‘I want to be able to work wherever I move’: Talking Tech with Azu Tiwaline

Azu Tiwaline may have only released her first record into the world in 2020, but since then she’s gone from strength to strength, sharing her distinctive blend of Saharan polyrhythms and dubwise vibrations that connect the mind, body and soul.

This is no overnight success story though, the producer —who operates between Tunisia and South West France from her “homestreethome” bus—has been sharpening her tools and refining her sound for several years before officially putting anything out into the world. With her debut LP for I.O.T Records pricking the ears of several labels, it wasn’t too long before Peverelist and Kowton’s Livity Sound came knocking at her door and looking to the future, we’re told she has plenty of new projects in the works.

Like her music, her home studio space is magical and singular — it echoes the spirit of the sonics being crafted inside it. She guides us around the beautiful space and shares her approach to production and her creative processes.

The extended version of Azu’s debut album Draw Me A Silence and the follow up remix EP are out now.

What’s your musical education?

Except five or six months with a terrific piano teacher when I was eight years old, and a few lessons with some djembe players at 10/12 years old, absolutely nothing.

I’ve taught myself little by little through all the different experiences, collabs and challenges I’ve been lucky to have. Manual books and tutorials are good teachers too. But I should take some serious lessons in music theory, harmony, mix and mastering… It’s just that, I’m clearly too lazy for that. It’s horrible.

What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music?

As soon as I discovered rave parties and techno music in the 90s, I wanted to go in. I was around 17 years old when I asked some friends to show me how.

I produced my first tracks with an old Amiga and Octamed, and for my first liveset, I think it was just a Roland R8 MKII with a bass station and a delay pedal. Then, I had a Korg MS20, a MC303, a MC505, a Jomox Airbase, a Virus Access, some Electrix FX et filter… I can’t remember everything in detail, but these were the main components.

What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?

My monitors – some basic Yamaha MSP5s. It was the beginning of a new area for me: being able to start to search and find my “sound identity”. After learning to compose for many years, it was time to start to produce for real. And I still have them. One pair in France, another one in Tunisia.

Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components? Where is it located and do you share with anyone else? What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?

These pictures were taken in our “homestreethome”, a living-beautiful-bus, full of magic vibes, somewhere in South West France. This is where I live when I’m in France. Most of the time, I live in South Tunisia, in the doors of Sahara, with a second studio. As you can see, there is nothing except my computer, my sound card, a ridiculous mini midi keyboard, a pair of Technics MKII, an Amix and some speakers. As we don’t have enough space (too many vinyl I guess), all my live set equipment is packed under the bed.

I’ve been lucky to travel a lot during my life. What I prefer is to go to a country, to a new place, meet some musicians, singers and collaborate together. Thanks to such music projects, I went for long periods to Senegal, Reunion Island, China, Mongolia, India… So when I was young, the idea was to pack all my studio in a bag. That’s why I decided to not use all my hardware machines anymore and go only for a laptop with a few controllers. Nowadays, the situation has not changed. I want to be able to work wherever I move, with my usual tools. It means that I have to use a very small amount of things.

As I need to have at least two studios (France and Tunisia), the equipment is very basic. What is important for me is where the studio is located, far from anything for inspiration, for acoustic and the speakers.

Was there any method to the way you’ve laid it out and have you made any special non-musical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?

When I’m in the middle of my speakers, early in the morning, with a good cup of coffee, I’m in. What I can see through my window is essential. Sometimes, looking at a very distant point while focusing too much on my screen is just what I need to find an idea or to have a micro brain reset. And I should turn off my phone and internet access more often definitively.

Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change?

Not at all. Sometimes I’m looking at new gear and I say ‘wow’, so many things seem incredible but, in fact, having too many things is something I’m careful with. For different reasons but the main one is that I think I would be too distracted and scattered.

With all these instruments, machines, interstellar modulars, the possibilities are endless. And that’s the point. An infinity of possibilities. For me, the constraint of having almost nothing as tools is a big catalyst for inspiration and the best technique to finish a track. It is as if I can only be guided by what I imagine and not lost by the sound and possibilities of certain instruments.

I guess you always need to find an advantage in each situation at least. In my financial case and way of life, it’s perfect like this.

If money were no object what would you add?

I would buy some new monitoring speakers. I’m in love with the Neumann KH series. And a CDJ set-up (loud sigh).

You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?

I could replace anything, except all my hard drives full of the recordings / samples / tools / music I’ve been making, using and collecting for more than 20 years.

How do you condense your studio set-up for your live sets?

It’s really basic: Ableton + Push + Faderfox PC12 + Launch Control XL + Akai LKP25 + Apollo Twin. Everything is bounced in 6/8 audio tracks in Ableton + 2 Midi tracks for rhythmic section + 3 or 4 Reaktor VST.

Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace?

I wake up early in the morning, have a good breakfast. Then some stretch / yoga moves followed by a meditation. I make a call to the Cosmos asking for inspiration and energy. I try to keep the connection as long as I can. That’s the “ideal” routine, but I have very little discipline unfortunately. Things have to come naturally. Never as a routine. And some days, I just do nothing special because I’m lazy or tired.

What’s your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?

Before starting work in the studio, I’m thinking a lot about what music, colour, style, mood I’d like to make. I almost know how it will sound. This could be quite effective. But there is no place for “surprise” like this. So sometimes, I just test and search, without any purpose, only trying to be receptive and keep my mind off other things.

Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?

Well I can do both. It depends. For a track, I prefer to go and dive into it thoroughly until it’s “done”. I can spend four hours just finding the right settings for a delay. Sometimes it’s taken me two or three days to make a track, but sometimes it’s much more. Whatever the time I spend on it, I’m working on it again and again until it’s finished. Quality production aspect is really key to helping me finish a track.

Before, I was starting to compose a track and when it was finished, I was going into the mixdown. Now I’m making a lot of back and forth between these two steps, because working on the sound, the mixdown will prompt me to remove some items, or a lot of items. Then a new composition inspiration could come after and so on… The magic key for me is really to strip back a lot of things. The final result is that I have the feeling to get to the essential faster.

If I’m working on a liveset, I’m going totally raw with an instinctive approach in order to advance quickly and keep the vibe.

Where do you go or what do you do when you have writer’s block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?

I’m always in the middle of the nature, desert, forest, ocean, lake, rivers, so it’s very easy to reset. I go outside for a walk. I also love to swim, the water’s effect on the body and mind is magic to reset everything.

What inspires you outside the world of music?

Nature, desert landscapes, silence, loneliness, the cosmos, the invisible. Weird Sci-Fi movies, spiritual teachings. People. Life. Love.

What would you say was the most important piece of kit in the making of your release, and why?

I would say my environment and my inner state at this period. For a longtime, when I was living in France, I was really into “urban music” , using a lot of synthetic / electronic sounds. As soon as I moved to the middle of the desert three years ago, there was no sense anymore to keep this vibe. I wanted to search for something more sweet, natural, organic, universal, with a lot of space to enter and dream in. So I moved all my usual tools from my computer, explored new ones and used my zoom recorder for field recordings. I documented myself on Stambeli and other traditional music from North Africa, I tried to understand some basic rhythmic structures, nourishing with the culture, the history and the energies. As a result, a new sonic identity was born while producing this album (Draw Me A Silence) because I am there now. In the Sahara.

What else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited?

Just getting back to a normal life without any restrictions and going for a trip in a far country with coconuts on the beach, big waves and a Dub Sound System.

The extended version of Azu’s debut album Draw Me A Silence and the follow up remix EP are out now.

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