Skip to main content

TSVI: "The piano was recorded with the iPhone - we wanted a lo-fi quality that effects can't replicate"

TSVI
(Image credit: Suleika Muller)

Italian producer and DJ Guglielmo Barzacchini - better known under the alias TSVI - is one of UK club music's most inventive producers. 

Stripped-back and minimal, but capable of devastating dancefloor impact, his tracks typically centre around skeletal percussive frameworks and wall-shaking bass weight. Though cloaked in the garb of techno, they borrow from the murky atmospheres of dubstep and the screw-faced wallop of UK bass, while leaning into rhythms and textures from even further afield. 

On his latest release, though, Barzacchini dips into lighter and more melodic territory on a collaboration with esteemed Hyperdub signee Loraine James. Friends and housemates, the pair put their heads together over lockdown (between heated games of FIFA, we're told) to create a five-track excursion into knotty, diaphanous IDM that sees the producers trading glitch-heavy rhythms over plaintive piano samples. TSVI joined us to talk through the making of the new EP.

Tell us about your entrance into electronic music-making, how did you get into production initially?

“I started producing around 2012, when I moved from Pisa to London. Even before, back in Italy, I was DJing here and there and I was always digging for new music but never attempted to make my own. This changed when I moved to London, I didn't have many friends and was so skint that I couldn't really go out, so I'd spend most of my time at home. That's when I downloaded Ableton for the first time and got stuck into it, watching tutorials and downloading new plugins almost everyday.”

What led to you linking up with Loraine James for this collaboration?

“Loraine and I have known each other for a while. I was always a fan of her music and ended up mixing her album Reflection. During this time she was looking at moving out of her old flat, I had an empty room going at mine so eventually, she moved into my warehouse space in Hackney Wick together with her partner. We spent the whole pandemic together, making music and playing FIFA basically everyday. It was during this time that we made the EP on AD 93.”

Can you tell us about how your collaborative process worked for this EP? 

“I always tend to work with producers who use Ableton Live as main DAW because the Link function is fundamental when you make music with someone else. Basically, Link lets you sync the musical beat and tempo of an Ableton Live session on two or more computers. It allows for producers to jam in time with one another, connected in one ecosystem. 

“This is how Loraine and I made the EP, we'd work simultaneously on the same project with two different computers, both adding elements to the session until we felt all the elements of the track were there. We then arranged the track on one computer.”

Could you talk us through a few influences - musical or otherwise - behind this latest project?

“I was listening to a lot of ambient music and film scores at the time. I think Loraine was into drill a lot. But what inspired this project the most was the fact that it was lockdown and we needed an escape as we were both constantly in our rooms and feeling musically restricted.”

I’m interested to hear about the minimal set-up mentioned in the press release. How does this differ to the studio set-up you might normally have been working with? 

“My set-up has always been minimal. I've always made music with just my laptop and no external hardware, and I feel Loraine was pretty much in-the-box too. I use Ableton Live as the main DAW, a few synth VSTs and tons of M4L patches. I really got into M4L in the last 2 years, I don't write my own patches (yet, haha) but I spend hours on the M4L Device library website downloading and trying out all sorts of stuff.”

I try to have a limited amount of VSTs or effects so as to not be overwhelmed with the choices that I have

“The only external instrument that we used for the project is the piano. I found this old detuned Yamaha upright piano in the studio space I started renting during lockdown, and we decided to record it.”

Do you feel that working within limitations such as these can inspire new ideas and directions?

“Totally! As I said above, my setup is really minimal and I try to have a limited amount of VSTs or effects so as to not be overwhelmed with the choices that I have.”

How did you find the experience of trying to stay creative and productive during lockdown and the pandemic in general?

“It was really hard, I barely had any work done during that time. This project was the only thing I managed to wrap up. I'm so glad the lockdown is over.”

The press release mentions your phones coming into play as part of your set-up. How did these play a part in your creative process? Were you recording sounds with the phone, or using any particular music-making apps?

“Most of the piano parts were recorded with the iPhone. We were looking for this lo-fi quality that VSTs effect couldn't really replicate. We placed the phone on top of the case with the lid open pointed in the direction of the hammer rail and just recorded long jams of Loraine playing.”

It’s mentioned you were using Ableton for this EP. What led you to choose Ableton as your DAW of choice (for this project or in general) and what do you find useful or creatively stimulating about it as a program?

“The Link function is something really important in the creative process when collaborating with someone. Being on two different computers working simultaneously on the same song makes creativity flow better and there is a constant stream of ideas. It's literally like having a jam. 

M4L randomizers were used a lot to chop breaks and make drum patterns unpredictable

“I always find it hard when I have to make music with a producer just on one computer, you have to take turns working on the session, or most of the time it's only one that's in control of what to do and the other is lurking in the background giving directions. This might work for some people but personally, I find this approach really uninspiring.”

Working with this minimal set-up, I imagine you were relying on software tools in the absence of hardware. Could you tell us about one or two that were fundamental to the making of this EP? Any plugins that you find particularly useful or that help to define your sound? 

“Hive, Vital and Synplant are heavily used on the record for everything but mostly leads, pads and sound design effects in general. Drums are mostly samples, processed with VSTs like Portal, Thermal or Live's stock effects. M4L randomizers were also used a lot to chop breaks and make drum patterns unpredictable.”

Where are you sourcing your drum sounds - are you recording samples yourself, working with sample libraries or synthesizing drum sounds from scratch?

“I used to collect drum sounds from all over the internet, mostly on freesound.org or YouTube. I've been using a lot of Kontakt libraries too, the sound quality of these is amazing. But in recent times I've been forcing myself to learn how to synthesize drum sounds from scratch, I usually open Ableton's Operator and just mess with it until I have something that sounds decent. Even if I don't usually end up using the sounds that I make in my music as much as I want, I really enjoy the learning process.”

Which synths were you working with for the kinds of sounds we can hear on Eternal and Observe?

“The synths on those tracks are mostly from the Korg collection pack, that's why they have a vintage touch to them.”

The effects processing also really stands out to me on some of the synth sounds you’re using. Do you have any go-to techniques or tools you could tell us about?

“There is a lot of grain delay all over the record, it's very useful if you want to give synths a bit more depth in the mix.”

053 by TSVI & Loraine James is out now on AD 93.  (opens in new tab)

I'm the Tech Features Editor for MusicRadar, working on everything from artist interviews to tech tutorials. I've been writing about (and making) electronic music for over a decade, and when I'm not behind my laptop keyboard, you'll find me behind a MIDI keyboard, or a synthesizer. 

Get over 70 FREE plugin instruments and effects…
…with the latest issue of Computer Music magazine