Now Hear This!: Aufgang - 'Istiklaliya' (album premiere)

PopMatters premieres Istiklaliya, the new album by hybrid classical-electronic trio Aufgang.


When you hear the piano pattern that kicks off Aufgang’s new album Istiklaliya, it won’t come as a shock to you to learn that the art-minded electronic trio of has classical music training in its background, with two of its members, Rami Khalifé and Francesco Tristano, having attended Julliard. What might surprise you is how seamlessly Aufgang, rounded out by Aymeric Westrich, blends those classical tones with electronic sounds, combining organic and synthetic elements fluidly all the way through Istiklaliya. For the group itself, however, that ability to work in different musical idioms simultaneously comes as second nature -- aptly enough, they describe themselves as “hybrids”. PopMatters checked in with Aufgang to find out how they combine classical and electronic forms as well as how the threesome collaborates as “an equilateral trio with right angles”. Aufgang’s Istiklaliya is out this week in the UK and the United States on French imprint InFiné.


Photo by Fabien Breuil


PopMatters: What's striking about Istiklaliya is how it conveys so many different kinds of moods and tones, yet still feels like a complete, coherent piece. When it says in your press release that you don't set "formal objectives" for yourself and work instead by "nurturing an ever renewed interaction", how does that approach translate into creating complex, intricate soundscapes?

Aufgang: We as members of Aufgang don't see complexity as such in our music. We believe in independence, freedom of art, being different in our approach to express our art -- we don't obey rules or trends -- that is probably why people consider our music as complex. It is because of its authenticity and originality that Aufgang may appear exotic and disorienting, but it is just a common belief. People just need to come and watch our show and see that Aufgang is not an elitist band.

PopMatters: One of the signature aspects of Istiklaliya is the way you blend classical structures and together with electronic sounds. How do you see the relationship between classical composition and electronic music conventions? It seems that your music is looking to find ways they intersect and interact?

Aufgang: We don't actually think "electronic vs. classical". It's a description the media like to use and for some reason it has stuck to us. What is a classical structure anyways? For example, a sonata form is. We don't write sonata forms. Our music is often through-composed (“Rachael's Run”, “Diego Maradona”), which could be described a classical structure, but is also reminiscent of Kraftwerk's compositions. As for electronic convention, sure, our music sometimes makes use of a four-on-the-floor kick drum, for example. We compose our music freely, all these features come up regularly, but are not part of a grander plan or desire to fuse classical and electronic music. Maybe we are hybrids!

PopMatters: I'm guessing that the classical influence on your music comes from your studies at Julliard, which two of you attended. How does that formal training and education inform what seems to be an intuitive approach to making music?

Aufgang: We all grew up listening to classical music, amongst many other kinds of music. Maybe formal education is a logical continuation of the initial, intuitive approach. Great teachers can teach you great things, especially as far as instrumental technique is concerned. But the initial drive is curiosity and the desire to create.

PopMatters: In terms of your band dynamic, you've described Aufgang as "an equilateral trio with right angles". Could you explain a little more how that mental image reflects the way you work together? Do you find that being an "equilateral trio" comes out in what you have in common as artists or more from different skill sets and perspectives that complement one another?

Aufgang: Aufgang has three distinct entities, three people who share a same passion, free from "etiquettes". We certainly are very different from each other, we have different backgrounds, we listen to different music, but we add our differences to one another to create a unique force that is Aufgang. Aufgang is a blend of three streams and, even on stage or in the process of composing, each one of us has a special role.

Aymeric plays the drums: his role is to keep us on our feet, he holds the pulse, the structures, and arranges the pieces. He finds some melodies and produces the tracks, and he also plays and programs the synths. Rami plays the piano and synths: his role is to fly away and he brings his energy on stage. He composes most of the foundations of the tracks and brings some compositions that Aufgang elaborates on later. Francesco plays the piano, the synths, and manages the structures and the synth sounds live on stage. He is the rhythm guy, creating most of the bass and holds the groove. He also arranges and composes some piano and synth parts. He contributes to the research of the synth sounds. The three of us jam and compose together, in tracks such as “Diego Maradona” or “Abusement Ride”.

PopMatters: With the release of Istiklaliya now, what else do you have planned for 2013?

Aufgang: We want to play a lot of concerts, that is our priority for this year. And in North America as soon as possible.

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