Brueder Selke: Turning the brutal into beautiful

Musical duo Brueder Selke on exploring their East German backgrounds through a new timbre of classical sounds.

Photo: Roman Koblov

Potsdam musicians Sebastian & Daniel Selke have been leading the way in bridging classical and contemporary classical and ambient for some time now. Releasing music either as CEEYS, or under their most recent pseudonym Brueder Selke, the brothers have been pioneering neo-classical sounds, releasing conceptual albums about former GDR moments in time. Through their work, they focus on reimagining former East-German, brutalist architecture, through a new timbre of classical sounds. This conceptual approach recently manifested itself through their annual self-run festival, Q3Ambientfest, which took place at Potsdam’s Fabrik venue.

Speaking to Exberliner, the brothers spoke further about what they’ve been up to, how the festival turned out, and what we can expect from them in the future.

What would you say is the current state of ambient-classical music in Berlin at the moment?

The joy of playing in this special musical genre is audibly forging the way right now. That’s why it’s difficult for us to say, given this momentum, how things actually are at this moment in time. Even we weren’t able to fully pin it down when we were starting the Q3Ambientfest in 2017. Then, as now, we try to build upon the groundwork of our basic feeling of musical freedom a natural and complex drive to venture into an experimental field. Here, each and every musician should feel free to find their own understanding of contemporary music.

Berlin, and especially the eastern part of this pulsating metropolis, has been shaping us from our earliest childhood until now. Our own work creates an experimental yet accessible tonality between avant-garde and pop that intelligently incorporates dynamically manipulated and processed acoustic and electronic elements of classical chamber music, free jazz, cinematic ambient pads, abstract noise, and dignified dub and chill-out sounds. We ourselves started early down this road of joyful experimentation and move in and between traditional and contemporary music.

As academically, classically trained musicians we see it as the absolute highest discipline to push the limits of the traditional playing techniques and tonal possibilities of classically associated string and key instruments, and pay special attention to this when looking at colleagues and projects.

Are there any particular acts that have captured your attention recently?

Of course the successful artists who we really value are also important sources of inspiration. Just recently, Hauschka (aka. Volker Bertelmann), an artist with a certain affinity to classically associated instruments in contemporary guise, was able to find success and win awards in Hollywood. That helps everyone here – from the artists to the audience. And we see the whole thing really as cyclical. On top of that, we are particularly excited about emerging music projects that hone an individual, personal language and so basically question the meaning of success and popularity in each of our lives. Where does it all begin, what is it about, and what should it be about?

Berlin, and especially the eastern part of this pulsating metropolis, has been shaping us from our earliest childhood.

It makes us very happy and hopeful to have met some of our now well-known colleagues when they were taking their first brave steps on our stage. It was, is, and remains the attempts, the trial-and-error, that help and motivate us to keep searching ourselves. We live in the hope that above all these different and at the same time authentic musical approaches the larger relationships that shape, improve, and in their contradictions hold together our world can be possibly better understood and creatively reflected.

We hope that our approach comes across so that everyone can feel encouraged to get in touch with us, to explore ideas and visions and, in the best-case scenario, to transfer the artistic results of this process onto the stage.

Apart from the festival, what have you been working on? Can we expect some new music soon?

Through our work we are constantly getting to know interesting projects and new colleagues, and have already been able to apply many techniques in the context of our own concerts and the organisation of bespoke events. After the above-mentioned years of traditional academic study in classical music, at the first edition of Q3A in 2017, it really was the ultimate experience to dive into spontaneous improvisation with other musicians. That’s why we try to integrate this initial experience, this personal communicative momentum, into all of our formats.

Brueder Selke · Q3Ambientfest 2021 (Official Compilation)

To date, we still only know most of our colleagues digitally. Of course this circumstance also has its advantages, namely to be able to talk shop quickly and across all distances. But at some point it made sense to seek out a common, physical stage. Since then, this has in turn also resulted in unexpected new projects.

For example, we are currently working on a collaboration with Midori Hirano and recently invited her to share the stage with us at the Belgian edition of Piano Day in Leuven. We also keep in close contact with House of Worship – Thisquietarmy & Hellenica. And a studio album exclusively with restored electronic GDR instruments is currently being mastered. The meditations with string machine, two organs and e-piano should be released this year on cassette on Aimée Portioli’s brilliant label One Instrument.

The last few years really were at times existentially threatening.

Last year, the Q3Ambientfest itself was able to collaborate with the Ambient Festival in Cologne and share a performance by the already mentioned Oscar-winner Hauschka in the East-German Zionskirche.

On top of all that, our long-awaited album with concert film “Belka & Strelka” will be released in November. Here we seek out – with a smile – that special moment of spontaneous action & reaction in concert between the two of us and in our long-term collaboration, which today follows above all the musical instinct that has shaped us as Brueder Selke over the years.

How would you say the festival has evolved over time?

Since our primarily instrumental music often shows parallels to film music and has also been used as accompaniment in many forms, it’s not surprising that we presented the first Q3A in this historically and architecturally multifaceted film city in 2017 – in the first year after our move to Potsdam. Here can be found a mix of palaces from Fredrick the Great, neoclassical residences, and brutalist Plattenbaus.

Inspired by this, we have produced a visual accompaniment that shows the recorded still lives of the city landscape. This was recently transformed by video artist Sal Vanegas using time-based effects and is intended to animate the artists during their individual sets to respond sensitively to the pictures on the big screen – to create a kind of musical score, a link to the film city which is so rich with tradition.

Otherwise, the last few years really were at times existentially threatening. In 2020, we were even on the verge of giving up on all our projects. From the city of Potsdam we received – and we can’t thank them enough – heartening encouragement to keep going. So, it became about the technical transformation of the event. And in this respect, technology was able to help in a quite straightforward way to allow our happenings to take place in the lockdown years, at least virtually, and since then we make various use of this method quite consciously when artists really live too far away or other barriers prevent the performance – our possibilities have widened.

  • Get to know Brueder Selke a little better by checking out their website or following them at @bruederselke on Instagram.