Biodiversity and Sound Formation: Interview with Dominik Eulberg
By Markus Thiel – November 29, 2019
After eight years producer and DJ Dominik Eulberg has produced a new album. Mannigfaltig awaits us, boasting a whole 12 tracks, that in a manner typical of Eulberg’s output, draw on the natural world. The album was produced using Cubase. We caught up with Eulberg to find out about the conceptualization and thinking behind the tracks, about the sound design and the various other tools he needs in the production process.
Back to nature using electronic soundscapes? As contradictory as this first seems, it’s the perfect unison of a solid concept and a true calling for Dominik Eulberg, a musician and producer from Westerwald. As a qualified biologist, he’s made it his mission to not only use his sound artistry to channel his dedication to environmental protection into the language of his music, but moreover to achieve a whole new level of awareness for the relevance of the natural world surrounding us as our common origin by means of the atmospheric space of his album and tracks.
In his new album "Mannigfaltig" released on K7!, Eulberg once again makes use of the infinite abundance of fauna by transferring it to the names of the twelve protagonists with inherent numerically ordered symbolism, beginning with "Eintagsfliege" and ending with the "Zwölfpunkt-Spargelkäfer." The fact that some of the listeners will be unfamiliar with more than a few of the indigenous insects, birds and rodents which appear in the track list dovetails perfectly with the spheres of a highly personalized and distinctive style, which the labored expression "minimal" fails to do justice to.
We spoke to Dominik about his artistic oeuvre, his love of nature and of how synthesizers might be able to change the world.
Which came first, your love of nature or your passion for music?
My love of nature has been an intrinsic part of me since I was a child. I grew up in harmony with nature, without a television or any other media contamination. Nature was my source of entertainment. Even as a small child, I knew most of the names of the indigenous flora and fauna and was in awe of the fascinating shimmer of the purple emperor, the sparkle of the kingfisher and the aeronautic prowess of the swift. I wasn't interested in music in the slightest as a child, I always found it rather strange and artificial. The natural world was my music: the grasshoppers' concerto, the dawn chorus, the rushing of the streams. It wasn't until I heard the mystical sounds of electronic music that a deep sense of curiosity was awakened within me. I couldn’t quite grasp how these weird and wonderful sounds were formed and felt compelled to get to the bottom of the secret.
It's been a whole eight years between the release of Diorama and Mannigfaltig. How would you describe your personal development over the last eight years?
I'm very grateful to have a platform for my music, because I can use it to reach a lot of people for my life's mission: making people sensitive to indigenous nature. Had none of this happened, I'd most probably still be working in public relations in the field of conservation on daily guided tours in the countryside, but reaching far fewer people than with an album like this. I'm getting increasingly closer to the point in my career where I feel I can allow myself to indulge both my passions and unite them in a healthier, more sustainable and holistic way. It's important to recognize who you really are, what you need to be happy and where your limits are. If we can recognize these things, we feel content and can run our race. However, if we get caught up in the greedy pursuit of fame and fortune, you can soon lose track of yourself and become the allegorical donkey chasing the carrot on the stick and quickly fall to pieces.
Musically, I'm now being myself more than ever before. I don't pander to any trends, am always on the look-out for innovative momentum and try not to copy anyone else, or even myself for that matter. I only make music when I get the feeling I want to express myself musically, so in that sense, my motivation is becoming more and more intrinsic. The journey itself is the reward and we live in order to live our lives; everything else is a waste of time in my eyes.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? What stimulates you to come up with new ideas?
For me, the natural world is the greatest artist of them all; its wealth of colors and shapes and its subtlety puts me in a state of childlike wonder again and again. I also spend every day outside in the countryside due to my work as a biologist and always try to immerse myself in the natural world with all my senses, to listen to it humbly in contemplative observation without wanting to try and change anything. After spending some time in mindful observation, I always return to a state in which my brain starts to switch off and the day-to-day problems become smaller and more trivial. This is when I feel in complete harmony with Mother Nature and like an innate part of her, at one with everything. I try to use these profound feelings of happiness, connection and archaic emotions to create soundscapes, in a similar way to how a painter paints a picture. When I first started out, I tried to unite my two great passions, namely the natural world and music, in a simplistic and more profane way. I recorded natural sounds and animal sounds and wove them into my music. These days I only do this for purely production related reasons. As described above, my way of combining my two passions is more indirect nowadays.
Do you have a particular approach to producing a track? Have you got any kind of studio rituals?
I always begin with a concept in my head drawn from the natural world which I would like to set to music. This helps me to create an image of the kind of picture I want to paint. For instance, the cover of "Mannigfaltig" was finished long before I even started to make any of the music. I've already drafted the cover art for the next album, too. Making music is nothing other than making choices from an endless range of options. When I've got the concept down then I've already got a good idea of the direction I want to go in, for instance, that in this case, it would be exactly twelve tracks. I usually start by laying down the main melodies or writing them in Cubase score editor, then I lay down the pads and basslines which fit them harmonically. Finally, I program a suitable drum track. When I've got enough content then I start to arrange the piece. Some parts get cut in the process because they're not needed and those which I feel are necessary at that point are created on the spot.
I do the rough mix while I'm creating the track and leave the fine-tuning until the very last. I mix "in the box" which is the best fit for my way of working. In terms of the sound, if you avoid digital clipping I see it as having more advantages than disadvantages, otherwise, you always lose something in the conversion. Before doing the mixdown I always pull all the faders down by the same amount using the VCA fader, so as to make enough headroom for the mastering.
Another one of the great advantages of working this way is that you can constantly refine the subtle nuances, which is something I'm an expert at.
It sounds as if you spend a great deal of time during the production process of developing individual sounds. What is the relationship between macrocosms and microcosms in your music?
Yeah, you can say that again. I certainly am a bit of a perfectionist and can spend hours working away on one single sound or melody. Fortunately, I make music on my own; if I had a studio partner, they'd probably have a nervous breakdown. I try to make every track as sonically clean as possible and always filter any unnecessary frequencies out by using low cuts. Effects, in particular, can clutter up the low-end in the mix and make it sound muddy. In terms of frequency, I try to lay down every track in such a way that it has enough room in the mix. I do exactly the same thing with the melodies. Melodies are an ancient means of communication. We now know that they are even older than the language itself. When making music, the oldest part of our brain, the cerebrum, is active. When speaking, on the other hand, the lateral lobes are active, which are a younger part of the brain. Stroke patients are often unable to speak but are still able to make music, which goes to show that humans were making music long before they developed language. Melodies are therefore nothing other than a form of language and I believe that you should only use as many words as necessary to express something musically resonant.
Which are the primary tools you use in your musical productions?
I use a lot of analogue synthesizers. All my synthesizers are set up on different channels on a big analogue mixing desk, which I can use to refine them with external effects via the aux send using a Bricasti-Hall or the Eventide H8000, for instance. Then I record them using the Crane Song Held Quantum converter in Cubase, often both dry and wet. Then I edit them down further. In terms of software, I tend to work a lot with Omnisphere or u-he VST synths. I mostly route the synths into one group and sidechain the bass sounds from the kick using a multiband compressor. This is the central component of the track, the heartbeat, which always needs enough space. I've been using Cubase since 1993, which I got hold of back then when I swapped a pair of trainers for it and ran it through an Atari 1040ST. Now that I've been working with Cubase for 26 years, I feel totally comfortable using it. I know all the tricks and know-how to get what I want out of it. What is more, thanks to all the updates I've always been able to pick up on each successive innovation when it came out, which meant I didn't have to learn everything all at once?
How important is the production and processing of your own samples in your music?
Aside from analogue and digital sound generators, I always use acoustic signals as a third audio source, too, in order to give the piece an extra dimension. In this way, I'm always recording sounds from the natural world, or in my studio, which I use either to create soundscapes or use as drums. For example, on the album, you can hear such things as underwater breathing, shots on a military training area, rain on a metal roof, books being closed, or switches being flicked on and off. Recording these sounds is even more fun each time and serves as a fantastic motivational tool.
Can you shed more light on the production process of "Mannigfaltig" for us?
I was inspired phenotypically by the ways that the twelve animal protagonists live and tried to depict these feelings in a narrative form. On the track "Eintagsfliege" I more or less mapped out the metamorphosis from the waterborne larva all the way to the adult insect. You can hear an aquatic noise in the middle break: the transformation is now complete, the insect hatches and emerges from the water. In order to illustrate this change, the sound suddenly becomes really stripped down and a strange kind of dance begins to celebrate the brief, but an intensive reproductive ceremony.
In "Sechslinien-Bodeneule" I was trying to use my music to narratively portray the magical process of metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to pupa to butterfly. As I'm sure you'll have noticed, each individual segment in this piece is highly fragmented. In the beginning, the barrel-shaped egg is laid, whose robust rib structure inspired me to create very specific sequences. In the first break, the greenish-grey caterpillar hatches and eats its way relentlessly through the percussive patterns until ultimately pupating and undergoing the incredible metamorphosis. In the second, long break, the original larva is almost entirely dissolved in its own digestive juices and dies, just as it does in the metamorphosis of a butterfly. Only a fraction of the original tissue survives. An entirely new creature is created from this handful of cells, which ultimately emerges as a butterfly from the pupa. I depicted this process with previously unheard, airy rhythmic structures and melodies, which flutter away increasingly as the track progresses.
The concept of the album already manifests itself in the thematically successful combination of titles and track names as well as what I consider to be exceptionally beautiful artwork. If you had one wish with regards to how your music is received and its effect, what would it be?
My hope is that as many people as possible will try to understand the meta-level of the album and not simply to apathetically consume it without asking themselves why the track names are so "strange" and why there's an odd-looking triangle made out of random animals on the cover. I hope that some people might start to question things, like why they are how they are in our system and whether they are logical and meaningful. I also hope that we can learn to love and appreciate the natural world more so that we regain a little of the childlike wonder at its ingenuity. I hope that we can comprehend that anything which acts against the natural world, also works against us humans and the generations to come at the end of the day. I only know this one earth where we can exist, and keeping the natural world intact is like our life insurance. I also hope that we can ultimately give our friends in the natural world the respect and space they deserve and shake off our anthropological megalomania. Otherwise, sooner or later we'll end up as Homo suicidalis.
Can music save the world? Or put another way: What part does art still have to play in today's world given the climate crisis and the worldwide loss of species?
I consider it the duty of any established artist to use his scope and power for good causes. I often try to combine my performances with nature awareness-raising activities. For instance, I'm also an ambassador for bats for NABU (Germany's largest nature protection organization) and gladly offer excursions before or after my performances, which the members of the audience can take part in by winning a raffle. However, I mostly only use the bats as a nice way of opening the door to making the participants increasingly aware of the bigger picture. The youth of today are tomorrow's future and electronic music is a wonderful way of reaching a great deal of them, opening their hearts and removing the veil of alienation. Nature hasn't got anyone lobbying for it, but it still needs heroes, people like Greta.