February 24, 2016 · Reichenow, Germany – When electronic musician Rodi Kirk and his frequent collaborator and songwriting partner pianist Aron Ottignon conceived the idea of going to a German castle to record a unique musical improvisation, they knew they would need very special interface for the job. “The idea of our ‘Spaces’ series is visiting unique locations, setting up our instruments and microphones, and experimenting and improvising,” Kirk says.
Kirk brings a bevy of digital signal processing and synth gear, while Ottignon sports an acoustic piano. “I’m reacting to what Aron is playing on the piano by sampling on the fly and using granular synthesis, he’s reacting back to what I’m doing, and we’re both interacting with the acoustics of the space itself.” To capture such unique performances, they needed an interface that was portable and low latency, with pristine conversion and extensive inputs and outputs. Luckily, they found the perfect tool for the job in Antelope Audio’s Zen Studio.
Seeking Kingdoms Far and Wide
Schloss Reichenow, located in Reichenow Germany near the German Polish border, is a neo-Gothic castle, complete with moat. “We though it be an exciting venue to explore for our first installment of ‘Spaces’,” Kirk says. In addition to his career as a performer and composer, Kirk lectures at the audio school dBs Music Berlin on the subject of technomusicology — which is “musicology through the lens of technology,” he explains. He first encountered the Zen Studio while working at the school.
dBs Music Berlin had recently acquired a Zen Studio for each of its 4 production suites, and teachers and students were raving about its excellent feature set and unmatched AD/DA conversion. Attracted to its compact form factor and 12 built-in mic preamps, Kirk borrowed one from the school to bring to Schloss Reichenow.
Staying Connected to the World Around You
The duo made use of the full complement of 12 commercial-grade microphone preamplifiers on the Zen Studio. “We tried to employ creative microphone placement to capture the space in an interesting way, so having 12 quality preamps with a transparent character across all the input channels was perfect.” Several of the Zen’s outputs were routing signal back into a mixing console for live mixing and processing to insure that Kirk and Ottignon could stay immersed in the ambience of Schloss Reichenow. “The architecture and acoustics of the environment become like a third participant in our process,” Kirk adds.
Zen and the Art of Improvisation
“With ‘Spaces,’ we’re specifically trying to challenge ourselves as improvisers,” Kirk says. For him, the incredibly low latency of the Zen Studio was critical to enable real-time sampling. “A big part of the of the improvisation for me is getting a really nice send of the piano coming through the Zen Studio. I’ve got that input routed so that I can hit a button and sample it on the fly and create something new with my granular synthesizer,” he explains. “I might change the pitch or the timbre and make something new to incorporate into the improvisation.”
For Kirk and Ottignon, their differing musical backgrounds make their collaborations all the more compelling. “I come from a studio engineering and electronic production background and Aron brings the perspective of a pianist who has worked a lot in jazz settings,” Kirk says. “We bring our own strengths and also help each other step outside of our comfort zone a bit.” The Zen Studio enabled them to capture every detail of their nuanced performance with Antelope Audio’s trademark conversion. “Everything just sounded really clean and musical through the Zen,” Kirk said.
Seeking Zen the World Over
As exotic a setting for a jam session as a castle is, Kirk and Ottignon have equally arresting venues in the works for forthcoming ‘Spaces’ videos. “We’re talking to a gentleman from the German treasury department who has a cabin in the woods and wants us to come record out in the forest surrounded by elk,” Kirk says. We are also looking at a new airport in Berlin that’s been under construction for seven years and is still sitting unused.” Wherever they end up next, they know the Zen Studio will be coming along for the ride. “The Zen Studio has worked out really well for us,” he says. “The preamps are great, it’s portable, the latency is negligible, and it has all the inputs and outputs we need.”
Photos and video credit: Maya Röttger