Lifelong drummer and percussionist Julian Sartorius has become renowned for transforming the sounds of the natural world and big cities into intoxicating rhythmic compositions.
His latest work depicts music created whilst hiking in the mountains, and offers a compellingly unique and immersive listening experience – thanks to Julian’s attention to detail and clearly passionate connection to the process.
We were blessed with the opportunity to talk with Julian Sartorius, to find out more about his journey as a drummer and musician – how things started, where they’re headed, and what it is about rhythm that fascinates him so much. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hi Julian – excited to interview you, thanks for the opportunity! To introduce things, you’re primarily a drummer – what was it about the drums and rhythm that first ignited your passion?
Thanks for having me. It’s not easy to give a clear answer to this question – I feel it was like an instinct. For as long as I can remember, I have been deeply attracted to drums and rhythm. Already as a two-year-old, I wanted to drum on everything. I received my first drum lessons at the age of 5. I have no memory of a life without drums and this fascination has never waned. In fact, it feels like it’s still only getting stronger.
You’ve pioneered an impressive experimental project, uniting mountaineering and music. Tell me about the inception of this idea – what inspired it, and how long has it been in the making?
I am an enthusiastic hiker and mountaineer. The desire to combine the sounds I discover on the hikes with my musical work grew more and more. So I came up with the idea of using the paths I take on foot as an instrument.
My first album of this kind was Hidden Tracks: Basel – Genève. For this album, I walked more than 200 kilometres from Basel to Geneva.
The current album Hidden Tracks: Domodossola – Weissmies is the second album in this ‘Hidden Tracks’ series. My aim here is to make the journey to the heights tangible in sound.
You’ve captured a plethora of seemingly common sounds for the album, and turned them into intoxicating compositions. Have you always heard music in the world around you, or is this a skill you’ve honed over time?
The search for sound material in all kinds of situations and environments has developed over time. It started with me manipulating the drums with all kinds of objects to find other sounds. At some point I realised what a wealth of sounds could still be discovered outside in the cities and in nature.
How easy or difficult was it to capture the sounds of the natural world and collaboratively craft these immersive, rhythmic soundscapes around that?
With today’s small recording devices, these sounds can be captured well, even at 4000 metres above sea level. A few decades ago, an album like this would hardly have been technically feasible. The biggest difficulty in the alpine environment was the wind. It’s totally quiet all around, but you’re often exposed to the wind. Despite good wind protection for the microphones, I had to pay close attention to how I positioned myself.
In the cities, it sometimes takes a bit of courage to make these recordings, as people often don’t understand exactly what I’m doing when I’m drumming on all kinds of objects and recording them. Of course, you’re immediately very conspicuous.
Arranging the recordings into pieces then takes a lot of time and is meticulous collage work on the computer.
What are the unique storytelling projects or adventures that first inspired you to seek out this kind of experience?
I have a great fascination for the work of Hamish Fulton. He turns his hikes into works of art. But I’ve also been fascinated by literary works about walking, such as Werner Herzog’s book Of Walking In Ice.
What’s the ethereal inspiration for you – do you listen to or envision soundtracks when you’re out on the mountain, or do you escape to those places in your head whenever you listen to music?
I am often driven by great curiosity when I am out and about. So I hit many objects to see what they sound like. A large part of the inspiration then comes from these sounds – it’s as if the sounds tell me in which rhythmical context they should take place. Some sounds almost demand a certain beat. I don’t want to impose my own ideas on the sounds, but rather give their special characteristics as much space as possible.
What do you hope people take away from this project, and where do you recommend is the best setting to delve in?
I hope that people who listen to the album will be taken on a journey to the heights. That’s why it’s best to listen to the album attentively and not in the background. It would be nice if, in this way, a different view of our surroundings were possible – via the sound of the respective materials. That’s why it was important to me not to use effects to change the sound of the materials, but simply to collage them.
What’s your most ambitious aspiration at present?
I have so many ideas in my head and don’t even know how I’ll manage to realise them all in time. That’s probably my biggest goal – to be able to pursue as many of these ideas as possible.
What’s your plan creatively for 2024?
A few weeks ago I was in the Bolivian rainforest for sound recordings. This will result in the next Hidden Tracks album. I hope to finish it by the end of the year so that it can be released in 2025.
Is there anything else we should know?
“I wish that as many people as possible open their perception to their surroundings and take care of them.”