Name: Bartek Kuszewski
Occupation: Composer / producer
Current Release: Towards the Blackest Skies on Leidforschung
Recommendation: Cyclobe, Wounded Galaxies Tap at the Window / D.Å.R.F.D.H.S. , In The Wake Of The Dark Earth
Website/Contact: Visit Rites of the Fall online at ritesoffall.bandcamp.com/
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?
I grew up listening primarily to guitar music, getting heavier and heavier with time. As much as I was into metal, I think the turning point was discovering Nine Inch Nails; it sparked my interest in electronics. I always had a soft spot for synths and space. I was totally blown away as a kid while watching films like Dune, Blade Runner and how music contributed to their atmosphere. Looking at the lasting popularity and influence of the latter, it seems I wasn't the only one.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. 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?
I was always obsessed with gathering as many details about my favourite records as possible. Every time I could replicate someone else's technique or sound it was naturally gratifying, but it's like learning something for your vocabulary - I would often not need it until years later. From my current standpoint, I still care about how a record I particularly like was made, but with the notion that it’s a recipe that won't necessarily translate into my own work in any way. It will just reveal how ideas and creative processes are applied, and that is much more interesting than only let's say, gear used or technical bits. I think, especially now, one has an over-abundance of learning material. This is tricky because everyone else also does, and it sometimes takes away the state of free experimentation without full realisation of what you're actually doing.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Consistency is the key thing that I needed to understand and I'm still trying to improve it. When you produce on your own with a set of contemporary tools, it's very tempting to explore a vast array of possibilities. If you're not careful you can easily end up with a set of tracks that sound like they come from different projects. There has to be some way of telling how things glue together. It can be genre-specific, or maybe about staying within a defined set of sounds. The second, is learning to subtract; getting to the essence of what you're trying to achieve. Asking yourself what should be left in and out of the composition.
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?
I started with a laptop, guitar, midi controller, audio interface and a pair of Event monitors. It slowly grew from there. I started acquiring a few more bits of gear several years ago. Hardware was important in learning sound design for me. Even the simplest synths I got at first accelerated my understanding of synthesis. With that said, software is still central for executing my ideas and the things I've learned on physical instruments contribute a lot to my work with virtual ones. If I were to pick the studio essentials it'd be simply the monitors and the computer. You can go very far having just that. Besides that, Make Noise 0-Coast is something I keep coming back to lately, really well-designed and compact but at the same time a very deep instrument.
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?
That's a very good question. I spend a substantial amount of time thinking about that. My take is that the current state of creative technology boils down to one question - what do YOU want to do with it? On the surface - regardless if you're musician, photographer, filmmaker - there's never been a better time to create, the entry barrier is very low. The human element still needs to feed ideas into the machine though. With music, one of the recent developments is the fetishisation of gear compared to software. On one hand, you could read it as the need to go back to workflows that are free of distractions and the option-paralysis of computer music-making. On the other hand, gear does not guarantee ideas nor does it substitute the self-discipline and dedication needed to make music.
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?
For me, it's a never-ending cycle of experiments. Like for many people, the core of my setup is Ableton Live, and what it excels at is iteration. You can take the smallest bit, a loop, sample, a chord progression - whatever you got - and easily rework it and try different elements that fit with it - over and over again. You don't really need to plan ahead much using it, and that’s what often unblocks creativity the most. The second tool I use a lot is Reaktor. It's ridiculous how ahead of its time it was when I first came across it. It covers so much ground sonically, even looking at the user library only. The third one would be my modular and pedals. It's a very simple setup, just a few elements, but as I mentioned it's equally important sonically as it is in encouraging experiments of semi-random exploration. Once you learn how the happy accidents work in that environment it's easier to encourage them in your software domain.
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?
Collaborations were initially a catalyst to finish the first batch of music as Rites of Fall. I created tons of sketches, but they were missing something and adding guest performers made them come alive. I tried to follow a similar approach with the album. It's also good to listen to your own music through the ears of other people. Even the sole presence of somebody next to you while listening makes a difference. It's really helpful when you have this shift of perspective.
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 a very habitual person. I work on a mostly fixed schedule to be able to create while having a regular job. I often work very early in the morning because of that, usually fitting around an hour for whatever I'm working on at the moment. So, for now it's mainly about separating these two areas. Habit is a very powerful tool for that purpose. With that kind of setup, it's important for me not to approach working on music from a productivity perspective. I must allow myself to do whatever seems interesting in this particular moment, but in a dedicated way.