Ricardo Villalobos: a fine balance

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  • Another chance to read our 2011 interview, covering Re:ECM, Bollywood, drugs and the search for utopia
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    14 Apr 2012
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    Ricardo Villalobos
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Photo: Lars Borges

This month sees the release of a very special remix project: Re:ECM by Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer.

The source material is the catalogue of ECM, the seminal “jazz and New Music” label founded by Manfred Eicher in 1969. Over the last 42 years, ECM’s uniquely alive, tactile, spatially aware approach to recording – invariably overseen by Eicher – has resulted in classic releases from the likes of Arvo Part, Alexander Knaifel, Keith Jarrett and Bennie Maupin. Villalobos and Loderbauer’s appreciation of the label and its works is long-standing and deeply felt; Villalobos bought his first ECM album when he was just 15 years old.

Their Re:ECM is a double-album of specially created “sound-structures”, and seeks to bridge the gap – and demonstrate the pre-existing affinities – between ECM’s patient, minimalist aesthetic and that of their own techno and ambient electronics. After hearing their initial interpretations of, and responses to, ECM’s archival material, Manfred Eicher gave the pair free rein to carry on experimenting with ECM titles of their choice, and gave his final seal of approval by supervising the mastering of the album in Berlin.

“The most important thing is to harmonize these two worlds, without them aspiring to mutually deactivate each other, to keep both – the organic and the electronic – in balance.”


Villalobos first began to saw the potential in an ECM remix project when he began introducing elements of the the label’s recordings into his DJ sets. Noting the dancefloors responses to these textures, he concluded: “If one combines the functionality of reduced electronic structures with the living textures of ECM productions, it ignites new passions on a subliminal level….The most important thing is to harmonize these two worlds, without them aspiring to mutually deactivate each other, to keep both – the organic and the electronic – in balance.”

Over two years in the making, Re:ECM is the result of much deep engagement and painstaking labour on the part of Villalobos and Loderbauer, who developed and produced the album with the aid of vast banks of modular synthesizers in Berlin’s Laika Studios. It makes explicit the influence of ECM on such past Villalobos LPs as Achso and Thé Au Harem d’Archimède, not to mention Loderbauer’s work in NSI., Sun Electric and particularly The Moritz von Oswald Trio. Drawing upon recordings by Christian Wallumrød, Alexander Knaifel, John Abercrombie, Miroslav Vitous, Louis Sclavis, Wolfert Brederode, Paul Giger, Enrico Rava/Stefano Bollani/Paul Motian, Arvo Pärt and Bennie Maupin, it’s a towering tribute to this most meditative and enduringly influential strain of the European avant-garde.

FACT’s Bjørn Schaeffner caught up with Villalobos to talk about the project, and such other salient topics as synthesis, children, drugs and utopia.

Ricardo, you just arrived back home from your studio. What were you doing there?

“Max [Loderbauer] and me are working on this Bollywood soundtrack. We try to give some dance scenes a touch of our city. We’re Berlin-ising them, remixing them.”

Another remix project with Max Loderbauer. What attracted you to this one?

“First of all, we share a big respect for the Indian musical heritage, in general for Indian culture. Shah Rukh Khan is in it, and so are many other Bollywood greats. I suppose we really liked the idea of co-tailoring a musical costume for that movie.”

And how did the remix project for ECM come about?

“Stefan Steigleder, who works at Universal and who is well-acquainted with both the electronic and jazz scene, knew of my affinity to the sounds of ECM and that’s how the contact with the label came about, as Universal is distributing ECM. The project took years to develop, really. Slowly, step by step. I suppose that’s the way things happen at ECM. Of course, we didn’t want to go like a bull at a gate! [laughs]”

What is your earliest recollection of ECM?

“When I was fifteen years old, I bought my first ECM record - Ritual by Keith Jarrett, that was around 1985. And it really clicked with me. Since then, I’ve been collecting ECM records.“

“Listening to ECM for decades, it sharpens your ear really.”


You have a reputation for integrating ECM tracks into your DJ sets. To what end on the dancefloor?

“It’s amazing what can happen on the dancefloor, such emotionality and surprise! People really don’t expect, say, chorals or a clarinet solo to appear. It’s surprising in the context of this European rhythmical music. I really like that.”

It seems that traces of the ECM aesthetic already came through back in 2003 or 2004, when you worked on your album Thé Au Harem d’Archimède.

“Listening to ECM for decades, it sharpens your ear really. And your musical output is always the sum of what you heard before.”

If you take the guitar part in your track ‘Hireklon’ for example, it sounds like an anticipation of the guitar sample of Christian Wallumrød’s  ‘Blop’, which you remixed with Max Loderbauer for the Re:ECM album.

“You’re right, it really goes in that direction. With ‘Hireklon’, I used a guitar preset sample from a specialist magazine. It probably really was a kind of pre-experience with the ECM samples.”


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