Micha de Kanter
By Beppe Colli
Apr. 6, 2016
interview has a very simple starting point: quite often, in the course of the
last decade, while looking for the name of the engineer who was responsible for
the fine sound of a CD featuring "improvised music" recorded in
Holland, the CD booklet showed me the name Micha de Kanter. In the end, I
thought that having a conversation could prove to be great fun.
did a search, and I discovered that - alongside a freelance role that I assume
keeps him busy - there's also a personal recording studio, and an intense
he was quite busy, Micha de Kanter kindly accepted to answer my questions. The
interview was conducted via e-mail, in the last two weeks.
If you don't mind, I'd like to
start our conversation talking about a CD that I reviewed quite recently:
Reverse Camouflage by Oguz Büyükberber and Tobias Klein. Since you mixed and
mastered this album, I'd like you to talk about the way you regard your role when
it comes to mixing music that I assume to be for the most part improvised. I
mean, when mixing a written work one has at least the score as one's guide
(even if a score doesn't necessarily tell us how the piece is supposed to
sound), but what's your general rule, your compass, when it comes to mixing an
Well that is an interesting question.
Indeed I don't have a score, and often even the performers can't guide me in
how it should sound. What I do is that I use my imagination and try to let the
music guide me here. So that requires improvisation from my part, experimenting
in the mix. I mean, I do get an idea when listening to the recordings, imagine
what musical role voices, instruments, and sound have and give that a corresponding
place. I like working in space, I see the sound-field as my space. As a painter
can spread out his elements on paper, not only in the two dimensions but also
in depth, color, contrast etc. I think that is quite similar in audio.
And the thing I like in improvised music
is the fact that we have more freedom in the audio field too, as listeners
expect less. I mean, in a pop song everybody expect the vocals to be clear,
understandable and surrounded by either some reverb or instruments. I do like
pop music too though!
In the past, I've noticed your name as
the engineer on CDs by artists such as Ab Baars, Meinrad Kneer, Tobias Klein,
Wolter Wierbos, Albert van Veenendaal, and so on, so I assumed that
"recording the avant-garde" was your specialty. Even if my assumption
is not correct, would you mind talking about your relationship when it comes to
engineering works by those people I mentioned?
I think you could say so indeed, working
the improvised contemporary music is my specialty. Although I do a lot more too,
like concert recording for public radio, contemporary "classical"
music, live sound design, jazz music. But to answer your question, it all
started in the nineties for me when I studied at the Royal Conservatory in the
Hague and later got to get working at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, that I still do
since 1998! At the conservatory there was, and is, a great composition
department as well as sonology that I was interested in, aside from the jazz
department that my engineering study was more related too. I contributed a lot
to events, concerts and recordings of more contemporary music as well as jazz.
The Bimhuis in Amsterdam had been the
most important base for improvised music since the seventies and so I got to
know the scene when I joined the team in the late nineties and recorded a lot
in the studio with them.
I'm quite curious to know who you regard
as your "role model" when it comes to recording. I'm not talking
about your mentor, or about "learning the ropes". I'd like to know
what you consider as being "a perfectly realized sound picture.
I get inspiration and got influenced from
quite some different sources. An important one is actually not recorded sound,
but sound that I hear, live, in real life, without any electro-acoustical
interference! So in that sense trying to reproduce music as natural and
transparent as possible contributes to my "perfect sound picture".
But that is not all, as "real" reproduction is not possible, and the
fact that we can "add" surrealism to the sound gives lots of interesting
possibilities that I think do contribute to the music and listening experience.
So I like to bring contrast in recordings, together with a balanced sound
picture. A different field, but I find the sound of engineer Tchad Blake
interesting, for example his work with Neil Finn, to mention one name.
I had a look
at your studio's website, and I saw that one of the projects you mention
features a lady playing a whole variety of recorders, performing written
compositions. Would you mind talking about this, and your role in this?
"Susie, tell me a Story!" is a
project by Susanna Borsch, a very talented recorder player. Her idea for the
project was taken from Christopher Booker's book The seven basic plots. She
asked seven composers to write a piece as one of the ingredients of a story.
Recording and electronics are seamlessly integrated in the performance so I was
happily involved in the creation and making of the project. The piece by Kate
Moore for example consists of nine shifting recorder voices, of which eight are
pre-recorded and played back around the audience and one played live. Others
have soundtracks that play along as we play phrases that sound like a looping
effect of what Susanna plays but are not, as they evolve individually.
Here again I find it very interesting to
present the audience live with just nice recorded sound, but also add some
contrasting element. So for example Susanna played contra bass flute to which I
add a big sound, and distortion. And the image varies from very subtle elegant
flutes with reverb to quite loud soundtrack with shaking bass.
Sometimes it happens that, upon listening
to an old record that one "simply enjoyed" at the time of its
original release, one notices things one hadn't noticed before. (For me, it was
my understanding that the sound I heard on an album by The Doors such as
Strange Days was a prepared piano, with paper on the strings.) Has it ever
happened to you?
Oh yes! I had the experience when
professionally listening to sound and developing my musical ears that I started
to listen differently to all recordings and music. I was shocked as I feared I
could "just" enjoy the music in its totality without analyzing the
sound and voices, harmony, rhythm etc. But happily after a while I kind of
developed the ability to take different listening perspective actively. So from
a more "overview" sort of listening to more in-depth analytic
listening. Now I really enjoy that I learned that, and I'm still learning. It
is interesting how different people, and you as individual too, can listen
differently to music!
I'd like to
know how you started to develop an interest in sound. Was it due to your
listening to a recorded sound (such as a record), or to a "live
sound" (even if, say, broadcast on the radio)?
I was interested in sound for all my
life. My mother told me that the first thing I did as a young kid when she
bought new pans was to check out how they sounded! And as a kid playing piano
and composing some songs I asked for a microphone for Christmas and put it all
over - and under - the piano to see how it sounded. That kind of things, but it
was totally natural to me, so I was not really aware I was especially
interested in sound or recording. Just when I finished high school and was
searching what to study I found out that recording music was actually a study,
that would fit me well.
I noticed that on your website you have a
list of studios where you like to work, and I had a look at some of them. I'd
like to know more about the situation when it comes to studios such as those,
in your area or otherwise, given the fact that for quite some time now, for
multiple factors, studios have been in a perilous financial state.
Well, times have been changing in music
and the audio industry, that is no news. CDs don't sell, record companies
hardly produce any big selling records. So lots of productions are done
independently by musicians themselves, distribution is easy too. You do not
even have to make anything physical anymore. On the other hand, in audio land,
development of equipment makes production so much cheaper and faster that is
way easier to make recordings with less budget and fewer people. So studios
that adjust to that change do well right now, and new studios arise. All the
studios I work in are professional and healthy businesses. The most important
and hard to find is a good and silent room, that doesn't even have to be a
What's your opinion about nowadays
"standards in audio"? I'm talking about the current state of
technology when it comes to, say, hi-rez and DACs, but also about the
"redundancy" of fine sound in an age when mp3s and ear-buds are the
current listening model.
Honestly, I care less. I work with the
finest equipment, analog to digital to analog converters are important to me,
as is digital clocking, because when that goes wrong you introduce such random
distortion to the signal. But things like sample rates... You know, I never
heard a great record and thought: "it's just a pity that it has been
recorded at only 44.1". Remember the discussion not so long ago that
digital audio was unmusical, harsh? Never hear anyone about it anymore. That is
because converters are so much better now. What you have got in your phone
right now is probably better than thousand euro costing 'hi-end' equipment from
twenty years ago. It's all quite relative, if people enjoy lots of great
records on their phone in poor mp3 quality, who cares? That's just great I
think! There is also another positive thing now. Many people listen to music
nowadays in a more concentrated way with way better playback quality then most
used to do, namely earplugs (instead of low quality speakers placed under the
It's been said
that nowadays we live in a sound dimension that - due to the same equipment
being in use all over the world - negates any chance of "regional
originality", in so differently from the situation up to the 70s, when a
lot of studios had different hardware/equipment, some of it custom-made, so
that one could easily tell when an album was recorded in the U.S.A. or U.K.,
etc. What's your opinion?
I prefer "personal originality"
over regional, that doesn't mean a lot to me. Might be consensus of our time, I
don't know. But having less restrictions these days, and the fact that a lot of
equipment, software is available to all does not mean everything sounds the
same. Not at all. It's what you do with it. By the way, we use 60Volt
microphones and power supplies we build ourselves! Indeed because we wanted a
clean and open sound not available on the market, and we have a unique sounding
equipment. So that still happens.
I'd like to
know more about your current and future projects. Your schedule appears to be
I am pleased to have a lot of very nice projects to work on and planned. We are
recording a new album of Reinier Baas (Reinier Baas Vs Princess
Discombobulatrix), originally a North Sea Jazz Festival composition project. A
very special CD of Spinifex Maximus, the band led by Tobias Klein, just came
out, recorded all live in the studio Fattoria Musica.
I am touring and
made sound design for an exiting new music theatrical opera written by
Boudewijn Tarenskeen with Electra (with the recorder player Susanna Bosch among
others), and just mixed a new CD with the still very energetic and fresh ICP
interesting is the fact that we started a Bimhuis Radio station, with streaming
live recording of selected concerts at the Bimhuis, with interviews and other
recordings played. As public radio stations get cut on their budget more and
more, local independent initiatives are the future I think.
And the English
hosted shows are available on demand afterwards from the Bimhuis website. The
quality of music, location and recordings are stunning if I may say so myself.
But better check it out yourself.
© Beppe Colli 2016
CloudsandClocks.net | Apr. 6, 2016