Name: Almeeva aka Gregory Hoepffner
Current release: Almeeva's To All My Friends EP is out via Baciami Disques.
Equipment recommendations: As a piece of gear, I would recommend OTO Machine’s BOOM. It’s the most useful distortion / compressor you’ll ever find. Sounds great on pretty much everything, including full mixes.
And for software, you probably heard about them a hundred times, but really Soundtoys plugins are the deal. If I had to choose only one, I’d say the EchoBoy: by far the best delay plugin out there. It sounds great for basic stuff, and you can go really far with it if you want to.
If you enjoyed this interview with Almeeva and would like to stay up to date with his music, visit his official homepage. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
What was your first studio like?
It was a desktop PC, a couple of cheap monitors, some random pre-amps, some dynamic & static mics, an 8-track mixing board and one M-Audio Midi Keyboard. I was mostly recording indie bands at that time, so the room also had a drum kit, and guitar / bass amps. No sound treatment anywhere, it was basically my bedroom. Thank god for my dad for letting me make all that
How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
The main reason for learning about gear and uping the game was getting to record in a «real» old-school studio, and hearing how good things could actually sound. I realized how important is was to «hear» a room, to understand what you’re working with. It’s like a second pair of ears that filters everything, it’s the beginning of every sound. The third filter being the monitors.
Later, another studio where one of my bands made an album was a synth heaven, which introduced me to the world of analog synths. So if I combine these 2 experiences, I’d say my most important pieces of gear are my Focal Solo 6B monitors, and my Roland RS 202 and Sequential Circuits Pro-One synthesizers.
The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do go about you selecting it? How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?
Over the years I’ve tested a lot of plugins, samples, DAWs … and an important step is deleting everything that doesn’t immediately speak to you, and not fall into the trap of «oh I might use this later…». It has to bring an excitement right away, or else it’s just noise.
So every once in a while I’ll go over every sample/plugin I have, and quickly re-evalute them to narrow the list down a bit more each time. This way, as soon as I need for exemple a specific kick drum, there isn’t 20 folders filled with samples to explore, and within 2 minutes I can find the sound I have in mind.
Also both my desktop and laptop computers have a pretty small internal drive, so it’s a radical way to keep me from installing too many things. (laughs)
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
I personally prefer to have at least one or two physical instruments. It makes a big difference for me to be able to «play» with my hands, and not just with a trackpad on a screen. I would favor a poor quality instrument over a pristine plugin for composition.
When it comes to production, it’s a different mindset, it can become the opposite. I’ll have more fun with physical gear in a big room, that’s for sure. I tried the laptop & headphones a few times and it didn’t bring out creative things for me.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customized devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
It’s very important for me to record sounds with effects directly printed into the take, because that kind of «life» is hard to achieve afterwards. So most of my guitar and synth parts go through a series of effect pedals: reverb, pitch shifter, chorus, distortion … or sometimes if I lack a set of arms, I’ll send the pre-recorded take into the effects afterwards, and turn the knobs on that take.
It’s crucial for me to include moving hands in the process, otherwise I find the process and the results to be quite boring.
When it comes to controllers, any functioning keyboard will do, including the actual computer keyboard.
How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
I try to consider every sound outside the computer as pure audio: wether it’s a voice memo, a vocal take, a bass riff … I think of how I can shape or interact with any of these sources in the «real» world first (for exemple with a specific mic or pedal, or physically messing with the source), to make them a bit more personal. And then when they become digital files, it’s a matter making them fit into a specific vision.
The most obvious one would be to synchronise everything rhythmically, which is the first thing I would do on a DAW: editing, time-stretching and flexing. Refine the tones with EQs also. And then quickly try to write a song structure and see what works. All of these steps can happen within a few hours.
After that first version, I need to step back for at least a few days, forget as much a I can about the song. So when I listen to it again, I have the clearest opinion about what is working or not. If the song is interesting enough, then comes the process of refining it, which can take an infinite amount of time.
Taking an exemple from my latest EP, the song «Slowly Fading» was originally an entirely different track, in which I only kept the vocals, and rebuilt a new track from scratch around them, taking bits and pieces from other un-used tracks and jams I had laying around. I try to consider everything that made it to my files as «samples», rather than musical parts that carry an emotional value. This way, I can potentially dive into them like any outside producer would, and quickly re-build something more interesting.
To sum it up, for me technology outside computers is meant to shape sounds according to my ears, making them as unique and personal as possible; so that when they get inside the computer, I have a wide palette of sounds that potentially no one else has, and that I can further tweak infinitely until I feel they’ve reached their full potential. And sometimes, that means sending a whole finished song through an FX chain and destroying it.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
It’s definitely what I do, and the most challenging part I would say is to not be afraid of permanently deleting things. Because the more sketches you have, the more you’re likely to forget they even exist, and so when you could put them to use, they wouldn’t even be on your mind.
My main strategy is to go through all these sketches once in a while, like every 6 months. Take a long walk outside with your headphones and see if some things could fit a current project, or fire the need for a revisit. It’s like sorting all your forgotten stuff before moving to a new place: some are going to the trash, and some are getting you excited again.
Despite the aforementioned near endless possibilities, many productions seem to follow conventional paths. How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?
The more experience I have, the more I realize that «accidents» are the key. Like «oh no I moved that part in the wrong spot», or «I’ve hit the wrong note here», but everyone else in the room is going like «this is amazing keep that !!». It’s hard to reach that state of openness when you’re on your own, because you’re so focused on doing things right. You have to be a bit schizophrenic to instantly step back into another chair and consider things from a different angle.
There are some plugins that can really mess up your sounds and bring surprises, but honestly for me nothing beats a human mistake. And if you’re doing it alone, a good way to achieve that is directly recording the first take, the one when you’re not 100% sure of what you’re about to do.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
I try to come in with as little ideas as possible, and hopefully surprise myself. My only concept would be to choose a certain piece of gear or instrument. The sounds allowed by that choice of gear are enough to deal with for a start. If I feel stuck after a few minutes, I’ll just go through my latest voice memos for a melody, or my latest lyrics notes.
How important is it for you that you personally create or participate in the creation of every element of a piece – from sound synthesis via rhythm programming to mixing?
I would prefer to do it all, but I’m not opposed to sharing duties anymore. If there are more talented people at what I’m trying to achieve - especially on the technical side - and they agree to take part in the piece, then all the better. Same goes from pre-recorded sounds and instruments: if I find the perfectly played and recorded hi-hat loop on Splice, I’ll just use it and spend
my time on other things.
Carefully curated collaboration can only make your piece better.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
The ability to time-stretch and quantize audio (Warp in Ableton and Flex in Logic) has been the latest game-changer for me. Knowing how it works now, I can record things in a certain way that would fit what I have in mind after the warping / flexing process.
For example, if I like the sound of an analog drum machine, but don’t know how it to give a certain groove on the machine itself. Or pretty often, I would change the bpm to an entire finished song to give it more personality. These possibilities make me a more «open» person when it comes to production, I get less emotionally attached to the way things are because I know that can be easily changed.
Also, after using UAD cards and plugins for two years, I don’t think I could go back. I love the possibility of recording with the UAD effects printed in the take.
To some, the advent of AI and "intelligent" composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I honestly haven’t had the chance to experience many AI composing tools. From the few experience that I have, what the AI offers me can be a good «demo back-up band», but it’s never been interesting enough to keep as is.
I’m sure there are amazing tools out there that can develop life on their own. For me the idea of a modular setup taps into that idea. I still feel though that I want to keep very few of what I’m being offered by a modular jam for instance … Probably because I’m not any good with it.
Do you personally see a potential for deeper forms of Artifical Intelligence in your music?
I don’t think I’m there yet. (laughs) There are so many things I’d like to explore before getting into that territory.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
Considering the music I’m exposed to, I would say that the rhythmic side could be much more creative, both in terms of sound and composition.
Being a drummer first, programming beats on a machine is still the most boring thing to do, and I wish there was a more creative and fun way to do that. Most of the sounds I hear today are re-processed samples from old drum machines, which still sound great, but offer nothing new.
I’m not saying everyone should sound like Autechre, but maybe there’s a middle ground that could be explored more, and that current tools don’t easily allow.