Formed in 2018, this project ‘rand‘ is a strong collaboration between Berlin-based classical pianist Jan Gerdes and minimal techno act Frank Bogdanowitz aka Dr.Nojoke. What both artists have in common is a fascination for the frontiers of contemporary piano music and experimental club electronics and the acoustic and performative interweaving of individualized, poetic and lyrical piano sound with the overwhelming, orchestral and bizarre soundscapes of electronic music.
rand is a crossover project at the interface of classical and electronic music with references to minimal, romantic and contemporary music as well as to jazz, ambient, drone, glitch, clicks & cuts and club music.
Jan Gerdes, who as a pianist has mastered both the classical-romantic and contemporary repertoire, has collaborated with some of the leading composers of our time, such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Helmut Lachenmann and Wolfgang Rihm, and teaches at the University of Potsdam as well as at the Hanns Eisler Music Colleges in Berlin and Mannheim. Frank Bogdanowitz alias Dr.Nojoke has been performing successfully for many years at selected electronic music festivals such as Club Transmediale (Berlin), Boom Festival (Portugal), Piknic Electronik (Montreal), ARMA 17 (Moscow) and has made a name for himself with his own experimental style, which he also represents on his own label Clikno.
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An in-depth interview with rand members Jan & Bogdan
Jan, Frank, what a fantastic release this is. Mixing styles and creating a stunning piece of art. How did you 2 got mixed up?
Jan: Since more than 20 years I have a deep interest in electronic music, which is related to techno, house, ambient, drum ’n’ bass and others. During my piano studies at the conservatory, I went to a party, where a guy was playing something on the turntables, I never heard before! Considerably it was something close to drum ‘n’ bass. I wondered how he technically produced all these sounds, pulsations and transitions and I immediately was fascinated by this ‘utopic’ sound world. Since then my antennas are switched on for all what’s happening in the electronic music world.
After several projects with electronic musicians in 2017, it finally took me to another rooftop party to meet Bogdan alias Dr. Nojoke, to start with rand.
Bogdan: Yeah, that is something I dreamt of for a long time: working together with a pianist. Although I never forced it. It just happened and it makes me very happy to work together with such an extraordinary pianist like Jan is. Also, a piano for me is the king of all instruments. At that loft party, which Jan mentioned, we both performed and so we noticed each other and so it went on.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Jan: As a classically trained pianist I’m used to working as a soloist in some kind of isolation. Even I love this state of being alone with the instrument, considering it obligatory to achieve more depth as a musical artist, my searching for artistic collaboration with other artists, whether musicians, actors or painters (what I already did!) to share ideas, experiences and to learn from others is always very relevant.
Somehow it is very important to feel sympathy for each other and to be on the same wavelength to step forward on the same musical path.Jan Gerdes
When Bogdan and I started with making music, we first talked a lot, with some good cheese and red wine, before we started jamming around. Somehow it is very important to feel sympathy for each other and to be on the same wavelength to step forward on the same musical path.
Bogdan: I totally agree with Jan. The talking, in the beginning, was very important, just to get to know each other better. We still talk a lot, about our music, visions, our next steps, but also about politics and the world at all. We have quite similar views. Musically we prefer to jam together. That is how we formed our first ideas and then we talked about it again. We pretty much composed all together. Jan threw in some of his own ideas, melodies and I love how he is working on harmonies avoiding stereotypes. In every chord he plays there seems to be a whole world of references from the classical music world.
About mixing styles. You mention the following: contemporary, minimal, romantic music, jazz, ambient, drone, clicks, glitch and club-music. A mouthful of love for passionate music lovers. How deep is your love for this type of music? Have you done things like this before?
Jan: As I mentioned before, a classically trained pianist like me grew up with all this classical- romantic and the contemporary piano repertoire. I think my interpretations are getting deeper if I perform traditional music from a contemporary point of view as well as I get closer to contemporary music with my classically trained background.
My first project within this field of piano and electronics was EROL in 2004 in Düsseldorf, followed by Berlin-based project KAUM and a no-name project with Italian DJ Fabrizio Nocci. All these projects were promising but not totally fulfilling in terms of the artistic perspective. I needed a long term project with somebody, who is patient and open-minded even to the experimental sides of musical approach. This is Bogdan and rand for me.
Jazz is something that really interests me more and more in the last years; It is of course the rhythmical thing and the flexibility in musical communication based on improvisational freedom, what inspires me.
Why mixing stiles? And which ones? My imagination is to mix the sensitive instrumental possibilities of a piano with electronic textures, which provide overwhelming atmospheres, soundscapes and pulsating rhythmical power.
The aim is finally to create something new and fresh, which combines the best of both the analogue, instrumental piano and the electronic sounds. Our music should sound emotional, pulsating, intelligent, lost, wide and detailed and surprising.
Bogdan: I worked once together with a friend, who played acoustic instruments, as elektroblitz mitte. That was before I developed my CLIKNO concept (I work mainly with field recordings and sampler to form my music). After 15 years of CLIKNO my skills developed as well and besides my minimal techno, which I am better known for, I create also more or less experimental music. I must also say, that I have a big collection of experimental music from 100 years ago up to now, all shades of. I actually do not listen much to house or techno and I attend mostly events, where I got new inspirations from, mostly performances and such in smaller venues. For rand, I find it very interesting to intertwine both sound worlds without processing or manipulating the piano. So both sides of us stand for themselves, both have their parts in their own hands and the interaction happens somewhere, where we try to surf on the same wave, but somehow independently. I always like and need ambitious challenges and I find, it is not easy to find a common language. We are working on that constantly, mentally, musically and in our talks. If it works out decides the listener and the audience in the end.
Looking at the ‘making of’ video it seems like you had a jam session out of which these beauties originated?
Jan: Yes, some parts come from one of our very first jam sessions in my flat on the Steinway & Sons. Some experimental sound sources are taken from recordings of me playing inside piano. These experimental techniques I use a lot when I perform contemporary piano music, so it wasn’t a big effort to integrate these elements into our rand tracks. I`m used to be a live performer playing the piano alone on stage and I believe in the energy of live performances in general. Bogdan and I as rand want to capture this energy of live performance in our music. Our tracks try to keep this spirit during the studio work and post-production; rand is rather a set for live performances in a concert than a studio project.
Bogdan: … which doesn’t mean, that it will always be like that. We will continue to develop new or other composing techniques. In fact, it is always a mixture. Mostly we start with improvisations, then back at home I work on the sounds and mix. On our first EP now one can hear pretty well the improvisational character especially on the piano part. We recorded also many of our tracks live in a professional studio without any overdubs. These show our composition in a more developed form. But they still need to find a label so meanwhile, we decided to put out other recordings first. In autumn we will publish another three-track EP, entitled just “II”, which we recorded in Berlin at the University of Arts.
There are 3 tracks and all 3 are captivating. What’s the inspiration behind the release.
Jan: A central aim is to create new inspiring, fresh, intimate and surprising blendings of instrumental and electronic sounds. More or less all of our compositions, aside from some older ideas, came up during our rehearsals. We want to make music for an audience, which goes to concerts to listen to music; this means music for concerts! To bring this mix of musical elements on the concert stage is one of our challenges.
Bogdan: For me, the production stage is very important, too. That’s where I form the sound. And that is also how I see myself on stage. Jan is having the intuitive musical part with his piano and I represent the studio-part. I love painting or sculpting with sounds I prepared at home and then mixing it live together with the piano and the acoustics of the space. Somehow I refuse to play an instrument in a traditional way on stage. I think it visualizes our very different parts still wishing to be one. Having performed a lot in clubs and festivals playing also ambient and chill-out music, where there isn’t a stage to look up at the musicians I do question the role of a live musician. The music should tell the story and should be convincing and not the performer as an entertainer. I mean we do not play rock & roll, we want the people to listen and concentrate on the music.
For me, I, is definitely a search for essence, for slowing down and a yearning for something like emptiness.Bogdan
It is hard to say what exactly the inspiration behind that first EP is. I see it as the first part of our work, which we will unfold in the coming years. It is more of a general vision we are behind. For me, it is definitely a search for essence, for slowing down and a yearning for something like emptiness. I think it is a reaction on all the abundance of information, the speed of life and things around me. So our music reflects the urbanity, the modern way of life in friction with that overload it produces. Maybe our music is also an escape and kind of therapy for us to find freedom and peace and unity.
When you both started creating this great work, did ‘things’ feel right from the start or were there moments that one or both of you had something like ‘nah, let’s do it again’?
Jan: Good funny question! We, Bogdan and I are patient and believe in hard, consisting and intense work rather than believing in something just like inspiration without effort. So we repeat a lot and love to do it! Working on details is as important as being in the state of inspirational flow! We both believe in long term musical projects taking time to grow and develop slowly and sustainably. Anyway, we are both sure to have our own musical handwriting, which will become even more original and specific within the next years.
Bogdan and I are patient and believe in hard, consisting and intense work rather than believing in something just like inspiration without effort.Jan Gerdes
Bogdan: Yep. Agree 100%. It felt right, but as we always review our jams and reflect our positions our music can grow. There were points, where we realized, that this or that didn’t work. But isn’t that part of the artist process? We refine our compositions to some extent and leave space for expression, but also we want to go on. We have enough ideas and potential to explore more.
TGMS: Would have loved to be in the room.
Bogdan: As a musician and producer I also think a lot about that problem, how to expose the creative process to the audience. What you find on the EP is a first statement, which looks like a final product, but in fact, is just a possible version capturing a moment in time. We could easily put out all versions instantly on Soundcloud, but of course, there is already much too much music out there and at first, we would be happy to get noticed and stand out so it is better to limit the output to that, what we really want to say.
Jan: As Bogdan already said, that there is already so much music out there, I don’t mind about this business thing too much. I believe in musical quality, which needs time to develop, and in musical life, which is consistent. What we need is to continue with our project and a piece of luck to arouse the interest of a wider audience.
You both get one sentence to describe the release.
Jan: rand`s EP I is about relicts and fragments of classical, romantic and contemporary piano music in electronic surroundings with reminiscences of fragmented nature and post-urban soundscapes.
Bogdan: Well, for that I ́d like to quote our release note: “rand’s first EP now presents three pieces, that explore synaptic potentials, a time-space texture full of suggestions – mysterious and slowly winding like in Voodoo River, scanning frozen moments like in Disabled Seconds or feeling days with no goal like in Tragically Hip. It may be sung in the post-cerebral continuum.”.