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Aufgehoben: Counter-Intuition

John Eyles By

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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


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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