“It’s an extraordinary piece of music. It’s the work of two brothers, Sebastian on cello and Daniel on piano, and together they play as C E E Y S. I saw them premiere tracks from their new album at a gig that I went to in Berlin. This is a project which is written about the buildings that surrounded them in their childhood, growing up on the streets of East Berlin.“
– Mary Anne Hobbs, BBC Radio 6 Music
Sebastian and Daniel – who write, record and perform collectively under the name CS – grew up in East Berlin during the final decade of the Communist-era German Democratic Republic, “in a state where the only freedom for us was to find our niche by being creative.” For them crossing boundaries is nothing new: their experimental but accessible minimalism – located in a halcyon twilight zone between the avant-garde and pop – incorporates elements of jazz, ambient and classical chamber music, epitomised by, among other releases, their album trilogy; CONCRETE FIELDS (2017), WÆNDE (2018) and HIDDENSEE (2019).
It was an upbringing which has helped shape the work of the two musicians – now based in nearby Potsdam – not least in their carefully curated signature sound. Sebastian’s principal instrument is a Klingenthal cello, built in Saxony’s famous ‘Musikwinkel (‘musical corner’) near the Czech border, and he also plays, among other things, two handmade analogue kick and bass synthesisers manufactured in Erlbach, a village in the same East German region. Daniel, meanwhile, plays his restored childhood upright piano as well as a heavily altered, organic drone synthesiser designed by an Ukrainian radio engineer and musician who later emigrated to Russia. The brothers also employ field recordings made on portable cassette recorders once used by their father for his journalistic work, while their studio setup features a mixing console from Japan that was designed in the 1990s. It’s one of the few that focuses on high-quality recordings rather than effects. There is also a collection of legendary reworked microphones, spring reverb systems, keyboard instruments and rhythm boxes, many of which were originally manufactured between the 1950s and 1980s, sourced from former Eastern Bloc manufacturers.
CS have always been about far more than vintage technology, emphasising their determination not to indulge in ‘ostalgia’, often combining these relics with contemporary echoes, tremolos or filters, thereby uniting past and present. Their childhood environment has also been their frequent creative inspiration, an ambition reflected in their compositions, which seek to preserve youthful recollections while resolving the contradictions inherent in the era. Following on from REWORKS, which saw Sebastian and Daniel beautifully re-imagine the music of Peter Broderick, Ólafur Arnalds and Lambert in their particular cello-piano style, the duo released their impressive debut THE GRUNEWALD CHURCH SESSION in 2016. Their album CONCRETE FIELDS serves as a meditation upon the dreary prefab estate in which they were raised – Europe’s largest, located in Berlin’s Marzahn-Hellersdorf district – and they followed it a year later with WÆNDE (Walls), gesturing both towards the approximately four-metre barrier between their home city’s two halves and the walls separating them as kids from their neighbours. “We could hear each other practise our instruments through the paper-thin walls,” they recall, “and the same was true for our neighbours.” The final album in the trilogy meanwhile, is dedicated to their modest childhood Eldorado, HIDDENSEE, a small island in the Baltic Sea popular with East Germans during the GDR era, where they also holidayed with their parents, actress Gabriele Selke and radio presenter Harald Selke. Overlooked in the years following the Iron Curtain’s fall – when the newfound freedom to explore the world took them far beyond their homeland’s borders – the Selkes returned in recent years with both gratitude and nostalgia, again finding inspiration in their upbringing. 2020 will see the duo explore these themes further with a new record HAUSMUSIK, to be released in October on the Berlin-based label, Neue Meister.
CS’ compositions at times feel familiar, but remain refreshingly, invigoratingly unique, mirroring the myriad sounds to which they’ve been exposed to throughout their lives. Early influences, including Bach, Beethoven and Debussy, can be heard alongside the almost-forgotten compositions of East German based acts like Toni Krahl’s rock group City, Frank Fehse’s synthesiser duo Key, and Reinhard Lakomy’s Der Traumzauberbaum (Songs for Children). There are reminders, too, of Arvo Pärt, Arthur Russell and Philip Glass, as well as contemporary acts such as Greg Haines, Hauschka, Nils Frahm, Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld. It’s this aesthetic which has won them many admirers, indicated by, for example, their REWORKS of Peter Broderick, Ólafur Arnalds and Lambert, and by their collaborations with, among others, Masayoshi Fujita, Carlos Cipa, Viktor Orri Árnason, and Martyn Heyne, who mixed and mastered CONCRETE FIELDS, WÆNDE and 2019’s Q3A EP. Collaboration has become an important element of their musical approach, and was ultimately manifested in their THESIS 17 EP alongside CONSTANT PRESENCE, the new collaborative project between Peter Broderick and Daniel O’Sullivan, on Thesis Project with a limited edition, bespoke laser cut 10” released in early 2020.
2017 also saw the Selkes establish Q3AMBIENTFEST, named after the so-called ‘Querwandbau’ – a.k.a. Q3A (or, in English, ‘cross-wall construction’) – which was a three- to five-storey prefabricated building constructed in the GDR during the 1950s and 1960s. This annual event has seen Brothers Selke invite like-minded artists, renowned acts and friends to play, including Anne Müller, Andrea Belfi, Midori Hirano, Masayoshi Fujita, Martyn Heyne, Poppy Ackroyd and more. They’ve also launched FLIMMERKONZERTE, a series of film concerts at Potsdam’s Film Museum, and the co-curated KOSMOSKONZERTE, a succession of house concerts at Potsdam’s Rechenzentrum.
Encouraged to play from a preschool age by their parents, Brothers Selke studied music formally, with Sebastian graduating from ‘Hanns Eisler’ Berlin and Daniel from ‘Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’ Leipzig. These days, Sebastian plays as associate principal at the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg, while Daniel is a conductor and lecturer for piano and chamber music at Potsdam’s ‘Johann Sebastian Bach’ Music School. Equally at home performing in concert halls and at festivals – they have, for instance, played at both Fusion and Reeperbahn – they won the 2017 Rilke Special Award at the International Poetry Film Festival in Vienna. Their releases can be found on the acclaimed labels 1631 Recordings, Oscarson, 7K!, Lady Blunt Records, Neue Meister, and as of this year, Thesis Project. While THE GRUNEWALD CHURCH SESSION and CONCRETE FIELDS are distributed digitally worldwide through Decca Publishing and Deutsche Grammophon. WÆNDE and HIDDENSEE are published by Kick The Flame Music Publishing in Leipzig.
‘The best of the recent batch.’
Richard Allen A Closer Listen
‘The best of the genre.’
Brian Housman Stationary Travels
Mischa Kreiskott NDR Kultur
Hans Ackermann RBB Kulturradio
‘Talk about setting a high standard….!’
Peter van Cooten Ambientblog
James Catchpole Fluid Radio
Jan Platek Pretty In Noise
‘Album der Woche!‘ ★★★★
Stefan Hochgesand Zitty Berlin
‘Un’intima solennità cameristica.‘
Raffaello Russo MWSY
‘Perfekte Balance von Emotion und Abstraktion!’
Special Award International Poetry Film Festival Vienna