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Interviews

Aufgehoben: Counter-Intuition

By Published: December 4, 2007
Aufgehoben is a band that defies categorization, a band unlike any other; its music is freely improvised, with only the sketchiest of plans being agreed upon in advance. And yet its music ends up sounding a million miles away from improv, and even further from jazz. The reasons are twofold: the sound, which is pumped-up, full-on metal rock music, with everything turned up to the max, and the post-production and mixing, which the raw material undergoes, enhancing the sound further and focusing the music. The end result is unique and utterly distinctive.

The past year has been remarkable for the band. In autumn 2006, Aufgehoben released its fourth album, Messidor (Holy Mountain), to much critical acclaim. Like its predecessors, it looked like a rock album, with sleeve art that would not disgrace a heavy metal band, but much classier.

align=center>Aufgehoben Aufgehoben, taken at a rehearsal in October, 2006 l:r: Phil Goodland, Gary Smith, David Panos, Stephen Robinson



Aufgehoben also released a seven inch picture single—Axiologue/Thermidor One Five— from the same sessions. (Can you get more rock 'n' roll than that?) But the music was as far from rock as ever.

2007 has also seen the secrecy and mystique that has surrounded the band slowly relax. Incredibly—for a band formed in 1999—in December 2006 they played their first ever gig, in Porto, Portugal. This was followed in February 2007 by their second gig, in London, followed by Gateshead in May and then Bristol in June. Altogether, in some eight years as a band, they have only played together some fifteen times—including all recording sessions, rehearsals and gigs.

Just as remarkably, it is only this year that the band's personnel has become public knowledge. The presence of guitarist Gary Smith was known; his arrival into the group heralded on their second album, Magnetic Mountain (Junior Meat, 2001), which was credited, rather clumsily, to "Aufgehoben No Process vs Gary Smith." But given the scope and scale of the music Aufgehoben produces, it was a real shock to find that the band only has three more playing members: drummers Stephen Robinson and Phil Goodland, plus David Panos, a self-confessed non-musician who generates noise from a variety of sources, noise that is a vital part of the Aufgehoben sound. Doug Shearer, who masters their albums and is the sound engineer on live gigs, is the band's fifth member, as important as any of the four players.

To accompany their "coming out," the band also started to give occasional interviews. Earlier in the year, I attended one of their rehearsals in Brighton, and then talked to the band over a few drinks in a local pub. Following a successful day playing together, they were in an ebullient mood, easy in each other's company, sharing jokes and banter. Robinson, Panos and Smith did most of the talking, with very occasional comments from Goodland and Shearer. Robinson founded the band, and has been responsible for the post-production work on their four albums released to date. Most of the time he adopts the role of spokesman for the band, although—as the interview shows—he doesn't get things all his own way and there is much debate within the band about every aspect of its work, especially its future direction.

The band's releases to date are: The Violence of Appropriation (Junior Meat, 1999), credited to Aufgehoben No Process; Magnetic Mountain (Junior Meat, 2001), credited to Aufgehoben No Process vs Gary Smith; Anno Fauve (CD version: Riot Season, 2004; clear vinyl version: Fourier Transform, 2004), credited to Aufgehoben and the first time the shortened version of the name was used; Messidor (Holy Mountain, 2006); and Axiologue/Thermidor One Five (7" picture disc: White Denim, 2007).

Two further albums have been recorded and are at differing stages of post-production. In the interview, these are referred to as Fifth and Sixth.

Chapter Index
  1. History
  2. Post-Production, Editing and Mixing
  3. Playing Together
  4. The Albums
  5. The Future
  6. Aufgehoben—Live Performances and Studio Sessions 1997-2007
  7. Meaning of the Name Aufgehoben


History

Stephen Robinson: When we made Magnetic Mountain, Phil had never met Gary before. I think David had met him [literally, once]. Then it was into the studio and heads down for the day.

All About Jazz: The rest of you on the first one, The Violence of Appropriation—Gary joined for the second one—it was more of a conglomerate, wasn't it?

SR: It was just a loose thing. I've known David since about '92 I think. We've done things on and off—all sorts of funny things.

David Panos: Some of the stuff you can't even hear; you don't know what's going on.

SR: We'd throw stuff together really quickly and do some live stuff with a friend of mine. We advertised for a drummer and Phil turned up. We did that sort of stuff and got it out of our system very quickly. I was playing bass. We had a funny conversation that turned out to be nothing to do with the stuff we'd got together for, and found we'd got lots of shared references, core influences on our drumming. We said, why don't we get the two kits together and see what it sounds like—David had a space in Bethnal Green. We did three sessions with just the three of us as the constant factors in that, and then anybody else who happened to be around, probably eleven or twelve other people turned up during those three sessions.

AAJ: On a variety of instruments?

DP: Remember Bruce?

SR: Yes. There was one funny session when an American lad, an exchange student, turned up while we were playing, plugged in and started playing some nice stuff, all day, recorded to DAT, and at the end of the session it was, "Who are you?," and that is the only time I've ever spoken to him. So, it was really kind of ad hoc. We had no idea we'd do anything with it. It was really to see what putting two drummers together would be like.

That was '98. It was really only actually that I acquired some software and thought, how does this work? Oh, I've got these recordings so I started tweaking them with it. Phil came 'round and liked what he heard and encouraged me to keep going with it, and so the debut album came out of that. Gary got involved through Trevor Mainwaring, who was a mutual friend. We were talking about doing another session, and I was talking to Trevor about it, and he said he'd ask Gary.

AAJ: Did you decide that you wanted someone who played guitar like Gary?

DP: Just trying to play with Gary, it was the most terrifying experience of my life. I play in several other bands and freely improvise, the electronics came in after that pretty much immediately in a unconscious way; catching up with the processing that was going on.

SR: It took us a while to realize what was going on; the musical content of the first session wasn't very interesting. It actually turning into something that you could vaguely listen to was all the process of me learning how to use the software; there were all sorts of treatments I did on there—probably stuff I wouldn't do again—but that was also because the source material just wasn't sustainable. There were loads of microloops to build up things...

AAJ: There was far more processing than on any of the subsequent albums.

SR: Yes. It is partly a reflection of the way that there is more substance to the music; that means that I have to do a lot less editing. For the first one, I really had to take the tiny bits that worked and build them up into something. The end result bears no resemblance to the original stuff. I don't think we sustained more than a minute of actual playing anywhere on that album but subsequently it has got longer, so that I whittle down rather than having to build up. That has led up to the Fifth album, with a half hour track which is unedited.

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Post-Production, Editing and Mixing

The changes that Aufgehoben's music experiences, between being recorded and being released, are huge. It has been said, by John Coxon, who was also on the bill at their Porto gig, that Aufgehoben "edited itself into existence." As all of the post-production has been done by Stephen Robinson, there is much discussion in the band about the process and its results.

AAJ: One of the things I was going to ask the others is, when you hear the final thing do you recognize it as what you played?

DP: Sometimes not. In a way, do you ever, when you are doing that kind of free playing? You go into that space where you don't know what you are doing.

Gary Smith: I think you're right.

DP: I feel estranged from the most straight down-the-line pop music. It's not me that plays it.

GS: Unless you've really got some prior vision. Now we're rehearsing, obviously we're expecting something out of it.

DP: It was really weird, that point where we were all playing and it sounded like itself rather than not like itself. There was some undefined unconscious point where we could all be in the same room making a noise that sounded like Aufgehoben.

GS: I think the main thing is when we've done recording—and we've recorded a lot of stuff, haven't we?—the overall thing is, the interesting thing is, since I've been involved, besides it being a good sound there was an identity when people got together and played. So whatever we've done seems to have had that identity. The Sixth stuff we've done is a little bit different but it still has that identity. I think that is the very interesting thing; you can record loads of stuff and put it all together and it still retains that identity.

Aufgehoben / Axiology/Thermidor One Five

Phil Goodland: The CDs come out well over a year after the sessions, so for me they're just a reminder that we were doing that; I don't remember; we've moved on, we've moved on a lot.

SR: The reference point for your own playing is ...the first stage is just to get a stereo mix, and then I send the whole lot around to everybody. Everybody gets to hear it in its untreated state...

DP: ...and we think, "What the fuck have you been doing?" [laughter]

SR: As things move along, I figure out another stage, and I send those along and then wait for the feedback.

GS: I always think Phil's comments are the most interesting, because he invariably comes in about a month later...

PG:... by emails.

GS: He says, "Perhaps we shouldn't put that one out; I like the one we've done after..."

PG: With Messidor, I just couldn't get into it, and now it's probably my favorite CD. At the time, I wanted to put Fifth out, not Messidor.

GS: Phil said maybe we should get rid of that one [Messidor] and not do it.

David, you've [talked] about doing a quiet album. That sort of thinking is really exciting.

SR: The trouble is that you've got to get it past me... and I don't do quiet.

GS: But you'll be in the bar. We'll be doing it out there.

SR: It's because I use such crap equipment, that's why I've got to have it loud. I've now blown another set of speakers in my car and I can't play it at home on my stereo as the walls vibrate alarmingly.

GS: I don't know how you can listen in a car to music.

SR: That's where I do all of the listening. The rest of it is just headphones on the laptop.

DP: We could have got this far in six months to a year if we'd been meeting more than once a year.

PG: We've got other things to do.

SR: I'm not sure about that....My issue with the six months claim is that it doesn't take into account the slowness of mediation—it's the time listening, thinking, arguing between sessions on the basis of my edits and processing of the previous session that means we make these quantum leaps.

DP: I'm not sure if that's true about the dialectic between recording and playing.

GS: What you have been doing has evolved a lot. I'm regressing back into rock music and you're taking my place, obviously.

DP [to GS]: The funny thing with you is that invariably you've changed your style of playing between one session and the next, anyway.

GS: No, it just evolves.

SR: By the time we all come back, you're somewhere else. That forces us into some other things. But we've also been doing stuff; David has also been continually evolving his stuff. Phil and my drumming styles are getting more divergent; we can respond in more sorts of funny ways in a fairly counter-intuitive way to where you are at.

GS: What does that mean, "counter-intuitive"?

SR: I've actually found myself using that quite a lot today. I've been listening to the Sixth sessions, and there have been some points where I've been trying out things that are essentially rhythmic but they feel quite wrong to me when I'm playing them; I can't get away from that. But when I listen to the recordings, because of what is going on with the other three of you, they work. So I've been trying stuff that feels very odd and just doesn't make any sense when I play it. Whereas usually the idea of playing together is that something gels. But I think the stuff that works with us, it just doesn't [gel].

AAJ: You are working against your natural instincts rather than going with them.

SR: Yes, I think that's it.

GS: I wouldn't think that, at all.

SR: I'm thinking of this from where we started, which was to have [a] very strong, identifiable rhythmic core, with Phil and I playing together.

GS: Originally, right.

SR: Partly through the editing process, that's the stuff I've chopped out. It's the stuff where we're not doing that—where we're often playing against each other—[where] I've got interested in it. Because we then spend a lot of time listening to the results of that, when we come back together again we're not doing the stuff that got us there. We start there and then we take off to somewhere else. Starting from quite a conventional rock premise where the drums carry the rhythm, the drums have been stripped of that function altogether so it's still an incredibly rhythmic unit, but the rhythm doesn't really come from the drums, it comes from the combination. It's been developed to a function of the group as a whole.

GS: Certainly one of the things I've developed is repetitive rhythms, which I wouldn't have done on the second album because I wasn't playing like that. My thing now is a lot of repetition and stuff. If you can't hear it, it doesn't matter but if it comes through then alright.

DP: I'm tending to lock into long lock grooves, but they never quite meet each other, sets of rhythms that are pulling apart. I've been recording with a friend, Cameron; he just puts down a track, records it, listens back to it then doesn't wear cans and goes for another take over something he doesn't hear. You get that really nice counter-intuitive pull-away from the thing, which is what you're trying to achieve whilst listening at the same time.

GS: Probably the way I play has got all these things working at once; hearing you talking, probably that is what's happening with the group. I'm not saying I've influenced the group, but the way I work, you've got things that, if you take them apart, they're not really that interesting [e.g.] the guitar parts, but put it all together and it makes a really interesting whole. I think that is how the group is working.

Aufgehoben / MessidorSR: I think that is true. I think what we have learned from the few times we've played together is that we can just rely on each other to do our own things. It is pretty much impossible to play this and to have an overall sense of what you are responding to. An awful lot of the time, I don't quite hear what Phil is doing, but I'm quite comfortable with...

GS: You mean when you're playing?

SR: Yes. For example, when I go into head down mode.

DP: It's the exact opposite of what you're doing when you play in a tight group together. You're occupying space that you're not that sure of, but you're sucked along by some secret rhythmic code that you're following; but it's not one that you can actually rationalize.

GS: When I'm hearing it, I hear all of the individual things going on and I relate to all of them at once.

SR: I think there's a sense that we've actually become a group at some point.

DP: For me, it was Messidor. It was the time when we all settled. It's the one with the least editing. There was a lot of work to make the sound really good. You've almost gone from doing a kind of treatment to doing an engineering job, focusing each individual sound, making it richest and getting the most out of it. That is the difference between that and the sessions. That was the one where I could just take the sessions home and play them raw and think there was some really great, excellent, amazing stuff going on, not feel that it had to be manipulated that much.

SR: There is a point where I actually just forget what I've done to construct it.

SR: It's OK at this stage, but my idea would be that we can actually use the live thing to do much what we do in the studio, and to record it. And that will supply material for albums. The main thing that has happened more than anything has been me dragging my heels over going live, for all sorts of reasons. The main thing is the sense of us as a unit; when we come together as four people, we do things that we don't do individually. I don't think any of us understand that, and that's a good thing. So it will mean that we take it into some other territory, just becoming more conscious of the fact that it is a unit. Whereas it just wasn't; that is not its history. There was a nice line that John Coxon had, "It edited itself into existence." Because of that, it takes a long time to really realize what happens when we get together. That's why I'm in this funny situation, because it has all been my editing and processing.

AAJ: The way you're describing it, it has been a dialectic between the editing and the next time around. Like a feedback loop, the editing is part of the creative process.

DP: Whether we continue to do that is an interesting question. Now that we've become more able just to do that, we can kick the ladder away, to a certain extent. Today was very strange; it was good, because we weren't thinking too much; we just got on with some playing, some nice sounds. The last sessions we did, we were consciously trying to go somewhere different to where we have been, and those were dead ends because we said, "Let's go back to rhythm" and that's got all sorts of pitfalls; we've become very, sort of, domesticated. There was a very conscious feeling that we were all trying to jump into another space, and struggling to get there, and prepared to make mistakes in trying to push things. So it's more of a feeling that you can rely on the live thing to try to play together somewhere else. Instead of always looking back, working against the last thing we've done.

SR: I think the live stuff will change a lot as we get more used to it, more comfortable with it.

GS: It's easy; it's easier playing live in front of an audience than rehearsing. All you've got to do is do it. It's true. The audience doesn't know what they're getting; the thing about Porto was that we did it. Bang! Very confident. I think playing live is going to be much easier than making an album. Because all you're going to do is do it. It's not forever. You can rely on all the things you've done before. That's how I see it.

DP: One thing I did suggest to Gary earlier was whether you [Doug] want to get involved in some mixing. We've got shed loads of mixing stuff.

Doug Shearer: Anyway, if I'm trying to replicate some sort of post-production aspect, I should really come down and see you [Stephen] post-producing it.

SR: What I do wouldn't make any sense.

DP: Mystification going on here. You wouldn't understand it.

SR: It makes no sense just because it is done over a very long period of time, on headphones, on a crap laptop, with one piece of software now. The situation we've now got, having moved the recording onto David's laptop, is that we've got shed loads of stuff that we need to get into good stereo mixes that I can then work with. That would be an interesting phase, because what I've done with the last two albums is to just go from the ADATs to a quick mix of the whole; where I've got five hours of stuff I just found balances, ran the whole lot into stereo; any other problems I inherited from doing that, I would have to do afterwards, just using the stereo mixes. Now we've actually got some stuff here; in fact, it's a process I prefer not to be involved in, because I like the two track, the limitations of having stereo stuff that I can then...

GS: I love it. I love mixing.

SR: Actually getting that into a different state to what I've been able to do before would be great. The mixing situation I was faced with was pretty terrible. I had to do it sitting on the floor under a table, with headphones. And in the last mix, Gary came out really loud. So we've dumped all of those onto David's laptop and they've all got to be mixed.

PG: I actually find it incredibly tedious. But I would like to hear that final mix before it came out; that's all I'm interested in.

GS: See, I love mixing; I just love it, so...

DP: We should make some dates. Maybe one evening every week...

SR: It would really suit me just to have the stereo. I don't actually care what happens. Because if there's stuff I need—if I want more drums added, I'll just filter it. I like the dirt that I pick up along the way. That'd be great, to do something like that. So there is the possibility of mixing stuff, and then I'll pick stuff up and shape it after that.

GS: That's what I was saying, if you get the mixes good then the next stage is going to be even better.

SR: The problem I have when I'm mixing is that I'm thinking along the lines of what might happen when I'm working on the stereo. And that's just the wrong way to do it. I like the problems I've got. If those drums aren't crisp enough, then I've got to work out how the hell to do that.

GS: If you've got a very good source that you're working from then—all the music with very good detail—then it's got to be a very good thing.

SR: Great. So if Doug wants to get involved in all of this and he knows what he's doing then...

GS: Ideally, from my point of view, we'd all get together and do it. Then we'd all be feeding off how we looked at it.

DP: I always find the situation where there are enough people that are bored shitless by it. Mixing is quite boring.

AAJ: Mixing by committee.

SR: That is why I do that stuff on my own and send out the end results.

GS: The reason it interests me is that you learn about what the people you are working with like. And I think that's very important. For me it's very important.

DP: In a way we're producing a neutral mix here.

GS: What I'm saying is that it doesn't work if you get a band together and stick them in a room to mix, it's a disaster. But at the same time it's nice to be around and learn about what people like a bit more. I guess that will happen if we do more live work because we'll be in that situation more.

Aufgehoben / Magnetic MountainSR: But I think there's a really productive think happening with you two about what you're up to. There are some interesting things from the point of view of the drums when I'm mixing them. I have a strong sense of what I'm doing because it is worked in blocks and it is more simple minded; it is quite easy for Phil to just be around here and as he's finding that space more and more. It would be interesting to have somebody else mix it. Often those blocks of sound to me make me think about what I'm up to.

GS: Nothing has really happened with the recordings we have done, in the sense that we have recorded. It is quite basic.

AAJ: How much is there a danger of losing that Aufgehoben sound if it's mixed too much?

SR: I share the same sort of worries. The thing that I like about it is the density of sound. And the thing that you lose with better quality is you loose the grain, texture and dirt. There are new challenges for me in that post-production work. The process that we've had since Anno Fauve is that I would work with stuff at a certain point, roughly where the shape of the thing is there and it's got to a kind of density where I can no longer hear what I'm doing. Then Doug would work with it and he would send back what ought to be a mastered version by any other standard, but what he's actually done is open up some spaces. And if I see spaces I just fill them in again. Often the end result of that would be me going to my raw stuff. Doug's nicer versions, I often end up re-layering those. What Doug manages to do is to give me some space that I can take even further than I was before.

GS: You're going to get more of the music, whatever it is.

DP: I don't know. I sometimes like the trashy quality. Like Fifth is a really trashy recording, but there is something about that that I really like.

AAJ: It seems to me if it's cleaner and more separate it's not going to sound like Aufgehoben.

SP: It won't be clean, will it?

DP: I think it will.

GS: Just record my guitar separately and it's never going to be clean.

DP: I disagree. Because we're playing like Aufgehoben. I don't think we have a problem. I don't want to make it into an ultimate destination and a fetish. From a record that had a spacious, very detailed sound you could go back to trashy; I see them as modes.

GS: I totally agree. It's a bit like saying do a quiet album. It's a step along the way. But all the recording we've done—it's not really a lot but it's a lot in hours—it seems absolutely natural to want to get a better recording, so that you can hear more of the actual content, because there is a lot of stuff going on, a helluva lot of stuff, and you're going to lose a lot of stuff. I don't think you'd lose the energy or the roughness or anything. Hell, it's rough anyway. You're not going to lose that.

DP: What I like at the moment is the way that Stephen is layering up the treatment, almost squeezing more defined sound out of a quite grainy source. There is actually something quite interesting in that process. It's very focused but it's also got dirt in it.

GS: When Stephen processes the sound, I just hear it like electronic music. When it goes really crunchy, I hear it like electronic music. I don't hear it like a group; it's gone somewhere else. I think it's great. Fine by me.

SR: One of the key features is just the sheer number of times I end up overlaying the same source, which shouldn't do what it does. All the bottom end is just accentuated. I don't know how many times I've actually done that; Fifth is a bit undercooked on this at the moment. I'm somewhat tempted to go back to it.

DP: I like the tinniness.

GS: No. No, leave it. It's fine.

SR: The tinniness will come down. Messidor had loads and loads of over-layering of the same stuff. Filtering stuff out, some of the bass stuff. It has a density to it.

DP: I'd rather spend money on better recordings.

GS: If you've got the gigs, if you can do the gigs.

SR: It's a sort of experience. I suppose it's the thing that has been driving me with the records; the kind of experience I want is a sonic experience that's not replicable anywhere else. We know we can actually play this. Getting everything in place so we are really in control of that would be really quite impressive.

GS: Essentially, you've got to stay excited about what's going on. The sound, you've got to feel good about the sound.

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Playing Together

GS: I think [the drumming] is one of the strong points of the band.

PG: Sometimes I find it hard to tell who's done what.

GS: The drumming always sounds very different.

SR: It's much more obvious live than when it's been mashed.

GS: It's very noticeable to me, the difference between the drummers.

DP: When you actually get the disc, it's a lot harder.

AAJ: It's very clear there are two different styles of drumming.

SR: It wasn't like that initially though because that was one of the things at those very first sessions; there was some core stuff where we just had shared references. We could just play in time...

PG: ...and virtually duplicated ourselves.

Aufgehoben / Anno FauveSR: It wasn't really until Anno Fauve that we started taking it apart.

GS: I think it's a much better improvising group now.

DP: That comes with practice.

GS: I think live, from an audience's point of view, two drummers is great; [to SR and PG] you do look different when you play.

SR: I think the more diverse we've become, the better it is...

GS: Of course.

SR: ...because Phil's doing stuff that I don't even attempt to do.

GS: I'm regressing into rock now. No, I am. I've picked up on all of you lot. How do you feel about that?

DP: It's OK. I like both of what you're doing. Some of the quieter stuff, it's very hard to hear what you are doing.

GS: Over time I've been asking, "Do you want some more of that?"

SR: I think for the live context, it works.

GS: If you do all of that stuff, people love it.

SP: On the long track from Fifth, there is no rock guitar in that at all. That is what really interested me in that.

GS: I only work on what I'm playing now, like yesterday. That is how I work. But in a group context...I like doing it; I just don't do it, because I'm working on something else. It might creep in; it might work. But I play the same whatever I do.

SR: I'm more interested in how Gary's ongoing developments pose interesting challenges for how we respond—it's one of the key elements that opens the path to our on-going integration of rock music and its supposed constituent elements.

GS: I don't think it is rock guitar; it's just bending strings. I did do a bit today, and it made me laugh. But live, the truth of the matter is, people love it.

SR: I think the absence of it in the recordings for the albums is what's really interesting. It means we're responding in completely different ways; because there isn't a vocabulary to go with that, we're off somewhere else.

GS: What I'll try to do is find a balance, where it is right to bring certain things in.

SR: It does present interesting problems; particularly on the fifth album, where there were points, when I was working on that, where I can't find any reference points in it. Nothing is working in any orthodox way whatsoever. There are points where it gets really kind of scary, where I think they've just lost the plot but actually pushing it to the point where it gels into something.

GS: The way I work, obviously, when we're all playing together I will be listening to all of you. Today I could hear all of you, what you were all playing. From my point of view, I am reacting to all of you. That is important to me. It's like me playing the guitar by myself, but now it's a group, so I'm reacting you as opposed to just solo guitar or a duo or something. There is more to feed off.

SR: That was something that I only really became aware of when I was working on Magnetic Mountain, where I did a lot of close listening to what you were up to. There were ways in which you were doing things that were responding to the two drummers even when we're not together. That's just a different league of playing, really. You were fielding stuff between the two drummers that brought the two of us together, even when we were pulling apart, and that is something that I don't think, coming from where we'd come from, was even a thought we'd had. I think we've still got technical limitations doing that but we're quite comfortable going with that.

GS: Essentially, it's rhythm-based, isn't it. You listen to stuff when you're playing with people.

PG: It has to be when you're playing with two drummers really.

GS: Not necessarily.

SR: I don't think it is the drummers that are doing it, that's the thing.

GS: It is a very rhythm-based group. Even when it is quieter. And also, there is a very strong textural thing, especially with what David is doing now. And my playing has become much more textural. Really, in many ways, there is not a lot of air. A very textured group with strong rhythms and a strong rhythmic undertow too. In many ways, there is not a lot of air. For me, it's very easy to feed off all the things that are going on. But in many ways, it is very defined; there are two drummers, David and me. I can hear what you're doing. And I can play or not play; it's interesting, a lot of the time I'm not playing very much. I'm underneath or not playing sometimes. So, from my point of view, playing in the group is very defined. It is very easy to work with even though there is a lot of sound. To someone listening to it, if you said to them it's easy, they'd go, "what?," but if you're inside it and you know how it's working, it's quite defined from my point of view. Besides the sounds you're using and the actual positioning, I quite like that.

GS: The thing about being in a rehearsal space or recording studio is that you can stop. There is no energy from the audience. As a band, you pull together; that is the thing about playing live, you pull together. That's why there is no trouble playing live. Our evolution is improvising, isn't it?

DP: We're not improv.

GS: Not improv. Not that.

AAJ: Are you militantly not improv?

DP: I am.

GS: It's a debased term.

DP: I think we're against the formula of improv. It is so un-improv, it is such a definable dead language.

AAJ: It is interesting your use of "counter-intuitive," because part of the improv ethos is that you are always counter-intuitive, you never go with the flow, you work against it.

DP: There is some really good line about when the counter-intuitive becomes intuitive, then you're in trouble.

GS: Things move.

DP: We've always wanted to have that raw energy that a rock band has.

GS: The actual music itself, there isn't a heavy content. I shouldn't really say this. The overriding thing is the attitude of the people doing it. That is why this group has got an identity, an attitude.

DP: Speaking for myself, that is where not really being able to play helps.

GS: I think it's just the sort of people that are doing it.

DP: That is my whole attitude to everything. I'm not a musician. I don't really play anything. I'm very much more interested in structure, in aesthetics, in the mood and tone of something than I am in anything to do with the musical virtuosity of it.

GS: I don't think virtuosity...

DP: That is what interests me in playing with you; you've got virtuosity and to me I'm more absolutely interested in aesthetics...

Aufgehoben / Violence of AppropriationGS: It's only what you do with it. That's true of anything. You can be playing your Bach violin pieces and got them down pat, but step outside of that situation and you're dead, you know. It is only what you do with what you've got. That is really what it is all about. If you've got limited resources, you can make some fantastic statements. Statements are important; they're a really big thing in music, making a statement. It can be one or two things. It might be the only thing you've got; it might be a blast. They're important, those kinds of things.

DP: That's why I love that Ornette Coleman, where he got his twelve year-old kid to play on an album. Everyone was horrified. He's self-taught on violin and trumpet as well.

GS: But it's really about how you do it.

DP: He hasn't got the technique.

GS:It's about how you do what you do. I suppose it's true of everything, say sport or something. You've got a footballer who's got fantastic skills but is a bit boring, another's got less skills but is a fantastic team player. It's really about how you deal with what you've got.

AAJ: It's all about energy and commitment, is it?

GS: And shin pads.

DP: That's the rock'n'roll bit as opposed to the improv thing..

GS: If you listen to the music, there's really nothing there; you've got the drums when it's kicking in, there's no riffs, no harmony.

GS: I don't know if it's a good thing, the differences; it's sad in a way. I can't always share all the things you love to get enthusiastic about. I might do over a period of time. What I'm interested in would bear no resemblance to what I play on the guitar.

SR: That is the funny thing with this. It really has become so divorced from anything that I can relate it to. I might even be thinking about something when I come to work with this stuff. It's so far removed from anything.

DP: I can't think of anything that's influenced what I do in any way.

PG: The only thing is free jazz drumming when I'm playing with Aufgehoben. Although there is a bit of a free jazz element to it.

GS: To your playing? Yes, there is, sure.

SR: I have none of that at all. I've just been listening to a lot of Napalm Death and Slayer.

GS: You know what I'm like. I'm somewhere else.

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The Albums

SR: [On] Anno Fauve and Messidor we had problems thinking compositionally, structurally and how the dynamics were going to work.

DP: Anno Fauve is a really good album, but I just don't think it had the same...

GS: I think Anno Fauve was just an extension of Magnetic Mountain, from my perspective, where I came and just played. Anno Fauve was an extension of that but Messidor is a step on from that. It is a different ballgame. Also, it is a very dark album; there is not much there really.

DP: On that basis, you can then go to Fifth, which sounds like the same band but totally different. The things we're recording now sound different again but still sound like the same band.

GS: That's what I said to you, isn't it...

DP: If you find a territory, you can move around a hell of a lot inside it but it still seems like your territory.

GS: With four people, the group has a personality.

SR: There is just an awful lot more to be done with that. The interesting thing for me is that I have to negotiate a distance to it that I didn't have before, just because it was down to me to impose some identity onto it, and now there's a clear sense of identity.

AAJ: It's no coincidence that you have started playing live, now that you've got this group identity. What effect has that had or do you think it is going to have?

DP: I think it's going to open up the sound a bit more. In front of an audience there are some things you can get away with and some things you can't. You can't spend three hours mucking about, fiddling about...

AAJ: ..and selecting the best bits.

SR: We've always had that attitude, and since Anno Fauve we've always just left the tapes rolling, and whatever ladder you need to get somewhere interesting, you need that but you can ditch it, it doesn't matter; there's shed loads of stuff there.

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The Future

GS: I would say from my perspective, I wouldn't see the group as becoming a more improvisational group; I'd see it becoming a more structured group. Whatever structure means—not necessarily that you're working out the riffs. From my perspective, it would be the natural evolution to start structuring it. But I don't necessarily mean start structuring it like we did today.

SR: In my playing, I'm thinking along those lines.

GS: The person listening to it can see there's some thought going on. That would make a lot of sense.

SR: I'm thinking of playing with far more shape.

DP: My thing doesn't have to be one long piece, repeatedly revisiting the same idea in different formats. It is just the obvious thing to do after you've been to the absolute pinnacle of noise. It is like people saying that when we're quiet we're as threatening as when we're noisy.

GS: The intensity is always there. In fact I'd say in my playing low dynamic is much more intense than pushing it out; pushing it out is just pushing it out.

DP: We can freak out without having to go to any levels of noise, almost banish noise.

SR: The last two albums have actually done quite a lot of that. An awful lot of it has been about reining it in and implying those points. Of course, we let it out as well. There are clearly areas we could push further out. We've still got the firepower for that.

GS: It is obviously a natural thing for the group, to push things out, but to contain it would be very interesting.

SR: The containment is interesting when it's more of a sense of reining it in.

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Aufgehoben—Live Performances and Studio Sessions 1997-2007

Violence of Appropriation, three sessions;

Magnetic Mountain, one session;

Anno Fauve, one session;

Messidor, one session;

Resonance FM session;

Fifth album, one session;

Sixth album, one session;

Porto rehearsal;

Porto gig;

London rehearsal;

London gig;

Gatehead gig;

Bristol gig.

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Meaning of the Name Aufgehoben

I sent Stephen Robinson this quote, found on the internet: "Sublation is a Hegelian view of synthesis, where two contraries are transcended and cancelled, and combined into a new unity. The German for this is 'aufgehoben.' The Dutch word is 'opgeheven.'"

Robinson's reply: "This definition is too close to some problematic assumptions about Hegelian dialectics—the crucial thing is that this is to be understood as a process immanent to the object itself."

Over to you, philosophy students.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Aufgehoben


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