Name: Panic Girl
Occupation: Producer, Sound Artist
Current Release: Cake on Jupiter, released on Modularfield
Recommendations: I would like to recommend my latest release “Cake On Jupiter” which is out on Modularfield Records. It’s an album focussing on the organic and synthetic alike, on travelling through time and space and on exploring the boundaries of sound and composition.
I would also like to recommend “The Incal” by Jodorowsky and Moebius or “The World Of Edena” by Moebius for that matter. They have intriguing stories and beautiful illustrations to dwell in. It’s a beautiful pastime for sure.
If you enjoyed this interview with Panic Girl and want to find out more, visit her styleful website which offers more background information as well as music and videos.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started making music in a band as a singer and guitarist when I was about 16-17 years old. I remember that time vividly, it was a defining and exciting phase of my life. We had our practice room next to many other musicians, so it was somewhat like a commune. Everybody knew each other, we were jamming regularly and spent lots of time together. Back then I was still very much influenced by the music my parents were listening throughout my childhood like Pink Floyd and The Doors, but also bands I discovered later on like Tool, King Crimson and Kyuss.
Music has always played a huge role in my life. It fascinated me from early childhood on, it was such a magical thing to me. When you heard a song, everything seemed to be "filled" with sound, you were surrounded by it, though you couldn’t see or touch anything. This invisible force was pure magic to me and I knew I wanted to spend my life with music in some form or another.
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?
The ones who got me into electronic music in the first place were Massive Attack, they influenced me like no other band. Especially their album Mezzanine played a huge role for me as a composer. I wanted to be able to make music with such an intense vibe as they did, so I started researching what they used and tried to incorporate that into my music. That’s how my debut EP Burn And Rise came to life and I’m still very proud of it.
Then there is Tool, which I obsessed about for quite a long time, too. Their music taught me that there are more experimental ways of composing, especially with the rhythms of a song, while still having a listenable song with an emotional impact in the end. I often try to make my rhythms and melodies more experimental as well, though not to such an extent as Tool does of course. I also like how they mix their vocals. They treat them like another instrument, not like something that crowns the songs.
And then there is Pink Floyd, one of my earliest influences so far. I especially love the simplicity in their tracks, which I often tried to somehow incorporate into my art as well.
But the most important thing I learnt from all those musicians is that it’s not about copying the production techniques or compositional peculiarities of other musicians but to find my own voice. What makes Massive Attack or Tool or Pink Floyd so special is that they are truly unique in their way of making music. They have their own vision and are not afraid to break the rules. It’s totally ok to get inspired by other musicians, but the focus should always be on staying true to my own way of composing, singing and mixing.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning I had to learn my tools properly, which was quite a lot of work. I went to the SAE Institute to make my Audio Engineering Diploma and worked there afterwards for several years as a Supervisor, Teacher and Course Instructor. That was the most educational time in my life, as I had to answer all kinds of questions from students every day. And if I didn’t know the answer I simply had to find out, that taught me how to find answers quickly. But it still took quite a while till I knew all my tools so well that I could use them without having to think about them, especially while producing music. It’s pretty annoying when you’re in a creative zone and then have to stop because something isn’t working properly. But fortunately that’s sorted for a while now so I can usually dive deep into the music without having to think about my gear. And that’s one of the best feelings there is, it’s my way of meditating.
Nowadays mixing is the most challenging part of music production for me. There are of course some mixing techniques that you can always apply, like ducking tracks to the Bass Drum or using a Low Cut on tracks which don’t need low frequencies to sound good. But besides those more technical techniques every song still needs some very specific treatment. Especially with all the experimental sounds I use I often feel like experimenting with the mixing, too, which then takes a bit longer of course.
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, if you want to call it that way, was in my first flat about 15 years ago. It was a very small one room apartment, so I had pretty much everything in there. It was my bedroom, living room and “studio room” all at once. Everytime I wanted to make music I had to set up all my gear and also put everything away again as soon as I was done. That was quite a pain in the a* to be honest. But I still forced myself to make music almost every day, as I wanted to establish a routine, which still serves me very well.
By now I’m living in a bigger apartment and have a separate studio room to make music in, I couldn’t go without it anymore. My setup also got bigger over the years as I collected several instruments like a Eurorack System, an ARP 2600, a Casio CZ5000, a Roland Juno 60, an Elektron Octatrack and Digitone, a Teenage Engineering OP-1, a Jomox XBase 09 and some more.
Though every instrument is very dear to me I’d say the modular system is my favourite. It opened so many doors for me, not only in terms of composition, freeing me from boundaries and routines in my head and leading me to more experimental ways of designing sounds. It’s also a very enjoyable instrument to play live on stage, which I do on a regular basis now. And the modular community is also one of the most welcoming and warm-hearted I’ve known so far, it’s really an honour to be part of it.
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 am extremely curious about technology and soak up everything that surrounds that topic. I always want to know why something works the way it does, so I like to dig deep. One of my favourites is reading manuals, as there are often extra infos or tricks that only the developers know of, as well as watching tutorials.
That's also one of the reasons why I’m so much into the modular synthesizer I guess. As with most modules you have the basic operations at hand, you decide what's happening every step of the way. So it's not only huge fun to play around and experiment with, but it’s very educational too. I would even go as far as saying that if you can handle a modular, you can handle almost any synthesizer.
The obvious answer to the second question would probably be that humans are emotional beings above all with all their advantages and disadvantages while machines are “cold”, but can handle complex computations. While this is surely true, technology, especially music technology, doesn’t feel cold at all to me. There are so many wonderful sounds to explore, so many inspiring possibilities within reach, I couldn’t begin listing them all here. Synthesized sounds inspire me in so many different ways and I still get goosebumps listening to them after so many years. If I may use a Star Trek quote, technology is a tool to explore “strange new worlds, to seek out new sounds and new patterns. To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
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?
Most tools inspire and also influence me during the compositional process. Every tool is designed and thought through by another human being, who probably worked pretty hard to make it the best synthesizer, guitar, chorus or reverb there is. And even every EQ or compressor sounds different and needs to be used accordingly. There are so many possibilities out there of which I would never have thought of on my own, so I try to get my hands on as many tools as possible to explore what new ways I could go with them.
One of my favourites for quite some time now are modular hardware sequencers with experimental features, to get more unusual melodies that I wouldn’t have come up with myself. Like a generative patch, where you can determine certain parameters and leave others to random modulators. You decide what the frame looks like and which colours to use, but the picture is ever changing. It’s beautiful and meditative, I could listen to such patches for hours.
It’s also very important to me to know the tools that I’m using regularly in and out, so I don’t have to think about them anymore while making music. So I can drift off into the feeling that I want to transfer and just play my equipment like for example a guitarist, who played his instrument for 20 years.