I woke up the other day and I noticed that the first snow had come. After making some coffee and trying to wake myself up, being a good morning-zombie, I put on my headphones and simply tune in to some music. What flows out is first class psychedelic chillout, written and produced by the same man who’s been arranging, producing and recording famous artists such as The Orb and Brian Eno. He’s a member of the Twisted family and I got the chance to steal some time from his music making.
Hey Ott! Can you introduce yourself to the readers, please?
Hello. I’m Ott. :o)
What is your musical background and how did you end up writing electronic music? Why electronic?
I started out playing drums when I was 13. My dad bought me a drum kit and I terrorised our neighbourhood with it for a year or so. I used to play along to The Specials and The Sex Pistols on my headphones.I’d always been into electronic music because my mum was and is a big electronic music fan. I grew up listening to Walter (Wendy) Carlos and Kraftwerk and the sound of synths always captivated me. As a child, my mum used to play me Autobahn by Kraftwerk to get me off to sleep. One day, when i was about 14, my mum made me a deal I couldn’t refuse. She said if I sold my drum kit, she’d give me some extra money to go and buy a synth – and so on a rainy Tuesday in 1983 I went to Guildford and bought a Roland SH-101 for £250 - and never left my bedroom ever again.
You’ve been around in the scene for a long time now. How do you feel about the scene and its development? Are things moving towards something that could be “better” for the scene and the members who constitutes it, or are the good days over?
I don’t really recognise anything I’d call a ”scene” to be honest. I’m not particularly interested in ”scenes” in general – I find the whole concept a bit redundant.
How do you like to work in the studio? Assume that you’re starting on a new track, where do you start working (drums, leads e.t.c.) and how does the process develop? Do you have any patterns in your working routines?
I always start with a musical idea. A melody or a harmonic motif or something that excites my neurons. Rhythm usually follows and a bassline suggests itself. That is about as close to a pattern as it gets.
Do you keep the listener in mind when you write music at times? Assume that there is for example a certain feeling you wish to awake in the listener. Does this ever happen or do you prefer writing music “on the fly” with being less focused on the result? Whatever comes out comes out?
The only listener I work for is myself – I’m not sure how it could be any other way without borrowing somebody else’s ears and brain for a few weeks. I work on the principle that if it makes me feel a certain way, then it will work for others on the same level.
At the writing stage i try not to be too premeditated about it – try to allow my subconcious to express itself and just capture the result. When I think I have as much as I need to make a full piece of music then my conscious mind takes over and tries to make sense of it all. Once I have a cohesive ”story” written that says what I want it to say, then I get to do my favourite part of the process which is the final mix. This is part is entirely intuitive.
There’s always the never-ending debate what a liveset setup should look like in order to judge it as a fair and real “liveset”. What is your view on this subject, and how does your livesetup look like? Do you perform DJ-sets as well and if so, what kind of music is being featured in your sets?
I’m happy to leave the “live set argument” to the train-spotters and anoraks. Anyone who is concerned with what equipment is being used on stage is obviously not dancing hard enough.
For my own live sets I use a laptop running Ableton Live, a controller keyboard and a Behringer Rotary Controller. This setup allows me as much control as I need to be able to improvise around my tunes without being ridiculously complicated to set up and horribly unreliable. It works well and I’m very happy with it.
If you’d told me 3 years ago that one day I’d be working as a DJ I’d have laughed at you. I never intended to become a DJ, but now I am one I absolutely love it – it is probably my favourite aspect of playing at festivals.
I make a rule of only playing my very favourite tracks in the world, which could be by anyone from Bluetech to Desmond Dekker and the Aces, Boards of Canada to Bob Marley, and I like to think I play some tunes that nobody else at the party will play.
It’s about two years now since Twisted Records released your debut album Blumenkraft. Can you please tell us some about the album? How long did it take to finalize and what are your thoughts about this piece?
It started with me deciding, after ten years of working on other people’s music as a freelance engineer, to write something purely indulgent and just for me. Not for release or even playing to anyone – just for the pleasure of doing it. That was the track ”Somersettler” and the response it got (from Twisted and the people who bought Backroom Beats 1) encouraged me to do more. Eventually, I had nine tracks and realised that I’d accidentally made an album.
It took about 18 months altogether, but as i said, I work incredibly slowly. I think part of the pleasure of having a studio in your house, with no time constraints, is that you can be very thorough about everything, and spend as much time as you like getting it to sound exactly how you want it.
When I hear it these days i really enjoy it. Some bits are better than others but thats ok – i was experimenting with what I could do and some experiments worked better than others. As it turns out, the tracks that i think are less strong happen to be some people’s absolute favourites so all in all i think I did a good job.
When will we see a follow-up to Blumenkraft? Are your next album in the works right now and if so, how would you describe what is growing in your studio?
If I wasn’t sitting here doing this interview, I’d be in my studio working on it right now. The new album is taking shape and I’m having a great time playing with my toys and gradually pulling it all together. I have no idea what i will end up with, but from what I have done so far i know I’ll have a lot of fun getting there.
One can easily acknowledge that Hallucinogen In Dub did get splendid reviews. How did you feel about remixing such masterpieces as those by Simon and will we perhaps be hearing you remixing more Hallucinogen classics in the future?
It was great fun. Again, i did it just for the enjoyment of it, with no pressure or expectations from anyone. I had already written a few of the tunes that would become Blumenkraft, and I was really enjoying my studio. I’d always enjoyed remixing other people’s tunes, and one evening, as i was making the dinner, the idea came to me in a flash. I phoned him up, persuaded him it was a good idea, and drove over that night to get his hard drive. Next morning I started on Gamma Goblins.
Looking back it was a really enjoyable six months. All the time I was doing it I thought I was going to get lynched by the hardcore Hallucinogen fans for destroying all those classic trance tunes – I was very surprised when it started to get good reviews and happy that people liked it.
As for a follow up – you never know. It could happen. Lets see if Simon will give me his hard drive after he’s done the much anticipated ”Hallucinogen 3” album...
You have been collaborating with several artists throughout the years and Simon Posford has been one of the most active collaborators. Why Simon and how is it working with him?
Considering how long we’ve known each other, we haven’t collaborated all that much to be honest. We have made a few tunes together, and its always great fun, but actually we’re more likely to be sitting in armchairs drinking tea and talking about stuff than we are beavering away in the studio. I think one of the reasons is that we’re both always flying off somewhere to do this gig or that – its hard to get a decent period of time when we’re both free and not doing something else. That, and the fact that I take such a phenominally long time over everything it drives him nuts. Maybe we’ll see a Gargoyles album one day...
About five years ago you released some house tunes that you had written together with Simon Posford in the project known as MP3. Will we ever see house stuff from you again?
Hahahaha..!! “Hot for you baby, hot for you…” We had such a laugh doing that; I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t have another go one day. Watch this space…
What do you prefer to listen to except chillout and trance? Do you think that any certain style of music has made any influence on your composing, or any specific artist(s)? If so, who?
I don’t really listen to ”chillout” or ”trance”.
I rarely listen to any music at home, but if I do play a record it’ll most likely be something by King Tubby, or Scientist or Prince Far-I or Augustus Pablo, or maybe Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, Nina Simone, The Stranglers, The Specials, Cardiacs, Tortoise, Stevie Wonder, Ian Dury and the Blockheads etc etc....
The rumour says that you had some tattoos made who are connected in one way or another to your musicmaking?
My mother decided she wanted a tattoo done for her 60th birthday and asked me if I would go with her while she had it done. I’d always toyed with the idea of having one myself but couldn’t think of anything I’d want painted on my body forever and ever, so I sat down and really thought hard about what images had meant most to my life over the years – what was most significant to me. I didn’t want a snake or a dragon or a Celtic design or any of that because none of it means anything to me. I decided to have “MOOG” (with the Moog logo) on my right arm, and “Atari” (with logo) on my left arm. Most people don’t get it, but those that do understand completely.
By judging the information available on your studio, you’re really into old analog machines. What do you think about the software revolution and how broad is your use of software in your studio?
It’s about 50/50.
Digital technology is very good at faithfully recording and reproducing sound without colouration – but that is its main weakness too. It can be a little bland and unlovely.
I tend to use the computer for what it is best at – recording sounds and playing them back, and I like to use my more interesting equipment to generate sounds with character.
I have a rack full of old effects units which I use a lot – analogue flangers and phasers and spring reverbs and the like – and coupled with plugin effects these can produce some unique textures. There are things I can do with plugins that I just couldn’t achieve in the analogue domain and likewise there are sounds I can only get from a metal spring with a transducer attached to one end.
I couldn’t do what I do with entirely analogue or entirely digital equipment – almost the whole point of what I do is in creating a hybrid of the organic and the inorganic.
I’d like to claim that due to the software revolution more people has gotten into musicmaking because of the easy access of virtual instruments. In the past composers had quite different sound compared to each other, because everyone’s studio were differently equipped and therefor quite unique. Therefor the record market offered releases where you could most likely guess which artist who was being played because of their unique sound. Nowdays many composers use software and the amount of quality plug-ins are still quite limited (compared to the respective amount of quality hardware), and therefor it’s hard to separate artists today because too many sounds the same – and this affects the record market, releases and the scene directly. What do you think of my theory and what’s your call on this?
I agree to a certain extent. A lot of the 3 hour trance sets I hear at parties and festivals sound like they were made by one person with three plugins. I find it hard to discern one track from the next and there is a heavy reliance on the same few obvious textures.
That said, there is always a big crowd of 3000 people in front of the speakers going mad to it so it must sound good to somebody. I’m happy to accept that I’m wrong and they’re right.
On the other hand, the fact that you can have a 48 track digital studio with synths, effects, mixer and multitrack recorder for about £1000 all-in can only be a good thing if it enables more people to express themselves with music. Music making shouldn’t be only available to those with lots of money or rich parents.
There have been some amazingly talented people who create with just a laptop and some speakers, and some real idiots with million dollar studios.
What’s the most odd thing that has ever happen to you while you’ve been on tour?
I got picked up by a ladyboy in Philadelphia, woke up naked and surrounded by broken glass and Policemen on the floor of a hotel room in Berlin, and sat watching a futuristic Mad Max-style brass band in a forest in Canada, whilst naked men skateboarded around me.
And then there was Brazil.
In Brazil recently I was pinned to the ground by 5 armed men all screaming at me in Portuguese and pointing guns at my head, was passenger in a car which hit a tree and rolled into a ditch at 60 mph, and then found a fully grown tarantula in my sleeping bag – all in the space of 3 hours.
It is time to the cut the rope. Do you have any last words to share with our readers?
“Never buy a TV from a man in the street who is out of breath.”
Thanks a lot for your time and music! Good luck in the future!