Artist In:Depth - Saine! Long Time No See
Long-time Renoise fan Saine has just released his new album Long Time No See on both vinyl and digital formats on Helsinki-based Cymbidium Records. It's a genre-blurring ride through downtempo beats, smooth instrumental excursions and deep late-night house vibes. We quizzed him on his approach to music making in general, with a particular focus on Renoise, naturally.
Who are you and where are you from?
My name is Lauri Saine and I'm a musician from Finland. I currently live in the capital, Helsinki.
So your moniker Saine is actually your real name?
Yup it's my surname, I remember just sticking with it for the simplicity, after figuring some more techy name alternatives might eventually turn out to be cheesy.
A lot of the music on your latest album sounds like it's played live rather than sequenced - a case in point being the piano piece After What Seemed Like Forever - is that the case?
Yes that theme is 90% improvised live during one misty spring night/morning, although usually it's a combination of both. Many of my tracks are 90% programmed as well and often the live-sounding things can have quite a bit of different takes and sequencing behind them. Also I don't have the skills to just press record and spontaneously get to a finished result in one go, so I do edits afterwards. I like combining improvised, experimental things with surgically programmed elements and see how they work together.
I think it'd be safe to assume that most Renoise users are not proficient instrumentalists, but rather more technically-minded music producers. How do you find working with live recordings in Renoise, as it's not traditionally seen as one of its strengths?
A good question. For me personally, working mostly with shorter recorded clips and loads of them, it works well. I don't end up with a messy audio pool filled with oddly named, often unneeded temporary clips taking up HD-space. Instead I get to keep the project neat and organized while I'm doing recordings and all the relevant files stay within reach. The way I look at it, there's not a big difference between a live recording and other types of musical elements. Take sampling for instance: it often falls somewhere in-between to begin with, and I like to treat them as equal building blocks for new music.
If we were talking about regular multitrack sessions with a band where the drums alone can have a dozen mics, a traditional piano roll sequencer would surely suit the purpose better. For me as a sample-focused musician though, it's way faster to work with a tracker interface, allowing me to visually line up all notes next to each other, while having the track commands and built-in audio editor/recorder near at all times. I do lots of spontaneous recording from anywhere I can think of, so it's good to have these tools close by.
While a traditional piano roll view suits the recording of simultaneous tracks and moving these large chunks of audio around, working with shorter samples, it's a different story - trying out combinations of different pitches and timings, it's important to see those building blocks from different tracks constantly in front of you. Using Renoise I don't have to think about how to overcome limitations such as not being able to put several different audio samples on top of each other on the same track at different pitches, giving each sample individual volume envelopes etc. Of course you can always find alternate routes for this type of thing, but instead of seconds it will take minutes - a lifetime when the inspiration is hitting and you just need to audition several different approaches quickly.
Pretty much any software can do amazing things in the right hands of course, but a comfortable workflow really makes a huge difference in terms of creativity. A lot of people are scared of the matrix-like tracker interface and I bet it can look intimidating at first, but to me it just means less annoying windows and not having to switch back and forth between tracks and views all the time.
How did you find out about Renoise and what attracted you to it in the first place?
I remember stumbling upon a screenshot around 2003 and got interested. I think there was a competition going on for the name of the software. I had used MadTracker for a couple of years. It was fast and stable, but seeing it fade away and become old-fashioned at the time, I started to do things with sequencers such as Logic Audio and Cubase. I was unable to find my comfort-zone though, even though these are powerful pieces of software. Again, these were great for some purposes or working with MIDI, but sessions often required a scary amount of setting up so you could no longer begin making music in an instant, templates or not. Everything was dependent on strict folder structures so projects were no longer easy to move around and every little thing seemed to require quite a bit of zooming views in and out, opening and closing windows.
So eventually I felt like that interface was initially built for different working methods. FastTracker II was my first love around 1995 so Renoise basically felt like going back home. The home was now pimped out with goodies like VST support, so it fit like a glowe.
The album is very organic-sounding, and despite the range of styles on offer, sounds very coherent. Do you have any special tricks in terms of post-processing to achieve that coherency?
When I first started sketching how this album ought to sound and feel like, I laid down certain guidelines for myself regarding processing. I was aiming for a dusty, nostalgic feel without ending up too retro/gimmicky and also maintain a sort of sparkling/fresh vibe in between. The album doesn't have featuring artists or vocalists so I wanted to have enough "room" to maneuver between these realms soundwise - to make sure I'd get enough variation between tracks.
For some elements throughout the whole album, I used similar processing chains and techniques. Like with transients and exciters for drums, I used pretty much the same tools throughout the album - the sample material I used varies quite a lot between tracks so I figured this might glue it all together a bit. The album was mastered by Fabien Schivre, which also plays a part in the coherent end result. He really "got" the idea I was after very quickly and helped create a dynamic, creamy tone for it. We both agreed on dynamics before loudness.
I believe these subtleties of sound are an important thing, not mere nitpicking - and also a part of the actual creative process. A good dish wouldn't work with the wrong seasoning. It's all a "work in progress" for me of course when it comes to sound/mixing, and there are always so many things to improve on, but that's what makes it so much fun.
Do you use any hardware or outboard gear or is everything done on the computer? And in more general terms, do you prefer working with software or hardware?
I use some hardware yes, but mostly I work in a small, budget homestudio with not that much gear. The reason is purely financial. I use a tube stereo compressor/eq frequently, some effect pedals here and there, running VSTi's through c-cassette and such. Sometimes I like to record samples with a mic through vintage speakers, small things like that. But these depend on the situation and sometimes the simple approaches work best. Overall I believe people often focus too much on the gear used and specifically whether it's expensive, street credible gear or not.
Of course it can be important to work with proper equipment and to have good AD/DA converters, good speakers etc - but in the end it's still a relatively small fraction of the whole picture so one should at least not spend more time on that than on the actual music! It's possible to get incredibly nice sound from just software alone, with a bit of enthusiasm - just like it is possible to make amazing things with say, nothing but a worn-out guitar.
I think it's generally a good idea to embrace both side-by-side and just use what feels good - at least it would seem very silly to leave the other out completely, as both have their unique plus sides. An increasing amount of albums are being made completely in-the-box and the results can be incredibly good, even warm/analogue sounding. But I am a fan of the 60's/70's sound and it is still quite rare to hear that level of dynamics/warmth in electronic music. So if it wasn't so expensive, I would definitely get some hardware gear around here, no doubt. Plugins are also getting better and better at an incredibly fast rate, though. Whatever suits your music best, I say.
I keep finding myself back in the 90's when listening to your album, both April and Jetpack have a definite St. Germain or mid-90's French deep house flavour to them, and in other places there's quite a Mo Wax feel. Are these conscious influences and is this a period you feel some affinity with?
It's nice you picked that out! The mentioned were some the most powerful sources of inspiration when I was first starting out, as well as mid-90's hiphop. That era is when I got into this thing, so I guess it's unavoidable that fractions of it remain. With basses especially, I wanted to get that fluffy roundness, especially on those beat-focused tracks. I like to keep a little bit of distance to the very trendiest and freshest things that are going on, they seem to fade out as quickly as they appeared.
Yes, you definitely nailed that bassy, murky, thuddy roundness that's so characteristic of those records. How do you feel about the current climate for the type of music you produce?
Apparently these more "mellow" styles which I guess my music more or less represents, haven't been very trendy the recent years, compared to more aggressive/masculine styles of electronic music. Perhaps due to the overload of triphop/nu-jazz after the turn of the millennium, they are often associated with cheesy elevator music. Which is funny if you think about it - a lot of that "powerful" stuff is cheesy as hell just the same, but you get away with it: it's loud and impressive for a while. Long enough to move on to the next. This might be changing as we speak, though. I might be wrong but this whole techno/dubstep/grime cocktail does seem to have similarities to the drum and bass scene a little more than a decade ago: burning the candle at both ends leaves few surprises to expect. Still, let all flowers bloom, of course!
On the one hand we're living in great times now, virtually anyone can get their music heard and have access to the tools and there's always a very colourful spectrum of new music appearing in some corner of the world, it's unbelievable really. On the other hand there's so much of it now - the rate of new releases appearing is evergrowing while the attention span of the average, overworked person is that of a hummingbird, I sometimes feel like people don't have the energy to really focus on things anymore. In my case I sometimes feel it leads to all the "bright" things that shout for attention getting noticed in an instant, while things that might require a bit more settling into, often end up being completely lost at sea. Like you observe a traffic sign each day on your way to work, but never once stop to look at the beautiful tree behind it.
Ah well, making music for the sake of music is more and more exciting by the year, I don't seem to get bored of it, but in terms of really getting it out there or ever earning a dime for it, things are looking gloomy as ever. Overall I try not to think about that too much now hehe...
A good attitude to have. To finish off with, who would you say have been your biggest musical influences? Those artists that you keep coming back to over the years and that have meant a lot to you.
Such a tough question each time, from among a whole lot of different acts I'll just say A Tribe Called Quest. I remember being really impressed by the way they used samples, back when I was 15 or something, and I still find myself going back to their records every now and then. Certainly an influence.
For more info on Saine, check out his website at www.sainemusic.com. The vinyl edition of Long Time No See can be ordered from cymbidium.highwire.com, and the digital edition is available from all the usual outlets.