Gymnastics with N.M.O.
N.M.O. is the project of North Sea drummer and producer Morten J. Olsen and Mediterranean synthesis aficionado Rubén Patiño. N.M.O. is an ever-changing acronym that incorporates club music, performance, military-style drumming, fitness, and absurdity. What they call ‘Military Danceable Space Music and/or Fluxus Techno’ is a unique blend of repetitive percussive patterns and synthetic sounds that, combined with performative aspects, explodes during their short and intense live shows. In 2016, N.M.O. released Nordic Mediterranean Organization / Numerous Miscommunications Occur, a double 12″ LP for Powell’s Diagonal Records. Previously, they put out two releases on Barcelona’s Anòmia, including 2014’s critically acclaimed, Nederlandse Maatschappij Ontwikkeling, and in 2015 the two Naturkunde Museum Ostkreuz EPs for Boomkat’s The Death of Rave label, as well as Natalia Martínez Ordóñez for UK label Where to Now?.
How do you work as a duo?
Rubén Patiño: We’ve been living in Berlin for a while, but I recently moved to Barcelona. We still meet in person though.
Morten J. Olsen: Yeah since Rubén moved, we already did two short residencies IRL.
But it’s always been more of a project-based band anyway, as in, we work more intensely in certain periods and less in others.
Does the acronym vary from project to project? On your Where to Now? album, it was Natalia Martínez Ordóñez.
RP: Each project has a new N.M.O. basically. We started with a long, hard-to-pronounce name in Norwegian, Navnlaust Mønster Opptog, NMO, but after a while we didn’t like it anymore and changed it to Navngitt Monster Oppkok. After another while we were also not convinced about that one, so we changed it again. Then we could not stop changing it, realising it was pretty fun to come up with new things NMO could stand for. Since then, we define the acronym in new ways for each record, mixtape, performance.
You describe the project as “Fluxus techno”. Is there a humorous aspect to what you do?
RP: Well yes, there are lots of absurd and ironic aspects to what we do. For instance, the idea of having a changing acronym as a band name is probably the worst marketing strategy. It’s hard to find us on Google, etc. It’s some sort of middle finger, I guess.
To the music industry?
RP: It’s the consequence. If you play around with formats, you can easily fall out of the standard models.
MJO: If you take the whole phrase we invented: Military Danceable Space Music and/or Fluxus Techno, then maybe you could straight off connect that to some kind of Fluxus ideas. The neo-Dada, Fluxus movement is something that we’re extremely loosely connected to, maybe not at all, but somehow we do identify with some of their principles and ideas. We’re in flux, N.M.O. is in flux.
Could you elaborate?
RP: Yes, we are relatively informed about last century’s art movements. But it’s not like, when we do a new piece, we base it on some Marcel Duchamp writings or we revisit Allan Kaprow. Rather than seeing a direct connection, I’d say the influence is rather manifested in a mind-set type of way, being able to connect things outside the musical box.
MJO: Maybe it’s about combining things that are unlikely to go together. A Fluxus piece could be: to climb on a tree and sit on a branch and saw off the branch you’re sitting on. To a certain degree, we’re doing this. Making impossible tasks for ourselves, trying to penetrate the club scene by using military drumming, odd meters, and fitness, might be a bit like that. But adding absurdity as a possible parameter and also keeping some self-irony intact I think is not only interesting, but also necessary in order for N.M.O. to exist. We come from pretty different backgrounds and have very different starting points, and in fact it was probably unlikely that our collaboration would work to begin with, but by borrowing and meeting at some of these old ideas and juxtaposing them with our own influences, we somehow managed to make a bunch of music together.
What are your backgrounds actually?
MJO: Ruben is a visual artist who’s into computer music. Right? I come from more of an instrumental band type of setting. We met at a very confusing time in Berlin.
RP: Yes I come from visual arts, but have a Masters degree in jurassic electronic music composition.We met in the late 00s in Berlin. By then, there had been an exciting noise scene in Berlin. We would meet at the same concerts, bars, etc. I guess these years gave us a shared desire to make strong physical sound. So I’d say that’s at the core of the project, but we’ve also added a layer of danceability and performance that has become a rara avis in the club scene. We try to question things no one else does, such as the role of the audience in a club, etc.
Your style of drumming is also quite specific.
MJO: I suppose, but in a way it’s pretty basic, usually taking simple rudiments as a starting point. As I see it, we’ve built a language together, and it includes several specific things, one being the drumming style. But in fact, what’s behind the drumming style might have been instructive to how we work.
RP: It also has to do with transparency. I don’t have traditional training in music. I’ve never played in bands, so it’s really difficult for me to count bars. We’ve found signs or cues that Morten would give me and we use it as part of the performance.
MJO: That’s an early example of the military aspect of N.M.O.: We were wondering how to get from A to B, how to manoeuvre from different patterns and parts to others, and then we started looking into using military hand signs. That was not really by coincidence, as my style of drumming – and in fact most trained drummers’ style of drumming – essentially involves military techniques.
RP: Morten made a podcast about it.
MJO: Yeah, and by looking into other sides of the military, simple principles of organisation and movement on the ground, and grouping these with our aesthetic ideas, a lot of our performative stuff was already there.
RP: This also connects to something like the ‘Lesson 1′ idea. We use ‘Lesson 1′ from various disciplines, and by combining them, the whole thing turns into something more complex. With drumming it could be a rhythm lesson for beginners.
MJO: Like the single paradiddle.
RP: Yeah, but it can also apply to gymnastics or simple exercises.
MJO: Or panning. And yeah, actually, that’s exactly what some people commented on after our gig last week: that it reminded them of a gym class in primary school combined with marching band music. They had a lot of fun because it reminded them of something very common but at the same time something they never really thought about. Imagine the bleep test, pushups, and snare drum rolls in a club. That’s the way we’ve grabbed on to the military-industrial complex. We think however, that governments should generally decrease their military budgets, or maybe rather consider adding some more drumming to it.
RP: We are (not) pacifists though.
MJO: But almost: using force to prevent a child from being run over by a car could be ok.
Can you talk about the Where to Now? record. You played around with different tempi in a conceptual way.
RP: It basically started in the Middle East, in Beirut. It was a commissioned piece for a festival called CO2. The main idea was an hour-long accelarando with dancers performing on a big avenue. We made ten 3-minute sections out of that, and every section ended up having a 10 BPM increase. The record has two sides: the first one is weirder, non-danceable compared to the second one. I particularly like the fact that if you listen to the first and the last track there is almost no connection, but if you listen to the whole record there is a smooth transition from slow and abstract to full on club music. In fact it’s one my favourite records.
Can you talk about your new project, Deutsch am Fuss?
MJO: It’s DaF! We have N.M.O, which is an ever-changing acronym, and now we also have DaF as a unit within the unit.
RP: DaF is another deviation, a necessity of evolving from N.M.O. A new playground where the focus shifts on appropriation and faster tempos. It’s clearly ironic. Some white kids trying to make footwork and combining it with Neue Deutsche Welle. It’s a collage. If you spell it out completely, it’s actually Deutsch-Amerikanisches Fusswerk.
Will you also perform with this project?
MJO: We don’t know what the future will hold. These people are a little less reliable than N.M.O.
When you play it’s a performance. How do people react?
RP: Organisers tend to have a problem with a setup in the middle of the dance floor, but the audience loves it. As I always say to skeptical promoters and reluctant stage managers, we’ve done it twice in Berghain and it worked out very well. This Berghain approval stamp helps a lot.
MJO: The main thing is the physicality of being close to people, physically working and doing stuff. That’s something that creates a terrific energy.