Name: Samuel André Madsen
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: "Fury’s Laughter" is out now Delaphine
Recommendations: At the moment I’m excited about Mark Bradford’s paintings and Joana Schneider’s skulptures. (Joana.n.schneider on Instagram).
If you enjoyed this interview with Samuel André Madsen aka S.A.M and want to find out more about his work, visit his facebook profile for recent updates, tour dates and more information.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about the music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My early influences were my older brother Simon and my father. My father was a big fan of The Alan Parsons Project and Pink Floyd and tracks like "I Robot" and "On The Run" pushed me towards a spacey electronic sound. My brother brought home CD’s of St. Germain and Underworld and Laurent Garnier and I just loved the groove and musicality of St. Germain and Laurent Garnier and the trance ecstatic energy of Underworld.
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 relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I’m pretty much an autodidact with my music production and DJ’ing, but have always believed to observe the greats and try to recreate sounds by ear and dissect grooves and timbres. At first I wanted to sound exactly like my heroes but later started to have more confidence in my own experience from the dance floor and from my own inner feeling. Music is vibration and so are we. We each have our own body, our own voice and resonance which I feel is important to get in tune with. It’s no Hokus Pokus, it’s just to stay silent sometimes and reflect on your own feelings getting in tune - literally in tune with yourself. When that’s constantly with me I can emulate or learn from others but it will still sound like me.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning I found it hard to make the beats sound like a real record and not like an amateur made them. I only used ableton and samples early on and resolved to filtering and stacking samples as well as some parralel compression to achieve a rich and full sound. When I started buying gear I realized how much better sound you get with that. Now plugins have become so good though that I use a synthesis of plugins and hardware. But yeah, outboard gear just makes it more fun to me and I feel like a big kid playing with a toy as opposed to a computer technical guy. It unlocks some other pathway for expression not using the computer interface in the creation process.
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?
First my studio was simply a MacBook Pro 2011, with ableton live and a couple of folders with samples. The goldbaby tape 808 and 909 samples and some plugins like the Moog, and poly six and this freeware soft synth called Synth1 which fought me about the basic set up of a synth. I still use that from time to time. Most of my pads and chords, and bass lines were made with that for the first many records.
Now I’m falling in love with the Prophet Rev2 and the Moog Sirin. The TR-909 has been with me for many years and I still just feel drawn to it, perhaps nowadays more from a purist approach. I don’t feel like changing its sounds too much but making sure levels, and all tubings of each sounds fit with the music.
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?
There is so much talk about these A.I. But no matter how much better music an A.I. will make one day it doesn’t take anything away from the feeling between the artist and the instrument. The instrument of course is a tool to create something with, but it’s first of all an intimate object that I can touch and that I connect with instantly. It gives back immediately whether or not I feel I am making something with it. Instruments are generous sources, they are therapeutic and provide so much value to me. I couldn’t live without them. I would simply go mad or extremely depressed without them.
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?
Most of the time I have an idea or feeling that I want the instruments to respond to. I program and tweak until I reach the result that reflects my feeling or idea. But sometimes I don’t have a bigger idea or sentiment when I start playing around. And suddenly the instruments give off a sound or rhythm that resonates with a feeling I didn’t know I had and I go “wow that’s dope!!” And then I follow that sound to other sounds that will fit. Most of the time the song writing process is a bounce back and forth between both of these approaches. Like a synergy between my direction and the machines, surprising me with great stuff.
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?
There has to be a vibe between me and the other artist. It has to be fun. And if then the ideas compliment each other, something great can happen. File sharing is alright but not as fun as being together and setting a clear vision together before going in the studio.
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?
I feel most creative and effective when I’m well rested and have been away from sounds and noises for a while. Silence is the most important inspiration for me. Ideas grow out of it. So I always need to have my rest and morning coffee and simple breakfast before going in the studio where I check my emails and do admin stuff. Then from around noon I work on music that I prioritize before going for a late lunch. Then after lunch I feel more free to experiment or work on new ideas and drafts. Around 7pm I slow down and spend time with my girlfriend and friends. Wednesday and Thursday I prepare for the weekend searching music, diggin record stores, making edits, sorting music, so I feel confident and ready for the weekend gigs.
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?
This is one of the hardest things for me to do. To focus on one project and sound only. I love making different styles of music. So the EP format has worked fine for me because it is limited. But I always want to challenge myself to do better at harder things. So the album format is what I’m most attracted to.
When I did ‘Dream State Of A Bellmaker’ I had spent a year and a half on experimenting with the gear I had, everything from feedback loops to field recordings to challenge myself to use the traditional techno gear (909, JV-2080, tx81z, poly800) differently to express something more humane, fluid, and serene than a simple 4 to the floor beat. I incorporated opera voices as well as samples from Tarkovsky’s Andrey Rublev into it to make a huge collage of different sources playing together to make something rich in dynamics but patient in composition to avoid a messy result. I constantly had five records at my turntable that I kept as references to help me focus on a certain deep and timeless aesthetic.
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?
Silence. If anything is holy it’s silence. In order to listen I must be silent first. Going to a quiet place like nature or a quiet town helps me to get in tune with my self. There I feel I can draft an authentic vision for myself. After that, it is important to say ‘no’ to collaborations, remixes, and similar work that might distract me from my vision. Incorporating just a few minutes of silence before starting to make music makes it easier to cut straight to the point and get some actual work done. Keeping the eye on the target is much easier with a clear target and constant reminders. Taking small breaks of silence helps a lot as well. It also helps to constantly have a couple of clear references to keep me in track.
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?
I love both formats because the live performance and improvisation can suddenly deliver some magic and unique moments. The studio composition I do is definitely inspired by what I learn from the stage and the interaction with the audience. I have a better understanding of how I play and therefore a better understanding of how I want my composition to be like in the studio.
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?
I usually look for a strong sound first. Something that can define the track. A characteristic sound - something that I instantly like when pressing play. Then I work to make an 8 bar loop with some ideas of drum sounds and other atmosphere that compliments that bearing sound the best.
Then I record a jam or three and see what I like from those jams and what I can just scrap. Sometimes the most powerful thing is to remove lots of elements or introduce a totally different, unexpected sound. Sometimes I feel a bassline can ask for a certain progression and composition. Sometimes it can be too obvious and then it’s fun to work with contrasts to create tension. There are so many tools to work with as a producer and DJ but the final choice has to make you feel excited and a little bit nervous about playing it out. It has to be a statement and make an impression as that will leave an impact and memory in the mind of the audience.
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?
Very scientific question. I am no scientific expert but I feel that the sense of touch is very related to sound. You very much feel sound on your body and you body also carries vibrations. Say “Aaah” and notice how that actually feels in your chest and skull. Sound is very physical and creates movement and movement feels!
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?
I do music because I can’t not do it. I do it for myself. But in the process the sounds themselves do me because they can’t not do me. I will literally learn about myself from the music that I initiate. I create the music and in turn the music creates me. Being quiet and open, vulnerable and receptive to my own music in the process is important to me. I don’t want to speed over it and dictate the instruments. I believe it’s important for society to encourage listening, silence, reflection, fragility, and openness in its population because it brings about understanding, patience and tolerance. It will make us more sympathetic. Art requires these qualities from its oberserver or participant. Art is so important for a healthy society and is directly related I believe to crime rates, and school grades etc. It’s a great investment!
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?
I believe sounds, as soon as they are selected for their own qualities to engage with one another to convey an artistic expression, can be called music. For example, language is a sequence of a carefully selected sounds to convey a message but not necessarily an artistic expression. Bird song is bird language, but if I want to specifically drop a rock in a bucket of water two seconds after the bird commenced its song, then it’s music. It’s the orchestration of sound. I guess so far music has been limited to a certain frequency range audible to humans. 15Hz-20kHz and that could be expanded. If certain movement creates inaudible sounds, a dance or performance choreography could be considered music as well. On the other spectrum of time, John Cage chose just a starting point and ending point to challenge the concept of music in his piece 4’33 which is basically 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. We feel this is very conceptual now but I’m sure they thought it was very conceptual to electrify a guitar as well at first.
Beauty is a changing quality that grows on us and perhaps as technology changes and develops our faculties and capabilities, we will be able to hear more and we will have more to reflect on as we arrive at a new evolutionary stage. Perhaps here we will make dance choreographies because of the beautiful vibrations it makes. Man, I don’t know, but its exciting to fantasize about.