Photo: Courtesy Nacional Records
Like an inspired tape splice between '50s Latin bandleader Perez Prado and some overachieving club DJ, Señor Coconut matches cha-cha, merengue, and mambo rhythms with precision techno style. Layering vintage samples, programmed rhythms, vocals, and live instrumentation in Digidesign Pro Tools (LE 6.4 on an Apple Mac G4 PowerBook), he created exhilarating Latin-dance tracks for his sixth album, Around the World (Nacional Records, 2008).
“I have cut and moved and touched manually every single sound you hear,” says the German-born Señor Coconut (whose real name is Uwe Schmidt, but who also uses the alias Atom™), referring to his new CD. Replicating the percussion mayhem and full brass shouts of a Latin big band, Schmidt painstakingly organizes his basic ingredients into complex Latin arrangements.
“I work in layers within Pro Tools,” he says. “First I arrange the rhythm section and then I go from the rhythmic to the melodic: the conga to the bass, then to the marimba, then to the trumpets, maybe at the end, the vocals. But I go four to eight bars throughout the entire song. The main process, after I have recorded and programmed everything, is cutting and looping and arranging in Pro Tools.”
Working under myriad aliases since the early '90s, Schmidt has produced numerous albums varying in style from glitch to pure techno to Latin. Around the World is a follow-up of sorts to Señor Coconut's El Baile Aleman (Emperor Norton, 2000), which covered the music of German electronic innovators Kraftwerk. Using his labor-intensive cut-and-paste aesthetic, Schmidt imbues the classic club hits of Daft Punk, Prince, and Eurythmics (as well as Les Baxter and Perez Prado) with frenetic Latin fever on Around the World.
“For songs like ‘Pinball Chacha’ or ‘Kiss,’ I come up with a guide template, a basic 4-, 6-, or 8-bar loop,” Schmidt explains. “Once the song is arranged, I know what type of accent or rhythms are needed in each part of the song. Very often I switch from double tempo to half tempo, or I adjust the accents within the beat. As the track progresses, I try to find better-fitting samples, recordings [of the 1950s Latin variety], or I add live performances. If not, I program the rhythms very simply, maybe using Native Instruments Battery and the internal MIDI provided by Pro Tools. I program the rhythms and record live percussion over that. Then when I get all the melodic and harmonic information and vocals together, I go bar by bar, looping 4- or 8-bar segments and cutting everything within those bars. I cut them into pieces, and after I decide on the core elements of the rhythm section, I cut all the other elements around that core element.”
Not content to work solely in the box, Schmidt employs his “orchestra,” which consists of eight musicians (brass, reeds, percussion) based in Cologne, Germany. They often replicate a Tito Puente or Perez Prado sample, anything from a timbale solo to a full brass section shout chorus. Schmidt layers the live instrumentation, samples, and programming with the kind of meticulous attention to detail that has become his trademark.
“To me,” Schmidt confides, “making music is not about being organic or free; it always comes down to control and shaping things that you can generate in different ways. There has to be a human being giving it a certain shape and controlling it.”
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Home bases: Santiago, Chile and Cologne, Germany
Sequencer of choice: Digidesign Pro Tools LE 6.4
Go-to drum plug-in: Native Instruments Battery