Interview with Huib Schippers
During the years we have seen Huib Schippers being involved in different musical projects like Syntech, Trilithon, Astral Projection, etc. In 2006 his name came up again when the album Syntech Best Of Volume 2 was released. We got in contact with Huib to ask him some questions about his music career and we were positively surprised by the detailed and long answers that he gave us. He remembers everything in detail just like it happend yesterday. Read about his musical journey that, for example, involves a total change of music equipment from hardware to software.
Discography and Biography: Syntech Trilithon
Hi Huib, it is a pleasure to do this interview with you. In similarity with the other pioneers of spacesynth it is not much information available about you on the web. Therefore we are anxious to get to know more about you and your music through this interview.
It's my pleasure, although I do not consider myself a pioneer of anything actually.
First of all I think that we start with a presentation of you. Tell us about yourself.
I am now 45 years old and I presently live in the East of the Netherlands in a rural area. Me and my wife Nanny have moved 5 years ago from the busy suburbs of Zoetermeer (near The Hague), to a place called Zandpol, which is close to the city of Emmen. We enjoy living here and love to have traded the busy city environment for the wide open spaces of the province of Drenthe. My wife has two grown-up children and her daughter even managed to make her grandma twice already. My hobbies are: working with wood and metal (making mechanical devices on my lathe), music, sound design, programming computers, creating 2D / 3D content on a computer, photography, microscopy, architecture, technology and science. In short I am addicted to creativity. I feel lousy if a day has gone by during which I did not create anything. That’s me in a nutshell.
How did your music career started ?
I started creating sounds by linking up two tape decks and placing them about 5 meters apart from one another. They both played the same tape and the output of the second tape deck was being input into the first, thus creating a delay unit with a delay of almost 20 seconds. By adjusting the input level of the first tape deck and mixing it with some sounds from a home-built tonegenerator, one could determine the feedback amount. In this manner I created very ominous sounds that were more like dark soundscapes evolving slowly over time. This had of course nothing to do with music, but was purely a way to create electronic sounds.
I started listening to Klause Schulze’s music and bought some of his records. It fascinated me that a man without any virtuosity was able to produce such interesting music making use of technology entirely. He put down batteries on his keyboard during his stage performances to just hold down some keys, whilst turning some buttons in order to gradually change the sound or mix of instruments that had been programmed prior to the performance. I just wanted to try that too and, naïve as I was, thought to accomplish that by buying just one synthesizer; the Korg Polysix. Soon after, of course, I realized that more synths en sequencers were needed. A Korg MS-20 and SQ-10 analog sequencer followed. Then the Korg KR-55 drumcomputer (all presets) and a 8 track and 2 track (Fostex A8 and A2) tape deck complete with (Fostex) mixing console. But... there was something missing… My virtuosity! I couldn’t play a note. I still can’t - don’t - won’t and think it as an unnecessary and tedious skill to master. Even at a time where software was by far not as evolved as it is now, I was convinced that man shouldn’t even try to play music with his hands. Not the music I aimed to make anyway. So the issue of playing by hand had to be solved! All these analog instruments were fine, but they had to be automatically controlled in some way in order to make virtuosity redundant.
By that time a new development in the world of musical instruments was emerging, it was called MIDI. Although MIDI controlled instruments were very expensive in the beginning, I managed to get the money together for a Sequential Circuits “Sixtrak” synthesizer and a MIDI controlled drumcomputer (the “Drumtraks” of Sequential Circuits – I had to sell my Polysix fot it). It was the world’s first multi-timbral MIDI controlled synthesizer and had only 6 digitally controlled analog oscillators. I bought a MIDI interface and a steptime sequencing program for my BBC microcomputer (6502 microprocessor) that I was using at that time. It had to be ordered from a company in England directly, because there were no dealers for those kind of specialty items back then. The sequencing software consisted out of six tracks that could only play one key at a time each (six times monophony). Although this resulted in some elaborate programming, it did solve the problem; I did not have to play any synth by hand anymore. Together with my 8 track tape deck I now could stack synth track and use one of the 8 tracks as a “click-track” which was a very primitive way of synchronizing things.
That’s when Edwin van der Laag came in. He was a schoolmate of my girlfriend and my girlfriend told him that I had a synthesizer. He was planning to do an essay for school on synthesizers and that’s why he asked if it was okee to come and have a look at my setup. Soon after we had become good friends and were spending all of our spare time on synthesizer know-how and sound design challenges (Edwin lived very nearby). That’s when we decided to try and make something like electro-dance music and try it out in our local disco. Our first track was called “By trial and Error” or BYT&E which was of course also an acronym of the bits and bytes we had to put together in order to create the track and was furthermore the method of “music” creation in general for us. We took that track to the local disco (Locomotion in Zoetermeer) and the resident DJ Jack Henneken advised us to go to Erik van Vliet from Hotsound records in Rotterdam with that track, although he personally didn’t fancy the track at all. We had never heard of this Erik van Vliet, but decided to try our luck anyway and visited Hotsound. Erik agreed to release our track, but he had to have another one in order to have a b-side. The second track we made was “Reaction” and we came up with the appropriate name “SynTech” because Edwin and I were only using synthesizer technology for the process of “music” creation. Neither of us had any musical skills, but the first record was a fact.
How did you get in contact with the spacesynth genre for the first time ?
We (Edwin and I) came in touch with Michiel van der Kuy for the first time when Erik van Vliet told us that he wanted us to record our track (BYT&E) in “his” studio. This actually turned out to be Michiel’s studio and I remember very well that the first time I arrived at Michiel’s studio, with my car fully packed with off all of my equipment in order to put the track on Michiel’s 16 track tape deck (instead of my 8 track). Michiel sent me back home because he didn’t know anything of a planned recording that day. Also Erik had quit some unpaid bills with Michiel and Michiel first wanted to make sure that these bills were paid before someone came working in his studio. A couple of days later I returned to Michiel’s studio and did the recording that was due. That’s when I learned that the music I had been listening to on some tape someone recorded for me was actually Laserdance and was being produced by the very same Michiel van der Kuy that was standing before me. That was quite an eye-opener for me, because I liked that kind of music for its robotic sound. I was very much surprised to see that Michiel did play these tracks by hand and that he was capable of hitting the proper keys at the exact right time with his fingers, even if it were many keys at once! Amazing! That was a very speedy way of making music indeed, but .. for me (and for Edwin) that wasn’t an option. So in some way you could say that, without us knowing, BYT&E was indeed inspired by the Laserdance genre, but it was not at all as good and mature-sounding, we thought (and still think). It was just our first track to be actually released.
What is your favorite music from that genre ?
My favorite songs from that genre are the early Laserdance songs. Personally I do not see the Syntech tracks as belonging to that genre. They are too much “trial” and hidden errors to fall into that category. They also simply do not have the correct sounds due to the fact that neither Edwin nor myself had the characteristic Roland synthesizers that were the key ingredient to this type of music (as it turned out to be defined by the spacesynth community years later). For Edwin and me Syntech was just a step on the ladder of a personal musical development that had started for us.
Nowadays the Syntech albums are difficult to find. How was the situation back then ?
I don’t know honestly. I have never been interested in buying records much myself, so I wouldn’t know the availability of records either. I don’t know how many records have been sold in total, I would have to look that up and add up all the figures on my Buma-Stemra reports to give you any exact numbers. What has been even more confusing for that market, as far as Syntech is concerned, is that Edwin has been solely responsible for the second LP / CD of Syntech that came out many years later than the first LP / CD. Years had gone by before Erik asked us to make another Syntech CD again. In the meantime Edwin had his own studio as well and that’s why he and I started doing our own musical experiments. Edwin had made many nice tracks that had never been released at that time, and so we decided that it was best to continue the Syntech name using these tracks. I was busy with my company and I had been releasing some stuff under my company name TRILITHON in the meantime (Choice, Children of the future and the Trance Dance 128 CD)
Do you know how many copies that were sold of the first Syntech album and how were they distributed ?
As far as I know, the first Syntech album was available in the Hotsound store only in the Netherlands. In Germany however, the Zyx label has released the album, and I think the record must have had a wider availability. In general one could say that Syntech was sold mainly in the so called “import” record stores. Most often these were the stores of record labels or record companies that imported and licensed (and released) music from other record companies. E.g. Syntech has been sold in this manner in countries such as Spain, Switserland, Austria, Sweden, Norway and many others. I personally met the man that was responsible for the entire (illegal) distribution of this album in Poland by selling copies of the album on cassette tapes (so he told me in pride).
What was your musical inspiration when you made the Syntech album ?
Actually the Syntech album consists of two parts (on the CD (HS 9814-1) this division is kept in tact):
1. “BYT&E” (by Edwin van der Laag and Huib Schippers)
2. “Reaction” (by Edwin van der Laag and Huib Schippers)
3. “Soundly computed” (by Edwin van der Laag and Huib Schippers)
1. “Discontented” (yes this is the correct spelling) (by Huib Schippers)
2. “We won’t be-long” (by Huib Schippers)
3. “Mistery Invaders” – CD only (by Edwin van der Laag - contrary to what the CD says)
The first side is a full cooperation between Edwin van der Laag and me.
The track BYT&E was our first track (see story above). It was created using a Casio CZ-101 Phase Distortion Synthesizer (Edwin’s), the Sequential Circuits Sixtrak multitimbral synth and some very cheap programmable drumcomputer called Dr. Rhythm from Boss (Roland). Some sounds such as the vocoder (very short piece) were later added in Michiel’s studio. With the money we got in advance from Erik van Vliet for this first track BYT&E we both bought much more equipment like the Casio FZ-1 sampler which was extensively used throughout the rest of the Syntech album. Later the very nice Roland D-50 and the synthesizers were added to that. This track however was mainly created using the Casio CZ-101 and the Sixtrak synthesizer.
The track Reaction was the second track and had been made in quite limited time span because we didn’t want to hold up the release of our first maxi single. A very nice detail to tell you is that the main bassline sound comes from the Casio CZ-101 synthesizer again (sound created by Edwin van der Laag). When mixing this track in Michiel’s studio again, Michiel fell in love with that particular sound. Much later, when Michiel took over the Koto project, he decided to buy the Casio Synth from Edwin, just for this one sound. Michiel has been using this sound on almost every Koto track since then as you will have probably noticed. This sound has thereby almost created a genre in itself, because now many people see this bassline as a must-have ingredient for the spacesynth genre. It’s funny how things can turn out sometimes.
Soundly computed is our most serious attempt to be “on the Italo genre”. However we could not leave out some of the more trancy space sounds from the very distinguishable D-50 synth, and because of that we did not entirely succeed in being ON the genre is it is (narrowly) defined now. The bassline is played by the FZ-1 sampler and is a sample of a stack of sounds taken from the CZ-101 and Sixtrak synths. The main lead sound is as Italo-ish as the Sixtrak could get it, but it still lacks the wide chorus and rich harmonic content that the Roland Juno 106 (that Michiel used) was provided with.
After having created these three tracks Edwin spent a lot of time with his girlfriend. So when the time came to create an entire album I could hardly get in touch with Edwin, because he wasn’t around much anymore. Despite of asking him to be more involved in the creation of the album tracks and less in spending time with his girlfriend, Edwin set his priorities to his girlfriend. This was a big disappointment for me at that time and because of this I decided to make side two of the album on my own. In correspondence to albums of Klaus Schulze I decided to make two very long tracks, which was actually out-of-genre for the album, but that has never been any consideration for me as you will probably know by now (tracks are just the footprints on the beach of musical discovery). At the time the album was about to be released, Edwin did get back in touch with me again and he of course felt left out by me, which was only due to his lack of involvement in the project. In the end we put our differences aside and Edwin managed to make a track in his own studio called “Mystery invaders” which was added to the CD version of the album. I believe it was not on the LP version, but I am not sure anymore.
The track Discontented was actually quite a tour to create. I had made many more parts for that tracks than my sequencer could play simultaneously, but I wanted to include all of them into this one long euphorically sounding composition. Parts of it were inspired by the soundtrack for the film “I never Promised you a Rosegarden” directed by Roger Corman with Kathleen Quinlan playing the main role of the schizophrenic Deborah. Other parts were (as all my tracks) inspired by harmonies as used by Bach / Vivaldi / Handel. Of course, very clearly, one can hear some acid influences also. The main “jumpy” sequence was something I really wanted to try out, which was not inspired by some other musical genre.
I still think it is one of the best ingredients of the track, together with the main chord scheme. The fact that I liked it so much (and still do) has later drawn my attention to the genre “minimal music” where constant rhythm (measure) changes are one of the main ingredients. In my more recent music this genre (minimal music – Philip Glass – Steve Reich) played a huge role.
The main trancy sound came from an endlessly looped reverb played in reverse on the FZ-1 sampler. The drums were played by the FZ-1 sampler as well that just lacked the punch I was looking for (hence the name – I was not content with the end result). All (yes all) other parts (8 in number) were played by one Roland D-50 synthesizer that was recorded part-by-part – track-by-track on a Fostex 16 track tape deck in a studio in Rotterdam (funny detail: This recording studio was called “Rosegarden”). The studio owner had just had a job lasting for three days on end and he did not have any sleep during these days, so he left me alone in his studio and I had to work with his setup without him helping me. He himself had never even seen someone using synchronization techniques in order to play multi-part music from just two computer controlled instruments. This weird situation of me working in a strange studio under immense time pressure (I paid for the studio myself) resulted in a recording that could have been much punchier and well mixed then it is now. Discontented is therefore the intended title.
The track We Won’t Be-long has been made during a period in which I was myself teaching a deaf girl how to program in C (computer language). Although we felt attracted to one another, it was clear to me that our worlds would never meet (Funny fact: My lovely wife is a deaf woman as well). On the other hand, because I saw her on a regular basis in order to teach her that programming language, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would see her again. Hence the title We Won’t Be-long. Also this title is a hint towards the mismatching sound choices I purposely made in this track. The Mandozzi-like sampler bell sounds (recreating the sound of the well known PPG Wave 2.3 synthesizer) had never been combined with the synthy D-50 sounds, let alone with the heavy bass sequence that was so characteristic for Italo dance music. Due to the assumption that probably no one will ever repeat such a sound combination, because it is simply out-of-genre per definition, I gave this track its particular title.
Mistery Invaders has been entirely made by Edwin in his own studio. I had nothing to do with that, and I think it is a very nice track that has mainly derived from Edwin’s love for the music of Tangerine dream. The main chord scheme seems to be inspired by the Eagle’s Hotel California song. Many sequences interact in this track in a very musical way. It is a very good example of a track that takes the typical sequencer based music from the early synth pioneers such as Michael Garrison and Gandalf to higher musical level. This is the kind of music Edwin would become specialized in. Unfortunately at the time he made his vast collection of tracks like these, there was hardly any record company in the Netherlands that understood their beauty.
I like your Syntech material a lot. The songs have a nice mystic mood, good melodies and lots of details. Did you get any feedback for those albums ?
No I never have received any feedback on the tracks of the Syntech album, except for Soundly Computed which seems to be the most accessible of all tracks. I still wonder what track you refer to exactly, because if it is Discontented or We won’t be-long you are referring to, you would be the first to mention them in a positive way. As I mentioned above, these tracks are rather off-genre in many ways, but at the time they were created, genres were not as solidly defined yet, at least not in my head.
Besides, the main reason for me to start making music is the simple fact that I could not find the music I was looking for in the shelves of a record company. There was so much more to do with synthesizers at that time (still is) and there were so many untouched genres to be explored that my “making music” is nothing more than me “looking around” in the unexplored musical spaces, trying out some of the many possible combinations of sound and melodies that people tend to call music. Especially Discontented is one of my first serious attempts to make the euphorical type of music I am still looking for today. At that time it was too farfetched for me and was a failure waiting to happen, but it’s better to die trying than to live in fear of failure forever. Perhaps it is your own imagination and intelligence that picks up on this attempt and enables you to filter out all the not-so-nice mishaps and failed mix-downs of the track, so that the initial intentions of the track start to emerge out of the debris of weaknesses. If so, I am glad that some people are capable of picking up on the tracks intentions, despite its shortcomings.
The songs that I had in mind are BYT&E, Reaction and Soundly Computed which are all great spacesynth songs.
The album cover for 'By Trial and Error' was made by you and so were the covers for the Trilithon albums. What technique did you use to draw those covers and have you made any more album covers ?
On the “ By Trial and Error album” I did the cover design unfortunately. It was at the very same time that Edwin and I did not see each other often enough to complete the album together due to circumstances mentioned above. This made me decide to make the cover myself, using an airbrush on a 60x60 cm paper board (paper-foam-paper sandwich). I had no experience what so ever with this technique and it was my first airbrush painting, which is clearly visible. I purposely bypassed Edwin on this matter, just to make the statement that I could do without him on this point too, but as we all can see, that was a bad attitude of me. Edwin is a master with the airbrush and the many paintings he made prove time and again that he is a very gifted graphic artist in general (also using 3D computer graphics by the way). He should have made that cover, but due to me being disappointed in him at that time I didn’t give him the opportunity. The end result is nothing more than a child’s attempt to do some kind of space keyboard thingy that is utterly uggly.
The only time I did another cover using airbrush was for Michiel’s “Best of Made Up Records” release, which he released himself (with tracks from Claudia T etc.), which was slightly less disastrous.
The first TRILITHON cover for TRANCE DANCE 128 is a very simple design, using a 2D vector design software package (under DOS) on a PC.
The second TRILITHON cover for 4CAST is done by Edwin van der Laag in one of the very first 3D raytracing-capable programs called POV-ray. He entirely designed that complex scorpion image using a text editor, thus programming every location of every vertex and primitive shape (like stretched spheres) that the image consisted of. Then he had to define materials in much the same way and render the image in order to check the locations (positions) of all the geometry, which took about 4 hours each time he had added something to the image. This was a tedious job in those days. Nowadays he (we) would make something like that in a couple of hours.
Did you had any contact with the other spacesynth musicians at that time (Michiel van der Kuy, Rob van Eijk, Anfrando Maiola, Stefano Cundari, etc) ?
Michiel van der Kuy has become a very good friend of mine over the years. We still keep in touch now and then, but due to the distant place I live in, we don’t see each other much nowadays. I have met Rob van Eijk at Michiel's place, but it was more than a decade ago that I last saw him. The other people you mentioned I never met unfortunately.
After you had made the Syntech music you started to release music under the name Trilithon. I haven't find any explanation of the word Trilithon. What does it mean ?
TRILITHON is derived from the Greek words TRI (meaning: three) and LITHOS (meaning: stone). It is a stack of three stones of which two are standing upright and the third is laying on top of the two standing stones (just like my logo). Think of stonehenge in England, that consists of a circle of trilithons. I found it to be a nice word and a strong logo that could by used as a metaphor, symbolizing man-technology and the bridge between them. I.e. the man-technology relationship if you will.
The Trilithon music sounds different compared to the Syntech music as you also involved influenses from both techno and trance.
Funny you say that. I think the tracks Discontented and We Won’t Be-long both prove the opposite. The early TRILITHON tracks are quite the same genre I think. But as I said, I like to explore new things. Sometimes I like to check if I am capable of pinpointing a certain genre accurately by trying to define it's borders (sounds used and arrangements structure) and using these borders in my own compositions, just for fun or for commercial purposes. I have never been good at that particular game, because I often didn’t want to constrain myself, but now and then I succeeded, resulting in commercial tracks (like I did for Critical Mass).
Why did you decided to go in that direction? Was it an attempt to be more commercial and accessible for people ?
After running my company for five years from 1990 to 1995 writing software and building computer networks, I decided to continue my company in a different way and try and make my living by producing music. Then, in January 1995 I started to commercially produce music full time and everything had to change! Before that date, music production was merely a hobby of mine. Now, I had to earn my living, so I had to sell my music and make a profit from it. Producing music had now become a means to survive financially. This meant that I had to comply to the strictly defined borders of genres in order to have my music released and sold. This resulted in many escapades and detours along different genres such as club, hardcore, happy hardcore, Eurodance, Eurobeat (Japan), Dreamhouse, New Age, Soul, and exact sound-a-likes (eg. many 70’s tracks), over a period that lasted 5 years. To make a very long story extremely short; In the year 2000 the music business in the Netherlands was dying a rapid death due to the ease of (illegally) downloading music from the Internet. Record companies went bankrupt one after the other and it became very hard to sell your music. That’s why I had to find another way of earning a living in 2000 and that’s how music became part of my multimedia presentations as well as a hobby for me again.
Besides Syntech you have made another co-operation together with Edwin that resulted in the track Continion. Tell us about that track.
That was the second and last release from my own label T-recs. I did two releases and sold one thousand copies of them, but the second thousand took me too long to sell and as I got an offer from Ramshorn who was willing to pay a good price for the rest of the unsold copies I took their offer and got rid of the entire lot.
T-recs of course stands for TRILITHON recordings. The name is also an acronym for the well known Dinosaur that was being hyped at that time due to the movie Jurassic Park with all its merchandise and toys in the form of all sorts of dinosaurs at that time. The label shows a hatched Dino that came to earth as a skeleton, as if I more or less predicted that the label was meant to live a short life. In fact, having my own label was just an experiment for me, because I was curious for what the exact activities were, that a record company had to undertake in order to release a record.. Well, I found out that there was not much to it. As long as the music is not of the class of a world hit and has no further act connected to it, the activities are in fact restricted to finding a distributor that sells your records to clubs and record shops etc. And then the waiting starts... will it sell or not?
Well this release didn't sell well as I said... Although both releases were printed on coloured vinyl (Red) to make the record more attractive to the eye, the music however was a bit too much off-genre I suppose. (Also the sound quality was quit bad due to the red (recycled) vinyl).
The tracks that were on these releases (T-recs-1 and T-recs-2) were the second (period of) cooperation between Edwin van der Laag and me. We picked up on our cooperation after a few years of composing tracks on our own. (Edwin had a huge studio of his own by then too). When in 1995 I decided to make music production my core business I started to make a study of the club music that was going on at that time. The genre was then called "Mellow" and all I could deduct from it was that the people creating that kind of music (that did sell easily in clubs) did not spend a lot of time on those tracks. Having extracted that as one of the main criteria for that genre, Edwin and I decided to make music that had to be finished within 1 day (or 1 evening mostly). Because of the - low quality - low attention to detail characteristic of this genre Edwin and I had working titles for these tracks like RPK1 RPK2 - RPK15. (RPK stands for something very dirty). Later we would think of some more user-friendly names for these tracks. Edwin and I actually did a lot of tracks like these and often succeeded in creating a track within one evening and selling it the next day, which was a lot of fun because we saw this as proof of the correctness of our "analysis" of this genre. One the other hand, our tracks never became the intended "club hit" which was in itself was proof of the fact that we did something wrong still.
As I said, the tracks were somewhat off-genre, due to the fact that Edwin and I love synth sounds too much whereas synth sound were "not done" in the Mellow genre unless they were very "cheesy".
The track often turned out to be too synthy for the genre, although their structure was directly derived from the genre-analysis we did. Perhaps in this new age, where music genres are being picked up by the people themselves instead of by record companies and record distributors, these tracks can find a new way (via distribution on the internet) to the people who like them.
To Edwin and me these tracks were made as an experiment and training session in "getting the formula right" by listening to a genre that we both disliked somewhat.. called Mellow. The "cheesyness" of the Mellow genre guaranteed however that Edwin and I had a lot of fun creating these tracks, but they should not be taken too seriously!
They were in no way created with the intention to make a euphoric musical masterpiece. They were the last tracks that I did together with Edwin, due to the fact that I diverted to the more commercial genres after that. I had to try to earn my living with musicproduction in the end, whereas Edwin was having a regular job at that time. Edwin and I are still very good friends and he was my best man at my wedding in 2003.
Around year 2000 your website included a couple of pictures of the Trilithon studio that shows a clean and very futuristic environment that reminds of a controlroom of a spaceship. Here are some of the pictures:
The pictures only show one masterkeyboard but no other hardware synths can be seen. Can you tell us something about this studio ?
Because of my radical decision to stop producing music on a commercial level in 2000, I took the freedom to rebuild my studio from scratch. For a long time I had been dreaming of a total recall, fully software configurable studio that would only use software sound generators. Also because I was quite well informed on the status of the development of software synths, I could easily “predict” that this would become "the" path that sound-generation and music production would soon take. I had a rather elaborate hardware studio at that time, so I had to get rid of all my hardware before its value would drop drastically due to the upcoming software synths. I managed to sell all my hardware within a couple of months for a good price, so the path to develop the new “dream studio” was free. I finished its design and construction in 2001. The pictures mentioned above were taken in 2001.
This studio was one of the first (of not the first) soft-studios in the Netherlands. At that time not many people were willing to take the step of throwing all the hardware stuff overboard. People were afraid it would sound differently and of course it did. But with a little adjustments and fine tuning one could perfectly get it to sound well. It just took a little more effort. People all want a good sound right out of the box, without having to program their own voices and sounds. For me exactly that was the challenge. The entire soft-studio was just as well a dream as it was an experiment for me. In the end this experiment turned out to be very interesting, but also somewhat disappointing soundwise.
The studio consisted out of the following hardware:
1. One Dual Pentium III PC - 1 Ghz with two processor on the mainboard and 2 harddiscs in RAID 0 configuration.
Audio interface: RME DIGI 9652 with 3x ADAT in- and outputs. This PC was the called the “Softsystem” because it had to run Nuendo with many softsynths.
2. One Pentium III PC - 1Ghz. (named: “Scopesystem”)
Audio hardware: 2 x Creamware Scope 15 DSP card (for a total of 30 DSPs) with 6 x ADAT in- and outputs. This was the software configurable studio in the form of just one PC! The Creamware system is extremely flexible and unfortunately also extremely unreliable and unstable. I expected this hardware to be able to replace my previous hardware capacity wise, but it did not. Not by far! It did provide me with a beautiful way to define (design by diagram on your pc screen) all connections between the three PC’s in a way that these 3 PC’s would become one big music machine. That is what the Creamware hardware did do and in that respect it was very nice and successful. All hardware (DSP) based software synths from Creamware (even including the Modular synth) simply did not generate enough harmonics to be able to do good (total spectrum) sound design on them. No, the Creamware hardware turned out to be nothing more than a very nice software configurable patchbay and mixing console with some ok-ish effects. No audio connection was impossible with this system and every mixing setup thinkable could be designed and build easily, but after 2 years of testing and experimenting (I even joined the betatesters group of Creamware) I gave up on it and decided it was time for something new (see story below).
3. One Pentium III PC – 1 Ghz
Audio interface: RME DIGI 9652 with 3x ADAT in- and outputs. This PC was exclusively meant to run the Gigasampler and was therefore called the “Gigasystem”
These three PC’s formed one internally linked software-(PC)hardware based studio. Each PC had two monitors connected to it for a total of six monitors in a row. In the picture the Softsystem is connected to the two left most monitors, the Scopesystem connected to the middle two monitors and the Gigasystem was hooked up to the right most two monitors.
On the data level, all three PC’s were connected by a LAN (Local Area Network) and could thereby make use of one central sample- and soundlibrary on a fourth PC. This fourth PC was a server-like PC fitted with 8 harddiscs in a RAID 5 configuration that had a total capacity of one Terabyte (In 2001 that was quite a lot :) ).
Except for one microphone pre-amp and one 8-channel RME AD/DA converter a Doepfer Drehbank, a Doepfer masterkeyboard, one UNITOR 8 and one AMT 8 midi interface there was no other audio hardware to be found in that studio. The entire rig was housed in one huge 19” rack. I always intended to integrate the Doepfer masterkeyboard into the table surface, but due to ergonomic problems resulting from such an integration I postponed this integration several years. Only in 2007 I refurbished my entire studio again in my new house in Zandpol and integrated the masterkeyboard in an extremely ergonomic way. I now have the ideal audio studio in my opinion… without any hardware what so ever. It is something everyone can buy nowadays because powerful PC’s have become the standard in 2008.
That studio must have cost a fortune. Do you think that it was worth to go for a totally software based studio at that early stage ?
See above: Getting the right sound was quite a challenge. Especially the summing problem of the software mixing console of Creamware as well as the one of Nuendo caused many problems and resulted in an extremely reduced dynamic range when many different sound sources were being used in a track. As far as sound design is concerned this studio provided many more possibilities and a far greater ease of use than the hardware based studio I had before.
There are many chairs in one of the pictures above. How many people were working in that studio ?
The more chairs, the more hospitality :) Keep in mind that my studio has always been my living room as well, then you understand what’s with the chairs :). So in order to receive guests I have to have chairs and because of the limited space in my previous house (apartment) these chairs had to be movable, hence the office chairs with wheels that were multi-purpose.
Can you describe what Trilithon is all about nowadays ?
My core business is creating 3D visualizations, Photography and Video productions. In general you could say I do image-design. As side-services I build and maintain websites, I have a cutting plotter service (sticker creation), a soldering service, and I give workshops on Digital Photography throughout the country.
Your old website included some information about your space/techno/trance-musicproductions, but your new website (www.trilithon.nl) only mention the multimedia presentations.
That’s right. On my website I try to promote the activities that generate money. Since it is very hard to earn a dime in the music bizz nowadays, unless you are very lucky and you already work as a DJ, it is no use to promote music as being a commercial product. My TRILITHON website is a commercial website and therefore I did not place any non-commercial activities on my website. It is not a website of Huib Schippers telling about his hobbies, but a website of a company offering services. Perhaps it would be a good idea to create a separate website for that purpose somewhere in the future.
When did you started the company Trilithon and was it hard to startup the company in terms of financing and establishing connections with other partners ?
I started TRILITHON in 1990. I was still living with my parents when I started TRILITHON, so I had little or no costs yet, and no special funds were required to start a small company. In the beginning I was making technical appliances for the handicapped. This soon evolved into adapting workplaces for the deaf, especially in the transport business. (e.g. creating a visual telephone system based on a computer and a mobile phone for a deaf chauffer – SMS did not exist back then). A few months later I was working on a freelance basis for five transportation companies, writing software and building computer networks, which I continued to do until I decided to produce music on a full time basis in 1995.
How is your studio setup today? Describe what we can see on this picture:
TRILITHON STUDIO 2007.mov
There are not much music equipment present in that room. Are some of the equipment located somewhere else ?
No, this is all there is… Ok my computers are located in a special room in my house at a (cable)distance of 30 meter together with my AD/DA converter and a blue sky remote volume control unit (officially called: bass management controller). I did this to create a very quiet working environment in which microphone recordings can take place without being bothered by the constant noise of computer fans.
What you see on the panoramic picture is my current workspace. It consists out of two workstations that are linked to two 30” monitors. The one with the keyboard (Doepfer in steel casing) in front of it is my current studio workstation. The keyboard can be detached from the desk by a sliding mechanism. The PC is a fast Duo Core system that has 8 hard discs in a RAID 5 configuration running that are capable of playing back 4 uncompressed video streams in real time. It has Nuendo installed with many softsynths and VST effects and is the ultimate ergonomic music studio as I see it. Although it is a studio that everyone can afford nowadays and could be seen as nothing special at all. I think that due to the technological evolution of soft- and hardware during the past few years, the ultimate studio is now there for everyone who wants it. No special hardware (except a good external AD/DA converter) is needed anymore. The possibilities are endless and the sound quality is very good. Noise is never an issue anymore. Processor power is abundantly available. Streaming audio and sample playback is a joke for a system like that. In short: every bottleneck is non-existent in a computer based studio nowadays… You only have to learn how to make a good mixdown on it, because of the limited headroom of the internal mixing console of today’s VST hosts (like Nuendo, Cubase, Logic, Cakewalk and Ableton Live).
What are your influences when you compose music nowadays ?
As I mentioned earlier, Bach / Vivaldi and Handel are still the basic source of inspiration for my chord schemes. Also the minimal music genre of Philip Glass has had a strong influence on my music. Last but not least I have always loved the Arabic schemes as well. In fact I believe that trance music finds its roots in these chord schemes and has only recently later evolved towards to more classic schemes of Barok. Music production has always been an evolving process for me, somewhat like a journey into unknown territory. During this journey one changes direction sometimes, thus creating a path that is in the end responsible for and co-constructive to the music being created. “In my next life” I would be doing different things for sure because one will never walk the same path twice.
To answer your question somewhat more direct: I have never had one particular composer / band / artist that was “my big example”. All I ever wanted to be is a “homo universalis” But for that I need more time than I have left in this life.
What comes first - rhythm or melodies ?
To me melodies are far more important in music than drums. A melody has a rhythm already and that rhythm does not necessarily have to be emphasized by drums or percussive instruments in order to generate a certain “drive”. The drive of a robotically sounding sequence for instance, is much stronger without any drums. Drums often distract the attention of the listener, and make the drive of the melody relatively softer (they share the same dynamic space as the melodic instruments). If you consider music to be a universal language and a song to be a story, then logically speaking, music without percussive instruments is much more convincing if you choose the melody of your music to be the story telling ingredient. Because melodies consists of many patterns that interact in a multi-tonal and multi-sonic fashion I think melodies are capable of telling more complex and therefore more interesting stories than can ever be told by single-tonal multi-sonic drum beats. That’s why I choose melodies to be the story-telling ingredient in my music.
Try to describe how you do to compose a new track.
I start making music by creating sounds that I like. Then I start to try these sounds out by “playing” the main chord scheme of the song. Then I often start with the bassline or the lead melody. After that I start with the drums. Somewhere during this process I stop playing the keyboard and start drawing my melodies with the mouse. I think I make that transition as soon as the story starts to make sense and the rest of the composition process is just a matter of ornamentation and some musical rhetoric.
I do not work with temporary assignments of sounds that are later changed for that layer into something completely different. Instead, I like to work from a timbral (sound) perspective. To me a sound forces a song to go and tell a certain story. That’s why the story telling starts with sounds creation for me. A sound already has its own mood. A melody then amplifies this mood. Finally drums are used as “anchors in time” that define the timeline (but not the and the pace) on which the story is being told.
Are you doing all the work by yourself nowadays or are there more people involved in the Trilithon productions ?
Every TRILITHON project has always been a solo project. When I work with other people I use an alias. TRILITHON is still a company with only one employee… me :)
Some people thinks that the music of today doesn't have the same warm feeling as in the 80's, because of the software synths and that the musicians are using too much compression which makes it sound quite cold and hard. What do you think about the result ?
Cold and warm is just a matter of harmonic content of a sound over time. Making things sound “warm” has always been the realm of uncontrolled processes. We have had a very hard time to finally get to the point that we could control every aspect of a sound over time and now we are longing for the uncontrolled factor in a sound again. I would say it would be wise not to hand over the control to processes that can’t be influenced. Instead I would create “warmness” by generating variations of the parameters you would like to be influenced.
Cold and hard is what technology has finally achieved. Why regard it as something that is unwanted. It is the summit of exactness and thereby a statement in itself. A statement we could never make in the 80’s however hard we tried! Hardness and coldness is what we were looking for in the 80’s, but always in vain. What word does not fit in? Space - Technology – Science – Hard – Robotics – Synthetic – Artificial – Warm. I think I know the answer to that one :).
Production wise I think contemporary music is extremely high quality compared to the songs of the 80’s.
Composition wise I think many “composers” have become completely drained from originality. Especially the top 40 songs are a good example of that statement. Most of them are re-do’s of old songs.
You have made some co-operation with Astral Projection which is one of the biggest bands on the goatrance/psytrance scene today. Can you tell us about how you got in contact with them and how did you work with them ?
A good friend of mine, Frank Hulsebos is a fan of Astral Projection. He invited them over to come and play on the truck he had arranged for the Loveparade in Berlin (in 1993 I think it was). That’s where I met them in person and that’s when they told me they liked the TRILITHON album TRANCE DANCE 128. They even had made a remix of one of my tracks and had put it on one of their CD’s. And vice versa, I really admired their music and told them that I considered them the guru’s of trance. A few months later Frank and I took a plane to Israel and I worked with them in their studio for ten days. The track we did was later called “Burning Up”.
Was that co-operation a studiowork only or did you also participated in some of their live performances ?
It was purely studio work I was involved in with them. During my stay in Israel we did go to a live performance of them in a kibbutz in some rural area. That performance was abruptly ended by the local police who arrested Avi and Lior by dragging them from stage very roughly. The police suspected them from having drugs on them. Hours later after being taken to the police station, they were released again because the police couldn’t find any drugs on them. I have all this on video, because I was filming their performance. Of course I also have footage of them playing at the loveparade.
Have you received any new offer from Astral Projection after the work that you made with them ?
No I have never heard from them again.
Was that the only music project where you have actually earned some money for your work ?
Huh? If that was true, how could I have survived between 1995 and 2000. No, it is quite the opposite. As far as I can remember, I have never received any money from the “Burning Up” track. But it was a nice experience to work with them and I have no hard feelings towards them for not earning any money on that track.
Which one of your songs do you like most? Why that one ?
I think I would choose RELAX on the 4CAST album if I had to pick one. This track combines several dissonant chord schemes without being too freaky. It puts down a very agitated and unfriendly atmosphere and is “crying” for relief. That relief only comes along in a short time span in the track where the “relax... it’s beautiful” text is spoken. But this text is in turn being twisted by a constantly modulated delay unit that ruins the comfort of the message. It therefore has a very high degree of discomfort that matches with my often returning urge to make a hard sonic statement. I think in that respect it is the one track that most clearly communicates a mood that is normally being touched by genres like death metal and the likes. It demonstrates that there are other ways to put down this message without the disturbing human element in the form of someone who is continuously destroying his voice. I think that track is a genre in itself that has never been picked up by anyone else.
Now I think that it is time that we take some questions about the live performance that you made together with Michiel van der Kuy at the Euro Energy Party in Hague 1999. What kind of musicwork have you been doing together with Michiel before that live performance? I have seen pictures of you two in the studio before, for example this one, and therefore I assume that you have made some music together.
Michiel and I are good friends, but we have never worked together on a track. We sometimes would spend some time in our studios together but mostly we would end up philosophizing on some musical subject or simply make some useful sounds together. This picture was taken in my studio in Zoetermeer somewhere between 1998 and 1999. I would only slow down Michiel when trying to work with him. He is capable of creating several track per day. I usually spend several days working on a track. Some tracks even took me weeks. That’s probably one of the main reasons why we never worked together.
Can you tell us more about this live-performance. Who came up with the idea and what was the reaction from the crowd ?
Michiel had been asked to do a live performance on stage. Because he had never done that before he was looking for someone to share the pain with him and he picked me as his victim. That’s how we ended up standing on stage together in The Hague.
Did you and Michiel live in the same town at that time ?
Michiel and I lived in different towns. It was about a 15 minute drive from his house to mine.
How did you rehearse for the performance ?
Who says we rehearsed for the performance? Michiel was fully capable of playing all melodies real time and live without rehearsal and I… I couldn’t really play anyway, so why rehearse? In order to do something during the live performance, I had programmed several significant phrases of songs and some special effects into my Trinity that could be triggered by hitting a key. Michiel and I were both playing along with a prerecorded DAT tape that played most parts of the songs. Michiel played the lead parts on top of that tape live, I just triggered some fills and effects.
Was it Gerrit Molema from Melody Maker that arranged everything (dancers, etc)? Did you had some kind of walk-through with the dancers before the concert took place ?
The dancers were from the BLITZ company. They were good friends of mine and I even had a project with them called Blitz at that time. All dancers were familiar with my tracks, but actually didn’t have to be, because they were professional dancers that performed on a daily basis in clubs all over the country.
Do you remember how people were informed about the concert? Was it just a notice on Melody Makers website ?
I wouldn’t know. I was just being dragged there by Michiel. I haven’t seen any announcement at that time.
Whos synths were you using? Did both of you own the same kind of synths or did you hire them for the concert ?
The synths on stage are our own synths. We had some overlapping synths and these were two of them. The upper synth is the Roland JP-8000 and the lower is the Trinity workstation (88 weighed keys version).
On your Trinity synth we could see a computer keyboard. Do you remember what you used the computer keyboard for on the stage? Is that only for programming voices ?
It was the keyboard that was used for my computer that I left in my studio… so it was purely show. No programming was done during the “performance”.
Do you have regular contact with Michiel nowadays ?
We do keep in touch, but we now live a 2 hours drive apart from one another.
You have made a lot of musical co-operations during your musicial career. For example with Edwin van der Laag, Michiel van der Kuy and Astral Projection. Have you done even more musicial co-operations than those ?
Oops .. yes.. In the period between 1995 and 2000, when I had to earn a living from my music, I have worked with many different people under many different names. To name a few: Critical Mass, Nakatomi, Venga Boys, Blitz, Nebular B, Isis (Meditate), DNA, TMM, No Mans Valley, Happy Devils.
Your musicial taste seems to be quite wide according to the music that we have heard from you. You have made music in the styles dreamtrance, goa- and psytrance, techno and spacesynth under the same name (Trilithon). Have you planned to release the music under different project names to make it easier for the buyers to understand what kind of music they are buying ?
I did use different names, but I think it is in a way also dishonest to do so, that’s why I used my company name as soon no one else was involved in a project. I don’t think music should be dived in so many different styles anyway. TRLITHON is just the name of a composer. The music of one composer always has the same origin (the brain of that composer) and has therefore many similar anchors despite of differences in genre. Almost everyone always told me that my music productions were very recognizable due to a certain use of chord schemes and a personal “sauce” that I could help pouring into my tracks. I just put the same name onto my “musical escapades”, so that people would know what experiment I was currently involved in, confusing or not. I don’t think music should be bought just because a certain name has been put on it. People should only buy tracks that they like, whatever name is connected to that track.
You have worked with both composing music and making video presentations. Have you ever made a music video for your own songs ?
Yes. It is on my website ( http://www.trilithon.nl/video/TILL-DEATH.wmv ). The video is called “Till Death”. It’s my wedding ceremony. Because my wife is deaf I didn’t want some elaborate speech of some civil servant as a wedding ceremony and I decided to make a video instead. That video was projected on a screen in the middle of a nature reserve on the island of Ameland where we were married. I created that video with a subtitled poem and made the soundtrack for that video. In a way it has become a videoclip of one of my own tracks, although that track has of course never been commercially released.
At the beginning of 2006 Erik van Vliet released the album Syntech Best Of Volume 2 which is good as the old albums are very difficult to find nowadays. Are these the last spacesynth songs that we will hear from you or are you still composing spacesynth music ?
Never say never, but it is unlikely though that I will make music that would now be exactly on the genre that is now known as “spacesynth”.
Have you listen to the new albums that have been released in the spacesynth genre ?
I can’t say I have unfortunately.
Have you listen to the free spacesynths songs that are available on the web, and in that case, what do you think about those songs ?
Yes some time ago you gave me a link of some tracks and I listened to those. I think they are very well done and although the composer has confined himself to a very exactly defined sound collection, the compositions were still very original. I think it is much harder to make a track within these clearly defined borders, than to make music that has no boundaries at all and I respect the fact that people are capable of doing that.
Are you still an active musician that are releasing albums? What are your musical plans for the near future ?
I have not been releasing anything commercially during the last few years now. I can’t say I have any plans in that direction either at the moment.
What is your favorite music of today ?
Melodic trance with classical themes. The style that made Ferry Corsten famous.
How is the feedback now compared to the 80's ?
In the 80’s people wrote letters, now they send you e-mail. But I am not that popular, nor have I ever been popular in a way that hundreds of people wrote me mail. Because I have not been producing tracks for quite some time now, there is no feedback worth mentioning at the moment.
Thank you for participating in this interview. You are welcome to participate in the discussions at the spacesynth forums which I know you have found already. Before we end this interview I wonder if there is something that you would like to say to your fans?
I would like to thank all the people that were kind enough to give their feedback for their support. I wish everyone a good and happy life with lots of good music and many interesting sonic explorations. Thanks for your invitation to this interview and thanks for your relentless dedication to this website and forum.