Interview by Noah Pred, September 2003, for www.pitchadjust.com
How long have you been involved in technological music production?
I bought my first synthesizer 20 years ago.
A Roland Juno-6 which I still love.
What have some of your influences and inspirations been on this sometimes perilous path?
I have been discovering Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre and then I tried to get hold of every kind of electronic music I could find. This was back then mostly Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Yello, Depeche Mode... In 1990 I moved to Berlin and started getting interested in Techno and also spent lots of time listening to accademic computer music and contemporary music of the 20th century. Currently my iPod hosts a funny mixture of 'serious' music and electronic dance stuff.
Your music seems to be highly ordered, often posessing what I might call geometric qualities, but in the past, in particular with ambient projects such as Piercing Music, you've used random or stochastic methods of sound generation to acheive your results. What role does chaos play in your music?
I am a very chaotic person. But I do not like it and I am trying to find structure in order to avoid that chaos. At the same time I get very easily bored by repetition and by perfect order. My music pretty much reflect these two inner forces. I did write a big score on a huge piece of paper to get an overview of all random processes when I did compose Piercing Music
. For me chaos is exciting and order is desireable. I need both...
Piercing Music, your first solo album has recently been re-released on its 10-year anniversary. What prompted your decision to re-release this work?
The first release was only a few copies and it was sold out years ago. A few people have been asking me recently if the CD is still available. At some point I thought it indeed should be and that's why I made this re-release. I would not do the music the same way now but I still like it. It is a pretty essential part of my personal history.
Your new Monolake album is called Momentum - is this in some way a reference to the unprecedented technological development that seems to be such a huge influence on global culture right now?
No. I decided for the title because for me the album is pretty much dealing with issues of movement, of rhythm and with the acceleration of massive structures. Sure the inherent darkness and the almost neurotic beats in some pieces reflects the world we live in. It's not the time now to write 'nice' melodies. I could not make a record like Cinemascope
If so, do you view this momentum as a positive force? If not, what does Momentum refer to?
For me personally it is a liberating album since I wanted to draw a driving and techonid landscape and this worked out quite well. In this respect Momentum is positive. It has some power and a dark energy which is far away from beeing resignative. The cover reflects it pretty well I think. A red massive machinery. Not realy unfriendly but definitly not the one you would put on an lush, seductive ambient record. No outer space, no stylish blue...
The overall tone of your new LP seems considerably darker and edgier than your previous efforts, which have often maintained a farily meditative tone. Was the decision to explore this different type of headspace a conscious one?
I wanted to do something different. Every electronic composer nowadays seems to look for a way out of doing the same music again and again. For me it was not an option to add vocals or to do something with a big band. I am fascinated by computers and technology and I am far away from having explored everything I could do within this territory. I want to find my personal expression with these tools and I have just scratched the surface of something which can be much much deeper. I have to learn to master my stuff before doing something else. Momentum has new
moments because I was brave enough to explore to old
Is the slightly more claustrophobic atmosphere on Momentum a reflection of your personal life, or is it in some way a comment on the current state of world affairs?
My personal live has never been better but the world in general is a place which could make me cry every morning when I read the newspaper. I am so angry about what's going on and at the same time lost my illusions that one could change something or that there is any political system or ideology or any geographic point on this planet which can serve as a sign of hope. G. W. Bush is crazy, Berlusconi is crazy, right wing people all over this planet are crazy and I see no party or personality anywhere which could be powerful and intelligent enough to change something. It would be strange if the music would not reflect this.
Your music has always managed to straddle the often-challenging boundary between lush atmospheres and irresistible rhythms. Which is a greater influence on your creative process: the dancefloor or the headphones?
The dancing crowd is sexy. So is the city in the morning after the club. Both is structure and sound. The dancefloor gets exiting when a great moving beat starts sounding great and the soundscape catches my attention if it has an inner groove. The most amazing revolution in music the last decade is the ongoing interaction of club and computer music. Now you can play John Chowning along a club track and the pretty conservative accademic scene is gettting influenced by electronic music outside the universities.
As I understand it, in the past few years, your momentous work on Ableton's Live software has begun to compete fairly seriously with your music production time. Do you have a preference between the two vocations, or do you view them as equal but different creative outlets?
Music is what really matters for me. But since my tool of choice is the computer and I did spent so many years in creating my own software it is hard to clearly distinguish between composing music and software development. I only know that i am getting nervous if I have not done any music for months because I have only been writing software. But it is very rewarding to be part of a team which creates something which makes a lot of people really happy. As a software developer you get a different feedback from your customers. Sometimes it is strange... I mean that people like Hans Zimmer, Nine Inch Nails etc.. are using something I helped to create. They do not know my music I guess, but they are using tools which I have designed.
The Live software which you were instrumental in developing has enabled a new generation of electronic experimentalists to tour and perform with little more than a laptop. To me, this signals perhaps a general shift away from the turntables, which have so far been the primary icon for dance music culture. What has been the most exciting aspect about working with Ableton, and where do you see this type of technology heading?
I don't know how the role of the DJ / producer is changing over the next years nor do I have any clue about the musical development. I assume that there has to be more physical action when performing with a computer if it should have the same impact as watching a DJ.
A guy behind a loptop is kinda boring regardless of the music. But if there will be interfaces which allow for more physical expression this will change it. And Ableton will be part of this for sure. I am actually surprised how less the bigger sofftware companies pay attention towards the laptop people. Three years after the initial release of Live there is still nothing which comes even close to it when it comes to stage performance. The only companies which seem to have a real connection to this scene is Cycling74, Native Instruments, Propellerheads and Ableton.
You've been producing music with computers since the late 1980s, well before it was the industry standard, so I can imagine you've seen a lot of changes during that time. You were also one of the main figures in the Basic Channel/Chain Reaction gang which has proven so influential to minimal techno in the past decade. Do you feel that techno and related electronic music is still relevant, still moving forward? In other words, given your extensive experience, what's your perspective on the current state of electronic music?
Yes. T E C H N O. Music of the future. invented in the last millenium to stay forever. An idea which has been brought to this world cannot be undone. I see no revolution comming up and I do not need one. I believe more in evolution. The well tempered piano was invented and it took 200 years to play jazz on it. In 200 years from now people will still dance to a more or less steady rhythmical pulse and they will still enjoy harmonics, sound and melody. The computer will be so normal in every aspect of live including the creation of music that no one would even think of mention it. Probably there will be intelligent algorithms for the creation of background sound.
The big mass of music will not be done anymore by composers. It will be composed in realtime on your iPod while you listen to it. The iPod will have a button: I don`t like this. The algorithm will adjust. If you like techno and you own your iPod for a while you will get what you want. Composers will provide algorithms or their creations will be in a format which allows for infinite manipulations. The new Madonna album will be restricted enough so everyone can still hear that it is her but it will offer enough variations that you can play with it for years. People will judge music by the amount of creative output they can get from it.
[Note from february 2007: nonsense. Most people do not want to interact, they want finished products. R.H.]
As a live performer, you've toured throughout the world, most extensively in Europe and Asia. Where have you found your music best received, and how have these travel experiences influenced your work as an artist?
Touring is a good thing if you are a one man band sittng in front of a TFT. It provides the feedback one needs in order to judge the own work. A good concert is among the most exciting experiences one can have and even a bad one tells you things. To be confronted with other cultures and other ways of perception is also quite essential. Basically people are the same everywhere. But an audience that on a saturday night in one of the biggest clubs in Tokyo is willing to listen to a five minute excursion into sound and then completely freaks out when the beat comes back is something different from people in ... who come to me during performance and ask for "Something we can dance to ?!" But then I think that maybe this person was right and I should figure out how to make my kind of sounddesign plus the right beats...
Can you tell us about any of your upcoming projects, collaborations or tours?
I have lots of ideas and I hope I will find the time to realise them. On one side I would love to do a kind of Mix CD with all my techno pieces.
The other idea is the opposite: an ambient project which is about remixing material from some of my early heroes in a way which leaves nothing but a spray of sound. I will not go into details here since I only have an idea for some algorithm which basically does it by itself if I feed in the piece but I have not tested it yet and maybe the result sounds not as exiting as I hope it would. Then there is an extensive tour schedule including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada. And I do a project for the museum of modern art in Montreal and some installation in Switzerland and I have to work for Ableton and I do some remixes and the rest of my time I spend with my girlfriend. The next date with her is scheduled for March 16, 2005.