Derrick May once described Detroit techno music as being a "complete mistake... like George Clinton and Kraftwerk caught in an elevator, with only a sequencer to keep them company." Possibly, classic pianists trained at the best world academies Francesco Tristano Schlimé and Rami Khalifé would say that “Piano.2”, the slogan which fuels Aufgang’s premise, would it be like Derrick May and Luciano Berio in the same elevator with only a grand piano and a laptop (space permitting) to keep them company.
Once the work frame was there, the numerous and attractive aesthetic possibilities, revealved in “Aufgang” (Infiné, 2009), a debut where Francesco and Rami -accompanied by a third member in the equation, the electronic composer Aymeric Westrich, the man in charge of computers and beatboxes- placed the luminous plasticity of the piano keyboard in a new context: One covered with bleeps, microscopic sounds and techno beats, inheriting sounds from the electro-acoustic tradition. If at any moment this description has got you thinking that such a pedantic speech is only interesting to high-culture consumers, don’t you worry: Aufgang's motivation is to be popular. They said it themselves in a meeting we had at the Barcelona loft where Francesco Tristano lives, “the piano is an ideal instrument to make dance music.” They started to become known after their first Sónar performance (one of the tracks of the album is named "Sónar" too) and this year they will come back to play on Friday 18th and bring the circle to a close.
We were invited along to the most recent night of the a.a.s.# sessions, an experimental creative space created and curated by nosotras2, where we saw Aufgang improvising live, creating a brilliant experience that we want to share with you through these two clips (one of them is the aforementioned track, Sónar), filmed by the amazing eye of our friends from Centset Lab.
Do you remember how Aufgang formed?
F. T.: We were studying at the Juilliard School in New York. I met Rami in 2000, and very soon we were working together. When we finished our studio time, we would get together to record piano sessions, totally improvised. Each recording had a title with the place and date where it was performed. Like Keith Jarrett records. The first was...
R. K.: The first of December 2000.
F. T.: Exactly. That night, after playing, we went to Vinyl, where Danny Tenaglia had his residency. The sound system was awesome and the vibe was great. Vinyl didn’t have an alcohol licence, so we could get in being just 19 years old.
Was that your first contact with dance music?
F. T.: No, before that we already owned a couple of Detroit techno compilations. Rami lent me his copy of “Landcruising” by Carl Craig, which he had discovered thanks to Laurent Garnier. That record was a major inspiration, an epiphany. From then on we played Detroit inspired tracks or by composers like Ligeti, Rami’s favourite. Our music became involved, minimalist, à la Steve Reich.
Were you called Aufgang back then?
F. T.: No, not yet. When I moved to Barcelona I met the owner of a bar where we use to do live improvised sessions of smooth lounge music. They were good parties and as a result I got invited to do a private concert at Beth Galí and Oriol Bohigas' house [architect born in 1925, responsible for the major works in Barcelona for the Olympic Games of 1992]. I had prepared a repertoire by Luciano Berio. By coincidence, Rami was in town, so I invited him to play at the interlude, as there were two pianos in the house. Though the same night, another coincidence occurred: Enric Palau, Sónar Festival’s director, was in the audience accompanied by Jeff Mills, so we played a version of “The Bells” in his honour. That night, Aufgang was born.
But the line up wasn’t complete as it’s today - a trio?
F. T.: Aymeric joined a year later. After that concert where we played “The Bells”, Enric from Sónar came to and offer us a slot on that year’s line up, 2005 it was. He gaves us total freedom and we did a show combining piano and electronica; that was when Aymeric joined us. He was Rami’s friend who lived in París. He's started to collaborate with rappers and currently he's in Phoenix’s live band.
But the first record wasn’t releaseded until last year. What took you so long?
F. T.: The three of us were involved in different projects at the same time. We've a very busy schedule and we're perfectionists, we like to do things the right way. We used to live in different cities too and it was a rare occasion when we could get together to play. Our work ethos until recently was to do it at home, each will develop ideas and then we send each other the results by e-mail.
R. K.: Sometimes we were able to get together, only a few times. When we finally did, we would develop the work bit by bit.
F. T.: We did the grassroots work at Rami’s flat in Lebanon. Once we finalised all this, we did move to post-production and to edit the material. We could say most of the pianos were recorded in 2007, with the exception of “Sonar”, in 2008, and “Submission”, our first piece from 2005.
You share a passion for Detroit techno. Is it the same with classical music? Francesco loves Bach and twentieth century composers, but Rami, as an academic pianist, do you share the same taste?
R. K.: I am not such as expert in Bach as Francesco is. I’m more into modern composers, especially the Russian ones, like Shostakovich and Prokofiev, as well as authors like Xenakis and Ligeti, who are really important on this album. On the second piece there’s a tribute to Ligeti, and on the one before last, to Xenakis.
Are there any more tributes on the record?
F. T.: “Barock” starts with a sample by Purcell, from the opera “Dido and Aeneas”. Classical music history show us appropriation was something quite usual: Bach picked up on ideas by Vivaldi and never had to declare it. For us it's fun, like producing a remix, but “Aufgang” isn’t a tribute album, apart from the parts already mentioned, and, well, perhaps a little nod to Detroit techno. If anyone finds anything more in there, then is just a subjective interpretation of the piece... something we encourage, of course.
Sampling and borrowing musical ideas are historically accepted forms in the classical world, though not nowadays in popular music. Perhaps there are some music boffins that disagree?
F.T.: It’s possible. Those music boffins don't listen to Aufgang though, no worries. I haven’t read any of our records reviewed in any classical music publications. Only in popular music papers. With the appropriation of ideas, I'd like to say I support copyright. Nevertheless, if you borrow a movement from a music sheet you haven’t written, I don’t feel it's theft: you are just putting into context a cultural gene, that music was created in a certain period and you are giving it another context in a completely different time.
How do you utilise the piano as a tool? Do you just simply play it or do you prepare it with objects as John Cage use to do?
F. T.: We don’t go as far as John Cage. All sounds by Aufgang are produced with our hands and pedals. The piano is not a treated, manipulated object, neither is it a resonant box that has been filled with objects to change its sound. The focus is not as theoretic but cultural: we wanted to explain our history and to express the cultural mix we live in today, we didn’t want to create an experimental record.
What’s the main difference between playing Bach or Ligeti and playing something by Aufgang?
R. K.: To us there is no difference. Well, there’s a slight difference in comfort: You can play Aufgang wearing jeans and trainers, something you can’t always do if you're going to play Chopin…
In your live shows is there a predetermined script, or is it all improvised?
F. T.: Some songs are completed before hand. There is a score and we play according to it. Other songs are open to improvisation and some of them are impossible to play live, like “Channel 8”. The technique is so complicated, it would never sound perfect, so we leave them out of the live show, we wouldn't dare. The version on the record was recorded in different takes and edited on ProTools.
R. K.: We want to show a popular language in our live shows. We want a one-to-one, we're not interested in being intellectual. The live show is balanced with electronica and piano. 70% is score and the rest improvisation. We can’t improvise as much as we'd like to because Aymeric needs a predetermined structure to work with the machines.
So Aymeric is essential to Aufgang?
F. T.: Totally. He is a great melody composer. If we didn’t have him, Aufgang would be a much more intellectual project. He defines our essence.
Is artistic expression encouraged at the Juilliard School, or were you the odd ones out?
R. K.: I would rather say nothing...
F. T.: No, just the opposite. Juilliard is a conservative school. Jazz lessons are available but only up to the 1940s, the furthest they go into is Duke Ellington, but there is something interesting at Juilliard. Alumni are given freedom of choice and you can play XX century music if you please. You only need authorisation by a teacher, which for example, is never possible in Paris.
The nature of your music makes it difficult to remix it. Are you happy with the remixes that exist to date?
F. T.: They are very useful to spread our music through the clubs and strictly elctronic circles. I personally like remixes which have some talent behind them, when a musician is interpreting our music, and taking our ideas further. We call our music “Piano.2” because of the fusion of piano and electronica. In July we will release a new maxi-single by Aufgang where it is included a remix by Sutekh, who I love because he likes to disintegrate textures. We are not piano purists, we are not obsessed with the instrument: five years down the line maybe there will be no piano. We could be doing the same thing but with synthesisers or clavichord.
Some remixes, like the one by Robert Hood for example, do not use the piano. They avoid it.
F. T.: A lot of remixers don't use the piano parts. It’s natural: to sample a piano is difficult, because its sound is all attack and decay, the later is innate to the piano, you won’t find it in string instruments. I like Hood’s remix and its groove, but the piano is a MIDI one, not ours, is a very simple sample. John Talabot said the same thing, that it's very difficult to sample those notes.
What does Lang Lang have, you haven’t?
F. T.: ¿Lang Lang? He has a sponsorship deal with Nike (laughter). Though I should add we have Puma’s support. It isn’t a major sponsoring, but it helps.
Are sport brands sponsoring classical music too now?
F. T.: Yes, it's a new phenomenon that denotes the desperation of classical music labels and a sign of the times: there has been an increase in marketing, there are bigger teams behind an emergent talent. All this is a consequence of the classical music business decline. Only older people attend to concerts and there is a decline in sales. It's not as bad as with jazz, but it's clearly in decline.
What haven’t you been able to achieve with this record that you would have liked to introduce into the Aufgang sound and identity?
F. T.: We would like to introduce quarter tone pianos. They use a non chromatic scale that cover all the notes you can’t with a conventional piano. In other words, you can use two different keyboards, each of 24 notes. There are custom made pianos, perhaps we could ask IRCAM in Paris to build one as a software development to use through a MIDI interface. It will become a virtual keyboard through the Max/MSP application. If the basis of Piano.2 is piano + electronica, in the other case we would be talking of Piano.3 - virtual pianos with unimaginable possibilities of notes and scales, or by using a MIDI patch to activate images while you play. That could be Aufgang’s future. Or perhaps including vocals. Did you know Rami has a wonderful singing voice?
Aufgang will be playing at Sónar. You can still get your tickets here.
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