On-Point teams up with Brussels Philharmonic

Every now and then, a collaboration comes along that, somehow, just makes plain sense. On-Point Records, that tireless purveyor of quality electronic/soul/funk/boogie music, and the Brussels Philharmonic, the city’s oldest philharmonic orchestra, have come together as the Belgium Trombone Quartet, revisiting songs by two of the record imprint’s longest-serving soldiers: Billy Palmier and JtotheC. The unlikely bunch first performed some songs at Biennale Interieur back in October, and did so once again at Brussels Philharmonic last Friday 21st November. Here, we put a few questions to them to get the low-down on the collaboration’s who, whats, hows and whens.

How did you choose which tracks would get played?

JtotheC: For the first show, it really was a last-minute call. I happened to play a track on my Rhodes piano that week, and I thought it would suit the project just fine: it’s got that Autumn vibe to it. Although I didn’t exactly had time to do this, I really wanted to be part of the project. That’s why I only came up with one track called “Love Can Do That”. For the second show there was more time for me to work on the scores.

Billy: First of all, the tracks had to have a decent basis when the drums got deleted or at least minimised since I didn’t want it to be house tracks with some instruments added. I wanted it to sound more as if it was kind of a classical reinterpretation and that is something I couldn’t do that easily with every track. Also a lot of the tracks are quite repetitive which by itself is not really an issue but since time was limited it wasn’t possible to rewrite complete pieces of music. You can make very interesting repetitive classical music but it needs some changes, there needs to be an evolution. It is possible but you are likely to have a complete new musical work as a result.

From a more technical perspective, how did you actually go about the collaboration?

JtotheC: To make a score was a bit tricky for me, since I can’t read or write notes. Usually I just listen and play notes. Now I had to figure out how to make scores. I called up my man Billy Palmier, and he told me I could easily do it with my audio software! I just had to play four layers (1 for each instrument) with a midi-keyboard, and the computer translates midi into scores. Sweet!

Billy: The rework depended a lot on the instruments that would be available. If I have four instruments of the same kind I know I can do certain harmonies which was the case. Although at first the set-up was different (trumpet – basstrombone – cello – violin) so there were a few different adaptations made. After that it was just a question of moving around pieces in the composition and transfer it to musical notation. The backing tracks and musical notation were then sent by mail.

Were a lot of rehearsals involved? How long has this been in the making?

JtotheC: The first week, we just composed our songs at home, and sent the result via e-mail to one another. A couple of days later, we got together with the Trombone players at Les Ateliers Claus in Brussels to see what were the possibilities and do a quick run-through. I think the whole thing took about two weeks (for the first show, for the second one there was more time) Then we played a little set in Kortrijk together!

Billy: Since my knowledge of these instruments is quite limited and I am not classically schooled except for a couple of years of basic notation and piano lessons, I didn’t know exactly what was possible to play, the reach of the instruments etc. Most of that was handled by Tim. He made some changes and they played it almost flawlessly on the first repetition. It did show however that some changes had to be made to the composition. After that all was done and then there was a second rehearsal right before the show and that’s about it.

As recording artists, how was it to see your works get re-interpreted by others?

JtotheC: It inspired me immediately to make tracks or arrangements and stuff for future projects. I also learned that trombones are great for long chords. Brothers of the slide, you know! I’m looking forward to making tracks for new projects, adding other instruments like Cello, Violin or Trumpet. I already have some ideas for the trumpet scores.

Billy: It’s very interesting. I like it a lot. Although I really need to get used to the fact that it needs to be playable by a real person on a real instrument without plugins, effects etc.

Going into the session, were there any references, previous recordings, that somehow played an influence? Do you know of any other musicians/bands that got their music interpreted by classical orchestras? Is classical music something you’re drawn to?

JtotheC: A couple of years ago I bought the “Suite for Ma Dukes” LP, from Carlos Nino & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, who interpreted the music of J Dilla, needless to say I really love that stuff. I also really like the re-edit that DJ Grazzhoppa did with that original instrumental and classical version. Last year the Sly 5th Ave & The ClubCasa Chamber Orchestra did a nice remake of Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie”, so I bought that on iTunes. And it’s a real coincidence but a few weeks ago i saw Flip Kowlier performing live with his band, together with the Casco Phil conducted by Andrew Powell at the Schouwburg in Kortrijk. I got inspired from that and I was dreaming about doing a show somewhere later with horns, strings and a choir, and whatnot!A few days later Alex calls me up, saying the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra wants to team up with On-Point for a project. What are the odds?
Billy: I know it happened of course. Not so often but it does. There were no references whatsoever. Classical music is not on the top of my playlist when it’s about active listening. I do appreciate classical music a lot when it’s accompanying for example a movie or when driving the car. It seems to have a certain quality in accompanying it’s surrounding. But besides the clear distinction between certain pop and classical pieces let’s not forget the whole grey area…Very often I don’t really know why I like this or that piece of music. It’s an emotional thing. Not necessary linked to a genre even though I have certain preferences.

What about On-Point/Billy Palmier/JtotheC recording some classical music?

Billy: That might be a really awesome plan.

JtotheC: Let’s Go! I’m all up for that, of course. I’ll need some help from my friends though.

Did this collaboration give you any ideas for more collaborations of the same type?

Billy: I just see what happens. I’m working on a new EP and also working on a new video game next to freelance 3D projects which is taking up most of my time and focus right now. So anything can happen but it all boils down to choices. The balance between what I really want to do right now and what is needed financially. Also when you want to do something good you need to be focussed and that is not easy for me. I can only do 3 meals a day + 1,5 activities a day before loosing focus.

JtotheC: Yes, yes! Of course it did!

Could you list 3 of your favourite records of the year up to now?

Billy: Francis Inferno Orchestra – Vibrations (Hezbolla EP).
Keats Collective & Stratford CT (Bandcamp releases).
Leron Thomas – Take It (On-Point).

JtotheC: Snarky Puppy – We like it here (Ropeadope).
Leron Thomas – Take it… (On-Point).
Mode – Futureshock (out soon, i’m already a big fan!).

Alex Deforce, On-Point’s founder, is one of 25 local heroes we’ve interviewed a part of our Brussels Special. Pre-order it here, here.

Join us for our Brussels release party here