Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An interview with Roland Oberheim

Roland Oberheim is a quiet chap and slow at releasing albums. His only release to date "Zen and the Art of Hard Disc Recording" was recorded in the year 2000 and left on a hard drive only to be rediscovered 11 years later!
by Sam Davis

Who is Roland Obeheim?
I am Roland Oberheim (Ross Healy)

Why the artist name Roland Oberheim?
Some of my favourite synths have been from Roland, the Jupiter 6, 8, SH101 etc and with Oberheim it was the OBXA, Xpander etc. Also it made an interesting artist name. I could imagine a kid who was totally into synths. I also chose the name because whilst I have been focusing on the Cray name and style, at the time the Zen album was too different so Roland Oberheim was born.

Did you use Roand or Oberheim synths on the Zen release?
It was all done on a Pentium 1 probably running Windows 98 or even Windows ME back in the day. I mainly used Soundforge and Fruity Loops and cut everything up in SoundForge. I totally loved SoundForge. You must remember at the time SoundForge and hard disc recording was fairly new. I had sold my Atari 1040ste and bought the Pentium. I soon discovered that the Pentium had absolutely terrible MIDI timing and as I was getting fed up programming beats I decided to do an album where everything was in its own time and space. The only synth I had with me then was a Kurzweil K2600R and that was only ever used sparingly.

How long did it take you to complete the album?
I would start at 9am and work through until 9pm most days, so about 30 days. This was all recorded and cut up in SoundForge, each individual kick and snare, hihat and clap was taken from 1 loop I created and then madly edited each individual sound. It was closer to editing tape than anything.

I can hear room acoustics as well as electronic sounds. What recording devices did you use?
You should be able to hear my squeaky chair and the shower recorded through a wall, the odd breath etc I used a cheap computer mic that came for free with the computer.

What other names have you recorded under?
Amnesia was my dance music name. I released "A Brief History of Amnesia 2056 - 2068" album It was leftfield breakbeat and techno. I also release a leftfield drum n bass e.p in the UK called "Red Tank". Horaku was the name I used as a one off on a compilation, that was an experimental drum n bass track. This was all about 1995 - 1998. I never released a beat album after that as I felt I had gone as far as I could with dance music. I have used about 10 different artist names since 1993.

Why all the different artist names?
I am an electronic musician. Electronic music and the instruments allow me to be anything I want to be in sound. There is nothing worse than being considered a "boxed sound, i.e house, jungle, funk etc" In the old days when synths and computers were not around I can understand a band being one style for comercial reasons and also lack of interest in anything outside what they know but that just doesnt equate when you are an electronic musician living in the world now. I have no obligation other than to myself musically. I do understand that by using so many different names it is hard for people to latch onto me but to me music is all about searching for something new. Saying that I really have decided to only use the name Cray pretty much since the year 2000.

What is it about electronic music you love?
I really love the fact that electronic music has given the individual the power to create their own music without having to resort to a band scenario. Also electronic music is about the pushing of boundaries in composition and sound, it really is our imagination in an audible form.  I find nothing more boring that a straight 4 on the floor beat. I can appreciate it in the context of a recording but I feel that most people are cheating themselves by not pushing the boundaries of composition.

Will there be any further Roland Oberheim releases?
I have no plans on doing anymore R.O. releases I would like to work with Ryou Oonishi though:-) 

Roland Oberheim's Zen and the Art of Hard Disc Recording is available for free or donation on VICMOD Records.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

3 Cray albums out Jan/ Feb 2012

The next Cray release on Rocket Machine tapes should be available Jan 2012.
It is very different to every other Cray release past, present and future.
Keep an eye out for another Cray album on VICMOD due Feb 2012 and another album by Cray called "Delta Whan" on Digitalis Ltd in Feb 2012.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An interview with Jeffrey Uhlmann

How did you get involved in electronic music?
I think my interest was first piqued watching the film "Forbidden Planet" on television. I'm not sure when it was, but it was at a time when the electronic music left a bigger impression on me than Anne Francis, so I must have been very young. In my early teens I saved some money and wanted to buy a synthesizer. Everything was out of my price range, but the guy at the music store said that something called a Micromoog would be coming out late in the year at around half the price. That was perfect so I placed my order.

Were you satisfied with the Micromoog?
I was really excited for the first few weeks, figuring out what each controller did and generally trying to understand everything that could be done. I spent a lot of time creating emulations of classical instruments, and the way I would work is to let the Micromoog's sample-and-hold (S&H) function generate random tones while I tweaked knobs. Over time I realized that I could create interesting sequences that sounded almost polyphonic. At that point I had no more interest in mimicking classical instruments. In fact, I had no real use for the keyboard because for me the S&H was all I needed.

What prompted you to begin recording?
I purchased analog delay and chorus boxes and experimented patching them together in loops to create layers of sound that I thought were pretty interesting. One day I was at a yard sale where a guy was selling a dual cassette deck. It could record simultaneously from one cassette and an audio input and it could even record on fast-forward. I didn't make much use of those features, but having the deck prompted me to record some of my work. When I got my driver's license in 1978 I was able to go to record swaps where I discovered that there was a lot of trading of cassette albums. Live recordings of well-known bands were highest in demand, and there were some local bands that released cassette albums, but my albums were very different and gave me a nice little niche. I couldn't really sell much but I could trade for people's used LPs.

How did you go about making an album?
I would create master tapes consisting of one 30-minute piece per side of a cassette. Once I had a dozen or so of those I would dub 3-minute excerpts onto a cassette and give them names. The tracks were around 3 minutes long only because that was the convention for pop albums. I'd create an elaborate cassette cover by photocopying elements from photographs or magazines. Photocopying was very expensive back then, so I created only one master tape with a nice cover while the others just had index cards with the track names inserted in the cassette case. I'd show people the nice-looking master, let them listen to it, and if they liked it I'd trade them one of the copies with an index card insert.

Were they very popular?
I could trade them for real LP vinyl albums, which was good enough for me. I really never thought about what happened to them after that. It was quite a few years later that I learned that some of them took on a life of their own through what is now referred to as the cassette underground. That was the post-punk era when people really felt like they were active participants in the process of discovering new artists. I remember going to record stores and heading straight to the import section because I wanted to discover something new that I could tell other people about. It seems that there were other people who did their panning for gold by listening to cassette albums that were being traded around.

How many years did you record albums that way?
I only produced albums using the Micromoog for around five years. My last was in 1982. I was already incorporating other instruments, and eventually I just moved on to other things.

What are your thoughts on electronic music today?
I don't want to sound like a dinosaur, but there are so many software tools now for creating music that at some point there will be too much of it for the public to digest. It just seems inevitable that the single-minded focus on a particular melodic structure will have to give way to an appreciation of richer sound structures. It's like the way the invention of photography diminished interest in realistic painting. Anyone could take a photograph with detail beyond the capabilities of the most skillful painter, so painting as an art form had to move away from the confines of realistic detail to the more expressive style of the impressionists.

Any thoughts on the choice between analog and digital electronic synthesis?
There's no doubt that digital synthesis offers vastly more control than analog devices can provide. However, the distortion and noise processes associated with analog devices can produce textures that are sometimes difficult to simulate digitally. In the early days of sound synthesis people were fascinated by the sound of a pure sine wave because it's unlike anything you hear in nature. Its initial appeal derives from its novelty, but eventually there's a desire to produce sounds with richer textures. To put it another way, if you remove the noise and distortion from a trumpet sound you can achieve a sine wave, but is that an improvement?

What are you doing now with music?
One thing I attempted back in the early 80s was to record a spoken verse that I wrote on the subject of time and stretch it with tape speed so that the words would transform into unrecognizable sounds. Unfortunately it didn't work because the pitch dropped too low. A few years ago I was able to revisit my original recording of the verse and digitally achieve what I wanted. It uses digital signal processing but maintains and enhances the textures of the original analog source. There's a lot more I'd like to do along those lines.