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Escape Velocity

This Is Just A Formula: An Interview With Brandt Brauer Frick
The Quietus , November 9th, 2010 07:23

Adam Soffe talks to Paul Frick of Berlin-based trio Brandt Brauer Frick about their new album You Make Me Real and breaking up bands

Brandt Brauer Frick are a Berlin-based trio who possess a unique vision. Through being weaned on a varied diet of musical genres, they have created an idiosyncratic sound that draws mainly on classical and dance music attributes. This coming together of the two genres is where things become intriguing, the trio taking an authentic approach to this convergence - something that they feel has been lacking with any previous attempts in the past. Conjuring up what is probably best aptly described as 'acoustic dance music', they record each instrument live, experimenting with varying techniques along the way.

Their forthcoming album, You Make Me Real which will be released on November 29, is an exhibition of their unique styles manifested together. The songs are constructed in an intricate fashion, each building and evolving into a powerful aural force that proves hard to categorise. Paul Frick (the oldest of the trio and whose roots began within the classical realm) ruminates on the construction of the songs, the influences behind them, and just how they manage to create a sound that is equally at home with the hip-shakers of the night, as well as the reverent attitude of the listeners in a concert hall.

You create a very interesting sound, merging elements of contemporary classical and house music. Would you say you're influenced by both these genres equally?

Paul Frick: That's not easy to say. I've been composing contemporary classical music long before I got into house and techno. Daniel and Jan were techno fans very early, but also have learned piano and percussion (Daniel).

I'd say the techno influence is stronger on the rhythms, and the (contemporary) classical influence stronger on the sounds. Then in the end, it's much more mixed and less conscious than I'm saying it now. In the studio we usually forget all that and do what we feel. And maybe that's when the jazz comes in as well.

I would say an accurate description of your music is the 'common denominator between Steve Reich and Theo Parrish'. Would you say this is fair? And what other artists do you draw inspiration from and listen to?

PF: I kind of like the quotation, because those two were certainly among the absolute heroes we already had in common when we met. Then again this is just a formula and shouldn't be taken too seriously...

All three of us have our own preferences and inspirations, but to name a few: Mahler, Feldman, Ligeti, Lachenmann, Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Jeff Mills, Kevin Saunderson, 4Hero, Matthew Herbert, Akufen, Farben... more recently Oni Ayhun, Dollkraut, James Blake...

Lately, it also occurred to me how it clicked in my head when I saw The Roots live about ten years ago - especially their drummer.

Do you feel that all three of your playing styles compliment one another? And how was it for you, Paul, working with two musicians who had already played together as the duo 'Scott'?

PF: When I first saw Jan and Daniel as Scott live in Barcelona, it really blew me away and gave me a bit of a feeling like "I don't wanna interfere in what these guys do". It was just too good!

But well... we already had fixed our first session, so I went to their studio anyway. And then the chemistry was pretty exciting and... we became a band. Indeed we compliment each other well, but I can't really say why. Mainly it seems surreal to me that three years ago I didn't even know Jan and Daniel.

Seeing as you're a band that straddles various genres of music, are you often surprised at how audiences react to your live shows?

PF: Yes, we are mostly surprised that so many different people are responding to it. And unlike all dance music I've been involved with before, some very old or very young people are liking it too.

The reactions vary, pretty much. Generally we play in a rather clubby atmosphere, and sometimes people go crazy as if we did the most functional and efficient techno (which is not the case). On other occasions most people rather listen to it like to a concert, as well looking at what and how we play. But it's actually impossible to predict how the people react. That's the fun of it too.

In August we had our first performance for a sitting audience, together with the Pinquins [percussion trio from Oslo] and three ballerinas at the Museum of Modern Art in Oslo. We were rather nervous, but it worked. A lot of people were moving their legs a bit...

Your music is self-sampled, which lends the record a fresh and interesting sound. Does the title of your forthcoming album, You Make Me Real, refer to this organic method of playing and recording?

PF: Actually I don't remember how we got to this title - first, it was just the title for the song. I think we simply liked how it sounds. And the fact that it's composed out of very simple words, but still its meaning is hard to grasp. When we already had the title, we realized it could relate to a lot of existential questions. But that wasn't at the origin. Maybe Jan and Daniel remember, I have to ask them.

There are many interesting sounds on the album, especially the percussion heard on 'Heart of Stone'. Did you have any interesting methods to achieve the sounds heard?

PF: We made that percussion entirely on the wood of our piano, on different parts, with hands, sticks, objects. And there's a high piano note with a piece of metal on the strings, that sounds like percussion too.

The tracks on the album seem to flow seamlessly into one another, a feature that is becoming less and less so in the modern day with a lot of emphasis being placed on single tracks - at least in the mainstream. Was there an intention of making the album a complete package?

PF: Yes, in the finishing process we really wanted to make it all fit together. But our music is rather slowly growing from inside and spinning its tissue than trying to overpower the listener with a sudden shock or, let's say, a chorus. I think our music, having this contemplative side, made it quite naturally easy to fit into an album.

But we left out some pieces that we liked but didn't fit, mainly because they were too clubby and repetitive, more suitable for a 12".

I think it would be only fair to ask about the striking video for 'Bop', which seems to have caused quite the stir on the internet. It's even travelled as far as Kanye West's blog. Can you tell us a little about it?

PF: I was completely overwhelmed when I came to the video shoot and saw the studio, the instruments and all the people working. When Daniel said he wanted to do a video for 'Bop', I had really no idea what he can do with it. He directed it together with Julian Schleef. It's definitely amazing to be in a band with two filmmakers!

I came across a note of yours - 'Process Part 117' - in which you discuss how you made your track 'Steal My Heart' by giving a break down of each individual component for the listener. Is it fair to say the video for 'Bop' is looking to achieve the same individual breakdown, albeit in a visual format?

PF: I think you're actually right, even though it was not conscious at all. First of all, a lot of house and techno tracks are based on adding element after element. That's what I did in 'Steal My Heart', turning it into a lesson how to make music with stolen sounds, as well called sampling. And the 'Bop' video also has that almost didactic aspect of showing people how our music is actually recorded, or at least that it's not computer music. But that was Daniel's idea, not mine. I guess both pieces focus on the single elements and provoke an aha experience for the listener and dancer, when finally everything fits together.

Is the 10-piece ensemble seen in the video going to become a permanent feature for Brandt Brauer Frick?

PF: Yes! The number of musicians and the instrumentation can possibly change in the future, but in general this type of ensemble is what we wanted to do from the beginning. This also brought the idea of the 'Bop' video: to simulate how we could possibly perform.

At the same time, we want to experiment a lot, so the form and the style of the ensemble have to stay open and somehow flexible.

There seems to be an omnipresent piano throughout the album, are most of your songs initially crafted by the piano?

PF: It's indeed very important for our music. But we don't always start with it. As the piano is the biggest instrument in our studio, and maybe the one with the biggest variability of sound, somehow we always end up adding piano. The piano is also our main percussion instrument. There's not one piece on the album that doesn't feature some knocking/hitting/etc on piano wood/string/metal...

Do you have a democratic song writing process or is there often a sole songwriter?

PF: It's always the three of us in our garage studio. When all parts are recorded and we have the main structure, I usually go on with further arrangements, cuts and details when I'm back home. Then we sometimes change some more things in the next session.

What are your plans after the album comes out?

PF: We'll have our first ensemble concert in January at Eurosonic Festival. We are also planning sort of a mix between performance and installation with six musicians in the gallery GAFFTA in San Francisco. Each musician will be in a different room. The rest is a secret...

We'll tour, make new music, and I'd also love to have my first vacation in a long time.

Brandt Brauer Frick release You Make Me Real on November 29, and play at London's ICA on December 1 supporting Fujiya and Miyagi. Click here for more information.

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