Stefan Oberthaler’s Deconstructed Waltz from Schubert’s Hometown

Stefan Oberthaler’s “Pre_serve:” A Vision of the Future that Embraces Vienna’s Past

The interplay of classical, modern and postmodern has possibly never been more apparent than in the city of Vienna, Austria in 2014. Aside from being the ancestral home of some of the world’s greatest composers, Vienna today boasts a booming club scene, where dance floor denizens from a variety of backgrounds converge to the latest techno grooves, the products of studio wizards using the latest electronic gear (and some vintage synths) to translate classical impulses into tasty nu jazz tunes.

Stefan Oberthaler, aka KEYMINATOR, is one such studio wunderkind. His latest digital offering, the Pre_serve EP, offers a complex hybrid of classical, piano jazz and ambient flavored nu jazz. The spirit of Romantic composer Franz Schubert is heard in the paradoxically haunting and playful waltz of the title track, which also offers more than a hint of Bill Evans, the legendary jazz pianist and European favorite. Oberthaler explains:

“As you know, Vienna is the capital of classical waltz; there is always a kind of waltz feeling, easy living and dancing in the air – and by the way, the birth house of Franz Schubert is in my neighborhood, so it’s obvious to take this genre.”

Music is so deeply intertwined with Viennese culture that the city has a chord – the Viennese trichord – named in its honor, a chord that Evans utlized heavily during his career and one that Oberthaler uses here (a flatted ninth and dominant seventh give the chord its distinctive tone).

“Bill Evans is one of my all time heroes,” Oberthaler continues, “and I think he is one of the jazz pianists and also composers with a deep classical view and feeling. But when I am working, I don’t think about these things – they just happen.”

Mixdown Demystified

It’s the spirit component of music creation that is difficult to define — –the shadows of Schubert and Evans, the movements of the subconscious, the emotional meeting point between composer and instrument each play a part here. Yet, in line with Europe’s tradition of rationalism, there is a great deal of analysis that goes in making the mix. Oberthaler continues:

“When I mix the track there is always the development between the arrangement situation and the mixing situation,” he explains. “In the arrangement situation, one of the main functions is to get an interaction between instruments and sounds, and with a working chord progression, you got lines and lines and lines and the musical heart blows you away!”

In Oberthaler’s minimalist final product, there’s plenty of room for sonic space, that is, melody is often suggested rather than stated. Oberthaler: “In the mixing situation, the main work is to get the tune in the right frequency spectrum, and this is the time when I realize ‘oh, there is something (that is) too much and it’s better to let in some space of to cut a line or something.’ When you are talking to a good orchestrator, he will tell you, that a good arrangement is not only the balance between melodies and instruments, it is the balance of the whole frequency spectrum that touches your ears.”

The resulting tune with its combo of haunting bells, glitch oscillations and jazz synth bass stylings supporting masterful stride and jazz piano is a knockout. Even the synth bass suggests the great Bill Evans sidemen. In its original mix, Oberthaler’s “Pre_serve”is a playful take on lounge music that indeed, preserves the very past while translating it into a postmodern idiom.

It’s a sure thing that Oberthaler could pull off a stunning performance on nothing more than an acoustic piano. Here, the genuine piano feel is achieved with a Kawai MP10, favored by Oberthaler for its subtlety. For synth sounds, he generally relies on his Clavia Nord Lead, both as a controller and for its internal sounds, which he edits. The entire track was recorded in Ableton Live.

The remix by duo Valuma (Roman Lugmayr and Georg Lichtenauer – Viennese musicans/producers) is dance music for the thinking person — – it’s soothing and hypnotic, mixing light jazz with nu jazz, making it ideal for lounge clubs and easy listening. “The Valuma remix of “Pre_serve_” sounds slightly different though, compared to the tracks they are usually producing,” Oberthaler explains. “With this remix they left the field of electronic club music and produced with a more laid back attitude.”

The Keyminator remix of “Pre_serve” features a funky bass line (a genuine Roland TB-303, an early 80s staple and partner of the TR-606) and simmering percussion engineered to get people moving on the dance floor. “These sounds give a track a unique identity,” Oberthaler explains. “It reflects the past of electronic music, but also the present with its various styles. The philosophy of the remix is very simple: to get the track to the floor in clubs.”

Pre_serve releases Feb. 17: Visit for more information.


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