Carbon Based Lifeforms have been a big influence on me over the years and I stay close to their every move in a hope to hear another genre-defining, psychedelic ambient album. The duo's releases are few and far between considering how long Johannes Hedberg and Daniel Segerstad have been producing music, and we were lucky enough to get an exclusive production on our Europe Compilation recently (and even an isolatedmix). But, any news of another full-length soon has left their many fans crossing fingers in anticipation.
I recently caught up with Johannes and Daniel to see what they were up to, and whilst any new album might not be on the immediate horizon, the pair are busy in the studio remastering some of their classic albums for our listening pleasure. I also took the opportunity to get to know the duo a bit better and talk Amiga games, soundtracks, production techniques and Notch.
Hi guys, it’s been a while since we last spoke (2011!) I see that you’re busy remastering your albums?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: Yes, we decided to remaster the first three albums. Our aim was to get a more coherent sound between them. A lot happened between Hydroponic and Interloper, so we felt there was a lot of details waiting to be heard, especially on Hydroponic.
I'm sure your fans will be happy to have some of your albums on vinyl (me included). Why did you decide to remaster and press on vinyl?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: We've been wanting to release the albums on vinyl for a long time. Last year we were contacted by Blood Music, and we felt the time was right to do it. It's also a good new start for us as an independent band.
Did the support or encouragement of your fans help this decision?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: We got a lot of questions about vinyl from our fans over the years so when Blood music asked us it was a no-brainer.
How comes we haven't seen any of your previous albums on vinyl before? Was this mainly because Ultimae Records didn’t support vinyl? (I see they are, only now releasing some)
At the time we were releasing on Ultimae they were too busy to bother with vinyl releases and back then there wasn't that big of a demand for vinyl.
So some other labels will be helping out with the remastered releases. Can you tell us how that came about?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: Since we went independent, we were discussing doing vinyl releases ourselves and then Blood Music contacted us. Given their track record of really special releases we were immediately intrigued to work with them. Also we felt it would be interesting to work with a label that isn't not really deep into the electronic scene.
You’re also revisiting the artwork for the releases, who do you have on board to do this and why did you choose them?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: As we're aiming for a consistency between the albums sound wise we felt it was a great opportunity to update the graphics to reflect that notion.
We are working with Mattias Fredriksson who is an old friend and graphics/photography collaborator of ours. He's done a lot of stuff for us over the years. He also happens to make music, look out for a remix we did of his track "Snö på hisingen" on an upcoming compilation we're working on, release date tbd.
I always find artwork to be one of the most valuable, and time consuming pieces of a release - how much do you value packaging and artwork in your releases?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: For us the music is front line and center, however the packaging and graphics really help convey the mood we're aiming for, so in that sense it's really important. One of the really great things about vinyl releases are that the graphics can be really impressive.
Has the remastering process been painful? Can you tell us how you approached it and who is doing this for you?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: Yes!! It was hell for a while there :) especially Hydroponic. Since we did not do a proper job of exporting everything in a good format back in '02-'03 we had to get the old Cubase projects up and running which meant we had to spend way way way too much time tracking down really old plugins, most of which are not available anymore, so there was a lot of hunting the dark corners of the net.... and once we got everything up and running there was a lot of hours spent making sure the old plugins were doing what they were supposed to be doing.
Once we got everything up and running in Cubase we got the stems over to Vincent Villuis (Ultimae Studios) for mastering. We found some more bugs in the stems once we got the test masters back, but we sorted it out and Vince did a really awesome job with the tracks.
Getting the tracks ready for Hydroponic Garden was also a pain, especially MOS6581. Once we revisited the mastered files the first time, we realized that all the delays were missing...
What would you say is the biggest difference in your production technique now, versus back then? Has it changed much?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: We thought that we worked in pretty much the same way we’ve always done but we discovered during our remastering sessions, opening old projects from Hydroponic, that our method had changed significantly over the years. Back in the old days we relied heavily on effects such as delays and filters and we used a realtively small number of tracks and a lot simpler sounds. These days we tend to use much more complex sounds and a lot more of them.
I’m, intrigued to know more about your early work as Notch in the 90’s. Is it true you used the Amiga computer to produce?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: Yes, we started out using Trackers on the Amiga in '91 and switched to Fasttracker II on PC a few years later. Not long after that we started using MIDI. Notch was us two, and our friend Mikael Lindquist. We shared our first hardware equipment and moved the rig to one another every three months.
I loved the Amiga - what was your favorite game? Mine was either Cannon Fodder, Speedball or Chaos Engine!
Carbon Based Lifeforms: There were tons of cool games, some favs were Hired Guns, Stunt Car Racer, Battle Squadron and Silkworm. Great times :)
If Carbon Based Lifeforms could soundtrack an old Amiga game, what would it be?
Will there ever be more music as Notch?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: No that will probably never happen. That was a different constellation of people and a lot of what we did back then was just getting to know the machines and the processes of writing music. That being said, we’ll probably make tracks in the vein of that era but that will most certainly be done under different monickers…
You were at the front of MP3 sites back in the day, what’s your opinion on the evolution of these today? And what about the likes of Spotify - is it something you support?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: Being geeks we embrace the new technology. Thanks to mp3.com we were discovered by Ultimae. Thanks to Youtube our music is found by new people. We love Spotify, both as users and as musicians. Spotify is actually our top source of income.
You have quite a special following, so I'm not entirely surprised! Have you seen a decline in downloads or sales since Spotify, or has it always had a positive impact on your album sales as far as you know?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: If anything we’ve seen an increase. Spotify is a good source of income, providing you have a good deal with your label/distributor. We feel that a lot of the crap that spotify gets is because of old school record deals. If you just go through a good aggregator, such as record union, you get a very good percentage. The shares that labels tend to take from digital sales is really odd, especially for older releases, since they have basically no expenses for those kinds of distribution systems.
You mentioned in your 2011 interview that you hope to work with a singer in the future - is this Ester? Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: Yes, we work with two singers, Karin and Ester. Ester being our newest find. Both are very talented and we hope to work with them both in upcoming projects.
How do you incorporate singing into your (mostly instrumental) ambient music? Is it hard?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: We tend to use it like another synthesizer most of the times. It requires that you work with good talent that hears/sees things the way we do though.
The only album you’ve produced since 23 has been your soundtrack for Refuge. I would love to know how you approached this - how did you find the experience of writing a ‘score’?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: We were contacted by the director who gave us free reign, but of course with some input. Our take on it was to find a theme and to incorporate it in different moods. We used characters and chapters in the movie as basis. For the album we added more structure and sounds to make the tracks more interesting.
What would be your dream movie to score?
I noticed you recently posted a picture composing on a train! Is this a regular occurrence? Can you name any track you’ve made whilst on the move like this?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: hehe nope, first time:) That's Daniel trying to find time for music between work and family life:) Worked great though. The track is still an embryo, unnamed. A possible candidate for the new album.
It looks like you’re set to play/ have played a few festivals this year, Symbiosis Festival in September, Earthcore in November. How do you approach live set-ups for festivals? Will you do anything different?
Carbon Based Lifeforms: We have a very flexible setup in Ableton using two iPads running TouchOsc with several controllers for effects and other ways to manipulate tracks. We have several pages with tracks, controllers and additional samples, and the two iPads have the same setup. This way we can do pretty much whatever we want and follow the vibe of the crowd. No set sounds the same. We usually bring one TT-303 and a OP-1 for additional layers.
And so… will we see Twentythree on vinyl anytime soon?!!...
Carbon Based Lifeforms: We're focusing on Hydroponic, World Of Sleepers and Interloper for now. Depending on the outcome we might consider 23 :)
(Header photo by Aneta Hudzik)