The last nine or so years have seen Carl Craig wrestling with a passion project; back in 2008 he debuted Versus, a unique live collaboration with orchestral conductor François-Xavier Roth, fellow techno producer Moritz von Oswald and pianist Francesco Tristano. The Versus show took highlights from Craig’s sprawling back catalogue, and reimagined them as entirely new orchestral scores. The shows proved to be a huge success – so much so that Carl decided to release Versus as a fully recorded album. And then… nothing. Or at least, nothing until now. After 9 years of Craig working with Tristano, the Versus album has finally been completed; 14 Carl Craig classics recreated as entirely new fusions, combining Craig’s electronic mastery with the technical finesse of a full orchestra. With Versus now available in the shops, Craig is preparing for a series of live shows, starting off with a big one-two whammy of the Detroit Movement Festival followed by a major slot at Sonar –we caught up with him to find out just what keeps an album in the works for the best part of a decade…
How complex was it to re-arrange your tracks as orchestral pieces?
Ha, well, it’s not that complex for me because I didn’t have to arrange it…! At the same time, I didn’t want this to be me bringing the parts I have up in Logic and switching in an upright bass instead of a synthesised bassline, or a violin instead of a synthesiser – there’s gotta be more imagination than that, and that’s what Francesco bought to the table.
And who of the two of you chose the tracks you were gonna use?
I came up with some options, and Francesco told me what was possible and I trusted his judgement about it – I’d never worked the way we did so there was no way I could come in and tell him what to do and say ‘my way’s the best way’. I’m not a concert pianist you know!
Where do you think the transition to orchestral has been most successful?
I put a lot of time into every track, so I don’t necessarily think that one came off better than any other – Darkness has brooding cinematic qualities to it, the same with the low end of Dominium, the impact of that is strong. Y’know, Sandstorm works, it’s all beautiful stuff
I've no idea how intentional this was (probably not at all!) but the new version of Sandstorm sounds like a grime tune to me - it’s interesting that by changing the form you’ve revealed a sonic similarity that was previously obscured
It wasn't intentional! It may be grime sounding, but I didn’t intend it to be that – but if you look at what’s influenced by grime over the years, it includes drum n bass which was influenced by Detroit techno, so there’s a connection. The links between sounds are always there, but people tend to think that they’re scene is the newest and the best – “our music is better than someone else’s!” – it’s all music really.
Now you’ve finally finished this record, have you got any desire to start with the orchestra from scratch?
Ummm, in time. I’ve really learned a lot in this process, and it took a lot of doing – it makes it even more viable to start from scratch in the future. The years it’s taken me to come up with the finished product was like being in the laboratory with some chemicals and trying to come up with the winning formula. Now we’ve got that formula we can be quicker about it, and maybe there won’t be as much brooding time and experimenting time to come up with the follow up.
So why did it take so long to get together?
Inevitably what if came down to was, it had to be perfect. We also chose to take a direction in recording it that was different to how orchestras are normally recorded – normally an orchestra is all recorded together, but we recorded each individual part to make sure that whatever my electronics were they would fit together with the orchestration. The process took a lot of work.
And would you consider doing the process in reverse and reimagining classical pieces as techno works?
I don’t like to call it classical, I prefer to call it orchestral, and no – I mean it’s been done in the past – the guy who does a lot of the Family Guy music got famous in the 70s for doing a disco version of Beethoven’s 5th, so I think doing it that way, I’m not totally crazy about re-imagining as a piece in itself. I did recompose with Moritz Oswald, where we took recordings from the Berlin Philharmonic, took the parts and manipulated them – what we did was, not only remixing, but we took everything apart and put them together as a new idea. But taking an orchestral piece and putting it together on synthesisers? No I wouldn’t do that.
You’re heading to Sonar this year to play live, have you considered whether you’re going to change how you do this live show to the 2008 concerts?
Our current performance is a synthesiser ensemble – we have four synthesisers; myself and concert pianists.
Have you been picking up technique from the concert pianists?
Man, I do my thing. Each person does their thing, it’s better to work together in concert than for me to think I can take over from somebody – I’ve been in this game long enough to realise that one man can’t always do everything.
Now Versus is done – with it out there what are you going to turn your focus to next?
My focus is still on Versus right now, there’s been a lot time involved, and it still has time to grow. I’m still doing me, I’m still doing Carl Craig, but at the same time Versus is something that I believe has a lot of legs. The live shows are definitely the next thing...
Watch Carl Craig presents: Versus at Sonar on Saturday June 17th - more details over here