an individual.

To be frank, I don't know what the cyberpunk movement is supposed to be. In my timeline "cyberpunk" is a movement that happened during the '90s, so, i wasn't aware it even still existed. I rather so think that what perhaps used to be named "cyberpunk" back then, has meanwhile morphed into a huge stream of movements, bearing all sorts of names ("glitch", "hacking", etc.) which are happening in online or offline media. In general I am, and always was interested in all sorts of languages, signs, codes and ways to see reality. I am as interested in very conservative cultural expressions as well as in revolutionary ideas. I think the difference between the two is relative. To me the past is as exciting as the future. Both describe the same distance from me, just in different directions, if you will. The past, to me, is as "alien" as the unknown future. I draw inspiration from both. As for my visual identity, well, I think it has developed the same way my sonic identity has developed, in the sense as that one’s history is built from experiences and moments that accumulate to what one is "now". I like the fact that one can accumulate aesthetic elements throughout time, and make them part of one’s universe, as "fixed" components. By doing so, they then turn into components with their own rights and existence independent from where they eventually may have come from. As with any artistic development, I think, those elements come into existence due to unknown causes. They are attracted to me or I am attracted to them (perhaps the same thing). At some stage then, they start to "make sense" within an aesthetic or other frame. Those influences, answering the last part of your question, come from anywhere actually: reading, writing, music, film, books, and, yes, I would say basically EVERYTHING I do. I may pick up a word in a taxi, a sound in an airport, have an idea during dinner, a melody while taking a shower, and so on. All those elements appear for mysterious reasons, just the same way people appear in one’s life without knowing the reason for it. Some of those elements then stick with me in the sense that they resonate with ideas or other elements I am carrying around. Eventually those elements then start to form some sort of a "cluster", which then, in the best case turn into a piece of music.

You have numerous pseudonyms that could be literally interpreted as the attempt to overload or just hack the musical industry like hackers do when they use thousands of ‘dead’ computers for their massive attacks to break into the other systems. In this case the target could be people’s subconsciousness, as it is a little bit confusing to retrace your previous activities. Probably this is only our interpretations, but could you elaborate why there are so many other names and what do they mean to you? Do they have different musical ideologies and what is the future of them? Are there any other ongoing projects beside Atom™ your are going to expand in the future and to focus more?

To begin with, I would rather refer what you call "pseudonyms" as "ideas" or "pictures". I started working under all those different names very practically as it is a method to remain creative and channel ideas in certain ways. Every "idea" basically needs a "name" of some sort, a working title, so you know where to put things. Many of the "pseudonyms" are just names I gave to certain projects. Sometimes those names suggest something "concrete" as for example Sr. Coconut, which evokes a specific "reality", but other names/pseudonyms were much more abstract (for example Brown) and therefore simply caused a different reaction. In the early days, releasing a lot, and under different, sometimes obscure names, indeed had something to do with living a new moment in (music/media) society. It was possible to do that, to be creative in multiple ways without restriction. I am still following that idea, even though I am releasing less music today that i did 20 years ago. However the idea of "obscurity" is still fascinating. I will actually launch a label, called "No." together with my colleague Material Object around May this year on which all sorts of obscurities will be released.

As for the meanings and futures of those "projects" or "pseudonyms": well, not every idea is a GREAT idea. Some result in smaller, shorter works, while others can expand in time. In most cases one idea morphs into another one though changes name, identity and evolves. I have tried to bundle that evolution under just Atom™ for the last couple of years and have also begun to rename my entire catalogue bundling all the old releases under the Atom™ name.


To follow previous question: one of your multiple side projects, Señor Coconut, was very well received by public in general and actually represents a really interesting and original offer. How do you feel about it? How did the idea come up, apart from the fact that you moved from Frankfurt to Santiago de Chile, and how the idea evolved from the first beginning? Are you going to release something new under that pseudonym?

Regarding Sr. Coconut, this was a project that came along many years before. I then actually moved to Chile in 1997. It was an idea I have carried around with me since 1992 more or less, and it crystalized in the first Sr. Coconut album in 1996, right before I moved to Chile. Frankly, I also think that Chile only remotely has something to do with that project, which is why I won't elaborate that connection much further here, since I think it's not really relevant. Sr. Coconut was initiated, I think, by my general interest in musical language. I lived in Costa Rica for around 6 months in 1992/93 and when i came back to Frankfurt, I wanted to incorporate the musical language/code I experienced there into my creative process. At first, this didn't work, but then at some point around 1996 it did, and resulted in the first Sr. Coconut album. Back then, I have to add, it was a musical adventure not many understood. I got a weird look from labels, distributors and media at first. Then I moved to Chile, actually more so because I was interested in musical/personal "isolation". Chile is far away and I wanted to be on my own, but not part of a scene or a musical tendency (which I think worked!). As time went by then the Sr. Coconut idea took a life on its own and more albums came along, which then led to a certain success. I performed, toured and produced a series of Sr. Coconut albums then for a period of more or less 10 years. At some stage then, I think the Coconut idea stopped resonating with me, and I got attracted by music, which I think has more to do with my roots. I decided to dedicate myself to that from 2008 onwards more or less. In a nutshell, Sr. Coconut is on vacation. :)

What were the reasons behind your move from Berlin to Chile. How did your life change after the move? How those two places and their contrasts influence you and your art?

Like I briefly mentioned in the above question I wanted to move somewhere, where I could find isolation, not integration. I did not move to Chile, because I wanted to find something specific, but because I wanted to be on my own, and see what that would produce. Obviously the new place then started to generate new input and influences as any place does. However though, I think that what happened "in me" (independence) is musically more important than what the place did to me, if I can say that today, analysing it, looking backwards.

Are you interested in literature? Many sophisticate people state that literature (poems, and novels, plays etc.) is a dying art. It would be interesting to know your connection with the world of words. Also maybe you could share the titles of the last books you have recently read and some thoughts about them. Another question: maybe you are writing or ever tried to write? Please share your experience. However, if you are not into books, then we were curious to know what type of cinema interests you.

I think I am not a "reader" in the strict sense. I have read very little, in general. But then, I have not listened to a lot of music either. I think I am a rather passive cultural absorber and I "take in" less than I "put out". As for literature, I am going through periods. Sometimes I am not reading anything for years and then suddenly I am getting very interested in something specific and start to read a lot about that certain topic before I fall idle again. However, I have always had types of formats and topics I preferred over others. I have always been interested in philosophy and science, sometimes in poetry. I like to read facts, let's say, in history, I like reading or looking at historic maps rather than reading a book "about history" (those I find dubious).

Sometimes the topics I am interested are more important than the format. For example, for many years I was very into "ornaments". The idea of the ornament in all shapes. Back then I started to listen to baroque music on one hand, but got very interested in baroque architecture as well. I would then read a biography about J.S. Bach next to a book about fractals etc. Needless to say, that I would then obviously be very into the "ornamental" idea when making music.

Right now I am reading a book by Henri Bergson called "Matter and Memory". It's a philosophy book, but actually deals with science. Apart from being interested in the content of the book, I am perhaps even more interested in the fact that it proposes a very, very different analysis of reality. I find this inspiring, the fact that our reality can be so different by just switching perspective. What exactly could be the reason for reading that specific book, I think is impossible to put in words during this interview though.

Regarding writing, well, I am constantly writing and collect phrases, words, ideas for lyrics basically all the time. Necessarily the idea of writing something "bigger" like an essay or a book of course crossed my mind, yet perhaps I have not found a topic or a format that has inspired me sufficiently to start writing it, i think. But who knows what future will bring!

John Cage once wrote “I was shocked at college to see one hundred of my classmates in the library all reading copies of the same book. Instead of doing as they did, I went into the stacks and read the first book written by an author whose name began with Z. I received the highest grade in the class. That convinced me that the institution was not being run correctly. I left”. The question is, what do you think about colleges these days? Maybe you have a chance to lecture sometimes or to discuss this with people who are related to teaching? It would be interesting to know your opinion of how group learning can affect your individuality. Also it would be great to hear some advices for the upcoming composers, sound artists.

I used to give lectures in the past, so I am in touch every now and then with that "world" (actually I will give a workshop and talk at Frankfurt University in the end of March). Fortunately, the situation I am able to teach within is very different from what a normal school is. University teaching has much more to do with adults selecting their scope of interests, while school is basically children doing things they don't know why they are doing. School is a passive act as the child has no choice. I have a 15 year old daughter myself and of course the school topic became an important one at some stage. I tried to generate the best circumstances for her, which I think worked out well. That said, I have to confess that I am critical towards school or perhaps our school system(s) in general in the sense that I believe that apart from writing, reading and basic math, the only thing that is REALLY taught at school is discipline and making sure a human being "functions" correctly. It is obvious that within the normal school system, human beings are learning just enough not to question what lays "beyond". School actually does not learn you to think, but rather, not to think. It's a method of programming human beings. The more I think about my own school experiences when being a kid, the more I am sure, that I have to forget most of what I was taught back then. Most of it is false and prevents from seeing things "correctly". So, yes, John Cage was absolutely right with his analysis! Being a realist on the other hand, school and programming of an average human being in a certain way assure that the average society maintains its functionality. For the masses that "may" be "enough", for certain amount and kind of human beings, it isn't. If you're interested in the complexity and mysterious, overwhelming structure of reality, well, try to forget what you have learned, question everything you are told, because almost all of it is false. Then, start to rebuild your universe again, by yourself, trusting your intuition.

Now, I think it is true for any human being (not only composers, musicians, etc) to question everything that should be taught in school in fact and, especially within the field of electronic music way too much "average" knowledge is being transmitted nowadays, which contradicts the initially adventurous attitude that laid behind electronic music in the first place. Individuality by definition defies generalization. Now, not everybody wants to be individual or, let's say "I am individual" is a contemporary fashion phrase and I think that people really believe they are individual. Even though they repeat pre-fabricated phrases and "facts". I believe that being individual for real is a painful, and difficult process, since you first need to distance yourself from most of the established reality. Individuality is a lonesome process and it's not fun to start with. It's an ultimate goal though, at least to me. It means permanently rejecting what is attached to you.

More about Atom™: Website - Facebook - Soundcloud

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An interdisciplinary journal, offering eclectic mixes and smart interviews with original artists and label owners as well as contemporary art reviews.