Two of electronic music’s most prolific artists sit down to discuss their working processes, inspirations and collaboration as TM404 and Echologist.
Brendon Moeller, aka Echologist, is an old hand at collaborations. The South African-born producer has worked with artists including Speedy J (as The Watchers), Phil Moffa and Spaceape over the course of his prolific career to date, with his output largely revolving around the dubbier realms of techno.
By contrast, Andreas Tilliander is less of a persistent collaborator, but you might say he’s a master of the alias. The Swede is equally prolific, but his work has covered more eclectic bases, from his earlier glitchy output under his own name and as Mokira, through to and drones and soundscapes, then more recently TM404, his fascinating project pushing classic Roland boxes like the TB-303 and TR-606 to their limits (we spoke to him about it back in 2014).
The duo’s first collaborative EP, Bass Desires, was released this week via Kynant Records. To find out more about their contrasting approaches and how they handled long-distance collaboration, we asked them to interview each other…
ANDREAS TILLIANDER INTERVIEWS BRENDON MOELLER
Andreas Tilliander: OK, I’ll start with a ego question – When did you first hear about my music and what is your favorite among my releases?
Brendon Moeller: At the end of the 90s I was working as an electronic music buyer at Norman’s Sound & Vision, which was located in the East Village of New York City. I was well into Mille Plateaux and Raster-Noton so Ljud and Plee both ended up in my CD collection. Ljud really struck a chord with me and is easily the album of yours I have listened to most, so I guess that should make it a favourite, eh? I love Persona as well. Been listening to Compuriddim a lot lately. I guess its safe to say I try and get hold of everything you do!
When I sent you my ideas and sounds, you were super quick in replying with your sketches and thoughts. Sometimes I would send you some material from my studio and then take the subway to my home. Before I got to my flat, you’d already finished our track. Do you always work so fast?
I do work very fast, especially when it comes to Ableton. I have been a user since day one and am on it almost every day of my life since then. That said, not everything I do is quick and easy, particularly with my solo stuff. Working with the great parts you provided certainly made things flow fast. You see, I have hundreds of unfinished ideas on my backup drive, so when I get an opportunity at collaboration, whether it be a remix or a joint production, I find that the parts I get sent are sometimes and miraculously the missing piece to a puzzle I was not able to complete on my own. I’m fortunate enough to spend every day in my recording studio as a result of my day job, which is sound design. Another convenience is the fact that my studio is in the basement of my house, so when inspiration strikes I step in.
Tell me about your studio. Favourite instruments?
As mentioned above, my studio is in the basement of my house. Actually, it’s a man cave and studio combined. I keep all my music and book collection there too. It’s a dream come true to have a studio like this. My favourite instruments are my Eurorack groovebox and my collection of effect pedals. Once my Eurorack groovebox vision took hold, I pretty much sold most of my hardware and dove in. What attracted me to this idea is the ability to tailor-make the groovebox according to my own specifications.
What’s the scenery like there in New York?
I live in Patterson, New York, which is about 120 kilometres from NYC. I live in an area surrounded by lakes, forests and farms. There’s plenty of hiking and bike trails. As far as people around here, there’s a bit of everything really. Not the melting pot that is NYC, but is becoming more so with time. It’s very mellow and beautiful and a great place to raise a family.
People have already wanted to book us for live shows. You very rarely play live. How come?
I seriously and sincerely look forward to us doing a show together at some point. As to why I don’t play live much at the moment, well, it’s a long story. The first time I stepped on a plane was at age 25, when I took a flight from Johannesburg to NYC to pursue my dreams of becoming a music producer. That flight was a baptism by fire type scenario as I was traveling for a good 24 hours. I realised then and there that flying is something I did not enjoy. It took me many more flights and collapsing twice on long flights to understand why. I suffer from chronic claustrophobia. Any flights lasting more than two or three hours lead to a lot of stress. I tried many things to try and remedy the situation but mostly they would make things worse and leave me in a state that was never conducive to performing to my maximum ability. I simply couldn’t enjoy myself or do my job properly because the stress of air travel tainted everything. The night before I would have to take a long flight I would not be able to sleep because the prospect stressed me out so much.
[quote align=right text=”I suffer from chronic claustrophobia. Any flights lasting more than two or three hours lead to a lot of stress… I always felt pressure to just man up and not complain because touring and performing is an opportunity and blessing not many people have.”]
So yeah, after collapsing twice at different occasions I realized I needed to find another way to support myself because touring would be the death of me. Also, I became despondent about my performances as I was never in a particularly great state of mind when I would perform. I’m hoping that with age things will get better. For now I consider myself very blessed to have the ability to make a living doing sound design. I absolutely love it. I’ve not really shared this stuff with too many people. In many ways I always felt pressure to just man up and not complain because touring and performing is an opportunity and blessing not many people have. Fortunately for the few years I did tour I was able to see the world and meet many great people. I love experiencing new places and cultures. Anyhoo, that’s the lowdown on that.
We recorded around ten tracks together. The new 12″ has four tracks. What’s the future of this project or do you think it’s a one time only collaboration?
We are definitely continuing this collaboration. Let’s make an album of machine dub! We each make one another a sample pack of one shots and loops, we load the sounds into our machines and see what comes out. My Eurorack groovebox now has a variety of samplers for this purpose! Also, since you ended up sending all the resources for this current batch, how about I send you a bunch of stems? Let’s roll!
BRENDON MOELLER INTERVIEWs ANDREAS TILLIANDER
Brendon Moeller: Which instrument would you say has been a constant throughout your years as a composer and why?
Andreas Tilliander: At the beginning of this millennium, I sold most of my synthesisers and started to work almost solely with computers. Laptops had become sort of cheap and the music I wanted to create at the time had very little to do with analogue synths or synthesis in general. What I did keep was my Korg MS-20 and I think I’ve had it for about 22, 23 years now. It’s not the instrument I use mostly, but it’s the one that I’ve had the longest. In my productions, there’s almost always a TB-303 or MC-202 hidden somewhere. And the Roland Space Echoes are essential too. The weird and amazing Octatrack sampler/sequencer will always be with me too.
It safe to say you’re a nomad. What would you say are the pros and cons of that lifestyle?
Yes, I do travel a lot, but I would actually like to travel even more. There’s still plenty of places I haven’t seen. When you’re a touring musician, you tend to go to the same countries and places all the time. I’ve been to Japan a lot more than I’ve been to Sweden’s neighbour country Finland, for example. I rarely ever travel if it’s not for work purposes so I haven’t seen much of the African continent for instance. Some years ago, my partner and I went to Marrakesh for one week of holidays and I really loved it. I know that Morocco is just a tiny glimpse of this continent and I would love to see the other parts too, including your hometown Johannesburg of course. When I was a kid, my family would always spend our vacations going somewhere with our caravan. Mainly to Germany and Norway. I would bring my skateboard and later on a shitty keyboard, a tape recorder and headphones too. Perhaps since I’m Scandinavian, I have the vikings in my blood, and as we all know the vikings travelled a lot. The first time I was on a flight though was when I was 22 and went to the Winter Music Conference in Miami, March 2000. Seeing palm trees and pink houses for the first time was a game changer.
[quote align=right text=”When I was a kid, my family would always spend our vacations going somewhere with our caravan. Mainly to Germany and Norway. I would bring my skateboard and later on a shitty keyboard, a tape recorder and headphones too.”]
The pros are of course seeing lots of places, meeting new cultures and people. I was really bad at geography in school but I’m making up for it by visiting the places we read about back then. Cons of course being not getting to spend too much time with the friends you’ve already got. Thankfully, my friends and partner back at home seem to be patient and have a life of their own so their wellbeing isn’t depending on me altogether.
Another huge con is that travelling isn’t good for our planet. At least I try to fly as little as possible. If I can choose between a five hour train ride or a one our flight, I always go for the train. Also, the meat industry is even more harming to this globe than the transportation business and I stopped eating animals 25 years ago. Still, I can’t help but to feel guilty flying for a weekend in Ibiza having fun, playing music and getting paid.
Is there something you would like to do more of in the future?
Even though I spend all day, every day in the studio, I would love to have even more time there. At the moment, my studio is a bit messy (as you can see in the picture). It used to be well-connected, everything in patch bays and ready to use. Nowadays there’s cables everywhere but none of them are patched up so I’d like to have a full week of connecting cables. I know that sounds miserable, so I’ll add that some more days away from the studio would be nice too.
I’ve just relaunched my label too and just put out a vinyl by Elin Franzén and I. It would be useful to have some moments for that, too.
Do you think technical prowess makes music better or worse?
Back in the 90s, I started having discussions with the Börft label about working together. It took 15 years before it finally happened. Zwarre, the Börft boss, always thought my mixing techniques were too good, too polished. At least that’s what he told me. Perhaps he just didn’t like the music! I really wanted to put out a vinyl for him, but he wouldn’t let me until I sent him some material that was a bit more rough, out of balance, unfinished. Also, just like you Brendon, I’ve been listening to dub since forever and it’s safe to say that the really dirty, minimal dub recordings from back in the day is what I prefer.
[quote align=right text=”To move to Japan would probably mean the death of my already tiny musical career. A wiser move would be Berlin, but does the techno capital really need another white male making electronic music there?”]
You’ve travelled to many places. What are a few of your favourite places in the world and why?
Japan. Most people involved in the line of work I do always want to move to Berlin. For me, the answer is always Japan no matter the question. I’ve been there almost every year for the past 15 years but it’s simply not enough. Some years ago I even used to cry on the flight back home. To actually move there would probably mean the death of my already tiny musical career though. A wiser move would be Berlin, but does the techno capital really need another white male making electronic music there?
Other than music, what inspires you to compose and perform?
Before music became my income and profession, i used to do lots of other artforms. Mediocre painting, shitty video art, silly photos and so on. Not sure if that’s the reason, but every time I visit a great art gallery, I get so much inspiration. Seeing people admire and discuss a painting portraying someone pissing in a bucket inspires me more than most raves I attend. It’s more fun to dance to techno than canvases though. The Swedish painter Hilma av Klint inspires me a lot. Dreamy and with a connection to something otherworldly. She was probably the first abstract artist, at least in the western world. She made 1,300 paintings but never showed them to anyone. She stated in her will that her works would remain a secret until 20 years after her passing and that the 1,300 paintings would always remain together and never divided.
Menu diving or no menu diving?
I have very few instruments with displays. The ones I’ve got, like all the Elektron machines, the Emu SP-1200 etc, I know by heart by now so there’s no need for menu diving. If you’re asking if I always have to make my own sounds rather than using factory presets, the answer is I do both. I absolutely love a great preset sound! The Roland synths like Juno-1, JX-8P and JV-1080 for example. If you’re heard the TM404 Svans 12″ or my vinyls for Börft, you know I love preset sounds. The Svans record is full of 90s chillout sounds from the Yamaha TG-33. I even use the most hated synth ever by a lot of people, the Roland MC-303. Having said that, of course I love and use my MC-202s a lot more.
Whats your favourite instrument for improvising?
At the moment it’s my Buchla system. The main reason is that I can’t really handle it, so everything I record with it is improvisation. Most of my recordings, or ‘tracks’ if you like, are improvisations, but at least there’s some synths, effects and drum machines I know well enough that I don’t have to trust the almighty improvisation gods.
Andreas Tilliander and Brendon Moeller’s first collaboration, Bass Desires, is out now on Kynant Records.