Members: Nitai Hershkovits (keys), Yuval Havkin aka Rejoicer (keys), Amir Bresler (drums) and Yonatan Albalak (bass)
Interviewee: Yonatan Albalak
Occupation: Jazz instrumentalists, improvisers
Current Release: Overstand LP on Stones Throw.
Recommendations: The External world (2010 animation film by David Orielly); Slaughterhouse 5 (Kurt Vonnegut)
If you enjoyed this interview with Apifera, you can find more information on the band on their instagram account.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My first steps in terms of producing were on “Impulse Tracker”, an ancient DOS tracking program. I used code lines, I snatched samples from database tracks of different software, used Gameboy melodies, drum and bass collections and was inspired by my brother's Warp records albums.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I had transcribed a ton of jazz solos by Pat Metheny, Joe Pass, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Miles, Coltrane and anything that felt needed in my musical DNA. I also studied Radiohead extensively, and played in many bands and projects until I could feel an identity forming.
Copying is great up to a certain point, and the earlier you arrive at that point (usually after failing to be the subject you're copying and finding instead your own thing) - the better. Another shaping experience was playing music I didn't relate to. That really helps to understand what is not needed and what to navigate away from in future choices.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Growing up in Jerusalem in the 90's-00's, there were quite a few jazz musicians I could learn from, but no producers, composers or electronic cats. So most of my education was self-disciplinary, with a slow learning curve.
I was given a vast array of mostly not-useful tools in college, but I did have one amazing composition teacher who was an authority when it came to taste, which is what matters most.
The technical aspect of making music is very hard and takes years to get a grip of, and I'm still learning how to mix, avoid clichés, not to over-do things, and be more accurate. The good thing about doing something for years is your intuition can save time. It's not even a conscious thing, you just naturally avoid mistakes a bit easier.
What was your first studio like? 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?
I'm an In-The-Box person, and I try hard not to collect too much gear. Guitars were my first instruments, later a PC, an interface and speakers. Today I try to get the most out of a few really good pieces of gear: 3 guitars, 3 pedals, a synth, a microphone, a very strong computer, good speakers, a preamp, a 2-channel audio interface and a good sounding room.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology is great for creation. Manipulating reality and creating worlds that exist only in our minds is very accessible and it's also fun to get inspired and take what you've done out of the matrix - for example composing using software and taking that to an instrument. It has a few downsides too, the main one being it can get too clean and rigid and lose the looseness of humanity. I often hear music that's way over-done and feels void of emotion.
Another problem is that computers won't keep you in shape when it comes to human skills, like maintaining technique on your instrument, voice, body, etc.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
Toys, plug-ins, guitar pedals and digital manipulation are my friends. If it sounds 'normal' it's boring to me, and the edge I want to hear can often come from breaking up and slicing up clean materials into something new.
It's also refreshing to sample from eclectic sources, or to 'steal' melodic or harmonic ideas from (mostly) classical music and then giving them a fresh coat of paint. I use this method a lot.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
All of the above.
I love to remix. Taking someone else's complete piece, breaking it apart, realising what the main material is and building a completely different world around it is so much fun.
Sharing projects and bouncing tracks back and forth and over the Internet is super effective, like a collaborative painting, each participant starts where the previous left off.
Probably my favourite lately: sitting in a room with friends and their instruments and composing together.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
A pretty common schedule for a musician, varying depending on what project is going on.
Jogging every other morning, then to the shed, where it's either composing/producing or practicing music for various groups I'm part of. A few times a week I teach. Pre-corona nights were full of shows, and sometimes tours. I'm a workaholic and have a home studio, so separating life from music is impossible. I've only recently discovered the concept of not working on weekends.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
When writing a song, I usually start with an A part, melody and harmony built around a specific hook, or a journey between two points. When I move to the B part the form of the piece begins to surface. The composing and production are often simultaneous.
Then it's a long process of moving bits around and about 75% through the process it starts to feel like a song.
With instrumental/electronic music it's more like – throw a million ideas into one project, shuffle them around and feel what sticks out. Then gradually filter out 99% of the ideas until you're left with something genuine and build around that. Sometimes I circulate the materials in a track many times, losing everything I started with.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
For me that state is achieved through two main strategies:
- Immersing myself in the unknown with other musicians and improvising without any preconceptions. Shifting the focus outside of the self and into a collective consciousness, becoming completely aware while hovering above existence.
- Focusing entirely on a complex task, such as a composition/track/song, and zooming back and forth between the micro (specific notes, sounds and nuances) and the macro (the structure and overall vibe of the piece).
Without doubt the biggest distraction is the ego, constantly demanding it's glory, fame and dominancy. The best way to avoid it is to think: what does the music need right now? The answer is often: “Less, just breathe for a sec.”
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Writing in the studio is more about slowly chiselling and shaping music with tools beyond time, with computers playing everything back as many times as you want, letting you make 'external' discussions as to where you want things to go.
Whereas in playing live, music tends to reshape into more natural and organic directions. Nothing is ever perfectly repeated but rather evolves and gets delivered into the world with more of an 'accent'. It's harder to get out of yourself this way, for better or worse.
Going back and forth between the two approaches (i.e composing through improvisation, recording, editing, learning to play the edits, recording again etc.) is THE way to go in my opinion.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Music is firstly 'sound', so people connect to that before composition, which is a broader aspect and is perceived over time and is equally important.
In music that I love, composition and sound are always intertwined. An amazing melodic hook with a sound so distinct you can taste it, gets etched into your memory much deeper than just a nice line, or just a sound.
So I try to create from that point of view, finding the perfect voice or 'personality' for each idea, to make it sound aesthetic, coherent and memorable.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Everything vibrates, so frequency is everywhere. Ever since I remember myself, I had a connection between vowels and colours: A-White, E-Orange, I -Yellow, O- Brown, U-Black.
Another thing I'm pretty sure many people have are these moments on the edge of consciousness where music and life actions dissolve into each other in this abstract manner. One time, just before falling asleep I could grasp a moment where an Aphex Twin ambient track became the action “watering plant pots” in my mind.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Art is a catalyst, driving and changing the person inhaling it emotionally and even physically. I'm all for creating a better world through art, with political lyrics that call to action and a direct message to engage, but sometimes I just need a fantastical place to go to when the world gets too harsh, to recalibrate and find a much-needed spark.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I've been thinking about this idea for a while: When humans will find a way to broaden the hearing spectrum to below 20hz and over 20khz, we could find beauty in the realms where bats, whales and dogs dwell. Beyond that, we could one day alter the hearing parts of the brain to affect other areas, and thus Grammies will be given to those who create exquisite synaesthetic multi-sensual 4D visions in our mind.