Black Snow on Christmas

A Songwriter Journey from Laptop Music to Modular Synths

Black Snow on Christmas says:

I consider myself a dark indie rock singer songwriter

I normally do everything by myself, except for some backing vocals and  mastering

Getting into the modular world is incredibly expensive

It’s easier to get more attention if you speak about modules, gears, controllers and so on

Black Snow on Christmas is the solo project of Chris Wirrwitz, a singer songwriter who lives in a small island by the Baltic sea.
Does this kind of environment influence his music? Let’s find out in this interview for ‘The Electronic Corner’.

Sir Joe: Let’s start with a very serious question: How does black snow look like, and why does it fall on Christmas?

Black Snow on Christmas(Laughs) I don’t know how black snow looks like, and I don’t remember where the name came from.
Thinking of it, it must have been a line I wrote somewhere: the idea was that it’s Christmas time, everyone is waiting for snow and has almost lost hope. Then it starts snowing, but it’s not normal snow, it’s black snow, so it’s even worse than no snow at all.
This kind of cynical or dark joke was the background for the name.

SJYou seem to like unusual names also for your album titles, since your latest effort is called ’20 Golden Melodies from the Post Industrial Era’. What inspired you to give this title to the album?

BSOCWell, there’s a Throbbing Gristle classic with the number 20, I think it’s 20 Jazz something, I don’t remember right now, but that was an inspiration.
The other one was Ween, who did a a country album called ’12 Golden Country Greats’ a while ago, so the idea was to take the same route and name it something like that.
Actually, there are 9 tracks on it, so it doesn’t make any sense, but I thought the name was good.

SJThe tone of your voice and even more the way you sing, especially on songs like “Come alone”, for example, remind me of country music style, or even more Frank Towey, after he removed the moniker Fad Gadget and started to use his real name to relaese some lovely country electronic folk inspired records.
Is it just my own impression or are you indeed influenced in some ways by country music?

BSOC: No, I’m not inspired by country music. I mean, I listen to the late Johnny Cash stuff every now and then, but what I normally like in that direction is Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan, stuff like that.

I consider myself a dark indie rock singer songwriter, I happen to have a low voice and I feel the need to sing my own songs.
I never liked my voice too much, but I always felt important to sing myself the songs I compose.

SJThe covers of your album reflect this kind of dark attitude too.
Did you make them yourself?

BSOC: Yes, I normally do everything by myself, except for some backing vocals and the mastering of the music. As you know, my music is a bit gloomy, melancholic and dark in most of the tracks, so I like these feelings to be represented in the covers too.
I live in a small island, and the Baltic sea is like one hundred meters from here. That’s why on the cover of both albums you have the sea.
By the way, the first album is called ‘Dark Times on a Sunny Beach’, and it is a reference to the place I live in.

SJActually, in the latest episode of The Electronic Corner our mutual friend Dirk Pogrzeba, better known as Neversleep, told us how living in Berlin makes his life easier to buy modules, to meet other modular musicians and so on.
I’m pretty sure that on Hiddensee things are pretty different, so I’m curious to know if you see this isolation as an advantage or a disadvantage, when it comes to making music in general.

BSOCI have maybe 10% of what Neversleep has in terms of modules, and for me this is a healthy way not to buy too much stuff.
Actually, I lived in Berlin from 1996 to 2006, because I was studying there, but then I left.
Now I’m often there for work, but I don’t feel comfortable in that place anymore. It’s too big, too loud, with too many people.
You can reach the island where I live only by boat, and it has 1.000 inhabitants, so this is a better place for me.

SJI know of people who started making music maybe 20 or 30 years ago with modular synths and then, for whatever reason (cost or lack of space usually) sold everything and went digital.
You have done exactly the opposite. Why?

BSOCFirst of all, getting into the modular world is incredibly expensive, so it’s a stupid idea to do it unless you are rich, of course.
In my case, I felt trapped in making laptop music. I play guitar, bass and other instruments, and I was always recording them in Ableton Live, using also a lot of its plug-ins and other soft synths.
I liked the sounds, but I didn’t like the process of choosing them, because it was not clear to me how I could use those sounds.
Then, in 2016, I bought a Korg Minilogue, an analog synth that lets you do a lot of stuff but with a restricted sound choice. Well, it sounded so good that it gave me a lot of inspiration to work with. It also worked as a sort of educational project and it made me decide to try some modules.
I knew that either you leave the whole thing after 5 modules, or you really get into it. In my case, I loved it, but maybe now I buy 2 or 3 modules a year, no more than that.
I have a lot of modules, and I don’t use all of them. Anyway, the creative process was the decisive argument for working with modules.

SJNow let’s talk a bit about the Black Snow On Christmas monthly, a sort of fanzine that you send on PDF.
I took a look at the latest issue and, among other things, I was intrigued by something you mentioned, called the ‘Music Experience Movement’.
Can you tell us a bit more about it?

BSOCSome people from Instagram started it about 5 years ago, I think.
They collected people they liked with the aim of exchanging ideas, encourage collaborations and push each other. Then they created a logo and released an album with songs from several artists of the movement.
I don’t have a contract with them, it’s just a group of people, and they are very active.
I’m a part of it because they asked me if I had a new album, and they are very cool, nice people mostly from the United States, while the artists are from all over the world.
All their activities take place exclusively on Instagram and Bandcamp, as far as I know.

SJIn the description of one of your videos on YouTube, you’re asking: “Why are we curious about new gear but a little bored of new artists?”
So, what is your answer to that question?

BSOCI don’t have an answer. You know, if you’re doing electronic music these days and you are on YouTube, it’s easier to have a bit more attention from the viewers if you are speaking about modules, gears, controllers and so on. If you only upload music there, only a very small part of your viewers will actually listen to the music, even though many people use YouTube to do it.
Part of the problem is that there’s a lot of music, everywhere in the world, because nowadays it is easy to produce and release it. However, the amount of attention is the same of, let’s say 20 years ago, so more artists have to share the same amount of attention. I think that’s why it’s easy to get lost in the big ocean of fresh music.
Why is it so interesting to see something about gear? I’m not sure about the reason, but I can say that I do it as well. I love tutorials, I love to see new gear on YouTube, although it’s always a bit dangerous because at some point you think that maybe you need that new gear to make even better music and you buy the stuff, which is not always sensible to do.
A wise guy is Tom Morello, the guitar player from Rage Against The Machine.
When they started, he had a certain amp, a certain guitar and some pedals, and he is still using them. He decided very early that he didn’t need the new stuff, so he is using guitars and pedals from 30 years ago.
That’s very inspiring, because he could afford a lot of stuff and actually he wouldn’t even need to buy it because many companies would love to “throw” guitars and pedals at him.
Yet, he is sticking to a very small collection of things, and I like this idea because it allows you to really learn what you have, to understand it, and to use its restrictions in a creative way.


(Now I invite you to watch the following video, starting at 18:07. We are going to learn how to build a rhythmic pattern using modules.)

We say thanks to Chris Wirrwitz, a.k.a. Black Snow on Christmas, for introducing us to his music world.

Don’t forget to visit Black Snow on Christmas Instagram page


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