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Culture

Watching the Buildings Collapse Online

Einstürzende Neubauten, Germany’s best known industrial rock band, has turned to the Internet to control production and distribution of its newest work. Fans are also expected to fund the band’s next album online

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Masters of industrial cacophony - the experimental German band Einstürzende Neubauten

"As long as the audience doesn’t make itself noticeable in a disturbing way, they don’t matter at all to me." Blixa Bargeld, lead singer and founder of the band Einstürzende Neubauten (Collapsing New Buildings) is reported to have made this comment once.

He seems to have had had a fundamental change of opinion since then.

That’s because the next album is meant to be entirely funded by the band’s fans and friends. For $35 or €35 they will receive the finished CD on April 1, 2003, E.N.’s 23 birthday.

That makes it the first band to virtually involve their listeners in the actual making of an album.

Supporters won’t just get an exclusive Einstürzende Neubauten album, they’ll also get the chance to peek over the musicians’ shoulders while the album is being produced -- live via Internet. Webcams have been installed all over the studio, so that supporters can watch online broadcasts of practice sessions several times a month.

The audience isn’t disturbing

The audience is now allowed to make itself "noticeable." Paying supporters can comment on what they see and hear. "As a musician it’s always helpful to play things I’ve done for my friends. I see this as a similar relationship: the supporters follow the working process and then say -- for instance -- that they liked the first version of the song better," Blixa Bargeld told the German newspaper Kölner Anzeiger.

Although most paying supporters come from the US, listeners from Argentina, Hungary, Turkey and Greece are involved in the project as well. One fan even translated the Web site into Japanese. "The project is acquiring a much more interesting shape than I ever could have predicted," says Bargeld. "A sort of community is developing among the supporters."

Besides the high level of interactivity, Einstürzende Neubauten’s Internet project also presents a challenge to the music industry that hasn’t yet found marketable ways to distribute music online. If other bands start using their Web sites as distribution platforms that guarantee them artistic and economic independence too, the traditional record multinationals stand to lose a lot of business.

On top of a different distribution route, Blixa Bargeld says that the close relationship between artist and fan is important: "Above all, we offer our fans intimacy -- something that the music industry absolutely cannot offer."

Going against the tide

Founded in 1980 Blixa Bargeld and Andrew Chudy in an empty place under the autobahn, the Berlin band has always broken with normal music conventions.

Growing up with wall-time Berlin and the punk movement, E.N. shirked all forms of popular music and looked for musical inspiration instead in machinery and construction sites instead. Among the band’s preferred instruments are drills, metal cutters, angle grinders and even jet turbines.

Numerous bands such as Sonic Youth, Ministry and Nine Inch Nails are believed to have taken their inspiration from E.N.’s industrial rock.

Although the band members gave up their acoustic subversion long ago -- now frequenting the lifestyle pages of German newspapers instead -- they’re still good for a surprise.

A successful project

Einstürzende Neubauten now estimate that they need at least 1,500 supporters to have enough money to cover production costs for the album. In that sense, the Internet project is clearly on its way to success already – Only "246 supporters needed," proclaims the counter on the Web site at the moment.

Once forerunners in challenging music lovers’ hearing, it’s appropriate that Einstürzende Neubauten, are going on to challenge the way music is distributed in the new media.

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