Cables, Wires and Keys: Morphology talk

When pairing up, Matti Turunen and Michael Diekmann form the esteemed electro duo of Morphology. Since its formation some ten years ago, the Finnish act has reached the higher echelons of the sci-fi genre, boasting a back-catalogue brimming with quality. Releases on the likes of CPU, Cultivated Electronics, Semantica and Abstract Forms illustrate the scene-wide regard of the two-man team, a team who have gone on to release four albums in the past eight years. With three of these albums dropping on German label Zyntax Motorcity, their latest album – Traveller on Firescope Recordings – echoed the years of development behind the project. Over ten tracks, ambient atmospheres, delicately assembled and rich in texture, progress into powerful invigorating cuts of club-ready rhythm, emblematic of a wild trip through nebulas and solar systems.

This expert ability to exude emotion through truly unique sound design is difficult to ignore, and no doubt thrusted the album into contention for 2018’s finest. We caught up with Matti and Michael to discuss their evolution as an act, the rich heritage of Finnish electro and the process of jamming on hardware, both in the studio and in the club. Check out what they had to say below.

Finland has quite a few electro exports, like Mr Velcro Fastener, Mono Junk and Sansibar to name a few. Why do you think Finland has produced some of the best electro artists?

Matti: I don’t know. Maybe it is just that we don’t have too many parties here to distract our focus on what we are doing. It helps to focus more on what we actually do.

Michael: Or maybe it’s just the sheer darkness during winter time. Nothing much to do here when it’s cold and dark outside. I have also noticed that there are a few certain places here in Finland, mostly really small desolate towns up north, that for some reason breed a lot of really gifted musicians. Maybe there is something in the water!

Who did you both grow up listening to?

Matti: I listened to a lot of different styles, even some heavy metal, but mainly hip-hop and drum & bass.

Michael: Mostly my dad’s record collection that had a lot of progressive rock. Stuff like Pink Floyd, The Doors, Tom Waits and stuff like that. But my dad also had records from Jarre, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. I found that stuff always more interesting compared to the more “regular” music. For a short time I was also into hip-hop. But there too I found the instrumental tracks from artists like Bomb the Bass & Beastie Boys more interesting. Also a lot of early computer game music from the Commodore days where close to my heart.

How did you become producers? Did you play in bands when you were younger, or learn instruments?

Matti: I had a friend who made some music with trackers and early versions of Reason. I thought it was pretty cool so I started messing around with sampling etc. Somehow synths started to get more interesting than sampling, so the styles that I did first formed more towards techno from hip & hop and drum n bass. Actually my music teacher in junior high school told me that there will no future for me in music. Lol.

Michael: My first attempts to make music were in the late ’80s with my Commodore C64. I had a program called Future Composer (or something like that), but it was a bit complicated to use. Back then I also had a program called S.E.U.C.K (Shoot’em Up Construction Kit). With that you could make simple shooter games (hence the title). S.E.U.C.K had this SFX generator app, that used the SID chip with an interface that resembled an analog synth. I spent hours just with that making all kinds of strange sounds. Later when I got a second hand Amiga 500 that came with this self made sampler module. I remember the first time I used it, sampling “Boing Boom Tschak” from Kraftwerk, when I realized the potential what I could do with this “new” technology. Some time after that I formed a Amiga MOD group with a friend of mine called Virta (Stream, current or electricity in English). We started to release this minimal banging techno music on the Commodore Amiga.

What inspired you to make electro music?

Matti: It’s really hard to answer this question. I guess it was quite an unexplored genre for both of us. In the beginning we really did not know that much about it. I think this helped us more to come up with a “signature style” that some people claim we have. I’m not really sure about that though, but then again it’s not really easy to be objective about your own work. But what I do know, it has been really fun to work with Michael all these years and it still is.

Michael : Electro was not our first choice of genre that we tried to make. Back then over 10 years ago we both where more into techno and dub techno, so that was the thing we both did on our own. I had a few friends that listened to electro. Stuff like Anthony Rother etc, and I can say that I really did not like electro at all back then. For me it lacked something. I remember challenging myself to make an electro record that I would buy myself. I only used a Korg Mono/Poly, TB-303, TR-606, MFB-502 and a cheap old Casio synth, and made a few tracks of this “electro I would buy myself”. That ended up later as Zyntax 02 ep on Zyntax Motorcity. I remember that shortly after that Matti had made a preview sketch track of electro. I liked it a lot and asked him to send it over, so I could maybe finish it. Suddenly everything clicked way better that in ever did with techno or dub. A few months later we had over 12 tracks of music, so we had to come up with a name. That’s how Morphology became to be.

Is playing live similar to jamming in the studio, or do you go in with more of a plan?

Matti: As we have always lived in different cities, it has been hard to find time to practice together, so the live sets are pretty much preplanned. However we have selected the tracks in a way, that they all have elements in them that you can tweak with the synths on stage, and thus make things “moving” nicely. We have also done a few improvisational modular techno gigs here in Finland, but that kind of stuff just so unpredictable, that we haven’t done those outside Finland yet. Maybe some day in the future. Who knows!

Michael: It’s like Matti said. A lot of times the stuff we end up doing on stage ends up far better than it is on the record. Working in the studio is kind of similar to it, as we tend to “jam” the stuff to our DAW in these long takes and take it from there. On stage you have this dancing audience in front of you that makes you go “i can do better than that!”. In the studio it is sometimes a lot harder to loose yourself in the moment, and go a bit over the edge.

What are your favourite pieces of kit at the moment?

Matti: My DIY modular is really sweet, but it’s a constantly changing wall of electronic things. I guess the Elektron Digitakt and Pearl Syncussion clone has been the highlights of 2018 for me.

Michael: I have also been bitten by this Elektron bug this year. The first thing I got was Analog Keys, and shorty after that my collection of Elektron gear has multiplied rapidly. I think my favourite one is Analog Rytm. Then again I am also enjoying the MonoMachine a lot.

When did you start using modular gear, and how did you get into using it?

Matti: I bought a small system second hand when I moved to Turku in 2013. It was made by a nice local guy who had been into modular synths and synth DIY for a long time. At that time I felt really stuck with the instruments that I had. So I bought the thing, and at first I felt even more stuck. But as some time went by it really shocked me how cool it really is to work with modulars. Sometimes it even feels like the thing is showing you the direction of the music that you are currently working on that you never would have figured without the modular.

As the modules are indeed quite expensive I got into building stuff myself. I started with really simple things like mixers and such and now I have been doing a lot of stuff that is being released as open source like the Mutable Instruments products. I have learned quite a bit during this time about soldering and generally how things work.

Michael: I think I bought my case shortly after Matti bought his first small system. I started to buy second hand DIY modules, and consulted a few friends of mine to make every module count. The plan was to keep the case relatively small and compact, so that this new found addiction would not go out of hand. I think I have succeeded with this quite well, as I have only bought a small additional skiff to go with my first Doepfer L9 case that I have. (Michael)

Your album ‘Traveller’ from this year was one of my favourites. How did you go about making it? Was there a specific sound you wanted to achieve?

Matti: Most of the tracks are made in a quite short period of time. 1-3 years or so. I guess it was more like we were in the mood for that kind of stuff during this time. There is quite a bit of modular synth stuff involved that were new things for us both to explore. Maybe the real answer is out there somewhere.

Michael: It was not really a planned album. We had this collection of tracks that where a bit more moody compared to the stuff we usually make. Most of the stuff was rejected by labels earlier. Maybe because it was not so dance floor friendly or what not. Then we got in contact with Steven Rutter from Firescope/B12, and he fell in love with the stuff that all the other labels had previously rejected. It was planned to be an EP at first, but I remember Steven writing me on Messenger, while he was listening to the stuff on a gig trip of this what he then called “perfect EP!”, and saying it is good as it is but it has to be an album. That gave us the direction and the artistic theme. I can say I was a little scared on how people will react to the album, as it differed from what we had previously made, so it is amazing to see it being ranked on your “best of 2018” list. Big thanks to Steven Rutter for pushing us to do this!

What can we expect from you both in 2019?

We do have some plans and at the same time we don’t have that many plans. 2019 is the 10th year anniversary for Morphology, so I hope something nice will come up.

Keep up to date with Morphology’s movements via their Soundcloud here.

Words: Jens Berring

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