MUsician and composer Hainbach originally turned to YouTube to develop his improvisational skills. Over the years, however, his channel has grown into an essential resource for musicians with a taste for the experimental. His videos exploring the techniques of use ribbon curls, as well as esoteric instruments like the Ciat LonbardeCocoquantus destroyed hundreds of thousands of views. But he is perhaps best known for reusing old laboratory equipment into musical instruments.
Hainbach can often be seen coaxing drones and surprisingly musical beats from old pieces of equipment with decidedly unmusical names like Function Generator, Frequency Analyzer, and Latching Amplifier. There is even a video dedicated to creating a deaf electronic track using nuclear laboratory test equipment.
In November 2019, he took some of the more outdated and, say, unruly pieces from his collection and turned them into a playable sculpture called Discharge totems. Those piles of half-broken and forgotten material eventually became the basis of his new album and a virtual instrument built in collaboration with Spitfire audio, who share the Discharge totems Last name. Hainbach sat down (at least figuratively – he actually spent most of the interview) to talk about the album’s origins, his recent collaboration with VST, and how to learn how to play music. music on obsolete scientific instruments has changed his creative process.
Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Tell me a bit about the album, explain the origin story of the Discharge totems as a piece and how it became that.
It all started when I started using music testing equipment. I saw that this friend, Dennis verschoor in Rotterdam [a musician who also works with test equipment]… and the first thing I thought was, “This is madness. I will never do this because it always means a huge amount of heavy stuff that surprisingly little can do. “And it seemed such a waste to me. But I was always fascinated by the subject because I studied the history of music and people like Stockhausen, Pierre Schaeffer, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, they worked with these test instruments and were in part adamant that they were more interesting than synthesizers, the case of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
So I just walked around and started looking for anything I could get my hands on that could potentially make a sound. And I bought cheap stuff, and I bought a lot of stuff, and the stuff was huge and heavy. And there’s a video where I say, “Oh yeah, just take a little, I’m not going to put in more than that because I need that space.” And he quickly walked into a wall full of this stuff.
It was a bit fragile and dangerous, which added to all the charm.
So I kept buying more and more stuff… and I quickly ran into space problems. And then a gallery asked me, the PNDT art gallery in Berlin, if I wanted to do a three-month residency. I said, “Oh cool. Now I have some storage space.” And I could justify keeping buying things and trying them out and then putting them aside when that didn’t work. Because I know, well, there’s this space where I can put it all.
My original idea of making it like a playable wall where people could interact with everything and would be something interactive, I had to give that up and thought about other things. So I started stacking them in different shapes and the obvious shape at the start is a tower. And I did. And suddenly after half an hour I realized it had become something humanoid. It reminded me of Johnny 5, that robot from that old movie. Then it reminded me of totems because there were all these faces everywhere, because the test equipment is all these round dials and they have a kind of still humanoid design.
I think in less than two hours I had the statues in place. And then it was just a matter of putting them to music because I am a musician, I am not a sculptural artist. Although, in this case, I was too. So I corrected them all together and they were all stacked randomly. So it was a bit fragile and dangerous, which added to their charm as they looked wobbly and dangerous. They looked like something that’s thrown out or a marker from a civilization from the past that I could see as some sort of wild Mad Max sci-fi stuff.
But the main process for me was to turn them into a musical composition. And it was a fun fight because those weren’t the super musical things in my collection. The super musical stuff of course stayed in my studio where I needed it to work all the time. These were wilder and some sounds are hard to tickle. So that gave me a unique challenge by then turning them into a 35-minute live performance. I was really happy that it worked, and the performance went really well.
So when Spitfire Audio approached me, if I wanna do one of their library album releases, I was like, “I wanna hear them sing again – I wanna hear.” Discharge totems sing again. So I installed them in a place owned by a friend of mine. This is not a place, this is a wholesale synthesizer store, Patch point in Berlin. And there I was able to install them because the store was closed to the public, mainly because of Corona. And then I could work on the music for an album and also work on creating new versions. Because every time I had to change something, sometimes those things would die to me right after recording.
But also “Loss of functionThe first track on the album is actually the sound of a dying function generator. And that only sounded so good because he was dying, because one thing that these things usually do is go [imitates a sine tone] a straight note in a flat line is what they like to do. But when that thing is gone [hums a complex rhythmic pattern] I thought, “Wow, this is an interesting Latin model.” But it was his swan song.
I started recording the album, and because the whole atmosphere of everything in the lockdown was a lot darker and heavier than usual and I had just exhausted my ability to hope with the previous album, who was called Affirmation. I thought, now let’s go into the dark. And I got really dark with this album and they went to some desperate and austere places. Yes. And this is reflected in the German song titles, which in themselves tell a little story of the time.
The striking contrast between Affirmation and this album is really breathtaking. Was it something that was a conscious choice to go somewhere much darker? Or was it just where you felt naturally drawn to the sound of these instruments?
Yes. I mean, usually things don’t come from a center, but yeah. These things, they demand something, because they are higher than me. They’re about two meters, but they have a certain feeling of – they want to be respected in a certain way, and that’s something that’s in them. And it’s easier for them to drone and pass stuff like code, which already feels weird and foreign. So it’s in their nature to sound that way. But I mean, the things I have here as well, regarding the test equipment, I can more easily tune them to have a little sunrise here, but there in this form I couldn’t. And then of course, I didn’t feel motivated to do it because I did. I had just done something really brilliant in a very short period of time and once or twice, No, no, let’s go into the dark.
What similarity is there between the original performances and what kind of result on the album?
I think what’s similar to the original live performance is that it was also quite heavy and quite dark, but a little more humorous. As in the performance, I had a few humorous moments. At least I found them funny and I think the audience found them funny. There was one unit that I couldn’t audio connect, but that had its own little speaker. So when I finished it all in a loud breath of noise. And then I went to this unit and I just went bip-boop. There was that contrast, like everyone else, after having to listen to heavy bass and drones. And, ah, it was a moment of relief.
So this comic aspect is not so much in the Discharge totems album. But also one thing, because these are really songs and I had more time to work on them and work each one of them in one song, they are a bit richer because in a live performance I don’t didn’t like … It’s physically difficult to re-patch these things. These are BNC connectors, they wobble and it’s dangerous to re-patch. This first performance was therefore essentially a composite. A track with different movements on all the statues, while it is like images of an exhibition. There is a common theme, but each of them uses the full color palette that is possible.