Well, they still won’t be dragging their full 10-piece ensemble around the country, but Germany’s techno/classical crossover crew Brandt Brauer Ensemble will be playing a few more U.S. dates in addition to their previously announced gig at Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors series in New York City. These will feature only the BBF trio, so don’t expect any harps and tubas playing dance music. But if you like crisp German techno with touches of (pre-recorded) chamber music instrumentation, you’ll probably dig these shows anyway.
Here are the full dates:
7/31 – Washington, DC – U Street Music Hall
8/02 – New York, NY – Lincoln Center: Only US Full Ensemble Date (w/ The Bad Plus)
8/03 – New York, NY – Santos Party House
8/04 – Montreal, QC – Osheaga
More West Coast dates soon, guys?
By Mike Patton’s prolific standards, he’s been keeping pretty quiet of late. We haven’t heard any new music from the lead singer/screamer/vocalese-generator of two of our favorite weird bands, Mr. Bungle and Fantomas, since last November’s The Solitude of Prime Numbers, his soundtrack for the film of the same name. But come July 3rd, Patton’s months-long silence will finally come to an end with the release of Laborintus II, his live rendition of a piece by the Italian experimental composer Luciano Berio. And based on the clip below, it is weird shit indeed.
Berio wrote Laborintus II in 1965 to mark the 700th anniversary of the birth of Dante, who wrote a little poem called the Inferno that some of you may have been forced to read in a comparative lit class at some point. Apparently Berio himself performed the piece in 1972 with a blow-up doll and old car tires gracing the stage. Patton, in collaboration with the Belgian-based Ictus Ensemble and the Dutch choral group Nederlands Kamerkoor, plays it more straight—so don’t expect any Mr. Bungle-like hijinks here. In fact, he pretty much just recites poetry in Italian and leaves the ominous wailing to the chorus. (You can watch the whole performance on Vimeo if you’re so inclined. But that sorta feels like cheating, doesn’t it?)
Laborintus II comes out July 3rd on Patton’s Ipecac Recordings.
Hoity-Toity Techno: Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble Making Their Debut U.S. Appearance at Lincoln Center
If you happen to be in New York City this August and you like your techno served with a side of pretentiousness, have we got news for you. The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble is bringing their live chamber music/techno fusion to Lincoln Center’s summer “Out of Doors” series. Finally, New Yorkers can listen to techno played live, with no drum machines, while they’re sitting down—just like nature intended.
If you’re not familiar with the BBF Ensemble: They’re a 10-piece band from Berlin who play (mostly) acoustic instruments like harp, cello, tuba and live percussion, but use them to create a blippy sonic palette not unlike minimal techno. If that still leaves you scratching your head, just watch some of the live video at the end of this post and you’ll get the idea. We’re still not sure if it makes the music any more interesting than actual techno, but it should definitely make for a unique concert experience.
The Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors series is free and slightly less hoity-toity than their usual schedule of opera, ballet and classical music, but it will likely still attract a stuffier crowd than, say, the Sahara Tent at Coachella. Also on the bill that night: avant-jazz trio The Bad Plus doing a “re-envisioning” of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. By the way, combining the words “avant-jazz,” “re-envisioning” and “Stravinsky” in the same sentence literally causes NPR subscribers to pass out as if from some kind of high-culture whippit.
The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble play Lincoln Center Out of Doors on Thursday, Aug. 2nd. Did we mention it’s their debut American performance? Well, it is. So feel special, New Yorkers. Like you don’t already.
Here’s the BBF crew in action in Vienna. Enjoy.
It might not be obvious at first, but the distance between classical music and techno isn’t that great. Both are predominantly instrumental forms of music. Both layer sound in complex ways that go far beyond melody, or sometimes do away with melody altogether. Both think those avant-garde minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Terry Riley are pretty dope. Techno and classical may play in different sandboxes, but they definitely share a shovel occasionally.
Still, the lengths Brandt Brauer Frick go to in order to combine the two genres seem a tad extreme. The first time we heard about these German cats, they were still pretty much building their minimal techno tracks the old-fashioned way: with lots of loops and programmed beats, albeit ones based mostly on acoustic sounds. But they were clearly interested in playing with people’s expectations of how such sounds are created; in the video for their track “Bop” (pictured above), they cloned themselves several times over to create an imaginary orchestra, playing the track’s hypnotically repetitive piano, percussion and even a well-timed rain stick with robotic precision.
But not content to stop there, BBF went ahead and created a ten-piece chamber orchestra called the (wait for it) Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble to recreate their tracks live, with no loops or programmed sounds at all. Even after watching two videos of the Ensemble in action, I still can’t decide if it’s a cool idea or not. I mean, on the one hand, it’s pretty damn impressive that these musicians—including a harpist, cellist, trombonist and whatever you call a tuba player (tubist?)—have the restraint, rhythmic sense and technical prowess required to produce the layered, percussive sounds of techno with mostly acoustic instruments (they sneak a Moog in there, but still). On the other hand, well, isn’t this what drum machines were invented for? I’m just not sure if it adds anything to my enjoyment of the music. It’s like watching a master sculptor carve an IKEA table.
But judge for yourself: Here’s a clip of the BBF Ensemble rehearsing a handful of tracks, including two (“Teufelsleiter” and “606 ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll”) from the first BBF album to feature the Ensemble, Mr. Machine, which is out on !K7 Records next month. What do you think…brilliant techno/classical fusion, or pointless technical exercise?
Ever since Kronos Quartet tackled Hendrix back in the ’80s, classically trained musicians have been trying to prove that their cellos and oboes are more than just museum pieces, good for wheezing out dusty old “Concertos in B Flat Minor” and not much else. So they trot out string quartet versions of Radiohead, or even Lady Gaga medleys for bassoon, and…well, okay, the Lady Gaga bassoon ensemble, the Breaking Winds, is actually kinda cool. But they’re the exception. Most of this stuff just sounds like a slightly classed-up version of Muzak.
So when a friend and reader named Josh (sup, Josh?) suggested that we check out his buddy’s “heavy chamber music” quartet, we have to admit, we were skeptical. Classical musicians doing heavy metal covers? Apocalyptica covered that territory 15 years ago. Moving on.
Then we actually heard Edmund Welles—which is a band, not a person (the name is a Monty Python reference…I mean, not that I would know that without having to look it up…okay, maybe I would)—and, well, let’s just put it this way: The bass clarinet is an inherently weird instrument. Put four of them together in one group, and it sounds like a chorus of demon cats in heat fighting over a chicken bone. A demon chorus whose eerie caterwaulings just happen to occasionally assemble themselves into passages from Pixies and Nirvana songs.
Edmund Welles is the brainchild of one Cornelius Boots (his given name? if so, his parents rule), who first conceived of the idea of an all-bass clarinet ensemble back in 1996, the same year Apocalyptica was giving Metallica the all-cello treatment. Boots liked heavy metal, too, but he also liked alternative rock, jazz, traditional American folk music, and even good old fashioned baroque classical music, the stuff the bass clarinet was invented to play in the first place. And he was determined to combine all his affections into a single, pulsating mass of bass clarinet awesomeness. This was such a uniquely weird concept that Boots worked on his Edmund Welles project in solitude for several years before finally assembling enough fellow bass clarinetists to begin staging public performances.
In 2004, the group released its first album, Agrippa’s 3 Books, which Boots himself has described as “Muzak for conspiracy theorists,” “inspired by occult philosophy and heavy metal music.” In addition to an original multi-part movement with titles like “Asmodeus: The Destroyer, King of the Demons,” the album also featured covers of songs by Black Sabbath, Sepultura and (no, really) Spinal Tap. They’ve since released a second album of original material called Tooth & Claw, which has cover art that would’ve made the late great Ronnie James Dio smile. Is the bass clarinet the Woodwind of the Beast? Well, now that you mention it, that’s kinda what it sounds like.
Inevitably, Edmund Welles have gotten the most attention for their covers, especially a very solemn reading of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Their original stuff is weirder and ultimately much more interesting, but we’ll give you their version of “Creep” here in the hopes that it serves as a gateway to some of the harder stuff. Sort of the way your local Philharmonic does “The Nutcracker” every Christmas in the hopes that you’ll buy season tickets and come back for some Bartok and Stravinsky.
P.S. Did we mention that Cornelius Boots has also released an album of “sound, not music” called Sabbaticus Rex, featuring “spontaneous, sustained sound structuring” with Japanese flutes, gongs and Tuvan throat singing? Well, he has. Just thought we’d throw that in there.