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?