Name: Steve Hauschildt
Current Release: Nonlin on Ghostly International. Click here to order.
Recommendations: I would recommend After Finitude by Quentin Meillassoux and The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells.
If you enjoyed this interview with Steve Hauschildt, check out his bandcamp profile and/or facebook page for recent updates and plenty more music.
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 recording electronic music at the end of 2001 when I was still a teenager in high school in the suburbs of Cleveland. Looking back on it, it was a very rudimentary take on detroit techno, electro and 90s Warp label aesthetics. I usually cite artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre & Drexciya as being some of the most significant influences during that period of discovery. But I was also very into Orbital, Luke Vibert, the Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and stuff along this axis despite the fact that I had no clue about the methodology pertaining to how the music was made. I think I was drawn to it because it was sonically contrary to most of the musical traditions happening in Cleveland and what I would encounter on mainstream radio.
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?
There was most definitely a phase of learning and emulation. Mimesis is mostly unavoidable when you're soaking in influences at a young age but this is not a bad thing. During the mid 2000s Emeralds was in a way birthed out of an admiration for the music of bands like Black Dice, Growing, Aaron Dilloway, the Double Leopards and the Skaters amongst many others. Another pivotal moment for myself and the band was hearing Kevin Drumm's Land of Lurches. That album changed the game for us entirely.
We were fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of great experimental musicians and bands in the midwestern United States that were considered 'noise' but the general idea was just having an open an non-traditional approach to making music. So this period of time was certainly a transitional one as we were finding our own singular voice amongst our peers. Because of the nature and general approach of 'noise music' there was a kind of 'forgetting' of traditional music that was happening and this allowed for a wellspring of creativity that was less attached to formal expectations. The music I've been making as a solo artist has the benefit of retrospect considering all manner of these influences.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I started off using just freeware in a time when music software was still finding its place in home recording. I didn't start by using any external instruments as it was all in the box. My compositional tools at the onset of Emeralds was essentially a cheap microphone from Radio Shack and a delay pedal. We were basically just doing vocal drones at the beginning before we integrated synthesizers and guitars. We would also record directly to cassette tapes before Solar Bridge in 2008 which was I believe the first one we recorded to computer. Even once we started working in DAWs it was still so tedious and the emphasis was more on capturing the musical performances and not so much the 'production.' I'm actually amazed that we were able to make the records we did given all of the production constraints we had.
Nowadays my workflow couldn't be any more different as I've fortunate to have been able to build a small studio with a decent interface, summing mixer, 500 series modules, patchbays in addition to the plug-ins, modular and polyphonic synths at my disposal.
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 'studios' were just wherever we would set up our equipment so it could be a bedroom, a basement, a third floor etc. Even just the simple fact of having a designated space for a studio has been a game changer. My studio has evolved to suit my needs and approach. It's a very open and modular approach to a studio environment as I can patch and mix things in a seemingly infinite amount of ways.
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?
Technology is fully integrated into my creative approach. This may sound obvious but humans excel at conveying the affairs of humanity and society at large. Machines can't articulate this in the same way because of the difference in intelligence and perspective. But certainly technology excels at efficiency and speed.
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?
All the aforementioned tools blur together in my work. Certain pieces emphasize pieces of equipment more than others. However I don't think music equipment is that interesting conceptually in the context of a larger statement. It all serves as a means for me to express my feelings and surroundings.
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 can say I value collaboration greatly but I thrive in a more supervisory role in the studio. Usually when I work with artists and musicians I allow a lot of space for them to express themselves without dictating a specific idea to them. So we can record a bunch of tracks with little pressure which I can arrange later on in the studio. It just creates a much healthier work environment than having like a bunch of exact phrases for people to play like a robot or something. Music should flow and not be this rigid process. I prefer to work in person but there have been times where vocalists I've worked with have recorded remotely. Mixing is also a collaborative process which should almost always be done in person. The last few records I've made with Rafael Irisarri have largely benefitted from having many work sessions.
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?
My days are rather mundane and I don't find it that interesting. That said I try to keep a normal schedule and work through the daytime. I don't normally work on music in the morning as I relegate this time to emails and other menial tasks. Inspiration is not always a thing you can segment or set to a time of day. So sometimes I'll work on something at 2AM if it makes sense. I don't have this very designated time period to work on music like Philip Glass for example. For many decades he would only compose for only a few hours a day at the same time and if he was inspired later at night or something he wouldn't work on it then. He just conditioned his mind to work in this brief period of time in the day and while it is inspiring it's not something I think i could do personally. Music is fully blended into my day to day life however I wish I had more time to just record and not work on all of the ancillary things around music that are necessary to make a living from it.
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?
A lot of my work starts in the home studio because it is where I am most comfortable to work. I will then flesh out the track over a period of weeks or months. Depending on the track I will do more recording at other studios. Once I have the main composition of the track set, then I will seek collaborators for work for hire if the track requires it. Sometimes this is totally spontaneous and other times it's something I've planned from the beginning of a piece. Sometimes I'll work on a track remotely when I'm on tour overseas with a bit of downtime. Ultimately once I have the songs done I then take them to a studio to be mixed. I like to separate the recording and mixing processes as much as possible as they're mentally different processes. The mixing process can sometimes take months for a single track and requires hundreds if not thousand of micro-decisions about every sound in a track. I like to have another set of ears and experience to work with. Then when it's all finished I select a mastering engineer to lend their own color and expression to this already collaborative work. So it transforms quite a bit over a period of months from an idea in my head to a finished song.
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?
The ideal state of mind for me is to have a beginner's mindset. Ideally every track is its own contained sound world and it's beneficial to have this naive approach to come to new ideas. This might not make sense but it really works for me. The biggest distraction for me is actually thinking about finishing a track while I'm working on it. I don't like to think about the idea of finishing something while I'm recording. I relegate this to the mixing process and I find that committing to choices early on is a good way of maintaining the 'human element' in a song if this is something that matters to you. Sometimes this matters to me and other times I want to convey work that does not evoke humanity in any sense.
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?
There are songs that I can't possibly replicate in a live environment. I don't necessarily think about playing the songs live when I write them. Once the album is done then I figure out which tracks I can adapt to live versions. Many of them are quite difficult to do even with a modular synth. But yeah the axes of improvisation and composition are fully related in my working process.
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?
I view music as simply being organized sound so it's all under the umbrella of composition for me.
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?
I think about how vividly memory is tied to the sensation of smell and how this relates to how hearing a song can transport you to an embedded memory from many years ago. It has not so much to do with nostalgia but with recollection.
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?
I reflect back my reality and surroundings into the work. It's important to have ambiguity and leave the music up for multiple interpretations. I can't really engage with fully literal artwork that seeks to fully explain its own meaning. If I chose to fully explain what my work is about it would be pretty boring for people to interact with. My work has always been referential and highly conceptual yet most of the time it has gone unnoticed and people can still enjoy the music on a surface level. My new album could be interpreted as a response to entropy and the accelerated, self-imposed death of nature or it could also be something people listen to while they're working or at the gym. Either way I've succeeded if it doesn't have one defined interpretation.
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?
Music and the existing sub-structure which allows it to manifest as it does are in critical condition. We are talking about the inevitable consequences of wealth distribution playing out in a hyper-capitalist state. We see this in all facets of the industry including press. Where music goes is going to be fully dependent on how we value it as a society and how future generations decide to interface with it. I'm confident it will continue to inspire people and reflect the times but the relative power and value it holds in society is going to keep diminishing.