1 Posted on 09/24/2009 at 08:03:14
Hi guys! Hope your all cool. Just came across this interview from Loopmasters with Erik Bergknut Svahn, Founder Of Equipped Music. You can check it out here...
E-Lab, your previous project is one of the oldest sound design labels. How did you start that? What was behind the idea to do sound design and not music?
Actually, I did both for quite a while. I started doing sampling CDs in 1991 and I worked for another company that wanted me to deliver sounds. They were in the sound FX business so they usually did car crashes and bangs and bird tweets and office sounds and that kind of stuff. They sold that on CDs. A guy working at their company shared an idea with me: "Why don't you do the same but for musicians?" I was sort of intrigued by that, at that time I hadn't even invested in something called "a CD player", I was still doing vinyl and was hanging on to it for as long as possible. The CD format for me was just something you record music on. But with a 99 track index I saw it was sort of valid. During that time I had collected sounds for my music. But I recorded everything to DAT. I worked for that man for 5-6 months as a contractor and then I realized how I wanted a sampling CD to be made. I set up my own company with another guy. Then in 1993 I started E-Lab as my own independent company and it's been running up 'til now. Lots of things changed in the meantime and Equipped Music is the company I work for right now.
Would it be safe to say that E-Lab had its peak performance (so to speak) with the launch of Reason 1.0?
Yes, but also after that. I would say from mid 90s up to 2003 E-Lab were very successful in everything they did. The Reason library we made was I think in 1999. Around that time we had lots of requests for licensing sounds from other companies. We had distribution for all our products all around the world. We were even invited and quite heftily paid for licensing our sounds to Internet sites. We were doing all kinds of things. But we we were also doing music. I was working with four of five different record labels.
You were working with them as a sound designer or as a musician?
As a musician.
You say "We". I know you as the person from E-Lab and Equipped. Who else is there working with you?
When I started E-Lab, that was my own company. Then, 5-6 years later I started doing music with a friend of mine. He was unemployed at the time so instead of looking for work we decided he should become my partner. We started as musicians, doing music together. Then he got more and more involved with the production of the sampling CDs and licensing content. His name is Jan. He's no longer working with me. He was with the company from late 90's to last year, almost 10 years. We did everything together.
Let me just come back to Reason. There were sample libraries before that, mainly for the hardware samplers like the Akai. You could buy CDs for that. But my personal opinion is that when Reason came to life, it really started the sampling market. What do you think about that? Was Reason 1.0 a turning point in the history of computer-based music making?
You must realize that at that time everything was hardware. Up til then we had three rooms just with gear. Large mixing consoles, electric pianos, drums, everything... All of it stacked, prepared to be recorded. Lots of outboard gear, valves, EQ, mics, all that stuff you use to make and record music. I think when we made the sounds for Reason we weren't really comprehending what was going to happen. I was quite sure that it was going to be something that... as we said "the kids are gonna love", but I never thought of it as a tool that's going to totally taking over music production. Even now I still have mixed emotions about it. I love software, I love Reason and I love things like Recycle. I just ordered Record. I've been using Logic, Pro tools and all this other software. But sometimes I miss the hands-on feel, you know. This monday a large Fender Rhodes will be arriving here.
I can imagine it must've been strange starting with 3 rooms of hardware to produce just a single CD of sounds. Chopped up sounds, not even music. Rather music lego blocks. What was your workflow, how did you produce all these loops? Where did they come from?
The Reason library was really all of our collected sounds. We picked the ones we felt were valid for this. We knew from the past that other sound developers usually tended to go for multisampled piano-type sounds. We were sure that if reason was going to make a difference in this area, it had to be drum loops - for people who make drum and bass or house, techno or hip hop. And it was the same with the other sounds we delivered. We knew that if it's gonna be a success it has to sound like something coming out of a record. All these other companies, with all respect, were slow. They didn't really comprehend how people make music with samples. I've done that since the mid 80's when I got my first commercial sampler, it was an Ensoniq and then Akai after that. We were sure that if we deliver material that will be interesting for this kind of market then it will work. Now you hear it in all kinds of music, people using samples and phrases from sound libraries. There was a kind of a "looking down" feeling from the industry at that time - that people who use samples are cheating or are not professional. Today it's not an issue. Most DJs who make music make it this way.
I've even heard an opinion that the sampling and loops industry is killing music. Do you agree with that?
No. I think the most interesting music nowadays is music produced with samples, Hip Hop among others. People take something from an era which they don't know or understand and bring it into today's environment, where people with ipods are walking around and enjoying music. I think there is good and bad music, but that's always been the case. If you listen to stuff from the 80s, 70s or 60s, you can pick up really good stuff, buy you'll also find really cheesy music. However, I think the record companies are to blame for that - they tried to make quick bucks.
You say you're a musician. Do you make music and release it or do you just play leisurely for your own pleasure.?
I started out as a guitar player - I was 10 or 11. Then I played in a band for a few years. I played a mixture of jazz, funk and soul. Then I think i bought my first synthesizer around 1983. That was during the time when synth pop exploded. Depeche Mode, Human League and such bands were hitting the charts. But my favorite was Kraftwerk. I started using synthesizers and experimenting with them. I actually built my first sampler with my friend, that was around 1984 or 85. We took an analog synthesizer and used a digital delay line with which you could freeze the sound. Then you could control the pitch up and down with control voltage. This was of course monophonic. You could however play basslines or phrases with that. There was no storage so only as long as the sound was in the loop it was fine. You could record it to tape and then even sequence it. Then this sound could go back into the synth, into its filter section. Which is basically the same thing you can do with reason. And this was way before MIDI became big.
MIDI back then was just a novelty...
There were no companies like Steinberg. There were hardware sequencers. It was a black box where you'd press Record button and store the MIDI notes in it. Then came the computers. I was always into this music technology...
Was your music released and sold somewhere?
Yes. The sound was industrial as it was becoming more popular back then. Depeche Mode even drew on that sound. There bands like the Phoetus, Front 242 and others. That's what I was into. In 1985 I went to New York and I heard music on the streets, people were going around with big boomboxes. They were break dancing to music I was recognising. I was hearing Kraftwerk in that music, but it wasn't that band. This was the early days of hip hop. I took that music home and was later very influenced by the way they used drum machines. A few years later, in '87 I came back to New York and this time I went to clubs and heard totally new kind of music again. Nobody could explain to me in plain words what it was - and it was house music. It made my heart tick. That's where I first noticed external sounds being used like sampled James Brown breaks and other samples. For 5-6 years I was totally absorbed with this phenomenon.
When I came around to make my first sounds in '91 I was already painted with impressions from NY. I made house music for quite a few years with Jon. We were called YMC. That's when we started making samples. During the day we would make them and then at night we would use them. We had a large studio which we could use whenever we wanted to.
I liked house music because of the beats, the energy and the uplifting mood. But it changed, became really hard, minimalistic and everything started sounding the same. I liked minimal house in the 90s, but it was more soul-based. In early 2000's it started sounding repetitive and synthetic. I had all my moogs already in the 80's, in my Depeche Mode era. My reaction wasn't "Oh wow! You can use synthesizers in music!" but rather "Oh dear, it's coming back again".
I realized I wanted to make hip hop. And that's what I've been doing the last few years.
You can sample the real instruments only so many times. You can use better and better hardware, better mics, preamps and converters. But I think there's a point beyond which it is hard to go. We have the pianos, hammonds, drums multisampled... Is there anything new that could be discovered in this realm?
I think right now there are so many tools - virtual instruments and software that open new ways. Take Pro Tools for example. For years it was just a digital version of a 24-track tape. Right now Pro Tools is similar to Reason, it's a complete environment. Whether it is PT, Logic, Reason or Sonar, you're doing almost the same. They sound similar although they do have a different workflow. My feeling is that to be or sound interesting you have to go back. Back to where things were more hands-on.
Are you saying, that the sonic qualities are explored well enough that the 'new' will really come from harmonies and not choice of samples or synths? Is there a future for sampled musical phrases?
Look at producers like DJ Premier. He's using more or less the same gear since he started when he played with Gangstarr. Changing gear doesn't mean better music. If you listen to stuff from the 70s where there were no click tracks, people played by interacting with each other. I have the deepest respect for that era, the late 60s and the 70s. Every detail was 'handmade'. If people wanted a string arrangement, they would call somebody who was very good with just that. Then someone would conduct a group of really good string players. That would be recorded in very good studios with technicians. Every part of the process involved lots of people. Not even mentioning the guy who wrote the song. There was a mixture of people who interacted with each other and that led to a lot of interesting stuff. Nowadays if you work with Reason, you do so alone. You need to have all that technical understanding and the only way to gain it is to listen to music from that era.
It is also important to investigate the history of music, to learn why people played the way they played. James Brown had a vision by which his band members had to play like machines. It was difficult for them, because most of them were jazz musicians. James Brown had the vision and he made it come through. He's not a superb musician but he was so intrigued with the rhythm. Songs in his times were made of verses and choruses and that sort of structure. If you listen to Brown's music, you don't hear that. He just screams and 'takes it to the bridge'. He was more a conductor.
You are most famous for the samples. With all respect, I believe more people have heard about your company than about your bands. Having said all that, what's so compelling about making loops and samples? Why do you make them if the energy of collaboration in a band is so much more important for music to be made?
Today less people play in bands, but what they are using the samples for is the same thing that's happening when there are two people in the room. If you play with a drummer, you have to follow that, interact with it. I think it's the same with phrase sampling. I guess that's what I'm famous for. I haven't done multisampled pianos. A sample used by one person translates into interaction with somebody who created that sample. It sets the tone or feel of it. Today there are artists who interact just with samples. They might not be in a band, but they have plenty of other means that allow them to get into that mode. That's why I'm very intrigued by using my own stuff. I produce stuff that I'm satisfied with myself. I don't release things that are merely "OK".
You sound like a person with big studio experience. Those who will be reading this interview will probably use your and other people's samples. They work in a studio and I believe they might benefit from your knowledge. If you had to share some of your secrets or tips from the technical perspective, what would it be? I realize it may be hard to funnel years of experience into a few sentences, but please try...
When I make a Combinator patch in Reason, I apply my knowledge from the studios. Knowledge of compressors, filters, EQ... I never really use the stuff without thinking from the hardware perspective - that's how I grew up. Even today the feel of something intrigues me. I think if I were to give one advice it would be this: don't think much about what you're using, just use it. Do you see my point? Instead of setting your mind on 'having to have that special gear', just stay with something you really know. For example - if you know Reason well enough, then stick with it, don't try 5 different similar programs. Try to make something new, you probably tried all the most obvious things. Turn the Reason rack around and look for new ways to do things. Be observant. There's a 'correct' way of using Reason and then there's the 'creative' way. Abusing technology always serves the producer, it is in your favor. Just look at Les Paul and Slash - they use the same guitar, but in different ways! Abusing technology can yield very interesting results. Another example is the TB-303. When compared to the Moog, it sounds like shit, but someone was daring enough to pick it up and have fun with it. Experiments led to a new style of music - acid. I doubt Roland had planned it. Similarly the samplers were intended for other applications, mostly for strings. Akai or any other manufacturers didn't expect people to approach their machines with a turntable and start sampling that. When you abuse your tools, you learn them very well, which in turn allows you to shape your own signature sound. Aphex Twin in his early days distorted everything in his samplers. He went against what the manual said. So, think out-of-the-box, be bold and use what you have.
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