Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you? 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 process differs very much with the task – composing music for a film, a videogame or a regular album. In most cases I feel like I’m working in a comfortable environment when I’m very sure about the vision and the ideas about the music. To describe an example, I did the score for a movie called Cargo between January and March 2017. First I tried to understand the movie and the visions and ideas behind the movie. Then I prepared some special sounds that would fit into the movie's environment. In that case I drove to an abandoned industrial area to find some empty containers to hammer beats on them with sticks, mallets, shoes, anything I could find for this task. A pre-recorded click in different tempo on my headphones and a couple of field-recorders placed around the container then hitting it until the security guys stopped us. Out of this sampling session I created around eighty percent of all percussion sounds for the movie.
In the next phase I tried to find my “voice” inside the movie to see which atmospheres are there to explore, and on the other hand to see which counter-movements might be possible. For me the first scene is always the most difficult one – so I made five versions of the first six minutes. Sometimes I start even in the middle of the movie, working nonlinear which makes sense in a different way.
When the sketches are done the music itself takes control over the production and tells me where it should go to, which colours are needed sound wise and which tempo work within the atmosphere. I had to hit many edits in the movie which has an effect on tempo, but mostly it felt very natural. In the end I realised that the protagonist had changed so much inside the story that the sound changed too, and I recorded a string-section which appears only in the last eighteen minutes of the soundtrack to create a counter-part to the other very hard electronic sounds.
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?
That is tough question. I know that things like reading emails or Facebook messages would distract me from entering the creative centre so I don’t do this in problematic moments. The “magical moment” might not necessarily be the first trigger so I might enter the creative zone after working for hours.
In fact it is hard or impossible for me to spot this moment while it’s present. So I have no other choice than to start working and see what happens. To get into the creative flow is an accident that creates nearly automatic behaviour.
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 don´t believe in improvisation, that’s why I describe session situations as “real-time composing”. In these moments I recall the rules of composition I learned and practiced my whole life. My idea of music always is related to serve the music itself instead of enjoying yourself in a free-form ego-performance.
Of course composing in a studio is a different setting because I can work in a nonlinear way and repeat phrases and record single parts as long and often as I like. Also the chord changes in a session situation are more predictable because you have be aware of the other musicians involved. Both parts are interesting for different reasons and I learned a lot out of session situations.
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 and composition together create the opus. Especially in electronic music, both parts are strongly connected to each other. I’m in the fortunate position that people connect me with a certain sound and sound design. There have been a few occasions where I passed some offers because I know that I’m not good enough or just incurious in the genre that was expected from me.
Interesting sounds can create an atmosphere which leads to a kind of logical conclusion when it comes to choose the next note of a melody. Things like resonating frequencies can definitely have a big influence on choosing keys and bass-notes, especially in drone-like moments. When string instruments are involved you have to stay away from open strings because the note can’t be played with vibrato, and keeping in mind the “last deep note” like falling on an A or an Ab as last note works much better than a D for example. (Exactly the opposite is the best rule for using cello.)
In Tangerine Dream we have ideas and sonic guideposts from Edgar and a very good team when it comes to combine sounds. Ulrich is unbelievably good at creating shimmering and airy sounds – meanwhile I’m used to making huge and bassy sounds, and catchy melodies.
Tangerine Dream have always had a huge impact on the history of electronic music both for their sound design and tracks so we are trying our best to stay interesting.
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?
Synaesthesia is a very interesting field of things to know and to explore. Melodies and sounds can trigger endorphins or serotonin-dysfunctions. They can reset you into feelings of euphoria or weltschmerz [a very German melancholy]. They can provide feelings of warmth and cold, and remind you of special and intense moments in your life when you first heard that single sound or melody.
Regarding other senses, on the one hand making music for films or videogames and on the other hand playing concerts with created visuals in the background can be productive but sometimes fragile. It could lead to a positive way of intoxication where the borders of the senses are floating.
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?
Music is my way of expression and to express my thoughts and opinions. In a best case scenario music can trigger opinions and create a special way of thought. As a music creator I feel that I have to take care about the intentions of my music or the music I’m involved with without having the impetus to save the world because sometimes that quest would be too big.
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?
Technology can flatten the ways to get a different approach to music. Things like interactive admission to, for example, the length and denseness of music which means having control of vertical and horizontal parameters could possibly bundle the music’s consumer in an emotional way by sharing the duty of creativity. Flexible parameters such as tempo and even keys or the potential to change from minor to major could be another option.
But I would fear that this would resulting characterless music, in which the final idea of being flexible could have an impact on the way of producing and composing the music and would uncouple my feelings and intentions while composing the music from the end result.
Decisions are made for a reason and that includes among many things the lengths and the mix of the music.