Interview: Cassegrain

Cassegrain

Cassegrain, composed of members Alex and Hueseyin, are a Berlin-based deep techno duo. They have recently released an EP on Prologue Recordings entitled “Blood Distributed as Pure Color,” in anticipation of a upcoming album on the same label. Today, we chat about the meaning behind their music and its imagery, their studio dynamic, and their diverse backgrounds.  

The new EP has a very intense name: “Blood Distributed as Pure Color.” I was wondering if you could lend some insight into the meaning of the name?

Hueseyin: Actually, it was taken from a book by Philip K. Dick, called “The Man in the High Castle.”

Alex: We don’t really have a specific concept when making the music, but once it’s made we decide on a title to be sort of an abstract lyric that fits with the music.

While we’re talking about meanings, let’s talk about “Cassegrain.” I had to look this up, but basically a cassegrain is a set of two mirrors that play a role in telescopes and antennas. Is that supposed to be you guys? Are you guys a couple of mirrors?

Hueseyin: (laughs) I wouldn’t call ourselves mirrors, but the name does come from this.

Alex: We wanted something related to space as well. We had a lot of time pressure to come up with a name, to be honest. We had our first release planned for Mikrowave, Kevin Gorman’s label. We had the release planned but we weren’t really sure if we were going to continue this collaboration. So we were just using our own names, which was really bad, not catchy enough.

Hueseyin: Our names are just too difficult to pronounce.

Alex: Yeah, two tricky surnames. So we came up with a few names and narrowed it down to Cassegrain.

So is Cassegrain your first musical project together then?

Hueseyin: Together, yes. But we had our solo projects before that.

What were your solo projects like? Were they techno?

Hueseyin: They were more in the minimal era.

Alex: Yeah, this was during 2006-2008. It was the techno side of minimal, I guess. A lot of people went into more housey sounds, a lot of people went into techno.

So when I listen to the new EP, it sounds sort of tribalistic. There’s a tribal energy there. And it reminds me of some of the stuff that artists like Donato Dozzy have been releasing. There’s a trend in Prologue between Donato Dozzy, Dino Sabatini, and yourself to explore this area. Was this a theme you had in mind going into the production of the tracks?

Alex: During the making of these tracks it’s become our general theme, and it’s driving the album we’re working on now. This sort of ancient, tribal, Eastern, raw, organic connection.

Hueseyin: Maybe it’s not so good to connect it to Dozzy or Dino Sabatini, though, because we think it’s a different attitude towards the tribal feeling.

I’d agree with that – your sound seems much more aggressive, especially in the title track of the EP. But with all of these tribal notions, there’s a contrast to the album art of the EP. It’s sort of rigid and minimalistic. It’s a red grid hovering above the ground. Did you guys have input into that artwork?

Alex: Yes, it was actually done by my brother, Tony Savas.

So did you send him the tracks and tell him, “make something that reflects this sound” or just the name?

Alex: I’ve been trying to get him to do art for me for a while. He did some drawings based on an overall concept, and then this actually fit in with the title coincidentally. The grid I see as distribution, so it was a perfect fit. He’ll be doing the artwork for the album as well.

So was this EP really a prologue to the album? No pun intended.

Hueseyin: (laughs) Yeah, you could say that.

Alex: The album will be more varied. There’s a lot more room to play around. It’s a different format and a different approach.

Do you think that the tribal theme will continue past the album? Do you think you’re arriving at a point where you can say, “this is the Cassegrain sound”?

Hueseyin: We don’t really believe in the concept of arriving at a sound.

Alex: That’s why we’re doing this, to be honest. To evolve, and keep on developing. I’d say we’ve reached the point where our sound has become recognizable, though.

Hueseyin: And it’s a good time, artistically, to put an album out.

Alex: It’s definitely time. It hasn’t been rushed. I’m much happier to be doing an album now rather than last year or the year before. Whether we’ll continue with the tribal thing, I don’t know. That’s just where we’ve arrived sort of accidentally. It’s developed organically.

So, you two are in a studio together while we’re having this conversation. But I’ve read that your collaboration takes place sometimes when you’re together, and sometimes just by email. How is it going to work for the album?

Hueseyin: We got a new studio just for the album.

Alex: It’s a new place for us to work. We used to send stuff when we worked in different cities. Hueseyin has been in Berlin for four years, and I’ve been here for a year. We’re in the same place finally so everything’s being done together.

Are things getting done faster? Better?

Alex: Way, way faster. We’ve hit our stride. We’ve become more efficient about deciding what we like and what we don’t like.

So, it’s public knowledge that you two met at the Red Bull Music Academy and started collaborating. But I’ve read that prior to that you had fairly different musical backgrounds. One of you was more classically trained, but the other was more of a producer. How does that dynamic work in the studio now? Is someone writing out notes and the other guy is tweaking the EQ’s and filters?

Hueseyin: Difficult to say. I’m the one who has the classical music background. And I don’t really believe that making music is about having technical skills and such. It’s helpful sometimes to have the theory and instruments and background as well, but it also makes me feel stuck very often. At this point I think it’s a good balance between us. I know many things that I have to care about, but Alex is helping me to let them go.

Alex: I, on the other hand, have no rules. I have no training in music, no training in production. So we’re kind of meeting in the middle in a way.

So how exactly was the collaboration at the Red Bull Music Academy facilitated then? Did they just organize you into groups and say “make some tracks,” or how did that happen?

Hueseyin: Everyone was free to do whatever they wanted to do. We ended up doing stuff together because there weren’t many people into techno music during our term. We weren’t even forced to do any music there, but there was lots of possibility. Good studios, and nice equipment to use. So we got into the vibe and we just made one track there, which became our first release that we sent to Kevin Gorman.

Alex: The first time, we just sat in the studio playing each other some unreleased tracks. I remember liking Hueseyin’s stuff, and we had similar tastes. It was this period where minimal was sort of dying and we were already into the techno sound that was fresh at the time. We both had this kind of aim, so it clicked.

So then there was the release on Kevin’s label Mikrowave, releases on KILLEKILL, and also on Prologue. How did the relationship with Prologue come about?

Hueseyin: We just sent a demo. Tom [Bonaty] really liked our first EP and he charted it back in 2010. And then we got in touch and sent him some tracks.

Do you think that Prologue will remain as your home label?

Hueseyin: We’ll be doing the album with Prologue. It’s our home base.

Alex: Tom has been really supportive from the beginning. Pushing us and also giving us loads of space.

As a final question: which up-and-coming artists and labels are you excited about right now?

Alex: We’re always interested in Rrose. We feel a connection to this. What we’re doing might have different results but we think we’re sort of pushing in the same direction. And Dozzy, always. A release I liked recently was the one on Hypnus Records, by someone called “Korridor.”

Hueseyin: Positive Centre and Arcing Seas on Our Circula Sound, which is Sigha’s label.

Alex. We’re really liking what James [Sigha] is doing, always. Shifted, as well. And Inland.