Sound and Vision: An Interview With Karl Degenhardt
Karl F. Degenhardt is a German drummer/composer who has been one of the most prolific Sensory Percussion users over the past few years on Instagram, releasing almost 100 one-minute performances using Sensory Percussion as part of a series called 'Minutures'. These pieces cover a lot of sonic territory and use a variety of physical setups, but they're always super danceable and the visuals are always polished. In addition to being a musician, Degenhardt is a professional photographer, and this is obvious when you watch his videos. Karl has released three collections of Minutures on Bandcamp, and he also uses Sensory Percussion in his experimental trio meat.karaoke.quality.time. We caught up with him to get the lowdown on all of his various Sensory Percussion endeavors.
How did you first get started with Sensory Percussion?
I first got to know Sensory Percussion through a friend who started using it back when it was first available. Time passed and it kept coming up in my mind so I finally decided to give it a go and bought two sensors and the software. That was in 2018, I believe. Gradually, it became the center of my musical work and is now the very center of what I do when I play solo.
What is your current Sensory Percussion setup? (drums, cymbals, other electronics, etc.)
My current setup is an amazing Reverie SP set with all four sensors and mesh heads. I also use a Roland SPD-SX for samples and loops. I enjoy this minimalist setup a lot! In bands, my setup is either that one (Meat.Karaoke.Quality.Time) or mixed with cymbals: I use the Agop Xist Dry ones as they blend really well with my electronic sounds.
In addition to being a musician, you’re a professional photographer with a strong visual style. How do you go about shooting/editing your videos?
I'm very meticulous when it comes to visuals. For as long as I can remember, I've always enjoyed the visual sense. I’d say it's a blessing and a curse because I often spend hours adjusting lights, getting the shot right and grading the material - still looking for that “mood”, “color,” or “aura” to fit the sound.
Those attributes might change and develop with the music. Usually, the music influences the color palette as well as lighting. Also, I have to be a little pragmatic with my Minutures and work with the given circumstances. For example, the room I've had my set in for the past year or so isn't the most stellar location so I try to create the scenery with all possible resources I can work with.
I often spend hours adjusting lights, getting the shot right, and grading the material, looking for the mood to fit the sound.
What is your compositional process? Do you make everything in Ableton and use Sensory Percussion for performance, or are you using Sensory Percussion as a production tool as well?
It's both. I recently have been using Sensory Percussion heavily as my production tool and trying to get everything I can out of the software. A simple, yet beautiful way of getting the effect of a drum machine scrolling through libraries is to put in lots of different samples into one sampler and either cycle that or randomize it. This software provides endless opportunities to produce music, to create a musical space. It's unbelievably beautiful.
I sometimes do use Ableton to MIDI-control software synths or vocal chops - but only if I have something going on in Live like an LFO within a synth, etc. When I play live, I always send Sensory Percussion through Ableton, since I work with sound-shaping tools like a cassette deck or special granular delays, etc.
A lot of your Minutures feel like they were made for the dance club. Was dance music a big influence on you growing up?
Definitely! In fact, the first song I can remember was my mom dancing to “The Rhythm of The Night” by Corona when I was three or four years old. Growing up in the 90s, of course I listened to lots of electronic dance music, but also some ambient and later jazz/BAM. I`ve always felt heavily influenced by raw rhythmic structures as well as big soundscapes. They represent two main visual pillars for me: the extreme closeness/tightness and endlessly open space.
You’ve performed live with Sensory Percussion recently. Do you take a different approach to a live setting vs. recording?
I try to merge the live experience and production process. I'm working on getting to a point where everything played is modular. It's like in "improvised"/instant-composed music: I have a given bank of sounds, but try to actively work with that material instead of being a DJ following given song structures. In recording and playing live, I aim to explore the possibilities of re-arranging sound structures on the spot.
Sensory Percussion helped shape my own sound but also made me aware of being part of a great community and a world where a lot of people have a lot of inspiring things to share.
How did meat.karaoke.quality.time start? And what role does Sensory Percussion play in this group?
Meat.Karaoke.Quality.Time started off in 2017 as a project for one concert in a gallery. After this event, we were so impressed with that kind of sound that we quickly met up again and explored for hours and hours. Shortly after that, we came up with a bunch of concepts and recorded our first album. I had started using Sensory Percussion by that time, so about half of that album, Futura Bold on Umland Records, incorporates Sensory Percussion. Now Sensory Percussion is an essential part of the band sound. Sensory Percussion adds 3-dimensionality to the band's sound. Through its automation and wide stereo sound samples, it brings lots of space into the band. At the same time, some of the rhythmic and short one-shots have an almost microscopic quality to them when it comes to directness.
It’s been great to see the evolution of your Minutures both visually and sonically. What have you learned in the process of composing/recording these videos?
Lots and lots of things. Most importantly, it has been a very intimate journey that revealed and shaped my musical influences. It helped shape my own sound but also made me aware of being part of a great community and a world where a lot of people have lots of inspiring things to share. It opened me up to all those voices, different art forms and ultimately shapes me as a human being being more in harmony with himself.
You use Sensory Percussion in a variety of different contexts. When you’re working on something in Ableton/Sensory Percussion, how do you decide if it’s going to be a Minuture, a collaborative track with another artist, a meat.karaoke.quality.time track, or something else entirely?
That depends, I'd say. Sometimes I use sound libraries of a Minuture for another band because it fits the moment. And vice versa! It's nice to play around with that and be flexible with the material.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I am currently in Los Angeles, on a kind of search mission to make a documentary short film from what I experience here as well as use the input I get here to record my first solo album. Also, later this year there will be new solo videos coming out!