“Sound quality begins with the source”: Talking Tech with Gigi Masin & Tempelhof

Gigi Tempelhof

Gigi Masin is an artist who played an important role in Italy’s music scene from the 1970’s onward in many forms, from radio to television and even theatre. He’s an artist whose colourful exploration of sound is much more than just jumbles of notes but a journey of ambience, melodies and soundscapes, which have given him universal acclaim. His latest work sees him team up with fellow countrymen Tempelhof, following up their first collaborative album in 2014. A partnership where new and established composers come together – each offering something different to the other – it’s yielded two excellent albums. In the wake of their second, we spoke to both about the technical side of their individual and collective creative processes. They also took some photos of their studio in Northern Italy where they work together.

Gigi Masin & Tempelhof – Tsuki LP is out now on Hell Yeah (World) and Cascine (North America) – buy from Bandcamp.

First off for Gigi, I’ve been a big fan of your work since I heard Wind as a teenager. I feel there has been more of a spotlight on you recently thanks to releases on Music From Memory exposing you out to an audience who otherwise might not have heard your music. How did you get approached for that and how are you reflecting on the last year or so since your renewed popularity?

Gigi Main: to have years and years of obscure work helps you to see life as a path, and these beautiful moments in the recent period didn’t change my point of view. Travelling Europe (and the planet in the coming months) is really a joy and a dream come true, but my approach to the music is the same. Stay simple, do your stuff, enjoy.

How did you guys meet and how did the collaboration come about? Did things just fall together naturally? I’m picturing food and wine and a decision to just see what happens – let me know if I’m wrong!

Tempelhof: You’re very close to the truth! We have a very special ritual, a lunch in our favourite restaurant, which is located just two steps from our studio. The place is well known for its amazing selection of risotti: with pork, catfish, frogs and little prawns. Every good idea we had till today has come there! We first met Gigi in 2010. At that time we didn’t know much about him and his extraordinary talent, I just remember that we were really touched about his sweet humanity. As soon as we had the chance to know the artist behind the man, we immediately became fans of his music. Our collaboration comes from a deep reciprocal respect.

Gigi: Paolo and Luciano are so nice. Great musicians, producers and dear friends. They did everything to make me happy and safe in their hands, and in return they helped me to look back to some old tracks of mine and find out that music is still alive and well.

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Could you tell us a bit about the studio you made your album in? Where is it located, do you share with anyone else and have you made any special non-musical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?

Tempelhof: Even though we all have a home studio to work on some ideas, our main studio is located in Canedole, a tiny town immersed in the countryside of Mantua. We built it personally, thanks to Luciano’s parents, which gave us a couple of rooms of a big warehouse, originally used to stock the wood and park the family cars. So, it’s our personal studio and we do not share it with anyone else. Luciano produced some very good bands there, but normally it’s the place where we rehearse and record. It’s a basement totally dedicated to music, with not many concessions to relax.

Gigi: I have a corner in my home, a table and an old computer and a keyboard… nothing special. Just enough to do my stuff and be happy. We shared a lot of ideas and sounds, they were so magic to create a three-sides sound, and this need a lot of respect and talent.

Could you talk us through the equipment that was key in the making of the album?

Tempelhof: recently, Luciano and I have become big fans of synthesizers from the 80s and we used them massively for Tsuki. We got a Roland Juno 106, a Roland D50, a Korg DW 8000, an Oberheim Matrix 6 and an old Kaway. We found that those keyboards were perfect for the sound we were looking for. Pads and strings are powerful but defined and you can also work on sounds with a very strong 80s connotation, like Marimba, bells and very primitive percussions. Wow, it’s like driving a time machine!

Gigi: my old computer is a genius ☺

How does this compare to your individual set-ups and how did you decide what to bring for this album? Was it a case of combining your most valued pieces and seeing what that created, or being more methodical about it?

Tempelhof: in terms of instruments, the set up of the studio is more or less the same we used for the making of Hoshi: Sequential Circuits Pro One, Roland SH 101, Doepfer Dark Energy, Doepfer Dark Time sequencer, two Novation Bass Station (Rack and Keyboard), Yamaha CS 10, Virus Indigo, Logan Melody II string machine, Farfisa Harmonium, electric and acoustic guitars and bass, just to named a few.

Gigi, how does your current set-up compare to what you were using when making Wind? And do you think these changes have caused any stylistic changes in your music?

At the time of Wind I had a little Korg Poly 800 and nothing else. In these years I did a lot of work to progress my ideas and try to experiment new sounds. 30 years is a long trip in music, so it’s clear both me and my music are different than before.

Did you go through any routines together before sessions in the studio?

Tempelhof: Of course we did! We always meet outside the studio and walk to the restaurant I told you before, which is also a bar for regular customers – old men fighting about football while they’re playing cards, hunters and fishermen. We ask for a Campari soda, enjoying that old fashion and bucolic atmosphere. We can’t really do without it!

Gigi: drink together, smile a lot, smoking and talking!

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In terms of inspirations, were there any songwriters, composers and producers you were listening to around the time you made the album that provided important musical reference points?

Tempelhof: Well, not deliberately. We always try to put some distance between us and the rest of the world, in order to better focusing on work and to define a personal sound, not too much influenced from other artists.

Gigi: I agree!

When it comes to your own songwriting where do you all find daily inspiration for the music you write? Are there any experiences, places and moments that resonate in the universe that inspire you on a daily basis?

Tempelhof: a new album is a sort of departure, a journey with just one night booked, the first. From the very next day you are totally oblivious of what awaits you. So, in some way, the main inspiration is the unknown.

Gigi: for me, a new album is more intimate. Also if the sound is more easy, it means we did a lot of unconscious work, going deep in the writing and more simple in the playing.

Looking at the making of the album now, how was everything sequenced and recorded? Is it very much a jam album or something meticulously put together? Did you each have different roles in the creative process?

Tempelhof: as with Hoshi (the previous album with Gigi), Tsuki is the result of a distance work. Gigi began sending us a lot of material on which we gave a structure, adding synth lines, vocals and guitars. It’s been a kind of magic, we are still surprised at how natural it is to work with Gigi, because his music is a continuous flux of inspiration. Sometimes, to manage the amount of music that Gigi sent, I was working on a sample and Luciano was busy on another one. After a couple of days we met in studio to listen what we did and to develop together the songs. Then we went back to Gigi to make him listen to the work and to add his part. At the end, the file was sent to us again and so on this way. That was the creative process.

Gigi: a long distance romance.

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The album creates space for a lot of instruments and sounds. Was giving everything room to breathe on its own an important consideration in the arrangement and processing of all the instruments? ‘Treasure’ tricked me into thinking my neighbour was banging on the wall telling me to turn it down until I realised it was part of the track.

Tempelhof: we really love to explore the whole spectrum of instruments we can find and play and, not having a classical education, we usually experiment, obtaining some weird sounds. The one you heard in ‘Treasure’ is probably a jazzy contrabass played with fingers and comes from Gigi. It’s probably part of an old studio take. We worked on this sample, emphasizing the bass frequencies and looping it. Now that you mention it, it sounds like a beat on the wall… or maybe your neighbour was really sick and tired of our music? In that case please, tell him we are really sorry!

How much of the album is organic/field recordings, live instrumentation and sampling? I felt it was hard to tell with this record.

Tempelhof: it’s hard to tell for us as well. It’s a well-balanced mix of all of them, with a preponderance of playing parts.

Gigi: usually there’re people sampling me, somewhere!

There is a common misconception that the more gear you have the better your tunes are going to be. Do you feel hardware lends an element to the process you can’t replicate with software?

Tempelhof: we are pretty old school about this, so, yes, I think so. But is not only a question of sound, it’s also a question of feeling and attitude. You can touch the hardware, you can feel it, intervening on every parameter in real time. Every synthesizer has its own personality and gives a different response. You should know him well to obtain what you are looking for. Sometimes it lead you somewhere unpredictable and you can just follow it. Of course, nowadays there’s a lot of very good and flexible software, and we use it sometimes, but our choice goes more frequently on the hardware.

Gigi: playing vintage synths was a sort of pilgrimage, like exploring the Sahara without an hat. Yes, sometimes software seems to be easier to use, but doesn’t help so much in the way you need to create, really to create, new sounds or your own sounds.

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When you’re using software, what are you using to modulate / control everything?

Tempelhof: we use software especially as sequencer on live shows, and everything passes through a controller. But the rest of our backline is composed by synthesizers, guitar, sampler, pedals, analog and digital delays. Instead, in the studio we have a Native Instrument Maschine Micro and sometimes we use it for the creation of beats.

Gigi: the trick is to forget to control and let the music creates itself.

Is there a favourite pieces or sentimental pieces of equipment you wouldn’t be able to live without or fight over playing?

Tempelhof: we can’t probably do without Luciano’s 1960 Silvertone 1448 guitar, which have a very unique killer sound. Personally, I’m very attached to my Virus Indigo, ‘cause it’s solid as a tank, very reliable and, most of all, has an immense range of sounds and possibilities.

Gigi: my old Korg Poly 800 was drowned in a flood in 2007. I’m still crying!

If money wasn’t any object, is there anything you’d dream purchasing?

Tempelhof: wow, we have an endless wishlist! Of course it would be a dream to own a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, an Elka Synthex, or an Oberheim Ob 8. Would be even better to have all of them!

Gigi: the Berliner Philharmoniker Orchestra.

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In most duos you normally find weaknesses strengthened, questions answered and other things revealed through the intimate process of making music. Do you find there is anything you’ve learned from working with each other (musically, productively and personally)?

Tempelhof: I don’t think that Luciano have ever learned something from me, but I certainly learned a lot from him about recording and mixing processes. In general, being different represents richness in a duo. I take care of some aspects just because they are more mine and vice versa. The mix of our different sensibilities is the core of our sound.

Is music theory a big thing for you guys? You all seem quite capable of playing various instruments.

Tempelhof: we are all self-taught musicians, but we are deeply in love with instruments, a love that sometimes becomes an obsession. I still remember the day in which I got a trumpet. I’ve been trying and trying again for weeks to pull out a single note from it before give up. But yes, we can play a lot of instruments like piano, guitar, bass, drum, keyboards of course and trumpet. Ah no, not trumpet…

Gigi: music theory? ☺

When it finally comes to mixdown and post-production do you have any particular routine? Is this a shared process or is there trust in another person doing it?

Tempelhof: our job ends when we deliver the mixed album to our label. The mastering is the final part of the entire process that is competence of Schnittstelle studio in Berlin.

And finally, are there any there any tips or any advice you have been given that have really stuck with you when making music that you would mind sharing that with the readers?

Tempelhof: yes, the main advice we can share with the readers is that the h. There’s no way to make something sound good if it’s not recorded at its best. So, it’s really important to check the input volume, the frequencies balance, the lack of background noise. There’s no equalizer, filter or effect that can save you. The most important thing is to be sure that everything is perfect since the beginning.

Gigi: I’m more interested in the nature of the sound than the sound itself. Sometimes things are more magic if you don’t spend much time to clean and brush everything. True, you need a balanced feeling to realise an album, to be sure you’ve done a nice work and be practiced enough to do that in the best way you can. But please, some sounds got magic, so don’t be cruel.

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