The Rorschach Garden

Exploring Phil's Diverse Musical Projects and Creative Process

Phil (The Rorschach Garden) says:

My mother used to sing a lot, my father played cello and the silver flute

I miss a lot the dark wave sound of the early ’90s

We should not exclude the arrival of a new technology

You need limitations to enhance your creativity

Welcome to a new episode of The Electronic Corner, where we are going to interview a man with a lot of experience in the world of electronic music! In fact, although we will focus mostly on The Rorschach Garden, Phil has been or is still involved in many other projects.
Let’s find out why and lets explore with him the past, present and future of music technology.

Sir Joe: In internet I found at least 7 aliases and 15 projects you have been or are still involved with.
How many of this projects are still active and what motivates you to assume so many different names and work in so many different projects?

The Rorschach Garden: Since I was young, music has been a big passion in my life, and I come from a musical family. My mother used to sing a lot, my father played cello and the silver flute, and he also sang a lot.
So, my siblings and I received a sort of musical education.
When I was about 12 or 13, I was no longer satisfied with playing stuff which already existed, and I became more interested in creating my own music.
I did not have sophisticated equipment back then, so I used a tape recorder and stuff that was laying around, like a cheap organ. Very early, I discovered that electronic music was the thing for me, something I wanted to do. Of course, it took a long time before I could afford my 1st synthesizer, but after that I was unstoppable.
As I like different music styles, I had to create different projects because it would not make sense to make rhythmic noise inside a synth-pop project, for example. That’s why I have at least one project for every style I’m doing, and sometimes I collaborate or did collaborate with friends as a band.
The currently active projects are The Rorschach Garden, Synapscape, Philipp Munch, Mandelbrot, Neat_less.
Then, there are some projects in standby, like Collapse Disorder, Templegarden’s, Monokrom, and Phil Nova.
The rest is history.
SJ: You started The Rorschach Garden in 1988 as a solo project, stopped it in 1997, them reactivated it in 2001 as a band, then it became a solo project again around 2008, and now it’s again a duo with your lovely wife.
How did your songwriting process for this project evolved over time?

The Rorschach Garden: The Rorschach Garden is my most private project, so I do most of the songwriting on my own.
I basically start with the music, get into the mood, and then come the lyrics. Since I know in advance on which part of a song I want to sing, it makes things easier than doing it the other way, i.e. having the lyrics first and then writing the music.
In the end, everything evolves from just playing around with my instruments. Maybe it’s something I kept from my childhood, that I like to play a lot. I just need to focus on some synthesizers, as they allow me to build a song in many different ways.
Today I can also count on my lovely wife, Babsy, who accompanies me on stage. I’m very happy of this because it’s much more fun to do it as a duo and not just me on my own.
Of course, I could do it by myself, but it’s more fun to share the work with her. Actually, we share a lot of things, as she’s not only my wife but also my best friend. That’s why it’s working so well.

SJ: That’s lovely. Actually, there’s a side project, or as you call it, a “sibling project” of The Rorschach Garden, called neat_less.
What can you tell us about it and what is the meaning of the white mask that appears in the artwork?

The Rorschach Garden: The two projects have a similar vibe, but a different musical expression.
neat_less is more minimal dark electro, the lyrics are much more political, left wing oriented, the beats are harder and the atmospheres are darker.
I miss a lot the dark wave sound of the early ’90s, so I came up with the idea to bring this sound back into the modern days, through this project.
For it, I use a sentence like: “No gods, no labels, no masters”. I do this all on my own and I upload all the songs on Bandcamp, so I have complete control over it.
It’s another way to express myself and play around. Nowadays, it’s so difficult to sell music anyway. There is so much stuff going on, and I’m a bit tired of this game, so this is my way to free myself from all these kinds of obligations, and it makes me feel good.
SJ: So you do it just for fun and you have no commercial expectations.

The Rorschach Garden: Exactly. I mean, if people leave some money there, it’s fine, but it’s not a must.
Some people like to get the music without paying. I leave it up to them, I think this is a very fair model.

SJ: You obviously started making music with hardware. Have you remained faithful to that, or are you mostly digital now?

The Rorschach Garden: I’ve been very faithful to hardware instruments, and I have a lot of them in my music room.
For me, it’s the tactile aspect which makes it more interesting than working with VSTs. Actually, for mixing and mastering I use digital equipment like Ableton Live, and I do this right in the box, but everything else happens out of the box.
There are lots of happy accidents which would not happen if I played with a computer, because playing with a computer means that you always have to think about what to do, you have to make plans, you can’t just switch on your instruments, keep them running and see what happens.
That’s why I still find it very convenient to use hardware gears, and I also like how they look. They serve as a sort of living room decoration, when I’m not making music.

SJ: How have advancements in music making technology influenced the evolution of your production?
Is there any specific technological development which acted as a game changer for you?

The Rorschach Garden: Yes, there is, and I would say it’s the development of computers and softwares, because they allow me to have a good producing platform where I can record, mix, have total recall and stuff like that.
It gives me much more possibilities to put a project aside, work on another one if I’m feeling inspired, for a day or even for a couple of weeks, and then get back to it. It’s still there as I left it, and that is a big advantage for me. Back in the days when we were recording on DAT recorders or tape decks, if you just changed settings on a synthesizer, it was gone forever.
Digitalism has a lot of advantages and of course a lot of risks. But In the end, it’s a technology, and if you use it wisely you can obtain a lot of marvelous results.


SJ: Do you think it’s still possible to introduce innovative products in the music making market, or have we reached a point where we can only expect variations to already existing tools and technologies?

The Rorschach Garden: Well, I’m not sure if we have seen everything.
Some surprises are still possible, and I think there may be some new instruments, perhaps electronic, or maybe in electro acoustic or purely acoustic.
We should not exclude the arrival of a new technology and say that we reached the highest point. I think there is still a lot to come, even if we don’t see it now.

SJ: An aspiring electronic music composer with a limited budget approaches you, asking for advice on which gear to buy to start with. What would you recommend?

The Rorschach Garden: First, I would tell them they are living in the golden age of music production tools.
They can have a wide range of very different tools for not so much money, use Behringer, Korg, Roland, or other instruments, there are so many possibilities.
I would have been happy if they existed back in the early ’80s, where you had to pay more than €300 for an average Casio keyboard. This has changed completely, and people now can choose from a wide range of products.
I’m also a bit jealous because they are young, and I’m not anymore.
But in the end, I don’t really care. I’m ok with it.

SJ: I agree, but I would like to add one thing that maybe young musicians are missing today.
I’m happy that I was forced to start with only analog, physical instruments, because that tought me a lot about music production.
My impression is that those youngsters who do everything with a computer miss that “something” that you can only learn when you have to put your hands on hardware stuff. Do you agree?

The Rorschach Garden: Yeah, I totally agree, because you need limitations to enhance your creativity.
If everything is possible for you and you just have to choose between set options, in the end it’s more confusing than having just one option, and you have to figure out how you can move to the next level, which is usually not possible with this kind of option.
You evolve only when you leave the ordinary route and find another way to operate on things. In the end, this is what makes your work very special.

(Now I invite you to watch the following video, starting at 14:15. This is a real treat: a new song performed live for the first time ever).

We say thanks to The Rorschach Garden for the very interesting insights of the electronic music world.

Don’t forget to visit the band’s Bandcamp page

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