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Interview with Adam X

img  Tobias Fischer

These days, originality appears to be the main gauge for artistic success: No insult could be worse than being made out a copycat or rip-off, no praise higher than having one's work being commended as 'unique', 'personal' or 'inventive'. And yet, as much as it's in demand, originality is a highly problematic term. For one, entirely original music is an impossibility, since every composition already builds on what came before it in some form or the other. Also, originality as a main priority does not by default result in satisfying results. Even more critically, our notion of originality is questioned by the advances of the information age: The more people are making and releasing music, the smaller the potential for each of them to create something truly original, after all. What happens when everything has been done - every sound sculpted, every beat programmed, every chord played and every arrangement tried? We spoke to a wide selection of artists from all corners of the musical spectrum to find out more about their take on originality, how they see it changing and what it means in their work.

In this interview, groundbreaking techno pioneer Adam X speaks about the challenge of overcoming distractions in the studio - and how glimpsing beyond the functional aspects of dance music can contribute to originality.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
In the start of the 90's when I first arrived on the scene a good sized portion of techno music being released were records based on samples of other recent records.  When a certain song hit big many producers would sample elements of the song and replay and recycle the sound into a new song, leaving a large part of the original sound source still very much indentifiable.  A perfect example of this would be the huge 1991 techho hit by Human Resource entitled „Dominator“. This song was in retrospect a complete rip off of „Mentasm“ by Joey Beltram & Mundo Muzique which was shortly released 2-3 months before. It was common place to sample others like this back then and in a short amount of time. I myself did the same on my first two solo release. I grew quickly bored of making music in this vein and invested into buying analog gear within the second year of producing. By 1992 I was already creating and releasing original hard acidic techno records that contained no samples other then the odd an end vocal sample on some songs.


When, would you say, did you start to appreciate originality as an important quality in music? What were some of the first artists that stood out in terms of their originality to you and what was it about the originality in their work that attracted you to it?
It was always there from my first days of listening to techno.
Artists such as Kevin Saunderson, Joey Beltram, Underground Resistance, Robert Gordon (Forgemasters, Xon), LFO, Mundo Muzique, CJ Bolland, Derrick May to name a few. My attraction to their productions is I had never heard music like this before. Simply because no one had ever made music like this before. This was the pioneering days. Techno was in its infancy stage and there was a lot of room to create original music simply because so much had not been explored.


What's your own definition of originality?
Without being a copy of. Not sounding like someone else. Breaking boundaries and trends.


Originality is one, but certainly not the only aspect of quality in music. What, from your current perspective, is the value of originality and has it become more or less important to you over time?
I always strive to not copy or sound like another artist. I also refuse to make techno music just for the functional purposes of creating a tool for djs to use in a mix. I am very conceptual in my approach to making music and I want to make something that sounds different and not similar to another song I or someone else have already made.

If I make a sound when in production mode that is familar of something I've heard before in another song I will then move on to creating something that I've not heard before.

I don't sit down thinking I have to be original when working in the studio. I just do what I do. It's not hard for me to keep my music from sounding like me.


With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
I have no problem with the flood of producers currently making music.
It does not effect my writing of music. I've been a techno DJ for nearly 25 years without ever stopping. I also owned a record shop that carried pretty much every techno record for the first 15 years of techno's existence.  From this long experience I have heard so many styles in this genre come and go. For the most part I know what has been done and has not been done when working on new music.

Younger producers have a harder time being original because many don't know the full history of the genre (and others).  Many might stumble upon a sound while working in the studio thinking it is original but in fact it was already recorded by another artist 20 years ago.

So for me the many years I have had in the scene helps immensely to keep moving forward in writing with originality.


What are areas of your writing process at the moment that are particularly challenging to you and how does the notion of originality come into play here? What have been some of the more rewarding strategies for attaining originality for you? Please feel free to expand on some of your recent projects and releases.
In this day and time I don't particularly feel challenged when making music. It has become very second nature to me or should I say instinctual.  When I'm in the zone I get what I want done. Perhaps the  major challenge for me is distraction. With internet being around every minute of the day I am sometimes distracted when working on music. Jumping from making music to checking emails, reading the news or just wanting to go out and enjoy the weather. I wish I could work without distraction for longer periods of time in the studio. I'd probably get a bit more music done if I could but  overall I'm ok with it. I have been pretty timely with new releases.

As for pushing originality in my music I have different side projects to keep the creative juices flowing. One of my side projects , ADMX-71, I use for writing music that is not aimed for the dancefloor. The space for originality is so much wider when your not constricted to writing in mind to make people dance all the time. With ADMX-71 the possibilities to enter different spheres of musical genres are much wider.

In vice versa I do feel it is harder to write original material when working in the confines of a 4/4 rhythm structure in techno music. It's a much more limited structure to work within. Though at this given moment there is no difficulty for me to create in either style. Down the road it is always subject to change. There is always that possibility to get stuck in a rut.


The idea of originality is closely related to one's understanding of the creative process. How would you describe this process for yourself - where do ideas come from, how are they transformed in your mind and how do experiences and observations turn into a work of art?
The ideas for my music are inspired from many things. Whether it's an experience I had of being in a certain place or something I read that is of interest to me. Such as science and or current events.  The time of year and the weather can also add more inspiration. I am much more likely to make a darker sounding track on an icy cold winter or rainy day than a hot sunny summer day.


The aspect of originality has often been closely linked to copyright questions. I'm not so much interested in the legal and economic consequences, but your thoughts on how far an artist can claim an idea / composition as being their own – is there, perhaps, a better model for recognising originality than the one currently in place?
A very hard question to answer here. In electronic music sampling in itself has led to many compositions that in my opinion are truly original. Where the sound is so completely unidentifiable from the sound source that the original creator would never know they were sampled from.

All synthesizers are designed to have a sound of their own.  If I create a sound off a synth by reworking the source sound until it is unrecognizable then it would be in essence the same thing I would do if using a pre-recorded sample. 

Either way, both methods are using a sound source created by someone else. So their is still a limitation to how original one can be when working within electronic music.


How do you see the relationship between the tools to create music and originality?
It takes a creative mind to use any tool to it's best advantage. There are some people who can work with the most simplistic setup and create something original and there are some who have an eloborate setup but make carbon copy based music. The tools don't create music the brain does. Without a brain any creative tool is rendered useless.


In terms of supporting originality, what are some of the technological developments you find interesting points of departure for your own work?
For me Ableton in the past ten years has been a dream come true from my former hardware based years. It opened the door for me into another dimension of sound and space. I now find the possibilities limitless when writing music. In my former hardware years I was always switching gear around to explore new ideas. The main reason for this is the studio space I was working in limited me to how much gear I could use at any given time. Within the virtual world I have a massive recording studio all at the tip of my fingers in a 13“ laptop.


The importance and perspective on originality has greatly varied over the course of musical history. From your point of view, what are some of the factors in the cultural landscape that are conducive to originality and what are some of those that constitute obstacles?
The word „history“ in your question is most important. Knowing the history of what you are into will give you a bigger perspective of what has been done and hasn't been done. Not knowing the history and roots of electronic music is the biggest obstacle one will stumble on in striving to have an original sound. It takes a lot more insight now to be an innovator and not an immitator.


Do you have a vision of a piece of music which you haven't been able to realise for technical or financial reasons?
At this moment in time the answer would be no. Of course this is always subject to change.

Adam X Interview by Tobias Fischer
Image by Janina Schuetz

Homepage: Adam  X