Name: Hannes Bieger
Occupation: Producer, Mixing- and mastering engineer
Current Release: Balance Presents Hannes Bieger is out now on Balance Music.
Tool of Creation: Moog Modular
Designed by: Robert Moog
Country of origin: America
Became available in: 1964
Hannes Bieger uses the Roland Moog Modular on: Tracks like “Orca“ or “Lose Control“ on his current Balance release, or the track “Semeru“ on Hannes's previous album Pele. He speaks in more depth about these later in this interview.
If you enjoyed this interview with Hannes Bieger about the Moog Modular and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook, Instagram, and Soundcloud. We also highly recommend our previous Hannes Bieger interview, where he dives into a wider ranger of topics.
Over the years, Hannes has also remixed or collaborated with artists like Stephan Bodzin, Giorgia Angiuli, Sailor & I.
[Read our Stephan Bodzin interview]
[Read our Giorgia Angiuli interview]
[Read our Sailor & I interview]
For more information about the Moog Modular, visit the product page on the Moog Music home page.
What was your first encounter with the Moog Modular?
That’s hard to tell. Growing up and growing into music, I somehow knew modular synths existed, but I never really saw more than the occasional photo here and there. This was pre Youtube and Google …
Probably the first one I saw in person was Walter Sear’s Moog Modular he still kept at his Sear Sound studio in New York, when I had an interview with him in 2008, perhaps a year or so before he passed. He was an amazing person, and, by the way, one of the first Moog distributors back in the day. I wish I could pick up our conversation and talk to him again …
Just like any other piece of equipment, the Moog Modular has a rich history. Are you interested in it? And if so, what are some of the key points from this history for you personally?
Yes, of course! It’s part of synth history, part of pop history, and you can’t avoid that! I totally understand the whole world of West Coast synthesis philosophy, and also why they sometimes kind of looked down on the East Coast habits, but for me and my own musical background I always related more to Moog than to Buchla, for example.
I’ve been loving the Minimoog lead in “Shine On You Crazy Diamond“ by Pink Floyd long before I even knew it was a Moog, and my first synth in the 90s was a Moog too, a smallish Moog The Rogue.
I’m fascinated with all kinds of technology in the first place, and love the whole story of how synths were invented and how that has changed music forever. I own a very early R.A.Moog lowpass filter module which was constructed with so-called turret boards, not proper production printed circuit boards. That indicates it’s a very very early specimen, possibly even a prototype unit, and most likely hand soldered by Bob Moog himself. Sort of a holy grail, if you ask me …
What, to you, are some of the most interesting recordings made with the Moog Modular?
Musically, I’ve never been crazy about the Berlin School, or other forms of EBM, to be honest. I find it funny how the Beatles used it on Abbey Road, creating these horn sounds, and what Giorgio Moroder did on “I Feel Love“ is a classic that changed history.
What interests you about the Moog Modular in terms of it contributing to your creative ideals?
I love its depth and richness and the process of creating music with such a physical, large, powerful machine. It’s different whether you are actually standing in front of the analogue sequencers, or whether you’re sitting in front of a computer, staring into a screen.
I talked about this feedback loop, the dialogue with the instrument. I feel like I can have interesting conversations with the Big Moog …
What are some of the stand-out features from your point of view?
For me it’s the presence, depth and richness of the sound, above all. It sounds so good even with a simple patch that technically wouldn’t require any modular stuff. And from that base you can go almost anywhere …
Prior to using it for the first time, how did you acquaint yourself with the Moog Modular? Will you usually consult a manual before starting to work with a new device – and what was that like for the Moog Modular?
I always say it’s ”modular grammar school“ – after all, it’s technology from the late 60s and early 70s, and we’ve seen much more complex synths in the meantime. Of course some of the modules have their idiosyncrasies and quirky little features where sometimes a manual can be really helpful. But overall it’s not overly complicated.
Many people who visit my studio are a bit intimidated by it at first sight because of the sheer size, but when I break down the sections everyone agrees that large portions of it aren’t overly complex. In fact, it’s quite easy to use, as everything happens in plain sight – there are no hidden features, sub menus, complex internal routings and the likes. It took me a while to get sound out of it, though, when I first got it, because there are different ways to connect the keyboard, and you simply have to understand a few basics first.
When trying out any piece of gear I usually have a go without reading too much. It’s more of an intuitive approach, and equipment that actually requires a lot of manual studying before you can use it and make sense of it mostly puts me off. The Moog Modular manual is a reprint of the original manuals, and it’s actually a very beautiful book. It’s fun to have a look, and sometimes also inspiring. But I'd hate it if I had to read it all the time.
Tell me a bit about the interface of the Moog Modular – what does playing it feel like, what do you enjoy about it, compared to some of your other instruments?
Physically, it’s almost like sitting in front of a nice big piano … I like the fact that it’s spaced out with big knobs and space in between, and patch cords with large TRS plugs. Eurorack modular is mostly very finicky, difficult to make adjustments without accidentally moving other controls as well. That’s not an issue here. There’s something about the Moog which is very captivating, it just draws me in.
I also like the smaller Model 10 a lot. It’s more limited as a self contained single portable cabinet, but it has such a raw power, it’s sheer beauty. Probably the purest, most original Moog sound you can have these days.
How would you describe the sonic potential of the Moog Modular?
Somewhere else I have already put it like this: There is a whole sonic world in there, but it’s always pure Moog!
There are so many possibilities with the frequency shifter, with analogue FM, filter FM, AM sounds, but of course it always remains a subtractive analogue synth, so it does have its own character, and it’s a world in itself, but surely not the whole universe.
There still is a very nice bandwidth from the raw Model 10 with the 901 oscillators and the discrete mixer to the more “hi-fi“ sounding System 35 with the 921 oscillators and different signal paths.
In which way does the Moog Modular influence musical results and what kind of compositions does it encourage / foster?
It’s actually a very inspiring machine!
Almost every time I start making a patch and playing around with it there will appear ideas which could quickly turn into a new track. The modular has also been a great teacher to me in terms of how I write and record tracks. It’s virtually impossible to recreate patches later on, so it has made me faster, recording long musical arcs all at once, making decisions, laying them down, getting ready to move on. Either you record tons of options and alternative takes and get lost in editing further down the road, or you commit and get it done on the spot.
It has taught me to get much better with the latter option. In that sense it’s a very direct and intuitive instrument, a very “musical“ synth…
More generally, how do you see the relationship between your instruments and the music you make?
This all goes hand in hand for sure! And it goes both ways. The instruments are defining and shaping the sounds I am creating, and I am choosing instruments based on the sonic ideas I would like to realise.
My first instrument was the guitar, so I have been used to a very haptic, physical approach when making music early on, and that has shaped me inevitably for the rest of my life, I guess …
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?
What is the definition of “actual creativity”? Of course you can compose Techno in your mind, but at some point you’ll have to record it, otherwise it will remain an idea in your head. So at some point you simply will have to use instruments and equipment. Why not make them a part of the creative process in the first place, then? I don’t know many, if any at all, producers in electronic music who constantly create productions without technology. How is this even possible?
That said, of course it’s not good when you become dominated by your tools or if you think along the lines of “if I only had this or that piece of gear I could finally start creating”. But there’s nothing wrong at all with getting inspired by your instruments.
Paraphrasing Bob Moog, there is this beautiful state where you get in a feedback loop with your instrument and it’s not clear anymore who plays whom.
Could you describe working with the Moog Modular on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
On my current Balance Series release I have used the Model 10 a lot for the 16th note basslines, for example in “Orca“ or “Lose Control“. It just sounds so fat and punchy!
In “Orca“ there also is a second bass I created with the System 35 and the Bode Frequency Shifter module, which is a direct recreation of the original Moog module made by Synth-Werk from Munich. It has these raw, dark, almost vocal-like timbres, and a beautiful wide stereo image. The very alive sounding and heavily modulated bassline in “Embers“ is the System 35 once more.
A very good example of a morphing, meandering Moog line is the track “Semeru“ on my previous album Pele on Awesome Soundwave.
This is a long, deep jam with the System 35 and a lot of tweaking of the filters and oscillators. Over long stretches there is only the Moog Modular with a big reverb, and bass drum – and it never gets boring …!
How does the Moog Modular interact with some of the other tools in your studio?
Everything in my studio is set up in a way that it can sync and interact with other equipment. I am actually often using the Moog sequencers to control other synthesizers, and I recently did a rather experimental project with a bass clarinet that was fed into the modular, manipulated by its filters, but which also triggered envelopes and sequences of the modular.
The idea was to try and find a way how we could bring the acoustic and the electronic instrument together in the best possible way, potentially tearing down borders, blurring the lines between both sonic worlds, the acoustic and the electronic.
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? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I think you almost always do both, whether you like it or not. I don’t like repeating tried and tested formulas over and over, it’s absolutely important to try and push boundaries one way or another. But I don’t like trying too hard. The path of music history is plastered with sounds and concepts which were deemed absolutely exciting at the time, but which wore off fast, and which sound very dated in hindsight. I’m not so much interested in the next hype,
I’ve always been striving for some sort of timelessness – that you can listen to the music years later and still enjoy it, not cringing over what was perceived a novelty at the time. As musicians we are part of a longer continuum, no one can operate in a cultural vacuum with regard to electronic music, unless they grow up on a desert island and never get in touch with pop culture – but chances are, there would be no synthesizers on that island then, anyway.