Name: Tangerine Dream
Members: Ulrich Schnauss, Thorsten Quaeschning, Hoshiko Yamane
Interviewee: Thorsten Quaeschning
Occupation: Producer, Multi-Instrumentalist
Current Release: Particles on Invisible Hands Music
Recommendations: I think it’s a fun intellectual game to draw imaginary lines between Tangerine Dream’s “Zeit” and “Underwater Sunlight”.
Website/ Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Tangerine Dream, do check out our previous conversations with Jerome Froese, Johannes Schmoelling and Steve Jolliffe. More information on the band can be found on the official Tangerine Dream webspace.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started composing music when I was very young, maybe around 1984 when I was 7 years old. Starting with simple melodies but always carefully written down on music paper. In 1992 I got my first little MIDI Sequencer, a Yamaha QY20 which was probably the closest to what you can call a production tool.
As a child I preferred classical music like Humperdinck, Wagner, Telemann, Smetana and Mozart. Later in the nineties I was very much into Gothic, Progressive and Alternative Rock. Bands like The Mission, Pearl Jam, Genesis, Fields of the Nephilim, Van der Graaf Generator and Counting Crows. I was attracted to big walls of sound with a lot of reverb and vocals with a very deep attitude!
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?
At school I had music lessons four times a week and for more than a decade learned everything about my chosen instruments – piano, flute and violin. It is very important to understand the instrument thoroughly if you want to express yourself. Fortunately I have always been in a position to enjoy making and composing music; but as it happened, I never made the sort of music I would listen to at home, which helped prevent getting stuck in a genre, so it was a very natural thing to create original music. In Tangerine Dream there are many fixed rules for scales to be used and programming step-sequencer-bass lines which I learned entirely from Edgar. When creativity meets instrumental knowledge, meets rules made by a visionary, it’s an incredible combination.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The hardest challenge was to match the music that you are hearing in your imagination with the your recording and editing abilities. On the compositional side it’s hard to find the right distance, always working to adjust the parameters for a final and satisfying decision. If things need more time – take it. If you like it that way – just make it. After many years of doing this, the only thing that hasn’t changed is the work that has gone into each project.
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 home-studio started with some synthesizers like the Korg M1, Yamaha CS20m, Yamaha MU80, Crumar Performer and Korg Prophecy. I had an Atari with Cubase linked to a MTC converter to get a sync from an 8 track tape machine. Some months later I bought my first Fostex D80, a digital 8 track hard disc recorder, a mixing desk and some other effects.
This expanded year by year, sometimes even week by week, more synthesizers, a better computer (but still with Cubase), more effects. The equipment that changed my way of working the most was a step-sequencer, two specially-made “Manikin Schrittmacher” (with some extra features and different LEDs because I´m red/green/brown colour blind). My modular system has changed very much over the years, in the momentary version I have five discrete channels to play five different sounds in mono, or a five voice polyphonic version to build big and versatile pads and polysynths.
I also very much enjoy using my own field-recordings of noises or noises, like a screwdriver on wood, et cetera, recorded with contact microphones.
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 accelerates the process of composing and producing music. Also the ability of total recall while mixing, then starting a different track or returning to the one you worked on the week before is one of the biggest enhancements since the 90s.
Technology is about expanding possibilities, to build a bridge, and maximize your ability to transpose the music in your head into reality. Machines are a lot more precise than humans, but on the other hand it’s easy to minimise your own style by using computer algorithms like quantise and velocity edits – the temptation to go for perfection over feel and performance should be resisted when possible!
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?
Many of my compositions exist before I play them into my recording software. Sometimes a new sound may lead the track in a slightly different direction. The track itself seems to take control of its own direction towards the final result rather than being canalized by software or hardware tools.
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 really like collaborations because in a win/win situation two people have musically more to say than only one. It’s great to share working processes, views, tricks and hacks with colleagues. The best way of working together is the unbeatable situation of being in the same room with instruments and software you are familiar with. A best case scenario would include living in the same house for several months because the “little magic things” and conversations happening at unexpected times that may trigger something useful to the music.
Sometimes time or money is short and you have to deal with clouds like Dropbox and Skype conferences which is OK, too. Being individual in your work doesn’t exclude compromises with other views and opinions. It can lead to very interesting and deeper results without losing your own style.
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 in the comfortable position to have my own studio where I live. I try to wake up at a single digit time which allows me to participate in the world outside if it’s necessary. After a tea, or maybe a “coffee overture”, I usually go the basement where my studio is and this leads to a very important part of the day: listening to yesterday’s work with fresh ears, editing and re-arranging the music. I’ll probably work on that for some hours. At noon I start checking emails and phone some people which is a fine opportunity to make new coffee. In summer I like to go cycling for a few hours in the afternoon and my favourite non-music activity: driving motorboats every two weeks. In winter I would just make another pot of marzipan tea. I normally work until 9pm which is maybe a very long time but, I really like working in my studio so this is a good thing. If my head is still working at night I write down notes or click them into little toys like the OP1. So it´s very much all about the music with very little interruptions.