New Interview: Art+Music+Technology podcast, Ep.187

There’s a new interview with me on the Art+Music+Technology podcast. I really enjoyed the conversation and the generous questions of the host, Darwin Grosse. We talked about my current work and thinking, and if you’re into the kinds of things I post about here then I’d say there’s a good chance you’re going to enjoy the interview as well.

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Kolapse Interview IX: The Redundant Rocker

This is the ninth entry in the series of interviews with the musicians featured on Kolapse, an album of remixes of pieces from my solo album Kola. In this installment you’ll hear a conversation between Tamara Lyn and my friend and collaborator Bernhard Wöstheinrich aka The Redundant Rocker. They take his Maniok remix as the starting point for an extended discussion of his musical background and his approach in general.

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Kolapse Interview V: Guy Birkin

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with the Kolapse remixers. Will Cruttenden, who releases his music as Spingere, interviews fellow Englishman Guy Birkin about his Piñata remix.

How did you first make contact with Tobias?

Our first contact was probably through SoundCloud and our participation in the Disquiet Junto. ‘Backup Aura’ was one of my favourite albums in 2011, so Tobias was certainly on my radar at that time but I think we only started corresponding later on. We share interests and follow similar paths.

Why did you choose that particular track over the others?

Structurally Piñata was more suited to achieve the intended aim with this remix: to change the track temporally rather than sonically – that is, to deconstruct it and re-arrange on a new time base. One of the things I like is its irregular beat. Also, I love the sound of that kick drum. Because this track is mostly made of percussive sounds, it makes it easier to chop up using transient-detection algorithms, which is how I did it. Using this method the kick drum stem was cut up into 1,543 pieces. I applied the same process to two other parts, the high and low metallic clang sounds, cut into around 900 and 1,400 pieces. Before these fragments of sound were aligned on a new tempo grid, I sorted them into different sequences based on analysis using measures of information content. This is something developed from my research on complexity, and I wanted to use this approach for this remix. So it was the characteristics of that kick and those clang sounds in Piñata that determined my choice of track because they allowed me to use this method.

Tell me more about your research on complexity. How does it apply to fields outside of music?

Well, this research started outside of music, because it stems from my PhD which investigated visual complexity and from my visual art practice which uses scientific or technical methods (e.g. cellular automata, statistical analysis) to make generative artwork. This research turned that process around, using this approach to study how complexity in visual art is perceived. The central research question was about the relationship between visual complexity and aesthetic value. Information theory and algorithmic complexity theory provided the theoretical support for using data compression algorithms as a way of measuring complexity. The underlying theory of this measure, called ‘minimum description length’, is that the complexity of an object can be measured in terms of how much information it contains. A digital image file is a ‘description’ of an image, and data compression algorithms reduce it close to the minimum, and so the amount of information that remains after compression is a measure of its complexity. Evidence from experimental psychology shows a correlation between this measure and subjectively perceived complexity (i.e. complexity ratings of images by test participants). My research corroborated the finding and extended the tests to include more complex images. I also found evidence that the correlation breaks down with random images, because the compression method measures those as being the most complex, whereas we tend to perceive randomness as being quite simple. With this knowledge of the relationship between data compression and perception in the visual domain, we can ask whether a similar correlation might be found in the auditory domain, between digital audio data compression and the perceived complexity of music. That question is driving my current research and my sonic art practice.

How has this method developed during the making of your own music?

The method of research hasn’t changed much – it’s still an empirical investigation, except now I’m working independently, not in academia. But as a method for music-making, it’s always developing, because the research opens up new ways of making, shaping and arranging sounds. I use variations on the original method quite a lot – measuring complexity based on information content and data compression, but it’s is also constantly being refined. More recently, I’ve started using methods developed from network analysis and graph theory. These offer a new way to approach the question of complexity in music, for both analytical and generative purposes. It’s a collaboration with Valdis Krebs, whose research mapped the network of terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks, amongst other things. Valdis mapped the network of notes in Fur Alina by Arvo Pärt, and I wrote a program that uses that network to generate similar patterns. The network maps adjacent notes (two notes are connected if one follows the other) and the program plays successive notes by moving along the connections between them. I’ve now written a program that analyses any MIDI file, maps its network of notes, and generates a new piece based on that network. But at the moment I’ve only got it working on pitch, not yet timing.

How did you know that your remix was finished?

With this remix the aim was to focus on changes in timing – specifically, to re-arrange the rhythmic elements of Piñata on a different tempo, and to use some measure of complexity to re-order those elements. In the end, I also changed the sounds quite a bit too, but I knew most of the work was done when I’d achieved the main technical steps involved in applying that information-based measure of complexity. This included cutting the stems, analysing the pieces, re-arranging them on a new tempo, and editing those placements to disrupt or create patterns. Once that main aim is achieved, then there’s the process of making decisions that are aesthetic rather than technical, and making adjustments that are tonal/timbral rather than structural. It’s at this second stage that it’s hard to know when to stop. Even though most of the technical work is done, it’s easy to spend much longer here, changing instruments, adding effects and tweaking parameters.

Were you tempted to continue or even remix the remix?

Prior to mastering, I declined the opportunity to re-work this remix, but given the chance again, I’d probably make it shorter. However, I’ve extended these methods from this remix and applied them to work that I’ve made subsequently. I’ve also used completely different methods to explore some of the same sonic characteristics that this method produced. Specifically, the perceptual transition between pitch and rhythm that results from changing the rate at which sounds are played. The exploration of these perceptual thresholds is one theme that runs through my practice. It’s part of the creative approach to the research question I described earlier, because it’s a way of exploring the relationship between physical properties, information and perception that are at work in the art of music.

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Kolapse Interview IV: Drescher und Wemmser

This is the fourth in a series of interviews with the Kolapse remixers. Kathy Melaas, a generous longtime listener very familiar with my music,  interviews German techno duo Drescher und Wemmser‘s Chris Herb and Alex Dowerk.

Photography (c) Valquire Veljkovic

Simply stated, I love music. I have absolutely no music education, zero talent at playing or singing, and listen solely as a fan, a music lover, a junkie. I listen not from a technical standpoint but from an emotional, visceral and cerebral place.

When Tobias Reber (composer, musician, performance artist, teacher – electronic, electroacoustic and algorithmic composition, and improvisation) invited me (music superfan girl, groupie, general geeky dork) if I’d be interested in interviewing some musicians regarding their use of his pieces from his Kola release, I said yes in a nanosecond. Then the panic set in. How in the world was I going to do this and not sound like a complete buffoon? The answer? The only way I could: honestly yet informally, driven from the heart, with my passion for the art form as my guide.

What follows below is the email conversation I had recently with Alexander Paul “Drescher” Dowerk and Christopher Jan “Wemmser” Herb, who record as Drescher und Wemmser.

Kathy: Greetings, gentlemen! Tobias asked me to listen to Schmierfett where you used samples from Maniok which is on his release, Kola. After listening to the two pieces back to back on repeat over the course of nearly two weeks, to be quite honest, I have absolutely no idea what segment of Maniok you may have sampled. Can you tell me about Schmierfett and Tobias’ influence upon it?

Chris: We used 2 samples from Maniok: The Gong/Taiko hit with added delay and the “Melody” at 1:30 reversed and processed. We used the original tempo (90bpm) but the kick is in quarter note triplets so it appears to be much faster (120bpm).

As for composition we used a pyramid shaped song structure so the middle of the song is the most intense, the beginning and end are more relaxed. We feel that this structural approach fits Tobias’ algorithmic composition style and it will work on the dance floor.

Kathy: Thank you for the explanation! You know that I listen not with a trained ear but with my head and heart. From Tobias’ Maniok, I get a feeling of anticipation, and anxiousness. A racing, stumbling heartbeat. Drumming of fingers on a table, or huge raindrops on a bucket ahead of a cloudburst storm. Unpredictable, but not. I appreciate the unexpected turns that Tobias’ Maniok takes. How it engages the brain, searching for a pattern, the mathematical formula. Schmierfett, on the other hand… POW! When the beat kicks in on your songs, it grabs hold and doesn’t relent. Visceral muscle memory. Rebar, sheet metal and welding goggles, baby! Intensity. Non-stop.  ZAP! Jacob’s ladder kajillion gigawatt jolt straight up the spine!    

Alex: Thanks a lot! We are indeed interested in composing songs and creating sounds that grab you from the first second or any other moment you encounter the song. Drescher und Wemmser is all about intense energy and brutal power. We get inspired by hearing massive machines, broken signals, misheard music and alien sounds. I guess it’s what you get if you put 2 prog metal guys in charge of creating electronic music.

What was it about Tobias’ Maniok that grabbed your attention? How did you take that and incorporate it into your own work?

Chris: We don’t necessarily take our favorite songs as a base, but a song that is a good source for samples. So we often times take a short phrase and start to play around with it: change tempo, pitch and reverse it until something interesting forms.

Alex: For me I thought that the erratic rhythm of the main “melody” gives us a good start to create something new. We soon moved into a different direction, but the initial spark was still important.

Alex, in another different direction, I know you and Tobias are Blast Unicorn together. Love the quirk and the humor there. Will there be more?

Yes, there will more Blast Unicorn in the future, but for when, I really can’t tell. In fact we already started with some ideas in 2015 and did plan to do an EP, but other projects received a higher priority. Also, our debut album Van Halo was a huge effort and pushed the limit in every regard. It’s truly boundary breaking music and requires a certain mindset. Currently I’m more interested in writing strong catchy songs in the genres of roughly EDM and Prog Metal than doing avant-garde music. But the unicorn never sleeps and ancient texts tell of its glorious return.

Fantastic news! What other projects have you collaborated on? What it is like working with Tobias?  

I love working with Tobias. We have been friends for more than ten years and share a lot of influences and favorites. Tobias has often been my connection to the academic world of music, in particular contemporary classical music. We also did a lot Touch Guitar practice and research together, both in private and the Touch Guitar Circle with Markus Reuter and Erik Emil Eskildsen.

Tobias often surprises me with a completely new perspective on sounds or compositional ideas. Things that seem clear for me where they should go suddenly get a turn and break into completely new ground. There is strong sense of trust in our collaboration. The trust that regardless of what we do, it will have a high quality. Whether it’s tightly composed pieces (Blast Unicorn) or completely free improvised music (Untight, together with Bernhard Wöstheinrich).

You can hear us both playing together on the following records, with Blast Unicorn being the purest of a Reber/Dowerk collaboration: Blast Unicorn’s Van Halo, Untight – Live at Theaterkapelle, and Troy Jones’ New Peace.

Chris? What have you done with Tobias? Impressions?

Tobias has mainly been my touch guitar and (algorithmic) composition teacher, but apart from the stuff he has taught me, I recently realized how much Kola influenced me how I think about rhythm and it inspired me to really get into percussion synthesis.

Can you tell me a bit about how the two of you, Chris and Alex, work together? How you create?

It’s great to work with Chris. He’s a fantastic sound engineer and we almost always share the same taste in music and things. We developed such an efficient work flow, that we can create something top notch sounding in a very short amount of time. Mostly we find or create a word for a song title and then discuss what haptical and auditive qualities that word has. This both inspires us and creates some restrictions, in which we can start to work.

I would say we work 75/25 together and remotely. When we are in the studio together, we have a very democratic way of working. When someone has an idea of how to progress in a piece, he takes over control of Ableton Live and just starts to compose or create sounds while the other one is commenting or just chilling on the couch, listening. This goes on for a while, until the other one feels inspired or has new ideas. Then we switch places, enabling the former “active” member to relax and get a new perspective on the song. We never look back on older versions of song, we just move forward. We know it will be great.

Thank you both for sharing your thoughts on all of this, and thank you for your music! I look forward to hearing more from all your collaborations.  

Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.


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Kolapse Interview III: Lärmheim

This is the third in a series of interviews with the Kolapse remixers. Cedric Theys, founder of Austin-based Mad Ducks Records,  interviews Swiss musician Henri de Saussure aka Lärmheim.

How do you know Tobias and what attracted you in doing a remix for Kolapse?

I met Tobias during my studies in Bern (CH) for a Bachelor’s Degree in Music and Media Arts, around 2012-2013. At the time, he was giving lectures and classes about generative composition and its integration with Max MSP. I was open to do a remix for him, as it challenged me with music originating from compositionnal methods far from most of what I’d done until that point. I tried to create some kind of drama with the track, while staying somewhat faithful to the original material.

What drew you to specifically remix Maniok?

To be honest, I’m not sure I remember – we had a choice of several tracks, and this one inspired me the most I guess!

Do you have any specific technique/approach that you used to remix Maniok? Is it something you use or have used for your own music?

I strive to create music revolving around a narrative, a development – would it be harmonically, rhythmically, sonically… or all of the above. When I listen to instrumental music, it is essential for me to hear it go from point A to point B, whatever they may be. It could sound very old-fashioned, but I still refer to a classical approach: introduction, development, resolution. It also helps me to define what should happen with the material I end up with, and to vaguely structure a piece.

Sonically, I amplified the rhythmic elements to give them a clear punch, I tried to give the material some soundstage and space, which would be occasionnally filled with effects, delays etc. The «identity» or aesthetic direction of the sounds is also very important to me; by carefully using saturation, filtering, modulation effects among others, I want to give the track some relatable attitude, if it makes sense!

How would you present music like Kola live if you had the opportunity? Is it a sensible idea to even try to do that?

We could decide to get stems of different tracks, and play some material live over them with synths/fx/controlers, or create new parts over existing tracks, split their material and combine it in unusual ways… Or have acoustic instruments reproduce and/or improvise over it. It could be fun!

What are you up to in your own musical world?

I’ll start a Master’s Degree in Event Management in 2017, which means I won’t be doing too much musically creative stuff. But in my free time, and without any kind of pressure, I’m working on ambient music. It is a radical departure from what I’ve done until now – I used to produce very demanding, distorted and aggressive electronic music. My wish is to make music to listen to while commuting, traveling, wherever. I traveled through Iceland last summer with some of my family, and you spend most of your time driving across immense, unaltered landscapes. I thought, «what kind of music would people be fine listening to while having this experience?». What I’m working on at the moment is also inspired by driving at night and urban landscapes. Hope that makes sense.

[Further reading: Tobias’ in-depth interview with Henri on Lärmheim’s debut album, Cent Soleils.]

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Kolapse Interview II: Kryshe

This is the second in a series of interviews with the Kolapse remixers. Dr. Arne Bense, musicologist and musician with Stil & Bense, interviews his former student Christian Grothe aka Kryshe – in German, their native tongue.

Photography (c) Liudmila Jeremies

Christian, erzähl’ kurz etwas über dich, du bist ausgebildeter Gitarrist, Produzent, Komponist, wie würdest du dich beschreiben?

Ich hab mich nie wirklich als Gitarrist gesehen, sondern habe die Gitarre eigentlich eher als einen Klanggeber benutzt, als Ausgangspunkt meiner Arbeit. Genau, wie ich meine Stimme benutze oder andere Instrumente, wobei ich die Gitarre am besten beherrsche, daher war sie zunächst meine Wahl als Klangerzeuger. Ich hatte dann irgendwann den Plan gefasst, Ambient Musik zu produzieren, wollte aber eigentlich nicht mit Ableton Live arbeiten, wobei das eigentlich schon zu der Zeit so gut wie alle gemacht haben. Die Ergebnisse waren dann immer etwas beliebig und es gab mir viel zu viele Möglichkeiten, so dass ich eigentlich keine wirkliche Verbindung zu diesen Sachen hatte, die ich da gemacht habe.

Du arbeitest viel mit Bodeneffektgeräten, so kleine, eigentlich triviale Klangeffekte. Das hatte mit dieser Reduzierung der Komplexität der Digital Audio Workstation zu tun?

Ja, schon, ich habe mir dann ein Live-Setup aufgebaut, mit einem Mischpult, externen Effekten, Drum-Computern, um erstmal Möglichkeiten zu reduzieren. Ich habe dann zwar auch Ableton Live benutzt, weil es schon komfortabel ist, habe die Software aber sozusagen eingeschränkt eingesetzt. Grundsätzlich arbeite ich von einer solchen Basis aus, auch für den Remix von Piñata.
Ich möchte also mit der Elektronik spielen und eine Soundwelt kreieren, bei der ich allerdings auch nicht immer weiß, was passiert. Wenn ich nichts mache, passiert nichts, aber ich wollte auch trotzdem ein ausreichend komplexes Setup, dass mich immer noch überraschen kann. Eine Welt, die ich zwar gestalte, aber die auch in der Lage ist, sich selbst weiterzuentwickeln. Teile der Effekte, die ich für den Remix von Piñata verwendet habe, funktionieren so. Die Software entscheidet an verschiedenen Stellen, wie die Signalkette aussieht. Wenn ich nichts hineingebe, passiert auch nichts. Eine Art Interaktion, Zusammenarbeit mit der Maschine, die mich dann auch überraschen kann.

Das Original ist ja sehr rhythmisch, nah und perkussiv, dein Remix ist flächig, rauschig, sehr dicht von der Textur her.

Meine Idee war schon, daraus eine drone-Komposition zu machen, aber nicht einfach durch das Hinzufügen irgendwelcher Flächensounds, sondern durch die Arbeit mit oder an den vorhandenen perkussiven rhythmischen Elementen des Originals. Der Remix besteht also aus veränderten Elementen des Originals.

Das heißt, es ist schon ein klassischer Remix in dem Sinne, dass du mit Audiomaterial aus dem Original gearbeitet hast. Du hast nicht mit MIDI-, Noteninformation oder ähnlichem gearbeitet, sondern mit konkret vorliegenden Klängen.

Genau, ich habe mir rausgeschnitten was ich interessant fand und das dann vielfach durch mein Effektsetup geschickt. Am Anfang hört man auch noch, dass es auch wirklich die Sounds aus der Vorlage sind, im weiteren Verlauf des Stückes, wenn die Effekte sich steigern sollten diese Sounds sich aber auflösen und gar nicht mehr hörbar sein, nur noch die drones, die aus diesen Sounds entstanden sind.

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Kolapse Interview I: Mathon

This is the first in a series of interviews with the Kolapse remixers. Juan Dahmen, composer, drummer and multiinstrumentalist from Spain, interviews Pete Leuenberger of Swiss electronic music collective, Mathon.

Juan: I read that there are three steady members: Thomas Augustiny, Roger Stucki and you, Pete Leuenberger, with different collaborators each time you reunite in Mathon. Was that the approach used for this remix?

Pete: The approach was not the normal working process we usually do when working on new music in a collaboration. After we got in contact with Tobias, we decided that Roger Stucki should take the lead on this remix, so Tobias sent the original audio files to Roger. Roger started to work with the files and did some sketches.

Did you consider Reber the collaborator this time, or did you count on someone else as well?

In this case Tobias was the collaborator, but as I mentioned, we normally do not work this way. But remixes are a different situation that creating new music from scratch.

Why did you choose to remix this piece, Piñata, and not others?

It fitted most. Roger and me received Tobias tracks individually and listened to them autonomously, and we both made a selection. We compared our notes and saw we both favoured Piñata.

How did you use the original material? Was there a clear goal from the beginning or is the remix a result of different experiments?

It’s a result of a series of experiments Roger did with cutting and rearranging the individual Piñata tracks, and adding new sounds and textures. At the end we didn’t wanted to go far away from the original. We wanted that the listener finds a connection to the original piece, so we stayed true the original definition by Eduardo Navas of remixing as creating a “the point of entry”.

Do you have specific roles in the band (rhythm, pads, fx) or do you choose as you feel?

Usually there are roles in a band or a collective. At the beginning of Mathon it was unclear and we did not want to get into predefined roles for each of us – but through the years we did, as a consequence of the collaboration and of the skills everyone has. Roger is the arranger, he has a feeling of where and how sounds needs to be placed. He reduces the stuff I arrange, cause I layer too much and it gets fat and sticky and he slicks it down, reduces it to the max. Thomas is more the special effects man – noises, field recordings are his favorites and he is good in getting out and catching sounds.  He finds a way to add them to our tracks in a manner similar to Lustmord. Mostly very dark and hidden. I think that is one of the special ingredients in Mathon. As for me, I’m more into generating soundscapes and other sound design.

How do you get such great pieces together? Is this done live with all members at the same time (and later editing) or is everyone adding something each round?

When we work together on our own music, we jam. Normally one of us brings a idea and explains a little where it comes from, the story behind it. Then we try and jam. We record the jams and listen to them later. Then we change instruments or sounds if we are not happy with something, and start to make a small arrangement. Then we perform this version again and record the tracks. Later home in the studio we do the fine tuning and mixing.

Do you give each other specific instructions or do things happen naturally?

It depends, we are all not very good atreceiving instructions or orders ;-). But sometimes it fits.

When working on a piece, what do you spend most of your time on?

Definitely the fine tuning. It can take us months to get to the finished version.

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Shedding the Question

Pico Iyer: What were you asking me, I’m sorry?

Paul Holdengräber: I have no idea.

That wonderful moment when roles blur and a stage interview becomes a deep exchange, opening up a space for intuitive action, participation and community. Not forgetting the question, but shedding the need for it. Music.

Two masters at work.

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Interview: Lärmheim

Henri de Saussure, who releases and performs under the name Lärmheim, is a composer and producer from Geneva. We both went to the same arts school in Bern but we studied at the Music and Media Arts department at different times, and I think we first met when I taught there in 2013. Lärmheim’s debut album, Cent Soleils, was released in October last year. I loved it and wanted to know more about the thoughts and processes behind the music, so I asked Henri to do an interview for this blog. What follows is an in depth conversation about a uniquely challenging and rewarding work. Listen to and purchase Cent Soleils here to hear what it’s about, and feel free to ask further questions in the comments or on Facebook. Enjoy! – Tobias

What are the origins of Cent Soleils?

Up until 2014, I had only released a few tracks and two EPs on Bandcamp, but they didn’t feel like proper releases to me. I had the desire to produce something whose content was, to me, sonically and aesthetically uniform, with the idea of a visual concept present from the very beginning of the project. I started to work on these tracks around September of 2014, and finished in February/March 2015, so everything was composed in a somewhat limited timeframe (I know, seven months can sound like a lot, but that includes the very first musical ideas and the final touches in the mixes, and I had a few other commitments). I knew I wanted it to exist in a physical form, and as I fortunately could afford it, the decision to release it both on CD and LP was made quite early on.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Just to get a general sense: How did the pieces on the album evolve? What were the starting points, and was the process similar for each piece or did it vary greatly?

Most pieces started with just a few key sounds or effects that I then expanded into compositions. In Deadeye for example, I only had the mellow piano part around 4 minutes in; it was lying around in a Cubase project for quite a long time, and I had no idea where I could use it. I felt it needed to be brought in by an intro, and then go somewhere else, to a totally different plateau, while keeping the same harmonic mood. I tried to process it through various plug-ins and effect chains, until I found that stomping, distorted sound. The synth melody then almost composed itself; I just let the track play and improvised until I found something I liked.

Video Game Soundtrack on the other hand began with just a few bars or arpeggiated synth over a broken drum loop, and I mainly used regular, tonal harmonic development to lead it forward. Everything else like variations in the drum pattern, layered synths and dance-music effects (filter sweeps etc.) were just ways of giving it a sense of constant development, that something slightly new but still familiar is happening, to avoid the “looped bar” feeling. The second part of the track (after the build-up) came in late in the process: it’s a kind of extended bridge section, which eventually resolves in a coda where the melody of the bridge and the first part are interweaved.

Basically, I couldn’t say I rigorously followed a single compositional approach – I tried to stay as open as possible, and find the most appropriate way to convey my idea of what the track should be like.

What role does improvisation play in your creative process?

A huge role, I should admit. For these pieces, I had a hard time composing “in my head”, with pre-determined structures. I spent a lot of time noodling around with plug-ins, effect boxes (I use a lot of guitar pedals) and hardware synthesizers. When I reached something interesting enough to make a piece out of, I would record it, and then see where it could go by varying the parameters, layering them etc. I also improvise with automation in the DAW, sometimes in precise, almost imperceptible degrees, things like panning, saturation, the amount of reverb… I like when sounds somehow float around in a given space, rather than leaving everything locked on the same parameter values for the whole track; I really try to avoid coldly looping stuff.

Tell me more about Deadeye. The sonic and dynamic palette on this piece ranges from pretty mellow to very harsh, and you’re mixing a lot of techniques as well. The same goes for many pieces on the album. How do you go about integrating such diverse sources and approaches?

I wanted to have some kind of epic piece with a distinctive dramatic development, almost like a mini electronic symphony. I know you’re familiar with what we call progressive rock, and I listened to a lot of Genesis, Pink Floyd and other related bands when I was a teenager: how they managed to combine a wide variety of moods and styles in an album and sometimes in a single piece has apparently deeply influenced me. What we could call the musical narrative plays a crucial role in Deadeye: When the track is over, I would like you to feel like you’ve been through a roller-coaster, a lucid dream or a kind of almost transcending experience.

As far as integrating diverse sources go, I just try and hear how it feels to me. With only a few exceptions, I don’t decide in advance what will or will not make its way into a track, it should be as open as possible, as long as I can keep it musically interesting and moving for me. Sometimes, I would struggle to determine where a track could go, how could I keep it captivating enough, and I would get stuck, writer’s block, chasing my own tail. When that happens, I usually try something which would feel at first musically inappropriate or unrelated, and more often than not, it helps me finish the track.

I’d like to add that a lot of what is produced in electronic music (especially by younger producers) suffers from what I’d call “fader paralysis”. A track stays at the same level the whole time, its elements sit there, grid-sequenced, like books on a shelf, and nothing really moves around or goes anywhere. Nothing happens between points A and B. This is something I really tried to stay away from: with automation, hardware peculiarities, non-quantized percussion, randomized midi parts etc.

Many of the pieces utilize sounds that are being detuned one way or another. Sometimes you’re detuning individual notes or sounds and sometimes whole tracks, is that correct? What interests you about that?

Most of the time, it comes from the tools I use: hardware has its non-linearities, its unpredictable reactions, which add a detuned or modulated feel to sounds. For example, on Deadeye and Streichgraben, the synth parts were recorded with the Polivoks, a vintage monosynth from the Soviet Union designed in the early 80s. Its knobs are clunky and inaccurate, but its filter screams like no plug-in could do and its tuning differs from a digital synth. I also use plug-in synths which I slightly detune, and sometimes pitch-shift large fragments of audio (for the glissandi-type pads on Werkstatt Cysp). I’m fond of the eerie, unstable feeling a small amount of detuning can give – it also feels more like an acoustic instrument’s minuscule tuning variations overtime. I’m not saying all electronic music has to be humanized at all, it just feels better to me when each bar is not a carbon copy of the previous one, especially when I’m using synths.

Are you using any particular scales or tunings, on Werkstatt Fulx for example?

I should first say that this piece mainly revolves around a drone which was processed a number of times through a Moog Delay pedal and distortion boxes, and then simply layered over itself a number of times. The detuned sounds are actually artefacts of the delay pedal, whose analog delay is based on the “bucket-brigade” principle and briefly changes pitch when it is modulated, a bit like tape-delays. By randomly modulating the delay, untempered pitches appear for a second until the analog chips readjust themselves. It’s a good example of how I try to musically use the idiosyncrasies of a specific piece of gear.


How did some of the noisier pieces emerge, like Trommelgraben or One Second Before the Most Blinding Light of All?

The first element I had for Trommelgraben was the extremely glitchy sounds you hear right at the beginning. These are actually simple acoustic drums samples, processed with a powerful delay/glitch plug-in called Bow Echo. Many parameters inside the plug-in can be randomly modulated: it would never produce the same result twice. I then designed a very heavy, almost alien kick sound, and further processed everything through delays, chorus-effects and other plug-ins, to give the track a thicker, deeper background. In retrospect, I think I tried to do something which would at the same time feel strongly periodic and rhythmic and also very chaotic, where each listen can reveal new details.

One Second… came from a piece I did during my Bachelor’s degree. I had recorded music from TV ads, edited it into a single audio track and processed it dramatically with a performance-oriented sampler, the Octatrack. What it sounds like would take ages to reproduce with plug-ins in a DAW, but the Octatrack allows on-the-fly control of many parameters at once, crossfade between sets of values etc. its sound engine is truly powerful.

I do get the impression that the track order was chosen very carefully. What was your approach here? Rumori Danza is similar in length to Deadeye. It too has harsh and tonal parts that interchange and merge. And while one is close to the beginning of the album, this is the ending piece. Was that a conscious decision?

To tell the truth, it wasn’t. I knew I wanted some kind of heavy-hitting track to close the album, but for me the two tracks are unrelated. The track order was indeed carefully chosen, as I wanted to have a good balance of noise, percussive moments and ambient moments across the album. I also paid attention to the dramatic effect between the end of one track and the start of the next one: how does the next track feel when it comes in? I also had to be careful about it for the vinyl pressing, as each side of an LP can only contain between 18 and 22 minutes of music until the sound quality gets poorer and quieter. For example, I couldn’t really have two consecutive 15-minute tracks or three 8-minute tracks on one side, so I did my best to foresee how long each track would be and in what order I should arrange them.

Also, Rumori Danza is fun and a little ironic, whereas Deadeye and, I would say, all other pieces are quite serene – was it important to you to end the album on such an exuberant vibe?

It was, yes. I wanted it to feel like an explosion of light – I hope that doesn’t sound too hippie! -, a bold move at the end of an album which is, I must admit, quite dark. To be honest, the thick drums and the pulsating 6/8 feel were a kind of tribute to one of my favorite bands, Tool. And especially their track Triad. When I listen to it now, I find it a bit too “rock” sounding !

I was in fact reminded of Tool when listening to and thinking about Cent Soleils. There’s something about the way you build up and release tension, but also the sudden shifts in intensity are reminiscent of their music. The track sequence too reminded me of the one on Tool’s 10 000 Days where there are two long pieces of the exact same length that separate three sections of three pieces – hence the above question about the sequencing. Now, I know you’ve also been influenced by other metal bands. As someone who has so far mostly released electronic music, what is the appeal of metal music to you, and in what ways does it inform your music making?

Metal was the first genre I discovered and listened to on my own, when I was 12-13 years old; an age where you usually start to develop your own tastes in music. I used to play drums a lot, and I was blown away by the intensity and energy metal drummers could deliver. I think this energy is still very present all across the album, albeit in a different form.

And in a broader sense: What other things do you consider as important influences, whether it be art or something else?

I could mention a documentary about Jiro Ono, the most acclaimed sushi master in the world, where he poetically describes how crucial every aspect of his art is to him: from the ingredients, to the way he treats them, to how precisely he will craft and then serve a piece of food to a customer. The quality of the result, for him, depends on a relentless attention to every possible detail of the process. I found that very inspiring.


Let’s talk about your use of techniques and tropes from a variety of musical styles. Streichgraben sounds like a kind of Proto-Drum’n’Bass, then in the middle of Video Game Soundtrack there’s what you could call a blast beat, right after a section with huge filter sweeps. In other places, such as the second half of Deadeye and on Faurmanter, you’re using side chain compression as a dominant tool. You clearly enjoy using those tropes, but you’re always only flirting with the cliché. Can you talk about that?

Exactly. I consciously use these effects in an almost exaggerated manner, but try to keep them to a point where they still serve the music; they shouldn’t sit there and be the wallpaper of your track, so to speak. Streichgraben actually consists of a drum kit in Kontakt triggered by a randomized arpeggiator; there is a constant flow of 16th notes, but never a repeating pattern. It has a huge amount of modulating effects all over the place, it has some Autechre feel in it, but I noticed this only quite a while after the track was finished to be honest!

Video Game Soundtrack is a track where I wanted to throw in many electronic dance-music clichés and push them to the point where it gets almost comical: filter sweeps, arpeggiated synths, epic drums, dramatic drops and cuts in the arrangement, and a grand finale where melodies and frantic drums collide. There’s a fine line between using a cliché as a way to highlight its omnipresence and using it because everyone is used to it. As you say, I enjoy doing that, but we should always ask ourselves: “am I doing this because it’s what the track really needs to shine, or because everyone does it and almost expects it?”.

Side-chain compression is to our decade what gated reverb was to the 80s – and when something constantly comes up like some kind of muscle reflex, regardless of the feel and intention of a track, maybe it’s time to ask why we really use it and settle down. On the other hand, when used lightly, it can be really helpful to keep a mix clean and bouncing, as elements dynamically interact with each other. I enjoyed using it in an extreme fashion to create drama, but I probably won’t use it as much in my next productions. Too much of a good thing, as they say…!

Related to the previous question: With the piano ending of the album I can’t help but be reminded of Apex Twin’s – the final pieces on Syro, and other pieces as well. The kind of harmonic vamp you utilize on Fourmanter made me think of Amon Tobin, and the extreme side-chaining of people like Ben Frost who also push that technique off the dancefloor and into more abstract territory. Yet you’re blending that into a unique, more bruitist overall sound. Am I over-interpreting there or are those conscious hommages to some of your influences?

You are right on point. Many, many elements on this album are my personal interpretations of specific aspects of electronic music production. I tried to combine them and make them work inside unconventional music, somehow. The idea, most of the time, was to avoid sounding too blatantly like something I knew, while retaining enough similarities and references to known artists in order for people who are into this kind of stuff to find it likeable. It’s always difficult to be one’s own judge, but I think I reached my goal. It was also, when I think about it, probably a way to get these tropes (as you named them earlier) or influences “out of my system”; like writing down some thoughts can liberate you from them.

I know you are composing in a variety of styles. Is the direction you’ve taken with Cent Soleils one that you’re going to be exploring further?

I will probably continue to use improvisation and hardware effects a lot, but I’m already vaguely thinking about my next solo effort and I would like to really compose tracks in advance this time. Cent Soleils contains various flavors of distortion, and I’d like to distance myself from that for a while, or at least only have in the background, far behind – the next release will likely be mellower, slower, a lot less aggressive. But it should still feel huge and awe-inspiring, like meditating inside a cathedral floating in space. I also wish to work with real acoustic environments, like playing synths through speakers in big rooms, recording the sound and process the result, a bit similar to echo chambers you can hear on albums of the 50s and 60s.

As this album has many chaotic, purely noisy moments, I’d like to use a more conventional approach and allow myself more moments of regular, tonal harmony for the next. At the same time, I’m beginning to experiment with everyday objects and foley, like recording the crackling sound of a paper bag and slowing it down 1000% with Cubase’s “tape” time-stretch: it sounds like icebergs collapsing. This is the kind of stuff I will most likely work with in the future.

What are things you’ve learned in the making of this album? In what ways has it made you progress?

I’d say it showed me that creativity is, as far as I’m concerned, absolutely not linear. There were moments where I’d be extremely productive for three days, and then do almost nothing new for two weeks, which would get me frustrated. I would also work 15-20 hours on a track, then decide it’s not good enough for the album, and put it aside (but I never erase or destroy what I do – it can always come in handy later on), ending up feeling like I wasted my time. Although it doesn’t happen that often, I accept this as part of the creative process for now. But I know that the more I do, the more confident I’ll feel, and the more I’ll be able to feel in advance where a specific work should go.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share these insights. Are there any aspects of the album that we haven’t touched on that you’d like to discuss?

I would just take this opportunity to mention and thank Pierre-Emmanuel Fehr, the photographer I worked with for the cover art. We quickly found a common artistic ground and the result is exactly what I was looking for. Also, thank you for the interview!


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