Name: Louis Sterling
Occupation: Sound Artist / Researcher
Current Release: Adisceda on 99Chants
Recommendations: Race and Racism in Contemporary Britain by John Solomos / Experimental Music Since 1970 by Jennie Gottschalk / DCXXXIX.AC by David August / Successor by The Dedekind Cut
Website/Contact: Keep up with Louis' releases on his Bandcamp page louissterling.bandcamp.com
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?
On visits to see my Dad in Birmingham after my parents divorced back in 2006/7, he would often take us to local art galleries and a small music shop called sound control to bash around on the production gear. Now I look back, he had very little money at the time, and often used these places to keep us entertained on our trips into the city during our childhood. My father is black-British and a contemporary dancer by profession, so the influence from his West Indian heritage and dance circles lead him towards the black contemporary movement (think Soul II Soul, Robert Glasper and Omar Lye Fook). Throughout the 1980’s - 1990’s, he was part of an electronic trio called ‘Architect’, during a time when electronic music really started to take off in the UK. Generally, his collection of music included The Roots, J Dilla, Dabrye, Parliament Funkadelic and more - which had initially sparked my early love for music, particularly hip-hop and off-kilter, beat-driven music.
By 2010/11, I developed an obsession to learn how artists made the music that I was listening to. The process of turning an idea into a reality to be a truly magical concept. It was during a lesson at school, that I had met a friend of mine who was into very similar music, and over time, our talks had encouraged me to purchase my first Akai MPD-18 controller (a basic MIDI controller that allowed me to program samples on my Laptop.) At the time, I was not very focused at school, so I’d spent my evening hours at home learning, eventually gaining competence at something that I felt good at. I realized that it had become a new for me to vocalize myself. Now that I put things into perspective, I never felt that I was never very good at expressing myself, my abilities or my emotions, so this early discovery of music, not as a pastime, but as an activity became a very useful way for me to relay my thoughts and how I felt about certain things in the world.
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?
At times, I’ve had difficulty finding my voice as an artist, however generally, my music evolved alongside the maturity from my teenage years through to adulthood. I was very uncomfortable in my own skin as a teenager, and generally felt quite angry and lost, which I think can be heard in earlier works (2013-2015) under Auxx. My friends and I were very motivated by Hip-Hop and African American culture, which, in itself, is very politically driven. However, the more confident I became in myself, the more confident I would become on the technical side of music production, allowing me to achieve my ideas flexibility, and think about how I wanted my sound to relay to others. “What would feelings sound like?” is a question I often ask myself when writing music. I find that it helps to disregard the many styles of music that have been achieved before my time, otherwise I subconsciously sway to emulating the sounds of an artist that I once aspired to be. It is only natural for us to categorize where we stand, but I feel the more comfortable you are with your creative output, the more likely your ideas are to be achieved and cherished by others organically.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My overall knowledge of music was extremely limited. I knew very little terminology that was typically used in the studio, however in later years, my friends would teach me how to achieve certain ideas, through a similar way of learning a new language. Joe Deamer (Josi Devil / Mungo's Hi-Fi) was one of my friends that showed me the ins and outs of synthesis, and he was very particular and careful in the way he produced his music. Observing his creative process taught me how to turn rough sketches into full-bodied works.
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 in my bedroom. I was limited to an old pair of speakers, a broken laptop, a cheap turntable, SP 404 and MPD-18. It was really the bare minimum. Although I told myself that I could upgrade my studio equipment if my royalties paid for it - which they later did! Through several publishing deals and live shows, I was able to upgrade my broken speakers to HS8 studio monitors, a MacBook Pro, and some other equipment for live performances, which are now my most important bits of gear to make music. Purchasing this equipment was the moment where I would realize what I’d achieved, as having started out with very little.
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?
The term “Drum machines have no soul” is true! Whilst generative audio can sound complex, there would be no authentic outcome if it wasn’t for human-computer interaction. In the 10 years that I have been creating music, the technology involved in the process has progressed drastically. To route a sequencer or synthesiser, it would have taken hours of studying and practice, whereas now, the process is a lot more automated, and there are millions of resources to pull from the internet. Computers can assist us with complex tasks and calculations, but they do not have the conscience to determine what sounds ‘good’ or make realistic comparisons. In that sense, the involvement of technology in today's music industry is both a blessing and a curse.
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?
In comparison to the way that I used to produce my previous work under Auxx, I now tend to move away from complex software, VSTs and AU components to produce my music. This is mainly because the technical process can eliminate the creative side of the brain if overdone and used without reason. I still use Ableton live as the central hub of my work, I try to separate my ideas from the program when I can, or if not, use it as freely as possible and off-grid. A close example of this process is on my debut LP (Louis Sterling - Adisceda), which was recorded without any quantization, and contained as much acoustic instrumentation and organic textures throughout.
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?
Thankfully, I started creating music in a time where collaboration could be achieved through simple online exchanges and cloud storage sites. In 2013, I would often collaborate with producers from across the world, with some artists being as far as the USA, Taiwan and Australia. It felt abnormal working with people of whom I didn't know in person, however there was a great sense of community and support between artists, record labels, collectives and radio shows. Years later, I became fortunate to meet these producers in person (Scott Xylo, Kidkanevil), through live gigs and studio sessions. David August was another one of these people, who after sending a simple demo online, became a mentor for my music, eventually cosigning me and kindly inviting me to play on a number of stages across the UK.
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?
Generally my involvement with music has intertwined into my daily life. Most of the time, I am either working on upcoming projects remotely, or on the off days looking for new inspiration and drafting new ideas as to where I can take my music further. Thankfully, I am now in a position to release, perform and broadcast my work at times that are most convenient for me, due to the strong network, relationships and support that I've built overtime. Whilst I continue to write new music, I have also gained an understanding of the difficulties and challenges that artists have to face in today's industry, which has given me a good understanding of when I should create and schedule new material, instead of endlessly overworking, which could become problematic for wellbeing and health. I become more aware of the work-financial-personal lifestyle balance these days.