Dissecting the Mad Genius of Brandt Brauer and Frick—“It’s Alive!”

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Brandt.Brauer

In the beginning, nothing is required, just an idea.

With all the rapid advancements in technology and electronic music, it was only a matter of time until a modern day Dr. Frankenstein emerged. Unlike the protagonist of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, however, the mad scientific genius of this age is not an individual, but a trio: Brandt Brauer and Frick. While their creation could be considered a monster, a “fiend” and “wretched devil” even, to those far too enraptured by mainstream electronic music, to those with an open mind and receptivity to invention, it’s a powerful statement of what’s achievable between man and machine in the digital age.

Attesting to this, a human skull fused with antiquated mechanisms adorns the cover of The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble’s newest album. It’s called Mr. Machine (released October 25, 2011 via !K7), and it presents an 8-track, one-hour venture into musical galvanism, the 19th century practice of running electrical currents into dead limbs to make them move, bringing life to the inanimate. Sowing together renditions of several songs from their 2010 release You Make Me Real, and covers of Emika’s “Pretend” and James Braun’s “606 n Rock n Roll,” the group reanimates music originally created on laptop computers, studio monitors, and midi-controllers with the current of live, classically trained musicians and traditional orchestral instruments. The result, is electrifying; complex rhythms, subtle build-ups and releases, haunting discordant melodies, brought to life in an intricate, skillful synthesis of minimal techno and modern EDM.

Naturally, Magnetic Mag was attracted to their pulse, so we sought out a brief interview with one of the core members, Daniel Brandt. His words seemed to confirm what is already obvious and evident when listening to their music: “It’s Alive!”

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Photo by Harry Weber


What’s your creative process like? How do you guys go from idea to the finished product we hear on the albums?

In the beginning, nothing is required, just an idea. You can hear things wherever, even drunk in a club, and hear music in your head that doesn’t already exist, it’s just an idea. From there, it’s all about grouping your ideas together, and being willing to discard ideas as you go. When we’re assembling tracks, we layer a lot of samples and loops over each other, all new recordings that we make at the studio. Sometimes we’ll end up getting rid of the original foundation of the track, and building under the layers that we’ve added. It’s all about working out what will best serve the composition as a whole. It’s very rare that anyone will show up with something already in mind, so we generally put things together on the spot, all live recordings with what we have available. Then in the end, it’s all about editing and details, and you’re done. It’s similar to the process in just about any other media, though of course in a medium like film you might need to have your concept a bit more finalized before you begin.

…the ‘classical techno’ tag is not necessarily what we want to be seen as. It is useful as an introduction, as it gets you close to the idea of what we’re doing without a lot of information, but it’s not the most accurate description.

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Photo by Harry Weber

I heard that many of the pieces on You Make Me Real were spawned within the first few sessions you jammed together, which reflected the exciting and new chemistry you were experiencing as a group. If you were to sit down now, at this point in your career, to jam and generate ideas, what kind of pieces do you think you would create?
We’ve actually jammed together very recently, working on remixes for Amon Tobin & Noze, and it’s true that the sounds are quite different from You Make Me Real. For one thing, we tend to be a bit less tied to four to the floor rhythms. We’re incorporating a bit more of what you might call post dubstep rhythms, and freeing ourselves a bit from the whole techno thing. But in general the feel is the same and we jam as before. It always depends on what we’re listening to at the time, and of course on what we’ve already done, because we’re not interested in creating the same thing over and over.

Could you elaborate on post dubstep? What are you guys interested in in this newly forming genre?
There are two things in particular to this style of music that are attractive to us. For one thing, the beats are very open. There’s a lot of flexibility with the beats, perhaps more so than any other kind of music right now. There are some really tricky, interesting beats being made, perhaps similar to when drum n bass was new, and yet most pieces retain a certain feeling and groove. Also, the music is very interesting harmonically. Lots of sub-bass and interesting harmonies, and that’s what we’re already trying to do with our own music. So some of our new music has these influences, but of course not exclusively. We’re not interested becoming a cover band for different sub genres of electronic music, and there will always be a variety of directions and influences in our music.

The most random object we’ve used in a recording is perhaps a crank operated metal music box

What are the some of the weirdest classifications you’ve heard others use when attempting to describe your music?
I can’t think of a particularly strange description, but of course the “classical techno” tag is not necessarily what we want to be seen as. It is useful as an introduction, as it gets you close to the idea of what we’re doing without a lot of information, but it’s not the most accurate description. I would probably call our music “emotional body music.”

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Photo by Harry Weber

What do you think would be the most ideal venue for your music? Would you rather play at a lavish concert hall like Carnegie Hall, an outdoor festival, or an intimate club?
All of those are great to be honest, and they each have their strong points and drawbacks. It really depends whether we’re playing as a trio or as the full ensemble. We generally play at all of these kinds of venues, which keeps it interesting. The open-air sets are great, though a bit harder to hear. Of course the concert halls are great acoustically. There really isn’t a specific preference for venues—they’re all great.

Drum n’ bass was an interesting discovery for me. For one thing it was a new movement within my lifetime, so the rules hadn’t already been set.

When in these live settings, how are you able to remain the complex rhythms and arrangements? Is it difficult to keep everyone synced and in time?
When we play with the ensemble, everyone has a click in their ear which makes it much easier to stay in time, though of course if the click gets to quiet or falls out of your ear you still have to rely on each other. On the large stages it can be tricky because the sounds of another musician may not be in time by the time they reach you, so you really need to rely on the click if possible. Sometimes musicians do get slightly out of synch, but it’s relatively easy to get back in. When we perform as a trio we don’t use a click. We’ve performed so many times together that it’s relatively ingrained, and it’s more improvisational and jammy. In fact sometimes when we play we try to throw another member off the beat, to see if we can do it.

Some of your live performances also include dancers, the Glatsonbury Festival going so far as encouraging you to include a troupe after seeing your music video for “Bop.” How does the inclusion of dancers affect your live set? Do you have to alter any thing to make it easier for the dancers to follow?
Having the dancers at Glastonbury was just a one-off event, only for the track “Bop,” and it went really smoothly. A competition was actually held at local dance schools and professional dancing companies where they sent in videos of their choreography, and we chose the one that worked best. So their choreography was already worked out and we could play as normal. We did keep turning our heads so that we could see them though! We also recently performed three tracks accompanied by ballet dancers in Norway, at the museum of modern art in Oslo. For that one, a new dance was created together with the choreographer from the “Bop” video, and they rehearsed it for three weeks before the performance.

In another interview, you mentioned that you have used the wood of your piano, sticks, objects and even the strings in the piano as percussive elements in your songs. Discounting the ones already mentioned, what was the most random and unconventional instrument or part of an instrument you have sampled so far?
The most random object we’ve used in a recording is perhaps a crank operated metal music box. We sampled one chord from a music box that played Swan Lake, and used it in a techno track called “Corky.” In general, we use whatever we have available to us in the room in which we’re recording—a lot of times hitting things with sticks. We look for things that may have a wooden kind of sound, or a certain resonance. Last week we used the heater in the room we were in, which had a lot of reverb. We’re now recording in different rooms, and each one has a different character and room sound, not to mention new objects, so there are endless possibilities.

I think everything actually still would have been fine and they would have let us go without taking us to the jail, except that we took a picture of us posing like we were being arrested on their cop car. They were angry that we didn’t seem to be taking them very seriously...

Can you offer us an era of music or musician that has influenced you?
Drum n’ bass was an interesting discovery for me. For one thing it was a new movement within my lifetime, so the rules hadn’t already been set. I remember hearing this new music somewhere and was blown away. 4Hero was one of the groups that I really got into, around ‘98 and ‘99. The movement was also going in the direction of incorporating live instruments, which of course I found interesting. There is an album called Two Pages Reinterpreted by 4Hero which features some variations and remixes on their work which I found very exciting. Of course it was not too long before drum n’ bass became a bit more stagnant, focused on the same rhythms that were guaranteed to move the dancefloor and became much more straight and functional.

On your Facebook site, you posted a picture in early October after you were released from an Italian jail. What’s the back-story on this picture? How did this incident come about? 
It was Paul’s birthday in Italy, and we wanted to bring a couple of friends back to our hotel room for a beer. It wasn’t a crazy after-hours get together or anything, just a couple of people. The hotel manager was already upset though because of an issue with another performer from the festival, and told us that if we took anyone back to our room with us, he would call the police. We sort of laughed that off, but he actually did call the police on us! For having a quiet beer with friends in our room. When the police actually came, we were out on the balcony, and we tried to trick them by going into different rooms, but they eventually found us and brought us downstairs. I think everything actually still would have been fine and they would have let us go without taking us to the jail, except that we took a picture of us posing like we were being arrested on their cop car. They were angry that we didn’t seem to be taking them very seriously, and took us to jail! We were there for about two hours, and after that came back to the hotel with our guests again and had a nice breakfast.

Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble Upcoming US Gigs:

  1. 11-03 @ The Prophet Bar in Dallas, TX

  2. 11-05 @ Fun Fun Fun Fest! in Austin, TX

  3. 11-06 @ PART in Brooklyn, NY

  4. 11-09 @ Soda Bar in San Diego, CA

  5. 11-10 @ Satellite Lounge in Los Angeles, CA

  6. 11-11 @ The Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco, CA

  7. 11-12 @ Luckman Fine Arts Complex in Los Angeles, CA