In the studio with Michel Banabila

Let’s start at the very beginning. Can you tell us how you got involved in composing, and what was your very first piece of gear?
Because of listening to music and sounds. I was listening to a lot of music and then heard about 8-track studios in Amsterdam (in the ’80s). The first instrument I bought was simply a Hohner Pianet … I used it with a phaser. But the possibilities to experiment in studios became soon very interesting to me.

How many different studio iterations have you gone through, and what does your final setup look like right now?
Always bedroom studios… I had a time when my friends and I were recording a lot with a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder (portastudio). And for a long time, I used an Ensoniq EPS16+ for sampling. And I had a beautiful Gloucester Harmonium. I miss both of those instruments. The oldest thing I still have is a Mexican turtle flute (occarina) I got it in 1982 and I still use it every now and then. My first Mac with Logic from Emagic was very exciting… no more problems to pay for studios and suddenly being free to record as much as you like and when you like. I basically stayed with a Mac and Logic ever since. However, for live I prefer Ableton.

Tell us about your favourite piece of hardware.
I do not have much hardware anymore. I have a Lexicon reverb which I like. And the Kaoss pad. I am not very technical and I do not like to study manuals, push buttons or watch displays during sessions, so if something is easy to use with your eyes closed yet producing surprising new sounds, then I love to have it. I think the Kaoss pad is very user-friendly. Furthermore, I love my field recorder. I record lots of sounds outside of my studio.

And what about the software that you use for production?
I record in Logic. I like Melodyne. Besides playing the piano or keyboards, I think that sampling, tuning and processing is still my basic way of working.

Is there a particular piece of gear that you’re just dying to get your hands on and do you think one day you’ll have it?
Yes – the Nebulae sampler. I sold my A100 modular set 2 years ago, but I miss particularly the Nebulae granular sampler that was in it a lot. There is a new version from that sampler and you can use it as stand alone too. On my records with Oene van Geel (viola player), I used it much, it’s such a nice sampler.

Can you please share some aspects of sound design in your work?
I often sample a lot of weird sounds I make with my voice. Then I tune it and process it with all kind of plug-ins.¬†During a recording, I am impatient because some excitement of an idea and I don’t want to lose myself in technical situations, so I always prefer intuitive possibilities. Also, I love to use field recordings as an addition to studio recording.

Any particular new techniques that you tried out for your new album?
No new techniques but a new setting: I invited a group of skilled musicians to improvise on acoustic instruments. That way I had a big palette of different sounds. Still, afterwards, sampling was my main start to compose.

What does your live setup look like, and what do you bring with you when you travel for an extensive tour?
It varies, I do not perform live that much. Usually, I bring lots of stomp boxes, a laptop, or a modular. But at the beginning of 2017, I had a tour with a dance company and a cello player, and for that, I used a Yamaha keyboard, laptop and melodica.

What is the most important environmental aspect of your current workspace and what would be a particular element that you would improve on?
Because of my neighbors, I can not make a lot of noise. So I use headphones a lot. When I need drums or anything loud I need to go to the studio of a friend. Also when I need to check the low sub frequencies of a mix at a louder volume I must always do it very quick to avoid complaints. I wish I had a space where I could make a lot of noise. This situation definitively affects the type of music I make. I suppose sometimes being able to use very loud sounds is essential. Also, my piano is very small and does not have great sound. The alternative is either going somewhere where there is a better piano or a grand piano, or use a software instrument, or just work with the sound that my little study piano has.

What can you tell us about your overall process of composition? How are the ideas born, where do they mature, and when do they finally see the light?
Any sound can inspire me a lot or trigger something… The funny thing is… and I never get that really… that sometimes I work on something for a long time, keep on changing things and give it an enormous amount of effort, then yet other times I quickly want to add one more last tiny extra track, do it casually and very quick, and then in retrospect I have to confess to myself it was the best recording… When I trust on my intuition, after I have an idea, some sounds, or an atmosphere or some melody or chords in my head, I start to improvise while recording. Another way of working is I like to just randomly combine little recordings from my database and see what happens. What I like the most of composing is finding elements for what I am doing, when I am focused and I suddenly find things everywhere that seem to fit magically.

After the piece is complete, how do you audition the results? What are your reactions to hearing your music in a different context, setting, or a sound system?
I have two Yamaha NS10’s and one JBL sub speaker. After I am done with something I leave my studio, take a break and then listen to the speakers in my living room. If the mix then still sounds good, I can approve the mix.

Do you ever procrastinate? If so, what do you usually find yourself doing during those times?
Not for my own work. But in assignments like for a film, dance or theatre project I can have a lot of doubts. I try to understand what is requested and sometimes at first I make mistakes, but because of those mistakes I eventually find my way to what it should be.

What gets you inspired?
Moods. City sounds. Animal sounds. Improvisations I recorded. Recordings outside. Music I listen to. Experiments with toys in the studio.

And finally, what are your thoughts on the state of “electronic music” today?
I think it’s just amazing how much great stuff is out there really. Listening to Moor Mother, Sarah Davachi…. some recent discoveries; Beheaded Totem by HHY & The Macumbas, Schaum by Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek, a reissue of Galerie Randolph by Ruedi H√§usermann and Landfall by Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet.