Tin Man (a.k.a. Johannes Auvinen) — a Vienna-based, L.A.-born acid house producer — headlines Monarch alongside Basic Soul Unit for As You Like It on Friday, Sept. 26. I recently caught up with him to talk techno, gear, and what we might expect to hear during his liveset.
CZ: First things first, I wanted to start off with a personal question; your name is Finnish (or so it looks to me), you are a Los Angeles native, but you reside in Vienna. Sounds like there's an interesting story there. How'd you end up in Vienna?
JA: My Dad is Finnish, my Mom is Canadian. I was born and raised in Northern California. We moved from the Bay Area to the Sacramento area because my Mom worked in hi-tech, Apple, Intel, HP. I went to L.A. for school and lived there for ten years. I moved to Vienna because my girlfriend was living there. I have American and Finnish passports so I am able to reside here or there.
CZ: Nice. A real international upbringing. Do you think of yourself as “American” or “European”? I ask because I wonder if this influences your approach to making music, especially given that electronic music in the USA was a very underground endeavor up until about six-seven years ago. Personally, growing up here in Norcal and listening to electronic music, I always felt a stronger kinship to European scenes where that music was much more readily accepted and available.
JA: Ha — Jeez, I felt like a little bit like a Euro kid in America; now I feel like an American kid in the eurozone. I'm not sure I can put a finger on what the difference is. I hope I can say that I am an individual, and not essentially connected to one or the other. Much of that separation can be silly: “Do you like chedder or swiss better?”
CZ: I know what you mean — it's kind of an unnecessary distinction. Moving on, what inspired you to make acid techno — can you remember the first time you heard an acid track?
[jump] JA: I would say the first acid-y track that caught my attention was Planet Soul, “Set You Free.”
CZ: Oh wow, this is taking me back. I don't know this track by name, but I've heard it before.
JA: Yup, it got lots of rotation on hip-hop stations. The break is so good! Then, later, when I heard Phuture's “Acid Tracks” I said to myself, “wow, what is this madness?”
CZ: Acid techno has always held a special place in my heart — there's something weirdly mystical and emotional about the sound of the 303 [i.e. the Roland TB-303, the '80s synthesizer that produces the “squiggly” sound known as “acid”]. I'm guessing you feel the same, since you have spent your whole career exploring it.
JA: Yes, for sure, and something sexy, and something wild. It lends itself to be emotional also. It cries. Or, rather, it sounds like crying.
CZ: I have to wonder what Roland was thinking when they designed it — I'm no gearhead, I don't make music, but I know it was supposed to be a “bass guitar” synth, right? It sounds nothing at all like a bass guitar, not even close. And yet they managed to inspire entire genres of music with that mistake.
JA: Yes, it was meant to be used for bass accompaniment. The story goes that it failed miserably in reproducing realistic bass accopaniment. Thus, it was sold second hand for very cheap. And, then it fell into the playful hands of some House producers who discovered, and invented, a whole genre of modulated bass music.
JA: This kind of “misuse” of electronic gear was very present in the '80s and '90s. An important aspect of the development of techno was artist turning all the knobs they were not supposed to.
CZ: That's a really interesting concept, the “misuse” of electronic equipment. In your opinion is there any modern gear that lends itself to this kind of thing? Anything in particular you've discovered where you're creating more interesting sounds by using something in a manner it is not “supposed” to be used?
JA: It seems to be an opportunity that keeps presenting itself in electronic music. We could say that started already with the distortion of electric guitars. And, yes, I think with each generation of new gear there is another chance to fiddle. Electronic musicians like to turn knobs. A personal example was feeding a 303 into a vocal harmony processing box. Clearly, not what they had intended it for, but beautiful results.
CZ: Speaking of gear, what's your live setup like?
JA: 303, 707, TR-8 [all Roland gear], Yamaha REX50 Effects, my laptop, and a microphone.
CZ: Good stuff. Can we expect to hear some cuts from your new album performed live?
JA: Yes! Definitely. Not the whole album, but a taste.
CZ: How do you plan out your live sets?
JA: I have a certain amount of flexibilty to change up my set on the fly. When I prepare I generally guess what I think the party vibe will be and prepare a chunk of material that fits that vibe. There's usually some chunks of material that I know I'll want to present, in this case bits of the new record. And there's always a big chunk of raw acid jams.
CZ: From my memory of the last time I saw you live, at 222 Hyde, you really amped up the intensity of your tracks for the live setting. Which, of course, as a dancer, is exactly what I wanted…
JA: That's the “raw acid” part. Just drum machines and a 303. That is, for me, the most fun part.
CZ: I've noticed that your work tends to fall into two general moods — warmer, sunny-feeling house music, and then there's more melancholy, moody stuff that feels very minor-key — what do you think about that?
JA: Sure, that is a valid encapsulation. The warm house vibes tie back to old-school house. The melancholy work, meanwhile, is expanding into other places. On the new record, melancholic melodies are living in a grayer, more suspended techno environment.
CZ: You've been exploring more and more of the 'techno' side of things lately. I'm thinking of your collaborations, like those with Cassegrain, and with Donato Dozzy — your latest Acid Test record with Dozzy sounds like a lost relic from the golden era of ambient techno, circa the mid-'90s.
JA: Yes, I am one of many people who have played with a more techno sound as of late. So, I suppose I'm sort of “on trend” with this. I do think the results on the record are novel though. The mood is just touching techno, so I will be curious to see how it answers to the wave of techno happening now.
CZ: I haven't had a chance to listen to Ode yet, but I wonder if it's mining similar territory.
JA: You'll certainly hear clear references to golden-era techno.
Tin Man's new album, Ode, is available now.