Name: Hannes Bieger
Occupation: Producer, Mixing- and mastering engineer
Current Release: Burn your love EP on Bedrock
Recommendations: This is a tough one! The longer I think about it, the harder it gets, so I’m going with my initial gut instinct, really the first two things that came to my mind. One would be ‘At Work’, Annie Leibovitz’ autobiography. She tells the story of her career recapturing her seminal shootings. The way she reflects on her work is so … human … it’s extremely captivating and insightful, and I found it impossible to put the book aside before I finished it. It’s such a great insight into a great artist’s mind, and reading it you can’t help but to reflect on the nature of art itself. I have read it several times, and it did live up to my first reaction. Speaking about it, I think I have to read it another time now!
The other thing is ‘Guernica’, the famous painting by Picasso. Of course I knew about it for a long time, and I had seen numerous prints and photos of it, but when I first saw it in real life at the Prado Museum in Madrid, it absolutely struck me like a lightning bolt. There is so much suffering in the painting, yet so much humanity as well. It’s physically intimidating, but it also elevates you to another level. This is really what I just stated as the high goal of every piece of art: Picasso captured the essence of a moment and transformed it into something of universal relevance. Connecting with these almost ancient strands almost creates a physical bond with the painting, and it’s also one of these art pieces I need to see again and again. I love paintings that haunt you, that almost leave their two-dimensional space and that can have such a physical impact on the room they are facing. You are entering a dialogue with them and with yourself at the same time, and, again, speaking of it now shows me that I urgently need to pay it another visit as well …!
If you enjoyed this interview with Hannes Bieger, stay up to date with his work through his website, facebook account and soundcloud page. He also runs an Instagram profile.
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?
Music already played an important role in my childhood. I was lucky that my father let me play his records from a very young age. I was sitting next to the home stereo for whole afternoons when I was six years old, flipping Sgt Peppers over and over again. I was completely drawn into the sound and the experience. Not only the music itself resonated with me, the photos on the back of the record sleeves did so, too.
When I was ten or so, I was absolutely fascinated by Keith Richards – the music, his playing, his style, everything … This whole universe was everything to me – the music, the guitar slinging, rock star vibe, for me he was the embodiment of “cool”. And although he almost appeared to be like an alien from a different world, in a way I guess I wanted to be like him, or at least follow him on his path.
At the same age I started to play guitar, too. Everybody advised me to start with an acoustic, but I wanted to go straight to the electric guitar. I did not want to mess around – an electric guitar for me was the admission ticket into this magic world.
I remember my father and me checking out a couple of guitar teachers, and I remember vividly sitting in this place and talking to the guy, while one of his guitars, it must have been a Gibson ES-335 or the like, was lying on the floor, in an open case. I was mesmerized! I could not take my eyes off it! In the end we went with a different teacher though, but this was when it all started.
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?
Developing your own handwriting, your own style is still something I consider a gift, a reward that has to be earned, and that you can’t really demand from the universe, so to speak. You can’t plan with it, and it might not come in the form you ordered it, but at some point it will just be there. For some it may come faster, others may work harder, that depends on so many factors, including: talent, determination, stamina, and also sheer luck. You also need to be fully aware of yourself, as it might come in a different form than you expected, and you need to be able to recognise it for what it is.
I have come to see that a huge part of it is about letting go. Getting “lost in music” is really not just a phrase it’s an incredibly powerful and blissful state of mind, almost like a meditation. But this means you have to accept you are in charge only to a certain degree, and what happens when you cross this invisible line is where the magic happens. I don’t want to generalise this, and only speak for myself, but for me, it seemed to have worked really well to view music making or creation in a broader sense along these lines.
It’s this feedback loop between the player and the instrument, as Bob Moog pointed out, this situation where you become one with your instrument and the music, and it’s not clear anymore who plays whom – the dialogue with the instrument, where you constantly navigate within the confines of it, and the desire to push the envelope, to break the boundaries. Needless to say, you have to know your instrument really well to be able to enter this dialogue with it along these lines.
I also strongly believe that an artist needs obstacles to grow. May these be time constraints, lack of resources, instruments, or emotional challenges – one aspect of it is comparable to a cyclist doing his training sessions in the mountains or the drummer using heavier drumsticks during rehearsals. And you need to overcome this thinking where always the next piece of equipment is required in order to be able to achieve something. No instrument or bit of kit is ever going to do the job for you. It’s about you getting it done with whatever you have at hand. This line of thinking is exactly where your creative voice will be formed over time.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Let’s talk about electronic dance music here, as I have been making music – also electronic music – for many years before I got into Deep House and later Techno as well. I really only started to work with the straight bass drum after I moved to Berlin in the late 90’s – you simply could not escape it here!
Coming from a musician and song-writing background in the beginning, it was a real challenge for me to find a good balance between the amount of information and the amount of emptiness in a club track. As a home listener you might get bored rather sooner than later, and repetition wears out, but time feels absolutely different on the dance floor. So I struggled with a good balance here, and also with the proper build of a track, the rise and fall of tension. We call this “Spannungsbogen” in German – the arc of tension!
I have been DJing a lot in my life, but I never really played House or Techno, I always focused on what they used to call Rare Groove: Jazz, Soul, Bossa Nova, weird film soundtracks and the likes. At first, when I got into Deep House, I collaborated with DJs, in a production team where I played the part of the musician, instrumentalist, melodic composer, engineer, not necessarily the arranger, the builder of the arc of tension over the whole 7 minutes of a track. And later on I gained so much insight going out and observing what other people did, and of course also distilling some, hopefully, wisdom from my countless mixing jobs.
I am fortunate that some of the most influential tracks of the past 10-15 years went through my operating table. I think my way of making and arranging tracks has changed a bit once more after I started playing live sets again two years ago, where I finally enjoy the chance to test tracks myself under real life conditions, so to speak. I really have come a long way with this, from knowing literally nothing at all about how to properly build a club track to record reviews now describing my tracks as “masterclasses in dancefloor dynamics”.
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?
The first setup you could probably call a studio was fairly synth-centric. My very first production setup in the late 90’s was built around an Atari ST with Cubase – the computer that didn’t even have a hard drive – and I did all my audio recordings into the 24 MB RAM of my AKAI S3000i sampler. I worked with a used Behringer 16 channel mixer, the really cheap first Mackie knock-off. I had a Boss SE-70 multi fx unit, and I listened through the red passive Tannoy speakers connected to my home stereo. At the time they were the only so called studio monitors available that didn’t cost a fortune. This was well before the days of cheap Far East manufacturing.
However, already at this time, I used to have great instruments. As a player, this was what was absolutely important to me. To put it in a tongue-in-cheek way, me and friends step by step bought all the instruments listed in the AIR ‘Moon Safari’ booklet. I had a Moog Rogue, my first synth ever, a Roland Juno-60, which I still own, a bit later I got a Clavia Nord Lead 2, and I had a Wurlitzer Model 200 piano. How this rather frugal recording setup has evolved over the past 25 years you can see on my website, my Instagram etc. There’s way too much stuff now to mention it all here.
What’s notable though, is that at some point I got into mixing for clients, and later also producing for clients. So my workspace evolved from something purely personal, designed exclusively for my own needs, to something more open, ready to deal with external challenges. However, to date, my studio remains a personal workspace. People hire me to work on their projects, not my studio per se, and I happen to have my own studio to do the task. I never rent out my studio to third parties, you get inside by way of asking me to do some work for you.
One big thing that has changed over the years is the relationship between analog and digital equipment. When I started out, software synths did not exist, and now they are everywhere, even great ones! So there was no question, you had to collect hardware synths. Same thing goes for EQs and compressors and the likes. If you wanted great quality you needed analog stuff. This also has shifted quite a bit in recent years.
But for me two elements remain key: the instruments, namely the sound sources and the pieces you enter this infamous dialogue with to create something, and the chain necessary to capture those sounds to begin with, and on the other side, the monitoring setup, the speakers, headphones and everything you need to hear what’s going on. These two parts of the setup are the most crucial to me, and everything else is more up for debate these days.
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?
For starters, no machine can write a song the way humans can do, processing experiences, emotions, and distilling them into something that reflects not just the moment it was created in, but something which other people can relate to as well, and which hopefully can stand the test of time. As electronic musicians we’re using technology as a part of this process, but we hardly ever compose and arranged full pieces within our mind the way all the classical composers might have done. Although, I have to say that some of my best tracks where written just like that! Don’t ask me why or how it happened, but at some point I just had a vision of a piece in my mind, complete with grooves, melodies and sounds, and all I had to do was go try and put it down.
‘A Million Souls’ was written like this, although this was a really special experience in that I actually wrote it in a dream. I woke up one morning with the groove, the overall vibe of the track and also the main melody in my head. Suddenly I was awake, and grooving along to this tune, which the universe had sent me. I sent myself an email with a couple notes from my bed, and luckily I was able to recover everything from these notes a bit later when I arrived at the studio. This was a very unique experience though, it has happened never before, nor after it.
Lately I made a new track, in fact my first one since the lockdown, which I think will be a great one, too. In this case I did not dream it, but it kind of materialized in my mind when I was awake, doing something else. Without actively, deliberately “writing” it, it formed in my head over the course of a weekend off, and when I went to the studio on Monday putting the main elements down went really fast. It’s almost finished, but way too early to say when and where it will be released.
Other tracks happened in the dialogue with the machines. ‘Stars’ is a good example, ‘Frozen’, my most recent one, too. I developed the basic ideas and main riffs while jamming on my synths, a Moog Sub 37 in the first case, Memorymoog in the latter. I have to point out though, that analog, especially modular machines can be great teachers – when you’re open to listen to what they have to tell you. There’s a great deal of “happy accidents” to be found, and the modular synths have also pushed me way from the mouse and the computer screen.
These days I’m working less by way of arranging building blocks on the screen, and more in the fashion of recording longer stretches with the hardware instruments. I’m working faster now – I’m more inspired, and more spontaneous. I’m creating more from the gut and less with my brain, which can only be a good thing. “Gardening, not architecture!” one of the cards of Brian Eno’s infamous card deck “Oblique Strategies” remains my most important motto, and you could reflect on the metaphor and the implications of it in great detail.
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?
Ultimately, when you say A, you have to say B as well. You can’t always talk about the feedback loop in between the player and the instrument and then attribute authorship only to the player. But like I just tried to explain, sometimes the ideas for my tracks are not even being developed in a dialogue with a machine. And then still, if a magic happy accident happens, the human still has to recognise it for what it is.
In a production environment with not so many sound presets, much less preset rhythms and patterns, I am struggling to, if you like, list the machines as co-authors. But I am the first to admit that the instruments constitute the playing field, open up the doors. Of course they enable me or even inspire me to do certain things, and they push me in a certain direction for sure. I would not create the exact same music I’m making without my instruments. And maybe, like in ‘Stars’, it’s not even the synth inspiring me to do something, but a reverb pedal. Essentially, my tools and I become one during the creative process. But the difference is: if I existed without my machines, there would still be music – the other way around, not so much...