Name: Bálint Dobozi
Occupation: Composer, producer
Current release: Bálint Dobozi's Avarnes is out now on Edition Halane
Recommendations: Listen to some good old Bach inventions or some Scarlatti sonatas.
If you enjoyed this interview with Bálint Dobozi, his website is a great point of departure into his unique sound world.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I've always been surrounded by music as my mother, a concert pianist, exercised and rehearsed at home. After quitting classical piano at 14, I started to take jazz lessons and got my first synthesizer – along with a sequencer app these were the structures that helped me to create music on my own.
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 the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Of course I had my influences, the Beatles with amazing songwriting and sounddesign qualities, Herbie Hancock as my great jazz piano and synthesizer role model, Miles Davis because of the high tension plus melancholy in his music as well as his great ability to cast the right people.
You copy because you're excited about music that makes you feel something very specific and new. Then, if you feel that it does not just touch you but it is really part of you – something you didn't know you were or felt before – you learn how to integrate it in your own musical language – a language that, for me, has always been there.
I felt my own voice pretty early and applied it in most different contexts, musical styles. But I feel it's only now with this record that I have formulated it clearly, searched for a instrumentation that fits my inner voice and put those tracks together that create that specific set of moods that is me.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
They evolved over the years: the abilities and the challenges ;-) They still do.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your setup evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
First: Home studio, Atari ST and a Roland synthesizer straight to tape. The more time I spent with music and the more I earned my living with it, my studio space evolved from different bedroom situations to a oneroom-project- studio to today's space, a creative music & sound studio with four partners, three control rooms, and two recording spaces.
My gear evolved accordingly, from Atari to Mac, from my first little British mixer to a big British mixer back to a few British and American highquality preamps, some outboard gear, a few good microphones and a hybrid setup that I use today. Instruments include a Grand Piano that I recorded my album on, a Fender Rhodes, a Roland Juno 6 and 106, a Prophet 08, some MFB synths, a Schippmann filter bank. And some good pieces of Software.
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?
I lately have been using a few different granular synthesizers. They translate everyday sounds into this realm of never-ending ambient drones that I find inspiring at the moment. In today's feedback loop between technology and creativity, I guess it's more than ever random or "computer-assisted" results vs. choosing the right or fitting results of those processes.
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?
At the moment I try to control most of the creative process and not let devices or algorithms do the work. Sounds a bit strict? Maybe I will be more relaxed about it in the future.
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?
I've been doing some remote creative work with others and love to just talk ideas, yes. But I prefer being in the same room and have that type of creative intimacy with those people involved.
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?
Four out of five weekday mornings I wake up my two small kids, make us breakfast, play with them (also music), go outside, get some groceries, then cook lunch for my family, my wife joins us after her work and then I leave for the studio.
In the studio I usually know right away what I want or have to do: I had time to think about it before, I have limited time so I better get to work. I work the whole afternoon and sometimes, when things are tight, I continue in the evening.
It's a rather progressive and very integrated family lifestyle that is based on respect for each other, that caters to our love for our kids and the passion for our professions. I feel it's the right and modern thing to do in our time of disorientation: finding balance; respecting your partner that shares your passion for work; not not having kids as an artist; letting different realities of your own life inspire each other; staying focused – whatever you do.
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?
"Avarnes", the track my new album is titled after, began with that simple motif that you hear in the beginning of the track. It's five notes, played with the five fingers of the right hand. Very simple, yet I played them as straight sixteenths and thus got this 5/16 pattern. So I kept it flowing and then thought it would be cool to put a 7/8 on top of it, played with a muted sound. Said and done ... then I even altered that into 13/8 at some point.
So after a while, listening to these interesting yet natural sounding, overlapping polymetric patterns I felt it was time to cut to the chase and introduce a very straight 2/4 techno-style synth lick which led to the 4/4 breakbeat. While you could stay in the limbo of the stacked odd meters or actually start out the track with the straight 4/4 beat, I chose to combine them – I love how things evolve and take unexpected turns, and at the same time sound effortless.
At the end I wrote the simple 3 note theme which you hear at the beginning and the end, asked Benjamin Danech to double it with his trumpet, and then even recorded that lovely trumpet solo. Et voilà.
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?
Given my strict weekly plan, I had to come up with some strategies to enter into a creative state of mind at will. Sometimes I play some of my ideas to my kids or with them, and for sure the music is in the back of my mind all the time anyway…
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?
Focused improvisation can come close to composition. Playing live is the pinnacle of musicianship in terms of exposing yourself and communicating with others. Also in terms of implementing or testing what you composed alone in the studio ... At the same time, focused studio work can and should be as honest and direct even if it lacks the audience. You learn from both to get better in the other field.
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?
I'm kind of in between. I'm very much into sound design but a good chord progression still is very important to me. A carefully designed sound can carry an entire track as it creates a particular feeling of space & time.
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?
At low frequencies (in music but also in everyday life) hearing overlaps with structure-borne noise perception.
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?
Although I don't take sides in my role as an artist, I have very clear opinions about politics and a progressive lifestyle and I think that those positions are reflected in my music even if only on a more hidden, nonverbal level.
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?
As the 20th century developed myriads of highly interesting musical styles and especially with contemporary classical but also electronic music offering promising seeds for music's future, it became clear that this development went too fast for the mainstream audience. Yet especially contemporary production techniques in computer music have found their way into or even became the drivers of popular music culture. So, nothing's lost, neither the good old song nor all those avantgarde techniques that sooner or later will be picked up and reworked far beyond the underground scene that invented them.
Music and its current form? Music, be it harmonies or noise, will always be there as surely as the contexts in which it will be listened to will always change.