The retro-futuristic ensemble Gamut Inc makes musical theatre and plays computer-controlled music machines that they develop themselves. The core of the ensemble is made up of computer-musician Marion Wörle and composer Maciej Sledziecki, who collaborate on a project by project basis with various other musicians and artists. Rabih Beaini-curated Morphine Records has released Gamut Inc’s “Sophomore” album on January 20th, while “Sum To Infinity” follows their first robot opera “Rossums Universal Robots” combining and contrasting custom-built autonomous music machines against haunting classical synthesiser sounds. Cyclic accelerations and decelerations, in which rhythmic layers repeatedly fade in and out, setting in motion a seemingly endless process of rhythmic movement: all we hear is based on Risset rhythms. The motifs are taken from geometric and arithmetic series, mathematics. Automated accordion, automated percussion, and glockenspiels play the music that would not otherwise be possible. Original and modern simultaneously, and so retro-futuristic.
Listen to Soundscapes vol.129, curated by Gamut
How did you guys meet? How did Gamut begin? What kind of music and performances were you exploring at that time?
We come from different backgrounds: Marion worked with electronics and experimental music, Maciej played jazz guitar and wrote film music. So at first we worked with guitar and electronics – a lot of improvisation – gradually the guitar was modified more and more, and we moved towards each other stylistically. Finally, during a composition commission for the computer-controlled organ at the Kunst-Station St Peter, we discovered the fascination for the music machine, which has not let us go. There we also met the music mechanic Gerhard Kern – with him we developed our first music machines.
How do you prepare for your different performances? It is not the same playing at Berghain as playing in a Church.
The Berghain is also a temple. No matter if church or temple – we remain enthusiastic agnostics…
Talking about different performances; “Rossums Universal Robots”. How did you came up with the idea of reinterpreting this play? One can think that this theatrical piece by Karel Čapek fits into this new age of robots and man perfectly. But how did you, as Gamut, decide; let’s do this. What inspired you?
As a musical machine ensemble, the play for which the term “robot” was invented almost exactly 100 years ago was of course irresistible. R.U.R. is the second part of our human-machine music theater triptych. In the first part OVER THE EDGE CLUB (OTEC), we let an AI write the libretto – which became a cyber-psychedelic séance in which a superintelligence from the future looks back on its predecessors, who are now obsolete. Because as soon as you deal with AI, you’re in an arms race: what was considered non-plus-ultra yesterday is already obsolete today. In a way, R.U.R. is then the continuation: we look at an outdated vision of the future with a contemporary view. Frank Witzel, the librettist, then developed his own play with motifs from the material and introduced an interesting evolutionary idea: God creates man better than he is himself, and man creates the robot better than he is himself. But as we said, we are agnostics ;)
Still talking about RUR; the imagery of your play is so powerful and it complements perfectly with the music and sound that you bring. How was the process in terms of aesthetic for this performance in particular?
Thank you! We wanted to use the means we developed in OTEC again, at the same time the material was so powerful that we wanted to counter it with a kind of commenting chorus, like in Greek theater. After all, it’s probably the first material where the complete annihilation of all humanity is negotiated. It was incredibly inspiring that the RIAS Kammerchor – one of the world’s best choirs – was interested in singing this “chorus of robots” and “chorus of humans”! Because of the pandemic, this was logistically complicated to implement, so we pre-recorded the choir on video, and projected it during the performances. While in OTEC only synthetic voices were used, in RUR, besides the choir, two soloists are cast as robots, singing as countertenor and soprano in a similar range, while the last human is speaking. With the dancer Ruben Reniers we took up a character from OTEC who mediates between these worlds. We wanted to do justice to the historicity of the piece by citing stylistic devices from the 1920s such as Bauhaus and Futurism – as in Nina Rhodes’ stage design, using her stroboscopic discs. At the same time, the whole thing should not be nostalgia, but a contemporary music-theatre. Retro-futurism without the kitsch of steampunk.
Aggregate, defined as combining separate elements to form a whole. The music festival for automated pipe organs is that itself; working with elements of the digital and analog world, the human and the machine. There is a delicacy when curating a festival like this and when making music for these performances.
How do you choose the invited artists for the event? Are the performances always improvised or is there more structure?
After all, the organ itself consists of several aggregates – the wind bellows, different rows of pipes, whose various sounds are combined. A huge machine, always on the cutting edge of the technical development of the time. An acoustic synthesizer. Since the 1980s, organs have been equipped with computers and MIDI inputs.
In this respect it is astonishing that the technology was hardly used artistically until a few years ago. When we started in 2009, it was hard to find collaborators and venues. For a few years now, there has been a renewed enthusiasm for the organ, some people speak of a New Organ Movement. At last festivals, we curated mainly musicians from electronic music who have the technical expertise and whose sound concepts we could well imagine on the organ. Or who used the organ already in their work. Also to establish an aesthetics different to contemporary organ music. Fortunately, the congregations and concert halls in which we have played so far are very open, and also experience this as enrichment. We ourselves have put improvisation with machines on ice and compose our pieces through. Of course, this has to be adapted individually for each organ and each room. In the process, we have developed a software ecosystem over the last few years that allows us to generate large quantities of MIDI notes quite quickly into cloud-like figures and dynamic phrases. These are then arranged by hand into larger shapes. Finally, for us personally, working with machines is about creating an idiosyncratic sound language that can only be created with the help of these machines.
Where did both of you study? Have you both been into music, sound and the exploration of art since you remember?
Marion studied architecture in Düsseldorf, Maciej guitar in the Netherlands and composition in Cologne. Music and sound have always played a big role for both of us since childhood. There is this imaginary space that only comes into being when we listen to music and in which we like to dwell. At the same time, we have always had an interest in literary material. So we did thematic concerts and live radio plays until we finally discovered the format of music theater for ourselves.
Is there an artist, musician, performer that you wish to collaborate with right now? Why?
Nicholas Winding Refn, because we love his visual language and mysticism. We always answer that in interviews. At some point he surely reads it and calls.
How did this new release come about? So much time has passed since your first release and I wonder, why now?
We have done a lot of projects together in the last few years: film music, theater music, music-theater productions. At some point it struck us: Wait, it’s been almost 10 years since the last record! And we had new stylistic tools in our luggage, so it made sense to record the state where we are musically. On the first record, we were also interested in finding out what was possible with the machines, so we used exclusively machines on EX MACHINA. SUM TO INFINITY opens up to synthesizers and more elaborate rhythmical operations.
In your new record I feel there is continuously an exploration of time, and electronic music itself needs and requires time to be heard, to be understood and to enter into its universe. How do you understand this time and how do you feel a song has completely developed and finished?
On SUM TO INFINITY we started from different tempo models – there’s this idea of acceleration and deceleration happening partly at the same time – rhythmic dissonances if you will. Paradoxes. We’ve been playing around with it, and discovered some phenomena that interest us: the mathematical and perceptual differences of geometric and arithmetic rows. Nerdy stuff actually, but at the same time sensually experienceable. That was important to us, that the models we sketched retain a physicality, and don’t just remain thought constructs.
What should we expect next from you?
In March we perform RUR again in Berlin. In autumn we celebrate our 10th anniversary as music-theatre company. This will be celebrated with ZEROTH LAW, the conclusion of our human-machine music-theater triptych: The RIAS Kammerchor will be performing live this time, there are dancers and the fantastic robot orchestra of the Logos Foundation. Godfried-Willem Raes and his team have developed more than 60 self-playing machines over the last 20 years: a wide variety of organs, wind instruments and percussion, which will be heard for the first time as a complete ensemble in Berlin – at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. And after that, on and on…