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Interview with Robert Lippok

img  Tobias

You’ve been involved with electronic music for more than ten years. Can you ever remember being asked as many questions about technical aspects of your trade as right now, with the Tenori-On?
In the mid-90s, when To Rococo Rot were just getting started, people were intensely interested in our equipment. Especially so in the USA and England. „The Germans are good with machines“, they used to say. They were probably referring to Audi, BMW and Kraftwerk. But you’re right: I haven’t seen the media focus on a single instrument this way for a long time. Sometimes, it feels like being an Tenori-On ambassador. But I always enjoy talking to people about it.  

After having spent some time with the Tenori-On: How „revolutionary“ do you consider it to be?

In my opinion, the Tenori-On is part of a revolution. At the moment, there are a lot of things happening in the field of Interfacedesign and Controllers. More and more, people are rightfully demanding easier access and greater usability of technology, especially computer technology. Actually, it’s sometimes hard to see these that these devices were made for humans. The day before yesterday, I saw the prototype of a new instrument which you’ll eb able to operate without a display altogether. Yamaha’s Yu Nishibori has asked me not to reveal too much, it’s still top secret and in an early phase of development. But I can tell you this much already: It will herald a completely new and different form of playing.

I like the Tenori-On, because it blurs the borders between serious composing and “just playing” on the one hand and between the acoustic and visual properties of music on the other. Some melodies come into being on the strength of a grafical impulse rather than tonal ideas.

On the web, there’s a clip of yourself demonstrating the Tenori-On. As an outsider, it doesn’t really make it seem as though it were particularly easy to use...

Ha ha, I’m sure it doesn’t… I was just toying around with it actually. It was not supposed to be a tutorial. You can really get into the Tenori-On very quickly. It’s a a matter of genius to be able to directly select the most important functions using the ten buttons at the side of the instrument – it allows you to work extremely efficiently.

Do you consider the Tenori-On more of an addition to your live-sets or as a full-fledged studio instrument?

It has proven its value in both situations. At the moment, To Rococo Rot are working very spontaneously, We’re taping our sessions directly to DAT, without cuts or edits. The Tenori-On is well-adjusted for these improvisations. I will also use it for controlling external Synthesizers in the future.

Other than the Tenori-On, what’s your favourite piece of gear the moment?  
I keep coming back to the Micro Modular by Clavia. I also like all different kinds of fuzz tones. In terms of Software, Metasynth is great. In the past, I used to enjoy the MPC 2000 /1000. the Akai mpd 24 as a Controller for a very long time. And then, of course, my Moog Sonic Six and my Macbook.

How would you rate the influence of equipment on your work as a musician?

Since I don’t have a fixed idea about my sound, so I tend to allow myself to be influenced by instruments a lot. Subsequently, then, pieces realised with the MPC will be different from those produced with Logic. At the moment, I am working with virtual instruments a lot, which has dramatically impacted my sound.

You mentioned that you „hate Interfaces“. How are you trying to circumvent them?

I was actually referring to displays in particular.Your work flow can really be slowed down by submenus and by checking numeral values. Next to its musical powers, you can regard the Tenori-On as a Hardware-Matrix-Editor: You simply place it on your table and it will always be at hand. In this regard, I also like the Micromodular: It contains nothing but a display for the current program number and four buttons.

Do you try to be up-to-date in terms of technology?
Mmh, I do visit relevant internet sites several times a day to find out about the latest „shit“. I think that says it all, doesn’t it? It’s a little bit of an obsession, actually. Just ordered the Nocturn by Novation.

How do you attain a high degree of spontaneity on stage?
To me, haptics are essential. How far apart are the Potis? What do the feeders feel like? A controller I really appreciate is Akai’s . mpd 24:. It has just the right size and clarity. I try out a lot of gear. I buy them at ebay and then re-sell them, if I don’t like them. Effect pedals for guitars are another tool for spontaneous performances.  

Do you have two different approaches for remixing and composing?  
My technique of composing is hard to pin down. It constantly changes. One generation of pieces follows another. They share a lot of characteristics and yet, they are never quite the same. This process can take years and sometimes, it wears me down. Remixes are different in the sense that there’s a structure to the original, which forces me to keep my focus. Well, at least, mostly it does. Since I don’t need to cater to the demands of the dancefloor, I am extremely free in terms of what the finished track can sound like. Usually, I keep the vocals completely without changing the bpm rate. I will then build a new “home” arond the voice. My melodic arches are like a surreal mirror image of the original.

Interview conducted by Tobias Fischer for “Beat” Magazine. Many thanks to Thomas Raukamp.

Picture by Bravecri

Open Close Open (Raster-Noton) 2001
Falling Into Komëit (Monika Enterprise) 2004
Tesri (Monika Enterprise) 2005
Robot (Western Vinyl) 2006

Robert Lippok

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