This review is also available in: Deutsch (German)
Grandbrothers: All The Unknown – Album – City Slang – 2021
Genre: Emotional Acoustic Electronica, Ambient Minimal Music
0:30, Wednesday, June 02, 2021. Now I can finally start to write the review of the album “All The Unknown” and the ARTE Concert by the Grandbrothers, which was released a few days ago, because it took me almost two full days to absorb the fantastically arranged sound of the Grandbrothers, to live with it and to see how the duo affects me in different everyday situations: In the cozy living room in front of the big AV-System, when getting up in the morning, for evening relaxation, listening with BeyerDynamic DT 880 S studio headphones, Audeze EL-8 high-end headphones and Shure S SE846 in-ear headphones.
In addition, there were some research tasks like studying the artist biography, the duo’s thoughts on the album itself and their own songs and what the competition has written about them, as well as image selection and image cutting and design.
Genre assignment? So what? Do we have to?
For music like this, I think it’s important to watch a good concert video in advance to get as complete an impression as possible of the artist, their compositions and sound. This, I found, was already exceedingly helpful in my warming up to the music of Hania Rani,GoGo Penguin, and the Portico Quartet.
I spoke in the paragraph before about “music of this” and this already shows you that it is exceedingly difficult to classify the sound of the German/Swiss duo, which consists of the German Erol Sarp on piano and Lukas Vogel from Switzerland (electronics). Nothing seems to fit and nothing wants to fit. GoGo Penguin from the UK have a similar situation, moreover they don’t like to be pigeonholed and called their sound ( with bass, drums, Piano and lots of effects) ingeniously “Acoustic Electronica”.
And this is what we have with the Grandbrothers too, only here we have to add synths and lots of electronics, and let’s put the adjective “Emotional” in front of the expression “Acoustic Electronica”, so now we have a term that describes the works of the Grandbrothers quite aptly: “Emotional Acoustic Electronica” – and emotionality and the associated crescendo can no one better express musically than the Grandbrothers (I’m listening to “All the Unknown” right now and I’m literally lifting off the floor again together with my desk chair).
Certainly we also find obvious, very clear traces of ambient and minimal music in the compositions, mostly in the intros and outros of the respective tracks, especially since Erol (piano) was, by his own admission, initially very influenced by Steve Reich’s minimalism. However, since the sequences that are close to musical minimalism are never tough or annoying with the Grandbrothers, we simply call this part of the Grandbrothers’ music “Ambient Minimal Music”.
Now, let’s go to the ARTE France Concert video:
The Grandbrothers Concert Video “Grandbrothers en session à la Piscine Tournesol – ARTE Concert”
ARTE France first met the Grandbrothers in 2015 during the first edition of the ARTE Concert Festival. At that time, the virtuosity and poetry of the duo had completely captivated the team of ARTE. And of course, now you’re overjoyed to skilfully stage the duo, even if it’s in such an outlandish location as an almost incongruously snooty urban public swimming pool in Paris. But completely unimpressed by this, the Grandbrothers play some tracks from their latest album “All The Unknown” (released on January 15, 2021), immersing the scenery in an incredibly impressive atmosphere which is musically and visually convincing all the way along the line.
The image quality comes in 1080p, also the sound (WEBM OPUS 160K) convinces with good spatiality, very nice stage illustration and clean deep down reaching basses.
A modified piano, a German duo of former sound engineers turned into musicians and a visually exquisitely crafted stage concept: that’s the Grandbrothers. Musically, Erol Sarp and Lukas Vogel deliver an immensely convincing synthesis consisting of modified piano (Erol), various electronic devices and synths (Lukas). Nils Frahm and Francesco Tristano are stylistically somewhat enviously peeking around the corner and rubbing their eyes – with the help of electronics, the Grandbrothers take the piano into new sonic realms.
The Grandbrothers’ keyboard is elegant, rhythmic, the crescendos so high up to an ultimate climax. This is underlined by a sophisticated system of self-developed hammers installed on the entire surface of the piano, hitting the strings as well as hammering to the beat against the piano’s chassis. This is accomplished electronically by Lukas with the help of electronics, which adds further levels of operation to the performance of the two musicians.
Guided by these percussive idiosyncrasies and the duo’s repetitive arrangements, each track follows a rousing crescendo, heightening emotions and feelings to the point of ecstasy with goosebumps and tears of emotion in the eye.
12:00 :00 What we see
06:09 All The Unknown
4:40 White Nights
Originally I wanted to give you a star for every track worth listening to, but I’d better leave that, every track is great and stands for itself. “Auberge” is placed by the duo in the middle of the set and offers as an ambient highlight time for catching your breath and thinking about what you have heard. But then the guys pick up speed again to come to the climax and to the end of the set with the fascinating “Organism” with a staccato percussive arrangement.
The album “All The Unknown” from 15.01.2021
After watching the ARTE video over and over again, it was clear to me that I would probably have to devote myself to the album extensively and also write a review about it – there would be a way around it. First I tried to listen to the album with the stream on Tidal and Qobuz – but the quality was not what I wanted to live with: Dynamics were missing. So I bought the album and downloaded it from Juno Downloads in 16 bit / 44.1 kHz (24 bit is not available for this release), carefully prepared it using special software and transferred it to my music server optimized for audio files.
And the result is really good with excellent sound quality – now this album can be enjoyed perfectly at home through the big AV system or indulge in under the headphones with closed eyes. Lukas (Electronics) said in an interview very significant:
“If I could choose how people would listen to our music… Maybe there are two different ways. On the one hand, very concentrated, sitting in a comfortable armchair at home, with good equipment to really enjoy it intensively.
But also in a club or at a party it would be very nice way to see how people will perceive our music. It’s these two worlds: One is more introverted and enjoying alone, then the other is the extroverted dancing side”..
I can only fully agree with Lukas, the home option is extremely fascinating, in the club it will probably be out for quite a while, but yes, the Grandbrothers are danceable and more than just club-suitable, the festival and gig organizers just have to book the duo. And I confess: in the context of an open air, I can hardly imagine anything more beautiful at the moment.
And the really strong desire: here in my hometown Fulda on the cathedral forecourt, which is used once a year for an open air, with a sensational lightshow in the waning evening light. I guarantee: after twenty minutes the Grandbrothers will have got the whole auditorium dancing and grooving along.
Lukas is not alone with his opinion and the assessment of the listening preferences among the fans: GoGo Penguin are saying the same thing and inspire their fans at festivals with their “Acoustic Electronica” unbelievably and always make them dance by the dozen. As you can see, I always draw parallels to GoGo Penguin as well as to Hania Rani and the Portico Quartet. The latter are the grand masters of modern immensely exciting minimalism and have, for example, released the new album “Terrain”, a suite consisting of three movements with acoustic instruments and synths as well as and a total running time of 38 min – of course inspired and influenced by Steve Reich. Which brings us to the next parallel.
The album “All The Unknown” draws its creative genius from the apparently contradictory nature of the two players. Lukas, with his electronics, is the one who is a bit more sophisticated in his approach to the subject, while Erol on piano is much more gut-driven. However, it is precisely this area of contrast that feeds the duo’s enormous creativity. And this is one of the important prerequisites for the artistic creativity and success. This brings us back to GoGo Penguin and the Portico Quartet, who see it exactly the same way.
The title of the album “All The Unknown” is meant by the Grandbrothers in two senses On the one hand, it can refer to something negative that frightens a person, something that someone would make to flee from – or it can also refer to a situation that, in the final analysis, might be too much burden for a person to handle with.as Erol says.
‘We can also try to interpret it in a positive way’, Erol continues. “That one gets involved in the unknown, sees what happens and plunges into the unknown. We thought that was beautiful as a metaphor for the whole album. This describes the music itself, with these cool, cold, threatening moments, but also the very tender, hopeful, the awakening, and also this positive aspects, which should drive youforward.
What amazes me so much about this statement is the fact that Hania Rani talks about her last album “Home” from 29.05.2020 almost the same way, Hania describes your album as a journey, ““Home” is a metaphorical journey, presenting stories about a path to the places that become our home – sometimes by accident, sometimes by purposeful choice. Home is the story of leaving a familiar place and the journey that must inevitably follow from it [und damit auch vom Einlassen auf das neue Fremde]“, as Hania says.
So we’re talking about four artists and acts that seem to be connected in a peculiar way – and yes, of course there are parallels among the four of them. But I realized, after I had dealt with the Grandbrothers, their sound in the video and in the last album in detail, that some little thing had always been missing in the works of Hania Rani, GoGo Penguin and the Portico Quartet. But that, on the other hand, is what is making the Grandbrothers’ music so deeply moving and lifting the duo out of the circle of these four acts:
It is the duo’s ability for a constantly rising crescendo up to final ecstasy that hits the listener with full force and the dramatic climax of the respective track permanently brings water into eyes one by one – tears of rapture and bliss – or tears of despair and the memory of tragic past times – whichever depends on the listener’s state of mind and state of soul.
Prepared Piano Techniques
And as I said before, Grandbrothers use a variety of the so-called classical “prepared piano techniques”. Luke says: “The spectrum of our sound experiments goes from very simple, slight manipulations in and on the grand piano, when Erol dampens strings while he plays, or when books are placed on the strings. When you strike and push the book down a bit, there’s a very rattling, percussive sound. We also experimented a lot with magnets on the strings.
These are these “classic” prepared piano techniques, where you touch the string that vibrates and thus get a different tone out of the vibrating string. That is one side of the coin. Then there is the technique of experimenting with different materials – for example, chains!
If you run chains across where the strings are starting, it provides a very shaker-like sound. Or the body of the piano is struck with mallets and other percussion sticks – or the strings are beaten with brooms. This is another aspect of sound exploration then.
But that expands almost endlessly when you record all the sounds and then process them in the computer with effects. Distortion, reverb, filters – in other words, a whole arsenal of effects – to create new sounds from that original.
And that’s exactly how the Grandbrothers proceeded with the production of the new album, they kept their traditional production concept, where the sounds dominantly always have to come from the piano first and are then electronically processed by Lukas in order to be passed on to the magic “Grandbrothers-Apparatus”. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
The magical Grandbrothers-Apparatus
Lukas explains to us:One is the actual apparatus, the mechanical device on and above the piano, which is more my profession, because I control it and also built it”.
But in the meantime the duo had subsequently refined the concept basis for the second album “Open” from 2017.
“Among these little hammers that hit against the chassis of the grand piano, thus using it as a resonating body, and can also maltreat the strings in the grand piano from above,”Lukas continues, “Bows have been added, that are hung over the strings to make them vibrate, but without touching the strings.”By the way, the hammers are nothing unusual, similar is used by GoGo Penguin, that drum system is called there “Polyend Perc”. You can read it here on our site under the section “Acoustic Electronica”.
Luke explains to us further: “After all, this results in very flat sounds that are otherwise produced by flute or organ. This is then in any case a refinement of the possible usage of the known apparatus.
But for the third new album “All The Unknown” we did not tweak the mechanics so much now, but we experimented more with the sound that results from the mechanics and thus also transformed it”
The production concept of the new album “All The Unknown”, however, breaks in parts with the traditional production method, for the first time we used many loops, samples and effects that have been pre-produced and thus add new layers to the sound tapestry.
With “Home” by Hania Rani, GoGo Penguin with the same title from 2020, “Terrain” by Portico Quartet and of course “All The Unknown” by Grandbrothers, there are now four albums at the front of the shelf, all belonging to an undefined genre, far away from neo and fusion jazz, even further away from cold minimalist fog and from hardly accessible neo-classical music. All four albums are highly emotional, magical, bringing the listener to new levels of consciousness if he lets himself get involved.
However, the Grandbrothers go up a notch and rise above the other three acts mentioned with a great pathos and immense emotionality.
16 bit / 44.1 kHz
Bass range: 8/10
Center range: 8/10
High frequency range: 9/10
List of references
Title: All the Unknown
Release Date: January 15, 2021
Label: City Slang
Genre: Emotional Acoustic Electronica, Ambient Minimal Music
13 Tracks • 57m 18s
16-Bit CD Quality
44.1 kHz – Stereo
Studio 1 (High End):
- 2 x System Audio SA Mantra 50 (front)
- 1x System Audio SA Mantra 10 AV (center)
- 2x System Audio SA Legend 5 (rear)
- 1 x System Audio Saxo 10 (subwoofer)
- 4 x Onkyo SKH-410 (B) (Dolby Atmos)
- Auralic Altair (audio streaming client with max. 32 bit / 384 kHz)
- NVIDIA Shield Pro with Plex, Kodi (max 192 kHz for Audio, Tidal (MQA Streaming Client)
- AppleTV 4K (Streaming Client) Dolby Atmos, HDR, Dolby Vision
- Amazon Cube 4K (Streaming Client) Dolby Atmos (restricted), HDR, Dolby Vision
- Panasonic DP-UB9004 (4K UHD Player) Dolby Atmos, HDR, Dolby Vision
- Oppo UDP-203 (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc Player) Dolby Atmos, HDR, Dolby Vision
- Yamaha CX-A5100 (Preamp) 4K, Dolby Atmos, Hi-res
- Yamaha MX-A5000 (Power Amp)
- Sony KD-55A1 (TV) 4K OLED, HDR, Dolby Vision
Studio 2 (Near Field): Studio 3 (Consumer):
Studio 2 (Near Field):
Studio 3 (Consumer):