by Martin Longley –
Medusa Beats are not so much linear as cycling in nature, suspended, multi-layered and predatory, springing out of a largely improvised flux, generated by three playing partners who have only recently started working together. This is a as fresh as a unit can be, Medusa Beats having only played two gigs prior to their Moers Festival debut.
It’s a collective approach, with each trio member bringing material to the band, but with Cologne drummer Jonas Burgwinkel allotting himself the role as chief organiser and strategist. He’s joined by pianist Benoit Delbecq (from Paris) and Petter Eldh (a Swede, dwelling in Berlin). There’s an immediate link apparent between Delbecq and Burgwinkel, as the pianist prepares his instrument’s innards with selected devices, as well as triggering percussive sounds electronically, whilst the drummer favours using his own form of prepared kit, scattering small objects around his skins. It’s a dialogue that travels between drums and piano, piling up sounds that sometimes resist being pocketed in one corner. For much of the time, the music is in restless motion, a dense, swirling, hovering nest of activity.
“The first tour will be in November, 2016” says Burgwinkel. “So we will be super-fresh for Moers.” The trio’s debut gig was at The Loft in Cologne, November 2015, followed the day after by a date in Aachen. “We recorded it live, and the next day we laid down some separate tracks. Mostly, though, we took stuff for our first album from the Loft concert. They have a great piano, and a great sound engineer. You can experiment there, it’s known for different kinds of music. There’s definitely a strong reputation for completely improvised music, but they also do a little bit of chamber music. Young bands can sometimes try things there, but they also have famous bands playing. It’s a very important place for Cologne.”
Burgwinkel grew up in Aachen, but following a year’s study in Boston, Massachusetts, he moved to Cologne, where he’s lived for the last decade. “I was almost immediately quite busy,” he recalls. “It developed really quickly. I studied in Cologne, at the Conservatory, and met even more people.”
Burgwinkel helped form the Klaeng Collective, running two festivals and a gig series, as well as a record label. Burgwinkel is not sure yet whether the Medusa Beats debut disc will appear on Klaeng, or perhaps on a higher-profile imprint.
“I’d seen Benoit when we did a benefit concert for The Loft,” Burgwinkel continues. “It was in trouble, there was no second fire exit, and other problems.” These would be very expensive to rectify, so a benefit at the Stadtgarten venue was organised.
“I really liked Benoit’s playing, and I knew Petter from another project, where we played three gigs together and it worked directly, really well. I put Medusa Beats together, more or less on my own initiative. It’s 80% improvising and 20% reading music. Everybody brings music. Benoit’s tunes can be a rhythmic idea, and harmonic colours, while Petter writes chord changes. For us, it’s very exciting. When we first played together, we didn’t have to force anything, it just worked directly. With Benoit, what I like is that he always has a very strong aesthetic quality to the sound. It’s very in the pocket, but at the same time very loose. That’s why we call it Medusa Beats. For us, it’s like a Medusa playing beats with too many hands [or head-snakes?], many layers happening at the same time, and they’re very flexible, and sometimes fluorescent. It’s a mixture, with all three of us collaborating, but with me leading. It’s a very new project, so we’ll have to see how it plays out over the coming year…”
Delbecq lives in Paris, and Eldh in Berlin, so uniting the Medusa is not easy. “All three of us are very busy, so that makes it quite hard to get together. We need long-term planning.”
Burgwinkel thinks that the Moers Festival is best place to introduce the trio to a wider audience, and anticipates that he and Delbecq will be increasing the electronics elements in the band, a more appropriate move for the dynamics required of a larger festival space. “We will go more towards the energy side of the material,” threatens Burgwinkel …
(Featured image: Jonas Burgwinkel, Foto: Steve Brookland)