‘I love learning by myself’: Talking Tech with Kutiman

Nestled in the rocky mountains and dry riverbeds of Israel’s Negev Desert, is a studio belonging to musician, composer and producer, Kutiman. It’s here that he created his new album Surface Currents, which he describes as music for “doing things” to. That makes sense, for an artist who never seems to sit still. 

Kutiman’s creativity first received the world’s attention on Youtube. With his Thru You project, he edited video mash-ups from amateur musicians to create new tracks and many of the videos went viral; GIVE IT UP has more than 3.5 million views to date. 

The series provided a springboard for him to innovate from the ground up in his own compositions, exploring sounds far and wide from psychedelic funk and afrobeat to rock and progressive soul. 

Since releasing his eponymous EP in 2011, Kutiman’s path to date has been one uniquely travelled. His 2019 release Antarctica, commissioned by Greenpeace, traversed jazz and ambient soundscapes to highlight the state of emergency in the continent’s battle against climate change. More recently, he curated a small orchestra for Live in The Studio. Now, true to habit, Kutiman has taken another new direction, this time driving his electronic soundscape towards ambience, Indian ragas and sounds of nature. Marking the release of Surface Currents – out now on his own Siyal Music imprint – Kutiman gives us the honour of a rare glimpse into his private studio.

Surface Currents is out now on Siyal Music.

What’s your musical education?

I learnt some piano as a kid with my neighbour but quit. When I was 17, I did the same in another year at a music school but that didn’t work out either. I love learning by myself and what a better time to do so than now with all the information on YouTube.  

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

As a teenager, I did all kind of experiments (with no success) whilst recording myself on cassettes, but I never really had the knowledge or gear – just a simple microphone – but it was always a dream to be able to record my music.

The first time that I really managed to do it with multiple tracks was when I was 18 and I got myself a multi-track recorder. I don’t remember which one it was but it was a digital one with a tiny screen on it – it was magic!

What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?

I guess it was that multi-track recorder. I mean maybe it wasn’t that serious but it started everything for me. 

Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components?

In the middle of the mixer is an old soundcraft that I found in an old warehouse – everything is going through it in and out; I’ve got some old drum synth on the right, a drumfire and a LELL soviet drum synth. On the floor in front of me are two Volca’s bass and drums. Left of the mixer is a Tascam 244 4 track that I haven’t really used a lot lately. Beneath that is a Mu-Tron Biphase which is a beautiful phasor that I use a lot. On top of the 4track is a MM Box Tanpura that gives this Indian drone – sometimes I just turn it on and keep it running in the background whilst I’m working. To the left, in the rackbox, there is not a lot going on, just a few compressors, a Sansamp overdrive and some preamps – nothing fancy. On top of everything is a space echo, one of the first serious pieces that I got and it is still one of my favourites. If you put Beyonce in you get Aretha Franklin on acid out – it’s a time machine 🙂

Where is it located and do you share with anyone else?

I live in a tiny village and the studio is one minute by bicycle from my house. I don’t share it with anyone. In fact, it’s very rare that I let people in 🙂

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?

I made changes to the way I sit a few years ago when I started learning to play Tabla – everything moved down to the ground. As far as non-musical, I don’t have a lot of decorations. It’s mostly stuff that I’m working with or stuff that my wife won’t let me put on the wall in our house 🙂 but I love carpets and dim light.

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? 

I’ve been buying stuff whenever I need/want, and can afford to, for 20 years (oh my god!) and I think I’ve sold items maybe once or twice. So I move from place to place with a lot of stuff. Sometimes I get into practicing an instrument, sometimes I’m more into musical gear and sometimes it’s visual gear. The purchases change according to wherever I am at creatively.

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

The studio usually changes with new ideas\techniques. At times a new instrument needs a special space or it could be a big green screen where I need to find space to open it. It’s always changing and it’s great.

If money were no object what would you add? 

I think that would be a problem if I could just buy anything I want… Sometimes my creativity is at it’s best when I have to work with what I have. At the moment I’m more into Blender (3D animation software) so I would buy a Mocap Suit and the best GPU card.

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

I guess after everything, it would be my computer.

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

At the moment I don’t really do live shows and when I do it’s with a band so I just take one or two keyboards and some effects.

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

Not really. I usually get up very early. The whole process from the moment I open my eyes until I’m in the studio working usually takes about ten minutes. Sometimes I try to meditate for 10 minutes before I start working.  It’s very good for me but very difficult to persist.

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? 

Sometimes it’s impulsive and other times I have something in mind. I have a few projects going on all the time, usually a couple of musical and some visual as well. So if I’m getting stuck in one direction I open up a different one.

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? 

I think that my best work (as far as I’m concerned) did not take a lot of time to create. It’s a burst of inspiration and focus, and it feels ready very quickly – I love it. Usually when I start reworking and changing things again and again I will never be completely happy with it.

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

Sometimes I will just try to force it, sometimes I’ll buy a little new toy to try and kick things going again and sometimes I’ll try to learn something new. Usually I’ll just be upset until it will pass and I’ll have inspiration again.

What inspires you outside the world of music? 

I’m not sure I can tell you what actually inspires me so I’ll just write whatever comes to my mind. I love nature and animals. I love painting. I love to see how illusions are created; how you can trick the brain to believe something is something when it’s actually something else.
I love to see ambitious people in whatever field they are in. I hope that answers the question in some way.

Congrats on the release of Surface Currents. Could you pick a track and dissect the creative process that led to its creation?  

Thank you 🙂 I pick the title track ‘Surface Currents’. It started with an arpeggio that I played on the piano — the whole track is played live and not looped or anything so it was a meditative process to play this arpeggio a few times for the whole duration of the track. I played the piano with the damper pedal pressed which gives it the soft sound and randomly unpressed the pedal so random melodies were created from within the arpeggio.

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

I think in this album the piano is the most important. It all started from it and if you take it out you wouldn’t be left with a lot.

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

I have a new more electronic album in the mix right now that I really like and look forward to releasing. I finally got some courage to record some tracks based on the tabla that I’ve been practicing for the past few years, so that’s also exciting, and the whole 3D Blender world is blowing my mind so hopefully I’ll be able to combine all of them together in some cool way 🙂

Surface Currents is out now on Siyal Music.

Comments are closed.