David August's impossible orchestra

Records 17.10.2023

With VĪS, David August is the author of an ambitious, category-defying album, the 33-year-old composer explores themes akin to cosmogony, in the form of a skillful blend of electronic beats, classical instruments, acoustic timbres, and digital manipulations.

Electronic music, whether destined for the dancefloor or the spheres of sound experimentation, is often dependent on codes and motifs that govern the aesthetics of the genres and sub-genres that make it up, whether these rules originate from technological or stylistic innovations. In recent years, however, new and young electronic-affiliated artists have emerged from a post-genre trend - a trend that is not, in fact, a genre at all - and seem to be in search of a musical language of their own, Whether we're talking about the singular, sometimes disconcerting style of Nicolas Jaar, the rhythmic explorations of Zoë Mc Pherson, the more fragile timbres of Grand River, or the more complex instrumental hybridizations exemplified by the fourth album from German-Italian David August.

VĪS (Latin for "strength" or "energy"), draws its dynamics from the modern language of electronic music, without ever indulging in it. Throughout its thirteen tracks, August demonstrates a melodic mastery that no doubt owes much to his background as a classical pianist, blending Western and Eastern string timbres, acoustic and electronic percussion, everyday sounds, brass, choirs and digital collages, as if the young German-Italian composer were at the helm of an orchestra of the impossible.
While this dense, complex and unique ensemble, which is unfortunately sometimes over-emphatic, impresses with its ambition and virtuosity, it took David August some fifteen years to achieve such balance and success.

Raised on classical music from the age of five, young David (b. 1990) experienced his first revelation as a teenager with the studies and fugues of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, before discovering the electronic music scene in Hamburg, where he grew up, at the age of 16. For me, playing classical music was an implosive experience. I lacked the explosive, physical and liberating dimension of dance music, which immediately fascinated me ".

Between 2009 and 2014, David August embarked on his electronic adventure as a DJ and producer, signing a number of EPs as well as a pop-flavored debut album, Times (2013), which, though immature, already testifies to his melodic ease and multi-instrumentalist talent. Recognition came a year later, with a more elegantly restrained live performance, recorded in Berlin under the watchful eye of the Boiler Room camera, which has racked up over twelve million views over the years.

2014 was precisely the moment when his career got off to a new start, following encounters with personalities he describes as mentors, who encouraged him to explore the world of Asian cultures and philosophies, and to distance himself from his Western heritage. From then on, he practiced meditation, beginning a period he describes as " detox and transition ", a liberating process enabling him to express " his true nature ", through music finally free of the injunctions of his ego. Singles and remixes such as "Epikur" and "Set Me On" (2014), "J.B.Y" and "Ouvert" (2016) already testify to this new direction before he founded 99CHANTS, his own label, and released two major albums in 2018, DCXXXIX A.C. and D'Angelo.

The first is a long, ambient-inspired piece divided into twenty-four sections, combining piano, field recordings, string and brass sound materials, whose slippery textures always seem to escape the certainties of our perceptions. The second, on the other hand, moves towards an equally singular type of pop, with spectral forms, as if emerging from limbo, that is unlike any other.

If these two albums attest to a spiritual and poetic awakening, VĪS is perhaps more ambitious. In an abstract way, it evokes the origins and destiny of humanity, our relationship to the world and to living things, without this discourse, which could readily appear demiurgic or pretentious, imposing its prism and interpretation on the album's free, crossbred forms.

This cosmogonic inspiration is embodied in a heterogeneous form, a multiplicity of timbres and instruments, patiently assembled with the aid of the computer. " The various pieces on this album exist somewhere between a tangible acoustic world and a more abstract, electronic one," in which the nature and origin of sounds seem more indecisive. "It' s as if I were standing halfway between a past and a future landscape, between two timelines, each governing its own world. Many instruments are acoustic, but many undergo long operations of processing and hybridization. You can sometimes recognize the timbre of a cello, or a percussion ensemble, but an instrumentalist would tell you it's impossible to play on stage it live.

August takes this approach with the help of a computer and tools such as Ableton and Max for Live, whose patches - customized sections of code added to the software - can be used to extend its capabilities or functions. But when he talks about his tools, he places even more emphasis on the editing and fading practices enabled by the computer, simple functions whose power and creativity remain underestimated in his view, compared to the power of tools derived from techniques such as granular synthesis.

Although unplayable on stage with a traditional ensemble, David August's music will be presented in the autumn of 2023 in the form of a hybrid concert, combining his use of electronics with Andrea Belfi's percussion, joined by choreographer Franka Marlene Foth 's work with two dancers, and a light scenography by Berlin-based Marcel Weber (aka MFO). 

Jean-Yves Leloup

To be discovered on stage at Trianon, in Paris on October 22.
As well as in Berlin at the Volksbühne on 18/10, in Amsterdam at the Muziekgebouw on 19/1, and in London at the Barbican Centre on 2/12.

The album VĪS is released on the 99CHANTS/K7! label.

Photo © Filip Preis


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