SIP - SoundLAB Interview Project

Jacob, Max

Max Jacob
from Germany



Interview: 10 questions

1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?

When I was 7, I started playing piano, but my interest became a reason of life when I was 18 and became aware of electronic music and the possibilities disclosed by electronic devices. Since then I have always made music, often as my only job: as player (piano-bar in nightclubs, rock, folk or electronic concerts), as composer (soundtracks for movies, art videos, theater or, in bad times, advertising) or just as technician (live and studio sound engineer). Now I’m especially interested in interactive audio installation, where sound interacts with sound (both the input and the output are sonorous).

2. Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.

I had piano lessons since I was child, in 1988-1990 I followed an electronic music course (I was one of the four partecipants!) held in a music school near Florence. In the same period I started playing guitar as well. After, I decided to study musicology at the university, getting my degree in 1997. I wrote my thesis about Pietro Grossi, italian pioneer of computer music, which I had the pleasure to meet frequently during that period and who certainly influenced me a lot. At the same time I have always had a special interest for computers (when I was 11 I learned programming in Basic on my Commodore Vic20). My skills in music and informatics gave me the opportunity to move to IRCAM (an important contemporary music research center in Paris) in 2001. I worked there for 6 years learning a lot about digital signal processing and in general about any computer application in the musical and acoustical domain.

3.Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?

Yes, making music is my profession, although I wouldn’t be able to survive just as composer or artist, the other related activities I mentioned (especially, in this moment, sound engineer) contribute far more.

4. How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles, use certain styles etc?

I don’t think I have a style… in general I like to make music for a given context (for a movie, for example, or for a theater show), where the goal is not to produce ‘nice’ or ‘interesting’ music, but rather to make something whose interaction with the context should result ‘nice’ or ‘interesting’. This can, depending on the context, be achieved by completely different musical solution. And since my musical education has been very eclectic, I tend to use very different kinds of musical language in different situations.

5. Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?

Since 2001 I use only open source software (on Linux), especially Pure Data and Ardour. These are almost always involved whatever I do. I wrote tons of ‘externals’ in C for PD. Another very important equipment are my microphones: I have two wonderful Rode NTA1, which allow me to pick up ambiances very nicely, and quite a lot small AKG omnis which can be used in very different situations. As acoustical sources I use often my ‘bouzouki’ (a string instrument typical in Greece) , electric guitar, piano, percussions, some exotic instruments I bought in Africa and my own voice.

6. What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general
and you personally?

I think the most relevant aspect of New Media is their availability for everyone at a low cost. I don’t have to pay for an expansive recording studio, with a relatively small amount of knowledge, I can today do things which are much more complex than those done, for example, by Stockhausen in Koeln in the fifties (involving very expensive equipment, lots of very skilled technicians etc.). But leaving out this, I don’t think there is a substantial difference in using or not electronics for making music. The difference in much more in ‘how’ you use it.

7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?

As said, I usually make everything by my own, so most times the only cost is my time. And, if possible, this is what I want to be payed for. After this (or, even if I wasn’t payed at all) I publish everything on my website under Creative Commons license.

8. Do you work individually as a musician/soundartist or in a group or collaborative?

If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?
I have experienced both, and I couldn’t say what I prefer. Working together with other people requires usually more effort (coordination, aligning points of view), but when it works well (and sometimes it does) I always had the impression that the final result was something clearly beyond my own limits, what can not be the case if I do everything on my own. It is more enriching to collaborate, but if you do it with the wrong person in the wrong context it can be as well an enormous waste of energy.

9. Is there any group, composer, style or movement which has a lasting influence on making music?

In general, I really don’t know! For me personally for sure there are lots. Pietro Grossi, which I already mentioned, and Webern, John Cage, the Beatles, Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, middle-age and renaissance music … probably, to a given extent, everything I ever have listened to.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a soundartist or musician?

My plans are to continue my researches in the domain of sound installations. My dream is to make a concert for penguins (as public) on an antarctic island covered with ice.