In the pocket with RPE Duo
Matt Postle of Charlotte and Poland’s Radek Rudnicki first met while working on their music Ph.D. at the University of York in Great Britain, where Rudniki now lives. They formed RPE Duo (Rudnicki and Postle Electronic Duo) in 2008, and through 2010 played major music festivals and gigs throughout the UK and elsewhere on the continent. Though separated by thousands of miles now, they still collaborate and play together when travel allows, as it does for this series of Carolinas’ dates from Sept. 25-Oct. 2.
Musically, Rudniki puts down beats inspired by vintage 90s hip-hop, 70s dub, and recent German electronica sources while Postle creates trumpet textures warm or icy inside those beats; those elements are then reprocessed through various programs to create multi-layered soundscapes whose themes, melodies and beats exist in constant flux. It may sound cerebral on paper, but the duo’s music most certainly has a beating heart.
Via email, Shuffle’s John Schacht discussed with both players the duo’s music and approach.
Shuffle: You were studying in England in York when you met – tell us a bit about how you met, and when you first played together.
Matt Postle: I first met Radek in 2007 upon arriving in England to begin my Ph.D. in Music Performance (Contemporary Improvised Music). The first time we performed was for one of my Ph.D. recital in December 2009.
Radek Rudniki: We met first time while doing projects with Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds. Matt asked if I was interested in doing project together. We started jamming and a half year after did the first RPE Duo show. I did my Ph.D. in Digital Composition. It was portfolio-based Ph.D. where I focused on using improvisation as source material in a digital music context and its application to different types of media and art forms. I was researching different approaches to controlled improvisation using visual elements, custom-made software and beat-based material. This included audiovisual performances, installations, music for film, and contemporary dance. Part of that was RPE Duo and Space F!ght album.
Shuffle: You did the festival circuit in England, as well as some dates in Italy and Ireland – what was the European response like? How would you compare the avant garde or electronic scenes there and here?
MP: As for electronic scenes, Radek is the man to answer that. For avant-garde, the scene I believe is much more performer-active. I do feel that music in the USA (in the sense of present day avant-garde) is still looked down upon by critics/academics as compared to England/Europe. It probably stems from a higher appreciation of musicianship in Europe. I felt less guarded and more open to explore avant-garde when living overseas. Here, the term ‘avant-garde’ tends to have a connection with jazz so traditionalists find it very easy to ‘shun’ those musicians who are exploring other ways of creating a musical language.
RR: Matt can elaborate on the US scene. As for the UK, I would say more young people are interested in contemporary music than in Italy but that might be just my experience. Generally the response is really good no matter if we play at the universities or festivals. I think people enjoy that we play with hardware and the visual element is very welcome. It helps when a venue has good facilities to do audiovisual immersive performances. With RPE Duo we seem to find audience at jazz festivals where we play audio sets mostly. I think the scene in UK is quite strong. Lots of bands experimenting with new sound. I personally like the scene in Leeds with its more aggressive take on jazz. I think it’s appreciated in the media more as well.
Shuffle: How did the project evolve over time back then? Was it always this contrast/duplicate interaction you mention on the website?
MP: Our project first began as performing ‘pieces’ that had a general theme (i.e. ambient, noise, rhythm, melodic, etc.). Each piece would last 7-9 minutes. I believe leading up to our first performance (perhaps within one or two weeks of it) we decided to segue all of the pieces. This created a performance with no gaps/pauses. My idea was to create something hypnotic in which time melts.
I’m not quite sure what this contrast/duplication interaction is. I do try my hardest to be inside of Radek’s sound. I am not a big fan of an acoustic instrument/vocalist playing on top of beats/patterns. I much rather try to physically manipulate my instrument and embouchure to create extended techniques that closely match a glitch/distorted atmosphere that I find present in Radek’s playing.
RR: The project was evolving from the very start. I think it’s the nature of it. Contrast/reproduction was always there, it’s also the core of our sound. We had an excellent first jam then it took time to develop good patterns on my drum machines. We rehearsed from July till December 2009 until we played the first show, and the album was made around March 2010. It contains live recordings only. Then we played on and off as Matt was travelling back and forth to the USA. We find it different each time we play and want to keep it like that. Now I changed the setup swapping synth and effects to sampler. It’s easier to transport and gives me more flexibility in terms of sound manipulation and mixing. I think it will be even more diverse from show to show. I’m really looking forward to these gigs.
Shuffle: You cite Arve Henriksen as one important influence – what about his music/performance appeals, and are there others you’ve been inspired by either trumpet- or electronics-wise?
MP: For me, Arve Henriksen has the most unique tone quality of any recorded trumpet artist. It is not to say that trumpeters such as Kenny Wheeler, Freddie Hubbard, or Clark Terry may not be easily identifiable (because they are), but Arve has developed a completely new approach to how the instrument sounds and plays. It comes from his background studying traditional Japanese music, in particular the Shakuhachi (a wooden flute-like instrument). Alongside this tone quality, he is developed a wide array of extended techniques. Furthermore, he is technically very proficient on his instrument.
Other trumpeters that I feel a connection to would be Kenny Wheeler (who I was able to study with greatly in the UK), and Ron Miles (Denver). Wheeler can be compared to Roy Eldridge in the sense that he has bridged the gap between two identifiable genres (Jazz and Free Improvisation), similar to Eldridge’s connection between Swing and Bebop. Ron Miles is one of the most unique and virtuosic modern ‘Jazz’ trumpet artists. I guess I can talk about trumpet all day long, but the point with these musicians I have listed is that they have really created a unique style of playing through improvisation, timbre exploration, and composition. From the first note, you automatically know who is playing.
RR: As for my main influences I guess all Ninja Tune and ~Scape releases, and I also enjoy listening to 70’s Dub like Augustus Pablo and German electronic scene with artists like Mouse on Mars or Modeselektor. While making RPE Duo I had hip-hop in mind though. In early 90’s was listening to NYC scene, guys like Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan or De La Soul. I was kind of revisiting that era while making RPE Duo beats. I really enjoy having clean trumpet to sample and manipulate live to blend with electronics.
Shuffle: Given the music’s improvisational nature, how do you tell when you’re in the pocket, or have hit on something truly original/memorable?
MP: Radek’s answer is good; I think it is having as much unpredictability as possible. Saying that, we have developed a way to communicate and somewhat ‘predict’ our next moves. This is not a bad thing, only that we listen to each other and compliment what we are doing.
RR: I think you can feel that in the energy in the room. At least that’s how I recognize it. We are trying to maintain it as long as possible obviously. Having frequent changes of sound helps to keep the energy high.
Shuffle: Tell us a bit about how you choose the visual aspects, and when they came into the equation? How does interaction with that element differ for both of you?
MP: Radek programmed everything; my idea was to have an image/video that was distorted and ever-changing as possible. There really is no interaction with video/audio, just another element for the audience. Radek did a great job designing the effects.
RR: In RPE Duo the visual element isn’t very important. We added it to the set later on to make audiences aware of what we are doing on stage. I think it just makes it clearer that everything is being generated live. We added effects to the webcam feed that make an image more abstract as we progress the set. The interaction of visual versus audio is very subtle.
Shuffle: How does your other current and previous band experiences play into this project? Judging from the net, Radek seems to have quite a lot of other ensemble and solo work – does that multi-faceted experience play into your work?
MP: I guess I always wanted to do an electronics project but I felt like I would be jumping on the bandwagon a bit. Whatever projects I’m working on I try to keep much of the same performance aesthetics. That is, the co-creative process and the idea of the ensemble coming first. I’d much rather improvise in settings where the spotlight is not on me. Communication, collectively, is very important to me. Coming from a ‘traditional’ jazz background, I become tired of the routines that are put in place by a clearly defined performance practice. So much can be disconnected with everyone playing for her/himself. I have one other strong project currently called The Fat Face Trio. The group is trumpet, guitar, and tuba. I also play melodica in it. We play original tunes, but also quite a bit of standard jazz repertoire. The emphasis is collective improvising no matter what we are playing. I think that creates something unique.
RR: This one is one of the first collaborations with live musicians. It inspired a few projects actually. Like The Asolo Thing, live improvised film montage we did with percussionist Enrico Bertelli which is more free, experimental improvisation. All the sound material is coming from acoustic instruments (snare and trumpet), we make montages of nine movies while improvising. I made custom software for that set to help us link the improv with videos. Space F!ght on the other hand with James Mainwaring (sax), Tom Adams (guitar) and Matt is continuation of RPE Duo project. I used larger ensemble, we have five performers with trombone on that album, too. The Space F!ght set is played as trio (sax, guitar, electronics) though we often perform with visual artist Jakub Hader while doing 3D mapping or immersive shows. Having a visual artist allows me to focus on sound entirely. It’s difficult with projects like that as each member of the band lives in different cities — Matt in Charlotte, James in Leeds (UK), Tom in Cambridge (UK), Jakub in Rzeszow (Poland), and I live in York (UK). I am hoping we could do a Space F!ght duo set with Matt in some point during this tour. Since sets like that are improvised they are flexible. We are experimenting with different formations dependent on the venue’s budget or availability of performers.
Shuffle: In the past, being based this far apart would’ve precluded much recording; now, not so much. But given the improv element, how does that work? Don’t you have to be in the same room?
MP: Same room for me. I can see the advantages for overdubbing in some situations, but I need to have that other person (or persons) there with me when recording.
RR: We usually do record rehearsals. It helps in remembering good ideas! If I practice in UK have some ideas then I send Matt mp3 files. We tend to run through the whole set before each performance, being apart definitely keeps the improv fresh, though. We are hoping to record performances during the tour and make some new material for the second album.
Shuffle: Someone approaches you before a gig and asks what you sound like – what do you tell them? What should they do prior to a gig to get in the right frame of mind?
MP: First I say it is not Jazz. I get very tired of people saying ‘you sound like Miles Davis’ because I DO NOT! I am sure plenty of trumpeters get this response in any jazz/improvised setting. Miles is so imaginative. Musicians today are still trying to get there. I don’t think Miles would really appreciate his name being thrown around so loosely.
Saying that, I always try to explain it is music that is electronic and improvised based. I’m not the best at explaining it, so I am not sure. I say try not come in to the room with any pre-conceived notions on how the music will sound. When people hear the word trumpet, they tend to think loud, high, and brassy. Please don’t think that!
RR: I think saying that RPE Duo is improvised, evolving, beat-based experimental set that blends trumpet with electronics might do the trick!
RPE DUO TOUR DATES IN NORTH CAROLINA (ALL SHOWS FREE)
- Sept. 25: CPCC, Tate Hall, 12:30 p.m.
- Sept. 26: UNC-Asheville/Altamont Theater
- Sept. 28: Queens University, afternoon
- Sept. 29: Common Market w/ Fat Face (feat. Lindsey Horne) 9 p.m.
- Oct. 1: Snug Harbor w/Grant Funderburk, Fat Face, Symphony of Improvisers, 9:30 p.m.
- Oct. 2: UNC-Chapel Hill, 7:30 p.m. (Hill Hall Auditorium)