Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble are one of the few bands that manage to convince you that there is in fact an underlying universal truth to what makes good and bad music, you just have to know what it is. Hell, if they can make a hybrid fusion of classical virtuosity with synthesisers, two modes of expression that are worlds apart, then they’re clearly doing well.
There are many of us suspicious of the urban/ classical overlap, it’s probably in the similarly problematical realm of modern free jazz for many, but it’s only now and then you come across someone who not only does it well, but also keeps it interesting. Micachu & the Shapes did it by taking the Texan method of Turntablism, crudely called ‘chopping and screwing’, to the London Sinfonietta and producing something in equal parts divisive, avant-garde and unsettling in emotional and creative scope.
The three men that go by the surnames of Brandt, Brauer and Frick, on the other hand, decided to go the complete other way since releasing their well-received, and aptly-titled Make Me Real debut in 2010. That album, recorded, produced and refined over a year, yielded ‘Bop’ and it’s famously bombastic video clip. That video featured the three men laboriously trying to recreate palatable, danceable electro pop, while conferring a real feel for just how unnatural the exactitude of synthesised music, as an imitative form, really is.
This time around, following a successful live rendition of Make Me Real as an ensemble at Holland’s Eurosonic Festival, the three-piece-cum-ten have applied that same lavish instrumentation –which includes violin, piano, tuba, vibraphone and much more –to their follow-up, Mr. Machine. As an even more refined expression of their creative vision, of transplanting synthesised beats, sounds and polyrhythms into the realms of the real, they’ve redone the originals from Make Me Real, plus three popular electronic covers and one new one in ‘Teufelsleiter’. That song includes glitch-y string plucking, muted piano melodies and hyper-ventilating trumpets that fall together into a danceable rhythm.
In allowing the music space to breathe, Brandt Brauer Frick are forced to impose impossible limits on their playing style in order to try and recreate the hypnosis of repetition that is the primitive techno ‘Mi Corazon’, or the impossibly pulsating groove of ‘606 n Rock n Roll’ –originally by James Braun. Stand-out track ‘Pretend’ by Emika probably comes closest to the possibilities of what organically-generated electronic music could sound like, as the largely percussive titter over hollow sounds imitates the endless possibilities of sythesiser beats, while a bouncing bass line carries the sound.
It could just be that Emika’s vocal contribution is the one thing that ties the two worlds together –with the unaltered human voice as distinct from the general synthesised versus organic theme of the album’s concept. But either way, that song brings classical musicianship and its ossified instruments into the new millennium, to make entirely listenable pop. For two modes of expression that are seemingly worlds apart –one reserved for the sleazy late night bars of Berlin’s electronic scene, the other for the stiff-lipped realms of the concert hall stage – Mr. Machine proves they actually have a lot more in common than you’d think and Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble shows us just how.