Name: Blindsmyth aka Simon Schmidt
Occupation: Producer, live performer
Nationality: German
Current release: Blindsmyth's sophomore full-length All That Fiberglass is out on Connaisseur.
Gear recommendations: I'll mention the Axoloti a couple of times in this interview. It is an arm based open source hardware, with audio, midi, digital and analog io. You can program it via a visual environment, similar to max or pd but runs completely standalone once you uploaded your patch to the sd card. You can connect knobs and sensors to its pins. It can be everything you imagine it to be, you just have to put a bit of work and dedication to it.

My second piece of gear/software would be Paul Stretch. It’s a free software that is already 15 years old and stretches sounds in an amazing musical way. A classic among ambient musicians! I love this tool to create ambiences and textures from the main sounds of my productions. Run your lead vocal through it and you will have this extremely ghostly, foggy and transformed version of your voice. I also love how primitive and old school the interface is. I think it’s a great reminder, that good pieces of gear or software are timeless!

If you enjoyed this interview with Blindsmyth and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his profiles on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.

What was your first studio like?  

I am basically still in my “first” studio. I work from home. So, it is a pair of monitors, a table, soundcard, some midi controllers, mixer, some synths. Nothing crazy, I guess.

I used to have lots of self-built absorbers and bass traps, but I kicked most of them out because I rather have the extra space and feel comfortable in that room than the extra sound quality.

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?

My setup has evolved more and more in the direction of standalone hardware. In the past I used to run my vocals and all instruments through Ableton, looping and effecting from there. Nowadays I do so using the open source standalone hardware Axoloti. This would be my nr 1 piece of gear because it is a very versatile platform that I use both live and in the studio to effect and mangle live incoming audio.

Furthermore, my Tc Helicon Voice live units are very important. I use the same harmonizer effect live and in the studio. That makes my sound very consistent, and it is fun to record some vocals, route them through the harmonizer in some weird setting and record the sound.

My last important piece of gear is my Dave Smith Tetra. I produce almost all keys / lead synth parts with that machine and use it to reproduce and manipulate the synth parts live. I love that it’s so small. The fact that its controls are so reduced makes it very musical for me, because you can change the sound quite drastically with only a few knob movements.

The only thing that is a bit annoying is the programming. So plan on buying the MophoX4 keyboard version, which is almost identical and use this one to make the synth patches in the audio and then use the much smaller Tetra on the road.

The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do go about you selecting it? How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?

For me it is very valuable that I can save different versions of a project and go back in time when I fucked something up. I also like that it is very easy in a DAW to manage different takes, because I work a lot with longer live recordings or jams.

Then again, the sheer amount of soft synths and plugins can be a bit overwhelming. My strategy coping with this is always limiting my palette to a certain number of tools. As described above there are some instruments and hardware effects that I keep using. This way I am forced to always discover new nuances in the same pieces of gear.

In the digital world I try to use similar plugins. Although I like to introduce a new element from time to time and I think it’s also important to do so in order to evolve.

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?

I like the laptop and headphones setup as a core but discovered that a minimal setup of hardware really makes the whole creative process more intuitive and musical.  But I guess I am still on the minimal side of the spectrum.

I love that my whole setup fits in carry-on luggage of a plain, so I can be very spontaneous about producing in other locations out of my studio. I would not like to be too dependent on having to work from one specific location.

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?

I am a big fan of the conventional 12note keyboard. I think 12notes is a reasonable number of pitches to have in an electronic track. However I also love the resonant chords you can get from just intonation. So I ended up programming an interface with Axoloti, that lets me select 12pitches out of 53tone equal temperament and offset my synthesizer and harmonizers pitches with multichannel pitchbend messages in order to achieve this tuning. Like this I have the almost just intonation quality of 53edo but I can still work in the known realm of 12diatonic/chromatic pitches.

I think the tactical element plays a very important role in my productions. I love to play most of my synth parts with a midi keyboard and keep huge sections of the recording dynamic and unquantized. I would then arrange these midi recordings and route them back to the synth and mangle the knobs. Like this the synth parts become very alive and organic and it’s easy to reproduce this live, because I can have the same midi clips in my live session and do the knob mangling live on stage. That feeling of opening the cutoff and seeing the tension rise in the room is just magical!

I am also a big lover of traditional instruments. Back in the days I used to overdub a lot of guitar parts. I still do so but it is getting more difficult because of the microtonal nature of my electronic parts. I very often digitally retune the guitar with Melodyne, but it would make more sense to have one of these fancy microtonal guitars with movable frets.

I also recorded a lot on my self-built chromatic kalimba. I build several versions of this instrument during the several lockdowns and for the studio I mounted it to an acoustic guitar for the resonance and used multiple pickups and mics to give it very deep and interesting sound. I think using contact mics I general is great, they are the very essence of tactile feeling.

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?

Technology for me is the tools and the instruments to realize my musical ideas.

I think the weird distorted and harmonized vocals of All That Fiberglass are a good example. You need the technology in order to achieve that effect. So, I found this sound experimenting with my harmonizer in a more playful way, feeding it different kind of midi notes. Then after having explored its sonic potential I would put the lead vocals through the hardware and give it very specific notes, that I came up with in a compositional way.

Then again in other parts there are also experimental things, like putting an arpeggiator on the midi notes, which can give fairly unexpected results because it creates digital harmonies no human would ever sing like that. So I definitely think technology can give you artistic impulses but I think you should strive to master the possibilities of your gear.

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.

Since many years I am building my own sample library, mainly from field recordings and found sounds. I regularly do recording sessions when I travel. I would record ambient textures but also percussions from drumming on everything I find in my environment. Then later I go through these recordings, crop, mix and effect them and export them in my sample folder.

I also jam a lot with loop stations and my self built hardware. Very often I capture audio recordings from these jams and save them for later use.

Then I also like to save little musical Ideas as sketch in a DAW. That could be just 2 or 3 midi loops and a simple drumbeat. Then when I have more time, I would open one of these little sketches and give them more shape.

Despite the aforementioned near endless possibilities, many productions seem to follow conventional paths. How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?

I think an element of surprise can be created by your own creativity. It is more about a state of mind than a specific technology. The concept that you need a specific piece of gear or technology to be surprised is a marketing trick of the music gear industry.

I would say experiment, jam, improvise. Do so together with other people! This where you will find the true surprises!

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?

I have been writing music for bands since I am a teenager. Then I have been studying composition at a conservatory. So very often when I produce, I hear the music, the sound, the melodies and harmonies in my head and I try put out the music that is already there in my imagination. So I would say it is not triggered so much by all these compositional tools.

How important is it for you that you personally create or participate in the creation of every element of a piece – from sound synthesis via rhythm programming to mixing?

This is very important to me. I would say that I create about 90% of the samples in my productions on my own. Since there is a lot of field recordings going on it helps me create this emotional and conceptual connections to the sounds I use.

Then again, I also like to not see this as a dogma. If my self-built snare doesn’t sound good, I just jump into a sample library and grab one that works.
Also with synth presets, I don’t mind using a factory preset, starting from there tweaking it. In the end you can still give these sounds personality by the way you use them.

Same for mixing chains. I usually work from the stock settings on my plugins, but from time to time I like to make my life easier and just select a preset.

Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?

I was making beats years before I had even seen a drum machine. When I was riffing out on a Roland 909 I understood for the first time why all this house and techno music sounds the way it sounds. Same goes for working with hardware synths. You realize suddenly that making electronic can be much more than clicking together a bunch of sounds. It could be like being the conductor for an orchestra of electronic instruments. All these machines have so much life, depth and surprising nuances.

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?

I think AI can give you unexpected impulses, ideas that you would not come up with as a human. I still like to be the final creative curator that makes the aesthetic choices, though. So, I don’t really see a co-authorship on eye level here.

Do you personally see a potential for deeper forms of Artifical Intelligence in your music?

I think AI could rather play a role as smart little helper. It could have huge use for cleaning up broken audio recordings. Or you could use it to make realistic sounding orchestral sketches with sound morphing/style copying algorithms.

I think in these directions there is huge potential. Me personally I don’t see so much use for it as a compositional tool.

What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?

I think these standalone DAW / Beatmaking instruments that Akai and Maschine came up with have huge potential. I am always a bit annoyed at the physical form factor of the laptop. I feel this device is rather made to write emails than to make music.

Having a physical layout that is more dedicated to music making is great. However, I would still like to use my own selection of plugins and tools. So, some kind of very flexible music computer in a similar form factor as Maschine / MPC would be great. (laughs)