Interview: Arovane: the return of the electronic architect

2013 has already been billed as the come-back year for electronic artists. Yes, Boards of Canada are back, but for those tuned-in to the early 00’s of electronica, you’ll also have noticed the absence of another one of the genre’s pioneers, Arovane.

Uwe Zahn’s releases date back to 1998, with the most notorious appearing on the infamous City Centre Offices label over ten years ago, home at the time to the likes of Ulrich Schnauss, Casino Versus Japan, Christian Kleine, Snd and Bitstream. Arovane’s distinctive melodic break-beat-laden electronica was the driving force of the genre for many years and his decision to stop making music in 2004 hit fans hard, with the last track on ‘Lillies’ becoming the swan song for Uwe’s signature sound.

Fast-forward nine years and Arovane is back. A couple of remixes for Ulrich Schnauss’ latest single ‘I Take Comfort In Your Ignorance’, a re-release of an EP and a brand-new album on n5MD called Ve Palor. I was lucky enough to ask Uwe a few questions on why he decided to say good bye and what he’s been up to all this time…

Welcome back Uwe!!! I’d like to start off by going back to the beginning. How and when did you begin producing music?

Thanks a lot! Everything started with some tape recorders, self constructed string instruments, microphones and a Casio keyboard. At around 15-16 years old, I was experimenting with sounds and tape manipulations. I placed microphones in rooms of a cellar to record specific reverbs and time shiftings. The Kraftwerk track ‘Autobahn‘ played on the radio at the time, and triggered my attention for synthesized sounds. I was blown away by that synthesized car sound with the doppler effect. I always felt like a scientist with a microscope, zooming into structures of sound. I used techniques of musique concrete, spliced tapes, played tapes backwards, manipulated the recorders and tapes technically to play loops.

A couple of years later I bought a Korg MS20 and a cheap analogue delay to record my first tracks. The next step was a digital synth with a superb, straightforward sequencer concept – the Ensoniq ESQ1. I never used a computer to sequence my tracks until the beginning of the year 2000. Currently i’m using a QY700 to ‘record’ my ideas, to play and to control my digital equipment. I run this hardware sequencer parallel to Ableton’s live 9.

How did your relationship with the legendary City Centre Office’s label begin?

Back in the mid’ 90’s I was listening to KISSFM radio in Berlin, consisting of many late night breakbeat shows. They encourage the listeners to send their music, so I sent some tracks on a DAT. A few days later i’ve got airplay and a call from Thaddi. He invited me to come to the studio for an interview. This started the ball rolling. I was looking for a label since 1991, after I moved from Munich to Berlin. Thaddi passed Sascha from Din records a tape with my tracks and the next step was the first EP, released in 1989.

Thaddi started his label (City Centre Offices) in 1999. He asked me to produce a 7″ vinyl to start the label, so we released Occer/Silicad. In 2000 CCO released Tides, which was a perfect counterpart to Atol Scrap, released on Din.


2003/2004 was obviously a big year for CCO (both a tough time and a great time for music). Ulrich’s rather good album, A Strangely Isolated Place was also released at the same time as ‘Lilies’. How was that period of time for you guys on the label?

Yes! it was a very busy period! Great music as well, like Ulrich’s album! There were a lot of remix requests and collaborations. I bought a Kyma system and built up my studio. Kazumi called me and I invited her to sing on my new production, Lilies. I got a lot of requests to play live, flew over to Japan to play live in Kyoto, Nagoya and Tokyo. There were concerts in France, Belgium, UK, USA… it was a fantastic period of time for me and for the music scene in Berlin.

Who else was inspiring you at around this time?

Hummm, I was listening to Bernard Parmegiani mainly, a lot of electroacoustic/ computer-acoustic music from around the world. But it was not only the music i’ve listened to at that time, it was a special, inspiring atmosphere, a network of creative people.

I’ve always wondered if you mean’t ‘Good bye forever’ with your last track on Lillies, or if it was a coincidence that you did indeed, say goodbye (for a very long time)?

How long is forever? Yes, I said ‘good bye’ for a long time and i’ve enjoyed that time to travel, meet people and to play music sometimes. The last track on Lilies sounds sentimental, but it was a new beginning for me in a way.


Was it an emotional good bye? And the big question, why?

It was a kind of ‘break’ in my life. I had a lot of (how do you say) ‘reversals'(?) in my life. That feeling, that you have to do something different? It wasn’t that emotional, it was a clear decision, but I love music, I love to produce music. This is my passion.

So what have you been up to for the past 9/10 years? Have you been producing, or did you just decide to pick up your tools and start again?

Well, I love to motorcycle. I traveled to the South of France on my motorbike. I ended up feeling drawn to that country and the people – it’s beautiful. Sometimes I played on my synthesizers back in Germany, but I wasn’t that inspired. I’d just program some sounds or listen to samples i’ve made. In 2012 I decided to produce new tracks. I’ve put out tonnes of DAT’s, listened back to them, and found Ve Palor, an album that was produced for Din. This, combined with freshly produced tracks sounded perfect for me, so I uploaded a track on Soundcloud and got some amazing feedback from the community.

And how did you end up going with n5MD to release Ve Palor?

Mike Cadoo (label owner) is wonderful. It’s a pleasure to work with him. He loves my music and I remember that first release on n5MD, theMD1. I told him about my idea to re-release the Cycliph EP and to release the album Ve Palor and everything worked out perfectly.

What can people expect from Ve Palor?

Classic Arovane music. It’s a kind of rewind back to the early 2000 years and a view to the future. I’m currently producing tracks for a new release in 2014 and I think you’ll be surprised by what’s in store with the new album.

Was it hard to get back into your classic style? Did you try anything different?

It wasn’t hard to get back into my style after that long period of time. I’m very into sound design, field recordings and manipulating sounds – dissecting sounds like a scientist with a microscope. I’ve finished a sample library for Zero-g with signature Arovane sounds. I’m in contact with lots of sound designers, and some very interesting and talented people to collaborate with on projects, as you’ll hear in some of the field recordings on Tides and Lilies. I’ll also be integrating this technique into my new productions. 


Does this have an influence on the obscure track titles in ‘Ve Palor’ and many of your other works?

A lot of people ask me that question. For me it is the easiest way to categorize my sounds, presets and tracks. I like to play with words. Sounds and tracks are unique and have their own characteristics. For example, some sounds, like ‘veed’ are soft, or ‘crk’, has a hard attack; bassy tracks like ‘boon’ or airy like ‘flirr’. I developed a unique system of nomenclature to categorize my sounds. It is more handy than numbers. 

Can you describe your studio set-up? Any favourite hardware? And what type of software do you use?

The ‘heart’ of my studio is the QY700 sequencer from Yamaha and my analogue Tascam mixing desk m2600. The Yamaha QY 700 is connected with my hardware synth’s and sampler. I’m using Waldorf synths like the Q and the microwave XT, Clavia Maschines like the Nordrack2 and the Nord modular G2, a Kawai k5000s, Access Indigo2 and TI2 synthesizers, EMU E4XT Ultra and e5000 Ultra sampler, outboard equipment like the TC Fireworx and the Alesis wedge. I’m recording in Ableton Live 9 and running a bunch of VST’s like Spectrumworx, Reaktor, Absynth, Aalto, GRM, Audio Spillage, MFM2, Zebra2, the machine from NI and the MPC Ren and studio.

n5MD are pressing your record to a lovely red vinyl edition. Are you a collector of vinyl?

A big yes! My favorites are a 7″ from CCO with Snd Loops and the Toytronic compilation – Neurokinetic on picture disk. Beautiful. (Gimmick – Wavefiles, below, taken from the compilation)


Are there any plans or wishes to play live soon? What would be your ideal live performance?

I would love to fly over to Japan again to perform. It was a very special experience for me, back in 2003. I will be playing live, 15th November 2013 in Dresden at Cynetart with Grischa Lichtenberger. I’m also planning a visual concept for my future concerts in collaboration with Akitoshi Mizutani.

Places are a big inspiration for this site, do they inspire you in any way?

Of course, places do inspire me. Tides and Lilies are good examples. ‘A secret’ is inspired by an old abandoned house I found near Caen. It was quite spooky to find old maps from 1918 and the horrible ghost of the first world war.

So if you were to produce a track based on a place, where would it be?

Hummmm, I don’t know. maybe a veeeery high tower to look over the world…

Arovane’s new album ‘Ve Palor’ is available to purchase now through n5MD in CD and Vinyl editions (with download). We’re also being treated to a very special isolatedmix from Uwe very soon.

Ve Palor tracklist

01. audiofragment
02. scrai-n
03. ve palor
04. scaabl
05. c ll lt
06. cleiy
07. ccale eqou
08. gniddt
09. leptr
10. deev
11. cae nij
12. foldt
gaed ventr (download bonus)
ioqu (download bonus)
vendt (download bonus)