Name: Rittik Wystup
Recent release: Rittik Wystup's Sevan EP, including a remix by Timo Maas, is out via Vordergrundmusik.
1. John Berger - Here is where we meet (read)
2. Khyam Allami - Resonance/Dissonance (listen)
The former brings about the beauty of simplicity but still is so powerful. I had a little weep at the end, which rarely happens when I read. The latter encapsulates the strum of a distant time, but it feels so real and present. For me, both feel like coming home.
[Read our Timo Maas interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Rittik Wystup and would like to find out more, visit his official website. He is also 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 playing the piano when I was three years old - and except for a few years during my time at university, I never really stopped doing so.
I grew up in a musical household; there was always music being played either off a record or through an instrument. Every night I used to fall asleep listening to my father playing the piano, or sometimes to various etudes or concertos echoing from the stereo. So, my early influences were my father’s piano playing, Western classical music, and a bit of modern Indian music, coming from my mother and her family, who are very musical as well. In terms of passion, the piano was always the centrepiece of my musical endeavours.
Writing music began when I was about twelve. During that time, I visited composition classes for piano once a month - it was quite a challenge actually creating something rather than interpreting works of the past, yet something in me stirred, and the excitement I got from it was new and inviting.
When I was a young teenager, about 14 years old, after listening to music from a friend of my parents, thinking “wow, all these found sounds … I’d like to get into that as well”, that friend gave me a cracked version of Logic 9 to experiment with - and here we are.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
Sound is extremely visceral to me. I don’t see any colours or shapes, but I feel the music in parts of my body. If it’s very emotional, it sits more in the chest and the throat as well as the jaw, if it’s less harmonic but beat-heavy, it goes more to the belly and the pelvis. All in all, it is quite intense. If the two are combined, all hell breaks loose… in a good way. (laughs)
This is why I enjoy beat-based music with harmony that much since it resonates in many different parts of my body.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
There is a point where you stop sounding like your main influences and, in a relatively sublime manner, create a signature sound, which is a great part of the personal voice. It’s about liberating yourself from ideas that you have heard or felt before and consciously deciding about the trail of thought in your creations, based on how you like to sculpt your work.
I found this a bit difficult because at first, it feels like you’re on your own. But after a while, you learn to trust yourself and your decisions, and then the process becomes even more beautiful. I am yet to find that personal voice that is known, but I can say that I, again, trust myself to find it, without looking for it.
My interests in music changed over the years, the last two years especially have turned my head around. It’s not club music anymore, which makes it more difficult to get gigs. Not going to lie, I’m also still waiting for that breakthrough …
I can, however, say that it’s in your hands to take action and take responsibility for those actions. If I want to have a gig, I have to throw myself out there, talk to people, and keep trying. That’s what I’m doing right now.
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 feel the search for identity, or a sense of belonging, is very much part of the current zeitgeist. People live in different cultures from where they grew up, have parents from other parts of the world. My family is also multi-cultural with my dad being German and my mum Indian. I grew up in Germany, I feel quite German, but I’m very keen on exploring the Indian side in me.
I’m quite familiar and comfortable with twelve-tone equal temperament, which is the heart of Western-European music and therefore also German culture. Indian Ragas and their associated tuning systems, however, are more unknown to me, I rarely listened to them when I was younger. A longer visit to India, studying those Ragas, being more in touch with them as I’d be listening to them together with others and feeling the collective consciousness, would strengthen my sense of identity. Emotionally understanding the tuning systems of a culture I’m also partially from is one of my great desires.
When improvising on the piano, my Wester-European sense of harmony and melody comes out, and sometimes it feels a bit restrictive. I love the emotional works of Ravel or Shostakovich, but I feel that my sense of identity would be more rooted if I connected with Ragas more. I’m working on that and it feels fantastic.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Musically speaking, contrasting. I love having soft sounds paired with sharp ones, having detuned counter-harmonies to the existing “straight” ones. The combination of different sound sources - acoustic, field recordings, analog, and digital - have a high chance of bringing something new to the table.
Also, for a piece of art to touch me, some form of aesthetics should be present. I can enjoy super-experimental stuff, but only intellectually. Emotions over intellect, although during composition I sometimes find it tricky not to dive too deep into the intellectual bit of making music.
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”?
Differentiating between a tradition that has accumulated for hundreds of years and a musical trend is key.
I am very much an advocate for creating something new, something that hasn’t been there before. This only works by diving into (partly) timeless music from the past. There is so much to learn fro that, but also so many ways open up for melding different sources into something new.
I’m not particularly keen on replicating a musical trend, although I feel how it appeals to many listeners for nostalgic reasons. I prefer to look forward.
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?
The piano I have is the piano I learned to play on. I don’t know where I’d be without it. My writing process mostly begins during improvised sessions on it. I always have empty sheet paper and a pencil ready to capture a melody that just emerged.
For my live-set, the Elektron Octatrack is the centre of my setup and it probably is my favourite electronic instrument. It’s so well designed and crafted, and even though it’s electronic it feels sensitive. Being a C++ software developer myself I can also appreciate the underlying technology, which I feel brings me even closer to it. I use it in the studio as well, but not so much. It took sooo long to learn, but it’s been worth every minute. Mashing up a sample I captured from a vinyl or running a recording from my piano-playing through it is super quick and gives sweet results instantly.
On the software side, I use INA GRM Tools a lot for nice FX. I also love Ableton Live, although I think I’m just generally amazed at what a thought-out DAW can do. After recording the sounds I need for the track, I usually stick to processing and arrangement in-the-box, and I think Ableton have done a fantastic job. It’s an absolute pleasure working with well-designed tools.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
In the mornings, I prefer to attend to my physical and mental self first. That means some form of exercise (cycling, bodyweight training, yoga) and some form of meditation (mostly just simple sitting, sometimes a bit of pranayama). This happens quite naturally without a need for routine.
After that, I enjoy a few cups of green tea (Kukicha & Gyokuru all the way) and then slowly ease into work. It could be actual music production, taking care of marketing stuff, doing a bit of coding and scripting, writing release texts for Vordergrundmusik (the label I’m signed to) - I usually trust my intuition about which task I’m most able to do at that particular time.
I rarely work after 8 pm, and after dinner, it’s piano time. In an almost mystical atmosphere consisting of candlelight and myrrh most of the tracks are born. (This is applicable to a day when I’m not working in my “daytime” job)
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
For my current live show, I had to come up with an architecture of how to structure my song elements into the two machines I’m using to play live (Elektron Octatrack & Analog Rytm). Coming up with a concept took a few months, and as a starting point, I mimicked someone else’s Octatrack configuration and adapted it to my needs. In to how many parts do I split my track to rearrange it live? Which sample goes into which machine? How are they set up to communicate with each other? How do I create a transition? This is where the creative process begins - designing the environment where you play since it dictates the possibilities of your next move.
The most difficult aspect of the live performance, for me, is the question of what do to next, and if that’s decided, how to technically perform that action. Since my setup is quite open, I have a lot of possibilities. What to do next is following the tension curve which hovers over me - being conscious of this, that’s the key to a good performance, as well as turning your brain off and acting from the heart. This, however, only works when you know your instrument(s) really, really well.
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?
The last time I made or played music with someone else was in elementary school … I would like to collaborate with people, but right now I don’t find the time to do so. I’d love to play the piano in a band!
As of now, I do everything myself, which I also enjoy very much since all the responsibility is on you. Every decision, every action is mirroring you, so it teaches you a lot about being conscious.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Music brings people together. That is my job - connecting people, even when they are alone.
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?
Music paints a fairly realistic picture of what is. It includes everything that makes us human - from different emotions to intellect and intuition.
I learned about the diversity of those traits, and how they, coming together, create us. From the melancholic ballads of Chopin to the up-beat goodvibe Chicaco House, from the complexity of modern IDM to the simplicity of a lonely player of the Oud - that’s what makes us human.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
J.S. Bach already said about himself that he was a craftsman, not a musician. Composing a fugue is a fairly combinatorial process that involves the mathematical part of the brain. I like a good fugue, and I like science mixed with music because they are not far apart. Some aesthetical concepts of music simply work (call-and-response or a major seventh chord, e.g.), and to me, they are more functional than intuitive. Although, music being so visceral, I don’t think they should be the star of the piece, because that pushes the emotional content to the background.
There is beauty to be found in science (e.g. the Ulam-spiral), and method to be found in music (e.g. the aforementioned fugue).
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?
Intention, attention, awareness. The expression of the inner to the outer world is most truthful if done with intention, with great attention, with profound awareness. This can be anything, from seeding a new plant to taking a walk through the nearest park.
I feel like my intention is most firmly set when I do music, as is my attention to my inner self and my awareness of my being. It’s just the easiest way of expression for me. I can paint the most honest picture of what is with my music, but it is indifferent to any other action.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our eardrums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation of how it is able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
In this case, this answer is inherently too difficult to answer in words. This should be experienced and not formulated.