This interview sees us in conversation with Ed Carlsen, an Italian composer and producer whose made quite a name for himself in the contemporary classical community and on Spotify. With two albums under his belt, Elusive Frames (2017) and The Journey Tapes (2016) and more music to come, Ed is certainly an artist to watch. In conversation with Ed we talk about his journey as a composer, recent collaborations, his studio setup and more.
Hi Ed, tell us a little bit more about yourself. How and why did you become a composer?
Well, while the ‘hows’ are easy to tell, the ‘whys’ might just be hard to explain. What I can say is that, after a good 5 years spent flying planes, I needed something that better connected me with my deeper self. In fact, I’ve been playing the guitar since I was a kid, but composing my own music was never really something I even considered. I needed to find that emotional fulfillment that nothing in the world, but music-making indeed, could ever give me.
I found myself being able to make music in 2015, while I was an Undergraduate student at London College of Music. I just bought a MIDI keyboard to carry out my tasks on a sound design assignment and I soon realized that the very few notes I was playing were way more meaningful than the thousands of notes I’ve played on a guitar my whole life. Then, I started learning the piano technique but I’ve never studied anything really. This is why I only know how to play my own music, and that’s it.
But marrying my rough piano playing with electronics is what gives me the drive to carry on. I think that researching a meaningful sound is the most important part of my work.
Now I’m finding it easier and easier everyday to make new music and I often wonder why I never realized this before, but everything happens for a reason and at the right time, so anything that happens now is more than welcome!
2018 has been a very busy year for you so far in terms of collaborations, such as your single Snowman with Polish singer Jagoda from the band Lor and your Thesis split release with Heather Woods Broderick. Could you tell us more about these collaborations?
I got in touch with Gregory Euclide about a year ago and we agreed on a collaboration for his amazing Thesis project. I still think that’s my best work up to now, I needed to “nail” it and accomplish a great release. The final mastering touch by Rafael Anton Irisarri made me incredibly happy and satisfied.
When Gregory mentioned that Heather Woods Broderick was also involved, I was so flattered I just couldn’t stop thinking about this release. She sings in one of my favourite albums ever, ‘Magic Chairs’ by Efterklang, and it felt like such an honour! We just split the release, so we didn’t get to collaborate on this, but with Jagoda Kudlinska, I managed to get involved in the whole process from scratch.
Jagoda and I met last September, when we both played at a Sofar Sounds and Amnesty International event (your very own Michael also took part in this beautiful and noble initiative, although he played in a different venue). She has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard, and it’s impressive for such a young age! I took care of the musical production and the recording process (from pre-production to mastering), while she wrote the lyrics and the vocal parts. I’m very happy with the collaboration as I got to explore new areas outside of the more traditional “Neoclassical” field and I learnt a lot from Jagoda, a teenager with the musical confidence of a pro.
Your album Elusive Frames (listen above) is beautiful, we particularly love the track Unfold. Do you have a compositional process you tend to stick to or does the way you compose change depending on your mood or inspiration in your day? If you don’t mind us asking, what is your compositional process?
My process does change according to many things. The mood is key, anxiety and stress never do any good to my creativity; it’s when I’m calm that ideas start popping up in my head. Inspiration comes from different things, it could be a song, a book, a film, a mood, anything really. I like going out to see live gigs as it drives my inspiration pretty good, for some reason. People are also a great inspiration, and this applies to those who make me feel something deep and real, such as love, admiration or a strong friendship bond.
I normally sketch melodies on the MIDI keyboard, so to have full editing flexibility. I try and use piano VST’s that already give me a rough idea of what the real piano should sound like afterwards. Everything else comes in naturally as I move forward, but it depends on the track I’m working on; some will require a beat and a dirty bass, some will just need subtle strings and a soft pad. Lately, I’m working in Pro Tools, Logic and Ableton; I find them all great for different reasons, although my favorite will always be Pro Tools.
And by the way, ‘Unfold’ has a special meaning for me as well. It’s definitely in the top 3 of my own compositions, along with ‘Rain’ and ‘Loose’.
What do you find about your work that has meaning?
What has meaning is what rewards me professionally, and it can generally be identified in the pure satisfaction of making music, together with the emotions that I trigger on listeners. I’m often approached with text messages by total strangers whose words fill my days with joy, and that’s what keeps me going.
I am extremely happy and grateful for what I do and this is my idea of success, of accomplishing something meaningful.
Do you have a studio setup where you work? What setup do you have?
My studio setup has been changing a lot over the last few years. I’ve had three different ones, in London, Copenhagen and Krakow. Now I’m in the process of moving back to my hometown in Sardinia, Italy, where I intend to settle and finally have a steady home studio that I am comfortable and happy with.
The heart of the studio is a Focusrite Clarett 8PreX, whose ‘Air-colored’ preamps are very smooth and pleasant. I use such pre’s on synths and effects, but I have a custom-built tube preamp for my piano mics, by Rerun Electronics in Berlin. I’m gonna get a new upright piano and keep recording with the same setup as my previous two records (2 Neumann KM184 + 1 AKG C-314 underneath the keyboard).
Monitoring-wise, my game changed when I upgraded from Yamaha HS7s to Focal Shape 40s, a whole new level of mid-clarity and definition.
All my drum beats are recorded on a Korg Volca Beats, whereas when it comes to basslines, I just got an amazing Novation Bass Station II. For everything else, I use my Boutique Juno Ju-06; it sounds surprisingly great when it’s run through tons of reverb and delay.
My effects consist of a TC Electronics Hyper-gravity compressor pedal (which I use exclusively on the way in to record my guitar parts), a TC Hall of Fame reverb pedal and an Earthquaker Devices Avalanche Run delay/reverb pedal. These last two are normally patched to be used as FX send into Pro Tools.
Last but not least, I would hate not too mention one of the best pieces in my gear, my dad’s Fender Telecaster (which a friend just renamed TeleCarlsen) electric guitar!
Would you say when it comes to composing it’s more important to have gear (synths, etc.) or to own an instrument, e.g. a piano? And why?
Ideally, I’d say both. I like real, in music and in life. Organic, real sounds are what makes me have goose bumps; I’m not the biggest fan of MIDI when it comes to a finished product, I love it at the programming stage though as it’s incredibly flexible, but I never really managed to achieve wow-sounding pianos or strings with MIDI. On the other hand, I am painfully aware that money is a big limitation, especially when one’s starting out. But I’ve always believed in a simple rule: do your best with what you have!
We loved your involvement in Piano Day 2018, with your track on Moderna Records’ album ‘Intervals’ and the event you held in Italy with other composers, such as Marco Caricola, Luca Longobardi and Roberto Attanasio. Were you happy with the event and Piano Day as a whole?
We all had quite a great deal of involvement in the event, it took months of planning and plenty of resources but we made it happen! It was the very first Piano Day event in Italy ever and we couldn’t be more proud of it. The best part of it was getting to actually meet in person with Luca, Roberto and Marco; we put together a massive team of the finest professionals in Italy, including a TV director to take care of the multi-cam live streaming. In fact, the whole show was filmed and streamed live in 4K, using 6 different cameras. We were incredibly satisfied with the event itself and, since then, we’ve been bonding more than ever and we actually became very good friends.
Have you got any gigs/concerts coming up soon?
I have three dates booked, before taking a break to work on the new record. I’m playing a secret show in Odense (Denmark), a Kosmoskonzerte gig with CEEYS (July 9th in Potsdam, Germany) and a solo show at MMuseum (July 21st in Leuven, Belgium). Looking forward to meeting the readers who come from around there!
Finally, what are your future plans in terms of your music? Should we look forward to a new album at some point?
You most certainly should, my new baby is in the making and it’s going to be quite a different vibe from the previous albums. You can surely expect more upbeat, electronic tracks with lots of synths and guitars, along with our beloved piano.
I know, I’ve been listening to Tycho and Jon Hopkins a lot lately, but I like how well ambient-electronic soundscapes can be blended with more traditional, classical instruments such as piano and strings. I am looking forward to this too and, as far as I can tell, I am super happy with the very first sketches!