Part 1

Name: Brendon Moeller
Nationality: South African
Occupation: DJ, Producer
Current Releases: Bass Desires with Andreas Tilliander / TM404 on Kynant Records
Recommendations: Naomi Klein - No Logo. David Stubbs - Future Days: Krautrock and the Birth of a Revolutionary New Music.

Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this 15 Questions interview with Brendon Moeller, check out his facebook profile and soundcloud page for current updates and plenty of music.

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 began seriously writing/producing music at age 26 after moving from Johannesburg to NYC. I was inspired by an eclectic array of artists and sounds from Punk to Dub, Afrobeat to Shoegaze, Hiphop to Zappa and then some. My first attempts at putting together a demo tape ended up sounding like groovy psychedelic dance pop with vocals. (Yes, my own :-)) But then a strange thing happened, I ended up going to the Sound Factory nightclub, ingesting a hit of ecstasy and within a short matter of time I was making house & techno. :-) I have always been drawn to rhythm and harmony. Was always the kid banging out the rhythm to the top 40 at the Sunday lunch table with a knife and fork.

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?

I’m still learning. I think I will always be learning. The search for my voice continues. I don’t believe I have recorded my signature album yet. Originality is becoming an increasingly difficult feat in music. Some find it effortlessly, others spend a lifetime searching. Doing is the key, eh? No evolution without assimilating or practicing.

What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

At first the challenge was understanding and mastering the instruments and technologies. Now the challenge is figuring out exactly what is it that I’m trying to accomplish. Who am I? What is my voice? How do I use the instruments to express this?

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?

My first studio consisted of a 4 track cassette recorder, a Roland R8 drum machine, an Akai S1000, a microphone and a Roland JV90 keyboard. My set up has evolved constantly up until 3 years ago when I came up with the plan to build myself a groovebox using eurorack modules. I love the flexibility and neverending potential this has afforded me. So many options. Along with the eurorack groovebox I also have a grand collection of guitar pedals. I love the immediacy of eurorack and guitar pedals. One knob / fader/ button etc per function!

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 embrace technology and feel incredibly fortunate to have access to it. When I feel enslaved by it I step back and examine what it is I’m trying to accomplish. When I can’t go any further with something and find myself blaming technology or thinking I must buy something else in order to get there, I have to really proceed cautiously because that is the slipperiest slope of the modern producer. GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) is no laughing matter :-) Humans excel at visions, planning and solutions, machines excel at implementation, options and precision.

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?

My current workflow goes something like this:

1. Get a jam going on my eurorack groovebox

2. Record multitracks of the jam live into Ableton

3. Arrange and edit stems into final structure

4. Run a live jam within Ableton adding FX etc

5. Render pre-master

Hands on is very important for me. I treat everything like it’s an instrument, because it is!

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 absolutely love collaborations. It’s usually an exchange of files accompanied by some discussion of ideas and intent. The few occasions I have actually jammed in realtime with musicians have certainly been fun. Getting into a zone live, there’s no better rush.

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?

I’m fortunate enough to work from my home studio. Every morning I wake up around 6am, have a coffee, get dressed and go down to the basement that houses my studio and music collection. My day job is designing sounds and making samplepacks. I usually dive right into that. To mix things up a little I usually work on my own stuff inbetween all that. Sometimes record a fresh hardware jam, other times edit and arrange any of the huge number of unfinished tracks on my desktop at any given time. I go into my studio everyday. I live for it. If there’s nothing going on around the house or any family obligation I will disappear into the basement for hours. Music is my life.

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?

The label owner for Kynant Records was working on a release with TM404 and after hearing some material had the idea to get me involved (see our TM404 interview). Of course I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with someone whose career I have followed for almost 2 decades. After some email exchanges it was decided that he would send me stems from a few trax and I would go about taking those and running with them. The joy of working with great resources makes for an inspiring workflow and in no time I had many versions going. The end result is as TM404 & Echologist and called ‘Bass Desires’.

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?

Honestly, for me the most important aspect is motivation / passion. If one’s head isn’t ready to make a disciplined attempt at running with the creative process then you might as well not waste the time. Desire and love are the key. Of course what would life be without distractions or time constraints. Since I have a wife and 2 kids I am always aware of time and that occasionally is super frustrating. Many many ideas of mine have not been fleshed out properly as I have had to rush to finish something up. Sometimes a quick way to get into the music creation zone is smoking a doobie. Doesn’t always work but can be fun. 

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?

For me at this point in time, playing live would involve me taking elements of my tracks and remixing them live using ableton and a controller or possibly an Octatrack or Pionner Toraiz SP-16. There will be some improv, but in a much more controlled way. In the studio I live to improvise / jam. All my compositions are the result of improv jams.

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 a sound sculptor, so sound for me is integral to composition. Sometimes I first focus on achieving a sound, other times I will first get a loop or arrangement going and then go back and refine / finesse the sounds.

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?

I have noticed that sounds affect the way I feel, and can produce feeling sensations even when no touch is involved. Perhaps hearing and feeling have the same underlying physical and neural underpinnings? Come on feel the noise!

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?

Everything is connected to everything else. This is both the ultimate revelation and the ultimate platform. My approach to art comes from a desire to create beauty for myself using my love of music as the vehicle. Once I have something I deem beautiful, I want to share it with others.

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’m not sure about the form music will take but do feel certain that sonically there is still much ground to be covered.