Ron Schepper, November 2004

Where did your interest in drones originate?

I am probably more interested in sound as a phenomenon than in music as an abstract idea; also, I am fascinated by gradually evolving structures. For me, a pulsating, repetitive beat of a club track, the music of Steve Reich, a Thomas Koener soundscape, or distant urban traffic noises are all equal sources of inspiration and delight.

What musical effect are you trying to achieve with the material on Signal To Noise?
There is this idea of ambient music as something which is there, is pleasant but not cheesy, and changes a space sonically without occupying it completely; this idea is pretty appealing to me. In the case of Signal To Noise and especially in the case of the Studies for Thunder, I always enjoy the moment when it's over. Suddenly the room is empty again; there is this sense of space, and of peace in it.

I try to be emotional without using the usual musical techniques. There are two forces inside me: the evil one likes bad chord progressions, trashy string sounds with lots of reverb, and rave themes; the other one hates all that and wants to create meaningful, important, majestic music minus the kitsch. Signal to Noise stands pretty much for that conflict: the nice chords from the Yamaha synth against the seriousness of the concept.

Were you at all concerned that by releasing Signal To Noise you wouldn’t be further capitalizing on the broader audience you’ve amassed by the relatively more accessible Monolake recordings?
I had a big crash earlier this year. I was touring and working too much and I did not find time to relax or to listen to my inner voice. I had to stop an American tour because my ears went crazy and I was completely exhausted. When I came back to Berlin I realized that my distributor had gone insolvent and owed me all of the revenue from the last and successful album Momentum. At that point there was nothing to lose so I started doing what I felt was right and this turned out to be very liberating. So now I am working on the opposite kind of stuff, pretty dance floor-oriented Monolake tracks. I decided to release Signal To Noise under my own name as I wanted it to be separated from the Monolake project. I may continue this kind of separation, since I feel like doing more non-techno music in the future as well as more typical Monolake stuff.

How do you account for the drone’s durability as a musical style?
Eternal. It’s in the nature of the drone.

Are there existing drone artists that you have been recently listening to or admire?
While in San Francisco earlier this year I discovered a CD by Robert Rich, Calling down the Sky and, while his music in general is too esoteric for me, it was perfect for the emotional state I was in at that time. It always comes down to single pieces or special concert situations; concerts especially can be a fantastic way to perceive this kind of music. Often at festivals I listen to pieces which I did not know before and which I would not listen to at home but which I can enjoy in a different environment.

What drone-related experiences have you had outside of your own music?
A remarkably bad one in Berlin at the computer music conference 2000. A series of concerts which were all so extremely loud that it was no fun at all. Constant high volume can be extremely tedious. If ten drummers play like hell and they are working hard to achieve that physical impact, it is a completely different issue than a moron in front of his laptop killing the PA with a stupid Max Patch.

Is it correct to identify Signal To Noise as drone-related material? Would it be more accurate to call it ambient or do you see a big difference between drone and ambient ?
I tend to find myself comfortable in the middle; ambient might be too nice while drone might be too dark. But these definitions are only important for search engines and not for the listener.

It's interesting that you released Gobi. the desert as a Monolake release even though it's as drone-like as Signal To Noise. Was this simply because Gerhard Behles was still in the group at the time of the Gobi release?
Monolake is a project which has been re-defined several times, starting as a dub and Basic Channel-influenced duo, then a Robert Henke solo project, and now becoming a more open and potential collaborative idea. If Gobi were released today I would issue it under my real name.

Were you concerned that the thunder sounds (even though artificially created) would literalize Studies For Thunder to too great a degree and therefore ground it too concretely for the listener?
No, if I had a fantastic recording of a real thunder storm and it would work as well emotionally, I would also release it. The result is what is important. It could work especially well because it triggers emotions which are connected to real experiences of thunder.

The title piece is over half an hour in duration. How do you know when a given track should end?
I listen to it again and again and again. If I think a part is too long I make it shorter, if I think at the end that it could go on longer I try to make it longer. I do not look at the clock while doing so. The perceived time scale is different from the real clock anyway. The source material used in Gobi was created in two or three days. It took us more than three months to find the right excerpts and appropriate duration; we had ten-minute versions and two-hour versions.

Are you planning to present the album in a live context or is it intended for home listening exclusively?
I would absolutely love to present the material as a multi-channel performance where the audience is completely surrounded by sound. I am in contact with the MUTEK guys and hopefully it will work out for the next festival in Montreal in 2005.

Addendum September 2006: it worked out and this lead to the Studies for Thuder Live version of it.