Lorenz Brunner has one of the most unique minds of any artist you’ll encounter. Long before he rose to international fame as Recondite, Lorenz honed his talent as a producer through years of creative and physical exploration.
Lorenz is serious. He takes his music seriously, as he should; all it takes is a few minutes of speaking with him to realize how uncompromising he is in pursuing his vision. He’s spent ten years creating and capturing the sounds of melancholy and darkness in the softest and hardest ways. Lorenz is a genius. Without any formal background in music, he taught himself how to become one of the greatest techno producers of our time. His melancholic masterpieces, from “Jaded” to “Corvus,” have a unique sound that one could only describe as Recondite. The basslines and acidity of his tracks are instantly recognizable. Recondite evokes thinking as much as he evokes feeling.
As a DJ and live act, Lorenz brings his hip-hop roots to the dance floor. His live set at Output was an incredible mix of romantic techno with kicks that drove the beat home, inspiring people to move at a level I’ve seen few times this year. It was easily one of the best shows we’ve ever experienced.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Lorenz at The William Vale before this memorable set, covering a spectrum of creative and technical topics. We dove into inspiration and deciding when to produce, the learning process, working with basic tools, and musical progression. This is the first half of our discussion.
What’s a problem you’ve recently faced in the studio?
Usually a problem is me not having the motivation to produce. But then again there’s no problem really, because if I don’t want to make music I try to get comfortable with the idea of just not doing it at that moment. Then the problem’s solved. The feeling comes back soon enough when I really want to do it, then I have to be able to do it right away. That’s also why I switched to laptop only in the production process. This is the main reason actually. No analog synthesizers. I sold everything.
There is something that comes from the heart, something more personal and creative, that is one hundred percent connected to the moment where you really want to make it. Like as a kid, when you really want to play something.
When you’re a touring artist, especially in the techno scene, people are touring the whole year. Not like a touring period of two months for an album tour then six months off like a rock star or something. If you are a creative person in the meaning of being somebody who writes a lot of tracks, then you need to be able to make music anytime. I cannot wait until I’m back home in the studio, especially after I’ve been around loud music all weekend.
When did you truly realize you wanted to make your life about music?
It was 2006 when I decided that I actually wanted to make my own music. Before that, I collected music only. I did quite a lot of collecting at that time, I also really started to collect electronic music. Before it was more hip-hop music. Then in 2006 I went on a trip to travel to New Zealand and Thailand. I quit my job and went there with my former girlfriend. On this I trip, I decided when I came back home I want to try it out, get a better keyboard, and learn how to connect it to a computer. Start the first steps. That was ten years ago.
Did you have any music theory background?
I had some guitar lessons as a kid. We had a piano at home, which I used sometimes, but I didn’t get lessons. But I was always interested. I also had a little Casio keyboard where you can play kids’ stuff. I remember I liked playing around with this. I didn’t have lessons, but I also didn’t want to have lessons. Guitar lessons were really painful for me. I was always bad at learning things in that structured way.
What was the most compelling learning process for you?
Everything was basically self-taught. I had one friend who was really into analog gear. I think he still is. He’s not so much into the writing process, he’s more into the technical part. Also the actual technical part in terms of building a synthesizer on your own, with the knowledge of all the circuits. Electrical engineering. He taught me the basic foundation of synthesis, for example. That was important. But in terms of getting to a point where you can put your creativity into frequencies, I think that’s what I taught myself. My first connections to the digital world, in terms of using a DAW and connecting it to a MIDI interface in order to use an old keyboard as a MIDI keyboard, was the new partner of my mother, who also had a studio.
What DAW are you using now?
Ableton Live. I started out with Cubase. But Ableton’s workflow is hard to beat. I also like the approach they have for how the instruments and the effects sound. They are extremely basic. They are very not colored. I also think that’s the reason some people say they sound bad. They are really not polished at all. The EQ Eight, for example, it’s just an EQ. It’s nothing that adds stuff. Sometimes when I use an expensive wave EQ—I actually don’t do it anymore—but I used it when I tried to master my own tracks. They always add something. Even when there’s no preset. I have the impression that they’re not completely flat. Somehow they add something that might appear to be enhancing.
What I like about the Ableton stuff is that you can build your own color because it leaves so much space. It doesn’t do anything yet. The synths with the operator is basically the main synth I use for almost everything. It’s so pure and so basic. With the four oscillators and the FM synthesis it has a certain sound. Like the DX7 synth. The way you use it is very simple. I like that. You can add a lot of your own color.
Do you use any VSTs?
I use one free plugin called TAL. It has a great delay plugin I use. It’s a tape delay, and Ableton doesn’t have a tape delay. I use the ABL Bass Line 303 for the acid stuff. It has this special quality on the sustain and the release of the notes. You can play the 303 as a sustained pad. That’s what I used for Acid Test. The real 303 doesn’t have this long sustain. And you can also cut off the attack very strongly. You can play it as a pad. So it’s very beneficial if you want to play melodies. Not the typical acid lines, which can be harsh.
What do you listen on?
I have to go back to my monitors every once in a while to listen to my mixdown properly, to have reference, but I’m also working a lot on headphones. I use Bose because they have noise cancelling. There is one really big advantage, and that’s when you’re on an airplane and want to make music. Your ears are much less stressed out because you don’t have to make the volume so loud in order to hear everything. When you activate the noise cancelling you can use half the volume and still hear all the smaller sounds in the mixdown. If you’re using regular Sennheisers or any other headphones without noise cancelling you have to really crank the volume in order to hear everything. Then the ears are really getting tired. That’s the biggest reason why I use them. Because of the fatigue of the ears.
Was all of your learning trial and error?
Yes. A lot of typical tutorials. Researching on the internet. Mostly forums. I remember one, I’m not sure if it still exists, called Ableton Live DJ. It was originally guys who were using Ableton as a DJ software. There was also going deep into production stuff. They were really good.
Could you name your top three producers right now?
One of the best for me right now is Noah Shebib. The guy who produced all the old Drake records. The beats, basically. I still like Pantha Du Prince from Rough Trade. He’s bringing out an album, I’m actually working on a remix for it right now. He has a really nice album in the pipeline. He’s been a big inspiration for me. DJ Koze is also a producer from Germany I admire. He was one of the first that caught my eye. He’s really creative using not many sounds. Keeping it minimalistic, he has a good amount of creativity and personality.
Who were your favorite artists ten years ago?
When I first got into music and started becoming aware of artists… even as a child my family listened to a lot of music from different ranges and genres. A lot of rock. I really got into Metallica, with The Black Album, for example. That album was very important. I remember growing up and also listening to cheesy stuff, like Ace of Base. And hip-hop, too. Wu Tang, Nas, Nate Dogg, Warren G, Dr. Dre, and more underground hip-hop like Lone Catalysts, Mad Lib, J Dilla. Also Michael Jackson, obviously.
Music has always been very important. At some point it really switched from searching and listening to making it myself. I realized that my consumption of music was based on looking for a certain vibe. For years I was able to condense what I was looking for. From hip-hop, where I was always into the beats and the vibes and the atmosphere of the music itself, not so much the vocals. I came from that to electronic music when minimal was quite big. I realized there is a one hundred percent focus on the beat. There are no vocals. I realized everything is focused on the atmosphere, on the rhythm, on the beat. Within this area I searched for a certain vibe I really liked. Deep, melancholic, dark stuff. Mellow still. Melodic. So I searched for that. Then I found it. I tried to find more, but then I didn’t find more. I just thought, “ok, I could actually try to make that on my own.” And then a really intense period of trial and error.
I started to tailor my whole life to that. I quit my job. I took a different job with just 20 hours a week. I lowered my budget of spending to live off €1,000 a month. Still having a normal life, but really not going out. Not going out for dinner. Two years of that. 2006 through 2008. Then in 2008 I moved to Berlin and everything changed again. I had more technical skill, but I lost all my DJ gigs I had back in Bavaria. Then in Berlin I had no other shows for four years, but I had a lot of time to focus on producing. I had a different job. I was still working as a physical therapist and a personal trainer from 2008 to 2013. In that time I did a lot of music. Tons of music. I was also working my way into the Berlin scene. Then I got to know the right people, made a few good decisions, like starting my own record label to bring out my first release on my own. I wasn’t the first one who had this idea, but for me personally it was just the right step to bring out my music.
Photography by Shai Levy and Gregory Ke. Many thanks to Lorenz and Dystopian for making this discussion possible.