Name: Ralf Schmidt aka Aera
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Nationality: German
Recent release: Aera's Versions is out via Innervisions.
Recommendations: Daniel Levitin This Is Your Brain On Music; Brian Eno A year with swollen appendices

If you enjoyed this interview with Aera and would like to find out more, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud. Or head over to the official website of his label Applied Magic.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

Ever since I can remember I was fascinated by sound. Even as a young kid I spent hours with our electrical organ, which had a rhythm machine, an arpeggio and different sound presets. The fact that you could simply press a key or twist a knob and would be able to create sounds and influence emotions is something magic and has never lost its appeal to me.

When I was a bit older, maybe around 11/12, my brother got really into buying records and would bring me along on his shopping trips. This is where I discovered House and Techno music.

Not much later, I had the drive to find out how this music was made and slowly got into producing myself.

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

This is such an interesting question. I feel there are two very different ways of listening, that I have learned to go back and forth between: The emotional, macro level, and the analytical, micro level. I kind of zoom in and out between the two.

Especially when making music, it's such a visceral experience. When it goes well, my brain turns off and my instincts take over. There is no more conscious thinking involved, every idea just naturally leads to the next one. No more second guessing. No doubts.

Later on in the process, the analytical mind comes back into focus and helps me make certain adjustments, edit the work and polish it up.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

I was making music on my own for years without ever thinking of releasing anything or showing it to the world. I was content with the joy of creating it. This is how I honed my craft and found my own voice.

Later on, I realized that what I did could also bring joy into other people's lives, so I started sharing it. One thing I had to learn was how to work with other people, trust their ideas and input and not try to do everything on my own. No man is an island.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

Everything I have experienced in my life has influenced me as a person, which in turn shows up in my taste and music.

I try not to analyze this too much, but rather let it happen.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

Not getting in the way. Letting things grow naturally. Being true to the original idea.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

I'm not sure there is a distinction between the two. Music can be both original and timeless. In fact, they often go hand in hand.

I believe that when an idea first comes into the world, it has an intrinsic, lasting power. Once an idea has been repeated a couple of times, it might be technically more advanced, but that does not mean it's longer lasting. In fact, overthinking and overpolishing can kill the spark.

I personally want to innovate for sure. Not for the sake of it, but because I want to put something into the world that might not have existed before. Creating new feelings.

But you can't have a “music of the future” without “continuing a tradition”. Music does not come out of a vacuum. It is a product of a long evolution, and we are all just part of it. If you want to innovate, you need to study what came before you.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

Not sure I want to get too technical here, but working with Ableton Live has enabled me to finish music to the point of being ready to release.

Before, I always did lengthy studio jams, but was never able to capture them properly, and was always stuck when it came to arranging things. I just don't enjoy dragging lego-bricks from left to right, so to speak.

With Ableton, I was able to create a simple loop, press record, capture a whole performance, and edit it to perfection.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

On a usual day, my morning routine looks like this:

Wake up – Meditate – Wim Hof / Breathwork – Shower – Coffee

Later in the day, I usually try to get some Kettlebell swings in.

Apart from that, my schedule can look completely different. Sometimes it's E-mails, WhatsApp and Social Media all day, sometimes I'm traveling, sometimes it's studio time … it always depends on the day and what it requires from me.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

The best moments are when I feel like I am not in control, but something is taking over me and creating the music through me. I can only watch it happen – sometimes I don't even remember how things came about.

“Prana”, one of my most successful tracks, is a case in point.

I vaguely remember sitting down and starting with a single drumloop, but the rest of the process is kind of a blur. The whole thing came together in an afternoon. 2 hours max. I did some edits to the arrangement later on, but that was about it.

Off course this is only possible when you know your tools inside out, so you don't have to think about what you are doing anymore and you can get into a flow state. It's a lot of work to arrive at that point, but once you're there, it is one of the most incredible feelings you can imagine. To get there, you need to be lucky, patient, and trust your instincts.

Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?

This is interesting, as I have been on my own in the studio most of my life. But for a recent project, I was invited to a studio on Mykonos during lockdown, and there was always someone around. So it felt like I was performing for them, trying to get a reaction and capture the feeling in the room.

This way of working was really productive, as I could get direct feedback from the people around me. And even though none of the people in the room directly worked on the music, they were definitely part of the process and it would have been a different outcome without them.

I also recently started working with Jesse Trinidad, who is a really good friend of mine. It's a much more collaborative process and much less “lonely” than what I am used to. It feels nice to give away some responsibility, get someone else's ideas and opinions and share the workload together.

We also complement each other a lot, so in areas where I might not feel too confident, he can help me out, and vice versa.

How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?

Music is still a mystery to me – everyone once in a while I am astonished how humans could come up with this unexplainable form of communication. In the end, it's just air vibrating at certain frequencies, but it is able to convey so many emotions and transport a whole group of people to the same place together.

What I also love about it: It can serve a function in society – make people dance together, cry together, fight together, tell a story or educate us. But it can also be purely enjoyed and celebrated by itself, without any further baggage attached to it.

Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?

My album “The Sound Path” was a direct response to the passing of my father and a way for me to work through it. At times, it felt like he was in the room with me, guiding my choices and encouraging me. I've never felt something like this ever since, and it's still not easy for me to put it into words.

How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?

Apart from the obvious fields like maths and physics, music is closely related to memory. It can be used to teach us about how the brain works.

There are studies with Alzheimer's patients that do not remember their own children and can hardly speak anymore, but upon hearing a certain song, can suddenly remember all the lyrics and melodies and sing along happily.

This might be a sign that music is stored and processed in deeper parts of the brain and could have special significance when it comes to learning and remembering.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

For a good coffee, we are first of all dependent on great beans – with a whole chain of people and processes involved. From the weather and terroir, to the farmer and their expertise, to how it's washed, transported, roasted, and stored. We need the right water at the right temperature with the correct pressure, a good grinder to create an evenly sized grind, and a good technique when making the coffee. Any one of the variables in the chain fails, and the coffee will not be as great as it could be.

You can also be very creative in the way any of these parts can be handled, but you need to be sure to make a mindful decision. If everything along that path aligns just perfectly, a cup of coffee can be a transformative experience.

The same with music – we are dependent on good tools and making the right decisions along the way.

Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?

I like how this question is echoing one of my answers from above. I have no idea how this works, and it is one of the most fascinating things about it.

A lot of our responses to certain scales and rhythms are certainly learned through exposure and cultural norms. Like how major scales in Western Music might signify a happy mood – but the fact that it does work at all is still magic for me.

It is also what makes it so hard to speak about music, as this experience is exactly beyond words.