Interview: Hannes Bieger talks about Studio, Gear, Droids EP & more
Hannes Bieger is one of the finest mixing engineers & music producers in the underground music scene. With a career spanning over more than 2 decades, he has attained immense control over his craft. He has mixed songs from artists such as Tale of Us, Âme, Ben Klock, Dixon, Dubfire & many more. Hannes has released tracks on some of the most established labels such as Bedrock, Poker Flat among many others. Recently, we got the chance to interview Hannes to gain some insights into his music production process.
We Rave You Tech: Hi Hannes, thank you for taking the time to speak with us! Where are you currently located at and What do you have on your agenda at the moment?
Hannes: Hey, it’s a pleasure to have a chat with you guys! Right now I’m on the train, heading back to Berlin after my show in Düsseldorf in West Germany last night. I have busy weeks ahead of me until Christmas. There’s a bunch of client projects I’m working on at the studio, but I’m also in the process of wrapping up working on my next album. It’s too early to disclose any details, but I’m super excited for the moment I can finally share the news with everyone!
We Rave You Tech: What does your daily schedule look like?
Hannes: Right now it’s all a bit chaotic since touring has picked up again in the past months, but there’s a lot of uncertainty and last-minute changes. Shows are being canceled with weeks or only days’ notice, and at the same time, you’re getting requests in with similar time frames. So the main goal is to not get crazy with all the back and forth. Besides that, I’m busy at the studio 5 days a week.
We Rave You Tech: Since when have you been making music & how did you get into Techno?
Hannes: I’ve been making music for pretty much all my life. I started playing electric guitar when I was 10 years old, and I immediately knew that I wanted to become a musician. In the 90s I got the first synths, samplers, and an old Atari ST computer for sequencing, although I was more into Trip Hop and Breakbeats at the time. I moved to Berlin at the end of the 90s, and since then I simply couldn’t escape the straight bass drum. I was into Deep House first, and I did a lot of Broken Beat stuff on the side. From 2006 to 2017 I only worked behind the scenes as a producer and engineer for other people, and when I started to make my music again after the break I began to lean more to the Techno side of things. First of all, because I love it, but also because I was excited to do something new and not repeat myself. I still make some Deep House from time to time though, for example on “The Heart”, my latest EP on Poker Flat.
We Rave You Tech: Now that we are slowly starting to attain normalcy from COVID-19, how would you reflect on the impact of the pandemic on your music over the past one and a half years?
Hannes: It didn’t have so much of an impact on my music, simply because I didn’t make so much music during the pandemic. But that didn’t really have so much to do with the pandemic, I had to move my studio and build a new one from scratch last year, something that was a done deal already before the pandemic. Such an endeavor is challenging even in normal times, and in 2020 it was extra exhausting. But with the album I am making now, I am getting back on track, and all I can say is the new studio is the best workplace I ever had and it’s so much fun to create in that environment!
We Rave You Tech: You recently released a new EP “Droids” on John Digweed’s label Bedrock. Can you briefly take us through the inspiration behind the EP?
Hannes: The B side, “Black Tourmaline”, was the last track I made at my old studio, one of the few I made in 2020. ”Droids” on the other hand was pretty much the first new track I worked on in the new studio. I had just gotten the legendary Moog vocoder, and I wanted to use it. The phrase of course is a tongue-in-cheek adaptation of Obi-Wan’s famous line in Episode IV. Other than that it’s a pretty heads-down progressive track with a huge melody and a lot of intricate synth layers. I have used the Moog Modular for the 16th, not basslines, the TB-303 for the main bass, the main lead is a stack of the DSI Prophet 6 and the Moog Matriarch, and this is also the first track where I have used the crazy Motor Synth from Gamechanger Audio, whose electro-mechanical synthesis engine is based on eight ultra-precise drone motors.
We Rave You Tech: The first track of the EP “Droids” has a very unique and dark melody. What scale is the melody in and what was the reasoning behind taking this direction?
Hannes: Haha, you tell me! It’s a bit of a weird melody, I know… Generally, it’s a minor scale.
I would say, as far as melodies go, that I’m probably quite heavily influenced by the way Antonio Carlos Jobim put his melodies, with all these halftone indentations. But there’s also vibrato and a lot of glide/portamento on the synths, which smears the pitch a bit. I recently played in Istanbul, and I had a HUGE reaction to the melodic parts in the track – which made me realize there probably is some sort of middle eastern vibe in the lead lines as well. But I didn’t have any specific goals when writing this line. I just went with the flow, and this is what I came up with…
We Rave You Tech: Regarding the same track, the vocoded vocal is also one of the key highlights of the track. Can you take us through the process of editing the vocal?
Hannes: It was quite straightforward. I put one 921 oscillator of the Moog System 35 in the carrier input of the Moog Vocoder I already mentioned, and I think I used my vintage Neumann U67 mic for the voice. It was recorded through a pretty simple Focusrite preamp, and after that, I didn’t do much processing to it. Maybe a touch of EQ with some plugins, the Lexicon Vintage Plate plugin for reverb, and the Soundtoys EchoBoy for the delay. You don’t need much post-processing when the sound is already great at the source, which is always my goal.
We Rave You Tech: Throughout the EP and your whole discography, your drums are always crisp and punch nicely through the mix. How do you process your drums?
Hannes: Several factors are ultimately contributing to this and it’s not easy to pinpoint everything, as so many aspects in production are interdependent. I believe in the yin and yang principle when it comes to sound, and that means when you want crisp and punchy drums, the whole arrangement and production have to allow for the drums to sound like this, to leave them the space they need. It’s also very much about the sound choices, some precise EQ and compression, and of course, some very precise drum tuning, which is kind of my specialty, I would like to think. There is only so much point in doing crazy drum processing when the tuning is off, this will never sound good. For me, drums are always not just percussive hits, but also musical tones that have to blend well with the harmonies of the track.
We Rave You Tech: Do you make your drums from scratch or prefer using sample packs? In case you use samples, currently what are some of your favorite/go-to sample packs?
Hannes: I’m using drums from many sources! I actually make a lot of sounds myself, especially the percussions. The noise percussions mostly come from the Moog Modular and DFAM, and the tonal snare in “Black Tourmaline” is also a Moog Modular sound. I like to blur the lines between “drums” and “synths” with my sounds, and this one is a good example. As far as libraries go, I can recommend the Riemann Collection stuff, there’s a lot of quality material in there…
We Rave You Tech: Arrangement, Sound design, Melodic structure, Mixing, Mastering. Rank them on priority for you.
Hannes: I can’t! Not at all… I believe in a holistic view of sound, and it all goes hand in hand. I’ve been wearing all these hats in my career, and tend to not think about it so much anymore. I just create, with whatever means it takes. The early in the process quality occurs, the better. If anything, I view mastering as a separate process, as I am not doing this myself anymore, and I never mastered my tracks. I believe in a pair of fresh, very much trusted ears for this, usually with my friends and partners at Calyx Mastering.
We Rave You Tech: What DAW are you currently working on?
Hannes: I’ve been working with Steinberg Nuendo for many years, but I recently switched to Cubase. It has the same great-sounding sound engine, and feature-wise it’s a bit closer to creative music production than Nuendo.
We Rave You Tech: Since you are an analog savvy producer, how many pieces of gear do you possess?
Hannes: Too many to count… I also don’t have any space left at the studio, so I really can’t add anything else anymore, or I would have to move something else out of the way.
We Rave You Tech: In a hypothetical situation where you could just keep only one piece of gear out of all the possessed ones, which one would that be?
Hannes: It’s a tough choice, but the Minimoog would be a very strong contender. It’s such a perfect synth!
We Rave You Tech: What are some of your favorite eurorack modules that you possess?
Hannes: I don’t have any! My modular setup is entirely based on the 5U Moog standard… as far as the pure, raw sound goes, My Model 10 is a favourite. And I also have a very early R.A.Moog 904 Lowpass filter, which appears to be some sort of prototype because it’s made with developer circuit boards. Probably it was hand soldered by Bob Moog himself, and one of the very first specimens of the filter that should change history. It sounds very soft and unique!
We Rave You Tech: What are some of the favorite analog synths that you possess?
Hannes: Some of them I have mentioned already. I am also absolutely in love with the Knife Audio Knifonium, which is such a special piece. I love my TB-303, and My vintage Tonus Arp 2600, which was owned by Ken Bichel in the 70s, and he played it on a bunch of legendary albums, including some by Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight… besides those I use the Matriarch very, very often. It’s one of the best modern Moogs, I would say…
We Rave You Tech: With so much equipment and plugins in your personnel, at any point of time do you challenge yourself by limiting the number of tools you use on a particular project to spike your creativity?
Hannes: I do this all the time, and I certainly had to do it in the early days of my career. Limitations are so important because you need obstacles to grow as an artist! Just because I have so much gear doesn’t mean I switch everything on all the time. Probably through all my client work I have no problem focusing on myself. Generally, I try to go with my gut instinct and not think too much when I’m writing music.
We Rave You Tech: One thing about having so much gear is the extra work of constantly maintaining them. How do you maintain your studio?
Hannes: Short answer: It never stops! But it’s very important, as nothing kills the creative flow as much as important gear that isn’t working properly.
We Rave You Tech: What piece of gear do you aim to purchase next?
We Rave You Tech: You have also been putting in a lot of effort in your live shows as well. Can you tell us the gear you use for the shows and how do you use them from the live perspective?
Hannes: My basic premise was that it’s not “just live”, as in that sound quality wouldn’t matter so much because it’s not about studio work. I wanted to put something up that delivers all the width and punch you may want. Going with the Moog through an SSL mixer directly to a big sound system is fantastic, it gives me so much joy every time, and that also conveys to the audience. I come from a band background, and as a guitarist, I used to have more and heavier equipment than I have now, so it’s all a matter of perspective.
We Rave You Tech: Name the top 5 tracks that are currently on your playlist.
Hannes: I’m not a DJ, so I’m not going through so much new music all the time. And since I’m busy working on music at the studio 5 days a week I don’t have so much time to listen to music just for fun either – and sometimes I then prefer just silence. My favourite sound is probably falling asleep to a gentle ocean surf…
We Rave You Tech: What advice would you give to upcoming music producers?
Hannes: The most important thing is to try and find your own voice and to stay true to it. Being original is the thing that counts the most, I would say.
That’s all for this interview. Appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions.
Image Credits: Hannes Bieger(Press)