Interview with Alex Cowles from Cut Records

Untitled-2Cut Records recently changed their release model from a pay-what-you want model at Bandcamp to a subscription model. 12$ gets you 12 releases. We talked with Cut founder Alex Cowles about his own music, running Cut and the recent changes.

Could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Hey – my name’s Alex and I produce as DFRNT, AGC Esquire and Hero Hero. I run Echodub and Cut labels and I’m a writer for The Baltic Scene, here in Latvia. I also have a few other projects under my hat – I guess I’m a jack of all trades.

How did you get into netaudio?
Well I’ve always been a huge internet user – I spend vast swathes of time online soaking up information and doing research. Disappearing down Wikipedia-holes and so on. Coupled with a love for music, it just seemed like a natural thing – I spend loads of time online listening and exploring music and sound – and the rise of free labels and netlabels over the past few years has meant an abundance of material for me to immerse myself in. When I see something I like – I often like to try and get involved, so it made sense for me to give the whole netlabel thing a go too – which was how Cut started, back in 2011.

You produce music under a whole array of aliases. Why not just use a single name (to rule them all)?
Haha, well – I tire sometimes of the whole “DFRNT” no-vowels thing. I don’t really like telling people. It’s easy to type – but a nightmare to explain in person. “oh it’s different, but without the vowels and only one ‘f’ and it’s not D-front” blah blah – it seemed like a great idea when I came up with it – back when really only a couple of people had done it – namely MSTRKRFT and maybe one other I don’t recall. Now it’s kinda played out. Everyone’s got their little all-caps no-vowels alias on the go!

So because I was a bit sick of it, I’m always open to trying new names, and I always feel a new genre should probably have a new name, so I’m not driving my audience crazy with a complete genre-body-swerve. I think people have certain expectations, and if you push that too much, it’ll turn them off. So the AGC Esquire stuff is kinda cheesy retro-futurism stuff, and the Hero Hero is strictly hip hop. DFRNT is there for house/techno/deep/electronica stuff. I actually have a couple of other aliases too – but I’m trying not to divulge those.

When and why did you found Cut Records?
January 2011 – and I wanted to present music that was free, but felt like it was properly done – giving value to the whole free music thing. Before then I felt people would see “free” and assume it was crap. Off-cuts from artists who didn’t care or something. I wanted to dispell that myth and show people it could be done properly – so Cut was born. It worked for 3 years I guess!

Do you focus on specific styles of music?
Well, it was a specific “feeling” for me more than a genre. It had to be music that made me feel good – deep music was always going to be the style I went for – but it had to have that sort of emotional quality – and there was no pressure to make it dancefloor friendly for sales figures either. That was nice. It felt like a very easy-going organic thing when I started. Still does I guess.

What is your philosophy for releasing new material at Cut?
Right now, I want to put out music I like – stuff that fits with our catalogue so far (which I’m really proud of) but also stuff that doesn’t get too comfortable. I need it to be deep (as ever) and probably have some sort of emotional impact on me – but really, the remit for a release is that I have to like it. It has to click with me in a certain way.

Let’s not beat around the bush any longer. The new subscription model. Could you explain why you chose to switch to this model?
Well I put a big explanation on the site which you can still see, but basically it’s like this… Putting out free music properly costs money. It got to the point where we had 14,000 people on a mailing list who I would email every time we released something. To email that many people required an app like Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor – and if you check their pricing models you’ll see that it was costing me upwards of $100 to email that many people. Add to that the mastering costs, and the fact that I had to buy Bandcamp credits – and we’re talking a fairly hefty fee for each release when I was putting it out – and the kind people who donated some money for each release wasn’t quite providing enough to cover those costs (nowhere near in fact) which was a shame.

For a while it scaled really nicely – but if got out of control about a year ago. I tried to include sponsorship or ads, but it didn’t really work – and so it felt like time to switch and try something slightly different.

I really wish I could have done it all for free – but alas, you live and learn – so I’m trying “cheap” instead of free – and hoping that it doesn’t reflect badly on the releases.

Did you get any feedback on the switch yet? How did the fans take it?
Well it was just a small percentage of people who signed up from the 14,000 – but those who decided to have told me it was a good move. People don’t seem to mind such a small charge – and a handful of people have actually even asked to pay up-front for 12 months of releases and stuff – so I think slowly it’ll build up and we’ll get a strong list again – but it feels a little bit like starting from scratch.

I don’t mind too much – but the setback now is just convincing people that the label has an audience – with considerably less subscribers, and a sort of barrier to non-members, people’s music won’t get so widely heard, which is frustrating, but that’s just the way it’s going to be for a while.

What about the artists? Do they get a cut? (no pun intended)
The artists will get a cut of anything that people buy through bandcamp – each release is actually available through bandcamp still – at a premium. $3 or $5 – which is the cost of 3 or 5 releases if they were a subscriber – so there’s an incentive to subscribe – but basically I’d like to get through this stage to a point where I can give artists an up-front fee. I give them x amount for each track, and then they’ll probably end up getting much more than they would with just a 50% of sales deal. That’s the ideal – but it’ll probably take a few months or a year or so before I build up that size of a membership. I’m hopeful though.

Could you give us a sneak peek at the next thing you have in store for subscribers?
It’s just come back from mastering, and it’s this beautiful EP by a Lithuanian producer called Fingalick, who’s doing big things at the moment – he goes from strength to strength every time I see him perform, and I’ve been wanting to put some of his music out for about a year now.

Is there anything you would like to add?
Well I guess it’s worth mentioning that Cut is now accepting demo material again. For a long time it was a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” type of thing – but I’m very keen to hear new music now – I welcome it. I love discovering new producers, and with release slots opening up now, there’s no better time to be accepting demos!

This interview was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.

Interview with Brusio Netlabel

07a56a9603cIt’s been a while since we focused on some of the people that continue to keep bringing you the great music the netlabel scene has to offer. We recently had a long talk with the team behind the Brusio netlabel.

Could you introduce the netlabel to our readers?
Brusio Netlabel is an Italian independent netlabel devoted to electronic experimental music as well as an electronic music collective (the Brusio Staff). The latter, together with its musical artists and artistic collaborators, is affectionately called the Brusio Family.

Why was the label founded? Did you have any specific reasons for starting a label?
In May 2009 we organized the Fourth Congress for Independent Electronic Music at ASK191, an occupied social center (Italian: CSOA, or “Centro Sociale Occupato Autogestito”) in Palermo. This experience was a result of many other meetings and congresses that we had organized in the past. Those past events always led to the production of CD-R for the diffusion of the live performances that took place. After the last congress organized at ASK191, which coincided with a change of its management, we started to think about a way to spread our music (and that of the artists participating in the events) in some other way than just CDs distributed at the venue itself. We wanted to do so in a way that was able to give the right visibility to these musical and artistic products. We had already been playing around with the idea of starting a netlabel and thus we decided to prepare a meeting involving all the artists that had played during the congress and other events linked to our activities. After long discussions and many defections, only six of the artists and organizers agreed to start the Brusio netlabel project. The following months saw long discussions about royalties, CC licences and of course the editorial lines. We needed to figure out who we wanted to be and what we wanted to do. At last, we set out to find a fitting name and logo, and finally the Brusio Netlabel was born.

Could you explain what “Brusio” means for our non-Italian speaking readers? Is there a meaning behind the label’s name or is it just a word?
If you look at a dictionary, you will find “brusio” translated as “buzz”. However, I feel like that does not capture the entire meaning of the word. Can you imagine the sound made by a lot of people in the same place? Like, for instance, a classroom without the teacher. The sum of voices, sounds of coughing, the feet on the floor and about every other sound that people produce, result in an indistinguishable salad of sounds. That’s what “brusio” means. It fits well with what we do as we are a bunch of people (artists, musicians, editors,…) that produce sounds which are in many cases perceived like a “brusio”, an apparent mess of sounds. We feel that this is music anyhow! Maybe “murmur” or “hum” might be a more fitting translation.

Where in Italy are you located? Do most of the artists on the label come from the same corner of the earth or are you spread around the globe?
We are located in Palermo, the chief city of Sicily (south Italy). Of the dozens of artists who have collaborated with Brusio so far, about half come from Palermo while the other half comes from others parts of Italy or the world. We have artists from such diverse places as South Africa, Lithuania, Germany, France, Russia, Spain and the UK.

How many artists do you have on the label? How many releases have you published so far?
We have a total of 31 releases, consisting of nine EPs, fifteen LPs, two live performances, three compilations, one archive and one DVD. This amounts to working with more than 31 different artists so far.

What genres of music do you release? Do you focus on one specific genre, or multiple genres? If you’re aiming at multiple genres, do you try to keep a sort of typical ‘Brusio sound’ throughout all the releases, or are you not so much concerned with that?
If I have to answer that question quickly, I’d say we produce electronic experimental music. But, as everybody knows, it is really difficult to classify things, because classification functions like a pigeon hole where try to push stuff inside, rather than describing them in detail. There’s a reason for that, too: it’s just easier to speak about general genres like ‘IDM’ or ‘noise’ rather then describe the music in detail. We range from the glitch of Smider and Precocious Mouse to the IDM of Monoiz and Oreinoi or from the avant-garde of Empirical Evidence and Chamber Machine to the hypno-industrial of Static Waves. However, every definition breaks down if not developed further. Everything is debatable depending on your point of view. I think that we are not looking for a typical sound but we would like our releases to include a little bit of experimentalism, if you grant me the term. By this I mean that we are looking for people that try to at least find something new, in a musical sense. Beware, we are not looking for the new John Cage, Alva Noto or Merzbow, neither are we seeking a pointless destination of the music given by a forced innovation or meaningless bites of experimentalism. We are looking for people that are able to use their music as a hypertext for speaking to other people, for transmitting their ideas, feelings or state of mind, not only using the new artistic instruments and technologies, but also with a different mental approach.

Could you provide us with three tracks that sum up the range of sounds or style of your label?
As stated earlier, our label doesn’t really have a typical sound, but it is a collection of music that shares the same approach for innovation. It is difficult for me to choose three tracks as typical representatives because our catalogue includes a wide variety of genres that is hard to represent with just three tracks. If you want to know more, we invite you to check out our website and listen to some of our tracks.

Monoiz – Like Analogue

 

Precocious Mouse – Grey Circuits

 

Hatori Yumi – III

 

(We added some tracks here for our listeners, but you get the message: a lot of different sounds can be found on the Brusio website. Check it out.)

Quite a few netlabels have retained some elements from the traditional music industry, or have started incorporating those again. Can music really be free?
What do we really understand by free? Free from what? Our idea of free music is more related to the capability to produce music without any influence, first of all editorial influence, but also social or any other kind of influence. We love music coming from free minds. In this respect, yes, we think that music can be free. If you take free to mean free of charge, that’s a different question altogether. In the latter case, the music could be produced without any influence, but might still require a purchasing fee.

So, how do you feel about asking (a little) money for releases?
We believe it’s normal for people who work hard on their music to expect some form of return for their efforts. The easiest way for this is, of course, money. While we don’t think it is wrong, we do believe it is not the only way to earn from music. For every one of our releases we try to organize an event for the artist, working hard to find some money for them. The Brusio Staff decided to share the music on the web in order to provide the possibility for a bigger audience for the artist’s music and to not push away people that don’t want to pay for music. So it’s not for stinginess but more for political or economical reasons. Also, one shouldn’t assume that music which is free is necessarily worse (or better) than commercial music.

Do you release hard copies like CD or vinyl?
We only release hard copies in limited editions. This usually coincides with a gig for an artist. These CDs or DVDs are all numbered and handmade. When someone wants to obtain one, just write to us at our info email address or buy one during the events organized by Brusio Netlabel.

Do you engage in promotion? How do you pay for servers?
We promote the work of our artists through the organization of events (like explained earlier). On these events we sell our handmade limited editions and merchandising like stickers, T-shirts and pins. We get some donations (usually really small ones) and if we end up short, we complement this with money from our own pockets. These make up our regular funding. In addition, when we organize concerts, we usually look for sponsors in order to earn some money for the event’s management. Sometimes we manage to find a place which already has a sound system, so we don’t have to pay for that ourselves and save more money for the artists. In our city it is really hard to find public places for organizing concerts and events, so we usually have to ask private institutions. Italy (and especially the southern part where we are from) suffers from a big loss of interest in cultural activities, because of our economical recession, resulting in a large reduction of money available for these sort of things.

On your website you have a special page dedicated to a project trying to collaborate with other netlabels. You mention Brusio is trying to “build a collaborative connection inside the webaudio community among the netlabels that share our same approach to free music and to electronic arts in general.” Could you tell us something more about this?
Yes. Some time ago we decided to try to build a collaboration between different netlabels. The idea was to try and see if it was possible to organize meetings and events with other netlabels. So we sent out many e-mails explaining our ideas for collaboration and the goals we wanted to reach with this. We explicitly said that we didn’t need to have a leading position in this collaboration but were looking for building a platform in which all partners were equal. Until now, we’ve received very few replies. One of the main issues that was raised was the problem of coordinating so many different realities, such as the netlabels, that are managed by many different kind of people. A proposed solution for this was to center our activities around a virtual platform for meeting and discussing. Voices were raised in favour of a dedicated forum, someone else proposed a blog or a website including a forum as well as a radio with tracks from the various netlabels. While these were good ideas, nothing of this has been realized yet and only a few of the netlabels we’ve contacted so far have started collaborating actively. In total that would be eight netlabels and one ‘traditional’ label. We’ll have to put in a big effort if we want to realize this little dream of collaboration.

It seems like you’re facing the same problem that often plagues these ventures: a lot of good ideas but implementing those proves to be quite difficult. What have you achieved with this connection until now?
The most important thing we have achieved is the possibility of being in contact with different realities that offer a different way of thinking. This produces a cultural growth for everybody. One of the things we’re working on is exchanging compilations we are doing with some of these netlabels. One compilation of Brusio is being featured on the main page of the site of our partners where it’s published and reviewed. We do the same for their compilations. We produced an album with Bally Corgan, the owner of Sonic Belligeranza. A lot of this collaboration focuses on live shows, as we have quite a bit of experience with those. We’ve organized a festival called the “Main_OFF 2011″ where Nephogram was one of the partners. One of the owners of Bowindo Recordings (Domenico Sciajno) asked the Brusio Staff to lend them a hand for the organization of the festival “Live!ixem 2011″, within the context of Opensound(.eu).

What are you aiming to accomplish with this collaborative connection in the future?
Our aim is to further develop this possibility for collaboration, even if it’s really hard to actively maintain all the contacts. It could be really interesting to one day see a web platform where it is actually possible to organize events with and for the netlabels. The only attempts at this that I’ve seen in the past are now unfortunately all but dead. While you can still find some on the web, like the netlabel forums of Discogs or the Internet Archive, those have turned into a mere publication of new releases.

Is there anything we should have asked you but didn’t?
Want to know more about Brusio Netlabel? Just have a look to our website and listen to our music!

We would like to thank Tito and the rest of the Brusio team for this interview. All the best and we’re looking forward to hearing more from you in the future.

Brusio Netlabel website


This interview was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.

Born Digital and Freemote 11

From December 7th to December 11th, 2011, Born Digital hosts FREEMOTE 11: Threshold edition, an electronic arts & co-creation festival in Utrecht, the Netherlands. We’ll let them explain in their own words why we’re so excited about that:

FREEMOTE 11 is a gathering of electronic artists & a shared exposure event in a former railway warehouse in Utrecht (NUtrecht > www.nutrecht.nl). A stage for contemporary creative communities and enlightened souls, 5 days of (inter)national co-creation, installations, performances, exhibitions, screenings, AV performances and more… 4000 m2 festival area and an extensive place to breathe, chill out and create.

If Born Digital doesn’t ring a bell, than maybe the name of the person responsible for the Born Digital netlabel will: that’s none other than Julien Mier, whose excellent music has been reviewed on Netlabelism before. We asked him and Martin Boverhof, another driving force behind Born Digital, to introduce their electronic art assembly and upcoming festival.

Born Digital’s first release, a collaboration between yourself and Daan Kars has been lavishly praised in our magazine, a few months ago. Are there any plans to continue this collaboration? Do you play livesets together? (At any rate, we heard some slightly altered versions of material from ‘Passenger’ in your liveset at Kitch”en)

Julien: We definitely plan to continue this collaboration in a live-setting. It will be an audiovisual performance with a violin/double bass player whose music is hidden in and unfolds throughout the story. ‘Passenger’ will be performed live for the first time at Freemote 11, on the netlabel night (December 9th, 2011).

Passenger from born digital netlabel on Vimeo.

This will include me on live electronics, synced with Daan Kaars’ visual electronics. Myrthe van der Weetering will use her acoustic instrument to bridge the analogue and digital realms, both musically and visually.
It’s true that ‘Passenger’ was also included in my liveset at Kitch”en.  A lot of the pieces included in ‘Passenger’  have evolved throughout the years, and eventually found their way into that release.

Born Digital will publish its second release (Jaqwawaj) soon, and if the first release is anything to go by, the quality of this one will be downright phenomenal. Can you tell us something more about this release?

Julien: ’Jaqwawaj’, the album title, suggests a certain structure in the plasticity of the audiovisual realm. When inverting the word 180 degrees, it means ‘remember’, which is also the intro to the album and has been chosen as a teaser for the album.
Where ‘Passenger’ was very rhythmic in the musical realm, this will be replaced by serious off-grid work, which will invoke the image of a computer trying to break free from his mode of communication by introducing irregularities. This project was very heavy-duty, and has been a long time coming, but I’m sure it will match the standard set by our first release.

Supporting Marsman’s music, the visuals will be produced by no less than four different people. Three of those are Japanese. Is there any specific reason why Japanese artists are featured this prominently on your second release?

Julien: This is a direct result of our interns at Born Digital up to now. ‘Passenger’ was made by Daan Kars and me, both ex-interns. Marsman is a room mate of mine, who is still shrouded by the veil of anonymity, but seriously deserves some exposure. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the rest of the world. Takuma Nakate, the leading visual artist for this album, was a Japanese intern at Born Digital. After his internship, he returned to Japan where he collaborated with other visual artists, who were – unsurprisingly – also Japanese. We chose Takuma for this project because the experimental nature of a lot of Japanese media-culture is a natural fit for Marsman’s music.

Do you have any plans for a third release?

Julien: Certainly. That will be a conceptual compilation album that has the same theme as the Freemote festival: Threshold. It will feature a number of interesting collaborations between musical and visual artists, including Tapage (Tympanik), Fedbymachines (Broken’ Bubble), Inofaith (Shipwrec) and Terugklap (Lomechanik). These will also play a major part in the presentation and style of the festival itself. We chose these artists because they’re very talented and as such are more than capable of making very visual pieces. We’re intending to bring both media closer to each other than ever before.

Could you tell us how the Born Digital netlabel fits in with the larger electronic art assembly? How do you compare to other netlabels that focus on both audio and visual arts (such as Música Vermella), or in what ways do you differ from the other collectives out there? Could you relate that to the goals that are stated on your web page?

Julien: The Born Digital netlabel originated from the demo-tracker scene in the 1990s, under a different name. Because of the mostly visual orientation of the team, this turned into an organization that mainly focused on the visual arts and advances in technology. Born Digital is currently actively engaged in motion-graphics, video-mapping and interactive/adaptive installations. I joined the team as composer, sound designer and music producer. We all agreed that many artistic disciplines live on their own little islands, and decided merging different media was to be our main objective. I guess that’s our defining characteristic: we want to adopt an open source mentality and progressive approach to truly bring an audiovisual story in the CC/netlabel domain. There are tons of netlabels out there, and it’s hard to stand out. We focus on quality, not quantity, and take the time to tell a story with every one of our releases. One of the main goals is to publish releases in which the music and visuals are on par with each other. This is the type of cross-media label we strive to be.

Martin: We don’t differ really from other netlabels/collectives in that we, just as many of these other groups, both create content and organize events. Festivals we like working with, both in the Netherlands and abroad, have a very similar background and are run by a core of content-creators, producers, etc. I believe that the vision we share is quite ordinary, we just want art, music and culture to be publicly available. Since your art is always grounded in a long history of cultural tradition, hard claims of (intellectual) property make no sense to me.
One aspect in which we might differ from others is the experience we have in creating collaborations between artists from different disciplines. That’s why Freemote is mainly a festival for content creators, and ‘co-creation’ plays an important role in this mission. It’s more than just a program concerning digital art and music. Basing everything around a central theme (threshold) is one way we try to further fade the boundaries between different disciplines. Everyone has their own way of reacting to such a central theme, whether your main mode of expression is audio, pixel or text.
We also think it’s very important to have a physical space for creating projects, not just the online dimension. The space(s) we use are perfectly suited to working with different artists and producers, have the necessary equipment and provide a relaxed working environment. We recently teamed up with a number of organizations to start working in a new communal space which could be described as a crowd-sourced space. This has been created to provide the space for workshops, expositions or presentations involving people from different disciplines and artistic backgrounds.

One of the best things about netlabel culture is that it often leads to collaboration between labels and organizations that share a similar vision. Are there any plans for such collective efforts between Born Digital and other labels?

Julien: Most definitely. Concerning audio, we already have partnerships with small, yet very progressive record labels such as Lomechanik (Terugklap, Jorg, Raadsel, DB), Shipwrec (Inofaith, Funckarma, Einoma) and  Saturate (Krampfhaft, Coco Bryce). One of our goals in working with these labels is to further promote music from the Netherlands and put a new generation of artists in the spotlight.

Martin: How collaborations with other organizations and festivals are formed is hard to say. Sometimes we’re approached by people interested in working together on a project, sometimes you meet through sheer coincidence. We also contact artists or bands we want to invite to our projects or festival. The interchange and creative connection that sprouts from these encounters does the rest.

And last, but not least: Freemote. We’re planning some extensive coverage of the festival, as our very own Bitbasic (Simon Haycock) will be present in Utrecht. Will he also perform at the festival?

Julien: He will indeed be playing a liveset on our netlabelnight. On top of that, he partnered with an intern at Born Digital for an audiovisual compilation that will be released during the festival.

What makes Freemote unique? Why should people come to the festival?

Julien: Maybe we should start this off with a teaser for the festival, a collaboration between 3D animator Roy Gerritsen and myself:

FREEMOTE 11 : Threshold edition from born digital on Vimeo.

We at Born Digital believe that all media should come together, and we want to promote this fusion through masterclasses, lectures and workshops that will also be held at the festival. New advances in technology will be showcased through expo’s, installations and performances. We invite everyone that has ideas on the subject, to come to the festival, find like-minded people and start up new projects.

One of our goals is to completely wrap the stage in video-mapping, something which, unfortunately, has been done on Amon Tobin’s latest show. We were preparing this a long time before the ISAM tour was even announced.

Some of the artists that will be announced any day now include: Inofaith, Tapage, Bitbasic, Krampfhaft, Terugklap, Raadsel, Marsman, Fedbymachines, Distant Drummers, Knalpot and probably Einoma. We are negotiating with many more artists but will leave those as a surprise for now.

Julien and Martin, thank you very much for your time and we wish you a wonderful Freemote 11.

Links

Born Digital Website
Watch ‘Passenger’ on Vimeo


This interview was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.

Interview with Candlegravity

candlegravityA little while back, Alan Herrick reviewed ‘Before I Go’ by Candlegravity. When I found out that Sean Crownover, the man behind Candlegravity, lives in Tokyo, I decided to lure him out to a bar for an interview. My bait proved successful.

Hi Sean, could you tell us something about yourself?
I’m a very old person, I’m 37 now. I was born in Los Angeles, and I moved all over California with my family. Since San Francisco is where I went to university and it’s the place in California I feel most closely related to, I usually call that my hometown. I currently live in Tokyo.

How and when did you move to Japan?
I met my wife, Tomie, back in the US while attending a junior college in Chico, and we eventually decided to move here. That was in ’99, nearly 12 years ago now. Before moving here, we’d already found a house and a job for me, but even so, I wasn’t really prepared for Japan. All I knew about this country was hearsay information.
My only solid plan was that I wanted to learn how to play the koto. This is a traditional Japanese instrument, an integral part of geisha culture and playing it is a role that was mostly reserved for women. I didn’t really know that though, so when I first started working as a teacher here, and I told my students I played koto, they all bursted out laughing. One of those students, however, introduced me to her mother, who in turn put me in contact with her koto teacher. I started studying with her. Recitals were pretty funny, as everyone was focused on the tall white guy. (laughs)

You know the nail that sticks out gets hammered around here.
Haha, I guess that’s true. But at the same time people will have a sort of respect for you because you’re interested in a part of their traditional culture they don’t know much about.

Do you use the koto in your music?
I use it all the time, both the actual instrument and sampled versions. I found a very good koto Kontakt sample library made by Soniccouture.

Have you found that such a radical change of surroundings has altered your art?
I didn’t notice it in the way a lot of people might think you’d do, and most certainly not in the way I thought I would. However, my first release I published after moving here, ‘Wrapped in Bamboo’ must really have had something different about it when compared to my earlier work. Mark Fahey, a long time friend of mine and pioneering dj in many discos in California, is one of my best feedback mechanisms. He is quite critical about what he likes, and if he doesn’t like something, I’ll know about it in a forgiving silent kind of way. Yet somehow, he always mentions that release, so something must have changed. There’s also been a more direct influence on my music. My latest release is a good example of that. The reason it’s called ‘Before I Go’, is that I completed it just before returning back to America for the first time in quite a while. The last song on that EP, ‘A Lifetime of Summers Past’, is a collection of emotions and memories I had of summers spent back home in California. I suppose in that sense, the alterations to my music are more a result of the absence of home more than an influence from being here.

So how did you first get into making music?
I grew up with a piano in the house. It just stood there, but one night, when I was 9 or 10 years old, I saw the movie ‘Chariots of Fire’, and the next day I remembered the theme song. I got behind the piano and started looking for the right notes. That was my introduction to playing music. When I was in high school, I of course played in a band, and later played trumpet in a semi-professional jazz band. At the same time I fiddled around with an application for the Commodore Amiga, called Sonix. It allowed you to modify soundwaves and sequence sounds, and from that moment on I just knew I wanted to make computer music. There weren’t a lot of options back then, so I worked with Cakewalk for quite a long time.
I eventually found my way to a music program at San Francisco State, and I studied jazz and recording there. Later I got a job in LA, and made music for a video game company for its presentation at E3, and have kept writing music ever since.

What’s your music making process like?
It really depends. As I studied music in college, I often find myself doodling around on napkins, writing short parts and then later converting them to the actual sounds. I also work from the opposite direction. I always carry a recorder with me, so I can instantly make recordings of interesting sounds I hear, and start building a track that way. Field recordings are of varying importance in my music, my last EP [‘Before I go’ recently reviewed on netlabelism] featured quite a lot of samples, but that’s not always the case.

Could you give us a tour of your setup? What instruments and software do you use?
I used to have a lot of hardware synths, but I recently sold most of them in order to get a Novation Ultranova. I still have a guitar, a trumpet, saxophone, my koto, a Kaoss Pad 3 (which I use mainly as a midi controller) and some other hardware effects lying around. I’m always amazed at how fast people can make complete songs in sequencers like Ableton Live, while making a similar song might take me a very long time. I’ve never gotten used to the graphical representations that split the music into clips and scenes. I need to see my music as one continuous stream from left to right, almost like a picture book. That’s why I’ve always used sequencers like Cubase or Logic. It doesn’t have the graphical anchor points of 4, 8 or 16 bars, but at the same time that’s a tremendous freedom for me, as it allows me to be more creative with the way I construct pieces. This oldschool left to right view is especially useful for ambient music. It’s such a cliché, but it really doesn’t matter what pieces of equipment you own. Whenever I get stuck in a mindset that focuses too much on expanding my setup, I’m reminded of the Japanese musician Harakami Rei, who recently passed away. All he ever used were two Roland SC-88Pro’s. That’s it. Yet he succeeded in creating incredibly rich material.

How would you describe your own music?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. I guess I just make the sort of music I like listening to. That varies greatly, so sometimes I’m somewhat scared there’s no common thread in my music or that I may lose a few fans when dabbling in other styles. I can tell you what I’m trying to achieve, though. One important characteristic that’s important to me in my music is the way silence is incorporated into the composition. I really feel like silence is an instrument. I live by it, and I’m not afraid of having parts of complete silence in a song. Apart from that I enjoy working with contrasts. By this I don’t only mean contrasting the amplitudes or dynamics of a sound, but also contrasting sound characteristics and/or timbres. This often enables a more general feeling of tightness or tension which might build up, letting the sounds in a track generate a sense of pressure, only then to release it. Yah, this play of contrast between tightness and looseness is often what I ultimately attempt to create.

You wrote the music to a short film by Claus Ostergaard, how was the contact with him and do you have any plans to work with him again? Do you often write scores for film?
The soundtrack for the Claus Ostergaard movie is actually related to another project I participated in: ‘Taboun’. That is a short film by Suha Ayash. Taboun is the staple bread eaten in the country of Jordan. Suha’s shortfilm was produced to illustrate taboun’s importance to many low-income families living in the more impoverished regions of Jordan. The film follows one family that has been fortunate enough to live near a road that has recently gathered tourist attention because of it’s historic importance. To date, that has been my most rewarding project. I learned a lot about Jordan and the people who live out there.
I wrote 3 songs for ‘Taboun’, but in the end only two of them were used. It just so happened that Claus was interested in using the third one for his ‘Ocean:dreaming’ shortfilm. After that, we talked about doing something together, and we did a movie showing the city of Aalborg in Denmark. I just wrote the backing music to it which I called ‘Aalborg Pulse’. Claus and I had fun with it though. In the middle of that song, there’s a quiet part, when the movie is showing a cross-country skiier . I searched for ages to find a sample of the sound that makes. Eventually I found it and Claus lined up that sound with the video, and we were quite pleased with the result.
To answer your question on collaborating again, right. I would love to work with him again, but he seems to be very busy lately as am I, so I don’t know how likely another collaboration might be in the near future anyway.

I’ve made music for quite a few film shorts, actually. However, when you’re a small unknown artist like me, writing music for films is really tailoring your own way of working to the tastes of the film maker. You have to bend to what they want, so I’ve had multiple experiences where I worked for a long time on a piece, but it didn’t make it into the finished product. If the director doesn’t like it, to his credit, he just won’t use it. The music I write for films is quite different from my ‘normal’ studio work: it focuses more on acoustic instruments and piano parts.

Have you made movies yourself, or do you mostly write scores for other people’s work?
I have made some movies myself. They’re not always very good though. The third track on the album you recently reviewed is called ‘Snow Monkey’. It’s the soundtrack to a shortfilm by the same name, showing some red-faced monkeys in hot water springs, surrounded by the snow. It was shot in Nagano prefecture. [If you’d like to see the movie, you can find it on the netlabelism front page, or in the links at the end of this interview.]

Do you have any upcoming releases?
I’m almost always working on something, so there’s a good chance I’ll publish some more tunes in the near future. I’m currently working on a soundtrack to a film called “Three Days in Kamakura”. I started working on that soundtrack two years ago, and the film will probably be released in another six months or so.

I’m also working on a tribute song to the artist I mentioned earlier, Harakami Rei. He passed away too soon, and I hope I can express the respect I have for him through this piece. Most tribute songs suck though, so I’m really hoping mine doesn’t! (laughs)

Sean, thank you very much for taking the time to provide us with an inside look at your music. Best of luck with your upcoming projects, and we hope to hear from you again.

Links
Candlegravity Website
Candlegravity – Snow Monkeys (Video)
Suha Ayash – Taboun: Kindling For Eight (Video)
Claus Ostergaard – Ocean:dreaming (Video)


This interview was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.

Interview with Antti Törmänen

It’s still quite rare for western players to be admitted as insei, and for them to make the life-changing step to move to Japan. When I read that this was exactly what Antti Törmänen was doing on his blog Go of Ten, I became very intrigued indeed. Even more so because I was moving to Tōkyō around the same time he was, and we were both departing from Helsinki airport. I sent him an email to ask him for an interview, so we may all get to know our new hero a little better. This interview was conducted at the Nihon Ki-in on Friday September, 30th. Parts between square brackets were added by me.

Hi Antti, nice to meet you. Perhaps we should start with the absolute basics. Could you tell us a little something about yourself?
Hi, my name is Antti Törmänen, I’m 22 years old. Before moving here, I used to live in Espoo, Finland, which is just next to the capital Helsinki. I’m currently in my 4th year of industrial engineering and management at the Aalto University in Helsinki, and I specialize in work psychology. Though I’m technically still enrolled at university at present, I will be in Japan for most of the year, so I don’t expect to do much for my university studies this year [laughs]. I’ve booked a return flight for May 11th, so I’ll probably be an insei until the end of April.

How long have you been playing go? Often when you hear about the progression of really strong players, they rose through the kyu ranks very quickly, did something similar happen to you?
I began playing go in in the spring of 2001. As I didn’t really know of other places to play, I spent most of the summer playing on Yahoo Games. Late July, I learned of KGS, registered there, and got the ranking of 12 kyu. Two months later, I was 8 kyu. I continued playing, and next spring I was around 1 kyu, and by the end of that year already around KGS 5 dan. That was under the old ranking system, however, and would be closer to 3 or 4 dan on present-day KGS.

What is your current KGS account, and what is the highest rank you achieved on KGS?
Well, my main account is Tien, but I’ve had other accounts as well. I achieved 9 dan on Tien for a short while, but the only way to maintain that was to not play [as Parik Stefanov of Go Sensations always points out ^^]. I’ve had a secret account or two where I achieved a solid 8 dan rank, but it really depends. I’ve lost fair and square to some 5 dan players as well.

This isn’t the first time you’ve studied abroad. Haven’t you been to China to study go as well?
That’s right. I’ve participated in the ‘Experience go in China’-program by Liu Yuanbo (MilanMilan on KGS) twice. The first time was in 2009, when I stayed for a month and a half. The day was divided in two parts, with the morning session consisting of a lecture on the opening or a certain go problem, while the afternoon was used for a game with another student or a teacher. Afterwards, we’d review the game.
In 2011 I returned for 3 weeks, and this time I participated as part student, part teacher. I taught the morning lectures for a group of players ranging from kyu strength up to 2 dan. Since I couldn’t participate in the other morning sessions to study, I only studied through playing games and having them reviewed.

Regarding these intensive study programs in east asia, do you think it’s worth it for aspiring players, or would the money be better spent on books?
I absolutely believe these programs are worth it. You aren’t only paying for study resources or strong opponents, but more than that, you’re investing in a great environment to study. Everybody there is incredibly motivated to improve, and this sort of commitment is what elevates these programs over home study. [A few days after this interview was conducted, IGN “Goama”, issue #151 contained an interview with Yoon Youngsun, who said the exact same thing]

antti-kiinAntti and me in the Room of Deep Contemplation, at the Nihon Kiin

How did you end up becoming an insei?
I first met Kobayashi Chizu sensei at the 2007 European Go Congress. After that, we met again in France, at the 2010 Paris Open. I contacted her by email asking if there might be a possibilty for me to study as an insei, and she helped me with the paperwork.

Could you tell us something about your study method throughout your go playing career?
I just played a lot of games on Yahoo and KGS. Really, I believe that’s the most important part of any study program, just play a lot. I started reading some books like Ishida’s ‘Attack and Defense’ and Kageyama’s ‘Fundamentals’ [I knew it. Kageyama is the road to success ^^], but I didn’t do a lot of go problems. After about 4 or 5 years I started focusing more on those, and worked my way through the classical problem collections.

Speaking of go problems, what is your preferred method of working with those? Do you look at the answers or not?
Usually I think about a problem for about five or ten minutes at most, and if I didn’t get the solution by then, I’ll look at the answer. I actually kind of follow Kobayashi Chizu sensei’s suggestion on this; she has said that it’s okay to look at the answer. When playing a game, you don’t have time to read every single situation out with brute force, so that’s why it’s important to recognize different shapes quickly. For this kind of training, thinking about a problem for a bit, and then looking at the answer is fine.

What will your study method look like here in Japan?
Right now, I have one weekly meeting scheduled with certain professional players from the Nihon Ki-in. Kobayashi Chizu sensei had a wonderful exchange of ideas planned: Each week, I’ll present some games I played in the insei classes to the professionals, and they’ll try to comment the game in English only. Thus, they’re teaching the game to me, while I’m helping them with the English language. This way they’ll be able to travel abroad to teach go in Europe or in the United States. [I was present at the first meeting between Antti and the pro players, and Kobayashi sensei pulled out a huge atlas and spent the first ten minutes showing the young pro players what Europe looked like. It does indeed look very muuch like they’re being trained for teaching abroad.]
Apart from this, I’ll be doing tsumego on a regular basis every morning, and I’m also studying professional games. Perhaps once in a while, I’ll go to a go salon to play, too.

You’re also involved with the Nordic Go Academy, could you tell us something about that?
The Nordic go academy (www.nordicgoacademy.com) is an internet league-based go project that I founded with two friends of mine, Juri Kuronen 5 dan and Yang Su 6 dan. Basically, the idea was to create a system in which the teaching is done through offline reviews, making the league easier to run for us teachers. Especially while I’m in Japan, it’s very difficult for me to teach western players any other way because of the time difference. Our system is based on the premise that each student plays three games a week, and then they send the game record, with any possible questions or inquiries, to us teachers, and we then send the game record back with the commentary. There are also supplementary go simultaneous games, and we’re planning on holding weekly lectures as well.

Insei style league systems have become very popular in recent years. Switzerland just started their own system, run by In-Seong Hwang, a Korean 7 dan. Why do you think this method works so well?
The main factor for league systems’ success, I believe, is because they create a good atmosphere for learning. You feel like you’re part of a group in which everyone is serious about studying. If you just play normal games on a go server, you can of course learn much as well, but it’s often possible that your opponent is not playing very seriously, or they might even escape after realizing they’re going to lose. Participating in some kind of a program makes you committed to it, and as a result everybody is able to study more seriously.

If there’s one thing you could say to yourself when you just started out, in order to improve faster, what would it be?
That would have to be “try to have fun at all times”. Improving becomes much easier when you’re having fun when playing and studying. Don’t try to do things that you don’t find interesting. A very common issue that go players have, I feel, is that they put too much emphasis on winning and losing. While winning can of course be fun, I don’t think that defeating the opponent is the purpose of the game. Instead, one should always try to find the best move while playing. If one only cares about winning, one becomes short-sighted while playing, and the game also gets boring, or even frustrating to play. In a way, I think, go is not about defeating your opponent, but about defeating your own limitations.

Thank you very much for this interview, and know that we are all cheering for you. Best of luck with your insei studies.

Netwaves interviews me about Netlabelism

Belgian Radio Scorpio dedicated episode 176 of their Netwaves broadcast to Netlabelism. I was interviewed about my work with the magazine. The interview is in Dutch. You can find it below.

Al voor de 176ste keer brengt netwaves jullie een dwarsdoorsnede van netaudio-land en dat is vandaag niet anders. Alhoewel, zoals we vorige week al lieten vallen, hebben we vandaag een speciale gast in de studio. Simon van Bockstal is een naam die waarschijnlijk niet veel belletjes doet rinkelen, maar als ik er bij vertel dat deze jongeman zowel bij het netlabel Stadtgruen als bij de website van netlabelism.com actief is , mag het wel duidelijk zijn dat deze Gentenaar wel bekend is met de netlabelcultuur. De uitzending van vandaag staat dan ook helemaal in het teken van netlabelism.com. Deze website is ontsproten uit de Keulense netaudio-scene en bundelt reviews van interessante releases, maandelijkse compilaties, filosofische mijmeringen rond vrije muziek en nog veel meer.