Lumisokea (Eat Concrete, Opal Tapes) are a Belgian-Italian but now Berlin-based duo, formed by Koenraad Ecker and Andrea Taeggi. Their music is at once highly physical and rich in texture, using various acoustic instruments as well as analog hardware to create a dark and introspective listening experience. Their influences range from dub to noise, traditional percussion music from Asia & Africa, techno, musique concrète and contemporary classical music, while remaining focused on the key elements: to induce trance-like states, to move bodies and to emphasize the tactile qualities of sound. The visuals and scenography that Yannick Jacquet (Legoman) designed for their performances are based around the simple but highly effective idea of projecting slowly developing, abstract geometrical beams of light into a pitch black room filled with smoke. We were lucky enough to witness this immersive space at the Intonal Festival in Malmö, Sweden, where we also had the chance to talk to Koenraad and Andrea about how they met, how they discovered and got into electronic music, their collaboration and solo projects… and of course, future plans.
How did the two of you meet and how did you decide to make music together?
Andrea: We met in Amsterdam, where we were studying at the conservatory, because we both come from an acoustic music background. Koenraad is a cellist and a guitarist, I’m a pianist. I started studying in 2006 and he joined in 2007. After a while we felt the need to explore different things, because the conservatory was very one-directional. So we found a little group of people who were more interested in experimental music and slowly started the transition. I shifted from jazz piano to prepared piano, experimenting with percussion and little objects. We started to get into electronic music, and we just started to jam at school. I had a keyboard from my teenage years and Koenraad was working with computer softwares like Max/MSP and Supercollider. After the first sessions we thought it was really working out well, so we just kept going ever since.
Koenraad: Like Andrea said, it was a gradual thing from jazz to improvisation. We went to see shows where they had three acoustic instruments and someone would use electronics, or a guitar player who did not really play the guitar just had a bunch of pedals and made drones with that… We realized that the gap between making electronic music with the help of acoustic instruments and making electronic music purely with electronic instruments is actually very small. So gradually we started listening and discovering lots of stuff in electronic music.
Who would you name as the most inspirational artist from back then?
Koenraad: Well, we kind of started doing some improvisational versions of Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto’s stuff…
Andrea: Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto surely inspired us a lot, I think they were the bridge between acoustic and electronic music. We kind of found a way to transition from one thing to the other, which is very pivotal somehow… because for me these are never black and white jumps.
Koenraad: I was also very much into Alva Noto’s solo work. That was one of the very first things that I discovered and it was really something like a breath of fresh air. When you work with very well constructed acoustic music with all those set parameters, and then all of a sudden you hear this thing with just click and pops, this sound world that is completely different from what you’re used to working with… Like Andrea said, it was more like a gradual process, but at one point I had quite a bit of a jump when we were studying in Amsterdam. That was the point when dubstep came from the UK, and there were these raves called Lockdown. Once I was taken to a party like this, and I was like “wow, what is this?” Again, because we were studying contemporary classical music and jazz music, which is all about very complex layering on many levels… then we ended up in this dark hall with a huge sound system, where is only sub-bass, a few snares here and there, and a hi-hat. For me it was such a huge thing!
Like you’ve been living in a bubble…
Koenraad: Yeah, it was so strange to see that music can also be like this. Just super simple and super effective…
Andrea: It was really the point of realization that you have been just caring about the informational level of music… Then you go to a dubstep rave and you realize there are like four elements in total. But they’re so strong and they keep the whole thing going. In some way there’s also a connection to minimalism, that’s why we both very much admire many of the minimalists… and I think it’s not far-fetched to compare Morton Feldman to Mala, in a conceptual way. I’m not surprised I like them both, because I see many connections between the two of them.
Lumisokea was your first electronic project, then both of you started to focus on your solo works as well. Usually it’s the other way… like two people are already making music and then they find each other, but for you it was the opposite.
Andrea: When music is your life, I think it’s important to dedicate your time to exploration, whatever you’re going to explore. Since music is the thing we do, I want to be able to focus on Lumisokea, but at the same time I want to do something else which sounds different, but mostly because I have the time and luck to explore.
Koenraad: It’s also because there’s something really special that happens when you work with someone and there’s something completely different when you work by yourself. There are always little things that you want to explore and you maybe think that doesn’t really fit into what we are doing together. I could never imagine making a Lumisokea track by myself… I could try for two years and would never sound like that.
Andrea: It’s like thinking that you could have a dialogue alone.
Koenraad: Of course, since I’m half of Lumisokea, there will always be similarities. It’s just a different way of working and I do see them as quite different islands, although you have some of the same inhabitants. We’ve been collaborating for so long already, I feel like slowly we’re starting to figure out what happens when we work together. Also, what stuff belongs there and what works better if we do it by ourselves separately.
Andrea, what can you tell us about Gondwana, your solo project? What’s the concept behind that? I know you like African music…
Andrea: There’s no real concept behind Gondwana, it’s just a bunch of sounds and energies that I like and put together. I just started from sounds that really inspired me and then developed something around it. It came out quite chaotically, but I just kept experimenting and figured out what worked well together. In the end, I thought it was something that could stick together as an album.
How can you juggle with so much stuff at the same time? Feels like lots of things happened last year…
Koenraad: It’s a bit strange with the release dates. Sometimes there’s a record that you’ve been working on for two years, and it’s been finished for a year and a half, then it comes out… and maybe another album was finished much more recently but comes out much faster. Then there’s an older Lumisokea album that comes out at the same time…
Andrea: Yeah, the release date does not say much about the composition. My album was finished in March 2014 and it came out in January 2015. But we constantly work on music and I think we’re pretty productive in general, so there’s quite a lot of stuff in the making actually. Some of it is pretty much finished, so we have quite some releases planned for this year.
How did you get the idea to implement the smoke light beams into your live shows?
Koenraad: They were designed by Yannick Jacquet, who sometimes works under the name Legoman. I’ve known him for quite a while now; I also worked with him for some theater and dance productions. He just became a really good friend and he’s a fantastic artist. At some point, people kept on asking us to do visuals, but we actually didn’t want that.
Koenraad: Well, I really don’t like visuals most of the time. Because the whole thing with music is that it’s so strong, just this simple idea of having airwaves different in pressure, all these funny things happen to people… it makes them cry or it makes them happy or dance or whatever. I think that visuals very often have so much information and we’re conditioned to fix our attention on the visual thing… then we really lose the magic of what music can transmit.
Andrea: Yes, because it’s really the difference between something visible and something invisible. That’s why music can get so abstract and more prone to interpretation than other forms of art. It’s arguable, but I do think so.
Koenraad: It can also touch you so strongly without telling you what to feel.
Andrea: I think the physicality of sound is something that triggers how you feel before you know it. In many ways it’s more… catchy!
Koenraad: We asked Yannick if he could come up with something that does not have a screen, does not have any visual information in the sense that it does not give you extra information of what’s happening on stage. Three years ago he came up with this very great idea of basically projecting lines and shapes into smoke, where you get all these geometrical shapes. His idea was to use something very simple and very slow, which works on two levels: you change the perception of the space, because it’s a dark space with fine lines, so it redistributes the space plus helps you concentrate on the music instead of distracting your attention towards some other information. I was really happy when people told us after the show that these visuals actually helped them concentrate on the music. You can focus your attention because they are so slow… you don’t have to watch us turning knobs, which is boring anyway.
Andrea: Also, this basically means that music stands alone. You don’t need extra information to visualize the sound world, because music has a really topographic sort of imagery. People coming to our concerts are usually quite attentive and are interested in sound and its placement. I think it’s a bit less arrogant to create this rather than pushing some visual information about where you should be… you can be wherever you want, it’s up to you to create this thing, there is much more space for interpretation. The music language and the visual language that Yannick designed are much more similar in the way they speak.
Koenraad: Yeah, it’s basically doing visuals and taking away the visual aspect. In some strange way, it’s even less visual than when you would have two lights on us on a stage and you’d be watching us.
Andrea: Also, it’s interesting because it does not really go along with the energy of the music in a very obvious way. It really works as a different language of its own that somehow sticks together, although you perceive it with your eyes and not your ears.
What does interest you the most in music these days? What are you current explorations in sound?
Andrea: Nowadays I’m working again on the piano, after a few years’ pause. I’m studying and practicing La Monte Young’s ‘The Well-Tuned Piano’ work, which is a massive, intense piece of five hours. He explores this tuning system he devised, which is based on the sympathy of frequencies and the physics of sounds as opposed to how sound has been influenced by culture. I’m tuning a piano and trying to find ways to go through the material and understand what he is exactly doing. I think his work has been very neglected by the contemporary music scene, for some reason. I think there must be some interest for his music out there and possibly even someone who would very much hope to hear that music live. His work is amazing and nobody
seems to give a damn.
How about you, Koenraad?
Koenraad: These days I’m also working on more acoustic material, but it’s somehow related to the kind of work we do, which is all these things that happen with frequencies. It’s not about playing a C major chord, it’s all about what happens between two notes. There are certain things with acoustic instruments and voices, there are so many different factors in the sound that make them breathe and come alive. I’m also looking for much more structural forms in music, like how you can make music in a structural sense. Telling stories where you have very abrupt changes, which you can do very easily with visuals. We’re used to seeing movies that are tightly edited and you can switch from one scene to the other, but with music it tends to be a bit harder to do that same thing and still make it feel like it’s not some kind of a disconnected thing with different parts. I’m mostly trying to write acoustic music for ensemble, we’ll see what happens. Also, the rhythmical stuff is a constant research for the both of us, just getting our inspiration from different cultures. I’ve been into this Korean traditional percussion music called ‘samul nori’ for a while now, and it’s so much to learn from that, rhythmically and sound-wise. We work on many different things, research, try out… then we can see how we can implement that in the music that has nothing to do with that traditional music.
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