People - 11.10.2021 - 00:00 

Hearing and playing overtones

Professor Elgar Fleisch is a director at the Institute of Technology Management at the University of St.Gallen. The scientist, who hails from the Austrian Vorarlberg, and his brother constitute the duo Fleisch & Fleisch and play dialect music made in their native land. Fleisch does not only appreciate polyphony in music – different worlds also enrich his research.

11 October 2021. Research, business and music: these are the worlds in which Professor Edgar Fleisch is at home. He has held a double professorship at ETH Zurich and the University of St.Gallen since 2004. The world of his research revolves around the fusion of the physical and digital world and the internet of things. He graduated from school in machine-building and studied business IT, wrote a doctoral thesis about artificial intelligence and in 1994 submitted a habilitation thesis on corporate networks at the Institute of Information Management at the University of St.Gallen.

Developing functioning business models

Two years later, Elgar Fleisch interrupted his post-doc period for a year in order to set up the firm IMG Americas in Philadelphia, USA. Later, he founded another twelve firms. Elgar Fleisch is not only interested in how the physical and digital worlds are increasingly merging, he also wants to develop functioning business models on the basis of this. On the boards of which he is a member, Elgar Fleisch can introduce the findings of his research. In turn, the experience he gains in the companies has an impact on teaching and science.

Almost opted for a career as a cellist

Elgar Fleisch grew up in a musical family; all five children played an instrument. As a child, the present-day professor played the guitar, the piano and the cello – and he was even thinking of becoming a professional cellist. After a summer in the youth symphony orchestra, he had to admit that he was not among the best. However, the Vorarlberger never turned his back on music. With his brother Gerald, a trained tenor, they constitute the duo Fleisch & Fleisch; they have recorded nine albums together. The duo is mainly known in the Vorarlberg, where their dialect songs are regularly played on the radio. “For us, making music is a self-sustaining hobby, which we hugely enjoy,” says the musical professor.

Lyrics with meat on the bones

With dialect songs, the lyrics are particularly important. Both brothers write their own lyrics and provide each other with feedback. They are their own severest critics: “With lyrics it’s important that they don’t sound stupid and banal.” The lyrics are intended to be positive, confident, and simultaneously constructive and critical – and very important: they must not be lacking in humour. Elgar Fleisch is usually inspired after a period of tension, when he is beginning to relax. Thus the lyrics of the weightless song “sG” in the Schmeattaling album came to him after a demanding preceding day. He wrote the text down, but then soon lost the piece of paper with the text on the train. Yet the inspiration was so intensive that the text was still present. Of course, the words do not always flow that easily.

Against “one-world thinking”

He calls people who think that one could only seriously establish one form of working “one-world thinkers” – or a bit more directly, “amoeba”. Elgar Fleisch is convinced that “different worlds are enriching.” “I tell my students again and again how important it is to master different worlds of thought.” Thus a degree course in law teaches you the skill to put yourself in your interlocutor’s place while computer science fosters structured thinking. “Penetrating a discipline means mastering a world of thought”. Mastering several worlds of thought may be taxing, but for Fleisch it is the only possibility of approximating universal education.

Rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing – also to fail

On the outside, research and music are separate spheres for Elgar Fleisch; he does not want to mix these worlds. However, there are numerous parallels between research and music. Thus singing on stage is an advantage for one’s performance in the lecture room. In addition, it is also very important in research to hear and play overtones. As regards discipline, the Professor of Information and Technology Management also makes a comparison with music: success in music and research only comes to those who work hard for it – talent alone is not enough. Both in music and in research, one has to cope with defeats. A concert in front of an audience of two is a good starting point for occasional failure.

Putting ideas into a form

Why do I want to do something? What convincing story do I want to tell? How can I realise my intention? What am I going to include, what am I going to leave out? These questions arise both at the beginning of the research project and before writing and composing a song. An idea alone is not enough – it will have to be cast in a suitable form. “I find the process from the idea to the product exciting. If I’m suddenly able to measure health conditions digitally in a simple way, this can be compared with a composition, which seemingly comes out of nothing. Also standing up for an idea shows parallels: in research, I present a project; in music, I perform the song – a very special moment.” This is a moment which Fleisch & Fleisch best enjoy live. For this reason, too, they have decided not to stream their concerts during the pandemic. From 2023, the Vorarlberg duo will perform on stage again.

Text: Sabrina Rohner

Discover our special topics