Interview: Uwe Zahn (Arovane)

Uwe Zahn


1. It's impossible not to ask about your new albums: should we expect something brand-new or does it full in line with the original sound of the project?

Yes, I have a new collaboration album with Porya Hatami and Darren McClure. It will be released in July, on n5MD and it’s called ypsilon. I am working on my solo album too. It’s going to be finished at the end of 2019. Then I have to find a label...

2. What made you gradually replace IDM with ambient? What motivated you to make this decision and now that time has past, do you personally consider that that decision was correct?

 I don't like that term IDM that much. I don't know what's intelligent. Maybe some tracks are danceable but it never was my intention maybe. So you know last 5-6-7 years the sound design is more what I’m doing now. And I did some work for Ableton, released some sound packs. And so I'm more and more interested into sound design and music and sounds. I don't know if there is the lines, the lines are blurred for me between music and sound design and sounds. So, briefly I’m listening to Parmegiani, and I’m focused on sound design.

3. How you met Christian Kleine? it is correct to call you guys like-minded people, so tell us about the most unusual project you've done with collaboration with him.

Everything was very spontaneous that days. I called up him or he called me, we had time so we met for guitar session one day. He has very huge record collection, so we sampled some beats, vibes and he played along with this guitar and improvised very nicely. And I just recorded some of the phrases and used the guitar play of Christian which was very unusual for me and I think the most people didn't expect something like Tides or Lilies album maybe.

 4. Could you tell us a few words about the track Seaside from the Tides album, what inspired you to create it?

It was inspired by the holiday in the North of France, at the coast. I was at the seaside and it was very impressive, it was very nice to stay there, in that place in France. So I made some recordings. I was inspired by landscape, I love the sea very much. I had a very clear idea of the sound for that album, so I used that stuff and it went very well with Christian's guitar play.

5. Your second project Nedjev - what it's all about? What differs it from Arovane? Are there new releases planned?

I was asked by very small casette labels back in 2000's and you know Arovane is on GEMA (note: it's a German society for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights). So I had to find another moniker so the smaler labels don't have to pay for that company. So Nedjev was born. I used that moniker for small labels to release nice casette releases. That was the only reason. I had a different sound on that releases, more lo-fi sound.

6. And no plans with Nedjev in future?

 I don't know. A lot of people asking, you know.  I don't know, maybe in future I'll have the time to collect some tracks and put them on my Bandcamp website for the people. But I don't know, I'm so busy with my collaborations and my solo stuff.

7.Why did you exclude the computer from creating music, did you have any particular reasons to do that? Perhaps, make electronic music more alive or it was just the decision with no particular reason in mind?

Well it changed a bit. In 1990's and 2000's I produced my music mainly with hardware sequencer and sampler and mixing desk and other stuff. And then I was asked to play live and, you know, that was a problem. I could take my whole equipment with me but not going to Japan or Moscow or somewhere so it was a problem for me so I bought a laptop and run the first version of live, because my old friend Christian Kleine was working at Ableton and he told me about that new software. So I started with first version of live. The feeling was temperate  you know, I produced my music with hardware and for live gigs I used computer and software. But nowadays it's more connected I think it's perfectly connected. I'm using all my hardware and most of it connected to software, running on the computers. I'm using both and ] I like to use software with my hardware samplers and I use software plugins to do all that sound design. So it changed a lot.

8. How do you feel about modern technologies. Are you satisfied with how the things are developing?

 Yes and no. There are some very interesting devlopments. Today you can get a lot of controllers for controlling specific software on computer. I like ableton push to control the software sequencer and I have some other hardware controllers. I remember I've bought kyma system, and I had a mutual fader controller with parameters inside software and hardware and that was first time for me, the perfect combination between software and hardware. As a musician today you have so many possibilities to perform music and to control sounds. Good example is the ROLI which is U.K. Company and they produced a keyboard which has waves instead of keys. So you have a soft surface that can control to five parameters in sound. So you can control specific synthesizers with it and you have so many possibilities to create and control sounds nowadays. On the other side there are I think too many controllers. Native instruments has own machine and every company has its own system of running to control their software. So it's a bit too much I think.

9. Is there a particular album in Arovane discography that is especially important or dear to your heart? Why is that?

 Oh, hard to say. I think Tides is very important album for me because it's connected with special time for me. Before all that digital download starts and all that consolidation and the music industry changed and so I was connected with my friends and they are running labels and distribution and magazines and everything but that all changed, so Tides is very important for me, LP from that time. Nowadays I don't know. The album In-between on Strangly Isolated Place it`s a very good LP I think. Kaziva is quite important for me because I love to do collaborations  with Porya Hatami and Darren McClure. It's so important for me as a musician, to work with other people, to swap sounds, to work on new projects.

10. What`s more about the way the label City Centre Offices functions? What made it stand out from all over once and what was the most memorable part of your partnership with it?

Thaddi who runs the label is my very close friend, so it was more about good friendship than releasing records or doing business stuff or whatever. That was important for me. Special was that I listened to the radio a lot that time and there was a broadcast, they played breakbeats on the radio. There was a journalist or the moderator Morahato and they asked people to send in music. So I sent an audiotape with my breakbeat stuff I produced that days and they played it! Two or three days later Thaddi called me and asked me for an interview for the radio. So our friendship began. I remember we walked down the street it was summer and Thaddi asked me: Uwe you have to release single with me, I want to start a label, and I said: Yes ok. So we recorded a few tracks and it was a first single for this label. You know it was quite easy to do that. I remember the day when Thaddi became over the singles  then we did some packaging , put some stickers into the singles and that was fun.

- And what happenned then? Did it have some problems or what motivated him to shut this label up?

 I think it was the development of music industry. He sold a lot of LPs and everything ran well but with the time he got exhausted. I think he doesn't want to be connected with the music industry so he was thinking to finish this. You know as a musiсian or a label you don`t have an income with downloads only. And Thaddi is very into releasing vinyl. Nowadays you can get bankrupt very quickly releasing vinyl because you don`t know if people will buy or not. So it got more and more risky to produce that huge amounts of vinyls. So that`s why he made a decision to stop releasing music and concentrate on his other jobs.

11. If you had your own label what it would be like?

 A lot of people ask me, you know: why don`t you run your own label? But in my opinion it`s not a good idea because I know how much work it is to run label. As a musiсian you have a lot to do I think it will be too much for me so I wouldn`t concentrate on my music anymore.

- You don’t even imagine such a possibility, do you?

 I don`t want to. I want to put the focus on my music. As a musician today you have so many possibilities to release your music, with digital platforms such as Bandcamp. A lot of stuff I'm releasing on Bandcamp. You don't need distribution, partners or whatever. You just put stuff on Bandcamp and release it, so that people can buy.

12. There was a huge break in your musical biography between 2004 to 2013. What was the reason of it?

I never felt connected with so-called music industry. I think I was a bit exhausted or whatever. So I shut down everything. I bought a motobike and made some very nice tour to France which I love and I met friends and I had a lot of time to do other stuff than music. But I produced music, I never stopped producing music. But I did it at the background, didn't release anything till 2013. Then I asked Mike Cadoo from n5MD label to release some older stuff and newer stuff I produced. And it was the first CD after almost 10 years,

13. What changed during that time? Have you become a different person? How much have you overview on your life and musical views changed?

Well, I'm the same person as ever. That hasn't changed much. But as I told you before my focus is more on sounds and sound design. More than it was back in 2000. I work a lot with computers, and softwares are getting more interesting for me. That changed I think. The view or the reception of music changed and I have a different view to music now. I always listen to a lot of different kinds and styles of music. Electroacoustic music, minimal music, jazz.. All these styles of music have more influence on me today than 10 years ago. When I'm sitting on the studio I have some ideas, working on new stuff, I'm not only focused on IDM or whatever to sound like Arovane 10 years ago. It's much more opened. The music is much more wide than 10 years ago. I think it is natural to develop soundwise as a musician. The most people who listen to the old stuff expect the same music now. But it changes a lot.

14. Do you avoid the rhythmical structure in current times or you're still interested in rhythms as it was before?

I think the rhythmical structures are in music itself. It isn't in some specific percussion part or whatever. So the focus is more on sounds and sound structures. Sometimes when I go outside make some recordings and use this stuff at my studio, put that stuff into my computer and use a lot of software to transform these sounds into something new, there are rhythmical structures inside these recordings. If you listen very carefully you will find a lot of rhythmic structures inside. Not that usual danceable you know.

15. What is your main work now? What are you doing at this moment besides music?

I bought a house near the river Saale and I just moved there.

16. Now the only work you have is music or do you have something additional, something different?

I have day job. I'm working 2-3 days per week helping handicapped people in Berlin. So I've got my money to pay all the bills. But I think now I will concentrate 100% on music and preset and sound design. There are my plans. I hope I will get my income from music and sound design in future.

- Is difficult psychologically?

 No it's not that difficult. It's my profession I know that people and their problems so it's ok for me. Every day I work is different, interesting. It's not like to work on factory or in a bureao. That's an interesting aspect in my profession that I work with people and help them to handle their problems.

- So can you say that your main inspiration was to help people?

Yes it was. It's quite interesting to meet people and to see in what way to help them. And then to work with them and help to solve problems in their daily life. You know for you and me it's quite normal to brush our teeth or to go to sleep or make breakfast or whatever. But if you're handicapped you need help here and there. And that's my part: to help people in that specific ways.

- I've read a story that you've made your first musical steps on that work. You were analyzing how to help and tried to experiment with sounds and that people.

 I tried sometimes. But normally there's no connection directly to my music. But sometimes people themselves are interested in what I'm doing. So I told them: I'm a musician, "I am producing music and sometimes I'm playing some tracks or sounds or whatever.. and they are really interested. And I have one client and he's very into rhythmic stuff and I brought him my MPC, a pad driven computer rhythmic drum sequencer and he loved to play with it. He put headphones on his head and played for hours with that thing and that's quite interesting. There is a special project in Germany which is called Station Siebzein maybe you know it or you heard about it, it's a collaboration between professional musicians and handicapped people. And it's so funny to hear that stuff.

I think they are working mainly with improvisation stuff and professional musicians help them to put that on a professional level. Recording the session and preparing for CD release or LP release. That's a good example of interesting music in collaboration between so-called normal people with handicapped people. Some stuff  sounds like African polyrhythmic music. It was a guy who sat on a bed and he was doing music with his bed, rhythmically. And it sounds like a professional polyrhythmic stuff. He's swinging in his bed and makes noises. So he produced rhythmical stuff like that and professional musicians looped that sounds, doubled and layered it and in the end it was amazing!

17. What else you are interested in? What is your inspiration?

 Good question! I'm interested in a lot of kinds of music, I love to listen to electroacoustic stuff, to contemporary music, jazz, classic; I love to read books, to be in my garden. I'm interested in nature, I love to go out, to meet friends, to cook... a lot of interests.

Uwe Zahn

18. Can you name a few interesting releases you've heard and recommend of jazz and electro acoustic music?

 I stumbled over the collection of sounds from Harry Bertoia. He also designed the sound objects made out of metal things. I don't know if it was his intention but all these objects are producing sounds. And so he started to record the sounds of all that objects. So I bought a CD collection called Sonambient which is a huge collection of CD's and it's massive work from that guy. It is like clouds of swinging, ringing, metal sounds, soundclouds if you like. That's very interesting. So I can recommend to listen to Harry Bertoia and his work. The metal objects he designed are very beautiful. They are looking very very nice and sound very interesting as well.

- What about jazz records that you have been listening?

Oh so many names! I remember I bought a vinyl from Stan Getz. He was playing saxophone and I think that he have been doing it in a very unusual way because normally when you play saxophone the sound is loud and ruff. And in most of his tracks he's playing this instrument quite gently and soft. I never heard such aspects in it before.

19. As you mentioned before you also like literature. Can you name the last book you read?

I love Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author. But the last book I've read was George Orwell's 1984. When I read it I thought: how forward-thinking he was! In our world today we have so many controls.

20. What do you think about musical dj sets?

I DJ-ed only one time in Berlin. My friend Peter asked me to DJ in a small club and I did and it was fun. But as for me it's an art form. In our world now DJ-ing is like a jet set. DJ-ing is mixing two vinyls perfectly. And there are very good artists, DJ's that are doing it very good like an art form. There are a lot of videos where you can see the DJ's are not DJ's, they are not mixing anymore, they start to use software and this is not the art form for me. Because everybody can let the software mix the tracks. That's not interesting for me.

21. What would you like to record in future? What unknown territory would you like to explore?

Currently I'm very interested into piano music but not that piano music that most people have in mind. As for me the biggest interest is in that sound design, noises that piano produces. For example in Kaziwa there is a lot of sound design stuff to transform all the piano tones. It's going more and more to that direction, to form sounds or to transform sounds, to design sounds - I think that's my direction.

22. Did you have any division for the music? Can you realize that music is intelligent listening to some track again and again? Or there's no division in music for you and it's all the same?

I don't know, I have some problems with that term intelligent. You can listen to some minimal stuff, where the rhythmical and sound structure is quite simple but the idea behind it is so complex and so deep. That's intelligent for me. It's like a huge painting you're standing in front of and looking at. I think most of people are thinking what would the author say with that painting. As for me listening to the music is just listening to the music. Not thinking of that artist or that label or that new LP or brand new track or whatever. I'm interested in musiс structure and sounds. The first time I listened to that Bertoia stuff, I never saw that fragile objects before. Then I looked at the internet and found his objects he built. And that's interesting and intelligent for me. I think that musical term intelligent appeared in musical industry to put us from that kind of music.

23. What does the name Arovane mean?


- Absolutely nothing?

Absolutely nothing. (laughing)

- How did you decide to create that word?

You know when I started to sample back in the 80's I thought by myself: oh how would you call this? It's not a pad sound, it's not the bass sound, it's not a trumpet, it's not piano or strings, so how should I name it? So I put some words together and name that sound. For me it's a good way to remember where that sounds are and what sounds are within connection of that name. They are fantasy names. I just combined some names like Autechre did. I think some people may think: oh Arovane is copying Autechre or whatever. But when you are working with such abstract sounds how would you name it? It's hard to describe but sometimes sounds sound like names. 

24. Have you ever tried to connect to Autechre and discuss some plans associated with music? Have you ever met them?

There's one story. I met them. I played live and Thaddi from City Centre Offices told me: look it's Sean and Rob sitting at the sofa and I didn't realize that. And I said: hello! And it was the first time and the last time I met them. 

25. For you personally as a creator: what temporal period does your music occupy? Is it more in the past, in the present or in the future?

I think it's in the present.

P.S. It's a bit paradox, can I say that? I'm collaborating with people who are far away, I mean our work with Porya Hatami or Darren McClure, also there was a project with Synkro. So, I work mostly with people who are far away. Thanks for the internet! As for me it's quite important to do that. Cause back in 2000 I worked with people directly sitting next to each other. And now I just send stuff from A to B to other parts of the world and far away. It's running very good and it's fun to work in that way.