Name: Léo Naïtaïssa aka Quelza
Nationality: French
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: Quelza's Les Malicieuses is out via Mord.

If you enjoyed this interview with Quelza and would like to find out more, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.

What was your first studio like?

My first studio was similar to the one I use today: My bedroom. I like to keep the workflow minimal and down to the bare essentials as I work mostly on my computer.

Initially I simply worked with my headphones and my computer on my couch and I had two pairs of speakers (a Yamaha hs5 that I have since then upgraded to hs7; and some second hand JBL to have two different listening options).

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?

The parts of my studio that has evolved the most are mainly the plug ins as well as the environment in which I work (acoustic treatment, sound card, different high quality microphones for field recording / rough recording).

For me the most important thing is really the comfort level in the room, which has a huge impact on my concentration and discipline (surrounding lights, air, time of day, etc.)

As for the most important part of my studio I would say my speakers (again not a big evolution, they are HS7 from Yamaha but I know them perfectly) and my acoustic treatment / placement.

The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do go about you selecting it? How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?

The digital studio is an essential part of my work (apart from my outdoor audio recordings with my microphones). I work a lot with Native Instrument products and especially Reaktor, which for me is a source of infinite sound design and "all in the box".

Over the years I fell into the trap of buying too much VSTs and ended up using only a fraction of them. In the end I reduced my set to the most essential and am working essentially with Ableton plug ins (or max msp) and Reaktor. I've set myself the rule to get the maximum out of a limited set up.

I'm not against machines but in the beginning I couldn't financially create a hardware studio that could meet my expectations. So I created my digital workflow and made what I call my "imaginary studio" in my compute. I pushed my research more on audio source processing and programming.

A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?

I prefer my computer, my speakers and my headphones.

As far as machines are concerned, I use only a few (Roland tr8s very rarely, or I go to record one day in a friend's studio with modular/synth). But the main part of my work will be the processing of my audio recording.

I also own 2 midi controllers (one Akai APC MK1 and an 88 keys keyboard to record some sequence live or mapping a few parameters to the Akai if I want to award a human feeling to some of my automations.

As said above, I'm much more comfortable with all my elements in the same place and the machines slow down my workflow.

From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?

I implemented tactile elements very late in my workflow for aesthetics reasons. I now use my Akai and my 88 keys keyboard to record live sequences as I like to add a more human side.

I used to like sequencers with tons of LFO to create a kind of controlled randomization (on velocity, panning, steps, complexify a simple sequence to give it an organic side). Sometime I go back to that old habit.

I also like the non-human movement and precision of the machines. For me it gives a certain colour to the sound in general. Sometime I combine both styles, it really depends of the mood of the track and where I want to take it.

Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.

I started archiving my sound recordings (fortunately) very early to speed up my workflow. I believe that every idea, even if it goes against the harmony of the current project, is an instinctive source of creativity and therefore a precious material.

Sometimes I start a piece and suddenly I will have two very emotional but not compatible LEAD ideas. In this case I will record one of them and save it for later and I can delete it directly from the project. Working this way and making radical decisions, without losing a sudden idea, allowed me to accelerate my creativity and not waste time making two sources sound incompatible.

Now I have 3 external hard drives of archives (from my 10 mn synth lines to a simple one shot), and I only work with my own sounds. I think it has brought a certain signature sound to my music and I recommend every musician to save absolutely everything he does.

It was a game changer in term of productivity for me.

Despite the aforementioned near endless possibilities, many productions seem to follow conventional paths. How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?

I don't have any suggestions for others but for me the following is one of the vital rules when I make music:

First of all there is all the psychological work before even opening an Ableton session : "What music, what idea, what do I want to express?" I always ask myself this question before even sitting in my studio.

Sometimes my answer will be a track name, a concept, a colour, whatever. I like to visualise a concept and hang on to that. Then I keep that project in mind and start producing with the goal of reaching that visualisation no matter what.

I always try to break the perfect quantisation of computers and create imperfect sequence variations (especially with my LFO chains). For example a 6 beat loop line will have an 8 beat delay which will be controlled by a random LFO trigger every 5 beats. I like to create complex passages with various ratios to give a feeling of chaos-organic.

How important is it for you that you personally create or participate in the creation of every element of a piece – from sound synthesis via rhythm programming to mixing?

I had a lot of trouble at the beginning of my sound research with synthesizers.

What I would do is that I opened a synth and I chose a pre-set, then I gave myself the goal to make it completely different from its original version so that I wouldn't get stuck artistically. Then I sculpted it with a mountain of effects.

Today after several years I work exclusively with my own patches and audio sources. I love to create my synths and do my sound design completely by myself from start to finish. But before that it took me 6 years to understand synthesis and sound processing (both creative and even in mixing).

To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?

It all depends on the context in my opinion. If the artistic project is based on a human-machine exchange (and honestly presented as a collaboration / exchange), I think there is a lot to explore in this "singularity".

As for using artificial intelligence to compose one's own pieces, I think there is an ethical problem: Is your goal to express a feeling you have inside you (about it via music), or is your goal to make perfect music?

That's the only thing that worries me about the singularity. The machine is capable of achieving "perfection" but wouldn't perfection itself be "imperfection"?