It’s been five years since Fiium Shaarrk’s debut album, No Fiction Now!. An understandable delay, considering the complexity of both their living arrangements – the trio of Rudi Fischerlehner, Maurizio Ravalico and Isambard Khroustaliov are spread across continents – and also sound; their music is rhythmically explosive, a firestorm of drums and cymbals that at first seems to make little sense before crystallising into something almost beautiful.
“We don’t have the luxury of spending an evening in the rehearsal room every week,” says drummer Rudi Fischerlehner. “So, when we meet, all of us bring ideas for new tracks, all sorts of things, rhythms, concepts, textural ideas, and then we just go from there. Imagine it like: ‘Listen, I have this insane bass sound and programmed it in a way it can be randomly triggered by your bass drum’. ‘Great, let’s try it with that beat I wanted to propose anyway’. ‘I just found these huge tin cans outside a restaurant backyard, this could be the right sound to play a melody on top’.”
Complicated, certainly. But on We Are Astonishingly Lifelike, also earnest, mesmerising and oddly hypnotic. To mark the album’s 10 March release, the group pulled together 10 tracks that helped inform their sound.
Eric B. & Rakim - Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em
Isambard: To be honest, sometimes I wish Fiium had a bouncer like at the beginning of this video – I’m sure everyone does. But seriously, my dear friend and cohort Joji Koyama introduced me to Eric B. & Rakim over two decades ago and I still think cuts like this are completely amazing. There are maybe four samples in this track and each one sets up an intense musical atmosphere that Eric B. cuts between and evolves really subtly but really effortlessly and effectively. Moreover, the way the samples go together and rub up against each other is totally like avant-garde tape music; for me it’s about sonority and the vibe of each as much as their keys and melodies. Also, this track was probably produced on an SP-1200 with no more than 12 seconds of sampling time – that’s a discipline I remember when I bought my first sampler in 1996 and one I think is really lacking in a lot of electronic music today. Eric B. was also huge for me in terms of performance style – all these electronic music performers going at it with their huge knob turning gestures? Eric B. says it all.
Djerma DunDun Drummers - Stephen Jay: Africa
Rudi: A great album with amazing rhythmic and textural richness. This particular track was chosen because one of the beats towards the end was a main inspiration to my drumbeats in ‘Conundrums’.
Icarus - Kipperkun Scratch
Maurizio: I know I'm cheering my own team here, but listening to Icarus was yet another illuminating point of my musical evolution. It is often the case that electronics informs acoustic music, suggesting new idiomatic strategies to a musical instrument. Listening to Icarus's non-metric beats, observing the familiar tension between bass drum, hat and snare being transferred to a grid where there's no periodicity or repetition, opened for me a new way to explore rhythm; one that still finds an excellent testing ground not only in Fiium Shaarrk's music, but also in my duo experiences with both Isambard and Rudi.
Autechre - Ipacial Section
Rudi: Autechre’s beats seem to rely as much or even more on magnetic forces between rhythmic cells as on the gravitation towards a fixed grid, making them sound astonishingly flexible, playful, alive and “improvised“ in the best sense.
Florian Hecker - Stocha Acid Zlook
Isambard: When I got this album in 2003 I was totally floored. It was just breathtaking in its conviction and the sound world it presented. It made me feel honoured to be an electronic musician and convinced me of the absolute relevance and necessity of the perspectives on music electronics has to offer.
Yannis Xenakis - Le Polytope de Cluny
Rudi: A very interesting piece in many points, also and especially concerning the mixture of percussive and electronic sounds, a big creative recontextualisation of traditional percussion sounds.
John Cage - Imaginary Landscape No.2
Maurizio: Tin cans man; they're all over Krypton Tunning. I think it's the part in 14/8. How to ever grow tired of yet another chance to turn into beauty the endless stream of junk constantly belched out of the purulent cornucopia of modern society? As a percussionist, you always live in the certainty that you just have to gather any three or four objects of the same kind – any objects: wood planks, metal pipes, stones, pots – and you have a functioning musical instrument at hand. In 1939, Cage stated that “Percussion music is revolution”. Long after the emancipation of percussion in music hierarchy has become an established commonplace, this statement has only shifted its focus – but has never lost its actuality. No matter what stage of evolution you are at as a society, percussion music will always be there as a divine tool, offering you the chance of experiencing reality on new and different planes.
Karlheinz Stockhausen - Japan
Rudi: One of Stockhausen´s playful pieces. For two electronic musicians and one drummer (new music percussion pioneer Christoph Caskel in this case), everybody has a woodblock, creating a conversational layer on top.
Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman - Endangered Species
Maurizio: This is the most disciplined, measured, focused chaos I've ever heard in music. With Fiium Shaarrk, we have many episodes of seemingly free-form improvisation, which are in reality very specific textural constructions, carefully built during rehearsals. I heard this track when I was quite young, fascinated about improvised music but still trying to find a way to relate to it; back then I think I must have listened to this album only for weeks, and ‘Endangered Species’ has become a sort of foundation stone, on top of which many concepts of – but also a hearty approach to – improvised music have developed for me.
Fugazi - Instrument (documentary)
Isambard: Fugazi are another early influence and probably the reason I’ve always wanted to be in a band. The Fiium and Leverton Fox are the end result and it’s always an amazing feeling to go out on stage with both and take no prisoners. I’m also a massive fan of the way Fugazi and Dischord Records went about things; booking and organising their own shows for all ages, recording and putting out their own records at an affordable price – all of it speaks of integrity and belief in the culture of music as opposed to its industry. I had tickets to see Fugazi just before they went on hiatus – still gutted I never saw them live. This documentary goes some way to getting me there.