Interview with Tascforce
In early summer, I've posted an obscure cover-version of the Dorian Concept tune Trilingual Dance Sexperience. It was recorded by Sam Irl under the name of Tascforce, a name he's using for music recorded on a TASCAM cassette recorder and a bunch of vintage synthesizers. After having received some more of his music, I got interested and talked to him about the project.
Can you give a bit of a background on who you are and what you do?
My name is Sam Irl, I'm a half-German, half-American 26 year old producer, musician and DJ from Lower Bavaria, Germany, but have been living and studying in Vienna, Austria for the last 6-7 years now. Musically I started getting piano lessons when I was six years old, later had a short excursion with church organ and violin, but for the most time only actively practised piano, leading onto jazz piano lessons and playing in the school big band when I was about 14. Around that time I also started experimenting with a very, very oldschool version of Logic and a terrible digital Korg synth. After I got Logic running with their first software sampler I gradually shifted towards more sample-based music, which I've basically been doing continually since then. I've always added synthesizers, melodies and harmonies to my tracks, the whole piano background has a strong influence on how I work. So I've been making electronic music for roughly 10 years now, but of course many of the first tracks weren't particularly good and a bit clumsy, but it still was lots of fun to discover what was possible to do at home on a computer.
Besides making electronic music I always played a lot of jazz piano when I was a teenager, went to a many different workshops and courses and also was a member of the “Bavarian Youth Jazz Orchestra”. I've also got another project with two good friends of mine (with an American singer and my flatmate, who plays guitar), which is more acoustic soul-folk stuff, where I played Rhodes or Wurlitzer.
I originally came to Vienna to study musicology but later switched to recording engineer & music production at the University of Music and Performing Arts.
How did you get your hands on that TASCAM 424?
I found the TASCAM 424 via a classified-ad page for about €25, which was really cheap. I had been interested in 4-track cassette recorders and vintage recording technology for quite a while and had been looking for one every now and then. Choosing this specific 4-track-recorder was mainly a coincidence, I had known about other recorders but hadn't tried any of them. The 424 is somewhat of a home-recordering classic and finding it so cheap basically made the decision quite easy.
At that time I just liked the idea of working with 4-track tape. I had been spending all my time on the computer at the uni and making music at home, that I wanted to get away from it for a while and work on some more live piano playing. I originally got the TASCAM for practising playing live piano and working on grooves. The whole Tascforce project and album just developed by chance.
What other instruments did you choose for the Tascforce album?
I used the Oberheim Matrix 6, Roland JUNO-106, JUNO-60, JUPITER-8, SH-101, Alpha Juno 1, VP-330 Vocoder, Moog Rogue, Yamaha DX-7, Korg Poly-61, microKORG and the Fender Rhodes MK2. Analogue and digital drumcomputers included the Oberheim DX, Roland TR-808, TR-606, TR-505, Korg KR-55, DDM-110, Boss Doctor Rhythm DR-110, DR-220A, Stix Programma ST-305.
The only effects I used during recording and mixing on the TASCAM were my Roland Space Echo RE-201 for tape delay and spring reverb, which I used heavily on every track, and occasionally an Alesis 3630 compressor.
I used all these instruments because each adds its own colour and vibe to the tracks. each analogue synthesizer (and drumcomputer) is different from another and some have very distinctive sounds, which I didn't want to use on every track, so I tried to change the set-up for each track a little bit to add more sonic diversity to the whole album.
That's quite an arsenal of gear, but at the same time it must've been a limitation to record on a 4-track. Did you find it true, that limitation sparks creativity?
Well, that's true. I definitely had the luck to be able to use so much great gear on these tracks and am quite thankful for this. This will sound a bit contradictory in context of the question before, but I really like working with limitations. With these tracks the limitation comes from recording on 4-track tape and mixing everything “on” the tascam itself. I didn't do any post-editing or mixing on the computer.
Recording on 4-track cassette really limits the amount of tracks you can possibly record. I had to learn a few work-arounds, which used to be the studio-standard when working with 4-tracks (since the 60ies). The main thing I did is to record three tracks (for example, drums, bass, some chords) and then re-record them on the 4th empty mono track (nowadays this would be considered “re-sampling”). This reduces the sound quality but it makes three new “empty” tracks available for over-dubs, solos, etc.
Re-recording the basic tracks onto one mono track also solidifies the foundation of the developing track, meaning all mistakes, arrangement details, volume balancing, breaks and such can't be changed anymore in the process of recording overdubs. “Total Recall” or later editing of the mix isn't possible anymore, you basically have to stick with what you got or start from scratch again (which I did loads of times.) This definitely was a different experience, as I've been recording, mixing and arranging in logic for over 10 years now.
Another limitation was that I played the foundation of the track (as above, drums, bass and chords) at the same time and completely live all the way through. It's a bit difficult to do clean “punch-in” recording on the tascam, so I just recorded over and over again, always starting from the beginning, For hours until I made fewer mistakes and also figured out the groove that I wanted to play. After that was done I did the solo overdubs, lines and more chords.
What was the idea behind the album, was there a concept apart using specific hardware?
The basic inspiration actually came from the idea of trying out 4-track recording and making myself practice more piano actively again. At that time I was very busy studying and spent lots of time on the computer, for university, at home, communicating, and so forth, so I really wanted to make music again which was independent of the computer, just live playing, no post-production, just record, play, mix and finish it in one session. In the beginning, I started trying out how to record and structure songs on the tascam and after the first few experiments some tracks started to develope. The whole idea of an album came after I had done about 7-8 tracks and realized that they seemed to fit together quite well and were on a similar vibe.
I had occasionaly made some tracks before which were a bit oldschool, but they never really had that depth and sound that I was looking for. Working with the TASCAM I learned to take my time, let grooves develope or just let them roll for as long as it takes. And analogue synthesizers, old drumcomputers and the warmth of tape are just a perfect combination.
When I started working on these tracks I hadn't really known the music of Dam-Funk that well, I knew a few random tracks and liked them but it was later, after I had done quite a few Tascforce tracks that I really got to know his music a bit more and especially the way he works, which was pretty impressive. He records live on a CDR, then puts the CDR in a CD-player and records that plus overdubs on a new CDR! It's a pretty unique way of working and he's a super tight keyboard player! Soundwise, Tascforce obviously has many aesthetic familiarities to music like Dam-Funk and Krystal Klear, but I really hadn't known much about that when I started. I just started trying it out and first realized later that there are more people working in a similar way and style (and even with similar equipment.)
I would guess this sound is coming back again, because music production has become more available to many people, plugins are getting better and better, software better to use, etc. At the same time analogue synthesizers are getting more sought after (and expensive) because they have a sound-character that software can't quite offer in that way. They are real physical instruments, that need time to get warmed up, need to be taken care of to work properly and never sound exactly the same when you turn them on. And besides all that they just have a good and well-crafted sonic quality to them, a real TR-808 still blows every good sample library away. Also, artists like Dam-Funk are really pushing this early 80ies synthesizer funk sound, spreading names of records of that time and not trying to keep certain underground tracks deliberately secret but making them known to a wider audience.
What are your plans with the music, will you release any of this?
There are plans to release a few of the album tracks on a vinyl EP with a small and young Vienna/Berlin-based label. This is still in the planning stage so there are no details at this point. I mainly have been passing around this album to all of my friends and musical partners, that was pretty much my main plan once I had finished it. I'm not really sure if I want to sell it, I made the album foremost for myself. But I'm playing with the idea of putting it on Bandcamp, maybe selling it in form of voluntary donations. I'm not the most active internet self-promoter and a bit lazy about all that, so we'll see…