Junto Profile: Klaus-Dieter Hilf, aka RabMusicLab

From Heidelberg, Germany: Mathematics, Munich, MIDI

This Junto Profile is part of a new series of short Q&As that provide some background on various individuals who participate regularly in the online Disquiet Junto music community.

What’s Your Name? My name in real life is Klaus-Dieter Hilf. And because I love rabbits and make music on my computer with technical equipment, I chose RabMusicLab as my musical avatar.

Where Are You Located? I lived all my life in southern Germany. I grew up mainly in Munich, studied Mathematics in Augsburg, worked one year in Munich, and then did my Ph.D. at Heidelberg University. In the mid-’90s I moved to Stuttgart to start working in the automotive industry. To some extent Stuttgart was a cool place for me, because it had small music clubs where very varied indie bands performed. I was an enthusiastic music fan at that time, reading specialized music magazines, listening to my favourite radio station, buying CDs from bands my friends rated as obscure, and attending every concert that seemed to be worth it.

Over the years the enthusiasm cooled down, but I am still enjoying live concerts off the beaten track. In 2012 I moved to Edingen-Neckarhausen, a small town near Heidelberg, to live there with my wife.

Klaus-Dieter Hilf: “a very rewarding experience to see how a track evolves”

What Is Your Musical Activity? As a teenager I had piano lessons for several years, and fortunately enough they also touched contemporary music. Looking back I regret having stopped having lessons in my last year before A-levels. When I started to study I bought a Yamaha DX7. But my interest in using it vanished — it wasn’t so much fun playing on my own.

The following 30 years I played on this synthesizer from time to time, mainly doing simple improvisations. But there were also times when I did not touch it for months or years in a row.

One fateful morning in January 2018 I leafed through the music magazines in the station’s bookshop and discovered a computer magazine on music. It included a Cubase LE download code, and this incited me to just try out making music on a computer. Within a short time I was totally fascinated by the possibilities to create whole tracks only with a computer while the good old DX7 served me as a MIDI keyboard. I started to dive into this world, learning from scripts and online tutorials, upgrading software, and buying virtual instruments. During the first Corona lockdown in spring 2020, and the subsequently reduced working hours, I had a lot of time and made much progress in using Cubase. Nonetheless I am still learning…

Making music now turned into my main leisure activity. I really enjoy creating music just for my own pleasure — mostly on weekends. I still use Cubase, virtual instruments and samples, and only a MIDI keyboard and MIDI controllers as hardware. I am not limited to certain genres — and I like to venture into new territories like drone music, often incited to do so by the great Disquiet Junto project suggestions. I grew more self-confident, losing the anxiety to be “not good enough,” to “not know the rules of the genre,” or to not be a “real” artist.

What Is One Good Musical Habit? One good habit is to start creating a track without a clear vision where to go. For me it is a very rewarding experience to see how a track evolves from accidental finds of sounds or presets of instruments and effects, or sudden inspirations and associations. It is important not to stop the flow by thoughts like “but I wanted to create a synth-pop track,” but just let go of all self-imposed limits. Time begins to fly and creativity works its wonders.

Sometimes the result is a completely different piece of art with hardly any resemblance to the vague idea at the start, and afterwards I can’t really explain how the track came into being.

Such experiences are deeply satisfying to me and make me happy. For me this is the essence of making music.

What Are Your Online Locations? My online activities are very reduced. I upload my music on Soundcloud, and use its “SoundCloud for Artists” service to publish some of the tracks on other streaming platforms. I enjoy the Disquiet Junto discussions on llllllll.co about the individual contributions, learning a lot from them, and hoping to give inspiration to others with my explanations. Apart from that I “advertise” new tracks on Twitter and Mastodon. On the whole I try not to spend too much time browsing all the music-relevant information there — although it is often very rewarding, like the discovery of the Asynchronous Drone Orchestra.

What Was a Particularly Meaningful Junto Project? For this interview I was listening through some of my contributions of the last two years and found many which have a certain importance for me. Of course I have to mention my contribution to the Disquiet Junto Project 0476. It was my first participation, from two years ago. This was rather difficult for me since I had started to publish tracks on SoundCloud only two months earlier, and only my wife and some close friends were listening — and now I was about to present a track to a group of music enthusiasts much more experienced than me… But it was rewarding, and I enjoy this community ever since.

One of the projects of which I have special memories is my track for the Disquiet Junto Project 0506 from September 2021. The assignment was to erase half of an existing track. I chose a rather hectic and fast composition and reduced the arrangement to play only three of the original five synths at a time. Additionally I slowed it down with the same ratio. I was totally surprised what can be achieved by just following such simple rules on an already existing track (with small adaptations). The result is very dear to me, because it strongly resonated with my state of mind at that time. My mother just died the year before, so it has a special meaning to me ever since, and what I wrote back then is still true for me: It feels melancholic, it embodies loss, yet it is full of beauty and consolation.

Does your background in math particularly inform your music-making? This is a difficult question. Would I compose other music if I had studied English literature, would my improvisations lead to other results? I think my mathematical vein comes into play when I “construct” tracks like in this week’s Disquiet Junto project 0581 contribution. First I design a process incorporating certain techniques. Then I consequently apply this approach to build musical elements.

Another outcome of my studies may be my interest in algorithmic approaches to creating music — by using generative MIDI sequencers or programming Sonic Pi code for the algorithmical creation of MIDI notes. I would love to spend much more time on this and dig deeper into this topic!

My friend Guido Kramann has realised many fascinating projects in the field of algorithmic composition. His results tempt me very much to venture more into that direction, but with limited time I simply get more satisfaction creating a track for a Disquiet Junto project instead of — for example — learning more about the programming language of Sonic Pi …

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