Interview: Cuckoo, YouTube-Body – English Version

11. März 2017

And Now for Something Completely Different

These days nobody is reading printed manuals anymore. Instead it seems that YouTube has become the best way to learn new things. Therefore it is now also an important part of every musicians’ daily life.

When I was searching for a tutorial to learn more about my new ELEKTRON-Trio, I stumbled upon the videos of a guy named Cuckoo and was instantly quite enthusiastic about them, because he does his tutorials in a very special and natural way. Cuckoo takes the time he needs to explain and while he is talking, he stages himself by looking at the viewer though a little mirror.

I instantly knew that this guy would be a very interesting dialogue partner and it emerged that he was far more than that.

Peter:
Hello Cuckoo, you attracted our attention because of your awesome tutorials on YouTube.
How did it happen that you have decided to produce tutorials?

Cuckoo:
Hey there. Thanks for getting in touch. It started out by the sheer joy of sharing my excitement for new synths. Basically I was just fiddling around and putting little snippets on YouTube. But when I did that with the OP-1, there was an unprecedented level of positive response in the comments. I kept going. An old friend of mine told me a few days ago that I’ve always had an urge for sharing knowledge and teaching amongst my friends. I’ve never realised it. It’s natural to me to share knowledge.

Peter:
Tell us, where do you live and what else do you do in your live?

Cuckoo:
I’m living in Oslo, Norway. I guess you could call me a Norwegian by now, although I’m still a Swedish citizen. Most of the time I’m working with my Cuckoo stuff. Making patches for synths. Covering interesting music trade fairs. Creating tutorials and as of this year I will start releasing more tracks.
I have been working as a visual artist, animation director, animator for many years. But since 2016, when I finished an animated short (that is now playing in select festivals) I have gained enough supporters to be full time Cuckoo.

Cuckoo live

Peter:
Cuckoo seems a bit like he was born in the sixties. PEACE and FLOWER POWER would fit him very well – what do YOU mean?

Cuckoo:
Ha ha. Yeah. The seventies is not far from the sixties after all ;-) Although flower power is also associated with drugs… I’m almost straight edge. No drugs, no alcohol, and I’m a vegetarian.

Peter:
Cuckoo is somehow… „chaos“ and „perspective“ at the same time. Is this intended?

Cuckoo:
I guess you’re right. While I’m in the middle of creating, it’s truly chaotic. And to some extend also when teaching. When creating a tutorial, I want the people watching to share my eyes and my mind for a while. It’s really chaotic to learn new things. I always try to make real case scenarios where I tackle challenges as they appear. Like in a real situation. This way the functionality is put into context. And I believe you will get a much better perspective this way, than if you’re just reading a list of functions. Also, if you learn to solve challenges as they appear, I hope you’ll also learn to think creatively, and can continue exploring on your own.

Peter:
How does Cuckoo approch new products? Does he read manuals or is it learning by „trial & error“?

Cuckoo:
My motto is: If the machine sounds good, it’s worth learning how to operate. The sound is always my first impression. If I’m resonating with the sound, it has me excited. Sometimes the sound is not that exciting, but I get excited anyways by lovely design, portability, musical functionalities etc. If a new product has me curious, I have to learn how to operate it.
I never start by reading manuals. But sometimes it’s needed for specific functions. Especially MIDI implementation.
Most of the time there is a clear idea of how the instruments work embedded into the design. They’re labelled, and menus mostly tell you what’s going on. It’s rarely difficult. It’s just a lot of stuff that needs to fall into place. Trial and error, little by little, as fast as I can.

Peter:
It seems like you know the products very well. Especially with the Elektron Products you appear to be a heavy-user. How come?

Cuckoo:
When I’m using an electronic musical instrument I’m a total nerd. I’m using them a lot. Hours and hours of work and exploring. Also I love doing sound design, and that takes a lot of time. So in the process I’m learning the instruments very well. With the Elektron machines, if you know them very well, there’s a freedom and efficiency to improvise. I love improvising, so having a platform to improvise is very important for me. So investing a lot of time in this is well spent time for me.

Jam in the studio

Peter:
From time to time the Elektron Products really need getting used to with their high amount of menues and double occupancies of the keys. It is not for nothing that your tutorials get really high rates. What would you recommend Elektron to do better?

Cuckoo:
Yeah, they’re a bit complex. They’re always striving to get the most out of a small form factor instrument. If you had an Elektron with dedicated buttons and knobs for every function, it would be as big as a grand piano! Ha ha.. I think they should also make more accessible „entry level“ instruments. We’re seeing a new batch of products, and a new form factor emerging from Elektron now. The Analog Heat and the recently introduced Digitakt sampler/ drum machine. It looks like they’re a little bit more accessible. I would personally like to see a portable Elektron platform too.

Peter:

But you do not just produce tutorials, first of all you are also a musician. The songs we have found on your YouTube channel are fantastic, but it is hard to assign them to any kind of genre. Tell us something about your music.

Cuckoo:
Thanks! I rarely think about genres. I just think about making music that I love. And I’m a very melodic person. It’s more or less all about melodies for me. I sometimes call it «Melodica» to myself. Ha ha… In my early years I kept playing video game soundtracks on our electrical organ, and later on our piano. I made video game covers as a 11 year old, I guess you could say. Later on we made some Amiga games with my friends, and I always contributed with both animation and music. I also wrote sheet music as a teenager. I even wrote a string quartet as a special work in school, and also some work for choir. But after I finished school it would take me nearly 20 years to find music my main work.
Back then I found much inspiration in video games. Now I find inspiration in meeting new synths and instruments, and also meeting the people that created them.

Peter:
It seems reasonable that you design concepts for synthesizers by yourself, doesn’t it?

Cuckoo:
Yeah. I’m doing it a lot in my sketch books, and on my iPad (before it got stolen). I’ve got many ideas. Three of which I think more about. Some serious designs on my computers awaiting more work. Most of the concepts are about playability, jam friendliness for keyboardists, and keeping it fun an expressive. But to get a concept to a real product takes years of dedication, and to motivate and engage the right people. I really like the invention, design and concept phases. In my head I could design the most useful instruments! Ha ha..

Peter:
What do you think? Analog or digital?

Cuckoo:
I don’t really care that much, as long as it sounds wonderful. I must admit though that I appreciate the analog overhead.

Peter:
How did you get to music; how did it all start?

Cuckoo:
Wow.. that’s tricky. I have pictures of me barely just learned to stand up, playing my grandma’s piano. Music has always been a big part of my mind. I didn’t grow up in a particularily musical home, but my mom could see my musical interest early on. In our home town we had a special public school for musically talented kids where she put me. It was nice, but kind of the opposite of rock’n’roll. Very meek and gentle, he he. Believe it or not, but my first time ever to play in a band was at the age of 29, where I was playing synthesisers and backing tracks in Jenny Hval’s band. If there is ONE reason why I’m doing Cuckoo music today, it’s because of Jenny Hval. Touring with her reminded me of how much I love performing music, and how much I had missed it. So thanks Jenny!

Jenny Hval

Peter:
You have a special love for synthezisers, are there any preferences?

Cuckoo:
I totally understand the love for old synths. They have a special mojo and a wonderful sound.

Peter:
Sorry… you have to elaborate this a little bit more: Mojo?

Cuckoo:
Many old synthesisers have this wonderful warm, but still lush sounds. It’s like they were designed to be played in a band. The old sounds fit with guitars, with vocalists, with organs. It just fits into the mix. They sound so nice! But they’re not reliable in pitch. Components break. They’re hard to repair. They’re heavy, etc. Today’s synths are created with a completely different sound ideal. In a way I feel you have to work even more with a modern synth, to make it fit with other instruments.

Peter:
Do you own a lot of old synths?

Cuckoo:
I don’t have any old synths. I’m afraid they’ll break. Also they’re very heavy! I especially love Teenage Engineering for their wacky creative and wonderfully artistic musical instruments. Also I love Elektron’s instruments that has a sonic depth, rich sequencers, and wonderful sounds. I’m also totally fascinated by the Continuum Fingerboard by Haken Audio. It’s the uncrowned king of expressive synthesisers in my mind. It feels and sounds like nothing else. I was using it for the soundtrack for my animated short last year.

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