‘&’ – the stunning new album and collaborative debut project between Grammy-nominated Argentinian cellist, composer and producer Sebastian Plano and award-nominated Dutch cellist, producer and composer Maarten Vos is a masterful body of work. A remarkable seven-track opus combining neo-classical, modern composition with ambient soundscapes and vanguard electronica, Plano and Vos’s expert fusion of cutting-edge production techniques with contemporary musicianship shines through across the exceptional long-player, as the newly formed duo deliver a beautiful catalogue of diverse, thought-provoking records into one truly impressive and timeless collection. We had a chance to catch up with the pioneering double double act to discuss the recording process, sonic direction and creative influences behind the project.
‘&’ is a powerfully emotive collection and the end result of a weeklong studio session in Berlin back in 2016. How in the world were you able to sit on the project’s recordings for this long?
Ha! yes, it needed some age, and definitely not having us sitting on it otherwise we don’t think it would have come out! There was a long brake in between and many other projects coming our from our solo work, so we were waiting for the right moment to release this collaboration.
The press release describes the week of recording sessions as a “marathon.” Can you describe what those days of improvisation were like? Was there much preparation prior to the sessions or were you very much winging it?
Yes, there were pretty intense, in the good way. We can start with the funny anecdote being that at some point, around 11:30 PM at night Maarten turns his head and says; ‘Sebastian, do you eat…?!’
We were indeed closed inside the studio just improvising from first coffee, until late ours at night. I think we took a few brakes in the park here and there, but yes it was a great marathonic week just improvising and making music.
We didn’t prepare anything really, Maarten just brought some of his music gear and at Sebastian’s studio we had two pianos, two cellos and other effects so it was quite a lot to play around with.
What was your overall sonic direction going into the project? Did you give yourselves any guidelines?
We didn’t have any guidelines at all really. We share the same musical background and musical interests so having that match and letting our intuition be the guide was our approach to it.
We were experimenting a lot as well, processing sound in many various ways which were occasionally resulting on creative ideas for an improv take, for example what you hear on the opening and closing tracks of the record is a piano solo, we wanted to explore how much we could expand its sound enlarging it as much as possible.
A project with this much ‘creative freedom’ has to be rooted in some basic theory or it runs the risk of caving in on itself, do you agree? Do you both have musical theory schooling in your backgrounds that you essentially rely on for a project like this?
Both of us have a classical music background, back then we both spent our days practicing cello countless of hours!
Re-listening to that session’s recordings recently, was there ever a point where you felt like you weren’t able to connect with the project’s spontaneity after so much time has gone by? Did either of you consider moving on from this project at any point?
Not really, the record has a character that defines it, sort of its own sonic style, which makes it difficult to categorize, there is some weirdness to it that we like.
We think these are the reasons why it kept us with it, now’s time to let it fly away!
What was the moment where you two felt it was the right time to move ahead and dig into these recordings and salvage the sessions to create what would become the & album?
Was right after we ended that marathonic week that Seb started going over all the recorded material and cutting bits and building arrangements which in the end came to be the 7 tracks which are in the record.
He first did the arrangements for 6 tracks and then he did a last one much later which is the track “Mantle & Core”. Then we took 3 sabbatical years and now in 2020 here we are, the album’s out! 😀
One of the standout tracks is “Dense and Density” with its glitchy approach to presenting the piano melodies. How did this technique first present itself? Was it a case of a ‘happy accident’ in the studio?
Maarten was using Max/MSP and exploring techniques on gating (chopping) audio in real time; the audio amplitude is sequenced by gate “steps”. That night Seb was improvising on the Yamaha CP-80 baby grand piano while Maarten would apply this gate effect braking its sound apart in steps, was really hypnotizing resulting on a long improvisation take which then was trimmed down to about 9 min.
“Mantle & Core” is one of the few tracks that leans on some percussive elements- at least in its first half. Was that a deliberate choice going in to the project- working largely without drums?
We have a colleague who had a “Vermona DRM” drum machine, we’re very intrigue by its sound, very organic and different then any other drum machine we knew. Later on Maarten got one and brought it with him for us to play with it.
During our sessions we mainly concentrated on piano and cello, but we did a few jams with the Vermona as well, which resulted implementing it in “Mantle & Core” and a few other tracks. We definitely wanted that drum machine beauty to take part in the album!
Your duo playing really shines on “One & One” which sort of serves as an interlude for the album. Was that a priority for you- to have one piece that essentially featured your playing ‘out front’ so to speak?
Indeed, it is sort of the track that links everything together, presenting the duo collaboration in the most natural way let say; us conversing with each other with our main instrument, the cello.
Do you guys have any plans to revisit the spirit of that eventful week and push further with this partnership or did this album essentially capture a one-off, lightning in a bottle experience?
Surely, we never know, maybe we need a new high doses of improvisation and we disappear for 2 more weeks someday.
Sebastian Plano and Maarten Vos – & is out now.