Interview: ANNA Z & J.Manuel

Music has this exceptional power to connect people. It can help us discover like-minded people and make lifelong friendships. That is exactly what happened to two producers, multi-media artists from Berlin, Germany – ANNA Z and J.Manuel. Not only that! Through sound, they have become a couple as well as partners in music. So today, we invite you to explore their creative minds and learn more about ANNA Z and J.Manuel’s collaboration, work ethics, and many more.

“Sound is imagination.”
– ANNA Z
“Sound is flowing vibrating time.”
– J.Manuel
Could you please tell us the story of how your collaboration began? 

We are a couple who live together and have a beautiful cat.

J: When I first met Anna in the Uni, during the night building a model, my friends and I organised the first WERK event. I asked Anna to get involved and do whatever she wanted. She came up with a brilliant generative Quartz Composer Patch that could run all night. I fell in love with her right before that, and I was astonished by this individual I had just met. Musically our collaboration began a bit later. I can’t name a point where it started, but we both got into the modular synthesis together and spent a lot of long afternoons at Schneiders Laden the same year (2015/16). Anna even built a Eurorack Oscillator for me for our first Christmas.

A: The Love and Friendships that I found in Berlin gave me a feeling that there are no boundaries between art forms. Coding and generative arts in collaboration with fine art quickly merged with music, and I soon joined Johannes making music in a home studio. Also, our first live gig in the club was spontaneous. We bought a new synth from Make Noise (0-Coast) 2 hours before the party where Johannes was booked. He asked me to perform with him with that new synth on the way to the soundcheck. Afterward, I joined a few live sets as well, and then we started taking bookings together.

“Recently, we did a Live Performance and setup explanation for the Thomann Synthesizer channel.”
Would you tell us more about your creative process?

A: I don’t know why, but we have created 10, or more, new Live-sets in the past two years, maybe because of the lockdowns. As usual, we start to speak about the atmosphere we want to create, the form, and the feeling of the sound. We are then starting to patch our hardware.

Sometimes we come up with the thought that we need some new module for the Eurorack system or some new controllers/effects.

Our latest addition for the performance was Midihub that we first used in a set for Thomann’s Youtube Channel.

“A track by J.Manuel_ Flowers For Ever on Spandau20.”
How do you balance your individual projects with collaborative works?

J: As we are in love, there is never a problem with sharing an idea or finding the time and courage to work together.

We both do many different things and various jobs together (working for artists/ designers, etc.), so working as a team is no problem.

It is a nice way to find some time to spend together while being occupied by such a satisfying subject as sound.

So we make music together, when we both have time, in the moments where none of our ears are already weary. In the past, our focus was mainly on playing Liveshow.

Now we are more and more getting into making tracks together.

“Anna has her own Radioshow at Radio 80k (Munich based non-profit radio station) called KOMI RadioShow (by ANNA Z).”
Would you say collaboration is important for artists? If yes, why? 

J: Collaboration is awesome. Looking at each other over the shoulder (as we say it here in Germany) is one of the nicest ways of learning. Collaborative projects might lead to new unknown territories. It can help get over a phase of writer’s block. And it’s a nice way to become closer, even friends, or spend time with someone you like.

Working with someone more experienced is such a great gift. I have the pleasure of working in the awesome Apollo-Studio Berlin (with Tobi Neumann) from time to time.

A: It is important to be open to the world, other opinions, and ideas. Also, if you are as lucky as we are, through and with collaboration, you might find a family, as Spandau20/WERK is for us. It is such a beautiful feeling to have more than two hands, and the ideas are endless in your mind. If “b2b” or “&” is in the text, then it is about both people. And even more about something in between.

“At the start of the 2021, we handed in our remix for Modeselektor and Flohio (Remix by ANNA Z and J.Manuel).”
You have such an impressive setup. Which gadgets do you consider the most crucial to your setup? Why? 

A: Johannes and me. Just a joke, but yes, the harmony between us is very important for me to start something new and be ready for a beautiful journey through sound.

What kind of hardware is essential depends on where we are heading. But the way to bring it all together and synchronise is a crucial point. That’s why it was so fantastic to find the Midihub and explore all the functions. For example, little CC messages make the midi sent to the Nordrum more alive. For us, it is determinative to be in control of every aspect of the sound but still work with the voodoo of the machines.

J: Of course, the Computer is the most important part of the setup in the studio and could easily replace every other aspect of it. I think that is always important to point out.

The hardware is very important to me as I spend a great amount of time staring at screens in everyday life, uni, and all kinds of jobs. That’s why getting off the screen and having my hands involved is crucial. As well as listening…

For live sets, the Electron Octatrack is the central tool, the concept of the crossfader is still so good, for example. Our last addition before the Midihub was the Oto Boum and, on the Eurorack side, the Audio Gear Obsession Summing Facility – great ways to bring the sound together.

Take a look at ANNA Z’s and J.Manuel’s setup!
Why did you decide to include Midihub in your setup? What would you say it adds to your sound?

J: MIDI is, of course, the most important message between our hardware in our live setup. We used the Fader Fox UC4 quite a lot for different occasions but had a problem with always setting it up again and again. We were fighting with MIDI feedback when we wanted to give back the knob positions.

Now we can distribute MIDI messages all over the place and add effects to it to make it more alive – a real game-changer. Now we are thinking about getting another bigger MIDI controller.

A: The Midihub having all these nice functions in the “Midihub Editor” was like a big present for us. The possibility to build some effect chains and then map those easily on the fader fox control change while preparing opened new horizons. The fact that you can set it up visually on the computer, save it and control it live is superb.

“Now we can distribute MIDI messages all over the place and add effects to it to make it more alive – a real game-changer,” – J.Manuel
What would you say are your biggest inspirations, and where do you seek inspiration in general?

A: I feel that when I need inspiration in sound, it helps me the most to look at shapes that I might find in nature or sculptures, cutting forms out of paper or sculpting by myself out of clay. The other way around, when I need inspiration for architecture or visuals, I search for a sound that can help me create a shape out of my mind.

Or being Occupied with something else, fully concentrated on something like a paper – and then somehow ideas come up for a rhythm and sound.

J: Inspiration for me can come from the most different places. I’ve often made a mistake for taking music that I would like to make as an inspiration. Of course, that could lead to some ideas, but mostly my inspiration is the appearance of a sound that I would like to achieve, like a movement or texture, but also looking at how far I can take a certain tool or try out a patch idea from some video or manual. What inspires me shifts all the time. All I know is inspiration has no rules for me. If there are some, I would desperately like to know them…

“ANNA Z_Minus 24 Degree (for the Playful Mag/ Ableton feature).”
Could you please tell us more about your future projects? 

J: We are thinking about setting up a new live set as the Midihub just came into it. We just integrated it, and now we would like to build a setup around it. As everything closes down again, we will definitely share some things over the internet, via live stream, clips, or whatever… let’s see.

We are finishing some music right now as well.

There are some mix-downs I am sitting on that kept me quite occupied from my side.

A: As Johannes mentioned, we are working on many projects also in mixed disciplines.

I will continue with my KOMI radio show and build an imaginative cyber world around it. Who knows what shape this will take. I just got a GeForce RTX 3080 and upgrading my computer setup, really excited about that!

One project I am working on includes some Studio furniture, but that’s still behind closed doors. Johannes and I are currently working on a new live performance where visuals, light, and sound play together.

“All I know is inspiration has no rules for me. If there are some, I would desperately like to know them…” – J.Manuel
Follow ANNA Z & J.Manuel
Instagram: J.Manuel
Instagram: ANNA Z.
Instagram: Werk
Instagram: SPANDAU20
Instagram: KOMI RadioShow (by ANNA Z)

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