Interview: pOnk

pOnk - Photo courtesy of pOnk

pOnk - Photo courtesy of pOnk

Frederik Knop isn’t very conventional, as far as solo artists go. The Berlin-based, one-man mastermind behind the experimental-indie found-sound project pOnk, first began to grow his project about three years ago, but suffice to say, Knop has been making music on and off for years. In fact, he began experimenting with electronic music instruments at a young age; this is something he attributed to his father, a physicist and musician who bought a handful of synthesizers in the 80s that he never ended up using.

“He thought they were really, like, the latest, coolest thing. And they were just laying in his apartment,” Knop said, explaining how he became interested in them instead.

But in spite of his habitual tinkering, Knop never seriously attempted being a solo artist until a few years ago, instead preferring to make music on his own and never sharing it with the general public. Meanwhile, he also played in emo-inspired math rock-esque bands.

“I always did these things parallel,” he said. “Like, electronic, more experimental music by myself, and really, like, weird guitar music with lots of breaks and stops.”

Now a professionally-trained musicologist, Knop took a break from the performance realm in order to study – all the way to the level of PhD – but eventually studying the music of other people made him realize how much he missed making his own.

“When I had my degree, I had the feeling I really had to become a practical musician again,” he said. “It was very theoretical and I had to write a lot and always talk and discuss other peoples’ music as a profession, and so I really needed to get back into the studio.”

Out of a need to have his own personal space to work on music, Knop built his own studio. Although it is small, he is able to do his recording, mixing and mastering music there.

“It’s mainly computer-based, but there is some nice outboard for a mixdown,” he said. “But it’s very not-complicated, which I love, because…once I’m in there, I really need to make music really soon and I don’t want to deal with too many restrictions and too many complicated setups and installations.”

This tendency to keep things simple is an extension of who Knop is and how he works, and he admitted that once he configures the settings of the equipment in his studio, he tries to leave them that way as long as possible.

Knop’s first release as pOnk, the Wool and Water EP, came out last year on tape via Froggi Records. This year is the first year he’s begun performing his solo music live, having already played five shows.

“I’m a big studio nerd,” he said, sharing why it has taken him so long to play his music in front of others. “Until now…playing live was more of, like, an experimental thing to do…[but] I’m really looking for people to book this right now because it’s so much fun now. I spent so much time preparing this live set that I really want to, you know, apply it now to audiences.”

In addition to playing shows, naturally Knop has also been working on more recordings, both for other projects and his own. His second pOnk EP, “Remaking the Past,” will be available by the end of the year, with his first full-length due out in the first half of 2012.

While the first EP is inspired by and partially based on part of Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass,” the forthcoming EP is a remix of material from Knop’s current band, Mock.

Meanwhile, the album itself will be based on samples of things in Knop’s father’s flat.

“I recorded everything that sounded in his apartment,” he said, sharing how he created as many as 1,000 sound samples from the gadgets, instruments and toys he grew up around and played with, and stored them all in an Akai MPC (Music Production Center). “And this is how all the songs for the album are being created.”

As for where his inspiration for this kind of music comes from, Knop attributed much of it to his university studies and the particular things he encountered during that time.

“I love working with field recordings and found sounds. I always did that because it’s a very personal way of making music, with everything you use…somehow connected with a specific memory,” he said. “As a musicologist, I do a lot in the field of, like, 20th-century music, and there’s all these experimental techniques and how to work with sounds and how to make instruments sound in a really unusual unfamiliar way, and I think this all comes together.”

The interesting contradiction for Knop, then, is that although his music involves organizing and combining various sounds that sometimes have very little to do with one another, there is an exact, almost calculated, methodology for how he goes about making his music.

“Usually I do things very very conceptually,” he said of his process. “I love limiting myself and staying in the frame, and [trying] to, you know, do everything possible within that frame.”

In spite of his meticulous and somewhat perfectionist approach to music, Knop said he still finds himself being surprised by his music, or overwhelmingly satisfied with how it turns out.

“There can be these magic moments when you play back a track or a melody and you’re doing something, you add something, and it just starts to turn into exactly what you were looking for,” he said, explaining how and when these realizations come about. “[Or] it could the moment when, after finishing a mix, listening to it on the next day, like with distance and probably a night of good sleep between.”

Now, from the place where he is now, looking back on his past, Knop said that if there’s any noticeable change between the solo music he made in his younger years as compared to now, it is a more careful and thought-out approach to what he is doing.

“I think I became very focused with details and, like, really thinking about everything that you hear,” he said. “I’m really trying to be patient with the music…and really go deep into the music and really think about what I’m doing.”

pOnk plays tonight at ://about blank in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00.

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