Talking Shop: Timoka
Tulgey, the forthcoming LP from Switzerland-based producer and artist Benjamin Kilchhofer (aka Timoka) is an impressive amalgamation of lively drum grooves and experimental synth textures.
Ahead of the record's release on Holger next month, Kilchhofer gives FM a glimpse of his current studio set-up (which he's keen to emphasise is still a work in progress), and offers up some production advice.
When did you start making music, and how did you first get started?
"I started playing the trumpet when I was quite young, classical music was all I knew for many years and I took it pretty serious. I even planned to study classical music but then I discovered electronic music and my un-behaved teenage years began, so the trumpet went into a corner and collected dust.
"My first electronic gear was actually some kind of electronic mute for the trumpet with a little box so I could hear me playing with headphones and it had a few very bad built-in reverbs. But it had its impact on me, I was astounded what this little box could do, what electronic gear could do to acoustic music.
"I then bought a Yamaha RM1x and was immediately addicted to it. At that time I started listening to stuff from Warp Records: Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada and Autechre. And well, Autechre was my thing for many, many years. They are still my secret heroes."
Tell us about your studio
"My studio is actually not finished yet. Over the years I had several little studios, but none of them deserved the name 'studio'. Now I finally pushed myself to do something for the acoustics in the room and for my workflow. I really needed more space, too.
"I have a few hardware synths, nothing special. The Korg Poly 800 I like a lot and also the MicroKorg, I think its a wonderful sounding synth. I have a DX7 and actually learned to program it. It's a pain in the ass, but I like these cheap digital sounds and with some training you also can get quite warm sounding patches. But my main focus is the Eurorack modular synth.
"I like to work with a modular system. For many years my only music software was Reaktor from Native Instruments, a digital modular system. You can pretty much do anything you like with it. I built a few of my go-to instruments within Reaktor; the Eurorack is my Reaktor now, it's much better for my workflow, I like to touch and to wiggle something during the sound-searching process."
What DAW (or DAWs) do you use, and why did you choose it?
"I work in Logic. I've always worked with Logic and it's really, really good for me. I tried Ableton Live once, but I'm not a fan of the built-in stuff from Ableton compared to the Logic internal stuff. I mean, just the physical modelling synth sculpture in Logic is worth its money!"
What one piece of gear in your studio could you not do without, and why?
"I could not live without my Soundplane and the synths from Madrona Labs, Aalto and Kaivo. The Soundplane is a beautiful looking wooden multitouch surface. Hooked up with the computer it can give you MIDI or OSC messages and you can use 16 touches at once and control everything in the X, Y and Z dimension. Together with the soft-synths Aalto, a Buchla-inspired patchable synth, and Kaivo, a sample playing, physical modelling patchable synth, it's actually all I need. Maybe."
What's the latest addition to your studio?
"I recently bought a good working Tascam Portastudio 144 for only a few bucks. It's the first four-track tape recorder of its time and I love it. I find it quite inspiring to try and work like back then, with only four tracks and a nice hiss in the background."
What dream bit of gear would you love to have in you studio?
"I don't know, maybe more modules for the Eurorack or a good solid polysynth? There is a Yamaha CS-80 on Ricardo (the Swiss eBay) right now and I must confess, I look at this damn page every day. But the price is ridiculously high, I mean really, really ridiculously high. But one is allowed to dream…"
When approaching a new track or project, where do you start?
"I often start with the harmonic structure, I have a melody or some chord changes in mind and I then try to find the sound that I hear in my mind. With the Eurorack it's then quite easy for me to get something rhythmic going and the skeleton of a track is born. Often it stays only in this raw sketch phase and I save it with a silly name and two days later I can't remember the name so it's buried in my huge folders and years later I might finish the track… or delete it because years later I make different music and don't like my old taste anymore, one of my biggest problems. That's why I didn't release anything over all these years. Stupid childish electronic music sketches, but that's a different topic…"
What are you currently working on?
"I always change my main focus from music making to drawing. And now I am drawing again, I want to make some really big drawings. In a week or so I will try to finish some more tracks for my LP, that I've been planning for years already."
Timoka's essential production tips...
Don't trust any tips
"For so many years I was unbelievably insecure in almost every aspect of music making because I never learned it in a school or from friends and so I began reading a lot about techniques, and with YouTube you have the possibilities to watch a lot of tutorials and special recipes and so-called tips from professionals and wanna-be professionals. At the end of the day my head was so full of conflicting information and tips and things you have to watch out for, that I forgot the most important part of it all: to trust my own ears.
"I mean, you can do everything you like, really, nothing is forbidden. If it sounds bad in the end then you learned something and maybe you can use these 'mistakes' for something really special. When I'm listening to my really early music I often find it unbelievably strange how I could do these sounds without any knowledge of anything. Honestly, most of the time it sounds bad, unbalanced and with a shitload of 200 Hz – but the freedom in there is invaluable. I wish I could make music with such an open and unloaded mind today! But then again, if you want to sound like artist XX or producer XY then you need tips, a lot of tips. But is it worth it? Is it really an achievement to sound like something you've heard before?"
Don't trust me
"Read every good damn tip on the web, buy books and watch tech videos, maybe it's better for your way."
Stop making music
"When you cannot finish something and you work for hours on a two-second loop, or the beat isn't pumping like Deadmau5, or you always have RAM overloads and your phone makes better tracks than you on its own: go outside, go walking, walking, walking..."