Timo Preece is a Berlin-based electronic musician and educator, Certified Ableton Trainer, and ProTools Expert. We caught up with him to talk about gear, technology, balancing old and new, and the attraction of living and making music in Berlin.
To start off, can you tell us what you are up to at the moment?
I am in Berlin, Germany working as a freelance sound designer, doing audio technology training, consulting and performing internationally with several music projects. Additionally, I teach Ableton Live courses online through Foothill College and work with AskAudio Magazine and MacPro Video writing articles and creating tutorial videos for them, some of which hone in on sound design, live performance and building custom setups.
I am also involved in several sound meditation projects that revolve around slightly less known and more esoteric tuning systems. I’m interested in exploring music theory based on planetary rotation speeds and how those get recalculated into frequency and sound vibration. In both Planetary-Cymatic-Resonance and Sonic Sadhana, we are using traditional and non-traditional approaches for sound healing, nada yoga and meditation practices.
A separate project involves another artist here in Berlin, Mode ST. We are working on dance oriented music using dedicated hardware instruments such as the DSI Tempest and the Elektron Rytm and Octatrack. For this project we are really trying to take steps away from the computer since we are in front of them so much everyday. It has been really refreshing to back away from those for a moment. It’s inspiring and a bit nostalgic to be working with the strengths and limitations of a select few hardware unit. It forces you to be more creative, in a sense, and to fully explore a more limited set of options.
Speaking of music gear, I know you use the QuNeo. In which situation do you use it most?
Because of space limitations, especially when giging, it’s a great lightweight controller to bring along. It fits anywhere and everywhere and is extremely flexible for mapping out multiple layers of control onto a single compact surface.
QuNeo was actually a big part of my rig last year when I was in the UK at the University of Edinburgh. There I took on a project that involved building a multi-channel ambisonic surround setup for realtime sound design and controlling DMX lighting. Because of the flexibility and ergonomic design of the QuNeo, and the advanced software editor, it was straightforward to create custom mapping setups that were reliable and easy to implement and control.
Berlin is the capital for electronic music in Europe, is that a reason why you chose to move there?
First and foremost, I crave new adventure and love to explore. San Francisco had been my home base for quite some time. I was really glad to be there and be part of that thriving audio community but over the last several years San Francisco has changed dramatically, especially for artists.
Moving to Europe was a catalyst for change. I really wanted to push myself to the next level in terms of what I was doing personally as an artist/musician/sound designer and also for what I was doing for my clients. This is initially why I ended up going to Edinburgh to do postgraduate studies in Sound Design. I spent a year there doing an intensive course and was able to channel my ideas into projects that moved me forward on multiple levels. By the time I was done with that I realized that I wasn’t ready to leave Europe. Berlin had always been on my radar due to the fact that it is the ‘audio technology capital’ of Europe and the ‘techno, electronic music mecca’ per se.
I didn’t really know what to expect… I grew up admiring festivals like the Love Parade, watching videos/listening to live performances and using kit from some of my favorite companies like NI and Ableton, which are based here. I had to come and experience it firsthand.
Berlin is a special place where you can still be an artist and live a somewhat comfortable lifestyle. It is one of the most affordable major cities in the world and although that has been changing over the last few years, there is still room to exist and thrive here. People have time to value the art around them and it feels very bohemian. The musicians and artists here seem really passionate about what they are doing and it is inspiring to be surrounded by such vibrant energy. It’s liberating… meeting people from various communities, being involved with vastly different projects and seeing how I am able to inject my own musical and technological interests.
You play more traditional instruments, such as Indian tablas, but are also very interested in music technology. How do you balance the two?
Excellent question. I have always found this to be somewhat of a balancing act… dynamic and challenging.
Having spent years studying traditional eastern and western music, I am humbled by virtuosity, especially by something as complex as the classical Hindustani approach to playing tabla. It is a life long pursuit, takes an enormous amount of focused dedication, and is highly specialized. On the flip-side, audio technology is such a vast area of expertise comprised of many subsections such as: technology programing, recording, mixing, mastering, software/hardware design, etc. Each of these are equally complex and can be explored just as fully. Tabla is based on age old tradition, passed down from generation to generation. Audio technology is constantly shifting, changing, being redefined and reinvented. All of these, on both sides of the coin, are multiple lifetime’s worth of investigation.
For me, envisioning how they all fit together is constantly changing and evolving. At the same time, I find it important to remain true to my own artistic vision while respecting the traditions that these ideas derive from. In terms of the balancing act, I am kind of an extremist in the sense that when I am into one of these I am really into it. It has been a natural inclination for me to go all the way with one thing or another, shift the scale over here, go in one direction and then shift the scale again and go all the way in another direction. My ongoing challenge is finding equilibrium balancing extremes.
With this in mind, Berlin has been a fitting place in the sense that it seems to have something for everyone. My reaction to this has most clearly manifested in my sound meditation projects because it lends itself to be a more open platform for expression… to build electronically derived soundscapes and at the same time incorporate acoustic instruments and traditional music approaches. The musical results are a very nice fusion of both worlds. I can be mellow, ambient, cinematic, somewhat experimental and then also move into the realms of exploring rhythm and movement. I think this has been a very good catalyst for bridging those worlds.
Since you have been in Berlin have you heard any bands or seen any performances that really interested you?
Music is everywhere here… on the streets, in the parks, in clubs, bars, outdoor festivals…. both spontaneous and calculated expression. I think the thing that has been most surprising was discovering Berlin’s psychedelic rock scene. That was something I didn’t know existed but really have enjoyed checking out. The band Camera was really cool to see alongside Circle. Amazing performance, full of energy and super fun… Circle was straight out of Spinal Tap… just phenomenal. Seeing this other side of Berlin is something that you don’t really hear much about living in California. It feels like discovering a hidden universe.
What are your thoughts on the current evolution of the music technology business and the products available to musicians and producers?
Music technology directly reflects the state of the music industry. Things have changed a lot over the past decade and the tables have shifted dramatically.
I find my own interests gravitating to more customized setups, gadgets and gizmos. People are really starting to think about what their needs are and have started to build things. Whether these are DIY instruments, controllers, MAX patches, software applications, VSTs, etc., they are making them for themselves and sharing them with the community. Producers and performers are pushing past the limitations of what the product is designed to do and modifying it to meet their own unique needs. This is one reason why I really like the KMI stuff, because of the ability of the products to be customized.
Want to hear Timo performing? Here are some examples from his various Soundcloud accounts:
University of Edinburgh:
Planetary Cymatic Resonance: