Frank Gingeleit of INSTANT DRONE FACTORY Talks To Prog Sphere

Frank Gingeleit started his music career beyond the age of forty, but it didn’t take him so long to get into the „business“ with his project Instant Drone Factory. Gathering the musicians from all around the world, Frank’s vision is to explore beyond the term „experimental“ combining elements from progressive, psychedelic and Krautrock heritage. This interview brings an insight in Frank’s work.

Hey, Frank! Thanks for having time to answer some questions for Prog Sphere. You’ve been in music for quite some time and before we focus on Instant Drone Factory, would you mind telling us something more about your music background? How did your story go?

Well, I started to make music in a serious way beyond the age of 40. As many juveniles of my age I learned basic guitar chords in the school yard but it took quite a while that I took a lunchtime break to buy an electric guitar and a rehearsal amp to fulfill a dream of my youth. A little later I recorded chords on a cassette deck and played little “solos” to it. A friend of mine noticed this and let me a multi track cassette recorder (the “famous” Tascam Porta One) in order to find out whether home recording would be something for me. The result was kind of a “quadrology” of CDs, “Nightmares And Escapades”, “Megalopolis”, “Toy Island” and “Lost In The Deep Blue”, the latter being republished by a label over here in Germany and thus my first “official” CD.

And what about Instant Drone Factory? You formed it in 2005, the idea was to (re)visit the experimental side of music, combining progressive, psychedelic and krautrock elements. Am I wrong? What was your guideline when starting out this project?

In fact, there was nothing like a “guideline” firsthand. Jean-Hervé Péron, a founding member of Faust, was listening to my mentioned solo CD “Lost In The Deep Blue” and asked me whether I might like to play on his annual avant-garde festival in Northern Germany where he’s living in an almost historical farm house with a huge barn and side buildings. I was not really prepared for going onstage as a solo artist and would not have liked to create a taped “backing band” for a solo live show. Instead, I asked some musicians that I knew whether they would like to go on stage with me with a project based on the concept of instant composing, once invented by Ex-Can singer Damo Suzuki for his “Damo’s Network” project: No rehearsals, no musical “themes”, not even a given key. Everything should be composed by all players in the very moment of playing. This was the original idea for that – what we thought at that time – one-time-event. Nobody was told to play Kraut-, Progressive or any other kind of Rock. What “genres” they hear as our “influences” largely depends on the listeners’ listening experiences and in some cases even “prejudices” with me being German, playing experimental Rock and, hey, must be Krautrock… Quite a few reviewers see Can as our examples. The basic idea of what music tells the planet might be alike, but you just have to play one of Can’s albums – maybe “Tago Mago”, the only one of their albums that I own – and right after this one of our albums, you will hear immediately that we’re not “influenced” by them.

Which bands/artists have influenced your work with IDF?

As said before there are no “names” of bands or artists as influences in the strict meaning of the term. But, of course, the musicians that take part in live shows or studio recordings have their own musical preferences and are not asked to deny them when playing with us. The idea, not the played music as such, from my perspective as a “producer” might have its background in the 60s “Space Jazz”, Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy or the Art Ensemble of  Chicago might come to your mind, their general idea of (mostly) instrumental protest music transposed to the Rock idiom.

So far, there are three official releases under the belt of IDF: 2006’s “Critical Mass”, 2008’s “Live” and 2011’s “Ho Avuto Paura del Mare”. Obviously “Critical Mass” and “Ho Avuto…” are studio releases and I would love if you could compare these two, how much your approach changed in the process(es) of making these records?

There are no real “changes” concerning the approach of these productions. The general momentum of all IDF releases so far is coincidence. Who’s around, which studio is available, the mood of the musicians on the day the recordings take place etc. For “Critical Mass” we took a studio “next door”, so to speak, in my hometown Mannheim, just the four people that were onstage as IDF on that mentioned 2005 avant-garde festival as we didn’t have proper recordings of that show. It was our goal to capture the “spirit” of that show, but we knew that we won’t be able to replicate what we had played there. Although there were no pre-composed tunes some of the musicians certainly had musical ideas that might fit the recordings. The difference to “Ho Avuto Paura…” is mostly that there were more and different people, it was a better studio with better recording conditions, but, again, quite a bit was still coincidental. Norbert Schwefel and Verona Davis accompanied us on the travel to Hamburg for a sightseeing tour but were not intended to play with us. They helped us to carry our equipment into the studio and once they were in the studio they were “members” of that band that recorded “Ho Avuto Paura…”. To be open for all this from setting musical ideas to band sound to taking up every day life coincidences is the central element of the “idea” behind the IDF.

Your forth album called “Moving Into Darker Places” is already recorded and is set to be released in 2013. What can we expect from this album?

Although this album was recorded under the same “conditions” as our previous CDs it turned out to be more accessible. The term “composing” in “instant composing” was taken more literally and being “experimental” didn’t mean any more that the music should sound “strange” or not having been heard before. Some of the tunes on “Moving Into Darker Places” sound as if they were “composed” before the recordings started, but they weren’t. It’s a process of focused concentration, listening to what the others are playing, and contributing your own ideas as a musician. So, not everything that we’re playing this way in a studio session is worthwhile to be on a CD, but what comes on a CD is exactly what was played or sung in this very moment – carefully edited but never overdubbed. More than our previous albums “Moving Into Darker Places” is dealing with the “human condition” and critical aspects of everyday life. Even the good old “boy meets girl” topic is covered, but rather with a cynical attitude than with romanticism, a tune with the title “Have Some Fun” is really not funny at all… So, “Moving Into Darker Places” is the general direction of the CD and we chose this title as it’s a line in the lyrics of one of the tunes.

Which genre label Instant Drone Factory falls upon, in your opinion? You’ve been introduced to RIO recently and it seemed to me that you found your tag. What’s your take on this?

When asked to describe our music, I sometimes replied “adventurous” or even “intelligent noise”, but this rather led to more questions than it was regarded as a satisfying answer. As for the RIO (Rock in Opposition) thing: In one German review “Zeuhl”, the music of the French band Magma, was mentioned as a possible musical category, and, yes; when listening to “Kobaïa” it’s musically not  too far away from what we’re doing on “Ho Avuto Paura del Mare”. But, again, though sounding “free” the music of Magma was composed by the genius of Christian Vander whom I personally see in the “sphere” of the British neo-classical composer Benjamin Britten, and both are no personalities you want to compare yourself with if you don’t want to be regarded as “arrogant”… But when I googled a bit for this the term RIO came up and all of a sudden I saw an option to use RIO as a possible “landmark”. We had shared the stage with some of the musicians of the original RIO bands such as Chris Cutler, Charles Hayward, Geoff Leigh… I think that you can say that we were not up to sound like any of the RIO bands intentionally, but it’s not completely wrong in the way that people listening to this kind of music might be likely to like ours as well.

Having the band members coming from all around the globe, how does it seem when you guys work on an album? Is there someone who is always in charge, managing the whole process or every of the members bring a piece that you all together work on?

Technically, it’s me who is the “guy in charge” as for getting the musicians together, do the booking of the studio, pay the bills etc., but when the doors of the recording room are closed there is nothing but silence. The same process that lets a group of people start a conversation, be it in a doctor’s waiting room or a train compartment, leads to “com-munication” using our instruments with everybody having the same right of “free speech” so to speak… So far, we never used a recording session in order to rehearse as song and then record it. Usually we have many hours of recorded stuff from which we select and extract what has “the shape of a coherent tune” and take it as a tune for a CD.

Though it’s been said that your music comes out as strictly improvised, are there times when you talk about how some specific part has to sound? What’s needed for an improvisation piece to be successful? How that chemistry works when it comes to IDF?

In our music there is a difference to what is usually understood as improvisation in music theory or what you learn in music school classes. Usually an improvisation goes over a theme, something pre-composed that is “interpreted” by the players in a more or less “free” way. In IDF recording sessions we are usually not improvising over a musical theme. So, you can say that the “chemistry of communication” has to work well in order to get a tune that will be on an IDF CD. Each musical voice has the sound that the respective musician gives it. During the editing and mixing process these sounds are “shaped” in order to bring out the players’ sound intentions in the best possible way but they’re never changed completely. In very few cases somebody says something like “oh, this doesn’t sound well”, then we stop and play it again or even stay away from it.

Besides working with Instant Drone Factory, you work as a producer / mastering engineer at Living Tunes Productions. Tell us something more about this side of Frank Gingeleit’s character?

In 2007 I took my lifetime savings to found a company of my own. During the first years I took classes at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA and received a certificate in music production. Based on this knowledge and my experiences with previous releases I was able to do fully professional productions in all aspects of a music production. As mastering was a broad aspect of my Berklee education I offered mastering as a job for others and did this in almost all genres of popular music, Rock, Jazz, Blues, Latin, Hip Hop, Country and quite a few others. Mastering can do a lot to a music production even when the recordings and the mix were performed by non-pros. But as quite a few problems are better solved in the mix, mix and productions counseling became a broader aspect of my work. In the meantime you can book me as a mixing engineer, too, and I’m planning to start online mixing classes in early 2013 – it would be too early to say too much but it will be different from the kind of online and correspondence courses in this field that are known so far. So, Living Tunes is a “living company” so to speak, with Living Tunes Productions, Living Tunes Records, Living Tunes Mastering and the new Living Tunes mixing classes as its “branches”.

Name few albums which production you admire.

In my ears, the very best production in popular music is Steely Dan’s “Two Against Nature”. In the field of modern electronic dance music I’d say that Madonna’s “Music” is a great reference production. One of the CDs where the production as such is most audibly influencing the sonic result is Radio Head’s “Kid A”. Quite a few young bands are going for this sound, and all of them have to learn that it’s not easy to let vocals come “out of the guitars”… Some production elements of this album are outstandingly unique. Not mentioned too often in questions of music production are the Californian psychedelic folk band Beachwood Sparks and their self titled debut album, but they’ve invented quite a few of the sound elements of the so called “lo fi” productions in the so called modern “anti-folk” movement. This also caused some misunderstandings in DIY music production as it’s not that easy to create “lo fi” that can be sold successfully as it has nothing to do with “sloppy” productions.

What comes next for Instant Drone Factory? Can we expect any gigs sometime soon?

As you know and as the readers of this interview might guess, there are quite a few tunes of the IDF that are “good music”, but nevertheless would not fit on our “official” albums that are rather in the realm of “experimental” or “progressive” music. Some edited (mostly shortened) stuff of this kind was previously available on CD or download compilations only and I’m planning to offer some of them as something that I call our “Club EP”. Some of this music has been played in clubs and I noticed that the audiences were attentive and in some cases even asked the DJ what he was playing… The next “big thing” will be the new album “Moving Into Darker Places” to be released in early 2013. Andrea Tabacco and I are planning for some live gigs or even a tour during the spring and summer of 2013. But, as you and your readers know by now, we’re rather not a “regular” band. To get us on a stage largely depends on who’s “on the road” and available for shows with us. Festivals are great as they usually offer a basic backline which reduces travelling and transportation costs. Also in the case of touring, booking agencies are invited to get in touch and we will work out something to everybody’s pleasure… theirs as an agency, ours as the band and the local promoters and their audiences.

Is there anything you would love to add that I didn’t cover in my questions?

Nope. I hope that all that I’m saying is not too detailed for the purposes of Prog Sphere…

Thanks for your time, Frank!

Thank you, Nick. It was my pleasure to talk with you!

Websites related to Frank Gingeleit and the Instant Drone Factory:

www.instantdronefactory.org – the new “official” band website, some of the tunes mentioned in this interview can be heard on the website’s “Listen…” subpage

http://www.facebook.com/instantdronefactory – the Instant Drone Factory on Facebook

http://soundcloud.com/instant-drone-factory/sets – a Soundcloud set of the complete album “Ho Avuto Paura del Mare”

www.livingtunesmastering.com – Frank Gingeleit’s studio website, mostly in German but there is a subpage in English for “international visitors”

http://www.facebook.com/livingtunesmastering – Frank Gingeleit’s studio on Facebook

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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