Trance From Rome
By Markus Thiel
Giuseppe Ottaviani has made a name for himself not only as a producer of Uplifting and TechTrance tracks but also as a versatile live performer and DJ who frequently tours Europe and other parts of the world. We talked to the long-time Cubase user about the transformation process of turning emotions into music that sparks the crowd, the importance of melody and the magic of adding hardware to the creative process.
Was DJing your entry to the music scene?
Despite considering myself as a DJ, I was always more the producing kind. I became a DJ around 2001 just because it went in that direction for me at the time. I met a very famous DJ from Germany, Paul van Dyk, and he introduced me to the business, and we worked together for about thirteen years until I decided to work on my solo project. Since then endowed with the fact that I’m not a typical DJ or maybe even none at all, I started to play my own-produced music at gigs. I’m more of a live performer and so I built myself a setup condensing the producer side and the DJ side of me in the best possible way.
What were your biggest musical influences in the beginning?
Paul van Dyk of course was one of my biggest influences in electronic music but also Underworld, Daft Punk and many more. I was always drawn to the Trance-side of music and not so much into the Techno-side. Since I’m a classically trained piano player, the melody was always the most important thing about music for me. That’s why Trance was perfect because it’s the ideal blend of electronic music and classical influenced melodies. I really fell in love with that! In 1999 William Orbit released Barber’s Adagio for Strings remixed by dutch artist Ferry Corsten. And this made me think for the first time: “Hey, here we’ve got a classical piece of music mixed to a dance beat! Sounds pretty good — I like it!” And I've followed that path ever since.
Is the scene in Italy a lot different from other scenes in Europe?
Actually yes! The Italian club scene, in general, is not so much about who or what is playing but more about meeting friends and having a good time. We have a very huge Techno scene here in Italy but sadly not a Trance scene for me. And so I play all around the world but almost never in Italy which is kind of weird. (laughs) I mean I had a few gigs, but this doesn’t really count given the last twenty years.
So you played in places like Berlin instead?
Actually, my first gig ever was at Loveparade 2002 in Berlin — from bedroom producing the big stage was quite an important leap for me! It was the moment I felt the energy of the crowd feeding back to me for the first time and it led to me making even more music.
If you have to characterize your approach to writing music, how would you describe it?
From the producer’s point of view, I basically try to transfer my emotions into the music to share them with the listeners. My goal is to reach as many people as possible. You have to keep in mind that the thing I’m doing is still my favorite hobby, despite that it turned also into a business about twenty years ago. And I still have no other hobby I’m drawn to as much as to music. Since I already mentioned that Trance is very focused on melody, for me this melody carries the main emotion of a track, and that’s the case with any kind of music really. Most people don’t remember the drum part of a song, they remember the melody!
So you’re writing the melody first?
I always start on my piano by finding the melody and then I go on by building up the track around it at the studio using my software and hardware synths. I believe that a melody has some kind of super-powers in the field of emotionally reaching other people. It’s very similar to DJing. You can drive the crowd the way you want to if you know how to connect to their emotions. Ultimately this is what inspires me to go back to the studio, write something new and bring it back to the stage. Driving the emotions of let’s say 15,000 people is a big deal for me — and I handle that with care!
Are you involved in many collaborations?
I’m collaborating a lot with other producers and since my genre is mainly instrumental I also like to work with a lot of vocalists and writers. I favour a good balance between instrumental and vocal parts. Back in the day, I used to invite singers, producer colleagues and musicians over to my studio and for me, that’s still the best way of producing music. With VST Connect and Cubase you can now set up a remote session with people all over the world, but I really miss the feeling of working with people in the same room with everybody’s hands-on controllers and knobs. Touching things like a fader is very important for me during the process. I don’t make music by just moving the mouse cursor. Also, I really like to make music together with people like playing on the piano. And it’s definitely a thing I’ll go back to as soon as the pandemic is over.
You also established your own master class.
Yes, people were asking me about something like this for quite some time. I really like sharing what I know and so I started streaming my work at the studio over social media. But while working on projects you can’t really explain a lot or show every step. I started skipping through the comments after each streaming session and many people wrote that they really wanted to know more about my work and suggested I should do a master class. The only problem was that because of touring and studio work I didn’t find the time to do it. Having time has definitely been one of the positive things about the pandemic and so I got the program started. And there are more and more people signing up every week — it’s very satisfying.
I can see all these beautiful hardware synths behind your back. Do you still use a lot of hardware instruments in the process, or do you rely mostly on plug-ins these days?
My approach is pretty much hybrid. Primarily I use a lot of plug-ins while producing but I definitely need my keyboards for inspiration. When I’m on tour I also produce a lot on the road like in hotel rooms or on trains. When I’m finally back at my studio I really like to overdub, for example, basslines with my Sub37 because I like the way it sounds. But in general, I start everything in the box. When it comes to mixing, I enjoy routing the channels coming from Cubase into my ’90s Soundcraft console, because using knobs and faders gives me a special feel and my music a unique-sounding touch. It’s my signature sound you can hear on every production or remix I made. But when it comes to mastering — and trust me I have tried a lot of DAWs — the algorithms of Cubase are outstanding. I’m aware that this might be a pure producer thing that listeners won’t care too much about, but it’s the reason for me sticking with Cubase.