The Baroque & The Basso Continuo: An Interview With MMMΔ

Even after listening to L’âge de l’absolutisme, MMMΔ’s new collaboration with Alem, dozens of times, I find myself in awe of it. Combining huge, organic drones, electronics, and baroque music is not something I’d have ever imagined. Further, the fact that the trio makes it so engaging and cohesive is an incredible feat. Their ability to create and combine an array of entrancing textures into original, cinematic soundscapes is at its best on L’âge de l’absolutisme.

This interview with MMMΔ was conducted through June and July. L’âge de l’absolutisme is out now on Antifrost.

To start, how has the last year or so been for you all?

Terrible but we stayed productive. After the first lockdown where all our efforts to work remotely failed miserably we started rehearsals on a regular basis again and managed to record, mix and master L’âge de l’absolutisme which was a project that had started quite earlier but was interrupted by the pandemic. The heaviest blow was and still is the fact that we cannot perform live. We are patiently waiting for this.

Are there any signs that things may open up to a degree to allow for live performances anytime soon? Once that happens, do you plan to perform this material live with Alem?

There are some signs although the coast is not that clear yet. Hopefully, not another year will pass without live performances. We do plan to perform this material live with Alem, it is not an easy task and we are not sure how it will be presented but when this happens we will definitely find a way to transmit the record’s ambience.

Let’s get into the new record… Where did the idea and inspiration come from? Did the three of you come up with it together or was it a situation where you all (MMMD as a duo) had this concept and reached out to Alem?

Alem approached us a few years back in order to try out some kind of baroque/ΜΜΜΔ collaboration, something that culminated in a performance at the Greek National Opera in March 2018. This was a performance of obscure baroque pieces mixed with original ΜΜΜΔ material grafted with baroque elements. The next step came naturally and that was to record a whole album but this time we went for the big baroque hits. 

What is it about baroque music that draws you to it and makes you want to work within that context?

Well, Alem is a professional baroque musician who in that case was attracted to our basso continuo. We on the other hand have been attracted by mid and late Baroque music and especially from the fact that we could apply our harmonic techniques on a broader canvas: feeding our slow-moving sub-bass monolith with sparks of improvisation at a higher frequency level, something like fireworks exploding on a subterranean cave. At the same time, the melodic parts glue well on a sentimental level, since we are already installed on the physical part of sound ourselves.

What was the early process like as far as deciding what pieces you wanted to do and how you wanted it to sound? I’ve literally never heard anything like it, which is great…

As mentioned, for the recording we aimed for extremely well-known baroque pieces. It was a trial and error approach. We made several attempts in order to find which pieces worked best. The most successful ended up on the record. We did not have a certain sound in mind at the beginning but we were all sure that we wanted to listen to baroque music with a gigantic basso continuo. A sound that would have potentially been embraced by the baroque composers themselves if they had the technology available. 

As you began recording it, was there anything during the sessions or as you were mixing and assembling the album that surprised you or was unexpected?

This was more of a technical challenge to balance the overload of low-frequency movements coming from the oscillators and tuned cello with the crispy daylight sounds of the harpsichord, clavichord, and organ.

What is it about these (and other) baroque works that have always interested you?

Apart from the basso continuo that we mentioned already, there are many other elements of Baroque music that we find attractive. The repetitiveness and linear harmony for example. In our universe, everything happens a lot slower but we find a lot of common ground.  

Are there any plans for future collaborative works like this with Alem? Or any other ideas or styles you want to experiment with that are in a similar vein?

We are now at a point where everything is open. This is the point that we usually start to explore new possibilities and also look into the old material from a distance. There are thoughts of making a very inclusive project with many collaborations but it would be too early to say.  

What rituals do you have when it comes to composing and creating your work that help guide your practice?

The start of a new creation is a ritual in itself, different every time. It is a ritual of extensive research where many elements will slowly start to emerge. By trial and error, repetition, and variation at some point those elements will start showing the way.

What role does tension play in your work?

It does for sure, what we cannot stand is a purely cerebral approach and indifference. We need to be moved by our sound and not just contemplate a nicely made piece. Tension is our core, the packaging will follow anyway.

Shifting gears, the work you all did for the film, Hagazussa, and the soundtrack was tremendous. How did you all get involved with that film and what was it like to work within those confines?

Lukas Feigelfeld, who directed Hagazussa, already liked our music so he made contact in order to explore a possible collaboration regarding the soundtrack. We found the script very much up our alley. The whole thing happened in a very natural way. In general, we do not see a soundtrack as a confine. Or maybe this confine is a good thing since the presence of the image will push us in a different direction than usual. We always welcome this kind of deviation as it is very easy to feel comfortable in a sound that you like. But you need to get uncomfortable as well in order to go further.

How is it different working with something visual like Hagazussa compared to your usual approach to other projects?

Obviously, there are welcome restrictions when it comes to working with visuals and which are always a challenge, in fact, the effort is trying to achieve synaesthesia on something that you don’t have total control of. Composition for films is actually one of our top priorities right now, alongside our marathon-like everyday sound evolution.

Is there any other future film score work coming up?

Yes, we will be working on Kyros Papavassiliou’s next feature film called Embryo, Larva, Butterfly. We look very much forward to that.

Are there any other projects you are working on that you would like to mention?

We always work parallel on 2-3 different projects. When something is surfacing, be it a new album or a new direction like L’Age de l’absolutisme, there are several pots brewing in the background. Apart from the film scores, there are some advanced experiments on rhythm, a possible new folk trilogy, and other occult stories.

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