Name: Ansgar Rudolf aka ASA 808
Occupation: Producer, songwriter
Current Release: ASA 808's new single "Love No Matter What" is out via TOYS. The full-length release Boy, crush is available on October 28th 2022.
Recommendations: For everyone capable of reading German, I’d like to recommend “Ich kann dich hören” by Katharina Mevissen and “Why We Matter” by Emilia Roig.
For everyone else, I’d like to recommend the lovely EP “Love Letter” from up-and-coming singer and producer vega vi. Really worth checking out!
If you enjoyed this interview with ASA 808 and would like to know more about their work, visit them on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing my own songs when I was 13 or 14 years old, although they weren’t very good. I was a big RHCP fan at that time. (laughs)
A few years later I became obsessed with Pink Floyd, Sigur Rós, Bon Iver and The Album Leaf. I think you can still hear some of these influences in my ambient productions, or at least I hope so. They became so embedded in my subconscious.
[Read our The Album Leaf interview]
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
Good music touches me mostly in and around my chest. It literally opens my heart, which then seems to carry into my whole body. It gives me goosebumps, makes me dance or cry within seconds.
This is what touches me most about great music: the inexhaustible amount of surprising discoveries of inner and outer worlds, feelings, energies and atmospheres that you didn’t know existed before. Or that you felt, but couldn’t describe. That keeps astonishing me.
Words sometimes fail me when it comes to this, to be honest.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I’ve been into ambient music since I was a teenager. My taste in electronic music has been UK bass influenced ever since I discovered Mount Kimbie, James Blake and Hessle Audio in 2010/11.
From there, my style always oscillated between house, techno and bass music, which was unusual in Berlin’s 4/4-dominated techno scene. I always tried to combine these electronic elements, analogue synths and drum machines with classical instruments, vocals and actual compositions.
One breakthrough was when my first music video went viral and hit almost one million views. Another was when George FitzGerald played my track „Ignorance“ on BBC Radio 1 and people kept asking about it for more than a year until it finally came out on his label. George was the first to show my electronic productions to a broader audience.
My biggest challenge probably is that these days it’s still so hard to earn money with music as a full-time musician.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I identify as a genderfluid / non-binary buddhist and I really enjoy genre-bending music as well. I can imagine openness to different kinds of unconventional music also has something to do with a general curiosity and openness of mind.
As a genderqueer German millenial, I tend to have a problem with too much pathos and masculinity in music, whether it’s in beefy techno, tech house or even in pop music. I hate to clap along and I remember feeling a bit uncomfortable at a Woodkid concert once, although I really like some of their music. There was an almost military pathos and emotionalism displayed with an air of superiority that made me anxious.
As a listener and as an artist, I tend to enjoy more subtle and soft shades and nuances.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Love, compassion, clarity, openness, wholesomeness, connection.
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”?
Although I tend to prefer forward thinking music, I think good music that people can relate to fluctuates always in between these poles.
And, like I mentioned: You can also see that my musical roots still influence the new music I produce nowadays.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
My Kawai MP8 stage piano is probably the most important instrument in my life, next to Ableton live of course. I’ve used it in all my records I think, even if only to play other instruments or samples in Ableton or Native Instrument’s libraries. Playing on wooden keys just feels different.
But also my Prophet 08 and the 808 (only sampled sadly) have had an enormous impact on my productions. I’m really excited to discover NI’s Komplete 14 and play more with XLN Audio’s XO in the coming months, because their approach to using samples and workflow are quite innovative.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I am a part-time parent so I often have to get up early. Whenever I can, I start my day with a meditation before eating and starting to work on music or label stuff.
When making music, I love to turn my phone off and ideally cancel all other plans and appointments, if possible. That allows me to totally forget about time and really dive deep into my creative process. However, since we’re self-releasing most of my material on our own imprint TOYS Berlin, I have to take care of the label work myself.
So at the moment I’m working on music videos, the album promo as well as the booking for our next TOYS soliparty on November 26th all the time with the TOYS crew, Tailored Communication, Wordandsound and Initiative Musik, the directors of my music videos and so many more.
I am lucky to work together with many great people on all these different projects, which I totally enjoy. I got so many very talented friends that I work with, it’s just amazing. It’s like we created our own little (or not so little anymore!) network of diversely gifted people supporting each other and co-creating exciting new things.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I usually start with any instrument or sound that resonates with me.
In "Ataraxia" feat. Séverine, it was the different synth arpeggios that come in at the beginning of the track. I jam around until I feel comfortable with them. Then I look for a bassline or harmonic progression that recontextualizes the whole harmonic soundscape without jumping between categories like verse or chorus. I then chop up vocal lines with a granulator or by slicing them on a midi-track, that I can then play with my piano or Ableton push.
In the end, I record my session from Ableton’s session view into an arrangement and usually end up with a track of seven or eight minutes. Then, before I mix everything down, I shorten and rearrange it and add instruments, effects and other elements that might still be missing.
I actually show most of these steps on Instagram in my highlight called "Studio".
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I think both have their advantages. When I’m on my own, I can really lock myself in a room, forget about time, dive deep and merge with the music without thinking about anyone or anything else. On the other hand, I found it super inspiring to jam or work on mixes with producers like Budakid, Dark Sky & DAEDE in the last year.
It’s just two very different ways of producing, and I appreciate the advantages of both of them. I wouldn’t wanna miss one of those.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I’ve always tried to link my music with a purpose, raising funds for NGOs that support refugees, homeless or queer folks with fundraiser releases and soliparties. I’ve also been working with refugees for several years at a treatment center for survivors of torture.
Last year, I started hosting different workshops about critical masculinity and music production on festivals and with Open Music Lab and Give Something Back To Berlin (GSBTB) at Refuge Worldwide, where I’ll also be hosting a show very soon. This directly links my social commitment to my deep passion for music, which fulfills me in a unique way.
I think that music is always political and social in one way or another, at least I want it to be.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
I’m not sure if I can say that I’ve gained a deeper understanding of these topics through music, but music has definitely always been linked to these topics for me and accompanied me through many occasions like the death of a friend, for whom I then dedicated a song last year.
Or my song "Fill Your Lungs With Peace", which is a tribute to Thích Nhất Hạnh, the great Zen-Buddhist monk and teacher, who passed away earlier this year. I wrote this song after Russia started the war of aggression against Ukraine and Thích Nhất Hạnh (one of the most peaceful human beings on earth) had passed away. I was watching a lot of videos of his enormously inspiring lectures at that time.
I think I learned more about the aforementioned topics from him than I learned from any music to be honest.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Science and especially new technology provides so many new and unknown ways of playing with music: Just last year I explored Ableton’s new “Inspired by Nature” Max for Live features and played with them a lot. Some tracks I released recently contain old recordings of Séverine Marguins beautiful voice which I cropped and put together in new ways … Having worked with traumatized refugees for years, I would also say that the therapeutic effect of music therapy is still underexplored.
And at the same time I see music as a science in itself. Composition is so multi-layered and multi-leveled that I often feel like a scientist exploring and creating stuff that’s never existed before.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
As a buddhist, I can enjoy tasks that are considered “mundane” quite a lot and practice trying to be completely present in whatever I’m doing, no matter how small. This is quite a hard one! (lol) And for sure a lifelong learning process.
In a meditation retreat at the age of 19, I learned that washing the dishes can be the most meditative task that exists. At the same time, I feel like I’m blooming when producing a song. Producing music simply is my love language. It takes me away from everything, brings me into a creative trancelike flow. I wish for every being to find one thing in life that feels like making music feels for me.
And it is true music can speak to people in ways that words can’t. You can explore landscapes and soundscapes of inner and outer worlds, feelings and atmospheres that you didn’t know existed before. Or that you felt but couldn’t describe.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our eardrums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it’s able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
From my understanding music isn’t simply transmitted sound waves, it’s so much more. If you are a person who has full hearing (let’s not forget that not everyone is that lucky!), you can surely get very fine nuances of a song through your eardrums.
But even for people with impaired hearing music can be something they feel in different parts of their bodies or minds, like Beethoven could.