Name: VITALIC aka Pascal Arbez-Nicolas
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Nationality: French
Current release: VITALIC's new album DISSIDÆNCE“ (Episode 1) is out via Clivage.
Equipment recommendations: The GRP A4 is an Italian made analog synth with a very creative sequencer. It’s like piloting an A380. I feel I have a personal link with my unit.
ASM Hydra is a small digital synth that offers endless modulation possibilities and yet it sounds very warm or very harsh when wanted.

If you enjoyed this interview with VITALIC and would like to stay up to date on his music, visit him on his official homepage. He is also represented on all the major social media networks, including Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.

What was your first studio like?

My first studio was very minimalistic and made up of pieces that were cheap at that time. As a student I did not have a lot of money to spend on numerous pieces of gear.

In my room I had a little corner with an old Atari running a basic tracker plus a Roland Alpha Juno 1, a TR 707 and a small Ibanez mixing desk. No production tools such as compressors or FX racks, so it was very difficult to sound like Moroder or Daft Punk!

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 studio evolved with technology as well as my constant search for new sounds. Machines and software are in constant evolution and new pieces can be a source of inspiration when you are digging for new textures.

For DISSIDÆNCE, my latest album, I mostly used the DSI Pro 3, the GRP A4 and Arturia Pigments. I like to mix different technologies.

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?

Usually I chose 3 or 4 different synths per album, both hardware and software, and I focus on them. I select them for their sound of course, and the new possibilities they may offer. It’s a bit like having a new love story starting from scratch every time, with the discovering of new machines for each album.

I love the warm yet precise sound of the GRP A4, or the distortions of the Pro 3. I try not to lose myself too long in numerous synths having long lists of presets.

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?

I think it’s about feeling comfy in your own studio.

I can make music in hotel rooms with my computer + headphones or even on a plane - like tweaking some synth of writing melodies. But I feel the best composing in my studio in Paris, a room painted in black with no window, right under my flat, where I have both enough space and enough pieces to make what I want to do.

I'll also sometimes go to bigger studios when required, to mix down tracks or record voices. It’s about what I need to do at a precise moment.

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?

The Lemur tactile controller was a blast of technology at the time, and I also design my very own interfaces with my Ipad for fun. The possibilities are endless.

Still, I prefer real buttons and faders. Together with a great German designer, we conceived a machine called KOCMOC, that gathers all my software, the soundcard, a touch sensitive screen combined with knobs and faders. It’s like an all-in-one live / studio monster - always ready to play.

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 wouldn’t count on technology only to get inspiration but it gives opportunities to widen your scope. I loved my MPC 2000 to make music both in the studio and for playing live. But Ableton changed my life in just a blink.

Also, discovering new pieces of equipment is a way to break some of your own creative patterns. It’s good to have a sonic signature, like creating your own sonic grammar, that makes you different from the other musicians. But it’s also interesting to let the accidents lead you to different paths.

I did the Poney EP in the early 00s with some very old synths from the 80s, but I processed them through a recent and powerful Akai sampler - and that made all the difference.

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.

Compiling archives of sounds and presets is a way to make music but I go the other way.

Usually I have something in mind and I try to program a synth in order to get as close as possible to the original idea. If it doesn’t work, then I go through presets to find something but it is more an alternative option than the usual way of composing.

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?

Both software or hardware synthesisers have never been so powerful - at a very low price - and yet a lot of music sounds very conventional. It’s mostly about the musicians wanting to take risks or not I suppose.

I like music when it’s weird and poetic at the same time. It’s also exciting when you don’t get how something was done in a song, like there is a secret recipe.

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?

A large part of what I compose is based on an idea, a story or a feeling I had before and I want to convert into a song. The process can even take years.

On the next album there is a song I started in 2013 but I couldn’t find the key to finishing it. I could finally finish it 3 months ago because I got the right filter and the right sequence to make the samples swing the way I wanted. So this is a good example of what usually happens in studio and this process takes time. It’s like planting seeds.
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?

Making a song is about assembling elements. You can assemble existing elements, or assemble your own elements. Or both. I do both, but I rarely use a preset or even drums without tweaking it drastically because it just doesn’t fit.

I suppose I could produce more and faster with assembling presets but it’s not what I am looking for as a musician. I take pleasure from the creative process, not only the results. I take my time.

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

Yes, Ableton and its elastic audio clips technology was totally ground breaking. It was also very new to make your own synths, chains of effects in a virtual rack - all this in the same interface. I also use Ableton to trigger some of the lightening and the different elements of the scenography. So this software became the center and the brain of anything I do. I do use other interfaces. Live is 360°.

Also I used granular synthesis quite a lot recently. It’s not new to me but the new interfaces and machines make the process much faster and more fluent.
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?

It’s interesting to try anything new, even as a simple experience. So I would try this new technology for sure. Nevertheless I don’t see how I would share the co-authorship with an intelligence as I am making the final decisions. Making music is a lot about making decisions.

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

Yes, for sure. I want to belong to my time and benefit from what new technologies have to offer. But I don’t want to compromise myself. I find it complicated to credit a song with your name if it's based on samples assembled by algorithms. Also where is the pleasure of the creative process and the storytelling that makes your music unique? I don’t have the answer …

Some big US producers can foresee if a song will be a radio success by analysing it though grids and notations. That’s nice, but it’s not the music I enjoy. A bit of absurd and poetic accidents are what I prefer the most - and it doesn’t fit in those grids.  
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?

As we said the next step is artificial intelligence. We can improve synths and interfaces but it will only remain improvements of existing stuff. A.I. can be ground breaking technology.