Gianmarco recently caught up with Bersarin Quartett as part of our coverage for the upcoming Denovali Swingfest in London...
You have gone from club music to soundscapes for imaginary films with a deep emotional impact while still retaining some of the club music ethos. Has Jean-Michel gone on a permanent sabbatical or will you go back to beats at some point? Also is Bersarin Quartett giving you Tons of Fun as well?
Absolutely, the Bersarin Quartett project is Tons of Fun. Having two projects like BQ and JM is a good way for me to practice drawing a line between two worlds … both of them are under permanent development and on temporary sabbaticals at the same time. It is fun for me not to be forced to focus on one of the two when producing. All I do is get started and then I see what it turns out to be. Maybe I will start with BQ in mind and end up with something more JM and vice versa.
You are also a graphic designer by trade. Sound and music design often seem to go hand in hand, with notable examples, I’m thinking of Machinefabriek for instance. Given that Bersarin Quartett isn’t just about the music but is a clearly codified project in a sense, with the artwork, and the titles working as ciphers, what are the points of convergence between the two practices when it comes to your working method?
Because of my studies in graphic and media design it is quite natural for me to think in concepts like “form-follows-function” … in case of Bersarin Quartett it was very important for me to have all elements fit together – visually, textually and musically. This will help the impact – in the best case it is not too clear and not too random. The audio-visual elements are the means to the end: to build fictional filmscores with numerous suggestions on what the plot could be …
You seem to like working with particles of sound, dissecting molecules of music you sometimes don’t even like, but which might hold interesting clues. All of this suggests a forensic approach. How does such a clinical working method translate into such highly charged emotional soundscapes without being formulaic?
I really enjoy myself building loops and chords, creating or finding great atmospheres, experiments with layers and textures … a construction of melodies – the pleasure when trial-and-error methods generate magic. This is what I want to share. Actually this kind of fun is a good watchdog for not being too formulaic, I think.
Your recent album II is not just a follow up to your Bersarin Quartett debut, but it also points to a dichotomy through its artwork and the splitting and splintering of a whole into two equal parts. Indeed in a recent interview with Headphone Commute you talked about the fact that Bersarin stands for Nikolai Bersarin the commander or the Soviet occupying forces in Berlin who is considered a hero but was also responsible for lots of killings and violations under the guidance of the Stalin-regime. The complexity of drawing the line between opposites like good and evil, pathos and “kitsch”, despair and elation is at the core of Bersarin Quartett. How do you translate this into musical terms when it comes to constructing the internal logic of a specific track and the overall architecture of an album?
I think that most good movies play with such opposites – and filmscores have the power to do most of the movie‘s emotional part. I‘m not very conscious when producing music – there is a lot of trial-and-error. At some point of a track I feel that the unconsciously constructed magic works for me, so there is a chance that it might fits for the album as a whole as well.
There is a lot of space in your music which allows the sound to breath, both in your first album and in II. Is this something you consciously do in order to let the listeners find their own place within the sonic world you create?
Yes, exactly. It is a very nice effect to integrate the listener‘s environment by having pauses between some of the musical elements or by reducing high frequencies for the ability to notice noise in your own room while listening.
You have picked Solaris as one of your favorite soundtracks. Ben Frost wasn’t convinced by it and did his own version with Daníel Bjarnason. If you were to write your own score for that film, what would it sound like? Are there indeed any films you would’ve liked to have scored yourself, and if so, which ones and why?
Oh, I haven´t heard about Ben Frost‘s Solaris project yet – I‘ll check it out for sure. Unfortunately, I am a bit undecided here. I like Cliff Martinez‘ film scores very much – and I love the music of Ben Frost, as well, but I really don´t know if I‘m enthusiastic enough to produce music for an existing, already finished movie – even if I do not really like its score. Maybe because I perceive a movie as a finished piece of art. … but of course I really like the idea of making film scores for all new movie projects … preferred directors: Aronofsky, Fincher, Scott, Nolan, … hey, let‘s give megalomania a chance ;)
How do you approach a live show and what can we expect from your forthcoming appearance at the Denovali Swingfest in London? Who will you be playing with and how do you develop the interaction with other musicians on a live set considering that the albums are composed entirely by you with no guest musicians?
In London I am playing with a drummer (Benjamin Kövener) and a bass/guitar player (Patrick Brakowsky) [please check out there solo projects at: ageofdelay.bandcamp.com if you like.] I am very happy to have found some really good musicians who are feeling comfortable with such a live set-up. For a Bersarin Quartett concert I feel it is important to have some live elements to accompany the electronic layers – it is not really important how many people are on stage. To be honest, even the stage is not important. It is all about the sound. Close your eyes … and hopefully you enjoy the live interpretation of the BQ studio albums.
Also, you will be playing before Andy Stott in London, whose label Modern Love you have been very appreciative of. I am assuming this is not a simple coincidence. Any chance of you two working together in the future?
It is really awesome to share the stage with such great artists like Andy Stott. I like his and his label‘s music very much. I really love this intense deepness, the wall of subsonic sound, and the organic technoid dirt … maybe the music of Bersarin Quartett tries to find to many harmonies – so it would not fit very well for collaborations … but who knows … In the first place I am really looking forward to us all having a good time at this great festival – and there are good reasons for this to come true.
Finally, are the hills alive with the sound of Münster and what are you currently working on?
Yes … the sun is shining through the window of my small office – but the sun can´t fool me: it’s freezing cold outside. Tomorrow I will prepare an ambient dj set for a Piano Interrupted concert here in Münster. (These kind of concerts are quite rare in my city.) And I am looking forward to the easter season … maybe I will produce some music, meet with friends, sleep …