In The Studio With... CW/A (Clockwork & Avatism)

Our latest (and last of 2014) studio focussed interview shines light on a newly established project from Milan homed techno artists Avatism and Clockwork. The pair (who have actually been friends since their early childhood) over the course of 2014 cemented their studio based bond in their CW/A moniker, a path which takes them into comparatively tougher territory than their singular aliases in themselves represent. It's an alliance that we're very excited about homing on our NYE bill this year and one that we sought to learn more about the back story of how they create their sounds and hope to represent them when they perform live in Room Two at the end of this month...

I guess the best place to start is to ask how you guys met and came to work together?

Avatism: We’ve known each other since we were kids as our parents were friends before we were born. When we first started making music we liked different things but as time (and our careers) progressed we eventually ended up in similar territories. We both moved to Berlin in 2012 and I think that’s when we really started working together.

Clockwork: CW/A was born after we both moved back to Milan, sometime at the end of last year. We had been perusing the idea of working together for a while long before that but kept on postponing it for a reason or another till it all just came together naturally.

You said for your recent EP you wanted to work more improvisation based – how did that pan out for you is it a method you fell you want to pursue more?

Avatism: Improvisation is a key part of our CW/A project, which we want people to start seeing as something different from our Avatism and Clockwork material (although I’m aware we should have picked a less confusing name.) After doing the Avatism live show for long time I realised I wanted something more risky, but the music I made was too planned-out and organised: there was little room to improvise. It just made sense to start a parallel project and have it revolved around the performance, rather than the other way round.

The best part is that, as a result of this setup, we are now coming up with a lot of ideas during our shows. Both “Conducting the Method” and the forthcoming “Day of Riddance” EP on Parachute are made up of ideas we developed during performances. The process is no longer limited to being “from the studio to the show”, but it’s a continuous back and forth that has been really refreshing and exciting for us.

What do you think is the other’s strong point in the studio?

Avatism: Francesco is definitely more of a “musician” in the more traditional term.

Clockwork: His engineering skills.

Your latest tracks have been pretty tough numbers – is this a nod as to where you’re at right now in what you’ve been making and the live set?

Avatism: Yes, definitely. We’re both totally aware there’s a difference between this EP, what we are playing now and our previous records. Again, I think Francesco agrees that we want people to understand that CW/A is a separate thing from both Avatism and Clockwork.

After finishing my LP on Vakant last year I felt drained and wanted to start something different. I felt like I was too influenced by the people around me, my friends and my “colleagues” and I was developing a sound that was not entirely my own. I needed a break after “Adamant” and I shifted my focus onto new experiments, CW/A being one of them.

I think Francesco felt the same way and this is probably why we agreed to start CW/A with a blank slate to see where this new approach to writing music would lead us, and it brought us here.

Clockwork: I agree with Thomas. I tend to consider “B.O.A.T.S.” as an end of a musical journey that I somehow grew out of. I noticed I was part of something I didn’t fully support and it kind of scared me to be catalogued under a scene I didn’t feel I belonged to. All this brought me to sitting down in the studio and adapt a more selfish approach by making the music I really wanted to make, rather than what everybody else wanted me or expected me to make.

How does Parachute Records fit in?

Clockwork: We could say Parachute is CW/A’s main hub. When we first started writing music as CW/A we noticed we were finally making something we considered fresh and totally unapologetic, this was around the same time we were kicking off with Parachute. It just made sense for us to make music for a label we own and run and share our vision with everybody else, making the two projects go hand in hand and making them progress together from scratch.

Can you tell us a bit about your working process? Is there a particular way you approach putting your tracks together?

Clockwork: We don’t really have a specific working process we follow. Most of the time we might start working from a loop one of us started and develop on the idea together which is mainly achieved by compensating each-other’s strengths and limitations. We both acknowledge we have different areas of expertise in writing music and it’s exactly what helps this project move forward, with Thomas’ engineering studies and my conservatory studies we pretty much cover up what are two of the aspects you need to have to be able to write music the way we do (not that you really need to have a degree for any of this, but I guess it gets the idea across.)

Having said that, we will use unconventional methods of production form time to time, things we didn’t necessarily learn during our studies but stumbled across over the years we have been making music. These are the things that usually really make or break a track for us, as they add a personal touch which characterises what we want our music to sound like.

"We both acknowledge we have different areas of expertise in writing music and it’s exactly what helps this project move forward"

Give us a mini-tour of your studio – tell us what you’re using and what they’re good for?

Avatism: I’ve been building a new studio for the past year, so we’re stuck in this little room at the moment. It’s definitely not the best place to mix stuff in, but it gets the job done for everything else. We have some gear that simply doesn’t fit in here right now, such as a nice Rhodes 88 MkII and an acoustic drumset, and there’s a lot of stuff we have to keep on the floor, in a corner or unplugged. It’s not as bad as it sounds though as the space limitations actually force us to change setup around a lot, which can be inspiring.

Synth-wise we tend to be somewhat “new school”. The only classics we own are a Juno-106, an SH-101, a Yamaha DX7 and an MS20 Mini. The MS20 is definitely our favorite of the bunch, as it’s really easy to use and it sounds really gritty and punchy without having to do much to the signal. The Juno is lovely but every sound you can program with it has already been done to death, so we haven’t used it too much for CW/A.

At least for me, the Nord Leads (we have both a 2X and a 4 here) are my go-to instruments as they are really versatile and easy. They can both do everything from squelching 303-style basslines to polyphonic Moog emulations to crazy detuned arpeggios. The NL4 actually has filters based on classic machines and built-in overdrive distortion for when the sound needs some more classic feel, although I feel like the 2X has a better low-end. While I’m not sure they succeed in replicating a true analog sound, it’s nothing a little bit of saturation or tape can’t fix.

We also just recently started a growing modular setup with some Pittsburgh, Makenoise and Mutable Instruments stuff we are using on our forthcoming CW/A LP. The idea is to eventually include some modules in our live set, though we have yet to find the perfect combination (especially since what we are using right now is not exactly “portable.”)

For drums we have a Vermona DRM1, an MFB-522 and a Tempest, alongside the Roland TR-8 and Yamaha DTX which we mainly use live. I think there’s a Korg Volca Beats lying around here somewhere, but I’ve only used that once, maybe twice. We tend to sample a lot of older records or found sounds with our phones or Francesco’s Zoom so it’s rare that we actually have a full beat coming from just one of these.

Most of the sounds are recorded through our 4-710D into the Apollo 16 but we also have some cheap ART, FMR and Joe Meek preamps for when the situation calls for well, a cheaper feel. If we really want to go for the lo-fi route we have this really awful Soundcraft mixer with a few busted amps in it. I have no idea what happened to it but the first two channels get this really nice (albeit intense) tape-like hiss. The 4-710D remains our favourite though because you can really mess with its tone and all the channels have a handy compressor built-in.

We tend to obsess over anything that really (and unpredictably) messes with the sound source so the OTO Biscuit, Sherman Filterbank and this beautiful Akai cassette deck our friend Clay gave us are getting used in almost every track. We also have this small Fender amp that can make everything sound like Darkthrone if microphoned correctly although it tends to be a bit too extreme (and really hard to mix.)

Most of our EQing and dynamics are done through software, as this allows for more surgical precision and instant recall. We find that a lot of the UAD stuff sounds almost as good as the hardware, and it allows us to create some really complex signal chains that would cost 10,000 euros per channel and a lot of headaches if done with actual gear. Everything is eventually sent into the SSL X-Desk and occasionally routed back in for additional mangling.

What’s your favourite and most essential item?

Avatism: Probably the Nord Lead 2X, simply because it’s the synth I know best.

Clockwork: Rhodes Eighty-Eight Mark II. I spend hours playing it. I find it relaxing.

What is it you’re performing on when you play live exactly?

Avatism: Funnily enough we have yet to play more than 3 shows in a row with the same exact gear and we keep shifting things around after every weekend in some obsessive search for “the ultimate setup”. I don’t think we’re there yet, but hopefully getting close.

The “backbone” of the set is a pretty big Ableton Live session with something like 600+ scenes. The loops and sounds from Live are divided into 2 to 7 channels and summed internally, controlled through a pair of MIDI controllers in order to use less mixer inputs as we enjoy using Xone 92s whenever possible.

For drums we use a Roland TR-8 (synced to Ableton through an RME interface) and a Yamaha DTX loaded with samples. The synth section is made up of a Doepfer Dark Energy II [unfortunately missing in the photos here] for mono leads and bass and a Nord Lead 4/2X or a Teenage Engineering OP-1 for everything else and MIDI control. The Doepfer box is usually sequenced through a Dark Time, an Arturia BeatStep or directly from Ableton while the NL is played on the fly.

We’ve tried using the Tempest instead of the TR-8 and a Juno-106 instead of the Nords/OP-1 but we always gravitate back.

To add grit and space to the dry hardware we bring a couple of reverb/delay units (Eventide Space Echo, BOSS Re-20), the OTO Biscuit and, occasionally, the Sherman Filterbank and Moog MF-101.

What do you most admire about the other’s production and skills?

Avatism: Francesco has a really keen ear for what works and what doesn’t, while I tend to overwork things a lot. I guess my approach is a bit more “scientific” while his is more akin to that of a traditional musician.

Clockwork: Precision and technique. Our stuff wouldn’t sound the way it does if it wasn’t for Thomas. whilst I’ll play most of the actual instruments we have in the studio Thomas will most certainly make them sound the way we need them to.

And finally, if money was limitless what’s your ultimate object of desire?

Avatism: Probably Victoria’s Secret or a private jet. Lame jokes aside, I’d really love to have a “proper” mixing desk, like a massive SSL 4000G or something custom-made.

Clockwork: A big ass pad in LA with a state of the art studio in it.


Wednesday 31st December

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