Ralf Schmerberg interview – What Difference Does It Make? A Film About Making Music
Red Bull Music Academy has recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, and over that time has represented many different genres of music and given opportunities to many ambitious musicians to take part in workshops and festivals all over the world. Such names as Debbie Harry, Erykah Badu, Mark Ronson and Tim Westwood have all lectured at the Academy, sharing their knowledge and experience to aspiring performers in London, Tokyo, Madrid and beyond. To mark this anniversary, the Academy invited award-winning director Ralf Schmerberg to create a film. What Difference Does It Make? A Film About Making Music was shot in 2013 at the Academy in New York and explores music and beyond.
We caught up with Ralf to talk about why he documented the Academy, what he learnt from the experience, and the importance of music.
What was your passion when you were younger? Did you have a particular vision or was it that lack of particular career path that enabled you to become creatively free?
It’s hard to know what started what. In my case I didn’t know what I wanted to do until the beginning of my 20s. I wasted time all over the place and wasn’t into anything in particular. I observed things but had no ideas. I ended up getting into depression. Then I got into photography and into film surprisingly, and it took over my life from there.
How important is it to be able to be involved in various mediums? Do you have a favourite or are they all artistically important in their own ways?
I’m not particularly fixed on the medium. I like to play with them and I’ve never been more interested in one thing or another. It’s all about discovering different possibilities and relationships. My approach is if I have interest then I love it. I look to combine a subject of interest with art. There has to be a willingness to surrender or go deeper. So really it’s about self-experience. If I like to look at it then maybe another person would be interested in it. It could be fascinating to someone else.
Could you tell us more about how you became involved with Red Bull Music Academy and the unique working relationship?
This is a rare connection of a film maker and an idea. Something like this will probably happen more and more in the future. In the beginning I needed a lot of confidence to convince me to have freedom and importance of self-expression. I need to be given security to do a film as a film maker, and if there’s a problem we talk but it comes down to us. Like my own films, it was about ownership and to be able to intellectually make what we wanted. I was not sure about a bigger company but communication was good.
Did you have a focal message for the feature film that you wanted to deliver?
The Academy production was like a wedding film, showing good memories but also a celebration of the future. It had to be a film about them because they make it happen, but you have to go beyond that and be fair. It was never going to be a classic documentary.
The intention was to make a film with the backdrop of music but also what it means to be an artist. To explore the struggles and spiritual steps that they go through, and the intuition and surrendering to music. It carries you and it becomes the medium of art. I wanted to make something different, not about selling records but about human messages.
What do you feel you learnt yourself about music through the project?
Well actually I learnt that it’s really hard to go every night to a concert! You start to hate noise and the security involved and you start to think it’s too much in that world. It was very intense and never stopped. I appreciated the quiet and peace after that. Music is in everything and all around you. It’s in sound not just in concerts, you can hear it everywhere.
How imperative is art in today’s society and how have you found the advances in technology to impact on its consumption?
It’s a life form now, not an obstacle. In the bigger picture I’m a big fan of going out of traditional business. If I could go back and be a 70s film maker I would because it was such an interesting time, but now there are lots of avenues for consumption and it’s a very exciting time. You can be nervous and scared but the opportunities are far greater now. I’m able to play a lot with different mediums and experiment.
What are your current projects and what would you like to work on in future?
I finished another film which was Odyssey of The Lovers where people met to do a musical session. It was visually creative and free and went non-stop for 24 hours. It’s such a dreamy film like a utopia. The next movie will be by myself, totally independent, as I spend two years in India. There will be a lot of time there and many opportunities ahead of me.
What do you hope the audience will take away from ‘What Difference Does It Make? A Film About Making Music’?
Oh I hate thinking about that. I don’t really want to tell audiences what to think but I suppose a nice journey with entertainment and to go away with a good feeling and whatever they want to get from the experience. Success is an inner state.
What Difference Does It Make? A Film About Making Music premieres in cinemas across the globe on 17 February 2014. From 18 February 2014 it will be available for free viewing on redbullmusicacademy.com.