Dito e Feito #12 Transcription – Contagious: Sabine Ercklentz, Andrea Neumann, Mieko Suzuki
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This is Dito e Feito, a Teatro do Bairro Alto podcast. My name is Diana Combo, and I curate music and sound arts at TBA.
In this episode, we introduce Contagious, the newly-formed trio comprising Andrea Neumann, Sabine Ercklentz and Mieko Suzuki, three leading figures within Berlin’s experimental, improvised and electronic music scene.
We talked to Andrea, Sabine and Mieko in anticipation of the concert they’ll hold at TBA on January 30. Andrea Neumann lives in Berlin, working as a musician, composer and curator in the field of experimental and new music. She is part of the Labor Sonor collective, which has programmed a number of concerts and festivals in Berlin. She has been playing her own instrument, the inside piano, which she developed based on a stringed aluminium frame, since 1996. Same as Andrea, Sabine has been composing and performing experimental music. Her performances reveal an eclectic approach to the trumpet combined with different types of electronic manipulation. Mieko Suzuki is a sound artist and DJ. Originally from Japan, she settled in Berlin in 2007. She started in Tokyo’s house and techno scene in the 1990s, but currently works with more experimental settings, using tools such as pedals and effects, feedback, loops and scratching, which create unconventional sounds and expand the typical DJ act. After a rehearsal in Berlin, Andrea, Sabine and Mieko answered our questions on the origin of the project, what brings them together and what they hope for.
Diana Combo Andrea and Sabine are long-time collaborators. How did the idea for this trio come up?
Andrea Neumann Yes, it’s true that Sabine and I had the idea to ask Mieko to collaborate together, and this idea came up because Sabine and I had this piece called drehwurm, where we take pieces of—we call it—minimal techno and translate it into our musical language and our instruments. Of course this then changes a lot and gets more into what we do normally, but has a very groove base that we translated. The sound is also more like this. Then we thought we’d ask somebody whose music is actually more groove-based than ours. So we thought about Mieko, and then our collaboration started.
DC City Lights?
Sabine Ercklentz Yes, we first met at City Lights with Meg Stuart. We just improvised there, but I think it worked very well. We had, I think, one improvisation or two, and it was very nice to improvise together.
Mieko Suzuki I didn’t play rhythms. I don’t think I played groove or techno.
SE No, but we knew that you are more from this area. We talked.
AN We listened to some tracks, I think.
SE First, we asked Mieko to do a remix of drehwurm. It was our first intention. Just the groove-based piece you were talking about. But then we met to discuss this idea, and then we figured out that it was maybe more interesting also to play together, and that was the beginning. Definitely we were interested in letting another voice into our music language, in—I would say—as a duo in having some other voice.
MS You as a duo, but also you as a trio with Ute [Wassermann], or you with other people, with more people… I mean, you have many projects.
SE As a duo we played always compositions, and often they were related to rhythm. Not as clear as dhrewurm, but they were never as open, and it was more like this typical? sound. For example, Les Femmes Savantes was very organic for me. So it was really a kind of different texture we tried to produce with different groups.
AN Then we started to rehearse for our trio concert, and it was quite amazing for each of us, and then we started to work on our trio music.
DC Your setup allows you to incorporate each other’s sounds, manipulate and reproduce them, which might be something that reinforces your listening process. Can you talk about this?
MS Sometimes it happened that there was no communication, and one was individually playing. I really got upset. Personally, I’m not so interested in that type of approach. More interesting is how they can talk to each other through the music and their build-ups. It’s a conversation. As a listener, as an art musician, it’s the same. Listening and communicating, this is the most joyful moment for me. But what do you think? Of course, listening is really key. Most of it. But it doesn’t matter who the audience or the musician are.
SE We share the same space.
SE It doesn’t matter if I’m musician or audience. For me it was very astonishing from the first rehearsal how we listen and how it works together. It was not normal for me. There was a kind of really deep listening while we improvised, and at the same time also the decisions we make work together. The music developed the past year, but this was there from the first moment on. We met for one rehearsal, and I was very nervous, I didn’t know what to expect, if it would work out and so on. Then it was there immediately. So this is special for me.
MS Same. Yeah.
AN I agree with both of you. I think, especially because we were going into new territory, the three of us, we needed to listen even a bit more.
SE It’s true. We really didn’t know what would happen. We wanted to find some new areas maybe, and, I mean, it’s very different from what we are doing as a duo also. And it works. It could also be hard for you to find the way in, but it’s immediately something else in a way for me if you play as a trio.
MS Yeah. Every moment you give me ideas, or your sound gives me ideas to do something that I didn’t think of before. That’s motivation to keep wanting to play more. Not so many people give you new ideas or inspiration nowadays. I mean, it could be anything, but we are very smooth, and very organic and fluid. I feel grown up, because I’m in the middle of the sandwich, and… [laughter]
AN [laughter] We have to say that Mieko is sitting in the middle always when we play.
DC How much of the music of Contagious is improvised, and how much of it is structured?
SE In general, the music is improvised. We don’t structure a set or concert, but what we do is we rehearse together, and we work on areas we like. We improvise together in the rehearsals and listen to the recordings afterwards, and talk and discuss. Maybe there’s a kind of process of figuring out areas which we like and which we…
MS Then to keep that area for long enough—that’s a very good exercise for us.
SE And then it will have its outcome during the concert, but not by purpose or structure.
MS I definitely like this way of practicing or rehearsing, because the end, when we get there in the concert… You know? White paper [Blank page]…
AN We’re free.
MS Free. I don’t know. You start or I start. You know? It’s all… nothing. Zero to start. How beautiful and how free is that? Together we grow… It is very special. Next.
DC From the first encounters to the first shows and the recording of your album, how did it all happen?
AN Interestingly enough, this project has an effect that we didn’t expect. From the first moment, there was already somebody interested, a curator who supported the project. Some months later, after the first concert, Rabih [Beaini], the head of the label that produced our first record, he got really interested and invited us to his studio to make this record. He said he would have this label night at Berghain, this very popular place in Berlin, and then, bang, bang, another offer came, and it went like… Really easy. It seems like people are very attracted by this idea maybe, that we tried, coming from a little bit different areas, bring it together to something new. You can’t hear anymore the roots, or maybe you can, but something new happens there. It seems to be contagious.
SE So this is how it’s received, but also, for us, it’s interesting how fast the music grew.
MS Everything happened in one year.
SE If we listen to the recording from the first rehearsal, it was already interesting and strong for us, but if you compare it to what we’re doing now, there’s such a big step and it totally changed. This is something very special for me as well. We’re working on a kind of group sound, I would say. It comes together more and more. So, this is very interesting for me to work on this group’s specific sound. This group is completely different from all other ensembles or groups I’m playing with.
MS Yesterday, and today also, when we did the ambient set… The first rehearsal, we ended with a very massive sound. I really enjoyed, but it was also a good surprise how we managed to easily… I don’t want to use “easy”, but it sounded like very easy. We all got the sensitivity, and the volume and the textures playing together. That’s really nice. And then today we did a minimal… It also was interesting. Minimal repetition sticks in your mind, kind of… Today it was quite deeper and a bit dark…
AN The darkness is everywhere.
AN We can’t avoid. [laughter]
MS Yeah. But the freedom is everywhere too.
AN We have a light darkness and a heavy darkness. [laughter]
SE This album is definitely on the heavy darkness side. [laughter] Today we explored the light darkness [laughter], the morning darkness. [laughter]
DC How did Rabih Beaini come to be the producer of your record, and how did he shape the trio’s output?
MS Me and Rabih have known each other for quite a long time, because he is also an outstanding DJ, and I was following him for many years. In the conversation with Rabih, he asked me, which is interesting, “Where’s your project going?”. Oh, I wanna tell you something. When I started to do music together with Andrea and Sabine, of course Rabih knew Andrea and Sabine. Maybe not personally, but he knew the music already. He was very curious, and he told me to send him the recording of the concert—actually our first concert. I asked and everybody said yes, so I immediately sent it, and in the next day, he called me: “It’s really, really great. Would you like to come to my studio and to do the recordings?”. What?! Let’s go. We decided to do it, and then we went for two days of recordings. How many hours have we recorded? I forgot.
AN Four maybe. Four hours?
SE Four, five.
MS And then Rabih edited it.
SE And shaped it.
MS Shaped it, yes, and sent it to us. Eight tracks.
SE I think it was a very interesting moment to work together with Rabih.
SE I think we played like four concerts until then, or something like that (three or four concerts), and we started to get in a more own-sound area, I would say. Then he really shaped it in a way, guided us in a way, I think. While we recorded there, and in the editing process, we made a big step to our sound.
SE So it was a very good experience to work together and also to focus on what our sound is.
AN For example, he pointed out maybe something that improvisers like to do, to jump from one idea to the next. I think it was his observation, that he said, “Maybe stay longer. If there’s something you feel is cool, go and stay there. And see and wait”. And everyone grabs the idea, and is doing something with it and not jumping too much around. That was interesting. But also he gave us ideas about Mieko recording my sound live, and placing it longer, so we share some… I don’t know. We share sounds or things. When she plays, I can go away. Also we discovered in this [german spokne] that Sabine and I can interact via feedbacks, details that…
SE …That we incorporate in our sound and in our play also live.
SE So we are more aware of it, and now use it as a part of our sound vocabulary. I think that’s cool. There’s something else I wanted to say. The timing. The whole timing question. I think it’s really important how we treat time and development. There’s a big difference between the so-called improvised scene and the more club-oriented scene. This idea of more organic development. There’s a longer—how can you say?—[said in german]
SE Breath, yes.
MS Club-oriented music for me is a repetition, and a repetition needs a duration. Duration is necessary to get to a higher state or, let’s say, trance or… That area that makes people uplifting from the highly consciousness of listening, you know?
AN That’s very important.
MS This is the core idea of what club-oriented music means for us.
SE Yeah, but this is a physical aspect we also talked about before in a way. So maybe we were all just looking for in a way. At this moment, not knowing what it is. And it’s about repetition, about duration, and also about volume and frequency maybe as well.
SE We talked about before that you also play a lot of low end frequencies.
SE And in our duo that is definitely something…
SE Missing. So this made a big difference when we started to play, and I think it also shapes our sound. But then you also started to play these baser frequencies.
AN There’s maybe one thing I want to add, because now it sounds like he shaped everything. Some things that he suggested we didn’t do. Like rehearse the pieces that are now on the LP…
SE We can’t.
AN … and we just can’t. It means that this trio is too alive. As Mieko said before, we need white paper to go somewhere really interesting.
Contagious will perform at TBA’s main hall on January 30, at 9.30 pm.
Dito e Feito is a Teatro do Bairro Alto podcast. This episode was recorded in Berlin. Sara Morais did the editing, and the theme music is by Raw Forest. Follow TBA on social media and at teatrodobairroalto.pt.