Sacha Robotti and Henning Labuhn make up the Berlin based electronic duo Robosonic who this week go 15 Questions with Sonic Academy….
Where did you learn your skills from. Self-taught or education route?
S: Both… right Cord?
I played the Cello as a kid for 8 years - in an orchestra, with my sister (she’s a pianist) or just solo. When I discovered electronic dance music it was over with the classical stuff! I taught myself to DJ with some friends in my native Brussels, Belgium in 1995 and started buying records. Around that time I also bought my first version of Cubase and started TRYING to understand how this works. A few years of DJing, DIY experiments and work for no money in some sound studios later, I hooked up with Cord in 2004 or so and we started making bootlegs.
C: When I was 6 I started learning keyboard and piano. A little bit of drums, too, because my teacher was a professional drummer (RIP!). 7 years later with some punk rock and Jimi Hendrix experience I fell in love with the guitar. Another 2 years and I was also into turntables and a lot of HipHop.
Around that time I must have found out that a PC is not only useful for playing Lemmings or Zak McKracken but also for stringing together my musical identity. So I produced my first record in my parent’s house, still going to school. Instrumental HipHop and scratch tools, self-released on vinyl, getting in touch with distribution companies and production plants. DIY label business from scratch...
S: At that time my buddy Matt bought Cord‘s first record in a Berlin record store, contacted him and later on hooked us up, because he thought it would be a good match. It all started with vinyl!
Talking about education: I studied architecture for seven years and have a BA, but quit in 2005 when I realised I wanted to make music full time. In 2008 I graduated from UdK in Berlin and got a Masters in Sound Studies / Acoustic Communication, with this man Karl Bartos (formerly part of the band Kraftwerk) as my teacher. Apart from him, I met a few other cool people there and made some good friends! I wrote my thesis on “Copyright in the 2000s” and made a track entirely out of samples from Number One pop hits I found on the internet. The whole thing was based on „The Manual – How to have a number One the easy way“ by The KLF. Fun!
C: Well, my academic career ended with a BA in social science and a research study about DJ culture in digital revolution, based on an analysis and a survey I did. I published an article about that in a scientific book in 2010 and maybe soon I’ll get the full text published open source. I was never actually taught how to DJ, but with that academic perspective I understood much better what it was and is about in general.
What is your current studio set-up?
S: Pretty low-key. Cord and I are neighbours (our flats are in the same house in Berlin-Kreuzberg) and we both have similar studio setups in our flats. Computer, TFTs, keyboard, audio interface / mixer, microphone...
C: Yeah, we both got NI Maschine, 1200 Technics… I have my guitars, an old Fender Champ tube amp, percussions, a little accessory, my mum‘s accordion…
What made you decide to use your current DAW?
C: Value for money was the most important factor… that’s why the computers are built up entirely from scratch. Luckily we know this guy Jesco Lohan (Music Blocks: http://musicblocks.de/) who’s the little brother of a school friend of Sasha’s from Brussels and lives in Berlin. He’s a technical and acoustical genius and has fun and patience building studios. He saved us so many times!
Talk us through your typical workflow from idea development to conception…..
S: Ideas can come at any time, in any place. The challenge there is to remember the idea – when I’m not in the studio while one of these flashes of inspiration happens, I use my phone to record myself singing a little melody or beat, or I just write down a few words. With a bit of luck I manage to decipher the gibberish later! Having fun while making music and getting into the flow is the most important for me. When two people are sitting in front of the same computer, you need to communicate well or at least understand what the other’s talking about when he means, “let’s make that tom go more UNGHHH”. I like to work fast in the development of an idea and try to finish track quickly so it’s out of my head and I can start the next one. I think with Robosonic some of the best work was the most spontaneous one, right Cord?
C: True that. Some things need their time to develop, others just happen. I have no dogma about that. The urgency not to waste time can have positive and negative effects on the creative processes I’d say... Anyway, often while developing a tune for me it is important to think of the framing as well: where it should take place, and how it might be presented...as a single track, on an EP, an album, a mixtape... is there visual inspiration, a certain concept / theme or so.
What part of the production process do you find the most challenging?
S: I guess finishing a track is the most challenging part! At some point you have to let go.
C: I totally agree on that.
How do you deal with 'hitting a brick wall'?
S: I smash it.
C: Haha, Chuck Norris-style. Anything could happen. I have no formula on that. If there is no hurry, leave it and try to David-Copperfield-through it another day...
What piece of software and hardware could you not live without?
S: Ableton Live, a computer, headphones...
C: Yeah, keys for me. Microphones help a lot when there were no sound libraries...
What piece of equipment would you most like to own?
C: I’m in urgent need of a good e-piano right now...thinking of a Korg SV-1...
S: A Moog Voyager, a Manley Massive Passive, Funktion One monitors!
Is there a piece of equipment you regret getting rid of?
C: Not at all. The best thing was to get rid of an MPC 2000XL. I love a lot of music that was produced on it, but no more broken floppy and ZIP-discs for me...
S: My Cello, which I had to sell. Then again: it’s being played now so it must be happy to have a new daddy!
What piece of software or hardware are you most looking forward to launching this year?
S: Kush Audio’s VST of the UBK-1. Also I’m looking forward to whoever invents an affordable 2m x 1,20m touchscreen or some kind of new 3D pointing device that will replace the mouse (like the sunglasses and glove in “Heavy Rain” but without the drug habit).
C: I don’t own a touchscreen computer yet but I’m eager to use that interface “Performer” that the small company Konkreet Labs is developing!
What's your current live/DJ set-up and why have youchosen this over everything else available in the market?
S: Currently we use Pioneer CDJs, preferably the 2000. We’ve rarely been let down by CDJs and for me this is the safest and most solid option for rocking tunes at a party – in the last years, I’ve had way more tricky situations with vinyl or DJing software. I love DJing with vinyl but to be honest I don’t miss carrying round my gigantic 30kg record box around anymore. It broke my spine a few years back so it’s not only a question of DJing philosophy. What I do miss, are the many record stores that had to close in the last ten years worldwide. Right now, DJing with computer software is not my thing, I can’t really warm up to the presence of a computer screen on stage, also because in my opinion DJs tend to lose touch with the crowd when they stare at the screen constantly. But I’m sure we will see some amazing new developments in the next years that will revolutionise the way DJs perform (the word “DJ“ will probably be antiquated by then!). I’ve got the feeling that we’ll soon see some more game changing inventions by Native Instruments!
C: Word up. I think the word “disc jockey” will stay but it’s meaning has expanded a lot over the last couple of years!
Is there too much choice in the music technology market these days?
C: If you know what you want to do, you’ll find a tool for that, that’s great. If you don’t know, you might get inspired by it, or you maybe get lost. The same can happen with the enormous amount of music that is available... Using information technology effectively but soulful is the new big challenge for DJs and producers.
How do you think the technology affects the music producers release?
S: Music and technological developments have always been closely linked together. Just have a look at the popular music history of the last 50 years, the way new equipment was incorporated into the music etc. – or even the way such a thing like the orchestra evolved. Musicians may use a certain tool, which was designed for a certain purpose – but maybe they also use it in a completely different way than intended, and that’s where it gets interesting! Obviously, if you put a great producer in a studio with incredible room acoustics and speakers and gear, chances are high that good music will come out of those speakers at some point. Still I believe a great producer can manage to make good music on any kind of technological setup. Give him or her a wooden stick and a frying pan and see what happens.
C: Of course, but there are also many different kinds of “producers”. I believe some really gifted ones would also suck in that pan experiment as their mastery is not mainly expressed through musical creativity but sound technology expertise. But these might not be able to produce a great record, all on their own.
S: True that!
What's the secret to good mastering?
S: The loudness war has been won: we arrived at a point where you physically can’t get much louder in the mastering. Instead of making progress, it gets worse! It’s a sad time for pop music, most of it sounds interchangeable, on steroids and a bit shitty. There‘s little dynamics, no more air, no more room, the music can’t breathe and subsequently the listeners can’t either. The feeling of a track gets lost and the groove gets washed down in a track that’s mastered overtly loud for „competitive“ reasons. Pick any billboard track, load it into Wavelab and take a look at the soundwave: it just looks like one thick pile of shit flattened by a tank. I have no respect for this kind of industry standard and I think it’s a disgrace to my ears and a piss-take for us music lovers. Luckily there’s a movement against the loudness war. We support that.
What projects are you currently working on and what can we expect from you in 2012?
C: There’s going to be a Robosonic EP out on OFF Recordings, out in April. We’re excited about that one as we receive amazing feedback on it! We signed a track to a compilation on Sweat It Out called ‘Derrick’ that should be out at the end of March. Also, there‘s a record called ‘The Punchi EP’ out on our own imprint, 0001, right now. The record is dedicated to a merchandise innovation that had been produced and marketed in our very own colour code Robosonic Yellow (and in Night Black as well): A scarf that is a towel. A towel that also is a scarf...The Punchi is basically a fresh companion in heated situations, be it on the dancefloor, in the street or at the beach. This corny music video just shows a little bit of its charm: youtu.be/PxdKn0rjoLI
More to come!
On www.robosonic.cc you find everything we’ve done so far and it’s kept updated with new stuff!
S: Also, don’t forget to like our music page on Facebook if you like our music! Here’s the link: www.facebook.com/robosonic.berlin. Peace.
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