Name: Vittoria Maccabruni
Occupation: Producer, composer
Current release: Michael Rother und Vittoria Maccabruni's As Long As The Light is out via Grönland.
[Read our Michael Rother interview]
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For many artists, a solitary phase of creative development preceeds collaborative work. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your first collaborations?
Yes, I do think that a solitary phase is often beneficial for me, even in a collaboration. I didn't have many collaborations in fact. With Michael, at first, it was about me presenting an atmosphere, a seed for an idea to be developed together.
At first you share inputs and then everything blends together with the other person, but even then, I occasionally prefer to be alone again thinking about solutions on how to proceed.
Tell me a bit, about your current instruments and tools, please. In which way do they support creative exchange and collaborations with others? Are there obsctacles and what are potential solutions towards making collaborations easier?
Most of all, I make music with a computer and a random selection of additional hardware gear such as effects, small synths and whatever comes to my mind, like guitar, or musical toys which I may stumble accross also from my daughter like kalimba, ukulele … anything that makes an interesting sound can end up in a recording.
So not being a trained instrumentalist makes the choice very fluid. But of course the core right now is a DAW on a computer (I use Reason and Ableton live).
With Michael, we were able to sit together in the same room and listen to each other's ideas but also would usually exchange files and work on our respective systems. Sometimes you have bugs and technical issues you can't make sense of and it can be frustrating for both. But this is part of the compromise about these technologies with such a big range of possibilities. You have to study and be patient and not let that come in the way of the creative mood.
All in all, I think it's easier to collaborate today than in previous times so I really couldn't think of smarter solutions to make it work even better .... of course to work on identical systems and set-ups would help.
What were some of your earliest collaborations? How do you look back on them with hindsight?
Many years ago, I had a partner who was a very gifted musician. He would play the drums, the piano and all kinds of synthesizers, and he introduced me to Reason. We did a few pieces together and he taught me a lot of cool stuff, it was fun.
Besides the aforementioned early collaborations, can you talk about one particular collaboration that was important for you? Why did it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Of course the collaboration with Michael is the most important and structured experience of this type I ever had so far. Everything is special about it … it was a dream come true to make an album together.
For a few years I've been talking to him about my musical ideas but he being always super busy touring the world and focusing on his many projects, there was simply no time and space to explore a structured collaboration. Primarily, I wanted him to teach me a lot of things and give me advice but instead of only doing that, as I played to him my sketches, he started zooming in on my ideas, adding elements and full songs started devoloping.
It was for our own pleasure and fun, in the beginning there was not a clear intention of making an album.
What are some of the things you learned from your collaborations over the years?
What I learned is that there's so much to learn! Really, apart from being very inspiring to see how different contributions can blend together and form something unique of its own, the big deal is that you can learn so much in so many different respects. New technical solutions, work methods, workarounds for problems and also patience and empathy.
You also learn about yourself, especially when you have to ask yourself what compromises you are willing to accept regarding your own contributions.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your collaborations? Do you feel as though you are able to express yourself more fully in solo mode or, conversely, through the interaction with other musicians? Are you “gaining” or “sacrificing” something in a collaboration?
Collaboration should, in my opinion, be about gaining. And I wouldn't talk about "sacrifice" but more of "compromise". I guess you have to be careful about the kind of material you walk into a collaboration with. Is it something you are willing to see modified and reshaped possibly into something even quite different from the initial idea? It should be the case, or otherwise it could be a struggle for everyone involved.
I guess it depends on the collaborations but in general, it is possibly less "personal" which doesn't mean less valuable. It's about finding a common ground to create a new space. It's a different type of focus.
There are many potential models for collaboration, from live performances and jamming via producing in the same room together up to file sharing. Which of these do you prefer – and why?
With Michael, we were lucky enough to work side by side. Because we could and because we also enjoyed that. Even though we were in an initial phase, we mostly exchanged files. But really there is no best model, I think. You can collaborate with a far away friend or even with someone you never met (like it happened last summer, contributing some vocals and guitar to a recording by Thorsten Drücker for a Theatre performance about Beuys), and that is also nice.
It's great to have more opportunities to be linked and exchange in so many ways. The main point is how much you feel inspired by a collaboration.
Is there typically a planning phase for your collaborations? If so, what happens in this phase and how does it contribute to the results?
I wasn't involved in enough collaborations to see a pattern. Again, I think it should be primarily about feeling excited about joining forces with someone. Also you may have your own ideas about the direction a specific collaboration should take but then you could be surprised by a totally different development.
In general, apart from cases of joyous and lucky improvisation, I think everyone should have their own time and space to focus on a project without stress (e.g. impossibly short deadlines).
What tend to be the best collaborations in your opinion – those with artists you have a lot in common with or those where you have more differences? What happens when another musician take you outside of your comfort zone?
Collaborations happen for many different reasons.
Normally, I would choose to create with someone who's work already inspires me. Of course it has to resonate. But I'm usually also quite amused by stark contrasts. I guess, it's not really only a matter of how much you have in common with someone, it's definitely more about something you feel curious about exploring.
And "out of the comfort zone" can be a very interesting place to be in under lucky circumstances.
Do you need to have a good relationship with your collaborator? Or can there be a benefit to working with someone you may not get along with on a personal level?
I would think that to have a good relationship would be ideal. There are example of different situations (NEU! anyone?) where the contributors were not exactly "besties" outside of the music context but the outcomes where still great. I guess that's more a matter of a very fortunate event, that they could manage to accomplish great stuff together.
Maybe you can work well with someone you don't know well or whom you are not at all interested in on a personal level. But with someone you hate? Who would enjoy doing that?!
Some artists feel as though the creative process should not be a democratic one. What are your thoughts on the interaction with other musicians, the need for compromise and the decision making process?
If you want to collaborate with someone, there must be a certain degree of democracy. It's unthinkable not to be willing to discuss or change any aspect of your original ideas. For that you can go solo. I guess it's easier for everyone, as I said before, if one is very careful choosing the material they walk into a collaboration with, and be aware of how much of that they are willing to potentially sacrifice for the sake of the project.
What's your take on cross-over collaborations between different genres?
It all depends! They can be super interesting or super bad! I'm personally open to everything that appeals to me, I'm all about "mix & match" ... I don't pay too much attention to genres anyway.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you as part of a collaboration? In which way is it different between your solo work and collaborations?
I think when you collaborate with someone, it's a good idea to keep your mind and heart open towards your partner/s and try to follow a common thread that feels nice for everyone. It doesn't mean there is no space for spontaneous turns but you have to exercise some level of empathy and listening. Make sure everyone's space - and pace - is respected.
When you create on your own instead, you are more free to decide on the spot what kind of approach you want to use...to be your own dictator and be very disciplined because you have a super clear idea or suddenly choose to just go crazy down the rabbit hole of your inspiration.
Collaborating with one's heroes can be a thrill or a cause for panic. Do you have any practical experience with this and what was it like?
Are you really asking me this?
Speaking seriously, as much as I admired Michael's work and respect it, I didn't feel intimidated by his reputation while we were creating the music together. He is open and curious and did his best to make me feel "entitled" despite my little experience. Sometimes he was even willing to change his mind ... only sometimes!
It was mostly a pleasant process … apart from when we disagreed on something. But even that, I think, is entirely natural.