Interview with Gunnar

 

 

Interzona: Technological development has enabled the proliferation of home studios. Today it’s possible, with little investment, to work with equipment and resources unimaginable in the 1960s (when four channel tables were extremely rare and sophisticated devices). However, you deal in your studio with analog devices, with vintage recording systems. Are you resistant to new technologies, to digital?

Gunnar: Yes and no. I love the fact that anybody can afford to set up a home studio, but it comes at a price; not financially, but sonically. The sound I get from tape is so much richer and dynamic than what I get left with when I record on the computer. This is due to a fundamental difference in the way sound is recorded on the computer. The incoming sound is converted programmatically into zeros and ones with a limitation to how much information it can handle. Even without a limitation (bit rate), it would still be a computed interpretation of sound. Tape just registers the whole dynamic spectrum without limitations or interpretations and you CAN hear the difference. Also, recording on a computer gives you an almost unlimited amount of options, instruments, settings, tracks to add and plugins etc, which at first seem to expand your possibilities because more is better, right? Not for me. To be limited to eight tracks, with a few outboard effects and only the actual instruments I can play, I find a lot more freedom to express myself within these limitations and I just enjoy the process more. Knowing you have only eight tracks will make you plan your recording differently and it’s more likely you will actually finish what you started. When I start recording, I will continue until the song is finished. Most people I know who record digitally have a real problem finishing their songs, because of the endless tracks and options available to them. However, I too use some digital/modern stuff when it suits my way of recording. My Hammond XK-1 organ is also the midi controller for my Korg Micro-X sound module, which I use for some of the instruments I don’t own (but wished I did!). I also use my iPad and iPod for making beats (I have no drum kit) and some of the synth apps are also great to play with.

Interzona: You lived in London, where you studied and worked as a musician. Recently, you have visited Brazil. What do you think of Rio's and São Paulo's music scene in comparison with London's and Amsterdam's (where you live nowadays)?

Gunnar: I’m not sure I can really answer this question, because I have not been an active member of these scenes for a long time. I record at home and record at other home studios with friends, but I stopped playing live shows a long time ago. Back in the 90’s in London, the music scene was amazing. There were musicians from all over the world and there were jam sessions all over town. Financially, it was terrible though. There was so much competition that venues didn’t pay or even made you pay to play! It was in London that I did two night courses at the university in music business and music law, which made me decide to stay as far from the business side of music as I can. It was horrible to find out how musicians are exploited ruthlessly and how cynical the industry was towards musicians. In Amsterdam, the situation was actually better for musician, because at least you get paid something when you play a gig. I have friends here in Amsterdam who can get by only playing music. In London I also knew some professional musicians, but they were on a much higher professional level. People like me (or my friends here in Amsterdam) wouldn’t stand a chance making a living with music in London, the competition is huge over there. What can I say about Brazil? To be honest, not a lot. I met mostly people related to the film and tv industry and not so many musicians. It seemed that Sao Paulo was more like London and Rio more like Amsterdam when it came to opportunities and levels of professionalism, but I’m really not sure if this is true. I guess I just have to come back and find out!

Interzona: You are a very prolific musician. Some months ago, you released a compilation in celebration of the 500 tracks recorded in your studio. What is your working method? Are you an inspired musician who creates easily or a methodical and dedicated one, working regularly, like a professional?

Gunnar: Ha! Well, I just get inspired to play something. Sometimes it’s a certain sound I’m looking for and while I’m looking for it I stumble upon something I like and decide to record it. Like I said earlier, once I start, I continue until it’s finished, which usually takes between one and two hours. A lot of the times this results in a simple groove that doesn’t really go anywhere musically, but for me it was just fun to play the instruments and to get that sound I was looking for. Other times, I’m much more inspired and a whole tune just develops while I’m recording. I look at it sometimes like a diary; whatever is on my mind will come out musically that particular day. I like to describe my music as soundtrack music, because it has the same freedom when it comes to (lack of) structure, unlike traditional songs with a beginning, bridge and end, although sometimes I put these structures in too. I think my music can be best appreciated as background music for film. That’s why I actually decided to share my album, so hopefully somebody might enjoy it while doing something else  or even better, use it for a audio visual project like you have done! I love the combination of my music with your images. I don’t see myself as a radio friendly artist with commercial potential, but in combination with film/video I think my music can appeal to other people. Having more than 500 songs seems a lot, but to be honest, most of them are not interesting for other people to listen to, not even as soundtrack music. They are just musical ideas or experimentations. The songs I choose for my second album are recent recordings that have enough structure to them to offer to people to listen to. I guess I have enough material for another couple of albums, but the most recent stuff is always the most interesting to me to listen to, because I’m always getting better at the production side of it and at the same time my own style is becoming more defined as I progress musically. I’m still not convinced that I am good at playing any instrument or as a producer, but I am proud of the songs I selected for this album anyway. You can say at least one thing about my music: quantity is guaranteed!

Interzona: You are an inveterate reader of musicians' biographies, especially biographies of black music icons, like Fela Kuti and George Clinton. Does it influence your work? Is it like to be surrounded by amulets, good emanations?

Gunnar: Their music really inspires me. People like Fela Kuti, Mulatu Astatke, Sly Stone, Dennis Brown, Gil Scott Heron and Francois de Roubaix, to name a few, but their personality or personal live has nothing to do with how I appreciate their music. A lot of these people are actually not nice at all! I like to read these autobiographies because these people have led crazy lives and did things that are impossible to make up. My favorite crazy people are: Rick James, Tim Maia, Richard Pryor, Miles Davis, Honeyboy Edwards, Dr John and the Neville Brothers, Barry White. People that impressed me: James Brown (really!), Gil Scott Heron, Ray Charles, Fela Kuti, Paul Mooney, Quincy Jones and Fred Wesley. People that really disappointed me: Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Anthony Kiedis, Keith Richards, Questlove. I have read many more autobiographies, but these were the ones that left most of an impression on me.

 

 

Born in Amsterdam and started playing music at the age of 15. As a teenager I played in a ska band and record a live double album (vinyl) and later a studio album (cd). I moved to London at age 24 to become a professional musician, but while I was there I did 3 music related courses: 2 on music law/rights and music business and a sound engeneering course. Once I understood the music industry I decided never to be a professional musician and only play and record music on my own terms. Seven years later I returned to Amsterdam and built my home studio. I play and record every friday with my friends for more than 10 years now, but I have not done live shows since my London days. I now have more than 500 songs recorded at my home studio and released 2 albums which I shared with friends and family. Currently, I'm in the process of setting up my own label to release my own music and other home recordings from friends. (http://www.allhomerecordings.com/)

 

 

Video of Ricardo H. Rodrigues Yatzema with music composed by Gunnar.