Name: Stefan Goldmann
Nationality: German
Occupation: Producer, composer, DJ, label head at Macro
Current Release: Stefan Goldmann's Vector Rituals is out via Macro.

If you enjoyed this interview with Stefan Goldmann and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook, and Soundcloud.

We also recommend our previous Stefan Goldmann interview. Or his expansive insights into the Waldorf Microwave series.

Some see instruments and equipment as far less important than actual creativity, others feel they go hand in hand. What's your take on that?

Historically speaking I tend towards thinking that instruments come first and what you might call creativity follows.

I can think of a few examples where things worked out the other way around – as with people such as Les Paul – or as some back-and-forth process, but at least in electronic music it's been: tools to ideas. Single instruments beget entire genres. Think of Roland's little boxes, from the 808 and 909 to the 303. There are about four distinct genres right there. Drum'n'bass changed every time Akai or E-mu put out a new sampler. And it froze when they more or less stopped continuing developing samplers.

The other thing of course is ideas that migrate from one instrument onto another. But for this you still need an instrument to begin with.

[Read our feature on the Roland TR-909]
[Read our feature on the Roland TB-303]

In the light of picking your tools, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music?

It's interesting to describe innovation as an opposite of timelessness. I always thought innovation would be the prerequisite for things that later may stand the test of time. But let's look at it from a different angle.

Recently I was thinking about how quickly stuff tends to sound dated when you focus on the latest in technology. You know, all that academic electronic music that was exploring some arcane sixteen channel surround format, and then wavefield synthesis came along and the previous format of spatialisation was immediately obsolete, together with any compositions depending on this.

At the same time there's still life in technology and techniques that haven't changed conceptually since 1970 or so, such as plain vanilla subtractive synthesis. These two tendencies are entirely contradictory and they coexist in perfect cognitive dissonance: aesthetic obsolescence and technological classicism.

So eventually it appears to me that it boils down to this: for lasting relevance you must discover and instantiate formal innovations. New gear – a process brought to you with some specific interface attached to its front – is one of the most efficient ways to do so. The part that helps with the relevance here is that gear manufactured on some industrial scale creates social momentum since many people go down the exact same pathway. Whatever creates the resulting sounds must be accessed through the same door by everybody owning that instrument. This in turn generates similar results in music, and amplifies the efforts of those who adopted something first.

I once read something related to the subway system of Santiago de Chile, about how average income in the local population drops off in both directions from some station in the middle of the line, following a linear, predictable pattern and dropping off towards the periphery. So, two stops West and you make 20% less then the people in midtown. At the end of the line you're below the poverty line.

Similar distributions seem to form in regards to access to gear on a timescale. The first twenty people getting a Roland 909 onto a record wrote music history. Person number 21.868 to get hold of one didn't get any advantage out of it anymore, but was still lifting the relevance of the first few's earlier efforts up a few notches, just by adding to the population of people acquainted with that sound.

More generally, how do you see the relationship between your instruments and the music you make?

As much as I enjoy shaping sounds I believe there's very limited potential left to uncover through sound design alone. There's so much of that out there that it has become almost pointless to bother. Thus I tend to find roads less traveled in structural features rather than in crafting sound patches.

Then again these aspects are not independent. By this I mean that we do not hear music the way a score is written for instance – a set of coordinates for seemingly independent parameters such as pitch, metric position, duration and so on. In practice, the kind of pattern or shuffle or any other structure you choose to apply to an instrument very much depends on the spectral and dynamic properties of that instrument.

There's some interesting research by Hans T. Zeiner-Henriksen who analysed drum patterns in regard to their spectral characteristics. The individual sounds of a drum machine such as the 808 take up much narrower spectral bandwidth than those of an acoustic drum kit. Put differently, an acoustic hi-hat emits sound that spreads out among a wide range of frequencies from low to high, whereas an 808's hi-hat is much more focused in one narrow range.

What seems to follow is that many more layers of rhythmic patters can co-exist on top of each other in an 808-based beat compared to what an acoustic drummer would play. You know, some classic acoustic drum beats really only consist of bass drum, snare and hi-hat. But drum machine music rarely ever limits itself to three sounds. There's this ecosystem-like structure in music where a certain density of 'population' seems to be desirable and the density depends very much on how specialized the different interacting 'species' are.

So such aspects are highly interdependent and most of the time I'd be checking structures against sounds, or linking one sound-generating device to another and creating such systems where input at one point is very much adjusting dynamically to whatever the other parts in the chain are doing. So it's all one ecosystem and there's no meaningful separation between the gear and the music.

Will you usually consult a manual before starting to work with a new device?

I zone out very quickly when I have to read manuals. So I just try out things which of course means you might overlook some really essential features for a very long time.

However, in my experience manuals tend to be ignorant of a complex instrument's real capabilities too, so they are useful when one can't figure out what some feature is supposed to do. Other than that just playing around is the fun part with any synthesizer.

Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

Sure enough I'm interested in the music of the future because the music of the past is already there for everybody to enjoy and there is not much value in recreating it.

The reason is that we all work in the recording medium most of the time, and nothing ever dies there. Actual dead people sing in sweet voices to the living in there. Thus you just can't get away with being a copycat for very long, despite all the revivals of long gone fad after long gone fad. These are just fads all over again, and the one thing they have in common is that they are headed in the same direction: down and out.

So, yes. It's onward and forward. At the same time I like to think that I aim at continuing a tradition of discovery that's lost on those who take previous innovations as some canonical form which must be replicated to exact specifications.