Photograph: Markus RoessleTosca

Interview with Tosca: “Our music is a kind of sound architecture, which is glued together by a groove”

Richard Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber, the pair behind the venerable Tosca project, bring their live show to Gotham.


Following up on last year’s gorgeous Odeon LP and its attendant remix album, Tlapa, Richard Dorfmeister (of Kruder & Dorfmeister) and Rupert Huber bring their long-running Tosca project to the U.S. and Canada, airing their atmospheric electronics at a series of live gigs. The show, featuring Cath Coffey (known for her work with Stereo MCs and Tricky) and Galliano’s Rob Gallagher on vocals, lands at Le Poisson Rouge on Thursday, February 27th; TONY caught up with the longtime cohorts as they prepared for the tour.

You guys are talking to me from your studio in Vienna—but Richard, aren’t you based in Zurich now?
Richard Dorfmeister: Yes, I’ve been in Zurich for quite a long time. But we always meet here in Vienna. We have a nice studio here; it’s a very cozy recording situation. It’s paradise, really—it’s in a basement, and it’s constructed so you can’t see anything from the outside. If it’s raining or snowing or the sun is shining, it doesn’t matter.

You can just get to work without being affected by what’s going on outside.
Dorfmeister: Exactly. And nowadays, that’s a real luxury. We can go off in any direction we want, without any distractions. We can just concentrate on the actual music-making process.

Do you two meet there often?
Dorfmeister: We don’t do it so often, because we both have other things to do. But the Tosca stuff is all done here, mixing and everything. We do everything ourselves. Recently, we’ve been setting up the live show. Then, after the American tour, we have another album that should be out soon.

Two albums in the space of a year? That’s a record for Tosca, I think.
Dorfmeister: Yes, we’re working relatively quickly nowadays! [Laughs] We had a really productive winter. We have 10 or 11 tracks together. All the tracks are with the two vocalists, Rob and Cath. It makes sense for us to keep working with them; formerly, we were working with all different vocalists. It’s a growing process, working with them.

Other that Rob and Cath on vocals, what does the live show consist of? What are you two actually doing?
Dorfmeister: We start with the idea of two pianos, one real piano and one that holds all the electronics and computers and stuff. So we are doing the music with that, and we will be triggering the visuals, which were developed by Ars Electronica. Before, it wasn’t so easy to match the music and the visuals on beat, but now we have that under control.

Dorfmeister: Yes, very nice! When we did our first show with these visuals, we had this huge screen—like 10 meters by 15 meters. And it looked great; the visuals were really made for that.
Rupert Huber: The idea behind the visuals and the idea of the sounds are quite the same. And the show is constantly changing; the more shows you do, the better you are. Even just changing the running order of the tracks is a process. We’re playing new stuff combined with classic stuff, music from the past 15 years or whatever.

Almost 20, really, if you go back to the days of “Favourite Chocolate” and “Fuck Dub.”
Dorfmeister: Yeah. Wow! [Laughs] Our recent music is linked to the old stuff, of course, but it’s not as completely downbeat as it was before. It’s still a challenge to give the live shows a lot of energy, though I think we’ve managed to make it quite dynamic. It’s gotten better and better. We had to get rid of some stuff we don’t need, and add some tracks we hadn’t included. And we realized the new tracks were good for us, but perhaps nobody knows them—so we’ve really had to work on the running order. It’s been quite an adventure for us.

Has it been a challenge to shift what is primarily a studio creation into a live setting? It seems like a pretty ambitious undertaking.
Dorfmeister: Yeah, because we’re not a band with guitar and bass and drums. But in some ways, it’s easier; all the dynamics are up to us.
Huber: And we’re not really that ambitious, anyway. [Laughs] We’re just playing our stuff.
Dorfmeister: We mainly dub things out a lot. And Rupert is playing some different stuff, and we have the vocalists, of course. So the live songs are different than the originals. But there are many other factors that make it different. There are all kinds of factors involved.

Like what?
Dorfmeister: First, there’s the sound. When the sound on the stage is good, the vocalists feel comfortable. And there’s the crowd. If they get an instant welcome or a positive reaction from the crowd, they’ll feel much safer; they’ll feel like home, and are much better. If that’s not the case…well, they’re not so bad!
Huber: We were just talking yesterday about the magic of playing live. You can’t predict what can happen, and you can’t control everything. There are just so many factors involved.

Richard, do you find the interplay between Tosca and the audience similar to what happens when you deejay where you’re reading the crowd and perhaps making some adjustments?
Dorfmeister: I would say that deejaying is a different thing. There’s a different interface with the audience when you are playing live than when you are a DJ.

I saw you and Peter [Kruder] spin dhere at Irving Plaza way back in 1999. That was a fun night, and the place was packed.
Dorfmeister: I hope this one is fun also—but we’ll see how it goes; the Tosca moniker is perhaps not as famous as Kruder & Dorfmeister. But we are hopeful!

You guys are really into getting your music remixed; Odeon had a whole album’s worth of reworked versions. How do you go about choosing people to rework your tunes? You had Brendon Moeller—who’s mainly known as a deep-techno kind of guy, and isn’t somebody who immediately comes to mind as a Tosca remixer—work his magic on two versions of “Bonjour,” for instance.
Dorfmeister: Normally, when we choose someone who’s not obviously the right one to remix us, it often ends up being the best thing. The more unique and different someone’s style is, the better the remix usually is. And we were very happy with Brendon’s remixes. He actually did them when the hurricane hit New York; he was sitting in his studio while the storm was outside! That’s why those tracks have this apocalyptic vibe; they’re strange, dubby and weird. And we love them, much more than we would love some typical midtempo-beat remix. We like it best when people do things that are outside the norm for us.

You guys have been together for many years, even well before Tosca.
Huber: We even went to school together! We’ve known each other for many years.

What are the dynamics like when you work together? Are you guys like an old married couple?
Huber: We are just like a married couple—except we don’t fight.

So it’s a very good marriage.
Dorfmeister: Exactly!

Rupert, I was digging around and found this quote from you: “Every Tosca track is an architecture of sound, and the time of the clock turning into groove-time; Tosca-time.” Do you remember that quote?
Huber: Yes—and I’m quite proud of it. [Laughs]

Can you elaborate on that statement, or do you feel it stands on its own?
Huber: I think the statement stands on its own, but I do like the subject a lot. Obviously, our music is not like new-music sonatas or something; it really is a kind sof ound architecture, which is glued together by a groove. If you have a good groove, and you like the architecture, then time doesn’t come from a clock anymore. The music becomes the clock, in a way. Clocks are just an invention anyway—and music is much older than clocks. The magic of the Tosca project is that it combines the idea of architecture and the idea of going outside of the real world, outside of time. I hope that makes sense!

Tosca performs at Le Poisson Rouge Thursday, February 27.

Follow Bruce Tantum on Twitter: @BruceTantum

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