“What if we all become cyborgs one day? Part human, part machine. What would our lives be like? What would our worlds look like? These are some of the questions Oli Kuster, Cyrill Ferrari and Dee Byrne ask in their innovative new album Motherboard Pinball, created remotely during the Covid lockdowns of 2020 – an era when humans and machines arguably became closer than ever.”
For much of the year, the order for Oli and Cyrill in Bern, Switzerland and for Dee in London, England was to ‘stay at home’. Like so many improvising musicians across the world, the three were forced to find new ways to collaborate and make music together remotely. They managed to find and celebrate freedom through networks; computer networks enabling networks of improvisation, which in turn created networks of imagined inner worlds to explore.
Dee, great to be speaking with you regarding this new music and international collab, where and how did you guys first meet and work together before the pandemic?
Thanks for having me! Well I first met Oli in 2017 when a group of UK musicians (me, Cath Roberts, Seth Bennett and Johnny Hunter) were invited to collaborate with Swiss musicians for the Jazzwerkstatt festival in Bern. We have continued playing together ever since under the name MoonMot. But I hadn’t met Cyrill before I did the recording!
How important do you feel inter-country/continent music collaborations are?
Really important. Generally I think it’s good to look beyond one’s own locality and work with people living in different cities and countries. It broadens the mind and keeps things fresh and creative.
Do you feel music has a real capacity to bring people together?
Yes. I think if you get the heart of it, music is a powerful force that can really change people’s lives. That’s true for musicians themselves and people who attend gigs. It’s a shared experience that is beyond words and in that way it is unifying.
Was it an emotional experience, as covid hit, and the music scene ground to a halt? Did you take a moment to gather yourselves before re-inventing your collab and creating this exciting new music?
This particular collab came about specifically from the conditions of lockdown!
But speaking from my personal experience in London, initially at the beginning of lockdown MoonMot had just come off our tour and I was pretty exhausted, but very soon it became clear that gigs were not going to happen for a long time. I was getting really into meditation at that time and thought instead of forcing something I’d wait and see what new experiences presented themselves. So gradually I started making some short videos with my effects pedals, mostly for the online Freedom sessions (curated by Orphy Robinson, Cleveland Watkiss and Tori Handsley).
Oli asked me to record sax on a couple of tracks during this time and it was actually a new experience for me (and my neighbours) to record from my flat! I really enjoyed the process.
The Motherboard Pinball project came from Oli too. He had developed a lockdown addiction to modular synths and started recording hours and hours of improvised music in his studio. At some point he wanted some company so he asked guitarist (and fellow Bern dweller) Cyrill Ferrari to improvise to the tracks. Finally Oli asked me if I’d like to put some saxophone to it, so that’s how it came about – I received these tracks with Oli and Cyrill and then added my own improvisation to it.
Did you explore any live working via Zoom for this recording or did the latency of the internet get in the way of interaction?
No, not for this recording, although I did do some live free improv sessions set up by trumpeter Loz Speyer, which worked remarkably well.
As we know in improvised music ‘mistakes’ can be ‘open doors’ to new stimuli, inspiration, and new musical ideas. Did you find this sort of concept happened in your new way of working together?
It was a pretty unique experience for me, since I’d never met Cyrill before and am used to recording stuff live in a studio. But since I’d done a bit of recording for Oli previously during lockdown that bit wasn’t completely new. I think the challenge was to find the most sympathetic way to contribute to the soundworld already created by Oli and Cyrill.
Did you have any plan as to the end journey ‘sound’, or what was it an explorative journey for you all en route?
I think it was explorative for all of us. Especially for Oli as he was new to the world of the modular synth and its infinite possibilities.
The titles of your collab work, and each specific piece has been given futuristic names, such as Cyborg Aerobics, Silicon Intersection, or your title track Motherboard Pinball – reflecting on the music at the end of this process, how did you feel about how the process of tech pervading and effectively contributing to your musical output?
Technology made music-making possible during lockdown, including recording this album. Of course the experience of playing live is no comparison with using Zoom, Jacktrip, Sonobus, Abelton etc. But recording in my flat, having remote plays on Jacktrip/Zoom or making short videos did keep me creatively motivated and I am really thankful for that.
With the opening up of live events, and travel too, do you have any plans to play this material live?
We actually played a couple of gigs in Switzerland last week! I was already there recording MoonMot’s second album and so we finally got to meet as a trio and perform live. It felt really good. We will also be playing a run of gigs over here in November: NQ Jazz, Manchester (15th), LUME @ Hundred Years Gallery, London (16th) and Jazz At The Lescar, Sheffield (17th).
Do you think there’s a new hybrid way of working in the future combining in-person, and remotely this way again, and that this could open up more opportunities for international collaborations?
I think so. Rehearsing could be possible if the material is pretty free, although still probably tricky latency-wise with big distances. But I think communicating has become easier. A few months ago the trio got together on Zoom to brainstorm the track titles and it was a very creative process. I felt like we connected as a group even though it was online. Also MoonMot did a whole research project on Zoom this Spring where we met over the course of several weeks to discuss our next album and share ideas.
Can we have any hints as to what 2022 will bring for you?
I would like to play more with this trio, so maybe we could record an album whilst in the same room? Haha. For other projects, I’m recording with my new sextet Outlines in October and will be releasing the album on Whirlwind Recordings next year. Also European Quintet Ydivide will be releasing its debut album on Intakt Records in 2022 and MoonMot will be releasing its second album at some point in the near future. LUME, the original & improvised music platform I run with Cath Roberts has also started putting on regular gigs again and we’re cooking up plans for next year as well as continuing to release new music on our offshoot label Luminous. So I look forward to all of that. Mainly I want to keep being creative.
Bern-based pianist, keyboardist and composer Oli Kuster has realised various projects in the field of tension between jazz and electro. With his band Menschmaschine Kuster provided jazz interpretations of Kraftwerk songs in 2011. His work with synthesisers is also reflected in the pop project AEIOU. He has also composed music for film and released three albums as bandleader for the Oli Kuster Kombo. www.olikuster.ch
Inspired by scientific methods, mathematics and physics, Cyrill Ferrari constantly explores new musical frameworks by questioning the standard role of the guitar with a focus on sound and amplification. Using different pickups and few effects, he amplifies the guitar as a whole object and explores new sounds hidden within the instrument. He is mainly active as co-leader of the projects OORT CLOUD, Leib and Alarcón/Ferrari, and as a sideman with various projects. www.cyrillferrari.com
Dee Byrne is a saxophonist, composer and improviser based in London with an interest in pushing the boundaries of conventional jazz harmony and structure. Dee collaborates with artists from the UK and Europe who occupy the area of contemporary jazz, avant-garde and free improvisation. Her main vehicles for composition are her quintet Entropi, collaborative UK/Swiss sextet MoonMot and new project Outlines. www.deebyrnemusic.com