For the first edition of our new feature series, Mark Smith hears how the Perlon affiliate reinvented her sound.
Following 2016's Deep Under Sobriety Regime, and especially with her new album, Sea Of Thee, Nidam's music has acquired a magnetic sense of immediacy. Her performative workflow translates into a feeling of being led by a presence that's sculpting and interacting with the music as it comes into form. (There's a couch half-submerged in gear in her studio, but if you're making music, you'll need to stand). Thanks partly to a collection of bizarre guitar pedals and the processing techniques she discovered in her research, the textures and spaces in her music have become uncanny, organic, overheated and pressurised. A stronger melodic sensibility has also given her work a more imposing sense of form—take "Die Sonne Innere"'s stealth-mode bass and "Looking Through A Glassy Mind"'s gently glimmering lead.
Thanks to her commitment and research, the character in Nidam's music grew. As is so often the case, the sonic breakthrough brought with it a more relaxed, less self-critical attitude. When I visited her Berlin studio to talk through her creative process at the end of last year, she told me that the point of producing is "to enjoy, not to suffer." That feeling has become self-evident in her music and may just be its greatest strength.
I've noticed there's no computer in here at all.
I am recording a lot to this Tascam MK112 cassette deck. It is a pretty important step in achieving my sound, or making it more like I think it should be. I think I was lucky with this one because I have another unit at home that doesn't sound anywhere near as good. Recently, I've also been recording to another Tascam unit, which converts the analogue sound to digital. It's the first time I've recorded to digital, but it sounds exactly as it feels in the room, so I'm really enjoying that.
Is there a reason you're not tracking into a computer?
I think losing the computer made another big difference in my music. When my sound was smaller, a friend of mine said it's ridiculous that I have mostly analogue gear and that I'm recording to computer. The minute I took the computer out, everything turned out amazingly. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-computer or anything. It's just about what works for your sound.
Tracking without a computer means that it's more difficult to make changes to your mix and structure once you've recorded the piece. We tend to think of this as being a negative thing, but restricting your ability to endlessly make changes is vital to making decisions and moving forward.
Yes, it's an entirely different headspace that is easy to overlook because we're so used to making music in a DAW. But to be honest, I don't always love it. I have to record takes again and again and again. On the other hand, this has become an important part of the writing process. Maybe if I had the ability to change things later, I wouldn't get a strong enough feeling for what the track really needs. I need the first-hand experience of how the track unfolds to understand its internal logic. I need to know it intimately.
So every piece of music that I finish, I learn a lot about sound, music in general, and myself, too. It's a real journey. When the process is quick, I miss out on that opportunity. Even if I was using a computer, I'd have to do a lot of takes anyway because it's all performed live. I'll have all my sequencers running and mix things on the desk, then once I start recording, I realise what the arrangement and structure should be. It takes a few takes to understand the direction the track wants to go.
Does this all happen in one session?
No, I can turn everything off. Not everything has recall, like the SH-101 and the modular. But almost everything else with a sequencer has the patterns saved.
Do you need to play your tracks out a lot before you're totally happy with the sound?
I don't really like playing my tracks because I'm normally DJing at peak time and my music doesn't suit that at all. I never hear my tracks in clubs but I do at the afterhours. Still, there are a few places where I feel comfortable and I'll try out whatever new idea I've made, even if it doesn't fit the situation. But this depends on the connection to the people and the place. In this case, we're all having fun together rather than it being an official show type of situation.
Speaking of comfortable places, I notice you've got the same E&S DJ mixer as they have down at Club de Visionäre.
I got that before there were a lot of other options for portable mixers. I love the sound and the size, which makes it great for live sets. Another reason why I travel with it is the EQ. It's almost like a filter. You only need a small nudge to change the sound quite drastically. So if I feel the energy level has dropped a bit as I've transitioned between tracks in the set, I can fix it quickly.
I was DJing with this for many years before doing live sets. A reason why I didn't start doing live sets earlier was because the workflow I was using made it too boring. But with this mixer, I can really play. I connect a chain of pedals on a send so I can treat transitions like a DJ set, taking the bass off, sending a channel to the effects, doing a little trick and bringing it back in.
The sound in general is very powerful, which is really great for playing audio clips from the Octatrack. Some of the audio I have stored in there for the set are recordings or loops I've made in here, so it's good to be able to give them a push so they stay at the same level as the analogue equipment I bring with me.
Why was playing live boring when you first tried?
I was trying to do it with Ableton. I'm not trashing them at all, it just was not for me. I spent months cutting out stems from my tracks in order to use them in a set, but it didn't click. Compared to the joy I get mixing records, this way seemed like a punishment.
What was the situation when you were starting out with music in general?
I went to school for electronic music production when I was still in Israel. I learned a bit about sound at that stage, but I was going to music schools when I was younger, so I had some knowledge of music theory and experience playing instruments. In hindsight, I did get a lot of knowledge about sound and synthesis when I was there. But when I moved, I realised that people were getting way too nerdy. Maybe I was hanging out with the nerdiest people but it was so technically focused. I would sit for hours trying to figure out the sound of a snare. Of course, this is normal, and I see it also with colleagues of mine working today.
Nowadays, I'm thinking about things more in terms of vibe and how a sound fits with the rest of the music. I'm very forgiving with my recordings now. Minor errors add a lot of charm and a feeling that things are relaxed. The point is to enjoy, not to suffer.
Your music now has that feeling running though it and I think that people pick it up on a subconscious level. Deep Under Sobriety Regime, for instance, ended up appealing to a lot of people who'd otherwise never buy a Perlon record, perhaps because you can sense the enjoyment running through it.
Yes, I noticed that as well. The new album took that vibe and rolled with it.