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Concert Review/ Aufgang (Francesco Tristano Schlimé, Rémi Khalifé, Aymeric Westrich)

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Very little has been written for two pianos and percussion. Sure, there is Bartok's one-of-a-kind sonata, but it has almost nothing to do with Aufgang's tunes. Nonetheless the trio's music is made up of many connections from the past and is so filled with references, reminiscences, imitations and genre-crossing pastiches that I even considered writing this review like a joke by just dropping a list of the hundreds of references that crossed my mind during the concert.

The album (ready for a couple of years but released only a few months ago) did not excite me that much. The clear sound of the two concert pianos was too polite and contained, and the techno beats made it somehow inappropriate for a home listening. The live concert is way more convincing. Pianists and pianos are facing each other. In between you can watch Westrich drumming in front of you, against the concrete wall.

Putting classical piano and electronic sounds together on stage is not without its risks. You rarely see a piano outside of jazz or ‘classical’ music concerts; it's still the symbol of the classical establishment. Mix it with club-culture, on the other hand, and there's a good chance of getting a pretty cheap crossover production. The least you can say therefore is that the project is ambitious, even coming from somebody like Francesco Tristano who collaborated with Moritz von Oswald on „Auricle/Bio/On“. Piano and electronics should not overwhelm each other's sonic world, which is not easy with both acoustic and electric sources. The challenge is to find the perfect balance, the perfect merging level between them.

Both coming from New York Juillard School, Francesco Tristano Schlimé and Rémi Khalifé tend to use the piano like a percussion instrument (probably the one habit Aufgang have in common with Bartok), getting rid of its more sentimental image. They concentrate on producing short cells, which consist mostly of rhythmically organized groups of chords or tight atonal riffs very similar to those Keith Jarrett used to play in his nervous solo parts (I am thinking of his 1991 ‘Vienna Concert’ album). In most tunes, these cells are augmented with computer-delivered prerecorded samples, featuring lounge vintage synth sounds, and the result often sounds like pastiches of theme-music from 80s (and probably 90s) movies and TV series. A clear reference to baroque music, ‘Barock’ begins with a baroquish theme—already an earworm I can't recall—which reminds you that Francesco Tristano has also brilliantly recorded works of Frescobaldi. The piece is actually not the most stunning tune, the three of them are at their best when at full power, like in their raving anthem ‘Sonar’.

Quite a few of the tunes are actually very catchy, which is by no means a euphemism for cheap: it's maybe less daring but often harder to compose a catchy song than abstruse music only a few weirdos will like. Rhythm helps to make it accessible. Cells from both pianos intertwine, detailed rhythms and subrhythms rise, creating an undeniable groove—a vibrant drive enhanced by Westrich's drum machine drumming with notable techno-like beats. Sometimes, both pianists play standing up, pretending as though the music were making them take off. Electronic contributions are the binder. Produced by two computers (working almost by themselves), they give the music shapes and effects that some electropop bands at Warp would not ignore. Aufgang are reaching an almost perfect balance. Besides, there is no solistic approach.

The surprising aspect of this live concert is how little improvisation there is. Both pianists seem to read their scores and Francesco Tristano sometimes uses hand signs to indicate the beat. Music is notated on this occasion and although you feel the groove less contained than on the album, you'd want the gig to be less rigourous, more free. It is probably the only thing one can regret. Despite the catchy aspect, it's non-standard. Despite the patchwork of references, it's honest and uncompromising.

By Antoine Richard

Antoine Richard maintains the Blog „Happily the Future“ dealing with Experimental and Contemporary Art.

Homepage: Aufgang
Homepage: Berghain, Berlin

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