Text by CLOT Magazine
Our next mixtape comes from the duo Brueder Selke, poly instrumental composers Sebastian and Daniel Selke and also curators of the Q3AMBIENTFEST in Potsdam (Germany). The festival, taking place at the beginning of June, is a musical happening that brings together established and emerging artists from various genres and diverse origins.
East Berlin-born, Potsdam-based, Sebastian and Daniel Selke became well-known as an award-winning cello-piano duo under their pseudonym CEEYS. Throughout the work that has come from this long-term collaboration between the two brothers who grew up on the other side of the Berlin Wall, the essential elements are encounter and exchange.
The independent Q3A invite open-minded music lovers to discover a wide, contemporary sound spectrum. Each year, Brueder Selke invite artists to meet on a common, physical stage and, with performances that range between academic avant-garde and accessible pop, develop a kind of cinematic music that holds a mirror up to and makes audible the eclectic architecture of the world-famous Filmstadt Potsdam, with its neoclassical palaces and socialist brutalism.
The buildings where the brothers grew up gave Q3A its name, which is the abbreviation for Querwandbau, a type of Plattenbau that was very common in the GDR. Coincidentally, the first edition of Q3A took place in the year that marked the centennial of the 1917 Russian Revolution.
Q3A focuses less on headliners and sees itself as a complement to the local cultural scene. Thus the constellation of the artists is itself the highlight, bringing with it spontaneous, improvised collaborations with Brueder Selke.
The 2023 edition will feature analogue and virtual performances by Jakob Lindhagen & Vargkvint, Dirk Markham, Julia Reidy, Alex Stolze & Ben Osborn, Austarda, Sofia Paez, Laura Cannell, Grand River, Mabe Fratti, Yair Elazar Glotman & Johannes Malfatti, Brueder Selke, Sergio Díaz de Rojas & Cedric Vermue, Villemin, Will Samson, Ben Osborn, Hélène Vogelsinger, Tim Linghaus and Simon Ansing.
Aiming to expand on traditional playing techniques, artists will combine classical instrumentation with electronic. A visualization of the curators staging moving still lifes in Potsdam will also be screened, which will be scored live by some of the sets.
In this mix, Brueder Selke have mixed smooth and silent with bright and intense pieces, inviting open-minded music lovers to discover today’s contemporary composers and performers featured on Q3A.
Please tell us who is behind Brueder Selke and how your backgrounds complement each other.
We are brothers Sebastian & Daniel Selke. We were born in the 80s in East Berlin and grew up in the ubiquitous shadow of the Berlin Wall. Now we live and work in idyllic Potsdam – Berlin’s “little sister” – right “next door”, southwest of the German capital.
As the poly instrumental composer duo Brueder Selke – also known by the alias CEEYS – we are continuously expanding the repertoire of our two main instruments, the cello & piano, playing concerts, and as independent curators regularly presenting bespoke musical happenings. We were in Belgium recently in just this capacity and put together in collaboration with 30CC an evening in Leuven for Piano Day.
In your work, you create a profoundly experimental yet accessible tonality between avant-garde & pop which intelligently incorporates dynamically manipulated and processed acoustic & electronic elements of classical chamber music, free jazz, cinematic ambient pads, abstract noise and dignified chill-out sounds. How did growing up on the other side of the Berlin Wall influence your artistic practice?
Berlin, and in particular the eastern part of this pulsating metropolis, has shaped us from our earliest childhood until today. Above all, it was how the East-German inhabitants dealt with the everyday material shortages, which made it necessary to find alternatives to the nothingness in real existing socialism.
Especially the last decade of this state’s existence demanded of the people a “certain creativity”, an ability to improvise in countless situations in their lives. And this imagination, which combined with the objective reality to form new solutions, very quickly unified, for us, also on a musical level parallel and congenial to our classical career.
At the same time, we were inspired by the ubiquitous brutalist architecture of the Plattenbaus in a very specific way. As children, we could hear each other from room to room through the paper-thin walls as we practised at the same time; and it was from precisely this that our first compositions developed not long after.
But also the simplified and simultaneously glorifying depictions of the always superior socialist society on, for example, complex, colourful wall mosaics that illustrated, among other things, the awe-inspiring conquest of the cosmos by Soviet man, as was common during the dictatorship, had a lasting effect on us children and fostered in this quite subtle way, almost incidentally, a, within this dichotomy, astonishing interest in contemporary, technology-generated music.
We were already familiar with synthesisers through the secret record collection (Isao Tomita, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, etc.) of our not particularly state-conforming parents who we are grateful to for also introducing us to the most diverse sounds, band formations, films, and radio plays alongside brilliant orchestral works from classical and avant-garde German and Russian composers. This mix of impressions still shapes the aesthetic of our creative process today.
The dichotomous, quasi “dual” reality of the time – on the one hand having to fit in within the Eastern hemisphere so as not to “offend” the socialist system, on the other hand being able to learn about the West thanks to Western television, which could be received in Berlin – did the rest, and through the use and overcoming of these experiences until today intensified our tireless urge and the yearning search for free encounter & open exchange with like-minded friends.
And even if we rightly felt much at the time to be extremely restrictive, from today’s perspective, antagonistic to the egoistic mentality of many people today, inundated with stimulus and conditioned to excess, many positive side-effects can actually be found in the restrictions of that time.
So for us, the contradictory and at the same time complementary dualism of limitation and excess, and also exclusion and exchange, emerge time and again and is artistically meaningful to us. Well – by no means have we captured it all here – but in any case we’ll continue to search out these constellations.
Actually, we can only guess where this journey will take us, what meaning our common path will have, and what all these different fields of work, all in seeming equilibrium with each other, may bring to our work as a duo…
What was the main idea for the inception of Q3A, and what is the ethos behind it? And what’s the story and symbolism behind the name?
Q3A is the architectural shorthand for the first three, four and five-storey series of pre-fab buildings in the GDR in the 50s and 60s of the last century. Simply put, it means Querwandtyp, Number 3, Variant A… And this is where everything began with the cello and piano… Other series included the QP and also the QX…
As Plattenbau children, the architecture of the buildings that surrounded us always played – as already mentioned – a big role. All of our album duologies contain allusions to and often photos of our apartment building. Yes, it was for us also a landscape of grey monotone geometric shapes, but at the same time it was the location of our first musical attempts.
Our most recent duology “Hausmusik” and the reworked album “Musikhaus” pick up specifically on this meaning of our old flat and place of training, and transforms from a quiet house or chamber music within our “own four walls” to a house full of music in the here and now.
For us GDR children today it’s still about togetherness with like-minded people. That’s why the stage setup at Q3A is envisioned as a playground. Even back then it was always a meeting place, an island, and so today the stage is similarly envisioned as a quiet retreat for all artists and at the same time their most deeply connected audience.
The festival’s website mentions that Traditional playing techniques will be expanded; classical instrumentation will be combined with electronic. Could you explain the intellectual process? Can you elaborate more? What will the audience see/ experience?
We ourselves started early down this road and move between traditional and contemporary music.
The putting together of the program in a concert from Brueder Selke, the selection of instruments and effects, happens intuitively, in real-time and must function manually – that is, without pre-programmed loops or sequences from the computer – to allow direct access to an inner world composed of memories and moods. We view electronic devices as aids and extensions of our traditional means of expression. And often enough things don’t work the way we want them to (both laugh).
That’s why we listen closely to colleagues and their projects, and we see, well, real “academically trained musicians” as the absolute highest discipline when it comes to the traditional playing techniques and tonal possibilities of classically associated string and key instruments. A completely autarkic individual communication can emerge here that goes beyond the temporal level into the past, present and future.
Here too, it’s also not least about the exchange itself. We understand the meaning of curation in its literal sense of “preservation and care”.
The Q3A focuses less on headliners and sees itself as a complement to the local cultural scene. What have you been most excited about recently about the Berlin/ German scene?
Of course, the big successful artists are also important sources of inspiration. And Germany – and Berlin – is always providing new impulses, even just by dint of the countless venues that sprout like mushrooms from the earth. Just recently, Hauschka (alias Volker Bertelmann), a German artist with a certain affinity to classically associated instruments in contemporary guise finally found success and won awards in Hollywood. That helps everyone here – from the artists to the audience. And we see the whole thing really as cyclical. But what came first – the chicken or the egg? (Both laugh.)
We look especially for emerging music projects that are working on an individual personal language and so basically question the meaning of success and popularity in each of our lives. Where does it all begin, what is it about, and what should it be about?
It makes us very happy and hopeful to have met some of our now more well-known colleagues when they were taking their first brave steps on our stage. It was, is and remains the attempts, the trial-and-error, that help and motivate us to keep experimenting ourselves.
For us it’s about keeping our eyes and ears open – staying interested and attentive in order to illuminate the small and big things, the transforming societal AND artistic processes.
We live in the hope that above all these different and at the same time authentic musical approaches the larger relationships that shape, change, and in their contradictions hold together our world can be possibly better understood and creatively reflected.
We hope that our approach comes across so that everyone feels encouraged to get in touch with us, to explore ideas and visions and, in the best-case scenario, to transfer the artistic results of this process onto the stage.
What are your main creative inspirations these days?
Through our work, we get to know interesting projects and new colleagues and have been able to apply lots of techniques in the context of our own concerts and the organisation of bespoke events. We continue to optimise our workflow in order to be able to focus solely on the music.
After years of traditional academic study in classical music, at the first edition of Q3A in 2017, it was really the ultimate experience to dive into spontaneous improvisation with fellow musicians. That’s why we try to integrate this personal communicative momentum into all of our formats.
To date, we only know most of our colleagues digitally. Of course, this circumstance also has its advantages, namely being able to talk shop quickly and across all distances. But at some point, it made sense to seek out a common, physical stage. Since then, this has in turn also led to unexpected new projects.
We are currently working on a collaboration with Midori Hirano/ Mimicof and recently invited her to share the stage with us at the Belgian edition of Piano Day in Leuven. A studio album exclusively with restored electronic GDR instruments is already being mastered. The meditations with string machine, two organs and e-piano should be released this year on cassette on Aimée Portioli’s brilliant label One Instrument.
A short while ago, the Q3Ambientfest itself was able to collaborate with the Ambient Festival in Cologne and show a performance from the already-mentioned Oscar winner Hauschka.
How have you seen the project Q3A project developing throughout these years?
In the beginning, it was a small circle of idealistic musicians who we quickly got to know online through our first release on David Wenngren’s Kning Disk Imprint 1631 Recordings. Barely a year after our move to the film city in 2016, we were able to realise the first edition of the Q3Ambientfest, financed out of our own pocket. In the following years, we have continued to meet new, inspirational colleagues. At the same time, we try to make it possible for artists to keep returning to our stage.
Musically, ambient music has developed enormously, especially in the last decade. For many, the term embodies rather a sort of fundamental feeling of freedom and emphasises a natural need to give oneself to experimental surroundings.
What is your relationship with technology? And how do you cope with technology (screen/ digital) overload?
The last few years really were about survival. In 2020, we were even on the verge of scrubbing all our projects. But no one really wanted that, and we received heartening encouragement from the city of Potsdam to keep going. So it became about transforming the events.
In this respect, technology was able to help in a quite straightforward way to allow our happenings to take place in the lockdown years, at least virtually – that is, digitally – and since then we make use of this method quite consciously when artists really live too far away or other barriers prevent the performance. In simple terms – our scope of possibilities has widened.
Since our primarily instrumental music is often compared with film music and has also been used in many films, it’s hardly surprising to present Q3Ambientfest in this historically and architecturally multifaceted “film city”, for here can be found a mix of palaces from Fredrick the Great, neoclassical residences, and “brutalist Plattenbaus”.
Inspired by them, we have a visual accompaniment that shows the recorded still-life of the city landscape. This has been transformed by video artist Sal Vanegas using time-based effects and is intended to animate the artists during their individual sets to respond sensitively to the pictures on the big screen – to create a kind of musical score, and thereby forge a link to the film city.