Name: Hans Berg
Occupation: Producer, Sound artist
Current Release: Sounds of the Forest Forgotten on 2MR
Recommendations: First I’d like to recommend the documentary Brimstone and Glory, by Viktor Jakovleski from 2017. Documentary is kind of misleading, it’s a beautiful portrait of fireworks and the rituals and danger around it in the city of Tultepec in Mexico. One of the most beautiful films I’ve seen.
Second, the current live show by Apex Twin that he’s touring around with now. I don’t think I’ve ever been so bombarded with lasers, strobes, basses and kick drums that split your head in half.
If you enjoyed this interview with Hans Berg, visit his facebook page or soundcloud account for selections from his work, further information and current updates.
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?
When I was around 12 I got my first keyboard, with a rhythm section and built in speakers. It could play rock, blues, latin, bossa nova and disco rhythms … I used the disco rhythms because I wanted to sound like music I heard on the radio, early acid house music and euro disco, but I was so frustrated that it didn’t sound the same at all. I didn’t understand why.
But that’s my very first start, I loved the sound of electronic music and wanted to sound the same as my influences, and in a way I’m still the same. But through music, and especially electronic music I early found the best way of expressing myself. I think I was afraid to go to music school and get an education in music, but with electronic music there’s a freedom because it’s often something you can’t really learn in a school, at least it wasn’t at this time.
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 the beginning it was all just copying, to understand how things were done. But if I do it now, it’s with the intent to learn something and then using that knowledge in my own productions, in my own voice. I’ve become more analytical, now I can sit a very long time and try to find exactly how someone did a sound, just to figure out how it was done.
I think a lot about what it means to have my own voice, because I can’t really stick to one style of music, that bores me. So my voice has a wide range, but what I do is unmistakably mine.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Oh there are so many. Every piece of music I do is always a challenge, and I like it that way, it’s what makes it interesting. It’s always a search for something, maybe that’s why I can’t stick to just one style of music. The fact that I’m not musically trained is both a hinder and a blessing. I can miss that I'm not trained in music sometimes, but that is just a thought because there are no guarantees that I would make better music because of that.
Education can also be a hindrance. Production wise it’s somewhat easier to measure, because it’s a steady learning curve, from first learning how synthesisers work, to learn mixing music, to finer and finer tricks and tools. I remember one of my first techno tracks was in mono, and I didn’t even know what mono or stereo was.
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 equipment was an Ensoniq sampler, it had an internal sequencer with eight tracks, and the sounds were stored on floppy disks. It was very simple but I had a lot of fun with it. After that I bought a bigger sampler and an amiga computer with a black and white screen, and my first analog synth, a Yamaha CS5, very simple stuff but so much fun. Then there was a phase when all the plugins came and I sold off the hardware and was just using my computer and a keyboard. But that became very boring fast so now I’m back with hardware synths, I have quite a lot now. It’s so much more fun and interesting to have actual machines to play with, it’s tactile and physical and you have to move around in the room to play with them. These small things make all the difference; they all have different characters. My favourite piece of gear right now is my modular system, because it’s the most organic synth I have, it really has a life of its own and it’s impossible to make these kinds of sounds on anything else. I use it on almost everything I do.
The whole point of having hardware is that they have their own character, limited to their specific features and within that frame I try to squeeze as much out of them as possible.
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?
This is an interesting question. I really like to poke around within the parameters of a machine and see what happens. So in a way it’s like I’m doing something with a machine, it responds, and I respond to that. I’m not fully in control all the time, that would be boring and no exploring for me. I usually don’t program exactly how I want an idea to sound, I’m rather for just starting somewhere and see where it takes me; I like it when a machine surprises me.
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?
This is what I meant above, that I respond to what the machine does, and I go deeper and deeper down a certain path. Very often I find something great but don’t stop tweaking the sound or melody and then I lose it. That’s always frustrating, and there’s almost never any going back. Then there’s a later stage in the process which is more about sculpting the sounds and music I’ve done, then I use my tools with much more precision, like mixing the music and making it sound the way I want.
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?
I don’t collaborate very much, I’d like to do it more though. The absolutely most important part of a collaboration is chemistry and communication. I work with Swedish video artist Nathalie Djurberg since 15 years, making the music for films and installations. This is obviously a long standing collaboration, and I love making music for this context, it’s a completely different approach from making club music. I do techno with Johanna Knutsson, we run our label UFO Station Recordings together, where we release our own music. These two collaborations are very important to me, as they are more and deeper connections than just working together.