On Friday 28th of October we welcome Stimming at the Spatial Sound Institute for the third time this year. For this occasion he brings Dutch cellist Maarten Vos as his guest. High time for an in-depth conversation with the producer/performer from Hamburg about what has been brewing. 4DSOUND founder Paul Oomen speaks with Martin Stimming about how their collaboration started, the role of space in music making, spontaneity, courage, club culture and what they expect from the future.
Paul Oomen: We have been working together for a good three years now. Before you got to know 4DSOUND, were you already thinking about your music in terms of spatiality? What was it that attracted you in the first place to start working with the 4D system?
Martin Stimming: Wow, three years already! Before getting to know 4D and its freaking real spatiality of course I used reverbs and kind of a dimensional mixing in my music, even when I was very often just mixing it very dry for a reason. But it was more of an intuitive approach and I never thought of it as something special. Maybe thats why I was hooked immediately after hearing the system for the first time. It was kind of an ear-opener, just like discovering something which you always knew it was there but never came into consciousness.
Interesting, because the first time I heard a track of yours, I only had to listen for about ten seconds to know that this would be a click with the 4DSOUND system. Something in the sensitivity of the sounds that immediately makes me feel the physical, intrinsically spatial quality of the sounds. We did our first show together for which you re-arranged a number of your existing tracks on the 4D system. How was that process like to rearrange your music into a fully spatial approach?
Well, the process basically was radically reinventing my live-set and figuring out as fast as possible that nothing which seemed to work before works that way on the system. I remember leaving the space with a red face and you coming after me, looking concerned. Haha, it was like a challenge in how fast will I be able to rethink what I do.
Yes, I remember you even flew back to Amsterdam a few times extra to makes as many hours as possible on the system before this first show. Did it work out in the end? Were you satisfied with your tracks in this new spatial form?
Yes, I figured I definitely needed more time to find out whats working and what not. And the trick was not to play any existing track in the end, because all of them were made for stereo listening and all the treatments that make them sound good tatsächlich don't work on 4D. I was as exited as never before any show but afterwards I was very happy and satisfied. I love a plan that works out!
Your work with spatial sound has developed a lot since that first show, it has become a lot more intuitive and improvised, therefore also more unpredictable in form. At the same time, your regular live set that you perform in the clubs has changed a lot too. How do the two relate to each other?
Using the 4D system as an instrument of its own, and playing it intuitively and - more important - spontaneously, was the key for my live-set on 4D. I figured how much fun it is to really have the spatiality in my hands through that controller I had built, just like a guitar player has his finger tips on the strings. So, the first risk I took was playing the system spontaneously but playing kind of a strict list of themes and patterns one after another. If you hear my set on 4D nowadays its not even a list anymore, its an open playground not only for the system but also for the musical content. Realizing that and, especially, how good this works, opened a door for my usual traditional stereo live-set. I'm finally valiant enough to allow myself situations which are completely improvised on stage, in stereo.
I was very happy to hear that many themes you worked on during your residency at 4DSOUND found their way to your latest album 'Alpe Lusia'. How does your work with spatial sound influence you as a producer?
As I said, 4D made me aware of spatiality. For example the track ‘parking lot’ from my last album: its a OP1 mini-synth, played back through a portable speaker inside a pretty large garage. The movement of the portable speaker made the sound so alive because of the spatial answer of the car park. I never would have had this idea before knowing 4DSOUND.
4DSOUND has been regularly labelled as the 'the future of clubbing' over the past years. What do you think about this?
True, everyone asks that. I think its much more of a future concept for concerts than for clubbing. The overwhelming sound pressure in a club that lets you forget everything around you and your week and troubles and whatever… that simply isn’t there on the 4D system. No, its much more fragile sounding and needs the whole attention from the listeners. Thats why I see it as next level of a concert.
I would agree on that. Listening to sound spatially is a much more delicate and dynamic experience by default, as sounds cannot be constantly in your face, but they have to be at different distances and height and therefore vary much more in being loud and big, soft and tiny, close and far away. Thats basically the opposite from what we get in the club. It requires audience to be silent and open their ears as much as possible to explore whats going on in the music. So that makes me wonder, since it is so diametrically different, why does everybody keep on wanting this in the club? Can you imagine a future concept of the club evolving which is radically different and where spatial sound would have a place? Or is everyone just missing the point?
Everyone is wanting it in the club because people intuitively feel club music and producers are technology loving, forward thinking, they should be able to amaze the audience and very many people love to go out in clubs, so… why not combine this? Unfortunately this doesn't seem to work like that. In the end I don't think everyone is missing the point, its always two sides who need to be in sync.
You are right, its give and take. The club experience and spatial sound can gain something from each other, but that means both also lose something, that something needs to change. Everything comes with its price. That brings us to your recent shows at the Spatial Sound Institute, which are not clubshow but more of an extended concert. You started to invite several guest musicians to perform together with you on the 4D system. What instruments are you using and how does it all work together?
Right now I'm using two Elektrons - the Ocatrack sampler and the Rytm drummachine. On top comes a Nordlead 4, thats a very advanced performance synth. This setup is a good example of what we talked about earlier - its by now the same hardware which I use on a ‘normal’ stage. For me thats a proof how much your system influenced me and my way of working. On top of that I invited different musicians this year to be able to control the system more intense as its still completely live and improvised. First I had producer Johannes Brecht, a good friend and label mate of mine, then there was pianist Lambert joining me who became a good friend during that time and the next show will be with cello player Maarten Vos. I'm so curious how this will sound like. He’s good in looping his cello and getting sounds out of it that aren't usual so it will be something very special.
Its fascinating how you use your work on 4DSOUND to really 'complicate' things. One might think its almost too much! You already have this very complex and new situation playing with a huge spatial sound system, and then on top you throw all other security overboard. You improvise all your sounds on the spot, you play both sound and space with your hands and invite other musicians to play with you that you have never shared the stage with before. What is it about performing with this spatial dimension that makes you want to do all that?
Good question! Maybe its a lack of competition. In our money-, winner or loser-driven society, competition is a factor that also plays a -sometimes ugly- role in the art business. I am still one of the very few people in this world who are able to play this system so I basically don't have much competitors around me. This is making me free! Maybe its an example of what we could achieve without always having the pressure of needing to be ‘better than others’. But then, being one of the very few who can play this system, doesn’t that actually make me a little better than others? Complicated...
And how do you see the future?
Ideally I would like to do eight shows for the next two years, each with another befriended artist and take that time to continue to figure out what works best musically and parallel spread the word so much that we can do a tour through Europe in three years so that much more people are able to hear and experience this most advanced sound system on the planet. I pretty much know exactly what I wanna do, what about you guys??
Well, what we want to do is keep on supporting artists to push the boundaries of what is possible with this medium of spatial sound. Following your approach, I can imagine you could become a sort of 'virtuoso' in playing the space. But we are not there yet, you would need constant and continuous practice with the system and we need to keep on refining the tools and develop the instrument further. We are fully committed to keep moving that forward the coming years.
Thanks for letting me do this interview, I'm looking forward to the next show!
So are we!
To give an impression what his latest work on 4DSOUND is like, Martin Stimming has exclusively shared an excerpt of binaural audio, recorded live during his show in 4DSOUND with Johannes Brecht on 24 June 2016.
More information about the upcoming show with Maarten Vos on Friday 28th of October can be found here.