Interview: Henrik Schwarz & The Metropole Orkest

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The show that opened last year’s Amsterdam Dance Event, Scripted Orkestra, from Henrik Scwharz, The Metropole Orkest, and its Conductor Jules Buckley is returning to Amsterdam for a one night only affair.

On 19 August, Het Concertgebouw hosts the Innervisions star and forwarded thinking orchestral ensemble for a dynamic and psychedelic set. Here, Schwarz and Buckley composed an hour of new music sythnesizing worlds, time, and genre into a truly unique concert experience.

Ahead of the event, I was lucky enough to sit n With Henrik and Jules as they rehearsed the show at their studio space in Hilversum. I caught up with the two creatives to discuss a variety of aspects of the performance, the parallels between electronic and classical music, and much more!

“The difference in imperfection is very fascinating.”

I read the collaboration was born from an encounter in Germany between you and Jules Buckley, is that correct?
Henrik Schwarz: Yes! We met and immediately felt there was a connection. Also, we both seemed to head in a similar direction despite being from two different sides of the spectrum. He comes from classical and I come from electronic. At the moment, there’s really something going on in this field. I would avoid the word classic because it is something new that we are talking about. It’s a new kind of music for orchestra but it’s not so connected to classical.

As I understand it, it also isn’t orchestral reinterpretations of electronic tracks?
Yes. My last album was orchestral versions of dance music, with all the pros and cons that go with it. This is a necessary step for people like myself and others. I think we need that step to free ourselves and be confident. Classical musicians have a very strong tradition so we have to find our way to sneak in. We can do this by redoing what we know about.

Going back to that initial conversation, what was the moment you did know you were headed in the same direction?
After two or three minutes, at least I knew it would work for me. It’s mostly about taste and style. You can discuss the big questions and try and find solutions but when it comes to the small questions and details that is where you see if you have an understanding or not. For example, when you say the word crossover, a word many use when describing things coming together. We knew that wasn’t what we wanted to do. We hated the word! It means the lowest common denominator. We are looking for a synthesis.

You describe the project as a “Scripted Orkestra”. How do you define that term?
I was looking for a term that would fit the overall concept. What I am writing is very often supported by computer code so I thought the scripted aspect was important as there were several that lead to the piece now.

Do you write the code as well?
Yes. I find it very beautiful because the computer does everything right. You can discuss a lot about whether this is a good thing or not but if you combine hyper correctness with human beings then you have both sides. You then try to find the balance between the two extremes. When you get it right its beautiful.

What program do you use for your coding? SuperCollider?
I use Max/MSP and Javascript. Mostly stuff I learned from graphic design. That’s where I came from. We play around with regular coding and get some very musical results.

How do you find that balance going from the creation phase to the performance phase?
During the performance there may always be a moment where its getting a bit out of hand but I don’t think this is too important. There it’s more about energy than anything else. If the energy is right then everything else is right. The difference in imperfection is very fascinating. It began early in mankind. Imagine if you was the one who invented the wheel. You turn a stone around and say, ok, but we can make it better. Then you get a hammer and you grind away to get something pretty round, but not perfect. If you are a pretty good craftsman, or musician, then maybe you can get close to that perfect wheel. If you have a perfect wheel cut from a computer it’s pretty boring because there’s nothing to understand about it.

The Boiler Room performance from ADE last year was about 90 minutes, Are we looking at a similar length now?
It won’t be that long because we played two encores at ADE. We will have the same program minus the encores.

Do you construct this kind of project in the same way you construct a DJ set?
Yes, I do. You are trying to make it dramatic. With every new part you try and connect it to something that happened before but also make something new. You also want to have an emotional arc. When you have a sequence down well, that’s when it gets interesting because you might insert things that you may not have had prepared. I think this is a big part of what we are trying to do.

Building on that, you mentioned Jules has a good understanding of dance music. Can you expand on this? How do you define an understand of electronic music?
We both think in concepts. What we are doing now is not electronic or classical. The players come from a classical tradition, with their knowledge and rules. For me, we have the concept of the loop. A loop is repeating but also changes with every round it takes. We may do subtle changes or dramatic changes but we like that idea of music as a stream. This is still there now. The loop is there but we are modulating it. It’s very different from what the minimalists for 30 or 40 years have done. People compare them but I think they are different. This is a concept that has been developed in electronic music and brought to a sophisticated level. Then comes, what I find interesting about acoustic orchestra music, the elevation of the loop concept into a higher level of abstraction. They take it from what is happening today and they take it out of time.

What was the workflow like during the creation phase of this project? Given the free time you mentioned…
I was listening to a lot of classical music because I just didn’t have the knowledge. Of course there are a few things you like. Then, I tried to figure out how certain things are made in theory. From that, I collected ideas and wrote down all the ideas that came to my mind. That could be something very simple. Since I was being introduced to new terms and concepts simultaneously, I could relate them to what I was hearing. Then the electronic musician in me came out and I thought about how I could manipulate what I was hearing in a very playful way. After all the pieces were finished from my perspective I would send them to Jules who would check to see what works and what doesn’t from an orchestral point of view.

How integral are the actual venues for the performance? The ADE performance was at Melkweg and the upcoming Amsterdam show is at Concertgebouw. Does the choice of venue add something integral to your concept?
That’s a difficult question to answer at the moment because I think there is something going on regarding the development of new acoustic music. It’s happening everywhere. It is a grassroots. People like Jules are key to that because they are the door openers for people like myself to do something new. When you have these very open people from the classical world who are open to do new things on a serious level it is very good. For me, I am not at a point yet where I could say the venue has an influence. Before that we have many questions to answer. The answer to those questions could affect what is happening.

How have you noticed the project evolve from ADE last year to its current form?
After that show, Jules and I sat together and listened to it with the intention to make adjustments. Then we both got really busy for a few months so it was difficult to get us in the same room for half a year. Then, when we did sit down, we listened and thought it was pretty good!

How do you see your personal interest in music evolving these days? How do you try and balance your DJ career with other, more experimental, work?
I do it as much as I can. I had learned that things get pretty chaotic and I get a bit emotional about it. I am not this strategic guy that plans out years ahead. When I get something on the table I follow the feeling. I have to learn that the bigger these projects get, this is real work. You need your focus otherwise you are lost. Now, I am in quite a lot of thought about how I can create free time for myself. Just to be free! I wrote this with a lot of free time. During ADE 2015, I knew I would write this for 2016. It felt good because there was no pressure. I realize this is a quality!

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Jules Buckley

Interview continues with Metropole Orkest’ Conductor’ Jules Buckley

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