I was lucky to grow up in a household that had a lot of music going on all the time. My dad was always listening to music, and he was an avid hi-fi — electronics gear collector. Some of my first memories are of my dad sitting in front of all this weird equipment playing strange sounds. When I look back on that now, it makes a lot of sense how my career has progressed. Now, I think I'm seen as someone who is looking to advance music and his own ideas in the electronic-music spectrum.
But I have a short attention span and a really bad memory. I think it's gotten progressively worse over the years because of my constant traveling and searching for something new, so I need to file things away to make room for new ideas and inspiration. The way the world's going, organization is key. If we could see all of the information around us, I think we'd be so overwhelmed that we'd probably spontaneously combust and fall over dead. So to make the most of your career, it pays to stay organized.
How do you keep all of your files manageable?
I live and have a studio in Berlin, and I have a studio, offices and a house in Windsor, Canada. So there are bits of pieces of information everywhere. For typical information flow, I've been using Lotus Notes, which is generally an e-mail program. A friend of mine, Bryan McDade, is a Lotus Notes developer and was able to modify the program to not only store e-mails and general work information but also other content and booking information in databases housed in different locations in the world. For example, I have databases to look into all the gigs that I'm about to do or have done in the past. So it's very easy for me to say, “Should I play in Greece? Let me look in the database. Was it good or bad last time?” And I have databases that hold the complete Minus or Plus 8 — my record labels — catalogs together, including all of the images and sound files. Also, it's a replicating server, so if I plug in my computer somewhere in the world, it scans all my e-mails and databases, and if there are any changes from anyone in the world, it updates me. So when I jump on a plane, I can work without an Internet connection, and once I jump off and get back online, it updates everyone else in the world.
How can databases prepare you for a project?
Before I got started on DE9: Transitions (NovaMute, 2005), my friend helped me create a new database in Lotus Notes to track all of the possible songs that I was going to use, how long each part I would use would be (a one-second sample, two bars or the whole track), whether it was unreleased or released and who did the copyright. The database is set up so that multiple people can edit it at once from any location in the planet. At one point, Clark Warner, who runs Minus, was editing information about a white label I wanted to use while a guy in Detroit, who was designing artwork, accessed the database for track listings and copyright information.
Now, we have to add everything by hand, but in five or 10 years, the digital media files we're looking to get clearance for will have the necessary information already embedded in them. There are ISRC codes — 12-character codes embedded in tracks for royalty-collection purposes — but not everybody is putting the information in. If one person forgets, it's a chain reaction, and the system doesn't work. There needs to be a way to make sure you know who owns a track, where it's coming from and where some money has to go. Once the system is firmly in place, it opens up a new avenue of reappropriation of resynthesis in a creative and legal way.
Why is the basic naming of files so important?
Many of us are very visual. I used to look at record sleeves, at a certain blue color, and know that was the record I wanted to use. And then I went to this computer technology; started to use the databases; and had to find a way to remember artist, track and label names. I ended having a special comments field incorporated to help me remember each track. So in all my databases now, there's a personal-memory locator tagged to songs — for example, “dinner on Ibiza,” because that was the first time I heard the track.
I can easily carry 8,000 pieces of music from Mumbai to Johannesburg to Detroit on my laptop. The hard part is, when you're in front of 5,000 or 10,000 people, remembering how to bring up that track that you know you need to play right at that moment. When inspiration hits, whether you're in front of people or in your studio thinking of a certain sample, you need a quick way to locate that. If you don't, inspiration passes, and it doesn't matter how much music you have in your library. That inspirational moment is gone, and you're sitting there like a dummy with all of the tracks and equipment in the world, not knowing what to do.
What are key databases for getting started?
Aside from Lotus Notes, I use Stanton FinalScratch and Beatport.com, which have their own databases. If you want to carry lots of digital music files with you as a performer, you have to find a program with a database that suits you, like Ableton Live or FinalScratch. On a bigger, enterprise scale, you can look at things like Lotus Notes, but this needs professional customization. Information technology has grown so fast that the economics haven't caught up to bring it to everyone in an affordable way. But you can set up a free, downloadable database system such as MYSQL (www.mysql.com). With a little bit of help from a programmer, you can customize it to track your music, files, e-mails or whatever.
It's easy to be bogged down and never get anything done because there's too much shit to get through. So if technology is going to offer all of this stuff, then we should use technology to help sort through it, automate it and bring a little bit of time back to our lives.