Name: Steve Rachmad
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: Steve Rachmad has released several noteworthy projects over the past year. First off, there's his contribution to the groundbreaking "The Outlaw Ocean Music Project", which combines music and journalism to great effect –The Beauty and the Sea is available directly from the Outlaw Ocean Music website. Then, there are two new Sterac EPs: Numbers on Mote-Evolver and a re-release of Asphyx on Delsin. Finally, Steve Rachmad's remix of Procombo's "Dogu" is available via RX.
Equipment Recommendations: I guess if you are a starter to this I would recommend the Arturia Keystep37 and also their MikroFreak. Both are relatively cheap and both very impressive for the money.
If you enjoyed this interview with Steve Rachmad and would like to find out more about his music, visit his official website. For current updates and more music, head over to his Sterac Facebook account or his Steve Rachmad Facebook profile.
What was your first studio like?
My first studio was my bedroom full of records and few machines at my parents place back in the days.
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?
I guess time and technology change your ways of working over time.
In the past it was making a track, mixing it and recording a stereo file directly to dat-tape. Now there are so many ways for me to do stuff. I can work on several projects at a time or swap between them easily because of new digital techniques; or even just with the laptop on my lap on the sofa. Options are almost endless nowadays.
I do use many different ways of working. Sometimes I connect gear to the Arp sequencer and just go like this all the way without a computer. I just use my laptop as a multitrack recorder to record all tracks separately which wasn’t possible for me in the past. Other times I arrange a whole track in the computer with plugins that I also own as hardware and then later swap everything for the real machines. Or I just make a track on the laptop fully but mix it on the hardware desk. I’m personally not a big fan of in the box mixing. I do miss a certain emotion that I’m looking for while mixing in the box. At this point in time the computer came more into the picture, although I’m more hardware based.
I recently discovered the realism of sampled instruments, strings and orchestras. So lately I’m totally into this: learning about orchestras and the way things are played. There is so much to learn but all very interesting.
How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?
I usually let my mood and state of being decide what direction to go. Since I have so much gear I force myself sometimes to just pick a machine and focus on it for a while with a few tracks. And after a while I pick a different one.
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 always say why choose? I use all of them and love all of them. The only thing I have difficulty with in the box is the mixing part. For me again it depends on my mood how I approach things. I have no rules and I don’t force myself into things.
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?
Controllers, for me, are tools to make things easier in my workflow; sometimes it’s hard to choose with so many options available. I usually like to keep it simple.
My go to controller lately is the Arturia Keystep 37. It’s simple with a lot of possibilities. The same goes for my favourite stepsequencer: the Arp sequencer. I love the simplicity of it. It’s literally “what you see is what you get” with that machine. Sometimes I use the Push controller which can be very handy in certain situations. Still, mostly I like to control the synths themselves directly.
How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
Usually I strictly use electronics to achieve my goals. But lately I’m trying to combine more realistic and acoustic sounding samples and explore the ways of bringing a different flavor to my music. I tried to add the most realistic strings I could find and along the way I kept finding more and more realistic strings samples that I didn’t even know existed because I was never really interested in sampling … Until I found out recently how realistic they can sound nowadays.
The Beauty and the sea album is a very good 1st attempt example of that.
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?
This can be a good thing and a bad thing. I have so many. Many of those sketches and ideas are on my computer, as well as different storage disks of my old Atari.
And to be honest I still haven't come up with a strategy to organize it properly. A small strategy I use is bouncing a small recording as a reminder for some tracks. But I can’t do that for all of them, there are way too many. Even if you tell yourself not to start on something but open and finish an old project, you will feel the urge to start something new sometimes, which gets added to the already long list.
I guess I’m not the most organized person around either.
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?
With me the surprises come whenever you start fiddling with sounds and start tweaking things. This is something that is more difficult for me on just the laptop. I do need hardware for that in general.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
Like we have many possibilities for production, for me this part is very similar. I can enter the studio with already something in mind or I just start tweaking or playing a synth or program a beat in a drummachine.
Also here there are almost endless approaches for me personally. I’m always triggered by equipment and software. I can’t even go through presets without being distracted or triggered by some idea that I immediately have to record, even though my plan was to go through all presets to see what’s in there and what it has to offer (any plugin or synth).
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?
For me already with my very 1st release back in ’93, I knew I wanted to be fully in control.
Why? When I made a demo of my 1st release I didn’t have money for a good mixer yet, but my demo was made with a certain idea in mind. The whole EP was mixed by someone else who did have a good mixer. However, it was not to my taste at all. Mixing-wise I had a totally different view on things and from that moment I decided I would never again let someone else mix my music; from that point on I was able to borrow mixers from people I knew until I had enough money to buy my own mixer.
I often did have to carry the whole thing of 16 channels in the bus and tram to get it done in time and then bring the mixer back.
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?
Not sure if AI will take over. It’s an art that comes from a feeling within a person. It could be painting or creating or music or something else but it all comes down to emotion. A machine doesn’t have that.
It might be able maybe to create something but it will be totally done without any emotion to it. Not sure if that is what we are looking for in music. We already use machines that are electronic instruments in general which can be cold. In order to give it some life, the human steps in to make it more emotional where possible
Do you personally see a potential for deeper forms of Artificial Intelligence in your music?
For me personally, no.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
Something like brain controlled instruments could maybe be interesting. For the rest I would like to be surprised for a change. Still too many companies are focused on copying classic synths and drummachines instead of totally designing something new.