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Interview: Talking Berghain and cooking with Rob Clouth

Rob Clouth on cone magazine

Rob Clouth is an electronic musician, sound designer, and new media artist based in Barcelona.

With previous releases on Traum Schallplatten, King Deluxe, and Detroit Underground, Clouth connects the dots between glitchy IDM and artful techno, living somewhere between the beautiful melodies of Jon Hopkins and the high-intensity beats of Autechre.

“I think all ideas are basically just mashups of everything you’ve ever experienced”

In 2014, Clouth’s debut EP on Leisure System, the Clockwork Atom EP, was named one of the best releases of the year by Bleep, and in 2015 he followed it with the Deep Field 12”, a stomping showcase of his focused sound design and knack for memorable melodies. Formerly producing music under the name Vaetxh, the two releases on Leisure System arose from a desire to better integrate his distinct recording aliases in one project, emphasising the dancefloor-focused elements without abandoning past experimentation.

“[Berghain] they got rejected basically because they looked too normal”

The visual artist, programmer, sound guy and all round SOUND GUY managed to take time out from his busy schedule to have a chat with us about influences, Berlin, production and cooking.

Rob clouth

Pete: How did you first get into music production?

Rob: I got my first taster of music production when my dad bought the first family computer. It came with a shitty MIDI editor and me and my bros would make tunes in it. My first track was called ‘Losenge’. I still remember the melody, and vaguely recall crying after receiving heavy criticism from my brothers.
Some years later when I was 15 or so, I got Music 2000 for the Playstation. It’s actually much more powerful than first meets the eye is M2K. I’ve got a memory card somewhere with all my old tunes on. One took up 10 blocks or so because it had a sample from the bit at the end of Tomb Raider 2 when she gets in the shower. Those were the days ey. So free.

Here’s a track I made in M2K from around that time, that samples some Bulgarian folk music:

Pete: Can you identify what it is that manifests your creative outflow?

Rob: Maybe. My idea of creativity is that it’s basically just a mix of conscious and subconscious copying (or ‘inspiration’ if you prefer that word). I think all ideas are basically just mashups of everything you’ve ever experienced, but the amount of influence a given experience has in the final output is a combination of a billion factors with perhaps the most important being amount of exposure, emotional impact and recency. If you listened to a record a lot, it affected you emotionally and you did this recently, it’s gonna affect your subconscious creative output much more. I think it’s this subconscious part that gives you the sensation of one creative choice being better than the others, even if you can’t quite say why. I find trying to have a broad range of interests and continually listening to, watching and reading other people’s work helps with this.

On the other hand, conscious creativity (as in actively creating a new idea) is something I think is very different, that’s maybe a mix of subconscious creativity and problem solving. I make a new text document and smoke a spliff. Other people have other methods.

Pete: Your ties seem mostly connected between Berlin and Barcelona. Can you summarise the differences between the two cities musical landscapes, and how they cater for creativity?

Rob: Well, I haven’t spent huge amounts of time in Berlin to be honest so I can’t comment much beyond what people have told me: it’s cold and full of techno, currywursts, and musicians. Mostly appealing. Barcelona is a great place. I love it here. I feel like it is a creative place but maybe that’s just the people I hang out with. You can probably find that in most cities. I do miss the grittiness of Bristol and London sometimes. The electronic music here is very nice and very clean.

Pete: Do you like to cook? If so, whats your signature dish?

Rob: Until some years ago, my cooking experiences were either purely experimental (a savoury cake made with baked beans and cheese) or purely functional (a 7-minute roast dinner, none of which was actually roasted). These days though my cooking is somewhere between the two extremes, and I enjoy spending the extra time to make something a more special. I have a new favourite dish every month or so. Right now it’s scrambled eggs on toast with asparagus, cream-cheese and mustard. I like it, but it did make my housemate vomit.

Pete: You’ve played residency at Berlin’s Berghain. Can you describe the essence of what makes Berghain one of the world’s most revered nightclubs?

Rob: The atmosphere, the sound volume and the exclusivity. The atmosphere is great. Hedonistic with a somewhat ‘anything goes’ vibe. The slings, lube dispensers and dark-rooms definitely add to that. Also, the sound system is loud and if you’re playing the music it was tuned for it literally solidifies the air – it’s incredible. But actually, the venue is a huge reverb chamber and if you’re not playing pounding techno it’s quite a muddy listening experience I think. But very loud.

The thing that bugs me about the place though is the fucking entrance policy that’s purely based on the way you look. People say that they do this to try to maintain a diverse crowd inside…but all it creates is a visually diverse crowd. Not everyone chooses to express themselves with their clothes. It just pisses me off that some long-term fans wanted to come see me play there but they got rejected basically because they looked too normal. Sure, it’s a popular place and they don’t want it full of tourists after the ‘clubbing experience’, but take away the forced exclusivity of the place and they perhaps wouldn’t come.
And yeah I did get rejected. Twice. BERGHAIN SUX 4EVA!!!!1!!11!!

Rob Clouth Hidden Structures EP on Cone Magazine
Rob Clouths latest release Hidden Structures EP

Pete: You’ve previously acknowledged maths as an influence in your music production. Do you find – like maths – that there is strict processes in the development of an idea?

Rob: I’ve taken influence from structures in maths before, but not the formal approach. I really try to avoid strict processes when writing music because I find it’s really easy to get stuck in a certain formula and end up just making the same stuff over and over again. That’s not to say I always succeed, but I try to have it in the back of mind all the time. I do this because it always disappoints me when a favourite artist releases a new record that sounds just like all their others. To me, it usually signifies the beginning of the end.

So, I think it’s important as an artist to keep on pushing and trying new things, to avoid this stagnation. Some might say that this approach means you never establish a musical identity, but I’d prefer that to be defined by the level of innovation, attention-to-detail and creativity than by a specific sound.

Pete: Away from the studio, how do you like to keep busy?

Rob: Programming. I’m working on a bunch of coding projects at the moment and I haven’t made any music in months. One project is a sound design environment that I’m building to make my first album with. I wanted to create a completely new workflow centered around a custom instrument that I’ve created myself. Something I can really master. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time but only really now had the technical ability. By creating the instrument myself I can completely customise it to my needs.

I’m also super into real-time graphics at the moment and I’m writing a patching environment for making shaders on your phone. Kind of like Instagram mixed with Jitter with GIF export. Here’s the site that got me into shaders.

I’m also super into trying to understand the creative process at the moment. I’ve written a little max for live device that watches everything you do when you make a track in Ableton. I’m gonna get a bunch of artists to make a track from start to finish while the device watches their interactions, then collect all this data together and make it into some kind of online data explorer/visualizer. Maybe this will give some insights into how individual artists approach a creative process. Maybe not.

Pete: Up until where you are now, how have you supported your projects? What work did you do on the side?

Rob: Gigs and freelance audio plugin development mostly. I’m developing a plugin for Soundmorph that’s really fun. It’s basically a physics-based particle engine where each particle is a binaurally panned granular synthesiser. Throw 50 of these in the scene and you get some really weird noises.

Pete: Do you know the end product of a project before you start, or do you find the idea develops as you go?

Rob: Definitely a combination of both, but the proportions depend on the project. With big coding projects like the sound design environment I mentioned, you have to have a fairly solid idea of what you want it to do and how you’re gonna do it before you start. Unlike music there are right and wrong ways of doing stuff and if you don’t plan well enough you end up having to redo stuff all the time. I learned this from experience.

Whereas with more open-ended projects like creating a track just for the sake of it, it’s much more iterative. Basically I start with a seed idea that can come from anywhere, then start adding bits and modifying bits as I go. I don’t necessarily have the final sound I want in my head, but when presented with two options I generally know which one to go for. When I don’t, that’s usually when I get frustrated and give up. Or smoke a spliff.

Pete: Any deserving artists we should be checking out?

Rob: Woulg, Magical Mistakes, Deaf Center and their solo projects, Objekt, Emptyset.

Pete: What’s next for Rob Clouth?

Rob: Album! I’ve decided on the concept. This year finish the tools, next year starting work. I want it to be a mix of all the stuff I’m thinking about and working with at the moment – including the non-musical ideas. I think so much of an artwork is contained in the process, but with music we generally only present the final form and discard the journey that lead there. The album won’t throw anything away. In fact, the final form might just be 5 minutes of noise – it’s all in the process.


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