C E E Y S
Sebastian & Daniel Selke
‘Hybrid’ is a word that’s always been vital to CEEYS’ vocabulary, but its application isn’t limited to the manner in which cellist Sebastian Selke and his brother, pianist Daniel Selke, combine their two instruments so harmoniously. Instead, like the duo’s very name – which merges the words ‘violoncelle’ (fr.: cello) and ‘keys’ – it’s reflective of their overall aesthetic, one in which they integrate the many ingredients that have helped shape them as both musicians and people.
For the Selkes, the idea of bridging divides resonates in a particularly powerful fashion: the two brothers, now based in Potsdam, grew up in East Berlin during the final decade of the German Democratic Republic. CS’ award-winning work is provoked by their urge to explore recollections of their youth, both before and after the fall of the regime, and to apply those lessons and influences to contemporary music.
CS’ idiosyncratic style is characterised by subtle extemporisation and a reduced approach to current composition and improvisation. It finds them exploiting their knowledge of songwriting, textures and repetitive patterns to create an experimental but accessible minimalism between avant-garde and pop that incorporates elements of jazz, ambient and classical chamber music.
Driven by their compulsion to improvise – “We grew up,” they note, “in a state where the only freedom was to find your niche by being creative” – it finds them consolidating cello and piano with vintage electronic instruments built during the Communist era. These include echoes, tremolos and filters as well as restored keyboard instruments and rhythm boxes, many of them originally manufactured by the country’s Vermona company between the 1950s and 1980s.
The Selke’s fascination for the era extends further, too, in their pursuit of a signature sound: they employ Gefell Microphones, Vermona tube pre-amps and spring reverbs, as well as a West German TFE Series 10 Broadcast Mixing console from the 1960s, and even their listening environment is carefully curated. “We listen to a GDR setup RFT 3930 record player with a Tesla VM2103 scanner system,” they elaborate. Also present are RFT cassette decks, a Braun PCS5 record player and refurbished Sony cassette decks from the 80s, as well as small RFT B3010 and giant Vermona Regent speakers.
Encouraged to play from the age of five by their parents, actress Gabriele Selke and radio presenter Harald Selke, the brothers went on to study music formally. Sebastian and Daniel have been featured on numerous album releases and soundtracks. Sebastian has also collaborated with Ólafur Arnalds and Spitfire Audio. They’ve also reworked the likes of Peter Broderick, Carlos Cipa and Lambert, and released two albums of their own, 2016’s The Grunewald Church Session and 2017’s Concrete Fields, released by 1631 Recordings, distributed digitally worldwide by Decca Publishing and Deutsche Grammophon. The visualization of the album has won the Special Award at the International Poetry Film Festival Vienna.
In 2017 the brothers founded Q3Ambientfest. Organised in partnership with Dutch initiative Fluister, this carefully curated festival saw the brothers invite friends and renowned acts such as Anne Müller, John Metcalfe, Martyn Heyne, Kinbrae, Sophie Hutchings and Midori Hirano to join them onstage in Potsdam as they investigated the interface between contemporary music – avant-garde and pop – and the city’s diverse, historic architecture – from neo-classical palaces to Communist-era panelhouses.
Currently, the Selke brothers are working on the third CS album, while also developing music for their first solo EPs, in their Klingenthal Studio, named after the small East German town where Vermona invented and built its instruments.
What will emerge from their work is hard to say – “We don’t ‘construct’ any of our music,” they insist – but there’s little question that it will continue to find them doing what they’ve always done: weaving together the threads of their musical interests to create yet more intriguing, innovative and inspiring hybrids…
- Wyndham Wallace
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