Part 2

How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?

I’m usually starting a track with my little set of rules and a curious mind, eager to find out what’s next. I’ll pick up a sound, experiment with it, play a little sequence. This usually triggers several ideas. I’ll choose another sound or instrument, add it … Then another. I’ll add, remove, twist, modulate, automate, add chains of effects, guided by what feels and sounds right at that moment. It initially goes quite quickly. Arranging and mixing at the same time, refining the structure more and more, adding details … Listening.

I know my sequencer well enough so that it feels transparent, just a familiar tool; yet, with the VSTs and sounds, I’m looking for the thrill of the unknown as I go along.

Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.

What I like very much, and that’s the main difference with a hardware-only setup of the past, is the possibility to easily archive precise (and possibly different) versions of a track, a sound or an effect. My nightmare was to record twenty takes of the same track on a DAT machine because I made a small mistake while mixing it live, or because a synth decided to mess up a sequence. I love surprises and accidents while composing, but not at the final stage of recording. Recalling sounds and effects, all meticulously noted on a notebook, was not my favourite part either. I love to go back and quickly undo or redo.

But the possibilities go beyond that, of course. Archiving sounds — waveforms or presets —, always accessible, with tags and, now, AI technology to deep search the archives is invaluable. One can quickly get a sound or an effect, to keep moving forward while arranging a track, without stopping or thinking for too long.

The question with archives, in general, is how to make them as accessible and easy to navigate as possible? Folders, tags, keywords, classifications, filters, AI … Services like Splice or Loopcloud are working on that too. It is constantly improving, getting closer to a fluid interaction between the computer and our brain.

I also love the access I can have to bits and parts from previous tracks of mine. Through its browser, Ableton Live makes I quite easy to extract a part, a sound or an effect from any file. I have some unused sequences, ideas, sitting in an archive folder and I sometimes go back there to copy a bit of it for a current piece. Nothing is ever lost.

Despite the aforementioned near endless possibilities, many productions seem to follow conventional paths. How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?

Technology can perhaps play a part in keeping things fresh, but I believe we tend to collectively stick by conventions, fear, and a general lack of imagination. Conventional structures are comforting and, in music in particular, it is difficult to deviate from established rules without sounding random, unstructured or just plain ‘difficult’. It’s an interesting challenge.

It’s hard, and I’m not sure if technology itself helps much. It’s still a question of taste, making personal choices, following intuition and choosing what to present to an audience at the end.

Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?

Technology is an essential part of the process. It is the trigger and the set of tools necessary to materialise my musical ideas. I couldn’t work without it.

How important is it for you that you personally create or participate in the creation of every element of a piece – from sound synthesis via rhythm programming to mixing?

For some recordings, I’ll create everything from scratch; I’ll collect, record or build the sounds, program or play each note, each moment, do everything by hand. For others, I’ll use synths presets (with some tweaks), or work with samples. I’ll sometimes write all the rhythms, or start from a pre-programmed pattern, or I’ll work with semi-randomisers. Any combination is possible.

All tools are fair game, as far as I’m concerned. It all depends of what I want to achieve with this particular project. Some people do an incredible job with sound and preset design. It is an art in itself, very time-consuming. Just listening to a great, well designed sound can be exciting, and makes me want to start a track immediately (and I usually do!).

I’m personally more interested in building a structured track, layering elements, textures, melody/harmony, rhythm… This is probably one the reason why I’m not diving into modular synths or Max/MSP & Pure Data. It’s addictive, a fall down the proverbial rabbit hole. I’m not sure I’d work on any music if I was programming sounds all day.

Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?

I probably wouldn’t be making music if it wasn’t for technology. I’m not so much interested in electronic sounds per se, but by the limitless creative possibilities offered by the technology.

I’d say the biggest change for me was the transition from a full-hardware setup to the computer, in the nineties. The miniaturisation of the studio, the possibility to fully compose, record, mix and master a full album with just a small machine, for a much more affordable price, is fantastic.

To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative provess. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?

Yes. I previously mentioned that I like accidents and surprises while composing, I’m also interested in generative or semi-generative music. Eno-like systems with asynchronous loops. Improvisations, more or less controlled, such as game pieces like John Zorn’s Cobra … I’m including some similar tools in my tracks, sometimes with suitable instruments and effects, or with semi-random automation, modulators (like LFOs), noise, loops of different lengths, etc.

One could see this already as a form of primitive AI: chance and indeterminacy as ghostly co-authors.

Do you personally see a potential for deeper forms of Artifical Intelligence in your music?

I’m interested in advanced forms of AI, especially to contribute to some parts of the composition — perhaps adding micro-variations to sequences and sounds, movement, in a meaningful, kind of controlled and programmable way. Modulation and automation could benefit from it. Getting closer to a ‘real’ co-author, a collaborator with a personality of some sort, mastering an instrument or technique, is fascinating. As long as we still have some input!

What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?

Possibly a more advanced DAW. I know all this exist in some form or another — Max/MSP, Bitwig Studio, Gleetchlab, and others —, but it’s scattered on different platforms and often quite esoteric. I’d love to have a well-rounded software with many non-linear, coexisting and accessible possibilities to work on music: unusual ways of sequencing, visual and mathematical tools, geometric sequencers, a deeper AI perhaps interacting with language (using words and phrases), customs instruments and modulators, sound/structure analysis, tools for improvisation, customisations based on strategies and rules (such as the ‘Oblique Strategies’ of Eno & Schmidt)…

Also, further software development to get closer to the acoustic world. Developers like Applied Acoustic Systems (with Chromaphone) or Spitfire Audio are already creating synthetic simulations of acoustic instruments or impressive collections of sample-based acoustic instruments … Effects, textures, acoustic spaces, the possibilities are endless, and I feel there’s room for more.

Previous page:
Part 1  
2 / 2