August 2013 / Francesco Donadello / Sound Engineer / Berlin-Weißensee
You are a sound engineer specialized in recording/mixing/mastering. How did you become it? What are your professional roots?
I started playing drums when I was 9 and after a few years I was already playing with 3 different bands. At some point, somebody needed to be responsible for recording the demos... I was that guy. From there, I started studying audio engineering, but I never went to a "sound engineer school" – I just never found a good one. When I was 19, I started working at INFN (the Italian Institute of Nuclear Research), where I set up experiments for the physicist while I continued to conduct my sound experiments and simultaneously opened my first recording studio in Padova. When I moved to Bologna a few years later, I opened a bigger studio called Alphadept, where I was recording, mixing and mastering. I spent 7 years there, working with a lot of Italian independent bands. I had a great time and got a lot of experience.
...where you met one guy we know...
Yes, during that time, I met Dustin O'Halloran (siehe Interview Mai 2013). Now he's one of my best friends and we are still working together after all these years. I moved to Berlin a couple of years after closing the studio in Bologna. I was freelancing in a different studio back then, so I started working at Calyx mastering in Berlin. I learned how to cut lacquers for vinyl production and I did over 500 vinyls in 2 years. I also learned a lot about new mastering techniques and sound quality.
During all those years, I was always reading anything concerning audio. I was especially interested in audio history, as they used to record music in the past. I think it's important to know the past in order to create a better future. Absorbing experience from the past gave me more creative tools to shape and create my own approach to music.
That's a good point.
Which other things fascinate you in your work?
I like to work with a variety of music genres and artists. I like switching between different kinds of music so I can use the knowledge I gain from one style and apply it to another. One of the more creative parts of my work is collaborating with the artist to find creative solutions that fit their style – I often propose new ideas and experiment in the studio to find a sound that connects permanently to that artist.
Who are the artists you work with for e.g.?
My recent clients are Modeselektor & Tom Yorke, Mouse on Mars, Efterklang, A winged Victory for the Sullen, Dustin O'Halloran, Moderat, and many others.
Do you have an example for us – what was the work like with a certain band or a musician on an album?
Every project is different and requires a different approach. I've been lucky enough to be able to work with a vast range of artists, from experimental to mainstream, and using a variety of techniques, from recording a band live onto mono tape (as it was done in the 50's) to doing a super complex project with over 270 tracks recorded digitally. I usually take time to listen to the demos and gather information to get as close as I can to the project in order to create a sound that will better connect with that specific artist.
For example, with Efterklang...
...the band from Denmark whose members are living in Berlin presently...
Right, we started working together before the songs were even written. They already had the idea to travel to a ghost city far north of Europe and record various sounds that they would use. I jumped on the project right from the beginning, so we were already talking about the final sound one and a half years before. We kept talking about this idea during the entire recording session, where it became real... and then we took it to the mixing session where it was refined.
In my view, today there are many bands and musicians that produce new songs at ever shorter intervals, for fear of losing their popularity. What do you think?
I think, there is nothing wrong with being super productive, but it should not be forced. Usually, artists have a lot of time to compose and refine their songs and their sounds for the first release. But eventually, if the artist becomes famous, he's suddenly inside a system. They will start touring and promoting their album. Usually, a good tour lasts one year and a record label is happy to have a new release every year, so there's not that much time to work on new compositions, or to make new musical research and wait for the right inspiration. This all leads to having a less interesting release, usually.
What do you think about the aspect of recording? Does it become easier because of better technique?
Technology gives the artist and us, the sound engineers, a lot more possibilities. We can fix almost any kind of problem and we can now work on very complex projects that were not even thinkable a few years ago. The production of music has sped up a lot. But have these innovations produced better music? I think that technology has brought us a lot of new tools – some of them great for producing new sounds, but a lot of them are just there to make things faster and easier, which also makes people lazier.
Working with limitations is not always a bad thing. You need to work harder to get good results and usually, it will be better, more personal, more unique. You get a better performance with more soul and personality, instead of having a super edited, compiled song which sounds like something you've already heard somewhere else.
You are an Italian from Padova? Italian mentality is a little bit different from the German one. How do you cope with the German mentality?
I'm not sure how to answer this... Both mentalities have its plusses and minuses. I guess I'm just trying to get rid of the bad Italian habits and hope learn only the good German ones!
In return I would be appreciated if you could teach me the good Italian ones...
Anyway, you have a weakness for movies. What makes it so fascinating for you?
Making a movie is extremely complex – it incorporates a lot of different arts and specific jobs. A good movie is a perfect balance of all these arts... I'm always amazed by them. They can amuse, inspire me and take me to different places. Recently, I watched a movie called "Synecdoche, New York," the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman (also the writer of "Being John Malkovich."). It's a very interesting film which balances many elements!
I've never heard of. Thank you for this hint.
The interview was conducted by Katja Mollenhauer. Photos by Nadja Wehling
Francesco Donadello was born in Padova in 1979. As an Italian, he likes good food and coffee. If he isn't searching for the right sound he likes riding his bike, spending some time in nature, playing chess with friends when he can and watching movies. For two and a half years Francesco has been living in Berlin. He has been working with Dustin O'Halloran on the soundtracks for "An American Affair" and "Like Crazy". www.vox-ton.com