Name: Martin Stimming
Current release: Stimmings new album Ludwig is out on his very own Stimming Recordings.
If you enjoyed this interview with Stimming, visit his beautifully layouted and informative website for more information and music.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
To be honest, inspiration mostly comes from the devices I use. Combining them with a real-life feel usually comes later and, of course, is something that is driven by the tracks' harmony. So, first I find a sound that triggers something (imagine flying seagulls surrounding you trying to eat the toast that’s in your hand) then I would combine that with a harmony idea plus a groove that fits.
If the combination resonates inside of me, I know I should go on with that. Very rarely there's a real external inspiration.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
When I realized that in modern music-making you simply can not plan things, that was a moment of freedom! With all those possibilities it's simply not possible to have anything more than a very abstract idea of where things might lead to ...
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
As I said earlier, a finished track often is a combination of already interesting components. The better those parts, the stronger the final track can be. "Die Luft" for example was two completely different tracks that didn't work on their own but came to live together.
Apart from that I try to keep my desk clean and don't have too many knobs in front of me - too many knobs kill my creativity.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
No, I don't have a ritual. I just figured out that enough sleep and good food make the difference - as creativity in itself cannot be switched on like a machine, the surroundings need to be treated well. The main surrounding for creativity is our body, making it important to care for it. This, by the way, is the main reason why drugs don't really work in a creative process - for a short period of time they may help but in the end they are tiring, which easily gets you trapped in a vicious cycle.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Give me a sampler and a mic and I start with a groove. Tapping on the wooden table, adding a pinged filter bass - this can easily be a start.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
In an interview with Amon Tobin I read that he puts anchor points in his arrangement as a raw sketch that he then fills with more and more life. I really like that approach and try to remember doing it like this once my tracks feel like they are leaving the pure "idea" state.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I was just about to say that in the question before - at some point it's no longer you making the track actively, it's the track in itself which demands what it needs. Usually, this happens about halfway through the progress.
And also, as I said earlier, I allow myself to state: in modern music production (at least in a DAW, filled with plugins) it is not possible to keep strict control over the process - anyone who pretends he can is either a very rare genius or lying to himself. There is this study from a scientist from Norway (if I remember right) which states that one needs 10000 hours of practice and then he knows what he is doing - in music production I think it's a lot more ...
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I save them in a separate folder called "ideas". Every now and then, if I start a new album for example, I listen through all of them and pick the ones that are promising. If I stumble about something during the process I try to decide very fast if it might fit into the actual track or if it's worth saving.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
In the valuable moments, it's a state of pure focus. My mind is focused on what I do completely, nothing from the outside is disturbing. I bought a little phone which can only do text and calls so I'm not to disturbed in the studio by my "smart" phones - and you know what? In the studio, those days where this tiny Punkt phone is my only way of communication to the outside world are better than the ones when I bring my smartphone.
Unfortunately, because of the release of my album and the necessary zoom conferences those days are rare right now. I'm looking forward to the simple phone days again.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I finish because I decide so.
And the long answer is: every released track of mine came to a point where I felt - it's finished. Surprisingly, this is often a technical issue - once there are no, or only very few, red lights ("over") on the master out, the mix is good. Before that I have already spent a couple of hours from the initial idea to the arrangement, so I am also at a point where I feel like this could be it. If then there are no red lights, it's only very few hours to go - cleaning up fades, getting rid of the last overs - that kinda stuff.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
When it's done, I print it and listen to it in a different situation with different speakers and (even better) other listeners. Often I don't even tell them it's new because it's not important.
I remember feeling very uncomfortable in those situations but since a few years, I've been mostly very confident. If this confidence isn't disturbed: all good. If I didn't announce it and someone (the best is someone with no music background) says: wow, I like that! - even better (laughs).
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Apart from the mastering process, everything should be made by me. And it's all mixed up from the very beginning - I technically mix during the whole process, just as I invent the sounds and grooves.
I embrace someone else doing the final touch, though - having fresh ears and a fresh view is very valuable, especially for an album. It's very easy to not see the forest for the trees.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Yeah, I often make the mistake of starting something new immediately, or trying to work on the next track as soon as I finish the previous one. This actually never works (laughs). So I try to, at least for that day, leave it at that.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Making music is my art form and there is nothing else like it for me (especially not a cup of coffee). I like to cook though. So, if I manage to do something simple but effective for my family and everyone is happy afterwards, it gets somewhat close to the happiness of creation in music. Still - achieving something as complex and beautiful as, let's say, "melodica" for me is the greatest.