Interview with thee excellent C.DB.SN, one of the brightest newcomers in the IDM / post-industrial scene. Returning from his excellent tracks on our second and third compilations, he tells a bit about his inspirations and studio setup:
more info: www.soundcloud.com/c-db-sn
Firstly, can you give us a brief history of your project?
I first started writing music as c.db.sn in 2006 when I moved from Tampa FL to Denver CO. In FL I worked on industrial music alone, shooting for a sound that was informed by the late 90's Pendragon records bands like Haujobb, Individual Totem, and Gridlock. That influence took a back burner as I began to primarily focus on collaborative endeavors with a couple of different people producing different breakbeat styles with IDM flavor as to appeal more to the dance floor. I quit making music for a few years while teaching myself live sound engineering; mixing at the club made my free time spent mixing my own projects feel too much like work and I threw in the towel. In retrospect, I think this time actually allowed me to better realize what it was that I wanted to be producing. When I moved out to Denver I initially no longer had an engineering job or a network of like-minded people to work with, so I began work on a solo project to keep myself busy/entertained. Initially, I was focusing on ambient music and minimal techno. I released in a very limited local capacity a record called "Into the Deep" on a friends label called Elseproduct. Towards the end of the production of that record I began focusing again on IDM and my early pendragon records influence; the last track on Into the Deep, "Vulcanoctopus Hydrothermalis" really punctuated the record and ended up being a statement as to where I wanted to go with c.db.sn. After “Into the Deep” I began focusing on IDM and Post-Industrial sounds nearly exclusively, writing tracks towards an EP, shopping demos and submitting tracks to compilations, which is where I'm at currently.
What inspires you to write music? What draws you to the medium of idm/ambient music?
With where c.db.sn is currently, I try to ride a line and find a balance. The medium of idm and ambient music allows me to work analytically and emotionally in the same song. At this point I have the freedom to write darker heavier material and then turn around write something more lighthearted all while keeping the technical aspect in focus. I really enjoy the juxtaposition. Coming from a technical background, IDM really allows me to work in left brain mode being really analytical with my drum elements, and then I can turn around and write melodic content from the right, more creative side. It’s a good balance for me.
I see the term “post-industrial” come up often when talking about this kind of music, and the general consensus seems to be that “industrial” is kind of over and there has been a new, more personal / emotional sound derived from its ashes. What do you think the future of dark electronic music will be? What territory is left to explore?
Personally, I've watched the whole genre splinter over the past 12 years or so, you have the more club oriented 4/4 dance tunes in one camp and then a whole group of artists who embraced more of the IDM aesthetic and created something that can't really be classified as either Industrial or IDM. I can't knowledgeably speak for what is going to happen with the Industrial scene, I've been pretty far removed from it for the past few years. That being said, I feel confident that industrial club music will continue to be made. As far as the music that can loosely be categorized as "post-industrial", I feel like there is already a shift happening from composition that relies heavily on technical conventions to composition coming from an emotionally expressive place. I feel that this will continue, as on a broad scale listeners tend to appreciate music that they can emotionally relate to rather than a minority of listeners who enjoy music analytically.
Your track for the compilation is “A Silent Sea”. Can you give us a bit on insight on what inspired this track, how you composed it, etc.?
In terms of inspiration, A Silent Sea came from the opening fender rhodes melodies. I more or less pulled up a patch and began playing some things on the keyboard and came to something that struck me. A good portion of my tracks come from a melody that sparks an entire song. I took the root note of the melody and came up with a simple bassline and sat on those elements for a while, often I do this, I get some ideas down and let them "marinate" for a bit to see if the idea stands up to multiple listens. I wrote the percussive elements to that track a few days later while experimenting with some synth-based drum sounds and automation in ableton. I was really just trying some new things out at the kitchen table over a cup of coffee when I was like, “Whoa, this is it!” Once I had a melodic idea and some solid percussion, the arrangement more or less unfolded. I really love it when a track happens naturally and doesn't feel forced; A Silent Sea was a fortunate situation in that regard.
Tell us a bit about your studio. What gear are you using, what is your favorite gear, etc.?
My studio is really quite small. I use a Macbook running Ableton/Max for Live, a Firewire Interface and a handful of controllers: I use an APC40, a M-Audio Axiom61 and Trigger Finger, though when writing, I primarily use the Axiom. For monitoring I use Event 20/20's; I've been mixing on them for over a decade. The Events aren't the most accurate things out there, but I've learned how to make mixes translate on them. That being said, I do think that they are the weak link in my setup. As far as production is concerned, I use Ableton Live for everything, Ableton allows me to have a DAW that is really quite modular in nature, nothing to my knowledge allows for such unique control over mix and synth parameters without drawing in tons of automation manually. I use Ableton's drum racks for my percussion, I really love the way they operate and love the fact that you can nest racks within racks to get complex realtime manipulation happening via macro knobs assigned to multiple parameters. Plus the ability to use a sample OR a VST synth within a drum cell is really fantastic, if possible I try to use synths for my drum sounds, with a sample there is only so much one can do, but with a synth the possibilities for manipulation are really open. Ableton's Operator is my go to synth for percussion, effects sounds and for ALL of my FM synthesis needs. I've been a huge fan of FM synthesis for years starting with the early Yamaha stuff (I've owned/sold quite a few FM synths in my day). I really like the idea that I can create harmonically rich and complex tones with sinewaves alone (though not limited to just sine waves). I find that Operator is easy to program; its integration within Ableton, for me at least, makes it more useful than any hardware FM synth I've used. I lean on Operator pretty hard in my productions, especially since they added additive synthesis functions to the individual oscillators. When not using Ableton's built in synthesizers, I rely pretty heavily on reFX Vanguard and NI's Absynth. I used Vanguard for virtual analog sounds, to my ears it doesn't sound very analog, but can do the Access Virus kind of stacked detuned oscillator really well. The bassline in A Silent Sea comes from Vanguard. Absynth is really great for atmospheres and effects; I love resampling melodic content out of a current track and manipulating it via the granular sampling to create layers that sound familiar and could be mistaken for an effect, but can be played via a keyboard in a manner than one couldn't with an effect alone. My sound relies heavily on bouncing tracks and resampling elements, sometimes multiple times. I typically write the melodic content of my tracks via midi and then bounce/resample and edit from there. Most of my arranging and processing is done in the audio realm.
So you are something of an Ableton guru, and I know you work closely with an Ableton collective in Denver. Any advice for people interested in getting into Ableton?
One of the most interesting things I have recognized in presenting at and attending the Ableton Colorado user group is how everyone tends to use it differently. Ableton is really open in how one goes about using it; I approach it like a gigantic modular sampler that hosts VSTi's, but this doesn't necessarily work for everyone. Like all music apps, as a beginner I'd recommend approaching it with a strong idea of what you would like to accomplish. When you have no goal in mind it’s hard to get anything done, especially when faced with a ton of options.
What can we expect in the future from c.db.sn?
In the near future Denver label Plastic Sound Supply is releasing a split EP featuring Plastic Sounds Supply artist Scaffolding and me. It’s a mini EP of sorts, 4 tracks total. Both of us wrote a track and then remixed each other’s work; we had a specific aesthetic for this release and I really like the direction it has taken. That release, entitled “Covalent States” is currently being mastered and will have a release date soon. Additionally, I have a track being released on the next in the Emerging Organisms series of compilations on Tympanik Audio. I'm really flattered and proud to be featured on this compilation as the other artists on it are ones that I respect and currently listen to frequently. Also, I'm working towards completing my next full length album where I leave the minimal techno element behind and focus on "cinematic" atmosphere and on heavy glitch percussion. I don't want to say that it will sound like 10 different versions of A Silent Sea, but the tone of the album will definitely fall in line with A Silent Sea's dramatic aesthetic.