To celebrate the launch of A-Symmetry’s first album I am Life, we got in touch with Antye Greie-Ripatti (aka AGF) and Natalie Beridze (aka TBA), the two souls of this collaboration, to have a chat about the project, their way of working together and their thoughts about their first full-length collaboration. AGF and TBA have been protagonists of the electronic music scene for the most part of 10 years, both as producers and composers, and as two of the most unique and recognizable voices around. Now that they have both left Berlin for different destinations, we are finally seeing them working together on a project that is both accomplished and exploratory. I am Life, in fact, uses voice only in the sampling process; this should be reason enough to spark your curiosity for the new direction this album and these artists are currently taking.
MA: This album feels like an amazing dialogue (the name ‘A-Symmetry’, in this sense is very telling). There is a lot of AGF’s ‘poemproducing’, together with the strange, unsettling smoothness of TBA: it is a very interesting balance, and at the same time sharp, ‘loopy’ and open. How did you decide to collaborate on a full album? Was there a plan, a concept that you followed, or is it more the ‘sharing’ of an encounter?
NB: I think we planned to collaborate for as long as we know each other. And that makes Lumi’s age (Antye’s daughter). Yet we waited till now. Antye’s idea was to send one another sample packs and build tracks within that limited material. Those had to be the only sounds we would use in a track. Most importantly we weren’t supposed to sing! That was challenging.
The idea sounded rejuvenating. It’s like someone lets you play with their toys big time! Downloading a new sample pack from her felt like digging into an unknown- a magic room. It is like staring into random windows from the street and envisioning whole embellishment, people and their lives inside those windows. It’s this process of contemplation, that engages your imagination and you stop being a consumer. Instead you become a creator of parallel worlds. Sound, like smell can take you on the most extraordinary, intimate and boundless journey ever. So by playing with Antye’s sounds I was withdrawn from my reality to write a story about her.
AG-R: Natalie is right, we had only two rules: only samples can be used (sent to each other in other in a package), and no singing. And still its true that voice is present, but there is rarely a concrete word; voice is used as disembodied self and storyteller of the particular life, without concrete language.
With the album, I was hoping for a 2014 soundtrack for daily routine life: something that can run in the background while you work and it wraps you in the right kind of energy so you can concentrate, get your shit done, emails, business…airports, and feel you have a safety privacy buffer around you, which gets you in a zone of truthfulness and no bullshit while you do the most ordinary things.
MA: Can you tell us something about the process of working on the album? The titles of the tracks somehow made me think of extended sessions around particular themes.
NB: The process was “uneventful” – like I told Antye – and I loved that. I loved the sense of otherness and absence. It reminded me of the first time I ever made music, with scarce resources to work with and with no expectation whatsoever. This feeling of freshness – always for the first time, occurs 24/7 in childhood and later more sporadically, in the moments of genesis.
It’s rewarding to catch that very moment later in your life. Hence with time and lot of material behind you, you inevitably face rigidness and abundant saneness in the process of music making. There’s too much of facing your limits and struggling to overcome them kind of thing.
This collaboration set me free from the aforementioned and it set different kind of limits: – I was locked in Antye’s room and there was so much to rearrange. I’m endlessly grateful to the process that triggers those emotions.
I am Life emerged from my album for Monika I believe (Gudrun Gut’s label ‘Monika Enterprise’). There’s this one song where I sing “I am life”. I remember Antye asked me to send her the lyrics of that song and that sentence just stuck, I guess. The sentence is reassuring, it is strong and beautiful and there’s nothing that could go wrong with it…
AG-R: Yes, we always wanted to collaborate, and since Natalie mentioned it in her Wire article, we had to do it! I feel that we are in some ways quite similar, not really but we share some territory. Another thing we share is the Russian heritage; Natalie is half Russian, and I was raised with a Russian mentality, in East Germany.
I always felt Natalie and I don’t even have to say anything, we understand anyway…
That said, I was really looking for a concept that would not enhance our similarities but bring another dimension to us, more abstract. One morning I listened to Natalie’s songs from one of her solo records, and she was singing: ‘I am life’. It was so calm and hooky, and I thought: this is our collaboration title. I think Natalie is one of the best songwriters I know in electronic music.
So we started sending each other small sample packs, and that was it.
We never talked much about it, we just did it. Like escapism from mother-life, back inside the machine and technology, lost in creation, if only for 10 minutes…
MA: The first collaboration between you two that I am aware of is for ‘An Achmatova’, from Gedichterbe, one of my favorite tracks. Can you tell us something about that experience? In that track the obvious point is language(s), the text, the poem, and a beautiful one indeed. Something different from I am Life.
NB: When Antye asked me to pick my favorite Russian poetess, I immediately said Tsvetaeva. The Russian half of my identity belongs to my mom and Tsvetaeva. That half wants to live with her forever. To dwell and exist in the patchworks of her soul and between the lines of her poems. First I recorded a German translation and the recording was downright hideous. Then the original.
MA: Have you got plans after the album? Are you going to tour as A-Symmetry?
NB: Hopefully tour. And I still want to do a vocal album with Antye sometime.
MA: You both lived for a long time in Berlin. You collaborated with Gudrun Gut, Natalie recorded for Monika Enterprise, Barbara Morgenstern appears in Antye’s albums, etc. Can you tell us something about that group of people, and how it is to work in that context? And how do you relate to Berlin now, living relatively far away, Antye in Finland and Natalie in Georgia?
NB: Berlin is now a second home – a first chance escape destination, with lots of parks and good air for our little baby girl. It has many dear friends, and a state of mind which I’d trade even for the magic Georgian climate.
AG-R: Berlin is a friend, the city I know the most… my identity? It is the city where my child was born, where I know most people. I lived there almost 20 years… Monika is a fantastic label by Gudrun, she is a generous kick ass releaser of strange music by women, more of this is needed! Barbara Morgenstern and I were making records in early 2000, me with ‘Laub’; we were out there at the same time, singing German in electronic music, it connects!
I am Life comes out on the 21st of November with AGF Produktion, distributed by Morr Music.