Name: Peter Zirbs
Occupation: Producer, sound artist, songwriter
Current release: Peter Zirbs's Splinters EP is out via Fabrique.
Recommendations: Bowie/Eno Low. And because I'm a reader and just a pick out of many: All the early stuff by T. C. Boyle
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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 kind of started already at an quite early age: When I was 8 years old, my Mum got me an old piano. It was literally placed next to my bed, and I always loved pianos. So I started to play stuff that I like, and a few years later I played along with my favourite songs.
My first "band project" started when I was 12 (thank god there are no recordings from back then). I was always very excited about tape machines, record players and sound manipulation in general, so at the age of 11 I did edits from my favourite songs by cutting/copying tape while flying in some sounds via turntable. Good fun! It was the time of breakdance, so Electro had a big influence on me – until now, actually.
I always loved both worlds: human-played music and electronic music. As a kid and early teen I was a big fan of Kraftwerk, Yello, Jean Michel Jarre, early Rap and Electro, Art Of Noise, Pop Music and New Wave – but I love Rock, Jazz and Classical Music as well. When "Koyaanisqatsi" (Philip Glass) came out it was a real epiphany for me: It was music that sounded like electronic music, but was performed by humans. This is how my everlasting love with minimal music started.
Soon I discovered Steve Reich, Michael Nyman, Terry Riley etc. And at the age of 20 rave culture exploded – it was exactly my cup of tea: futuristic, electronic, biochemical and new. Put all these ingredients together and you roughly know why my tracks sound like they do.
For most artists, originality is 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?
Good question. I indeed emulated others by programming beats that sounded Kraftwerk-ish for example. Also checking out the chord progressions of my favourite tunes helped me compose my own songs – thank you Duran Duran at this point. I was 10 years old in 1981, so until now I have a preference for certain key changes in songs.
Also, regarding sound design, I learned (some may say copied) from others: for example early rave and Electronica, 80s music, but also glitch and many, many other great inspirations for production. And it is a permanent evolution – I still experiment a lot. I'm still in the process of articulating myself, and it looks like it will be like that until the end of my days.
Ah, and of course my surroundings inspire and transform me a lot. Put me in a room with jazz musicians and I will try to get to the core of Jazz and find out all the beauty of certain styles.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
That's a difficult one! I am actually constantly on the search for my identity. I haven't found it yet; and maybe that's my destiny. In the best case my music reflects this search (and sometimes it's a struggle). Whenever I leave this path of searching, my music becomes bland and uninspired. It took me a couple of years to fully get aware of that. So my music is literally a mirror of my thoughts and feelings – and very often it's a way to deal with problems like depression or conflict.
For some musicians it's a very natural thing, but I really have to focus myself on using composing and recording as a valve. But it's so rewarding compared to drug abuse e.g.: No coming down, no hangover, no harm for body and mind. Maybe without making music I would not be alive anymore. It always was and is a crucial part of my identities.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I always was an effervescent fountain of creativity. That's the easy part. But to actually get it done and manifested was always the hard part for me. I'm easily distracted by life, squirrels, funny spots on the wall and what not. I don't know if I would function without people supporting me mentally in the actual process of production. Shoutouts to Fabrique Records who are almost daily giving me deadlines and lead me through the whole adventure.
And also shoutouts to my psychologically trained girlfriend who supports me a lot by dealing with my uncertainty and feelings of being lost. And to be honest: That was always my main challenge. Since the very beginning. It's never ... and I write it again: never a matter of equipment or time or what ever. It's always the head.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I'll try to make it short: Right now I'm using Logic and whatever comes across concerning instruments. I love to record real stuff, but I also love to work completely in the box. As I kid I played drums and piano and later a bit bass; I started early to program drum boxes and 4-track tape machines. And of course a bit later I loved my Atari 1040 Cubase and my little collection of affordable synths like Korg Poly-800, Korg Mono/Poly and some other great gear that sadly got lost over the almost four decades.
But the thing is: I would try to make a track or song with whatever I can use. You can make a world moving track by recording it on your phone. Once again it's about the head/mindset, not about the instruments or equipment.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
That happens every couple of years! New technology enables new musical expression/styles. Sometimes at some point you're a part of this evolution, sometimes not.
I like to see myself as someone who tries to at least stay connected with innovation. It doesn't mean that I have to try everything out myself, but every couple of years there's some new development that totally gets me hooked.
For me, a real game changer was affordable digital editing back in the mid nineties. On the other hand, it took me quite a while to realize it's not about how many recording takes are possible thanks to digital producing, but that it's all about catching a vibe; a moment.
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 love working with other people – it doesn't always work out, but when it does, it's something that connects in a way you will rememver forever. I'm actually using all of the possibilities mentioned in your question: recording vocals or instruments with other musicians in my studio, but also file sharing. And as you can already imagine from my lengthy answers I also love to talk about music and ideas.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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?
As I already mentioned I'm very easy to distract. So a bit of a stricter schedule helps me to achieve what I had planned in my excitement.
I like to have an extra coffee or strong black tea in bed before getting up – but once I'm in the studio or in front of my production on the laptop (recently I discovered working on the road for me; I love to travel!) I'm very, very focused. Yes, I always have to take care that news websites and mails and social media don't stop my flow, but that works quite well.
After a studio/producing session I love to have a beer in my favourite pubs, where I meet friends and fellow musicians to plan the takeover of the world. Spoiler: It hasn't happened so far. Also I like to walk a bit: I don't have a car, but daily I'm using public transports, and that's also very inspiring and gives me time to let my thoughts wander a bit. Sometimes I stay in bars or clubs quite long – the night life definitely has a big influence on my work and I just love to dive into this kind of parallel world compared to the daylight world. Before I go to sleep I love reading a bit; no matter how late (or early) it is.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Our first release as "konsorten(tm)" collective called "Disco 23" in the year 2001 was something like that. A year later I wrote "lang_auf", which somehow haunts me until today.
And recently it's the my solo song "Let's Fail" that is quite important for me. But actually the last three years were enormously thrilling, as well as my solo album debut "What if we don't exist?" (2018).
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?
It's quite the opposite for me: If I would wait for that state it would never happen. And if I was finally in that state, I'm pretty sure I would have nothing to say music-wise. So what works best for me is to force myself to make music in every kind of state. The ideal does not exist for me – never. It's an illusion.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I'm pretty sure that music is a very important tool for healing ... even when sometimes healing hurts a lot. At least for me. And when I think about sub- and youth culture through all the decades in the last hundred years I think it's maybe an even bigger influence on society as we may think. It's a voice for humans.
Young people growing up coming from a cultural movement are later in positions that influence our daily life. Rock'n'Roll, Punk, New Wave, Gothic, Hip Hop, Rave – it's all not just music. It supports and heals people in certain periods of their lives. I don't know if this relevancy is still given, but for me it was. So yeah, it's impossible to deny the healing power of music!
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I guess that there's a fine line between artistic inspiration and commerce. Whenever it's a sell-out, then it's mostly a bad thing.
If you are truly inspired by something, it will work out. But then you don't need to use obvious symbols or cultural signs on the other hand. When big money and mass industry get involved, it's time to give it a closer look: Who's doing what and why.
In the long run: Everything society-wise important concerning culture/art experiences a sell-out at some point. I'm afraid that's kind of a rule. But it will not stop or beat subculture.
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?
It's so much connected I can't even tell you. (laughs)
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?
Just one of many personal examples: Reading the news can make me very uncomfortable, so I try to translate that feeling for me and work with it in the studio.
Same with personal experience with friends or people I know. Most of them don't even have the slightest clue how they are involved in my music. Even I forget it quite quickly. But it's inside the songs and tracks; forever.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Oh, a whole lot. Too much to scratch even at the surface with this answer.
Just a quick example: Bowie/Eno's Low literally saved me many times; it tought me to accept circumstances, life and death without touching these topics with words. I can literally cry listening to some music without knowing why. Music does a lot with us human beings; it's almost scary for me.