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Gonzo Latest News: Martin Birke interview

Date Published: 11th February 2013

Martin Birke was one of the first artists that I interviewed when I started writing The Gonzo Daily all those months ago. Now his band, Genre Peak has a new ambient album imminent, and so, on the last day of May, I spoke to him again....

JON: Tell me about the new album

MARTIN: ‘9 Microspheres’….Basically in 2009 after I had finished Genre Peak’s second album “Preternatural”, which was big production, big electronic, big 24 track with percussion and bass and everything, I talked to my friend Steve about doing an ambient album because I said I needed a break from the constant programming and just the whole ordeal of doing a big, big  vocal album. So I just gotten a new Pro Tools LE studio system for my house, so as part of learning it – you know learning the engineering of it – we got together and basically started doing these ambient pieces. 

Steve is a former student of Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists that I think happened around 1985,  and Steve is also a really talented  guitar synth artist and he can generate these incredible environments and loops with a midi guitar and what’s really nice about the guitar synth is that there is something about the midi tracking on strings that gives you more control and a lot more organic sound over the strings than you would with a normal keyboard synthesiser, so Steve being very good at what he does just kinda started recording these pieces and he would layer loops on loop s and it would be very ethereal and calming. 

And  we’d put on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and we would watch that with the volume turned down and we basically recorded for about a week watching various Kubrick  movies with the volume turned down, and we  found it really inspiring, you know, Kubrick being the master that he was.  And so each piece started to have its own unique sound to it.  Granted they are all kinda on the dark side, but each piece sounded quite different from the last and after about – I think we did about just under two weeks of tracking - I picked about ten of the tracks that I really liked and just kind of cut them, shortened them, played with them, added effects here and there, reverb sounds, clicks and groans and stuff like that and it just really turned out to be very great and magical and I was really proud of it.  So we released it under a different name and these were different mixes from the new album, and we released in 2009 on iTunes and that was that.  

We didn’t have a CD pressing, we didn’t really promote it and that was that.  But over the years I was looking back on it thinking “Wow these are really solid ambient tracks, I really like this and this was some of the most fun favourite stuff I’ve ever done”.  So I think about last year I told Steve let’s give this a proper release maybe Rob will release it through his label.  So I first went to my old German label which is an ambient label and they liked it but for some reason didn’t want to release so struck out there.  So I sent Rob a couple of tracks and said, “Look,  I know ambient music is really hard to promote and it’s even harder to sell, not a lot of people are into it, you know. Unless the hard core Brian Eno fans out there”. But we had the songs remixed and we had them mastered very properly.  It’s one of the loudest masters I’ve ever heard. At 20 dBs it is huge. There’s this huge headroom, I think it is because there is no drums or symbols or anything fucking up the headroom. So Rob said OK let’s do it as a digital release, which I was very surprised and I was like “Wow really?”  Nobody wanted to touch this stuff, but Rob is a good guy. A real patron of music. 

So I talked to my friend Dan and he designed the  artwork on the digital booklet and then we decided that we wanted to do a small CD pressing just to have a physical copy to hand out at shows, and to send out to magazines, you know, just on a small basis. And so we pressed up a couple of hundred, and they turned out really nice and it was very cost-effective. And we just got the CDs about two weeks ago and they’re up for sale on the Genre Peak website right now. And I think the digital release through Gonzo will probably  hit stores …. around July I think.

JON: I thought it was the end of June, but I can check.

MARTIN:  But, you know, sometimes it takes a while for the stores to get it. That’s just the way distribution goes.  But anyway it should be out digitally very soon. And that’s basically how it came together. And we decided to make it a Genre Peak album just to go along with the rest of the Genre Peak and showing that the idea of Genre Peak is no two albums sound the same so I thought that  by putting out an ambient album that would be a nice twist to – a nice contrast to – the rock and electronical stuff we have done in the past.

JON: Was this your first go at ambient music?

MARTIN:  Seriously, yes.  I had been in bands in the ‘90s.  I was in a band called Sandbox Trio where we toured Germany and we did kind of improvised ambient always with some type of mild rhythm to it.  This is the first time I said I don’t want any percussion on this record – no drums at all. It was really fun for me to find alternate sounds that would take the place of percussion sounds, like we would sample a fence being scraped by a stick,  put a big reverb on it and place it in the background, you know, all washed out. Record scratches I would stretch out really long and reverse them and put them really far back in the background. I have these back-rigged bells that were very silent and had this kind of "zzzzzzp" sound on the second track called ‘Lunar’ , which is like my favourite track, and it was really kind of fun doing sound design so yes this will probably be the first time that I really,  seriously did something purely ambient, because I am a drummer before I am anything else as a musician so doing something without drums was really fun. 

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