In the studio with Grischa Lichtenberger

Grischa Lichtenberger

like a suppressed or unconscious trace of invisible relations

Lets start at the very beginning. Can you tell us how you got involved in composing, and what was your very first piece of gear?

i really got into making music, in the more strict sense of the word, by singing and playing the guitar when i was around 12 or 13. it always was a very intimate moment when i would do something and i could only very rarely have someone listen to it. everything was improvised and sung in some sort of semi-language – it sounded like english, but i didn’t knew the words. while this was kind of good for me, because i didn’t have to lyrically define what i would want to express (but could look for what was the emotional reaction to the music i was playing in the moment) it made it totally impossible to recreate or repeat anything i was doing. so a major turning point for me was recording these moments.

i started with using a tape voice recorder with a small stereo clip-microphone my father used to have lying around for recording bird sounds and weather situations. the first 4-track tape recorder i had then introduced a more experimental attitude, where i would use all sort of sound sources to add to the guitar and the singing. i think by this experimenting with the recording itself music grew closer to the visual art i was interested in simultaneously. both had certain aspects in common i increasingly focused on: a trace of matereality (a certain realness beyond just reality), a layering process (where reflection and thinking is like smoking a cigarette on a chair in front of what just happened), a fascination for the difference of intention and outcome, a postal directivness, to be able to give, dedicate, send the products, and the in-commensurability of this transference.

How many different studio iterations have you gone through, and what does your final setup look like right now?

it looks like a mess, i guess. i don’t really have a studio like a professional musician, but my whole flat is like a workshop with different areas for different stuff, that grew with projects or ideas. working in this “workshop” and working on it often is kind of the same thing – it is what i like to call the archival aspect of my art, where you would go through all the disregarded but kept material and recreate, reposition, record. when you would turn a deck of papers sometimes the things then on top (which have the longest distance to the present times) look as foreign as something new, but you also have the time in between, with all the other papers in the stack, thus an organic relation and an estranged viewpoint to the products of yourself at the same time.

for music i still mix and produce mainly on my 2 phillips ak141 hifi speakers i have since i was 10 or so. they have a tuned bassport speakersystem (they state), which is really shit and difficult to handle, but would prevent you from defining to much in the low lows, where with really great studio monitors they attract you to the outer areas, because they can. i also just know them really well and i tend towards the attitude to produce on what i listen to music on the most. but i also have an extensive speaker collection, mostly found objects, like a discarded loudspeaker from the auditorium of the university of bielefeld. so i use a lot of different listening situations. it is like this painter-trick, where you use a mirror, standing backwards to the painting, to see the composition from a fresh perspective.

for me it is really interesting not to see these different speakers as a correction-facility for the production, but also as addresses. it is amazing how subtle the surrounding and the means inscribe themselves in the production. this “music-production” context often has this strange subtext of everything should be the best, the cleanest, the most common, but also the least individual sound, while the most interesting aspect of sound really is its singularity, it’s personality which partly derives from the specific circumstances of their formation.

for me the “setup” of my studio kind of is a setup of realism – i have a history with all these things. it is tempting to set up a production site for the pure joy of their potential, but for me it is more important to have them connected, melted with the things that concern me.

Tell us about your favorite piece of hardware.

well, as i have kind of a fetishist relationship to all the things collected and gathered i won’t be able to pick favorites. but recently i had a nice moment with a spring reverb i removed from my first guitar amp that broke down after 15 years. it was an interesting moment to have the digital music looped through this device and touching it, changing the current, the tension, as if the music would somehow momentarily be able to float through non-ephemeral real space. other than that it would only be fair to say, the computer is still the most fascinating piece of hardware i have.

And what about the software that you use for production?

as i’m very slow with things i just recently discovered the max-for-live envelope follower which is an absolutely lovely tool to get things to interact with each other. you could use it like an alternative to a lfo to affect things secondarily, but you could also have this imidiate dynamic interactions – it doesn’t really replace dynamic eq’s or compressors, but on the other hand you could use it as such in a much more literal and direct sense.

Is there a particular piece of gear that you’re just dying to get your hands on and do you think one day you’ll have it?

i dream of a well-in-shape bechstein grand piano. i won’t be able to afford it in the foreseeable future, but maybe, who knows, one day i just sell everything including my soul and move to an empty space with just the piano.

Can you please share some aspects of sound design in your work?

the time you have on sculpting the sound is the time you have with the piece to befriend yourself with it. i still do it like in a painting. i very rarely go back or delete. i add one eq after the other and each one of them is like a step of correction or enhancement of the previous one. of course it is maybe the worst thing you could do, but it makes the sound more yours, or better: it crystallizes what your relationship actually is. that’s what i like about electronic music production – it isn’t said that in the end the trumpet-sound must resemble the original trumpet. after everything it could sound more like drums or like a piano.

no system or thought is flawless. and so the individuality and the “so dangerous” digital artifacts (ruining the production) coming to live during the process of shaping are in a very intimate conversation with each other i think. like a suppressed or unconscious trace of invisible relations.

Any particular new techniques that you tried out for your new album?

i used a lot of “drawing restraint” technique on the album. i would do a track and then do it again starting with automating the global bpm massively, so that i had to think about the rhythmical structure completely without relying on the grid of a sequencer. also with this all the machines (which are synchronized with the time-signature, often in the background without telling you) sometimes screw up in a very frantic way. because they can’t keep up with the changes, the processor workload would jump to 400 percent in certain places inscribing something like a trace of this specific machine – it’s ability, it’s limitations, it’s point when it needs to give up. i guess this strategy also had something destructive and self-reflective i wanted to analyze more closely.

What does your live setup look like, and what do you bring with you when you travel for an extensive tour?

i only travel with the computer and a controller (with some faders, buttons and knobs). depending on the visual set up i have a second pc for that and/or an interactive object. for the travel i like to have a small portable recorder, some paper, pencil and an interesting book with me.

What is the most important environmental aspect of your current workspace and what would be a particular element that you would improve on?

hmm, let me think. my neighbors are very patient and kind. the area (kreuzberg near the spree) is still very empty. monday nights i love going for a walk and pretend i’m in nature, alone just with the buildings that appear as massive stone-trees. improvement? space.

What can you tell us about your overall process of composition? How are the ideas born, where do they mature, and when do they finally see the light?

hmm, very difficult question. sometimes i don’t have ideas at all, but an abstract desire to do something musically, so i just start somewhere and be guided by what happens. sometimes it’s just a small idea, like a gag: what if you connect this with that, where something else grows out of. sometimes it is a sort of archival work, to re-listen to old stuff from the perspective of the present and thinking, what if i would change this and that or this to that and so on. in a second step in arranging, and composing the tracks more reflection grows towards it: what would fit to what, what is still missing with this one, what is it all about, why are you doing this silly stuff and so on and so on.

i think ideas never mature and as they are bathing in the light they’ll never be able to see it themselves. so it never feels like finishing something, or realizing an idea really, but more like compiling by a present thought.

After the piece is complete, how do you audition the results? What are your reactions to hearing your music in a different context, setting, or a sound system?

there is no rule to that i’m afraid. i sometimes like to hear the piece i made on my headphones walking outside, or in a car to see how it reacts to randomly appearing things. but most importantly i like to listen to the new stuff with a friend – what they say, if they like it or not. this really defines if it is worth something. i love the sound-check playing somewhere still very much. to listen to your stuff really loud on a big speaker system is great of course and very interesting also, while every speaker and every system reacts differently.

Do you ever procrastinate? If so, what do you usually find yourself doing during those times?

oh the usual stuff really – wandering through the internet, watching a documentary or a movie, sleeping. i try to sleep as much as possible in those moments. sometimes it works to just give up and fall asleep and then have this procrastination as extension of your dream, kind of sliding into the necessities, instead of bumping into them. also the different desks or workstations i have help a lot. when i see that i’m really stuck with one thing i could change to another table, to another project, another thing, another technique.

What gets you inspired?

oh, this is way to general. i don’t know. i think the art/the music should communicate that, if something. the rest is a secret (necessarily).

And finally, what are your thoughts on the state of “electronic music” today?

you know, it is this typical present times divergence. i somehow miss a sort of attentiveness towards a specific modulation or materialization of sound, where like in click’s and cuts back in the days, it seemed like an event to hear a high frequency-sound or whatever. on the other hand today it seems to me very much more clear that electronic music is not only an abstract idea towards or of technology but an intimate, very individual expression.

in a way the term now really seems outdated, no one really needs that difference anymore, doing electronic music doesn’t necessarily mean you must reflect on the electronic aspect of it – like you wouldn’t call blues guitar-music. the music has (in its present) always the possibility to be “just” music, i guess. you can use strings, and piano and fm synthesis and sampling manipulations all at the same time – no big deal. it is more then ever a question of negotiating between two symbolic systems – the one your language is build from and the other your own world is organized by.

but on the other hand i’m kind of missing this historical organisations, a plight, a binding with this symbolic dimension. i’m sad that there seems to be no really good way to have records more appreciated anymore. in relation to live representations they fall back as being just a reference. sometimes i’m afraid that this great modern achievement of letting some dilettantes like me still do some art retards back to an artistic, circus like show-off, where it is the greatest thing to see someone juggling the mpc or maschine or whatever super fast, tight and skillfully, or to be impressed by the sublime intelligence of some production, that in fact is just some sort of baroque tragedy, that intends to keep the normal circumstances of living outside, because all the main characters are aristocrats (or robots).

but in the end i think, it is important to see the tension of the present, it’s political and ethical notions, it’s implication on what you want to say, rather than having this dialectics play out as a verdict.