Interview with The Soundchaser Project

Artemi = Artemi Pugachov

Soren = Soren Lemche

Renato = Renato Menezes


Artemi: How did you guys meet each other and what made you think about working together forming The Soundchaser Project?

SOREN: I used to work with Renato’s wife, and chatting she revealed that her husband was a music-lover. Renato and I had just bought CD-writers, and the official presentation took place at a barbecue lunch some Sunday morning back in February 1999.

My wife and I arrived and to my surprise some cheap stereo machine was playing “Ashes are Burning”.  I commented on this with Renato, and from there on we became friends. Actually we copied each others CD collections and had daily conferences on the reviewed audio files.

One day Renato had copied a CD with lots of different stuff (Tangerine Dream, Sting, Seal and only God knows what, but a track caught my attention, fake name and a “funny” title to a song that sounded really great. I asked him about  it and he was very vague on the topic. A few days later at a party at his place, once again I heard the tune and I again inquired him on the subject (LOL) .

He finally admitted that it was his tune, and opened a door to a fully packed studio. From there on The  Soundchaser Project was born. ! Renato needed someone to drive him towards the final recording process and also needed lyrics and vocals in English. So I just filled in the form and was accepted…..

RENATO: Yes, his ROM is still functional... That Saturday by the pool, near the lake and the forest, warm sun in the  afternoon, the girls, barbecue and cool beer,  a stereo blasting prog music... after a few moments Soren played a tape with Schulze’s Timewind...Early on I noticed Soren had a passion for EM, the likes of Tangerine Dream, Froese, Franke, Schulze, Himekami Sensation, Vangelis, and so forth... that is, a synth-oriented state of mind. And that was a perfect match, cause I had a project studio packed with synths and sound libraries with thousands of unusual patches, preferring “synthetic sounds” over slick natural sounds.

We spent more than a year checking out each other’s preferences by exchanging hundreds of cdrs, discussing it all, and easily found a vast common ground. In fact musical discussions took thousands of hours, and we kept probing each other’s minds for lost musical treasures, obscure trivia, bands and songs. We reconstructed a whole musical past history, and web cd dealers were researched for missing items. So we were always conspiring, talking of matters normal people couldn’t really understand, like lunatics, to the dismay of our wives...

Artemi: How would you describe the process of working with each other? Do you create in perfect harmony or is it sometimes like a musical dispute or even fight?          

SOREN: Piece of cake, all decisions and programming are with Renato. He does, although, consider opinions and changes. But since we have more or less the same background concerning music and the same “taste”, things are easy to settle. You see, this thing about TSP is about having fun, we do enjoy the project and do have lots of fun with it, so I guess there isn’t place for fighting here.

RENATO: Working with Soren is really easy, we do not fight each other over musical decisions, we are ever on friendly terms... Since we work in our own studio, the pressure is off, decisions can be postponed if needed, you can even take a year to finish a song to get it right.

A pressure-free environment for recording and mixing  leads to the fact that you can work anytime you’re inspired, be it night or day, and I have to confess that I never fail to come up with new ideas every time I turn on the equipment. If I’m really tired and worn out then I don’t even bother to enter the studio, so it just depends basically on the energy level that you’re in at the time.

However, we do have lots of friendly arguments, not settled, concerning other people’s work...over certain bands or albums there’s an endless ongoing discussion, and over those fine points we’ll certainly reach no agreement.... :))

Artemi: I would like to ask you the most trivial question: what are your musical influences?

SOREN: They are HUGE, on our web site, we list some of the bigger influences in the different categories, but basically we are “Prog-Rock” influenced to the roots of our souls….(LOL). We do, nevertheless, listen to a lot of stuff within a multiple array of genres.

RENATO: Basically I’d say that when we started there was a fine blurred line that separated our main influences... Although I had been working for years with synths and guitar synths, when it boiled down to what we were actually listening to in our cdplayers, I came to realize that I had an unconscious favorable bias towards guitar-oriented music, that is, bands that had guitar and keyboards/synths in their line-up, over bands purely based on keyboards. Soren, on the other hand, was listening to a 70/30 proportion of synth-oriented music...

I reached that conclusion while we were exchanging cdrs, and that sort of surprised me, since it was a subconscious trick, cause basically we liked the same bands from the start, in various genres. That is to say that we agreed 99% on the genres of music we liked, and within each genre’s we certainly agreed which bands were the best, which albums and so on...

Soren and I have a theory that maybe there are anywhere from 10 to 20 albums produced at that time that you could (and still can) actually listen from track 1 till the end and find no fillers, one good example being “Hamburger Concerto” by Focus. Another is “Mirage” by Camel...”TDSOTM” by Pink can fill in the rest...

Our dislikes are also similar, like throwing in a string quintet in the middle of a song to display erudition... that’s a cheap trick, and it became an inside joke like  “uh, ok, that song of ours is not doing so great now, what if we put in an arrangement for a string quintet in the middle break?” then we start laughing...  That’s why you’ll never hear a string quintet in TSP’s records... Soren also holds something against “woodblocks” percussion, maybe sometime he tripped on one while barefoot...

Artemi: Which synthesizers are used by The Soundchaser Project?                                         

SOREN: All the Synths and keyboards are listed at the web site. But our preferential synths are the Korg Trinity TR-Rack, Korg Wavestation SR, Korg M1R, Yamaha AN1X and DX7IIFD, Roland JV1080, D550 and Vintage Synth MSV1.  

RENATO: There are certain properties about the Korg synths that make them really interesting to generate “spacey” sounds, superb digital pads and odd but musical electronic sounds. Korg synths also have a tendency to overdrive the frequency spectrum.

Roland synths have the “classic” clean sounds, leads, pads and strings that are inherent to prog and EM, that is, they’re to be expected in that context and always do fit in. Roland D50 still has a sound that “cuts in” any mix, if programmed with the right patches.

Yamaha synths, on the other hand, sound thinner than the others, with few exceptions like the AN1X, but, on the other hand, they do not override the frequency spectrum, and are useful at that.

I do not subscribe to the theory of the supremacy of analog over digital synths. In fact old analog synths, pre-midi era, although they are romantic and sound good, are very hard beasts to tame, so I consciously avoid them and leave them to purists. With the advent of virtual analog synths and modern analog synths with full midi implementation, this matter should be put to a rest. But my philosophy is : whatever sounds good sounds good, be it digital, virtual analog or new/old analog. 

Almost any synth that may fall into your hands may have some quality, and with some judicious programming something fantastic could be just around the corner.

Also our libraries with thousands of patches for each synth are an asset, so we can avoid known presets and explore other sonorities from each machine. Good programming can lead to unheard of sounds even from overabused synths like the DX7 or M1, that’s the beauty of synths. For example, the Fourier Series algorithms of DX7 series are horrible for producing natural sounding instruments like brass or strings, god forbid me, but if you’re looking for purely electronic sounds then you may have some good surprises.

Sampling is ok in my book, although I should say that in IGRS (Intergalactic Radio Station) there are really no synth samples, the synth sounds and fx are all “authentic”.

Artemi: There are many spoken word passages in your music. How would you describe the role that lyrics play in your compositions?                                                                             

SOREN: The voice is the “human” element in the electronic fireworks of sounds. So if you take the Vangelis album “Direct” or for that matter, Mike Oldfield's “Songs From a Distant Earth”, you’ll get the feeling of what I’m saying. The voice is the poetical thread that links the sounds to poetry and thus gives the music a “human” element. You don’t have to worry about this because your brain is configured to interpret this at this exact explanation. (LOL) Something called “neurolinguistics”!

RENATO: Well said my friend... I’ll make these words mine...don’t forget “Ghost Song” by Morrison/ The Doors, not electronic, but very poetic..

Artemi: In the early days of Electronic Music some people hated synthesizers claiming that synths were not musical instruments (and, subsequently, EM was not music in their opinion) but just machines that made music by themselves as they thought. Now that the synthesizer became more wide-spread, there are again people who fight it and acoustic music is fashionable again. Why do you think this happens?                                        

SOREN: Early days of electronic music? Well, I believe that nobody really understood Stockhausen when he began to record. Any chord striking the brain can be interpreted as harmonic or not.  If configured at 4 cycles per second – it’s harmonic, be it electronic or not!, otherwise it’s not. What sounds good for you is not always good for me and vice-versa. This discussion is pretty obsolete, because I have different feelings listening to classical music, be it Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky or Mozart, or electronic music; be it Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze or Himekami Sensation.                               

MTV’s “unplugged” sessions was to “feel” the talent, or not, of the various popular bands and some did pretty good and others didn’t. So if your band’s set-up relies on keyboards who gives a f*** ? It’s your music so if you expose it, you have to take the credits and the critique. We make music and we DO touch some hearts and that’s all that matters. Touching hearts and minds is all that matters in the frame of culture, HOW you do it is interpretative.

RENATO: Yeah, I remember that Walter Carlos album “Switched on Bach”, done purely on monophonic synthesizers... and all the discussions on the press about the validity of synths. And before that, the pioneers of EM like Stockhausen were frowned upon by the media, although there were no synths at that early time.

What helped to spread the mystique of synths was undoubtedly Keith Emerson using his early MiniMoogs, and I remember a concert by Tangerine Dream, back in 74’, in London, all musicians hiding behind banks of synths, blasting people’s minds with an electronic barrage of midi sequenced compositions, very brave guys to do it all live. Also the commercial success of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn broke some ground to bring synth music to the masses... But I’d say that prog rock, once a very popular style, was the dividing line where synths became desirable and acceptable to the general public. From then on it became fashionable in pop music and rock mainstream.

With the advent of digital synths, old analog synths, once very expensive machines affordable only to the top acts, were thrown in the thrash can. Digital synths were slicker sounding, had no intonation problems due to rising temperatures and had full midi capabilities. Then digital synths were suddenly out, off to the thrash bin with them...  old analog synths became “in” again...

But I’d say there’s a paradoxical ressurgence of synths in modern commercial dance music. The advent of samplers brought it all in again, since starting acts involved in house and techno music began looking back to old Juno 106s, Prophets, Jupiters, ARPs, Moogs, since they were inexpensive, and as it all became fashionable and profitable, old analog synth prices began to rise again astronomically, then the industries immediately caught on this market trend, beginning to churn out the Novation Bass Stations, Nord Leads, Waldorf Microwaves, etc.., a new wave of analog synths to the masses. That’s a smart move.

But these groups producing house, techno, drum’n’bass, trance, etc.. are not really like the traditional bands of old that had careers spanning decades and became household names.

They’re more like a small units of one or two individuals or producers, highly volatile, producing music for clubs that’ll be the current trend for a few months to be quickly substituted by a newer trend, their life cycle is very short.

On the other hand, the “acoustic” wave you mentioned is valid for established acts, that do operate in the traditional manner, and that’s an entirely different market trend. You’ll listen to “acoustic” concerts by the likes of Clapton, Sting, REM, Nirvana...

One can coexist with the other, acoustic and modern electronic are completely different market audiences. One is a mainstream phenomena having industry household names as protagonists and the other is an instant trend of the club/rave culture involving “faceless” short-lived acts.  

EM players have benefited from this I think, as now you have dozens of new synths to choose.

Artemi: Do you often play guitar in the studio or live?

RENATO: guitar is my main instrument, and I’ve been addicted to guitar synths since the advent of the first really viable one, the Roland GM70, back in the 80’s, and I’ve never stopped using them since then.

Then in the late 80’s computers started to become affordable and MIDI could be implemented to the max. Slaving a bank of synths to a guitar synth is really fun, and in compositional terms produces amazing results. A composition may be inspired by certain synth sound textures, it’s like the sound itself begs to be played in certain ways, and asks for certain chord progressions or lines, you only have to follow organically and play along with it. Sound textures are the inspirational sources, and exploring each synth’s bank of timbres and programming your own is a direct path to instant inspiration.

On the other hand, keyboard compositions differ from guitar compositions, and there you have an alternative way of producing  songs.

But like everybody else I do like playing or listening to a “regular” guitar setup, with effects, overdrive, etc...

I’d say that Intergalactic Radio Station is about 60% guitar synth work and 40% keyboards.

Artemi: Is your music related to space exploration or space imagery?                                      

SOREN: Sure, our first project was designed to be somewhat like a concept album, of a dude stuck in space having only the “intergalactic radio station” to listen to.

RENATO: Yes, totally... Space is the unknown, and sci-fi lends itself to endless speculations about “what if ”... it’s the modern fairy tale, and technology is the magic wand. Besides, space is about nature’s most pyrotechnic visual effects, just look at the Hubble telescope pictures, and that leads to all kind of sound experimentation when you try to transpose the visuals to music.   Also I should confess that at some point in my life I was into wildly speculative sci-fi like the “Rama” trilogy by Arthur Clarke,  “Childhood’s End”, and other works like “Solaris”, “Definitely Maybe”, Asimov’s tales of the Foundation, the silly Robots stories, the “laws of robotics” are serious cornerstones of cybernetics, not to mention UFO’s and space exploration by US and Russia in the 70’s... All in all, they have everything to do with synths and EM.

Artemi: The name of your project is the same as the name of one of Vangelis' compositions. Are you familiar with Vangelis' work?                                                                                  

SOREN: Vangelis is the greatest musician of our times and his work is eternal. People will listen to Vangelis forever no matter what happens to mankind. I do consider myself as one HUGE Vangelis fan. Beaubourg, Soil Festivities and Mask are albums that I don’t understand quite well, but beside these albums, his music is perfect. (personally I don’t believe that Vangelis is human, but an entity!) Vangelis is on the same level as the Dalai Lama and some other 10-15 souls in our era, just to show us simple humans that if we search hard enough, we’ll find the harmony and beauty in our souls. Yes, the title is from the “Direct” album, and the main inspiration too…..

RENATO: Enough said...his cocker spaniel dog is named “Vangelis”... rest my case...

Artemi: What is your most hated direction in music?                                                               

SOREN: Funk, Rap and Teen-Bands, ok, the kids have to have an identity with music and we do have to preserve the kids rights to dream and have their own identities, BUT the junk-culture is far too big, and we are creating monsters. The record companies invest in no-talent bands and empty culture. But thanks to the great God, the PC and the Internet is putting a stop to this.

RENATO: Good point...another aspect of this is that in the last ten years we have seen the increased financial accessibility of music recording technology with the advent of digital recording in computer workstations, software plug-ins, digital hardware, etc...I’d expected that the democratization of digital recording would lead to a new direction in music, outside of the all powerful music industry stream, and that happened to some extent even more with the means at our disposal over the Internet... but I still feel a little disappointed. With all technology at our disposal, the music being produced in the last 15 years, be it by the industry establishment or by the new alternative music producers is lacking in quality.

I still find that in the 70/80’s, in retrospect, we witnessed some kind of musical Renaissance, where technology was not so dominant but inspiration was abundant. There was a profusion of groups producing ground-breaking musical ideas, lots of   legendary musicians in action, be it guitar, keyboard or bass players or drummers. Then the industry and general public opinion took new turns, those guys were billed as “dinosaurs” and the level dropped increasingly over the years. Ok, somewhere along the line the musical self-indulgence of that generation took its toll... and most of the original inspiration may have dried out. But I still wonder how certain albums that were produced in that era still sound fresh in terms of ideas and sound, like they were recorded this year ...

Today, some millionaire acts spend millions of dollars in high end studios to come up with mediocre releases, and the public buys it!! All kind of technologies are available, sound quality increased exponentially, but the end result is lacking...that is definitely my most hated direction in music...

Artemi: Any plans for the future?

SOREN: We hope to stay around long enough to make more CD’s and to “touch more hearts”.

RENATO: There are plans for new TSP releases, unexpected twists in our personal lives have prevented this from happening earlier on as originally planned, but lots of exciting stuff have been already recorded pending some final arrangement decisions and mixes. We have 20-30 new compositions in our archives ready to be finalized, it’s just a matter of time till they see the light of day, but we’re not really in a hurry... Another thing that is getting our attention is 5:1surround... I’d love to do our mixes in surround, that would be exciting, but we’ll wait till the technology is mature and till all different standards have settled in...

Well, that’s it, and thanks for tuning in at Intergalactic Radio Station...

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This interview is © 2003 Artemi Pugachov