The studio seems very ergonomically designed… you seem to know your own workflow very well…
“Yeah, I do… [ laughs] after all these years! When I switched to hardware sequencing instead of playing it into the computer and at the same time, switched to five rows of patchbays, it was a lot of mathematics and I wondered how I’d ever deal with it all! The guy who helped me set it up is a real troubleshooter so there was almost a year of changing things around and experimenting until we got the final layout that works for me. When you’re confident with that then it’s worth keeping.”
You have so many different jumping-off points in your set-up, how do you decide what to start using on a project?
“It can change on the fly. I might have an image of a bass sound in my head so I’ll try to create it but maybe not quite get it so I’ll switch to another synth. My main thing is deciding what the basic rhythm is going to be and getting the percussive elements right and then I’ll come up with the melody. That can be making a string sound or bleeps and basslines. Of course, I have favourites… when I finally got my Memorymoog that was the synth to go to but I know with certain things I maybe need a more stable synth. So, if I need a square sound bassline I’ll go to the Waldorf Pulse as I know I can get it quickly there. It kind of all depends on where I feel the track is going, if that makes sense.”
FM assume you must have a serious amount of maintenance to keep the older hardware working at its best…
“I recently had a lot done. I didn’t used to be into taking good care of my synths in the beginning so, when I finally had the financial means to have everything cleaned and tuned I found a guy at Xtended in Berlin who is really nice and good too. So, I started taking things in one by one and it made me realise that that is what you must do as part of owning a hardware studio. You should put a lot of maintenance into looking after everything.
“I finally decided to have an extra function put on my 808 so I can switch from the original 808 to a MIDI-fied 808 without losing proper swing. It makes it more convenient for me to program it on my Cirklon. As soon as you get serious about your studio then you realise that it’s important to make it happen in a way that works for you and not really giving too much of a fuck about what other people say about certain bits of equipment.”
How do you take this album out live? Will much/any of the vintage hardware go out of the studio with you?
“I’ve only done one performance so far, for the release of the album, and I just took the basic stems and used a controller and lots of effects to jam it out a bit more. I’m not sure if I’m going to tour this album… I think I will but it needs a good environment to communicate with the crowd so I’ve kept it a bit low key until I decide just what I want to do.
“This type of music asks for a lot of improv so I’m considering taking a hardware sequencer out on the road. I want it to be very hands-on with a few select machines as I don’t want to take too many things out of the studio as it would be a bit of a nightmare! I’ve gone on the road with hardware in the past and it does break down. These old machines are very sensitive and people at airports don’t always appreciate what you’re carrying.
“This album is all about modulation; it constantly changes. Even the drums are constantly changing and there aren’t any sounds that repeat themselves for seven minutes. So, to bring this album out to a live audience I have to work out ‘how
do I communicate in the proper way’. I’m going to dive into it in 2018.”
How do you manage to balance your various roles of label manager, DJ and artist?
“Because it’s all about music it is one thing and it’s all connected. What I’ve learned over the last three years is that I’d rather separate DJing from making music because when I’m in the studio and I know I’m going to have to go on the road a lot, I feel the pressure of having to leave the studio. If I did a full weekend of DJing then I’d take the Monday off which would only leave me Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to produce… even though, by Thursday, I’ll already have someone breathing down my neck saying I need to pack my records and get on the road Friday.
“What I’ve done the past couple of years, especially with this new album, is to take bigger periods of time off where I’m not touring and not leaving Berlin and I’m at home concentrating on making music. That really clears my mind and I’m able to devote myself to studio time. I guess it’s more like how a band would do it – to write an album in the studio, then tour it and when the tour’s over I’m going to go back in the studio. That works for me as I take DJing very seriously but I also take making music in the studio very seriously.”
And all your various record labels…?
“Yeah, you do need a day per week to get the labels running and I do all that on my own. I haven’t got anybody who does that for me but I run a non-promo policy so, basically, when the release comes out I don’t send the files to anyone… it doesn’t go to the press. It’s just there for the lovers, really. They see the physical product in the record shops and they know that two weeks later the files are going to be there so it’s all pretty manageable. It would be nice to have someone helping… [ laughs] but I can’t lose control of cooking in my own kitchen!”
Something FM often ask artists (very possibly out of a vested personal interest) is what is the secret to knowing when something you’re working on is finished?
“It’s interesting you’re asking this as when I was starting to make music, around 2000/2002, I could never finish anything. So, there was a long time of me throwing things straight into the bin. When I started to write my second album I knew that there needed to be less pressure so what I did was I started to do a ‘two jams a day’ principle. So, I’d go into the studio in the morning, do a jam and make a good foundation for a track, which I’d then multi-track into the computer and record everything… dry signal, effects tracks, seven minutes of tweaking how I thought it could be developed. It’s like you’re practising the track but you’re recording everything into the computer then I’d lock it away after a while, go for lunch then do a second jam and not touch it. Then, the next day, do the same thing until, after a week, you’re listening back to what you’ve done and because you haven’t really overheard it you have a fresh take on what you’ve done. Working like this, taking a week or even two away from something new then listening to it back, instantly lets me decide what sounds great and what doesn’t work at all. If something was good I’d write down what it needed, maybe a bassline or a little bit of extra drumming. I’d then do another session with the track, again multi-tracking everything back into the computer and then, when I felt like I’d got everything I need and I was starting to edit the arrangement of all the audio files then it would begin to feel finished.”
That makes a lot of sense…
“At some point you need to overcome your fear and I had a massive fear of arranging a track… ‘I don’t know how to do this’ or ‘it sounds like shit’. Until the ice breaks and the water pours out and you realise that this is how it works! For me, to create a certain distance and not go insane working on the same loop for days I would record it, finish the session then go back to it. It’s such a good system.”
Did the wonderful Cease To Exist that closes the album come to fruition that way?
“[ laughs] Well, some tracks do take the piss because they’re so difficult to mix. So, if I listen to it now there are lots of little bits I wish I’d done differently on it. Out of ten tracks there are usually about three tracks where you wish you’d done something differently but, I guess, that’s a normal critical state of mind.”
want to know more? World Of The Waking State is out now on Ostgut Ton. Check out http://ostgut.de/label/record/201 for regular updates.