Name: Cristian Varela
Occupation: Producer, DJ
The Japaneese roots: SHUNGA
Artist: KUNIYOSHI UTAGAWA
also the young and talented painter: Olivia M Ritman
If you enjoyed this interview with Cristian Varela, check out his excellent website. Besides tour dates, release news and biographical information, it also contains an expansive, 50 minute documentary on his life and work.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started to compose small pieces of symphonic music when I started to study for my piano career when i was around 8 years old. I made a tango and piano compositions 2 years later and that was when I realised my passion for music. My first influencers were my parents with classical music everyday at home, listening to composers like Vivaldi, Bach, Handel. In terms of electronic music it was my big brother who sparked my enthusiasm in the 80s with artists like Kraftwerk, Front 242, Nitzerebb and even Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
In my opinion the originality comes from inside with abstract images. When moments, situations or even pictures come into my head, i often find myself wanting to transmit them in sounds and music. I never like to copy anything but sometimes the inspiration comes to me when I listen to complicated structures of symphonic music and from actual geniuses like Hans Zimmer or James Horner. I try to transform these mathematical structures into electronic music!
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning I was very focused on creating variations from a main harmony and different alternatives to those harmonies. It was a great internal and mental exercise, vital for me to create movie soundtracks. The difference now is about all the layers and transitions created for all my tracks and songs.
What was your first studio like? 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 first studio was with an Atari 1040 and a Korg M1. After that I bought my first sampler, an Ensoniq ASR10, and when I had some savings I finally got my first studio mixer, a Mackie 24 / 8. Now my most important pieces of equipment are mainly for mastering like Manley EQ and compressor Distressor (Empyrical Labs). And of course all my Roland Boutiques and Tr8s!
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology is great to find the sounds quicker but in my opinion the music should be created by hand to find something more personal and original. The mixture of technology and human work is the perfect balance.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
My tools are mainly used just for mixing and mastering with the highest resolution possible and always with the warm valbes and and analogue circuits.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
It´s very interesting when you can translate the combination of ideas with another artist in music and share these excellent moments in the studio. It’s very rich for the creativity and in fact we should work with other people on more occasions.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
During the day I try to finish all my label work, events, office admin and mastering jobs for other labels. After that, around 20:00, I have some dinner and then I go straight to the studio. The night is the perfect state of mind for me to create magical things. I usually go to bed around 0400-0500am and then back to work at 10:00. Sometimes I also have a social life :-D
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
It depends on the day, sometimes I start to experiment with my old synthesizers or new plug-ins and when I find some great sounds then I start to create a track. Also when I´m sleeping and some ideas come to my head I go straight to my home studio to make some drafts so I can finish it later.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Just the night is perfect for me. No cell-phones and just concentration.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Basicaly when I´m playing live I am very excited to try out my new tracks with the public and refine mixes and sounds depending of the reactions I get back. After a gig I have my head full of ideas to start creating in the studio! The connection is total. In my sets, improvisation is vital to feel free.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
There is also a great connection between sounds, creativity and production. Ideas sometimes come through the modulation or just transforming a sound … suddently after the metamorphosis, a track comes into my head like inspiration.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
The most important senses for me are when I have difficult moments in my life or emotional situations. That is perfect to have a heightened sensibility. Also some memories sometimes help me to achieve a musical state of mind and these borders make the sound very special!
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
In my family, art is present everyday since a few decades ago. When I was born, my mom played Vivaldi to make me stop crying! This is the perfect description and because of my approach to art and my passion to be an artist.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Music is one of the universal languages. With more time more people will know to express their feelings through writing or making music. In the future all musicians will try to play their music in a live format and use also the art of improvisation.