Less then a week before their performance at this year’s Atonal Festival, Rashad Becker and Ena were kind enough to open the doors of the Clunk studio in Kreuzberg on a hot mid-August day to interrupt their rehearsals for a conversation with Kaput.
Rashad is talking to Ena in Japanese and one immediately gets the impression that these two friends share a deep understanding of music production, despite their different cultural backgrounds coming from Germany and Japan.
While Rashad Becker is best known for being a luminary in the field of mastering (he has mastered records for pretty much everyone in the world of electronic music, from Dj Hell and Mouse on Mars to Vladislav Delay, Fluxion and Pan Daijing – Discogs currently notes that he’s produced an unbelievable 1698 records), but he is also an incredible independent sound researcher. You can see this form his Pan-published records “Traditional Music Of Notional Species Vol. I” and “Traditional Music Of Notional Species Vol. II” showcase. Ena on the other hand may be best known for his Dubstep, Electronica and Drum’n’Bass tracks, but surprisingly is also involved in mainstream J-Pop.
Ena, Rashad, how did you two meet in the first place and what made you want to collaborate? Was there anything that fascinated you about your respective musical output?
Ena: If I remember right, we met in Madeira in 2015 for the first time.
Rashad Becker: I don’t know if there was a special artistic moment, it was more about the atmosphere and the ambivalence in the mood of his music that I felt compellingly close.
Ena: It felt natural and also a bit of a coincidence. During the 2016 edition of Atonal Rashad and me spoke for the first time about collaborating. When Laurens von Oswald [co-organiser of Atonal] told me that a Tokyo edition of Atonal was happening we decided to perform there together.
Rashad, maybe you can explain what you guys are doing here in the studio right now and what´s the idea behind the performance at Atonal?
Rashad Becker: We will play on an octaphonic sound system that was put together to play a piece by Karlheinz Stockhausen. The format came to us very late in the process, so it wasn’t set out to be an octaphonic one. The system at Kraftwerk is spread out over four different points in the space and then mirrored ten meters above – so it’s eight points in a rectangular shape. It’s basically a cube. The Stockhausen piece is specially arranged along the cube in terms of depth and panning but our piece will not be.
Did you originally have the room in mind while preparing the piece?
Rashad Becker: I think the room is very indecent as an offer to any audience or to music – the venue it basically the festival. A lot of the colors that are already dominating that space are doubled in the musical narrative and we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to drown the place in dark droning.
And instead do what?
Ena: It’s hard to explain.
Rashad Becker: We are trying to project different spatial environments into that particular spatial environment and feed very, very dry, tiny events into that from a distance. Basically what we are doing is to reverse what is called the “reverb radius”. Usually you are close to the PA and you locate the sound source at the PA. Then there is some kind of sheen coming back from the room but you have a direct signal and there is this thing that is called the reverb radius that is the physical dimension in which the sound that hits directly is louder and arrives earlier than the reflections. And outside of that reverb radius the reflections are louder than the direct sound. What we are doing is sort of reversing it because in the lower layer where the audience will be, there is only going to be spatialisation and the direct sound is going to be ten metres above. It’s not a great concept, but it’s a way to play with 8 speakers.
Have you composed music for multi-channel systems before?
Rashad Becker: I have worked with animated sound expensively in theatre contexts. Also I’ve done numerous installations with spotted and specialized sounds. I don’t really like multi-channel setups most of the time. It’s mostly just a gimmick and there is not a compositional narrative that is specific to that format. Sometimes it is, but often it’s not.
Ena: Me, I never have done this before.
When you guys work together, does this feel more likely as a clash of concepts or a dialogue? What is your approach when creating music? And in practical terms: What are you individual roles?
Rashad Becker: There isn’t so much clashing, no. It’s all very natural, it’s like playing together. We didn’t conceptualize it at all. It’s like friendly neighbourhood, in technical terms. When we played together in Tokyo, it was very different, though. It was a concert setup, the narrative was different. We had five or six days to prepare and to familiarise ourselves. But actually we conceptualized it there because we decided on how to do it before we started playing together. I had synthesizers running with their own melodic progressions and Ena’s music got spectrally printed on that. So in a way, with his music he was playing my music. At Atonal in Berlin we will not do this, because of the space and the octaphonic setup, we just try to translate the method that we found between us to this specific setup at Kraftwerk.
Will working together also influence the way you are approach your individual projects? Or is this just a simple collaboration and you go back to whatever you were doing before?
Rashad Becker: That is a difficult question, because for me this is a different thing. I don’t feel it’s a transformation of something that I usually do and then I go back to something or not. Also each collaboration is different. Playing music with someone is a different thing as opposed to composing music to yourself. In that regard I don’t think it will change necessarily how I address composing music by myself, but it will definitely add to and hence change the way I collaborate with other people.
Will this lead to more performances? Or even a release?
Both: There are no plans. Rashad Becker: I don’t care about releases, so that’s not a priority, but performing together is, of course. But there is nothing planned…
Ena: … yet!
Rashad Becker: If so, preferably in Japan!
Ena: I can help with that.
Rashad, I recently heard that fireside talk you had with Hanna Bächer for RBMA radio. You talked about the current state of the music industry and music production. How do you think Atonal festival fits in this discussion?
Rashad Becker: For me Atonal is a very social festival, I always meet a lot of friends there. I wonder if it’s like that for everyone, I’m not actually sure. And it’s very strongly connected to the people who run the endeavor. I’ve known Laurens also long before he started Atonal.
Ena: So did I.
Do you feel connected to what is going on aesthetically?
Rashad Becker: I’ve been wearing an Atonal Tokyo button on my trousers for months now (laughs). Atonal is very determined to build longevity. It is not a spectacle in its own right. It builds upon something so they reinvented a brand that has always been an evident forum for a social cultural and social diaspora. And for a reason they revised that brand and I don’t think it was for marketing reasons. They are determined to offer a platform for a certain culture and not just another event in Berlin. If it is used that way or not, that’s a whole different question. It’s also difficult for them to take responsibility for the way it’s used obviously.
Regarding the politics of music and production, is this something you guys talk about?
Rashad Becker: We do on different levels as we both work in the music industry for quite a long time. It’s nice to share thoughts about that with an elderly (laughs and looks at Ena) – because you are very realistic about the industry, you have a very clear distinction about whatever we do. That’s nice. Because most of the young people when you talk about the industry they are full of aspiration. Not saying that you are not a young person of course.
Ena, does your other job bring in a cynical view on music production?
Ena: No, it’s my day job, I don’t care about the separation. I have my job and I make my music.
The Kaput editors have been reflecting on the influence Artificial Intelligence might start to have on music production. Is this a topic you two have pondered? How do you see the use of presets and the automatic process of some parts of the music production? By that we do not only mean mastering aspects, as this is your day job, Rashad, we mean the melodic and harmonic elements of tracks and songs. For example, there’s even talk now of complete tracks produced by AI programs.
Ena: I’m not into automated productions, I don’t need it! Rashad Becker: I don’t have any experience in automated productions, but I am interested in algorithmic composition and have spent a long time scripting in SuperCollider – but ended up never finding a method that gave me a good enough reason to hold on to it. I was enjoying the scripting, but why does it have to be music?
Rashad Becker & Ena at Atonal. #atonal #atonalfestival #rashadbecker #ena Ein Beitrag geteilt von Kaput Magazin (@kaput_mag) am
I tried to use it as a method of composition and it was not the right method for me. I never knew what the outcome was, but it’s great to learn because you basically learn another language. It’s more like a nice hobby.
Rashad Becker: When it comes to intelligent algorithms, there is no position I can take. Of course Melodyne is a fantastic instrument, it gives you a whole approach to composition. There was a software called SonicWorks that was built on neural networks and it could compute very peculiar tasks that where unfathomable before. It is amazing if you bring a whole new instrument to the world of sound like this. As for Autotune, I don’t know, it doesn’t inspire me at all. You have experiences with Autotune, Ena, right?
Ena: Yeah, lots. Many singles I produce need Autotune – but when I need it it’s not about music, not sure if I should talk about the music industry in Japan…
Rashad Becker: Do it! (laughs)
Ena: It’s very different compared to here. Most of the singers cannot actually sing. I feel like here they do.
Rashad Becker: We watch the Superbowl, then we know.
Ena: But there also is real time Auto-Tune.
Rashad Becker: That is true.
Ena: I use lots of Autotune, but I’m not using this software for music, you know? It’s just there to fix something. Like fixing a broken door.
Rashad Becker: Regarding the last part of the question: When it comes to big data and the implications of re-implementing that to composition, sure. I think there is no difference if you use a computer to do it or not. Because you have big data anyway influencing pop culture – it can be computer-based, but it doesn’t have to be. When it comes to mix down and mastering, the idea of big data is ridiculous to me. Because there are different reasons that lead to imbalances, sometimes determined, sometimes not and big data cannot really make a decision. In other words: if you listen to a record, even if it’s a generic dance record and there is a lot of volume at the high-end then big data cannot decide if the producer was angry, on coke or just half-deaf. This is something that needs to be decided. You need to consider how desired the sounds that you hear are and the algorism is just simply saying how confirm what I hear actually is. The judgment about how desirable it is should be answered by big data because sometime people express things that haven’t been expressed a million times before.
When it comes to functional music like house, big data is just fine for composition. It is anyway already in a certain way.
Ena, did you ever send music to get mastered to Rashad?
Ema: No, not yet
Rashad Becker: Better do not do it –Oh no wait, send me some J-Pop!
Ena: Ok, I will
Would you do that Rashad?
Rashad Becker: Sure.
Rashad, how would you describe the Japanese audience?
Rashad Becker: I’ve been there many times and I have to say, it’s a very sincere and educated audience in terms of musical education and in terms of attentiveness.
And you, Ena ,what do you think about the audience in Germany?
Ena: Maybe I should just say the opposite? Just kidding. The audience here has lots of energy, so maybe it is the opposite of educated or maybe it’s not.
Rashad Becker: When you are educated, you know the right context for music. For example with the Polish audience I feel the energy coming back from the people. In other places people are just very odd or loud and drinking.
We made it, here comes the last question: What are your favorite records right now?
Ena: I listen a lot to Joni Mitchell.
Rashad Becker: For me it has consistently been the same stuff. When I travel I mainly listen to traditional music, but I have also recently listened to a lot of Frank Zappa. I rediscovered him a year ago and I find it very entertaining.