The Brvtalist is proud to present a new mix from Berlin-based artist Nicolas Bougaïeff. Along with being one of the most exciting producers in underground techno, Bougaïeff is a true academic of musical architecture, theory, classical contemporary and more. New Brvtalism No. 080 is an incredible intersection of Bougaïeff's sound and the mix includes some of his own stellar productions.
Nicolas Bougaïeff’s EP Ascent is the fourth and last release for 2016 coming from Berlin-based label Establishment, a cosmic trip into the fascinating world of an artist for whom music is not just pleasant sound meant to be heard in the background, it’s a tool which can be studied and deconstructed because it has so much to give in return.
Released on November 28th 2016, the EP is out now and if you’re not familiar with the work of Nicolas, we invite you to find out more about him, his latest EP and future plans through this Q&A.
Marie Bungau: You don't hear everyday about doctorates on techno and Plastikman. What motivated you to pursue this path? Was it a difficult subject to write about?
Nicolas Bougaïeff: My goal is to understand the architecture of music, the structures hidden behind the sound. I’ve relentlessly pursued that not only with techno, but also with classical and electroacoustic musics. I spent years studying harmony, counterpoint, formal analysis and ear training. I ended up completing a degree in electroacoustic composition at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, an intensive course modeled on the work of musique concrète practicians and theorists such as Pierre Henry, Pierre Schaeffer, Michel Chion, Parmegiani, Bayle and so forth.
Although I started producing electronic tracks when I was 13 years old, I was never strongly connected to any scene. Moving to Berlin in 2008 was a way to throw myself into the lion’s den and commit to techno. Shortly after the move I was contacted, via MySpace, by Dr Rupert Till at the University of Huddersfield. He’d spotted my profile and invited me to apply to a doctoral program. I came into contact with Richie Hawtin a year later, started developing controllers for the Plastikman Live show and everything fell into place.
Writing the thesis was challenging because it’s a marathon endeavor, a little bit every day, but on the other hand I knew exactly what I was trying to accomplish. I wanted to analyze techno tracks using conventional music terminology, and bridge the gap between hundreds of years of western musical thought and today’s self-taught production methods. Having access to all the Plastikman Live materials was an incredible source of raw data. Techno is a genre predicated on repetition, variation and improvisation. I wanted to understand the implications both in the work of individual producers and on the scale of a global scene.
MB: You recently released the "Ascent" EP on Establishment. How did this collaboration happen and why this particular label?
NB: Peter Kirn and I first met about six years ago but I’d been reading his CDM blog already for years. Besides sharing a common interest in music technology, he also has a heavy background in classical music. We’ve had long conversations about the intersection between music theory, music technology and dance floor productions. Peter came down to one of my gigs last year where I played a lot of my unreleased productions. Two of the tracks that got his attention were Ascent and Orbit. He told me about his plans for Establishment — the label hadn’t launched yet — and proposed a release. Peter’s extremely activate in creating and supporting links between artists, technology and music education, so I didn’t hesitate to jump on the opportunity.
MB: Walk us through the release, what inspired you, how did you choose the remixers?
NB: Most of my productions are about trying to combine techno with classical, avant-garde or acousmatic techniques. Whether it’s adapting Steve Reich phasing techniques, as I did in Decompress, or using Neo-Riemannian harmony in Pulse Train, I’m always trying to find ways to adapt modern composition techniques to a dance floor friendly format. Both Ascent and Orbit follow this pattern. I was inspired by a synthetic chord that mixes elements of major and minor scales. It’s borrowed from late 19th century romantic music, you can also hear it all the time in film scores where it’s used to create a grandiose sense of awe or mystery.
I chose the remixers because of the ongoing musical friendship, going back years. I’ve known the name Mateo Murphy for years, he was already DJing at parties when I first started discovering the rave scene as a teenager. We became good friends later in Montreal, shortly before I made the move to Berlin. Nowadays we’re always texting about music releases we discover, and sharing sketches and new productions. It’s really a big honour for me to have him on board, I always looked up to his productions and his industry experience. Hithertoo is a new friend, the connection was made through Peter. Mallone is a young super talented native Berliner, we first met at a festival we were both playing at a couple years ago. His drive and energy is really inspiring, it’s really important for me to develop connections with producers older and younger than me. I think we need more dialog and collaborations between the generations of artists.
MB: I noticed the release comes with a stems edition as well, an audio format which is more and more available on platforms like Beatport, Juno or Traxsource. What would be the advantages of releasing stems for a producer?
NB: Stems is a fascinating format, and I truly hope it finds wider adoption. Releasing stems offers a really interesting opportunity for producers. Separating your tracks into four distinct streams forces you to think about some of the basic parameters of music: melody, harmony, rhythm, texture. Mixing, especially with four decks, forces you to think about music structure. With normal stereo tracks, you can’t mix clashing harmonies or mix clashing rhythms, but you do have a lot of freedom to mix pure rhythm tracks with pure ambient tracks. That's what I’m doing in my mix here, I’m combining techno tracks that have purely rhythm with avant-garde orchestral recordings that are purely ambient harmony. Releasing stems separates these different parameters and opens up the door to musical combinations that would’ve previously been either impossible or impractical with stereo tracks.
MB: What can we expect from Nicolas Bougaïeff in the near future? A full length, a tour, maybe a new research paper?
NB: There is a full length in the pipeline. I worked with an amazing cellist, Émilie Girard-Charest, and I built all the sounds for the album by processing cello recordings. We did a live show a couple months ago at OHM Berlin. It was an amazing experience, and I can’t wait to share more details.