KOOLMORF WIDESEN - “I used to have auditory hallucinations”

We would navigate the city mostly at night, it'd be his peculiarity, not mine, but I did go along with it for a while, it's like I didn't really have a shape myself at the time, I was this floating ghost in a city I desperately felt mine. My existence was liquid, only colours that looked like sounds, flickers in the dark, the city lights before the dawn, the rain before it falls.

Years ago I felt suspended in that reality, waiting for the life to hit me hard, something that would obviously never happen. Then I opened Myspace and I soaked in pages and pages of unknown music, friends of friends and clicks and noise and procrastination. I stumbled upon Koolmorf Widesen's page, who ended up being an acquaintance of Black Season, who I knew really well.

I clicked “play” and the city went dark, the rain finally hit the ground and I felt reborn in that blackout. My heart missed a beat and it's been replaced by a sequence of nervous electronic flashes, my blood stream went slow and easy upon a far away melody, lost in a viscous consistency of sounds that a human being created, somebody I've never thought would be a part of my life.

Nina: How did you end up making this genre in particular? What has been your first approach to electronic music?

Koolmorf Widesen: I was messing around with keyboards, stompboxes borrowed from my older brother, microphones and cassette recorders even before I started playing guitar, I think I was 7-8 or something at the time...Then I installed the first music software on a PC later in 2002 when I was like 14 years old. I was playing guitar in a band at the time and a friend at high school gave me these CDs with Cubase SX, Vegas and Reason 2. I personally didn’t have a computer so I'd ditch school in the morning, go to my girlfriend's, have a smoke and make some music. I had no idea of what I was doing 'cause I didn’t know much of electronic music (just some rave tunes that my friends were listening to at the time and they gave me on cassettes with no titles or anything) and also cause no one taught me how to use those softwares and there were no Youtube tutorials or stuff like that. What I was doing sounded very messy, inaccurate and naïf but I was enjoying it so much that I soon quit the band. I was making tracks constantly, everyday, burn them on some CDs and give them to my friends. Then one of them told me my music reminded him of people like Fennesz, Aphex Twin, Mouse on Mars, Squarepusher etc, so I checked them out and from there I started to buy and download tons of electronic records of all kind.

 

N: How does the melody arises in your mind in between this thick combination of sounds?

KW: I think the melody can be perceived in different ways for different people and it’s not necessarily a line coming from a singer or a violin. John Cage used to say that everything is melody, even traffic noise which for most people is just noise. I don’t strictly agree with that but if you think about it, is there a strict definition of what is noise and what is melody? We have different conceptions of it based on the music and sounds we experienced in our life. Sometimes I can hear melodies when people just talk or in between some electronic music beats which don’t have a lead synthesizer; otherwise the melodies I hear are coming from different pitched percussions and I would call that “melody” while for some other people it would be just a speech or a rhythm. A nice example of what I am talking about is the central idea behind some Steve Reich's music such as “Different Trains” where the noise of the trains and speech voices start to sing melodies thanks to the string players.

 

N: How do you determine when the song is finished?

KW: It can be something difficult that I am sure a lot of electronic producers struggles with.
I suppose I am an extreme perfectionist with my music, to the point that I can spend months or even years reworking the same track over and over. But I don’t think it's something necessarily negative, I think I know very well when it’s done and when I am happy with it. Some of my friends think I am mad keeping most of my music on my hard drives for years even if it’s 90% done. The thing for me is that if I don’t make the very best I can, what’s the point of doing it at all? At the same time I try to balance this perfectionism with imposed limitations. For example I use mostly analogue instruments which, for their own nature, don’t have a memory storage. So when I recorded a take with those, that’s it. Ok, I can still change the volume, I can process the sounds with eq, fx and so on, but the sound is that and I can't go back. To me this is also the beauty of it, just how it happens in photos, handwriting... It's like a snapshot (well, to be more precise, a series of snapshots since we are talking about a series of 0 and 1 in digital audio and a series of voltages in the analogue world) that will never be the same again especially with analogue electronic circuits.

N: How do you feel when you are satisfied with a sound you created?

KW: It’s very rewarding!

 

N: Fair Enough! Do you imagine every single sound before assembling the song together or does it happen during the general writing process?

KW: It depends on the track. Sometimes I have everything in my mind, sometimes I just start to mess around with a specific instrument or a piece of gear and then the ideas build up.

Time ago I used to have these auditory hallucinations (no, I didn’t take any drugs) while I was falling asleep in my bed and I would hear this amazing music that I would make in the dream. The problem is that everytime I'd wake up I would just remember the “colours” and the feelings but not the specific timbres or melodies. It was a mind blowing experience and I hope it will happen sometime again.

 

N: Which is the biggest change in your evolution as an artist? What are the main emotional and technical differences between the really old songs and the ones you are writing now? And what's the beauty of the album you are about to release?

KW: I think there was not a specific turning point but more of a constant evolution. As I was saying, I was not technical at all at first and in the last years I've got more and more technically skilled, even though I constantly work on balancing the fresh inspired compositional flow with the more technical side. When you start something new you have this great excitement, a super fast flow of ideas which can easily overwhelm you and if you stop yourself immediately with all the more technical shit, the risk is to kill this flow and don’t even remember where you wanted to go with that.

I am about to release many albums and EPs, I have like 50 tracks ready to go which I was sitting on since a while, so now I am in the process of compiling tracklists and talking to different labels. What’s the beauty of them? I think it’s a hard question to answer since for me my last tunes are always the best, but I guess this can be something very personal. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like my older stuff, I have a lot of memories connected to it, especially the music I was writing before I started publishing it; I didn’t give a shit about the technical aspect so it was made more like a stream of consciousness that sounded quite psychotic at times.

N: What pushes you to sit in front of your computer and compose? Is that you or is it your inspiration? I realised that sometimes I need to stare into the void for a while before it starts flowing, while other times I wake up at 4am with a melody in my head. What about you? Apart from you not sleeping at all before 4am...

KW: Both. Sometimes I feel very inspired, kind of in a mind rush of ideas and I look forward to be in front of the sequencer; other times I am less hectic and I just sit to do some less creative music work which I would have to do anyway. I always avoid making music when I don’t feel well, otherwise I will hate what I am doing. I also know that I have a good attention span in certain hours of the day so I try to take advantage of that. I would be more interested to read interviews to electronic music producers and composers I like if those were more about the writing process and less about the other trivial things.

 

N: Let's talk about your project with the robots! Why do you need to direct inanimate objects when you could have let's say an orchestra? Or is it just a different way to create not too distant from any other instruments? What's the whole meaning behind it to you?

KW: The whole thing started in January 2011 when I was in Gent (Belgium) to play a gig and a guy there showed me the website of this foundation called Logos, these people build robots to play acoustic instruments since twenty years and they now have the largest robot orchestra in the world and it includes over sixty musical robots: percussions, organs, wind and strings instruments and many non-traditional instruments, too.

I thought the idea was amazing and I started reading everything on their website for a long time until I decided to get in touch with them in 2014. I visited the foundation for about ten times to learn how these instruments work and then composed and recorded “Musica Automata”, a 10 minute composition (still unreleased) for nineteen robots controlled by a laptop computer. The robots are able to receive digital MIDI messages that contain precise information for their performance, which is not limited to which note to play but also the timbre itself like its attack, the decay time, how bright or dark a sound should be, different articulations such as legato, tremolo, vibrato and microtonal control, so you can imagine the infinite amount of possibilities!

I have been building a robot myself too in the last months but it’s not completely finished yet, it’s a midi controlled Santur, a very nice Persian string instrument.

N: Within a bunch of few other people, you've been my first sight on electronic music. When I met you at this random gig in Florence, ages ago, I could not believe all that universe of sounds could come from just one human being!

How do you see yourself as a musician? What would you be without music?

KW: At this point of my life I wouldn’t know what to do without music really! I don’t have a very good knowledge in any other fields. If I didn’t make music I probably would have done something creative in some other fields like directing films, painting or designing and building something.

There are so many other things I would like to learn but I feel that just this life I have is not enough to explore everything I want, so I keep music as my main focus. I really don’t understand when people say crap like “everything is already been done in music, the notes are limited and so are the chords and rhythms”. Do these people have any clue about all the possible combinations of melodies, textures, rhythmical plots that could exist? And when we talk about notes, do these people know that we have approximately 20.000 frequencies we can hear and, even in between those, there are infinite (!!) other notes? To me music is an endless territory to explore and people who think there is nothing interesting anymore are not interesting themselves, because they have no imagination. Back to what we were saying, writing music is always been also a necessity for me, an urge. If I stay more than a few days away from it I get nervous. I could never be one of those people who go to the seaside and stay there under the sun the whole day, doing nothing, just relaxing. I would get crazy after a couple of days or maybe sooner.

 

[Check out Koolmorf on Bandcamp]