An interview with Brandt Brauer Frick

Daniel Brandt, Jan Brauer and Paul Frick (from left to right) of the Berlin-based Brandt Bauer Frick Ensemble have rented a huge loft in hipster-friendly Neukölln that they use as a rehearsal space and recording studio. The place is packed with classical instruments and digital equipment—not surprising, considering the group has built a reputation on creatively blending electronics and acoustic sound. Jan Brauer offers a bottle of imported Czech beer but doesn’t allow anybody in the house to smoke, not even weed, as it’s winter in Berlin and smoke tends to stick when it’s snowing in March. Apropos Winter: Brandt Brauer Frick have aptly called their new album Miami, as in Miami Beach. The album features guest appearances by Om’Mas KeithErika Janunger, Jamie Lidell, Nina Kraviz and Gudrun Gut. Om’Mas Keith’s wrote a behind-the-scenes recommendation of the record here.

Electronic Beats: You recently played Montenegro for the first time as part of Electronic Beats Festival, how did you find it?

Jan Brauer: First of all, the airport of Podgorica—formerly known as Titograd—has a very small tower. A nice one though, I took a photo of it.

EB: Which you published on your blog.

JB: How do you know?

EB: I read you blog because I like airports. I really enjoyed the Fischli & Weiss book 800 Views of Airports—they shoot these typical airport scenes, for example the view from an airplane window or from a gangway, but everything shot with a high resolution camera, so without the iPhone aesthetic you might expect.

JB The airport in Podgorica is pretty small, so the tower isn’t high. It’s a small square tower, rather unspectacular compared to other, more impressive towers where its obvious someone put a lot of thought and design into making a certain architectural statement. In Montenegro this tower was rather more functional.

EB: Do you have a “favorite” tower?

JB: That’s probably the one in Shanghai! In China they have a lot of very impressive towers and Vienna has an awesome one too. That one rather looks like a skyscraper somewhere in a skyline. Also the one here in Berlin TXL has a very retro-futuristic charm. It’s great that you ask all this—honestly.

EB: Why? Because music is all about repetition?

JB: I just like serials. I’m a lousy blogger though. With Brandt Brauer Frick we’ve probably seen around 200 airports so far but I’ve only posted a few images.

Paul Frick: We didn’t really get much of an impression of either Podgorica nor Montenegro since we only spent one night there. Still, we spotted quite a few magnificent socialist modernist buildings, some partly demolished. Compared to Zagreb, it seemed much smaller and due to the number of pedestrians it also had a very pleasant, mediterranean touch—it reminded me a bit of Greece. The thing that was really exciting to us was the crowd’s energy. In Podgorica there seem to be no regular clubs that consistently book well known DJs so the people have this enthusiasm, and it manifested itself in a different context to what we’re used to—a seated venue.

EB: You would find that out in one night?

PF: You feel it. And you talk to people, of course. Since it is rather rare for an event the size of the festival to happen there, everybody knew about it and everyone was very friendly to us. We stayed at this super fancy hotel and were chauffeured everywhere.

Daniel Brandt: On our way from the airport we could see a lot of barracks with laundry lines full of clothes as well as dilapidated factory buildings. That was a pretty strange contrast.

JB: Let alone the way we were welcomed: each of us got a bottle of Rakia, the local spirit of choice. Usually when we play shows with our ensemble, people sit in silence during the entire set but in Montenegro people were shouting and dancing. For instance after I made an announcement someone in the audience went: “you’re a very funny guy!”. Crazy.

PF: There were huge posters advertising our show, that’s something very rare for us, and impressive! Especially since the venue wasn’t that big. The theater we played had space for 400 people maximum.

EB: Can you describe the theater? Was it from the socialist era?

JB: Yes it was. But from the inside it actually reminded me of an old baroque theater.

PF: Actually it wasn’t baroque, it rather reminded me of the socialistic Rococo.

EB: Did you know much about their country, the currency for example?

JB: Since we travel so much we tend to do a shockingly poor job of informing ourselves beforehand. We were asked to appear on Montenegro television and they asked us what we knew about Montenegro. Coincidentally we had actually checked Wikipedia only moments beforehand and were able to tell them the exact size in square kilometers, the number of inhabitants…

EB: And that happened spontaneously in front of the cameras?

PF: Yeah, it was a Dada moment.

EB: Isn’t it strange how corporate sponsoring is less of a taboo anymore compared to the ‘80s or ‘90s. How do you see the relationship between Electronic Beats and Brandt Brauer Frick?

JB: To some degree it helped with our development but it had nothing to do with our origin, our history. When we had our first session in the summer of 2008, we immediately had some songs that were better than our other project. At that point we were already a band, and instantly had a record deal and plans for an ensemble—the band’s spirit always seemed a bit megalomaniacal. In 2009 Daniel, who studied film direction at the time, made this incredibly elaborate video for our first release. Everything was always inspired by this idea of us building something up, even though we were pretty naive and didn’t know how much it would all cost. At some point we just tried it out live with the ensemble, which put us in the red, we didn’t know what a tour cost! We wouldn’t have survived the game without the occasional sponsored events that, in hindsight, saved us financially. In the beginning I was actually pretty skeptical about corporate sponsoring. I mean, of course we don’t want our faces being associated with a certain brand. But if certain structures are being built by interested and interesting people who show an honest interest in culture it becomes a way to make good things happen. Corporate sponsors have become the modern patrons of the arts.

DB: In Asia the understanding of this issue is very different. Last autumn we played shows in China, Japan and Singapore. In those places it almost seems that you can only have a cool event if you’re able to show off a huge cast of sponsors: the more prestigious the brands, the better the event. In this context, an underground party sucks. This, while interesting, is not a set of circumstances we want.

JB: With the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble we’re working in a field that logistically needs funding, whether the money comes from the government or from corporations doesn’t matter. There were moments when we asked ourselves if we shouldn’t go back to being DJs, but then we saw Matthew Herbert and his Big Band and we realized that there were other people out there trying to connect classical and electronic music too. As opposed to superstar DJs performing with classical orchestras, which is an obvious mismatch that essentially obliges us to do it better.

EB: You obviously don’t think that electronic music and classical music are incompatible.

JB: Absolutely not. It’s a very German thing to draw a distinction between so-called “entertainment” and “serious” music. I see our approach as the next level; we try to take everything that exists, throw it together and make something out of it rather than dogmatically confining ourselves to the serious part. We think that our music should be allowed to cross classic and electronic music, even though that’s only a small aspect of what we do. But as for any style, we don’t like this superficial idea of “cross-over” either.

EB: What impact have electroacoustic pioneers such as Eliane Radigue, Pierre Henry or Karlheinz Stockhausen had on your music?

PF: They are intriguing on an sonic aesthetic level, but musically speaking our music is something completely different.

DB: Back then they could use those immensely sophisticated electroacoustic technologies in Cologne at the legendary Studio für elektronische Musik—I’m referring to those artists’ tape loops and tape recordings. Now we find their old recordings charming due to their imperfection and their pioneering character, but if you’d try to do what they did back then on a computer today everything would sound much more clean and perfect, it would lack the appeal.

JB: Soundwise, we took a lot from the avant-garde, rhythmically we were more oriented towards American minimalism. Also, we focused much more on the polymetric idea of techno.

PF: Theo Parrish was and is very inspiring. His music is pretty rough and you never know exactly what it is he’s doing. People like him influenced us much more than the European avant-garde.

EB: How did you choose your guest singers for the album? Were those people from your circle of friends or people you always wanted to work with?

PF: Jamie Lidell was on our list for years. We’ve also known Nina Kraviz for a long time, we’ve collaborated together in the past. Gudrun Gut was more of a spontaneous idea. We were introduced to Erika Janunger by watching an astonishing video on YouTube. She works as an interior architect and for her thesis she made this video, aptly titled “Weightless”, where she built a set of really small rooms in which you can see dancers hanging from and on the walls. She directed the video, came up with the choreography, sang and played the piano and the video was shown on a huge screen in Times Square for quite some time. Her voice was just so perfect that we thought we had to feature her on Miami. Lastly, we knew Om’Mas Keith from earlier productions. This time we sent him a very rough track, but we didn’t hear from him for at least three months. I finally sent him an email asking how everything was doing and he only responded something like “yo brother”—we kind of wrote him off, but all of a sudden he sends us an email with a nearly finished track. He had added some keyboard, handclaps and also some breathing. We didn’t really have to change anything.

EB: It’s possible to think of techno music as endless music, as an endless dance experience. I was wondering how important this endlessness is to you?

JB: The aspect of endless music was a dominant part of our music when we first started, because our reference was the club. But we didn’t want to produce DJ fodder and we understood that for our music to be played at a club it had to be structured differently.

EB: For Miami Brandt Brauer Frick almost wrote songs.

JB: Yes, some of the tracks are songs. Or should I say irrationally structured pieces that resemble songs? “Plastic Like Your Mother”—the track we wrote together with Om’mas Keith—starts with one chord, Keith sings very soulfully, and we all agree that it could turn into a song. But it’s still a piece where, over three-and-a-half minutes, not one single part is repeated. So that’s not really a song at all.

PF: In the beginning we had this idea “to make tracks that could also be played by DJs”, which incorporated this concept of endlessness. Those tracks were of course not club-fit or would only be played by a handful of DJs if any! With Miamiwe didn’t even consider whether the tracks would work in a club or not. This was due to the fact that we spent two years touring and performing together, which makes you feel more like a real band that performs live and less like a techno live act standing in some corner and miming. In techno clubs, people usually wanted to dance, so we used to play non-stop live sets. Nowadays we do have breaks between the tracks, just like any other band.~

Brandt Brauer Frick’s Miami is out now on !K7 Records.

Photos: Luci Lux

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There is no progress in art: An interview with Ghédalia Tazartès

A sonic Renaissance man and a musical nomad who freely transgresses various aural topographies, Ghédalia Tazartès, born in 1947, first embarked on his long journey as artist and medium in 1979—at least officially—when he released his first album Diasporas. As its title denotes, Tazartès, a descendant of a Ladino community, of Judaeo-Spanish heritage, explores the notion of disembodied nations and voices. The voice is his major instrument, pliable and serving his intentions often to hypnotic, almost lucid effect.“Imagine John Cage meets Muslimgauze and Nurse With Wound on a field trip to India”, is only a scant description of his oeuvre according to Boomkat. With a recent revival of interest in this peculiar persona, we caught up with Mr. Tazartès during a suitably apt home for his music, the avant garde festival Babel Prague.

 

How did you start singing?

When my grandmother died, I went to the woods and began to sing. I was singing for myself, for God. I had not been very kind to her, and she was a saint, while I, as a young boy, was a little devil. When she died, I realized I had no more chances to be kind to her. That inner turmoil pushed me to sing.

Your ancestors originate from the Ladino community. Has this linguistic diversity and heritage influenced you?

Certainly, but in a contradictory way. My grandmother spoke almost only Ladino and Judaeo-Spanish. Ladino is different because it is a religious language, written in Hebrew. She spoke in a more common language, the Jewish language. She didn’t want to speak to me in it though, because she didn’t want me to be Jewish, since her son had been to Auschwitz. She said: ‘The little boy is not Jewish’, to save me. That’s why I don’t speak Spanish, so I learned Italian. Although first I invented my own language. She had her language, and I had mine.

Are you interested in the Jewish mystical tradition?

Yes, I am very much interested, but I don’t know anything about it. I’m not part of the Jewish tradition, I’m Jewish myself. I’m a Jewish agnostic, agnostic Jewish. My parents were really modern at the time. They loved the bebop. My father was into Zazou.

Some say your music is Surrealist, would you agree with that?

Yes, I take it as a compliment. But I would say I’m more Dada than Surrealist. It is not a conscious decision. You don’t decide you’re going to become a poet or a painter, life will turn you into one. You can decide to study a lot of piano, but to invent music or improvise is not a decision, but an incapacity.

How is that need expressed?

I’m not able to analyze myself. I’m not really my own subject: “what’s happened to you. Oh, myself is good today, but me is not fine”. A Russian guy once told me after a concert: “You have a fantastic genetic memory”.  

You have soundtracked the cult 1920s film Haxan about the history of witchcraft, which you performed live in Prague. Why did you choose this particular movie for your music?

It worked really well with my stuff. My agent suggested doing it and after I had seen the movie, I was shocked, it was really beautiful. I could try any of my music with it and it worked.

It is a dark film, were you intimidated by it?

Mainly it means something very important to me and my political motivations. It reflects women’s destiny. The movie says something really strong about how society sees women. It was made in 1922 and is about the Middle Ages, but it is really talking about what is happening in the world now.

 

You also utilize the poems of Verlaine and Rimbaud in your songs, a sort of sonic poetry. Why did you choose these French authors in particular?

Because I love them very much. When I was a teenager, I used to read Rimbaud a lot, you can read it a hundred times and always find something in it. Then I realized that these poems had been sung in a rather serious way before. I’d never heard a rock’n’roll song with the words of Rimbaud. The words in rock’n’roll are generally poor.

How did you manage to transplant these poems into songs?

I don’t know, before making music I don’t have a plan. I do these things, and if it’s good, I keep it, if not I don’t. My way of working is empirical.

Has it changed over the years?

I’m not sure. I don’t know really.

Is it still the same feeling?

Yes. In the past I’ve thought, “Oh I’m better now than when I started”. Now I realize I’ve always been the same. I don’t believe in progress in the arts. I don’t think that painters nowadays are better than in the past. I don’t think in life—because I’m not a technician—you can ameliorate the thing technically. But artistically, I’m not sure if I’m better now than I was when I was young. Maybe that’s good, maybe bad.

Your home in Paris is full of sculptures. 

I love art very much. But art is expensive, so I have to do it myself. When I had money, I bought some paintings of my friends. I live alone, I have few friends, two children. I first lived with my daughter, she is 27 now, then I lived with my son. I’m not in any movement, company or religion. It’s not only a choice, it is my nature. I’m very shy.

You also had birds.

I had pigeons, you don’t have to contain them, they can be free to come and go as they like. They have their life and I have mine. I stopped eventually because it was difficult. Firstly, it’s forbidden to have pigeons in Paris by king’s law. I was crying about my birds. Later, I bought canaries and the same thing happened. Even though it was not forbidden, but animals reproduce when they are in good conditions, and there were simply too many. So then I stopped with that too.

Could you describe your music-making process?

I live in a studio. I also record external sounds. The music-making used to be regular, now less so. I don’t say to myself I have to make music from 8 to 12.

Your voice, the colour of it, is it something that just comes out naturally?

It’s not my voice, it’s the god’s voice. It’s the voice of Jesus, if I can be a little bit pretentious.

What about your concept of impromuz.

I did not study music. At the beginning it was really pretentious for me to say I’m a musician. Also, it could be a response to people who could object about what I do not being music. I agree. Maybe it’s not music, but it’s something. I had to find a name for what I’m doing—improvised music.

Today it is different with young musicians. They have to promote themselves profoundly.

These days it’s easy for anybody to make music with a computer without studying. But it’s the same thing, some music is good, some bad. There is too much music around perhaps. Sometimes I watch TV, and you see a report and I’m interested in the content, and I simply don’t understand why there always has to be music in there. Perhaps we really do live in a world that is polluted with music.

Maybe because people are scared of silence, because there is no silence. 

You sing because you are afraid. When you are in the woods at night, you are going to sing to be less afraid. This is also why I’m singing, because I’m afraid.

Of what?

Life, death.

Fear also pushes you to do things.

Fear is not only negative.

Photo: Anne Gayan

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Interview: Hans Ulrich Obrist speaks to Milan Grygar

Milan Grygar is one of the world’s first sound artists. Born in the Slovakian town of Zvolen in 1926, he first began exploring alternative forms of musical notation and recording the sounds of his sketches in the late 1950s. These acoustic drawings eventually caught the attention of other notable sonic-experimentalists, including John Cage, with whom Grygar had been planning collaborative performances shortly before Cage’s death in 1992. Hans Ulrich Obrist sat down with the artist to find out more about the lineage of the Eastern European avant-garde.

HUO: Who were your artistic heroes growing up? Were they Czech or international?

MG: Before I started studying at the College of Applied Arts in Prague, I didn’t know very much about art at all. That changed pretty quickly when I met the architect František Kalivoda, who was my teacher and who had been a friend and collaborator of László Moholy-Nagy. In 1935, Kalivoda had organized a large exhibition of Moholy-Nagy and put together a magazine called Telehor, of which the only issue that was ever published had been entirely devoted to Moholy-Nagy’s work. That was eye opening for me to say the least.

I always found Moholy-Nagy’s Gesamtkunstwerk approach one of the most interesting aspects of his art—his bridges between architecture and visual art, as well as his utopian dimension. What fascinated you about Moholy-Nagy?

It all seemed somehow familiar to me, because I had seen Moholy-Nagy’s work as a child in a magazine called Žijeme that was put out by the graphic designer Ladislav Sutnar that my father always bought. But I didn’t have very much time to explore art during my studies because they were interrupted by the war. I ended up pretty quickly as a forced laborer in an arms factory in Brno in the forties, so I finished my studies after the war.

So what do you consider to be your first work as an artist? Where does your catalogue raisonné begin?

[laughing] I would never put together a catalogue raisonné.

But can you tell me a bit about your early exhibitions in the late fifties?

These were mostly paintings, some geometrical, some still lifes.

In Prague at the time, there was still a historical proximity to the Russian avant-garde of the teens and twenties. I’d be very curious to find out your relationship as a young artist to that era.

The Russian avant-garde is something I have always been fond of. In fact, our information about international art was not quite so limited after all.

When did your visionary work with sound begin? Did you have anything like a sonic “epiphany”?

One of the most important moments was seeing American artists at the Biennale in Venice 1964, especially Robert Rauschenberg. This really gave me the confidence to think about creating art in a freer fashion. Of course, Italian futurist Luigi Russolo was also extremely important for me.

When did these influences first begin to play a role in your work?

That was in 1965 with my acoustic drawings, when I recorded the sounds of what I was creating visually.

Your acoustic drawings look like a form of musical notation.

You see, my father worked for a railway company and I grew up in and around various train stations. I always had a certain sensibility to the sounds I was surrounded by. Pretty soon it branched out to all of the various objects I had been drawing with. That’s when I realized that every drawing I see I can also hear, and so I chose to exhibit the recordings of the sounds of the drawings I made. That was also 1965. Everything I make visually, I also record.

But how did you end up “inventing” them? You would consider this an invention, no?

Well, it was a process and it took around a year and a half. It mostly involved thinking about the bodily rhythm contained in drawings—that is, contained in their execution. It was part of a longer process, not an epiphany.

Does that also go for the visual presentation as a kind of notation?

Yes, developing that was also a process, not a single moment. Erhard Karkoschka actually published the first book on alternative notation, even before Cage. Eventually this led to Karkoschka having my scores performed internationally.

John Cage also had the idea of the “open notation”. Was that ever of interest to you?

I did work with open notation and incorporating moments of chance in my compositions. So yes, there was that similarity. But for me, these were certainly controlled moments of chance. Before Cage, I had been interested in Schoenberg’s writings. When I first started my sound drawings, I knew nothing of Cage. Only after Karkoschka had published my work was there a real connection. Eventually I met Cage the year he died in Bratislava. We were preparing a joint exhibition in Prague but before it was finished he passed away. It was actually supposed to be a concert: Cage and Grygar. There was an exhibition and concert that took place in 1993-94, but unfortunately without him.

There’s also the connection to birds in your work, which conjures up the compositions of Olivier Messiaen. Can you tell me about that?

Birds actually never really interested me—rather only the bird-shaped toys that made bird sounds. I started experimenting with these toys around 1966. I had been drawing mostly by hand with a pen until a certain point when I started branching out, and eventually drawing with the toy birds. I was particularly drawn to the sound the beak made, which I dipped in ink, drew with and recorded.

Tell me about the role of collage in your work. It’s very different to the surrealistic approach of, say, Jan Švankmajer, who I’ve also visited while being here in the Czech Republic.

My work is anti-surrealistic. But to answer your original question: collage was never really so important for me.

At a certain point, you began incorporating the conventional lines of staff into your notation. How did that come about?

You can see it as a kind of visual “horizon”. Shortly before Cage died he gave a talk in Bratislava. Someone in the audience asked him what connected the visual arts with music and he replied, “The horizon.” I had actually begun including staffs in my drawings before Cage had said that, so it was a kind of validation of my approach. For me, the staff functions as a spatial element.

And how did that turn into collage?

It was a natural progression. For example, I would take a drawing of mine, cut it into pieces and then rearrange them in a totally chance fashion. I recorded the entire process—that’s what the accompanying record is.

So the recordings of some of your larger works are almost like soundtracks to your art. Films have soundtracks—is this comparable?

Absolutely.

Some of your works look like palimpsests, with their overlapping visual information.

Well, the drawings are really functional. What you’re seeing often are operating guidelines for constructing and manipulating the objects pictured.

Do the numbers in your work have a specific function?

They usually denote the order in which the guidelines should be followed.

Was the idea to partially remove the art from the object—to have it function independently of or beyond the object shown?

Well, the emphasis is more on the action in relation to the object.

With musical notation, you’re dealing with something that musicians are able to play over and over again. It seems to me that art in the twentieth century had been very focused on objects. I’m not sure if you know Marcel Duchamp’s Unhappy Readymade, or Moholy-Nagy’s works with telephones, both of which had a focus of transcending the object.

Creating art “beyond” the object was not really my interest. You know, I had been planning an exhibition of sounds, like today’s exhibitions with prerecorded sounds being played in a certain space . . . Honestly, my work happened very gradually.

I was good friends with Iannis Xenakis and he had the idea of polytopes—sound spaces in which you can completely immerse yourself.

[laughing] Well, I work with the limited spatial understanding of an artist. Xenakis had a far more sophisticated and perfect understanding of space.

That’s a very modest way to put it. Personally, I find your conceptualizations of space impressive. What’s also of interest to me are your tactile drawings and performances involving the penetration of the canvas or paper—breaking through the two-dimensionality of the image. To me, they’re reminiscent of Gustav Metzger and Lucio Fontana—but you also recorded them as well. You must have an enormous sound archive.

Yes, I have audio recordings of almost everything I’ve ever done.

There’s a work by Rainer Maria Rilke entitled Letters to a Young Poet where he offers advice to an aspiring young artist. What would be Milan Grygar’s advice?

I don’t like giving advice. ~

Photos:

1. A portrait of Milan Grygar from the artist’s archives.

2. Milan Grygar, Tactile Drawing, Recording of Realisation, performance, 1969. Photo: Josef Proek, courtesy of Milan Grygar/Galerie Zdenek Sklenár

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Throbbing Gristle to complete Nico cover

Throbbing Gristle to complete Nico cover

Avant noise provocateurs Throbbing Gristle are finally getting around to completing their long-gestating interpretation of Nico’s classic album Desertshore.

A pet project of founding member Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, who sadly died earlier this year, two six hour sessions of an early version of the work were released across six CDs in 2007 called Desertshore Installation.

Now a timeframe has ben set for Chris Cosey and Fanni Tutti to finally finish the project, with September to November of this year pencilled in for the pair to complete the recording and mixing. No news on Genesis P.Orridge’s involvement – she walked out on the group just prior to Christopherson’s death.

There is a lack of YouTube clips so here’s a personal favourite from each camp..

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