Name: Abstract Division
Members: Paul Boex, René van Geenen aka Dave Miller
Current Release: Abstract Division's Midnight Ensemble is out September 23rd 2022 via Dynamic Reflection.
Gear recommendations: The Output Portal and Native Instruments Methapysical Function plugins. Another game-changer would be the Unfiltered Audio plugin bundle, which are very creative tools to shape a sound.
If you enjoyed this interview with Abstract Division, visit the duo's accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
What was your first studio like?
The first studio of Dave was back in the '90s and it was almost fully analog.
It had a Roland Juno-106, Yamaha TX7, Oberheim Matrix-1000, E-mu ESI-4000, Yamaha RX-17, Ensoniq DP4+, Alesis Quadraverb, Genelec 1040A monitors and a Soundcraft mixer.
Steinberg Cubase did all the sequencing. Paul started with just a home studio at his parents house with a midi controller and FL Studio and started collecting gear in 2006.
[Read our feature on the Roland Juno-106]
How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
With the start of the digital era a lot of things have changed.
We started experimenting with Reason, Ableton Live, Reaktor and other plugins. Slowly both worlds merged into each other and a new hybrid setup was born.
Since a few years Dave is very attached to his Avalon 747, since that is the perfect unit for making digital sounds sounding analog. Paul owns an original TR-909, which needs no further introduction of course.
[Read our Roland TR-909 feature]
Some see instruments and equipment as far less important than actual creativity, others feel they go hand in hand. What's your take on that?
We think indeed that creativity is one of the most essential things you need in producing, like in almost any form of art. As a producer you should, in theory, be able to make a solid track with only one synth and drumcomputer.
That said, of course knowledge of technology and the use of high-end gear and plugins can definitely step up your game.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
To be only creative, a laptop with headphones would be sufficient. But we prefer to produce in our own studios with a proper sound system. We both have balanced rooms, where you can hear a lot of smaller details.
Since we are both perfectionists, if it comes to sound design and mixing, this speeds up the process of finishing a track.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customized devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
Dave is working with a good old Evolution UC33 controller, which still does the job. Paul owns a Novation controller for the same purpose. They are mainly used to record automations of filters, volumes, fx, etc.
Next to that, we both have a master keyboard to play notes and pads, if needed. For us, these tools are sufficient enough to record a proper track.
In the light of picking your tools, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a "music of the future" or "continuing a tradition"?
For sure we can relate to both topics, although these processes usually go organically when producing. We always try to come up with something new that we haven't done before, but it can go in every direction based on our mood. It's not the easiest way because people might not get a grip on your sound directly, but we just don't like to repeat ourselves too much.
Timelessness is very important for us. In general, we don't make music that follows a hype but rather for listening over and over again, where people can still discover new sounds in the same tracks. We have a rule that if a loop is still good after hearing it for at least 30 min nonstop, when you leave the room and you get back and you still want to bang your head, the loop is good enough to continue to work out to a track.
From our point of view, techno should always be a genre that connects to the future, as it was discovered in the beginning by pioneers like Jeff Mills. Let's not forget that the genre techno derives from the word technology. Producers should investigate new tools to explore new sound possibilities.
How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
Modern technologies are, most of the time, essential to reaching a specific level of creativity. The number of current plugins that can change or create a sound in seconds is enormous. Sometimes we like to work with so-called "happy accidents", which can set a completely different direction than before.
For instance, in our track "Graveyard Shift", we used the plugin Portal from Output, which created the main lead in seconds. It created an instant inspirational boost to finish the track as soon as possible.
We think our best tracks are written within a few hours since everything falls in place if you're in the right flow.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
During the production process, we sometimes save certain sounds and ideas for later. We both have a connected library of samples and projects to which we always have access. Next to that, we have a small library of self-made loops, which we can always use or reuse if desired.
But honestly, we usually like to work on one project at a time instead of working on multiple projects. We actually finish most of the tracks we started before we move on to something new.
How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?
As said before, we like to work with different randomizer functions simply because they can create new inspirational ideas in seconds. Adding effects afterward can play a vital role in shaping the sounds in a way it doesn't sound static or predictable anymore.
Besides, we like experimenting with unusual samples or sounds to create original patterns or layers.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
We think it's mostly a balanced process in the studio. Sometimes we have a strong idea or concept in mind that perfectly works out.
For instance, our track "Nightfall" was meant to be a dubby kind of track, which ended up like that.
That being said, sometimes we both have a sort of mood or feeling with no expectations, which definitely can lead to interesting tracks too. Our album Midnight Ensemble is the first major conceptual project we have written where we discussed the whole storyline, design from A-Z, etc.
Usually we just sit down, make a beat, freak with some synths and see what comes up and where it takes us. As said before … it all depends on our mood at that moment.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Oh yes, with the birth of granular synthesis, the whole world changed for us.
We still remember when Native Instruments released their first version of Metaphysical Function, a groundbreaking tool that is still highly useable to date. Many newer synthesizers and plugins are now using the same kind of technology. Very inspirational stuff in general.
The same goes for Modular synth design. We recorded a few times on a modular system from friends which was mind-blowing, but also very dangerous to get into that rabbit hole … there is no end to that.
To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
For sure, AI can be handy in the creative and technical processes of music production, but let's not forget that the final decisions on how to use it, are still made by humans. We love to experience with it, though.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
Since we both believe that everything in life consists of a certain kind of energy, it would be fascinating to see if technology could pick up different kinds of energy fields.
How cool would it be if your feelings or thoughts could link to a machine or tool which interprets them with a unique and individual output of sounds?