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Interview with Pan-Pot

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 ripp-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, forward-thinking club duo Pan-Pot speak about the importance of treating all aspects of a piece in an original fashion and the surprising connection between originality and consistency.

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?

Tassilo: In the beginning we started to produce our first tracks together while we were studying audio engineering and we were totally into creating weird and crazy moments by using effects and audio editing. It was a very  "playful" approach. And of course we were influenced by other artists like Ricardo, Richie and Robag Wruhme but we also already tried to  develop an own sound, which  turned out to be bit more techno.
Thomas: When you are younger you probably also get influenced easier by other bigger and established artists because you are more looking up to them and what they have achieved. Over time you get more secure in shaping your own ideas. 

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? 
Thomas: I was always like a big fan of good but not too "highly" produced music in terms of bit dirty sounds that feel more independent than, let’s say, pop-music. This is where maybe originality steps in as an important quality factor because it makes your tracks more unique. When I first recognized someone's work to be really unique that was when I started to discover Wishmountain alias Mathew Herbert. He is that guy what makes music special for me.
Tassilo: ...and Wighnomy  Brothers, they had this special sound and way of creating moments with sound  effects, which were special and not heard before.

What’s your own definition of originality? 
Thomas: Try to be and stay honest with yourself and your sound.
Tassilo: Also in the  way of using sounds, efx, levelling, etc.. Especially in dance music this is an important factor because the music is very much reduced to these aspects. It’s more minimal than other genres. 

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?
Thomas: Of course it is still important to be original because otherwise you sounds like all the others and I think no real artist likes that. I think it will never change.
Tassilo: Maybe it became even more important because you develop and try to find your own style while other influences, like other artist, become a bit less important and you find some confidence in what you do.

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?
Tassilo: Well you can only listen to a specific amount of tracks per day so a lot of stuff that is out there simply doesn’t reach us and originality sometimes is hard to find. From an artist point of view, originality is also related to consistency in a way. Both words might mean the opposite but I think that a good foundation can make it easier for you to work creative and it also makes it easier for other people to follow and understand you.
Thomas: Correct, it’s just the sound that we truly like. And then on the other hand, we also always broke out of genre barriers. Tassilo has a background in Hip-Hop and me also in Drum ‚n‘ Bass. So we do like to step away from the four to the floor sometimes and experiment like, for example, with the Kepler "dubstep" track that we did. We did not only get positive feedback on that one from some strict techno fans but this is something we feel and need to do once in a while. Hopping to another genres is also very refreshing for an artist and helps staying original because you can be creative in another way while stile using your sounds and engineering skills.

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.
Thomas: The beginning or start of a track is the most important phase for me, because because it is the foundation for the whole construction. The whole groove or beat also forms your originality, Every good artist that I know has his own rhythms and beats. Other people would say the sounds and hooks make the difference but I think the rhythm and the groove are the keys. A good example is Pharell Williams, who is always looping four times in the first quarter of his beat.
Tassilo: In general and also for the last releases for Pan-Pot there is this bit of extra challenge because it’s two minds with different ideas that are put together in a track. On the other side that is an advantage when it comes to originality because often we are in different moods or places and so it is easier to collect ideas. Through the years we have really learned to use the best of both worlds, getting different ideas but putting them in one or more tracks while following a specific sound.

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?
Thomas: It is this kind of flow that comes up sometimes and it’s nothing that I could teach myself to happen or train to be there when I need it. Sometimes I get caught in the process and sometimes not. If the flow is not there, usually the track ends up being crap and misses all his originality so gets thrown into the trash or I archive it and pick it up later.
Tassilo: Some good ideas come up out of nothing when you don’t need them or don’t have a chance to save them somehow. This is because everything that surrounds me can be an inspiration, from nature to city life. So for me, it is important to also be close to and in the studio a lot so I can put them down immediately; which right now is not the problem because we are constantly in the studio. (laughs) Transforming it then is still playing and experimenting with the equipment we use and at the end the result can we totally different from the original idea.

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?
Thomas: I know there is a rule in Germany how many seconds or notes you can copy from a melody but no idea how many. In the end I am also not really interested in that, but then again sometimes I am proud when others copy parts from our tracks because it means that other people like it and that's a great feedback too.
Tassilo: This is a good question, with the great amount of releases that you mentioned earlier I guess there must be a lot of stuff that sounds similar. I think there as a big difference than with tracks where you think that they are specifically made to sound like somebody else and other tracks that sound bit similar "by accident". At the end every artist has to know what his goal is and why he (or she) makes music, but our sense of producing is quite pure and from scratch.
Thomas: Related to that, I should also mention all the remixes that are out there. There are really great ones, where somebody takes somebody else’s idea and makes it a totally new track in his own style, which is often very interesting. But there are also some remixes or endless number of edits that sound just alike and are quite boring.

How do you see the relationship between the tools to create music and originality?
Thomas: It helps me but also slows me down, there is no perfect tool that I know of. But I can say that personally I need tools that bring my ideas to sounds very quick in the sequencer. Thousands of knobs, where not much happens when you touch them, is nothing for me because in the meantime I will loose my ideas. Sometimes they don’t stay as long as I want them to. (laughs)
Tassilo: This is were our teamwork fits well. We like to transfer ideas into sounds very quickly but then also sit together and make it fit and give it the best engineering possible. It also helps that we have two separate studios to work on ideas individually but then bring them together and finish them as a duo. Then again more advanced tools are great to create your own sound and of course it’s also big fun experimenting with them.

In terms of supporting originality, what are some of the technological developments you find interesting points of departure for your own work?
Thomas: Realtime audio editing makes me happy and its nothing that needs extra time for example to pitch a sample one octave higher or deeper. It helps me with my creativity a lot.
Tassilo: Obviously all the innovative audio software companies have done a great job, from all those synth emulations up to completely new and freaky software sound creation tools the whole development has helped a lot to work creatively. We use a lot of tools for creating sounds and EFXs, which haven’t been there back in the days, for example NI's "Electronic Instruments“, which are tools that don’t follow the regular parameter rules. I like to work with uncontrollable engines.

Also, so far we have only talked about originality in the studio but there is also another very important place where you can be creative and this is when you perform on stage or in a club. I really like to have a setup, like the controllers from NI or an individual app we programmed for the iPad where you can change and adjust tracks while you play. I think some really interesting things happened here lately and it’s nice to use this also to built a unique set, atmosphere and night.

Thomas: Now that Tassilo talks about sets. I try to produce my own intros for most mixes that we do for other people or radio stations. That’s something nobody knows but it gives the mix an unique feeling right from the start.

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?
Tassilo: I think originality is easer to achieve when you have less input and are forced to make something that comes clearly out of your own mind. So maybe through history it became harder and harder to be really original? Starting with very complex classical music and the very few influence the people had back then from their surrounding and outside. Then you had creative pushes with every new technology and new instruments that were invented and helped people to create an own individual sound.
Thomas: Also the music always got more and more rebellious, similar to techno back in the days when our parents probably thought this is the end of the world. (laughs) Today it definitively got harder to find your own individual slot by that means, because it seems most stories have been told and also technology-wise there are no limits in creating sounds so there are not very new chapters and possibilities to be original in an extreme way. I think there are and always will be artist and creative minds out there that show their view on things in their own words and sounds.

Do you have a vision of a piece of music that you haven’t been able to release for technical or financial reasons?
Tassilo:  I started to play the piano again and would like to write some music, this is not possible night now though and not due to technical or financial but more to time-reasons. (laughs)
Thomas: Yes! I would love to make a Techno Opera including some parts of video-game sounds but I don’t know how to do this - yet! (laughs)

Pan-Pot Interview by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Pan-Pot