Name: Robot Koch / Robert Koch
Occupation: Producer, Composer
Current Release: Under the name of Dreaming Of Ghosts, Robot Koch just released a s/t album on Trees & Cyborgs.
Recommendations: Book: The four agreements by Manuel Ruiz. Music: A Love Supreme by John Coltrane.
If you enjoyed this interview with Robot Koch and want to find out more, visit his excellent website for recent updates and sound excerpts from all his different projects.
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 started as a drummer in a death metal band aged 15. I was fascinated by the darkness, the sonic intensity and the high technical skill level of death metal. But I soon opened my horizon to other genres. I was playing drums in a post rock band aged 17 when the guitarist turned me on to John Coltrane. It opened up a whole new universe for me and A Love Supreme is one of my all time faves still.
But I was already drawn to sound much earlier in my life. One of my childhood memories is me sitting at my mom's piano and just pressing a random note while holding down the sustain pedal and just enjoying how the sound reverberated in the body of the piano and in the room. I loved the decay of the sound in space, how it slowly rang out.
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?
Good question, I tried to be Dave Lombardo on drums when I started playing drums and wanted to make beats like DJ Shadow or some Ninja Tune type stuff when I started producing. It`s something useful in the beginning to develop skills, to learn how things are made but the real challenge is to find your own voice. And then to keep developing that voice further, so you don`t repeat yourself but keep exploring. For me this is the most interesting part in music now: how do I sound authentic to myself and still explore new musical realms without losing my own voice in it.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Mixing was a big issue for me. I never trusted myself to do good mixes and thought I needed so much outboard equipment to make a good mix.
I had other people mix my music in the beginning but it would often not sound the way I wanted it to sound. So I had to learn the craft of mixing myself, step by step. It`s been really rewarding to step out of my comfort zone of “I can`t do this” and learning to do things on my own.
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 was a PC with a crappy built-in soundcard and even more crappy speakers. And Magix Music Maker plus Fruity Loops. That was it.
My set up grew over time, eventually I had a full studio with recording booth, mixing console, outboard gear, analog synths etc but I sized it back down when I moved to LA. Now my setup is pretty compact: A laptop, a good mic, good preamp, a few very selected synths and pedals and good monitor speakers. That´s all I need. And if I need to record an orchestra I go to another, bigger studio.
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 think humans still excel at emotional expression. But AI is catching up. We invest too much in developing AI and too little in developing human consciousness. We´re capable of so much more but rely so much on technology.
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?
One example would be working with an analog synth. Especially one that has a life of its own. I love the fact that the interaction creates happy accidents that inspire new ideas. The synth would not have made the sound without my interaction and I would not have come up with the idea without the sound it made. It`s a beautiful interdependence
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?
The personal connection is very important to me. Maybe the most important thing nowadays. I used to collab with artists I didn`t really know but nowadays I want to know the person before I commit to a collaboration. Once that connection is established it can be anything from filesharing to working in a room together.
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?
It´s pretty structured. I get up early-ish. Around 7. I dedicate an hour to my meditation and pranayama (breathing techniques) practise. Then I make breakfast and start working on music around 8.30. I work until around 2pm, take a break, go for lunch or a coffee, meets a friend or take a business meeting. Then I continue working until around 8pm. I wind down by reading a book or sometimes binging Netflix.
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 song "Nitesky" started on piano. It was just 3 chords and ideas and moods in my head. Images of being alone in the forest at night, without being scared but more touched by the beauty of the night sky. I recorded the piano chords and then visited a friend who has a big analog synth collection and just jammed over the 3 chords, recording various passages of synth for hours. I took the hard drive home and started editing the recordings a few days later, added the beat and started arranging the piece.
Then I had a show in Mexico City so I flew out there and pulled the song up again in the hotel room. I had not worked on it for days and being jetlagged and in a different environment shed a whole new light on the piece. I was sitting by the window and re arranged the piece. Until I felt like it was complete. Then many months passed and I connected with the singer John la Monica via Soundcloud. It was the kind of collaboration I would not do any more these days. Just sending music to someone I never met. But he nailed it. He sent me back the vocal takes and I realised the song was almost done. It took only a little re arranging and mixing to finalise it.
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?
For me disconnecting is powerful. Spending time in nature. Not listening to music. Just nature sounds. Or silence. It´s when I withdraw that I feel most creative. Less input makes for more output for me. It´s about making space for an idea to come through.
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?
I love writing music. Maybe more than performing it. The creative process is what I'm all about. You could say performing is part of that, and there is something magical about experiencing your music with an audience in real time. But if I`d have to choose between studio or stage I`d always pick the studio. But I don´t have to choose so I get to do both which I`m very happy about as well.
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?
Sound inspires composition for me. It leads the way. I could not just write in general midi and imagine it to sound good later. It needs to have a timbre, texture already when I start with it, something that inspires the composition and the direction the songs wants me to go.
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?
It`s an interesting question. I work on the overlap of senses in my audio visual show Sphere, which is an immersive experience designed for Planetariums and Full Dome Venues. We`re playing with the whole nervous system of the viewer/listener to create an experience that transcends just sound or visuals. It`s the moment when 1+1 equals 3.
I`m very keen to dig deeper into this with my work.
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?
To me art is about expressing myself. It can be radical, introverted, political and transformative. And I can tap into a feeling of connection to something bigger than me through music and reflect that back on the listener. So it`s about connection. About belonging to a bigger truth.
And about releasing Karma.
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 curious if we can discover more healing aspects of the frequencies/sound in music, how it relates to our body. Maybe we discover a way of perceiving music with the whole body on a deeper level one day, a deeper experience than “just” listening.