Name: David Webb (Telemachus, Chemo)
Occupation: musician, producer
Current Release: Boring & Weird Historical Music on High Focus Records
Recommendation: The Notebook by Agata Kristof / https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJPT4aKUXXg The groove on this makes my hairs stand on end, and then mixed with call and response bagpipes! This moves me so much. Makes me want to pack up and become a wedding crasher in Tunisia.
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?
My first taste of making music was probably at around 12 years old - using 2 battery powered radios and mixing Jungle pirate radio with classical FM. No mixer, no recording possible, just a clanging offbeat mix coming out of the lower bunk bed in my room. It probably wasn’t clear to me at the time, but this was my first glimpse at the endless possibilities of sound creation.
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?
This is a constant discussion that I have with myself. When I first started, I wanted and tried to emulate my favourite sounds, Roni Size, Mobb Deep, DJ Krush, sometimes looping up their work and trying to work out the construction of the track and what each individual sound is doing so that I could copy their techniques. You can learn an awful lot that way. Gradually you get more confident in your own method and you learn more skills and techniques that you can add to the pot. I still feel like my stuff is a rancid derivative stew of all my influences without a distinct voice, but fans tell me categorically that I have my own singular sound and style.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Initially the challenges were more technological, when you are dealing with ASR-10s, MPC2000’s and SP1200’s (drum machines from late 90s) you have certain limitations. These limitations can of course bring out innovation, and many producers became masters of their machines but personally I don’t have the patience for endless tweaking and squeezing out an extra 5% of the equipment. I like to have the best tools available for the job. With the switch to PC/Mac-based composition a lot of these technological barriers have gone, anyone could buy a laptop for 500 quid and create a number one album. This is undoubtedly a good thing and now that I have a beautiful studio full of exotic instruments and rare synthesizers, laziness is my main enemy.
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?
Everyone’s first studio should be in their bedroom. And even if it is just your uncles old laptop with the headphones plugged into the microphone socket. I started off with some belt drive turntables and no mixer and gradually hustled small additions and upgrades to the setup until I could create full compositions on my beloved AKAI MPC2000. I lived in a shared house in Brixton for a few years and continued to build up the collection while I pretended to go to uni.
Once I realised that music was going to be my job, I knew I had to invest in some half decent gear and moved into a dedicated soundproof studio in Whitechapel, East London. Every few years I would seem to move… Camberwell, Forest Hill, Bangkok, Madrid… The setup now is pretty lovely. I am not a ‘gear-head’ though really. I struggle to think of things that I really need, and I do get rid of stuff that I do not use. Currently favourite piece is the electric cello. I can’t play it that well but working on a vaguely avant grade soundtrack for a film recently, I found I could get some fantastic tones out of it even with no real skill.
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?
Well its quite simple. Machines have no taste. When you are listening to your favourite artist, you are listening to the result of thousands of little decisions, decisions in the writing process, decisions in the composition, in the mix, in the mastering, in the video production. A machine could feasibly make copies of these decisions and indeed there is a lot more music composed by artificial intelligence out there than you might think, but for a machine to be capable of creating something truly unique, soulful and moving? No way. At least not for another 6 months at least.
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?
It is true that today it’s very easy and cheap to have access to all the building blocks to create a professional sounding track. Between very high-quality software instruments, plugins that promise to mix your tracks using AI and ready-to-rock sample packs created by very skilled producers, there really is such a breadth of high-quality tools out there. However, I would say that the old adage ‘it’s not really what you use but how you use it’ does ring true and that is what makes a difference. Expression is everything. A visionary violin player on a £50 violin is still going to sound better than me abusing a £40,000 instrument.
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?
When it comes to my own efforts, I very much prefer to be a lone wolf. I find that on my own I can experiment without the fear of doing something shit when there are others in the room and losing confidence. Even with mixing in fact, sometimes I will throw on a particular compressor and then play it back and suddenly it sounds like a dog’s dinner.
Therefore, I like to experiment on my own. Make my own mistakes, learn, and get better. I do love to collaborate with people who have skills that I do not have, fantastic voices, proper instrument players for example, I will always say thank you so much for your efforts, leave this with me now. Let me work my magic and send it back to you later. I get almost weekly requests to do a ‘Mixing Masterclass’ or similar online classes, but I have to refuse as video chats are so unnatural for me.
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 go to sleep at 1am and rise at 9am. I have a slow start and work from 11 till 2. I have a long lunch as I live in Spain and then work till about 6/7. My best ideas probably come towards the end of the day. Once I leave the studio, I do not look at emails or social media. Follow my rules and you are guaranteed to be happy and successful and you will attract sexual partners by the herd, I’m only joking as everyone is different, I know people who proper live this music life 24/7, but I like to close the studio door on Friday and hike through a forest for the weekend. I hardly ever watch stuff on telly about music, Musicians talk a lot of shit. To be honest I actually really dislike talking to people about music, maybe with sound engineers I can have a good geeky conversation but talking to Average Chris about his top 5 rappers can be very boring and unpleasant for me.