Interview: Expressive drones from the other side, with Rafael Anton Irisarri

 
 

 A cross-country move can be unsettling, let alone a move that follows the unfortunate theft of an entire studio. It's enough to make anyone pack-up again, give-up even. But then there are some who use it to channel energy to be even more creative; who use it as an opportunity for deeper expression. 

Not only did Rafael finish up a festival on the other side of the country during this turbulent time, he's been quick to jump back in the studio and put his emotions to good use. A Fragile Geography is Rafael's latest full-length under the RAI moniker and his third for Lawrence English's Room 40 label; after his 2010 release The North Bend, and 2013's sublime, The Unintentional Sea

A Fragile Geography is a personal tribute to Raf's torment over the past few years, and when such emotion is channelled into ambient or drone music, it's often a daunting, heavily-drenched, noise affair. But you should know by now that RAI is a master of sound manipulation, and channeling this type of emotion is his craft. With pure intensity, comes fragility. With a wall of noise comes waterfalls of color. With detailed field recordings, comes subtle storylines. 

Empire Systems is the apex of the albums intensity, a heart-crushing crescendo that powers and rattles through your head as the minute details, static and textures bounce from sine to sine. Hiatus, channels a feeling of displacement, discern and uncomfortable ground. Persistence glimmers with hope across softly degrading melodies. Secretly Wishing For Rain, a love song from the depths of falling mountains, grey clouds and a deep haze. Some people need lyrics to convey emotion, and some just need a guitar, the patience and skill for manipulation, and the ear for fine-tuning acoustics. 

With such a momentous return and a story behind it, I sent a few questions Rafael's way to get to know a little more about the album, his approach and what inspired such sounds.

 
 

Hey Raf, how’s the new studio treating you? Is it finally complete or are you looking to improve it still?

RAI: It's going really well, thanks for asking! Very busy these days, working on tons of projects- from mastering for several labels on a regular basis to mixing and remixing other artists - all while trying to finish a new The Sight Below album. 14 hour days are becoming the norm around here. But that's a very good thing: busy means working, and working means not starving. Can't complain really!

In terms of adding/improving: there's always room for this area. A studio is never 100% “finished.” It's always in flux. I've gone through several iterations of my current setup, and I only opened for business back in February, so I've been changing things around every couple of months or so.

I still have a long list of gear to reacquire, as I've prioritize to more immediate mixing and mastering gear. Eventually I'd like to build a bigger room out here in the woods, just so that I can incorporate a lot of those composing aspects I used to have in my Seattle studio and be able to write music more effectively. A piano would be fantastic, I miss that part a lot.

 
 

How’s New York? A departure from your previous home, Seattle no doubt? I’m jealous you’re getting some defined seasons over there (being in LA now I’m missing it!) Do you see your new location inspiring your music going forward?

RAI: NY is a strange place. It's been quite the cultural adjustment. Finding descent coffee in the Northeast is quite challenging, for example. We were very spoiled in the Northwest (though I reckon LA has some seriously great places – lots of Seattle & Portland transplants there). My location at this very moment is rather nice. I live away from the city in a fairly wooded area, so it's very quiet and isolated in a nice way. When I first got here, it felt a bit strange going to bed at night and not hearing any city noises – we are constantly bombarded by it in urban environments. Out here, I can open a window in my studio, clap fairly loud and hear the reverberation carry through the forest. The scenery is rather beautiful, though I reckon the weather is horribly mercurial. I miss that even keel gloominess of the PNW weather.

Your new album, A Fragile Geography, is a personal affair by the sounds of it, no doubt influenced by your last two years and the difficult times you faced regarding the studio. I’m interested to know how your mood affects your music. Do you set out with these intentions to portray, or is it more on reflection that you start to see the experiences come to life in your music?

RAI: For the longest of time, music/s been a way to cope with my own frustrations and health issues. Depression can be a powerful ally when you channel it correctly. This new album is indeed a reflection of a period of my life. There's great beauty in sadness. One could say it mirrors the general anxiety we are currently living in the United States today. Some of my earlier works reflected on the notion of a decaying American dream. Almost 10 years later since my first release, and we are living in a very tense America, one where opportunities seem to be eroding more and more which each passing day. Sometimes I look at the world and the only sensible thing to do is make a bunch of noise and let it all out somehow.

Is your music always emotionally charged? The complexity behind your music would definitely make me assume so, but I also know you’re very much a scientist, as well as an artist (with regards to your studio, production, techniques etc). How do you balance the two? 

RAI: Yes, it's definitely driven by it when it comes to my own productions. Of course, when it comes to other people's music, then my focus is a clinical one. I'm doing technical work, creative still, but more focused on problem solving and making small improvements to the material I'm working on.

 
 

Whenever I listen to your music it sounds harmonious and refined, yet I can imagine given your guitar usage in much of your music, there’s some serious manipulations and tricks hidden behind what is a very simple end sound? Can you explain some of the processes or techniques used on the record? 

RAI: Yeah, there's a lot of different things going on the album. Lots of heavy processing of source material. For example, the very final piece on the album, “Secretly Wishing For Rain,” was a sketch I recorded in my Seattle studio early in 2014. Just a piano improv. Sometimes I would sit on the piano and just play, from the heart, no click track, no backing tracks, no specific tempo – just whatever I'd be feeling at the time and record it. Well, since I lost all my recordings, this one should have been lost along with the rest. I just happened to have recorded it as well on my phone's voice memo. So as I was transferring files into a new phone, I discovered it. I then took the source material, processed it in the studio here in NY and composed a piece with that source material. It was a very low quality recording, so it took some time to shape it into form. After I had written the piece, my friend Julia Kent played a few cello lines on top, which then I used as source material and created many layers with her playing, which ended on the final recorded version of the song.

Are there any surprise instruments or samples on the record which might not be distinguishable to the normal listener?

RAI: One of my favorite sounds on “Empire System” is a recording of one of the biggest organs in all of Europe. I was field recording in Cologne back in 2013 and captured a Catholic sung mass. As a recovering Catholic, it was fascinating to hear this familiar ritual in a completely foreign language, German in this case, and still be able to follow it (12 years a catholic school boy). Anyway, I took a section where the organ played solo and was playing very sustained notes, so I put in my sampler later on and used it as one of the layers.

 
 

I’m sure lots of people will be surprised just how much guitar and its many manipulations plays a central role in your productions. Why is that? 

RAI: I started to play guitar when I was a teenager. It's a very powerful instrument, very versatile – you can play very aggressive music, or very melodic music with it. It's punk, it's rock, it's classical, it's ambient, all in one. For the longest of time, I wanted my guitar to not sound like a guitar, but more like a synth – I can play it with a bow and get cello-like sounds from it, I can use some very light picks and a volume pedal and make it sound like some very nice Enoesque pads. As time has passed, and I've gotten older (and dumber), I've started to see the guitar in the same way one would see a module in an Eurorack – strictly a sound device. I can sound design with a guitar and a few effect pedals, record it, then load into a sampler and then continue processing in my laptop, to the point it is no longer recognizable as a guitar. It's become something else, something new, unique and very much my own. Where most people would see a limitation, I see endless sonic possibilities.

Are there any instruments you don’t play and wish you could master one day? 

RAI: I would have loved to be born with a velvety voice and be able to sing. The human voice is such a fascinating instrument.

Lawrence English mastered your album and helped on a few tracks. What’s the thought process behind getting someone else to master your record (when you’re fully capable to do so?)

RAI: This may come as a shock, but I NEVER master my own music. I relish having another person listen to it with fresh ears and opine, then have a conversation on HOW it should sound. Lawrence is somebody I trust, like his aesthetic and he knows my music very well. This is very important, possibly more important than any equipment. I wouldn't want the same person that worked on the latest EDM atrocity touching my work, no matter how good they might be as an engineer or how much gear they've got – without a real connection to the music, it means absolutely nothing. It's one of the reasons why I refuse to mix or master music I do not genuinely enjoy.

Are you still learning? If so, what or who is your inspiration? Is it just through self-experimentation or are you always seeking out further knowledge when it comes to production, mastering etc?

RAI. Of course, one should never stop learning and been inquisitive. I learn a lot from my peers, my colleagues, etc. In Seattle I had a huge community of people surrounding me, many artists, etc. Here, I was expecting to be VERY isolated when I moved out here, BUT, as it turned out, I'm extremely lucky: I live now close to two other amazing engineers, Dietrich Shonemann (who cut AFG to vinyl), and Taylor Deupree (who's also an amazing artist on his own right as well, as running the 12k label). We are always hanging and exchanging ideas, discussing, testing and comparing gear, or simply just chilling out. It's nice to have a community, even when you live in the middle of nowhere.

Outside of music, what else inspires you?

RAI: Visual art is always inspiring. I'm naturally drawn to minimalist painters, and as it turn out, I live now very close to the Dia: Beacon museum, which is absolutely amazing and awe inspiring. Beautiful building with possibly the largest collection of minimalist art in the world. I also find inspiration in films, books, and history.

You’re working on a secret ASIP  remix project at the moment, can you tell us how you approach remixes? Do you decide whether it’s an RAI/The Sight Below remix beforehand, or do you see what happens in the process? What defines the style?

RAI: Well, first and foremost, I must enjoy the music, or at the very least, find something, maybe if it's one element, that captivates my attention in order for me to commit to doing a remix. A remix, in my opinion, must hold the same weight as any other of my songs, sound just like any other of my own tracks, have that sonic footprint.

In regards to how I decide which musical persona: that's fairly simple, sometimes I hear something and just know, “oh, this would be a great little motif for a TSB” track. It's something that happens organically, so unless somebody actually requests a specific remix, I'll pretty much just let the process play out.

Speaking of remixes, your Unfurled Remix EP was a momentous occasion and I’m the proud owner of a copy. Can you tell us a little bit about how that was conceived and the decision to not make a digital download available?

RAI: Well, first off, thank you VERY much for the support and plonking down some serious dough for that, so much appreciated! The track itself was the last TSB song I produced at my studio in Seattle. When all this crap went down last year, Ghostly were the first people to call me up. They were like “What can we do to help?” I'll never forget, so grateful for that...Anyway, as we were discussing perks for the fundraiser they were doing, I thought this might be a good track to release and have some remixes, as I happened to have the stems for it on my laptop, possibly one of the very few things left. I asked a few friends/colleagues I like and they were all like, yeah, of course I'm on board. They all put some serious thought to it too, and all the tracks came out superb.

I really wanted to make it special and unique, so early own we decided not to make it available digitally or elsewhere, just on that specific vinyl. It's an ACTUAL Ghostly official release, with it's own catalog number, so it's canon. It's the rarest Ghostly release ever, with just 40 copies made. I'm very happy with how it came out and again, couldn't be more grateful to everyone involved in making this happen for me.

 
 

Who would you love to remix and how would you approach it? (past and present?)

RAI: From a technical standpoint: I'd love to get my hands on an original Phil Spector session or anything off the St. Pepper sessions. From a personal standpoint: I'd of course love to remix (or work in any capacity really) with Slowdive (above).

You’re a big fan of drone (#dronelife!) and seem to be amazingly knowledgable on the genre. How did you get into it?

RAI: Listening to drone music is like enjoying eating a pomegranate. You have to dig through, but it rewards in the end. It's a sonic ecosystem which requires a certain degree of time commitment – generally all things ambient aren't expressed necessarily as the usual 3 1/2 minute song. A truly acquired taste - usually only gained through a personal epiphany enabled by patience - it doesn't necessarily provide instant gratification to the casual listener.

 
 

What do you think makes a good drone record? Attention to detail? Melody? Depth? 

RAI: Ambient music is a deceptively simple style – it seems as if anyone can do it at home, therefore easy to dismiss as pedantic or amateurish. And that may be true to a certain extent – it's not hard to do at all from a few technical perspectives. The important part is not so much about the ease to make, the sound quality or the performance of the musician but rather the content itself: is it distinct? Is it expressive? Is it memorable? This is why X piece of music can be a masterpiece and Y or Z total rubbish. In my view, I find a piece like “Not Yet Remembered” by Harold Budd and Brian Eno memorable, significant and impactful. I can't say the same about most music heard on commercial radio, dance clubs or elsewhere over the last couple decades. Then again, it's all in the eye of the beholder...

For anyone new to this style, who would you recommend listening to?

RAI: I'd just say, browse through my curatorial CV on my website, www.irisarri.org. Anything I've book for Substrata Festival (2011 – 2015) is a good starting point – it's a diverse ecosystem of all things minimalistic and gorgeous.

A Fragile Geography is available now on Bandcamp in digital and vinyl formats.

~

Listen to Rafael's contribution to Markus Guentner's upcoming album, Theia, below.

 
 

Interview: Amigas, Soundtracks and remastering with Carbon Based Lifeforms

 
 

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?

Carbon Based Lifeforms: That would probably be Elite or Syndicate :)

 
 

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?

Carbon Based Lifeforms: A cross between Tron (1982) and Mullholland Drive maybe? :)

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)

 

Thore Pfeiffer - Im Blickfeld

 
 

Thore Pfeiffer landed unexpectedly earlier this year with two tracks on Kompakt's 2015 edition of Pop Ambient. It's a compilation that has on many occasions, ended up being the first step into the ambient 'mainstream' for artists such as Leandro Fresco, Markus Guentner and even Donnacha Costello. Seeing Thore's name on this years edition mean't only one thing - Mr Wolfgang Voigt had found a new ambient prodigy to help spearhead the already infamous compilation series. 

Following 2015's Pop Ambient compilation, Kompakt announced that the series would be getting its very own artist album releases. Leandro Fresco kicked things off with a stunning sound that we've loved since his first appearance in 2003 and now it's the turn of Thore Pfeiffer.

Im Blickfeld spans 11-tracks of gentle loop-based melodies that softly roll, tease and lull you closer to Thore's delicate and intricate touch. There's an immediate resonance with most Pop Ambient material that seems to play on this type of approach - it's Kompakt's trademark sound after-all, yet Thore has induced a gentle swirl of folk simplicity compared to previous executions.

The opening track, Allzu Nah, is perhaps the finest example and differentiator from previous Pop Ambient sound. Like watching a black-and-white film of a country fairground, that stalls, stops, and injects new faces in an almost playful yet haunting manner. 

Was Ihr Wolt seems to book-end Thore's gentle approach at the start of the album, with a consistent alluring pulse, backed by subtle keys and a slowly emerging high-pitched detail. This track sets up the second section of the album which goes on to focus more on guitar and strings, with Nirgwendo providing the most energy out of the bunch, akin to a dimly lit moment from an 80's film-score, only to then twist into a more avant-garde approach on Kolibri - where plucked strings take center stage. 

 
 

The final third of the album then descends into much warmer territory with Ebene - the stand-out track for me, featuring dark, driving swathes of color, transitioning into Falke - a beautiful airy filtered track that immediately revives the more recognized Pop Ambient sound.

Finishing on the fifteen-minute long Gipfel, the looping strings play ode to the addictive simplicity we find throughout the album. Thore's embrace of the Pop Ambient sound is clear to hear, but after years of tinkering from scratch, he's found a perfectly balanced palette that focuses purely on the distinct Pop Ambient sound. His relatively new approach to music production has perhaps, enabled him to focus on the quality and confidence of his approach instead of complicating, layering and diluting years of work. 

Im Blickfeld is available now on Kompakt.

I had the chance to shoot Thore a few questions below to get to know a bit more about how he came to be, and his approach to production. 

 

~

ASIP: Hi Thore, what are you up to right now?

TP: I'm at home resting in my living room and sure enough,  pleased to answer your questions.

ASIP: How did your relationship with Kompkat come about?

TP: I had conventionally sent a demo to Kompakt. After a while, I had already stopped anticipating an answer then there was an email of Wolfgang Voigt and he asked me if I wanted to be featured on the next Pop Ambient compilation. Of course I said yes.

ASIP: There’s hope for us all! How did you begin producing music?

TP: At the very beginning, Thomas Gwosdz taught me everything I needed to know to make my first steps in producing. Everything further came by self-education.

ASIP: And what or who introduced you to ambient music specifically?

TP: In the Nineties I listened a lot of projects like "GAS","Biosphere" and others. Later on Thomas Gwosdz introduced me to the first Pop Ambient sampler. This stuff really fascinated me and got me hooked. From then on I knew it was this kind of music I wanted to make.

ASIP: So where did you go from there? Has this been your focus since the 90’s?

TP: I am open to all kinds of music and always looking for new styles and sounds. I tend to get bored if I would just concentrate on one music genre.                                                                                 

ASIP: You say that old-skool hip hop and rap were one of your first forays into music - do you still like that kind of music today?      

TP: Yes, right, I still like to listen to old material every once in a while. The more recent stuff is not my cup of tea to be honest. I don’t really follow today’s Rap/Hip Hop scene. The last Rap record I bought was “Hotsaucecommiteeparttwo" by the Beastie Boys which I still like a lot.

ASIP: How would you describe your approach to music production?

TP: Almost every time a sample is the initial point of a new track. I experiment with it and manipulate it until I am satisfied with the result. Next I continue to gather further sounds around the sample.

Recently I use Ableton Live 9, FL Studio, Korg Electribe A and some acoustic instruments such as a Chinese flute. Sometimes when I am abroad I record all sorts of sounds with a mobile recording device.  

ASIP: The album sounds like it features lots of instruments - especially strings. Are they played live?

TP: Most of the material I used on the album consists of samples of ethnical/world music, German "Volksmusik" and classical music. Every once in a while I use Korg Electribe, as well as some field recordings.

ASIP:  “Volksmusik” – can you give us an introduction to this type of music?

TP: It’s a traditional German music with a very unique sound, featuring instruments like the Tuba, Accordion and the Zither. It’s the tone of the instruments which resonates with me rather than the music itself. 

ASIP: I sense elements of "The Orb’s Okie Dokie It’s The Orb On Kompakt” on your album, or at the very least, some Thomas Fehlmann in there… where they an influence on this album at all?  

TP: Funny and interesting question! But no, The Orb album and the stuff by Fehlmann did not influence me, at least not knowingly ;-) But these records are in my shelf and I like them a lot.

ASIP: What are some of your favourite records?

TP: There are several records such as: "The Cure - Disintegration, NIN - The Downward Spiral, Depeche Mode - Violator, Grandmaster Flash - The Message and Elvis Presley - That's The Way It Is" All my records were an important part of my early life.

ASIP: So what inspired the album? You reference art and painting as a big part of your approach - can you tell us a bit more about that?

TP: The total package of a record is very important to me. Music and cover art need to match, it needs to be one piece. While I was producing the recent album, pictures of landscapes flashed upon my inner eye, a hunter on a stand, having his eye on everything. Hence the title  “Im Blickfeld” i.e.  “Field Of Vision”. There’s definitely some sort of interplay of music and pictures within my head whilst producing.

ASIP: What did you have in-mind when producing the individual tracks on the album? Do they represent an approach similar to the artwork?

TP: A movie was running through my brain while producing the track “Kolibri” for example. I saw the bird flying from one blossom to the next looking for nectar. Very quickly it became clear that “Kolibri” would be the name of the track.

ASIP: What do you do outside of music to relax or escape?

TP: I am a passionate amateur chef. I love to prepare delicate food with fresh ingredients. Cooking always has a terrifically relaxing effect on me. It is as remedial to me as music. Plus, on sunny days I love to ease off at the Rhine riverbank having a couple of beers.

Interview: Gear, Berlin, Greece and Tomato Soup, with Arovane & Hior Chronik

 
 

ASIPV003 is just around the corner, marking the label's first artist release. A big moment for us, and one that we've chosen two very special producers for.

Uwe Zahn aka Arovane and Hior Chronik will present their album, In-between to the world this summer, so I decided to dig a little deeper into the story behind the duo, the album and the production process. You'll also find a couple of preview tracks from the album below...

 

 

ASIP: Hello Uwe, Hior. Where are you guys right now?

Uwe: I'm living in Zossen, a small city near Berlin. I decided to move away from Berlin at the end of 2013 to re-assemble my studio in a quiet, green environment. I'm currently working on a few different projects including an album collaboration with Porya Hatami, an electroacoustic piece for TXT Recordings and an album for Andrea Parker's Touchin' Bass label. 

HiorI don't have a base right now and I really enjoy it. I'm currently in Athens but I don't know for how long. I'm working on my next project with Noemi Bolojan called Yellow Leaves and I'll start preparing my next show in Athens where I'll be playing as support for Ben Frost (23rd) May. 


ASIP: Uwe, you're well known by many on ASIP, but Hior, some people reading may be new to you - can you give us a bit of background on yourself? 

Hior: Sure! I started experimenting with music about eight years ago. I wanted to discover things for myself not only as a listener, but as a maker. I never thought about it as a career, but the last 4 years of releases have come and gone, along with live shows and collaborations with artists I could've never imagined at first. Nowadays I survive by music and it's one of my biggest directions in life. I don't know about the future but I care about sharing my musical experiences along the way.


ASIP: How would you describe your style and approach to the music you've been producing?

 Hior: I'm not very good at describing music,  but I'd say I belong in the world of ambient and acoustic, new classical style. I always build my sounds around specific pictures or memories - our life is fractal and I believe music gives us the best description. 


ASIP: Uwe, we last spoke in 2013, around the time of your release Ve Palor, on n5MD. What have you been up to since?

Uwe: I've finished a couple of projects since that release; a sound pack for Ableton which was very interesting; it's called Spectral Textures and is made-up of field recordings and synthesized spectral sounds. I've also created a bunch of loops for Twisted Tools' Ultraloop Ensemble, a sample library for Soundmorph called Doom Drones and a sample pack for Zero-g. 


ASIP: How did this type of work come about? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? 

Uwe: It's something I've always done actually -  sounds define my musical work. The border between music production and sound design is blurring in my opinion. Designing sounds is my daily business and it pays the bills to sell sounds and instruments to these Library's.

I'm always in constant contact with people in the sound design domain and some of them ask me to design for a specific task or purpose. I talked to Christian from Ableton about the idea of building instruments based on field recordings and Spectral Sounds and Spectral Textures was born out of that.

 
I’ll never forget the feeling, listening back to our work, watching the foggy atmosphere together with Uwe.
— Hior Chronik
 

ASIP: How did you guys come together for the new album, 'In-between'?

Uwe: Hior stayed in Berlin at the end of 2013 and we met for some music sessions, improvising on sounds in my studio. It was a relaxed and inspiring atmosphere, so we decided to meet more often. We ended up finishing a really nice track and so the logical decision for us was to create an entire album. 

Hior: It was entirely unexpected and I never imagined I'd make an album with Arovane, but after our first song we decided to make many more after. I'll never forget the feeling listening back to our work, watching the foggy atmosphere together with Uwe.

 
 

ASIP: How long did it take to record the entire album?

Uwe: It started at my studio, and took a few months to finish. Hior traveled back to Greece during the winter of 2013/14 and so we swapped projects online. I sent Hior sounds to work on and he sent me back the project he would work on. He came up with the idea to integrate acoustic instruments which is where we invited Aaron Martin to play cello.  

Hior: We followed each other's movements only by heart, and the music dictated the logic. When I returned back to Athens I included more acoustic sounds, including my own, 
combining them with Uwe's progress.

 
When we started to experiment with sounds we said to each other, “let’s make some beautiful ambient music”.
— Hior Chronik
 
 
 

ASIP: Can you describe the process behind recording the album whilst you were in the studio together? 

Uwe: We both love to improvise and the whole album was based on improvisations. I'm more into keyboard playing than Hior,  so I played all the melodic tracks. I  purchased Ableton's push around that time and Hior played with the hardware controller.  We both continued to work on the mix after the recording sessions, taking parts out of the arrangement or inserting new field recordings. I programmed lots of sounds on Native Instruments' Absynth for the project, using found sounds, and field recordings played back with the Granular Oscillators. This helped achieve a very special sound,  combining the best of both worlds. 

ASIP: Was every track improvised? Did you set a vision for any of the tracks?

Hior: The vision was for the whole album and not for any individual track. It was mostly improvisation but in a very specific direction, with ambient music as the goal.

Each track is different-  a different kind of story.

Uwe: The musical direction of the tracks were characterized by our mood. All decisions happened during the sessions. It was a kind of silent communication between Hior and me.

 
 

ASIP: Did you both have a specific style in mind when you set out to make the album? Was it always meant to be an ambient album?

Hior: Yes we knew which direction to follow. When we started to experiment with sounds we said to each other, "lets make some beautiful ambient music". 

Uwe: It was a blank sheet of paper at the beginning. The idea to produce an ambient album grew with the many sessions we had. We both love all kinds of ambient music. During the brakes of the recording sessions, we made field recordings to integrate into the music. You can hear sounds recorded in the backyard to enhance the musical expression.

 
We had plenty of breaks during the sessions, listening to the music we’d recorded so far, drinking coffee and Hior, smoking a cigarette. This continual deep listening was a very important process for the album
— Arovane
 

ASIP: What gear did you use to produce the album? Any new techniques or equipment?

Uwe: We used hardware and software to create the album. Our DAW of choice was Ableton Live because it enabled us to swap projects, sounds and musical ideas. Hior and I are quite experienced with Live so we could develop our ideas pretty quickly. I also used the access Virus Indigo2 and the Virus TI for improvising some of the melodic parts, combined with software instruments like Absynth, Ableton's Sampler and the Granulator. We integrated field recordings spontaneously, like backyard sounds when we opened the windows, or granulated sounds of found objects.

HiorAs I said before, I work mainly in Ableton. I used some VST and plugins and my little Kaos pad - simple but in a complicated way. 

 Uwe: I remember one time Hior really wanted to create a more rhythmical track and the Akai MPC was the perfect instrument for it, so I threw in a bunch of drum and percussion sounds, which didn't really fit with the rest of the tracks on the album, so we reduced the sounds again and again to end up with a more minimal clicks'n cut track. 

 
 

ASIP: Hior, how was it working with Uwe and all his gear? How does it compare to your normal set-up?

Hior: At first I was amazed (and jealous!) I felt like a kid in a playground. But I also felt a little lost because I normally work in a very simple way. We didn't speak to each other during the entire recording process. Nothing at all. Only at the end when Uwe pressed the "stop recording" button, we would start to share our feelings by words. I really hope to do it all again.

ASIP: Did you play on anything new? What's Uwe's best piece of equipment?

Hior: Uwe has so much and I felt a little lost. If I had the time to experiment with everything one day that would be awesome. So I only ended up playing with his Virus synth and Push. That was enough for me.


ASIP: Uwe, what do you think is your most prized piece of equipment in the studio?

Uwe: It's hard to say because any instrument or software in my studio fulfils a certain purpose. I like my hardware synth's most. It's a pleasure to touch and tweak sounds on hardware. The Waldorf synth's are very well designed (by Axel Hartmann/Design Box) and produce sounds with a very specific character. The 'Q' is my synth' of choice regarding ease of operation. The Clavia Nord Modular G2 is no.1 regarding flexibility when programming sounds.

 
 

ASIP: Uwe, In-between is probably your first dedicated foray into ambient music - a departure for some from your more recognized style. Was it always something you wanted to do?

Uwe: I'm very into ambient music and I think there's a huge comeback for it in the last few years. Ambient music was always a part of my music and my tracks - if you listen to my music on my previous albums, Atol Scrap, Tides or Lilies for example. I always wanted to record a decidedly ambient album and I found a congenial partner in Hior to do that. It's definitely a new facet in my musical work beside my love for electroacoustic and acousmatic music. 

 
 

ASIP: Aaron Martin features on Cello on the track ‘Past Creates The Future’, how did this partnership come about?

Uwe: Hior suggested we integrate acoustic elements into our tracks. I remember that Aaron asked Hior to play over a track we were working on after Hior traveled back to Greece - right Hior? It was a very nice idea to involve Aaron in our project - I love the sound of a Cello and it blends nicely into that specific track.

Hior: Yeah…. I used his cello stems for our track because it was a perfect fit. Aaron is one of the guys I collaborate with for many of my solo works and I really admire his style.


ASIP: How did you come to choose the album title ‘In-between’? Was there a specific influence behind it?

Uwe: Personally it was a time I was 'in-between', back in 2013. I planned to move out from Berlin, I quit my part-time job in Berlin and committed as a freelance musician and sound designer. It was a significant period of change in my life and I felt 'in-between'.

Hior: Yes, it was Uwe's idea and I liked it because it also means many things for me. It represents everything that happened between Uwe and I since we first met 13 years ago - I was in-between Athens and Berlin all of these years. 

Whilst I was with Uwe in Berlin I was inspired;  the atmosphere, my friends, my life there. I've been going to Berlin for ten years now, so I'm a part of this city. Whilst we were recording, Berlin was on my mind and in my heart. When I came back to Athens, things changed a bit. I missed Berlin.

Outside of my life in Greece, I think Poland will be my next destination, just a few hours away from Berlin so that makes me happy. Traveling and love are the only things I really care about, and therefore it's a big influence on my music.


ASIP: How did you survive together in the studio? Any significant memories?

Uwe: We had plenty of breaks during the sessions, listening to the music we'd recorded so far, drinking coffee and Hior, smoking a cigarette. This continual deep listening was a very important process for the album - It was a kind of musical meditation for us. We had a lot of fun during the recording sessions, playing with sounds to push our musical ideas in different directions.

Hior:  I was in the mood to smoke a lot of cigarettes because I was really enjoying the moment. But Uwe only permitted me to smoke outside on the balcony, so I didn't smoke that much. And big thanks to him really, otherwise I would've smoked like crazy!

 
 

ASIP: How did you celebrate finishing the album?

Uwe: In my opinion there wasn't a concrete finish because we continued to work on new tracks. Hior came up with new ideas, and I'm working continuously on new music. We were happy with where we got to and decided to finish and look for a home for the album. Also, we couldn't celebrate that much because Hior was in Greece and I was busy with the move to Zossen. I promised Hior a Tomato Soup when he visits me next in Zossen!

ASIP: Home-made or Heinz Tomato soup? And please tell me you have Garlic Bread on the side?!

Uwe: Uwe's own Tomato soup, not Heinz! Home made with the best Tomatoes and ingredients! And yes, Garlic bread if that's what Hior wants!

Hior: Home made is always the best! I'm a garlic freak and as a Greek, I use garlic in pretty-much everything I make!  I think we will celebrate finishing the album next time we meet in a few months time.

ASIP: Here's an idea, can we please live-stream the next studio soup session?

Hior: I love this concept. We'll name a track Tomato Soup in the future!
Uwe: Nice idea! But I'll need Hior's support to prepare plenty of Tomato Soup for the listeners!

 
ASIP: Not sure I can finish on tomato soup (!) so one last question: who would be your dream partner in the studio next time?

Uwe: Hard to say, so many brilliant artists out there. Let me think... David Sylvian would be one of my fave' artists I would like to work with - his album, Uncommon Deities blew me away. 

HiorSo many indeed - difficult to say only one name. But the first name that comes out of my mind, would be Ben Frost… 

 

 

ASIPV003 Arovane & Hior Chronik - In-between, will be available on double-vinyl and digital this summer. Sign-up to our mailing list to hear it first.

arovane.bandcamp.com | Arovane.net

Soundcloud.com/HiorChronik

 
 

Interview: Iran, influences and the making of Shallow with Porya Hatami

Porya Hatami is up there with one of my greatest musical finds in 2013. He follows a long line of ambient producers that use field recordings and live sampling as the base of their work, but there is something especially inviting about his music. The Iran-based producer has a relatively young discography, but his keen ear and attention to detail have his tracks echoing trademarks of the most revered sound artists of our current decade. And where other artists aim to challenge the status quo, Hatami demonstrates restraint, leaving a much more accessible and emotional experience at the forefront.

His upcoming release for Baltimore’s Tench is a half-step away from his recent experiemental efforts. The 43-minute, 3-track, album presents a serene collection of sounds that enduce tranquility and peace of mind. Soft pads, fluttering chimes and recordings of flowing water create a zen-like enviornment that seems to conclude as nearly as quickly as it starts. I caught up with the producer to discuss the album, his homeland and what we can expect to hear from the budding music-maker this year.

“Shallow” is set to release on February 18thPre-oder the album on Tench.

 
 

For anyone discovering you the first time, tell us a bit about yourself and your musical background.

I was born in Sanandaj, Iran and that’s also where I grew up. I actually never had any formal musical training, other than a few piano lessons when I was 14. I’m pretty much self taught. I studied many different forms of music before starting to produce, but not until 2007 did I start experimenting with music making software.

Field samples seem to play an lead role in your music. Has it always been the goal to incorporate your environment into your work? Can you elaborate a bit more on your process?

Yes, my environment is a major source of inspiration. I’ve always felt it was a good idea to collect the sounds from the places that I write about. My process depends a lot on the project that I’m working on, but I usually start with a simple sound, it could be a recording of an instrument, a pad, a sound from a synth, or a field recording, then I start to build a track around it. I usually let my tracks sit for a few weeks, then I’ll go back to them and start working on them again. Usually the last phase of production is where I delete parts of the track to come up with the most minimal version possible, while still feeling true to the original concept.

You’re currently based in Sanandaj, Iran, a country not predominantly known for electronic music. Can you lend some insight into cultural life there and how that pertains to, or influences, your practice?

Sanandaj (Sine in Kurdish) is located in the Northern West side of Iran and is surrounded by mountains. There is a historic castle on one of the mountains that’s around 6000 years old. Having several hills spread over the city provides beautiful and unprecedented views from every point. We speak Kurdish and wear traditional Kurdish clothing.

There are so many forms of Folk music here, most of them are vocal-only, with simple rhythms, for example “Domana” and “Bartonana”. There are also some very  unique instruments, my favorites being the “Shemshal” and “Narma Nay”. My cultural background definitely affects me as an artist, but it’s mostly the nature and environment here that influence my music directly.

Where have your other musical influences come from?

My earliest influences were classical music, especially Richard Wagner, who I still listen to all the time. Then came jazz and blues, artists like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Pink Floyd also had a huge impact on me.

Later, I got into 20th century avant-garde music, Morton Feldman, Stockhausen, Milton Babbitt, I learned about John Cage and indeterminacy, the minimalism movement and artists like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Brian Eno, Harold Budd and William Basinski were a major source of inspiration too.

I ultimately discoverd more experimental music from Warp records, Kompakt and ~Scape. Jan Jelinek’s Loop Finding Jazz records, Taylor Deupree and 12k had a huge influence on my work today.

 
 

Your debut album was picked up by Canadian imprint Inner Ocean Records, re-mastered and released alongside a remix package featuring prominent sound artists, how did that project come about?

I was asked by 2 artists for the stems to remix some of the tracks on Land, which lead me to the idea of compiling a remix album. I decided to ask some of the artists that I knew and liked to join the project. Fortunately, they all agreed to contribute and that’s how the album came together.
Regarding Inner Ocean Records, I knew Cory was interested in releasing it because he was a fan of  the original album. We talked about it and he agreed to release the original album as well, I wasn’t happy with the first edition’s packaging, so it was a good opportunity to have it re-mastered and re-issued alongside the remix album.

Tell us a bit about your latest album Shallow, where it was recorded and how your relationship with Marc Ostermeir came to be.

“Shallow” was recorded last Spring/Summber in Sanandaj. I captured all the field recordings around the city and the idea of writing this album came from this fen in a small village near Sanandaj. I’ve spent so much time there with friends. I used to go to record the frogs , but didn’t end up using any of those recordings on this release.

When I finished the album i was looking for a label. I didn’t know Marc personally, but I knew his music and I knew the label well. I sent the album to Marc, he sat with the release for a couple of weeks and then let me know he was happy to release it. He’s a lovely gentleman, he did the mastering and artwork design for “Shallow” too.

Aside from your upcoming Tench release, what other projects do you have lined up this year?

I have 2 collaborative albums finished and ready to release, one with Lcoma (Liam Coleman) for Unknown Tone Records and the other with Lee Anthony Norris for Carpe Sonum. They’re both coming in the first half of 2014. I also have 2 solo albums this year, one is finished and will be release this May/June on Dronarivm and the other will come out on Time Released Sound around September/October. I also joined the collaborative project called The Angling Loser (Lee Anthony Norris, Sir Cliff ) and we may release something later this year. I’m also working on a 3 way collaboration with Darren Harper and (Josco) Gerry McDermott.

Visit his personal Bandcamp page.