Name: Tobias Freund (aka Tobias.)
Occupation: Producer, recording engineer
Current release: Tobias Freund's intense new album under his Tobias. Moniker, Hall ov Fame, is his first excursion into a less beat- and more sound-art-oriented direction. The album is scheduled for release on November 26th 2021 on Concentric.
Equipment recommendations: First I have to mention the AMS DMX 15-80 Hamonizer. This effect unit is one of my favourites. I believe a studio can only call itself “studio”, when it owns this unit. The second would be the Neumann U 473a Compressor, a unit that is in use for production and mastering almost every day.
If you enjoyed this interview with Tobias Freund and would like to stay up to date with his music, visit his official website. He is also on Soundcloud.
What was your first studio like?
I started doing music while I was still in school and living with my parents.
My first instrument was the Korg MS-20 which I bought in 1980. Soon after, I bought a delay effect unit, a small boss 4 channel mixer, and a second tape deck. I was experimenting together with my school friend and started to do sound collages using the tape decks by recording on one, then playing back on the second while adding another layer. This was the basic setup of my first so called “studio”.
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?
I have always been very interested in technology. I never started to learn playing an instrument, my interest was in creating, recording and treating sounds. Synthesizers, drum machines and effect units were my source of inspiration.
In 1983 I started to work as an apprentice in a proper recording studio, that was right after school and civil service. I was jumping in water and learning to swim. Surrounded by the top notch recording and mixing facilities I felt right at home. Soon after my time as an apprentice I changed the studio to a studio that was one of the first digital recording studios in Europe.
This was in 1985 and studio technology switched from analog- to digital multitrack recording. Quite a fascinating time. All those possibilities of the studio job influenced my setup at home. I invested in a sampler a better mixer and multitrack recorder. Through time I used all kinds of hardware sequencers like the Korg SQ-10, Roland MSQ-700, Roland MC-500, before I switched over to Cubase on a Macintosh computer. At my studio job we started to use C-Lab - Unitor, the first version of Logic. It became the standard in most studios and since Unitor upgraded to Logic and implemented the arrange window I switched as well to Logic at my home studio.
Most of the equipment I once bought is still in use in my productions. I am still using my MS-20, the TR-808 and the MC-202 quite often.
The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do go about you selecting it? How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?
The most important advantage of a digital studio is the possibility to copy, save and recall certain steps of your production. I try not to get lost in all those digital options. I am very satisfied with the translation of my analog signals into the digital domain. Once I bought the Lynx Aurora sound card and I don’t think that I will need any update soon.
That said, I am very interested in new sound creation developments. Once in a while I check out new gear and software and there are quite some nice things coming out.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
Both situations have their quality.
The laptop studio would be an option to work on productions on the road or during your holiday. But I always like to be surrounded by my machines, I use my so called “multi-room studio” as an instrument. I am working a lot with customers on mixdowns and masterings and therefore I need my vintage sound processors. This step would not be possible for me on a laptop.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
I like to push real buttons and turn real knobs, I am not a big fan of a mouse pad or a controller that is connected to a software instrument. The biggest controller I have is my analog mixing board in my studio. The only controllers I use when I play a live show in a club are two Akai MPD-18 pads that are triggering certain drum samples. This is a key element in my show cause it justifies that I actually “play” a live show. It is always full of surprises and beautiful mistakes and keeps my live set fresh.
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 recently got a funding from the Musikfonds in Germany. I wanted to work on an old method to create real time analog echoes with two tape machines. This tape loop method was invented by Brian Eno and popularised by Robert Fripp known as “Frippertronics” in 1972. I used different audio sources and experimented with synthetic and acoustic sounds. This technic seems obsolete but it gave me a certain satisfaction to walk in the footsteps of Eno and Fripp. You can find it here: eclecticeffigies.bandcamp.com/album/reel-to-reel
Apart from this project I can say that my music has always developed with different equipment, especially with different hardware sequencers. I am a big fan of simplicity, it always keeps my creativity alive.
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.
Right now I am working on 6 different projects, one of them will be finished soon. Over the years I've been working on several pieces that never left the drawer because of different reasons. I try to conserve these ideas as much as I can, maybe I’ll find a perfect spot for them.
My aim is to always create something new and if it doesn’t lead into a finished product I’d rather leave it as it is and keep on with the next.
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?
I am not really interested in repeating myself, I am getting bored of doing the same thing over and over. My musical interest is diverse, apart from not getting too much connected to reggae or country music, I find a lot of other musical styles very appealing. From early punk music to Johann Sebastian Bach. I get lots of pleasure out of playing a techno live show in a club but also from listening or creating ambient music.
For me music is pure emotion and depending on my mood, it is very hard for me to work with people on something that I don’t feel. I can work on a mixdown of a song that I don’t like, that was mostly the part of my long time studio job. I learned to just listen to the technical side of a song and switch off the emotion. But if someone asked me to create a piece of music from scratch, for example for use in a commercial, I am blocked and unable to do the job.
During Corona lockdown it was not possible to play in a club, and I lost my appetite for producing techno in the studio. I need the conversation and experience with the audience in a club. I had the idea to do something that I haven’t done before, I started to produce a punk record for a friend of mine. I connected a bass to an amplifier and experienced physical vibration, amazing!!
So far for surprising myself.
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?
As I said before I don’t like to repeat myself. In my studio not all equipment is always connected, a lot of machines are in the shelf waiting to get used. I like the idea of having an empty page and starting to paint.
There are days where I look around and discover a machine I haven’t used for a long time. Even when I clean up my hard disc I find files or plugins that need some attention.
I don’t really have a concept before starting something new, I get a lot inspiration by chance.
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?
The creation of a piece is always connected to a mixdown.
While I am working on an idea I already try to make it sound as good as possible with the other elements. By adding a new element to a song the frequencies needs to get checked so it can fit into the picture. This is a continuous process of adding and shaping, especially when you work on experimental sound clusters.
Most of the time I work on everything from creating to mixing and mastering by myself. Though sometimes it is refreshing to hear other people's opinion.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Not really. I mean everything changed since you were able to use a computer to record audio, but that’s a long time ago.
To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. 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?
To be honest this topic is something I am not very interested in, I can’t tell you anything about it. I believe that music can only be done by humans.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
I think it is important to minimise your tools. In my case I get stock when I have too much possibilities. I did my best tracks with just a few instruments. My boss always said, less is more, and I totally agree!!