Name: Torsten Kanzler
Occupation: DJ, Producer
Current Release: MIDI Express and Home, both on Bush Records
Recommendations: I got several autographed records by Helge Schneider. He is an incredibly likeable and fascinating artist. I highly recommend his jazz compositions.
I am also pretty much into street art, artists like Bansky, The London Police, and BLU are truly inspiring.
As a book I recommend "Erzählt es euren Kindern - Der Holocaust in Europa". But I don't know in which languages it is available.
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Torsten Kanzler, visit his soundcloud profile for more music. His website is another great way to find out more about him and his 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 rather late. I was already 25 years old when I first came across a DAW. Friends of mine, who already were quite experienced in producing, helped me with my first steps in music production. They also were some kind of role model for me. Artists like Pascal Feos, Thomas Schumacher, Chris Liebing, Marco Carola, or The Advent have had a great impact on me musically. I bought all their vinyls and played them non-stop.
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?
That's the same with me, I guess. Following the lead of your idols is pretty much like growing up. Kids emulate their parents and learn from them, until they develop their own individual personality.
I'm not that kind of producer who goes into his studio with an exact idea or a plan. That wouldn't work out for me. I prefer having full scope for creativity, not knowing what kind of track I will come up with in the end.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I started with Reason by Propellerhead, a highly complex software. It took ages before I could get some proper use of it. Andreas and Volker Wiegand helped me with my first releases.
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?
At the beginning of my career I used Reason and a 5.1 soundsystem by Logitech on a PC, everything fitted into a little corner of my bedroom.
That tiny workplace has grown into a 30-square meter playroom. This acoustically optimised room boasts some monitors by Adam Audio, hardware by Moog and Elektron. I am thrilled that my collection also includes a MatrixBrute by Arturia - my favorite toy at the moment. The PC is the only thing I have stuck with.
I've learned a lot about acustics and sound design and that certain conditions, such as proper speakers and a decent room, have an important impact on the final outcome of a mix. Also my auditory sense has improved over time.
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?
For DJing I use Traktor and a K1, an iPad and Maschine. The sync feature in Traktor makes mixing so much easier, it gives me great scope for creativity and spontaneity: live remixing, making loops and recombining them over the four decks, adding my own elements via the synchronised Maschine.
In the studio I use various kinds of technology for recording, arranging, creating and editing sounds.
Due to his ability to act spontaneously and intuitionally the human being is superior to technology, which is only driven by binary code and ideally executes my instructions. Working together they can accomplish fantastic things. "Kraftwerk" and other live-acts such as Underworld or Antony Rother are good examples for that symbiosis. Big respect!
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?
They without doubt do their stint in the whole process, some more than others. But in the end, they are just some handy tools, designed to enable me to implement my ideas as easily and quickly as possible. I currently use Ableton with some plugs and especially authentic hardware, these are the basics I work with.
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?
The opportunity for spontaneous jam-sessions rarely occurs, I mainly exchange ideas with other artists. Right now my friend and colleague Björn Towellen and I are working on a collaborative project using Google Drive. He sent me a synth team and I am creating the drum structure. When the basic framework is done we want to meet up for a jam session and perfect and complete our work together.
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 have a set daily routine. After breakfast I work in the studio from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. After that I usually spend time with my family. It's not always possible to stick to this routine 100%, but I try.
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?
In February my new album Home will be released on Bush Records, a legendary label on which artists like Carl Cox, Thomas Schumacher, and Dave Clarke have had relases.
My approach to the album was easy and relaxed, I didn't have a definite idea about what the final work should sound like. That would have been a self-imposed restriction on my creativity and flexibility. I rather want to create a reflection of a certain period of time. While working on Home, I used my MatrixBrute by Arturia extensively for the first time and that opened a whole new world of sounds to me.
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?
I've structured my creativity by following a set daily routine. I start working in the studio early in the morning. After living in Berlin for four years, I have moved to the Harz (mountain range in Germany), where I can gain some inspiration after an intense weekend. I kind of love that contrast. I can also get rest while being on the train and sketch some ideas - depending on my mood and the on-board bistro (haha).
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 think those are two totally different worlds. For both I've developed a set-up that works perfectly fine for me. Live gigs are characterised by the interaction with the crowd and the whole atmosphere. In the studio I am on my own and try to save and process the energy of those club nights.
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 have to admit, I am not the kind of guy who tinkers with the sound of a snare for hours, rather with the bass drum haha. I know how easily you can get carried away by details. But I found a way to curb this, otherwise I would go crazy. If it still happens, I stop working on that project and work on something else. Sound aesthetics are of course very important, but to me the whole composition of a track is key.
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?
It is fascinating how music can affect our body, techno in particular. Techno really grabs me and all my senses. And I love how visual impressions and music form a symbiotic relationship.
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?
Techno has always been a kind of peaceful punk music, especially in its starting phase. Techno is social, it is against mainstream and doesn't blindly follow common standards. I would have never expected to meet all kinds of people from all over the world. We all have a different cultural background but music unites us. That's what techno stands for. And it has nothing to do with politics.
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 am sure music will be an essential part of our lives for a long time to come. Globalisation makes us grow together, also musically. All the various styles meld and change into new forms. I believe music will change radically when our senses reach another evolutionary stage. But I surely won't be alive when that happens.