Making Laptops Fun: Henrik Schwarz

Most of the time, we don’t like laptops making their way into Mister Saturday Night. But there are exceptions to any rule, and this weekend’s guest set by Henrik Schwarz is definitely one of them. We caught up with the excellent producer and laptop freaker in advance of his set alongside Justin and Eamon this weekend. This is how the chat went down.

Mister Saturday Night:Many artists making dance music have chosen the computer as their medium for live performance, yet you’re one of the few that are notably exciting because of the way you play from one. What do you think is different about your approach to playing from a laptop? When you look at it, do you see an instrument?

Henrik Schwarz:I definitely see it as an instrument–and as a fellow musician. The problems with computers might be that they don’t make mistakes: they don’t groove, they don’t sweat, they don’t dance. But we do. The computer is in a way the opposite of what we are. It is a machine that does only one thing at a time. It is very structured. On the other hand it is a universal machine–you can turn it into anything you like. So as a computer musician you have the choice if you want to follow the structure that the computer gives you (many people do that), or you can try and work against a very structured, predictable behaviour towards a more open, free, human way of interacting with the machine.

So what I do is I try to interact with the machine with some sort of controlled chaos. In reality this means I am jumping up and down inside my software and playing things together where I don’t know what the audible result will be–so I have to react very quick–it is a bit like playing with other musicians in a jam session.

MSN:You didn’t start playing an instrument until later in your life. Do you think that affects the way you think of music now? And would you say that you perceived music in a different way before you learned the piano than after?

HS:Actually I never learned to play the piano. But I play it anyway–with the help of my fellow computer musician. Of course my results will be very different from a trained musician, but that doesn’t mean they are less interesting. However, during the last years, when making music became my profession, I learned a bit about harmonies, [and such]. I believe this is very important because if you know the theory, your work gets much more focused and self aware. [It] also makes music-making much easier, so my work has changed from a very intuitive and slow process to a more self aware way of working. What I do today is that I try to convert the musical knowledge that I have into software that can help me perform and express what I want to say. It is a bit like creating your own instrument. Put the knowledge into software so that the performance can be intuitive and free.

MSN:We’ve been hearing that you’re almost done with your first studio full-length for quite a while now. We’re ready! When can we expect it? And what can we expect from it?

HS:Yes, indeed some of the tunes are nearly finished. However this year started with some other incredible projects, too. I will be performing my music with a string orchestra for the first time in June. There’s a new duo project with norwegian super piano virtuoso Bugge Wesseltoft where we play with laptop and grandpiano together–also with Dixon and Âme I am performing a live film score that we wrote together. All this slowed down the album production a bit, so I am planning to be ready by end of the year. It is not easy for me to say what you can expect–I am working on something new for me. As I am in the middle of the process it is difficult to find the right words. I think you will have to wait but there might be some tiny bits already in Saturday’s performance.

MSN:We certainly hope so… Your live sets are often interspersed with re-workings of older titles, like your now-famous version of Bill Withers’ ‘Who Is He?’. Do you have any new tricks up your sleeve for this Mister Saturday Night performance?

HS:Sure! I have been working on some new remixes during the last couple of months — and of course a few excerpts from the upcoming album.

MSN:We’ve really enjoyed working with The Schwarzonator lately. Any plans for another Ableton patch?

HS:Yes — many ideas but so little time. Schwarzonator has been a very interesting project for me. I have received so many replies on this–many many people who liked it–some [who have] hated it; and I have received so many [thoughts] from other people who had ideas how to improve,etc. It led to a very interesting discussion about how far can computer help go when it comes to music production. Where does creativity start or end? For me the “programming” of music is an exciting new field that will bring us very interesting new music, and we are just at the beginning of this. So I am sure there will be a lot to explore during the next couple of years…

MSN:Here’s to that, and here’s to you! We will see you this weekend, Mister Schwarz!