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  • Mazen Kerbaj on Sampler/Sampled and how to create a language using only a trumpet


Mazen Kerbaj on Sampler/Sampled and how to create a language using only a trumpet

We talk to improv musician Mazen Kerbaj and Rabih Beaini, head of Morphine Records, about the new Morphine Raum project space

Photo: Gianluca Quaranta

Tell us about the new space, Morphine Raum…

RB: I’m building the space now and I wanted this big room to become a recording studio and project room as well, where we can develop projects for artists, record musicians and the mixing and mastering both for the labels and for commissioned works, and small events when possible. I don’t want to call it a communal place, but it kind of has a community side to it. People are always participating in the project because we can also offer something back at the same time.

MK: That’s true, and it’s not only for the people that are helping to build the space, but the whole spirit. It’s a kind of family. I don’t say that because we are already somehow this “Lebanese family” in Berlin, but because it’s open. You come here, you record and you will always find a way to make it happen.

How do you curate a creative atmosphere?

RB: I mean it comes from the fact that I am not a venue or a studio. I’m also a musician and a producer too. So, you end up having a group of people that are like-minded. We have a workshop in the other room where artists can build instruments, too. The way you define the sound of your studio is a musical instrument in itself. In a global sense, the workshop gives us the ability to design and really develop the projects that we imagine. The studio is one of those projects, but we also built installations for The Sun Machine Is Coming Down, and for projects at Berghain, too.

What was the inspiration behind Sampler/Sampled?

MK: Imagine that you are creating a language. I always say it’s great to have a nice vocabulary, but it’s the grammar that goes with it that makes it complete. For the last 25 years I’ve been constantly researching the trumpet. I developed so many techniques and the first part of the album is really 318 different small pieces, ranging from one to 20 seconds long.

In this project, I put the vocabulary on the first part of the album and I asked other artists to build a grammar with my vocabulary on the second part. It was interesting for me to let this vocabulary go, because on some pieces you can still hear my songs very clearly, and then there are others that really must have done some fucked up thing on the production. I sent one of them an email to say, “It’s great, I really don’t recognise any of the sounds at all.”

You’re co-collaborators on the track Chainsaw. What stood out to you about the source material?

RB: The thing is, I normally don’t work with samples if I’m making a composition. I was listening to all the sounds to try and choose some, but I thought, “How do I work with that?” Like, do I put them on a grid? Do I put them in a sequence? So, I was very late in submitting my composition.

MK: You were the last, actually.

RB: I was always waiting for the others to show theirs first, but in the end I decided on just using one sound and developing it in different ways and I think that was quite a different approach from the other composers on the album.

What separates this album from other improvisational approaches?

RB: The value of this album and why I believe in this project is that normally in improv, there is a whole world that starts building and then it closes within yourself. With this project, Mazen has 25 years of development on one instrument and what he can do with it. Then he arrives at some point and completely destroys it, everything is completely fragmented and put out for everybody, a sample package like a library for everyone to use. It’s a very special thing, and in my opinion, it’s very generous.

Does releasing this album feel more like a culmination or a new beginning of those years developing the techniques?

MK: It’s both, it’s a continuum. For me, one of the funniest things is that I insisted on calling the whole project Trumpet Solo Volume Three. A solo is a solo, but in this project, it’s also a continuation of my research and we share it somehow. This idea of music being a universal language sounds very cheesy, but it is. Here’s why I really love improv: I could go to Indonesia, where I don’t speak the language at all and the other person doesn’t speak English and we play music together. It’s just totally free. On Chainsaw, it is really our language, mine and Rabih’s together.

Sampler/Sampled is released Feb 25 on Morphine Records

Mazen Kerbaj is an improvisational musician and cartoonist. His work, Sampler/Sampled is a co-composition with 13 artists from around the world.

Rabih Beaini is the head of Berlin’s Morphine Records and operator of the Morphine Raum,
a new space for explorative and improvisational music.