Our Berlin Trilogy: Innervisions – Shonky – Nils Frahm @ Funkhaus
WRITTEN BY: Tony Miln
UPLOADED: 8th May 2019
Last week we took a trip to Berlin to visit three studios – Frank Wiedemann’s Innervisions studio, DJ Shonky’s compact, vintage synth-heavy set up, and Nils Frahm’s extraordinary set up in Saal 3 of Funkhaus. Our Berlin trilogy as it were… this is some of what we saw.
This follows on from our Nils Frahm Live Rig Tour post – photos and our report from two meetings with Nils while he was performing in the UK.
When we were with Nils Frahm in Manchester he suggested we might like to visit him in Berlin when he returned from touring for a gathering at his Funkhaus studio. We didn’t need inviting twice and arrangements were made while he was on tour in the USA, the only date possible being 30th April (which just happened to be my birthday.) Having explained to my kids that these were exceptional circumstances, Gid and I journeyed out to Berlin.
Our rendezvous at Funkhaus wasn’t until later in the afternoon, so we took the opportunity to arrange to visit a couple of Soundgas friends/customers during the daytime. Fuelled by some truly excellent coffee, we walked through Kreuzberg in the glorious spring sunshine enjoying the laid back vibe of this effortlessly-hip city.
First stop was a visit to Frank Wiedemann of Âme fame at the Innervisions label HQ / Studio / Muting the Noise record store (a heavenly combination). Frank has been a good Soundgas customer for some time but this was the first time we’d met, and entering his studio it was immediately apparent that we had much in common. The racks housed many of my favourite processors, synths, and drum machines, as well as plenty of mouth-watering OMG and WTF pieces. A shared passion for certain sounds and effects is always a good ice-breaker and two hours of gear talk passed in a flash. Frank was very generous with his time and knowledge and kindly presented me with a copy of Fred Und Luna’s Im Klanggarten album – released on his new Bigamo label – suggesting (correctly) that I might like it.
A few visions of Innervisions:
We refuelled in the sun on schnitzel and roast potatoes (when in Berlin…) before heading to our next assignation in the compact, but perfectly-formed studio of DJ Shonky. Shonky hails from Paris but now splits his time between Berlin and Ibiza (when not DJing in clubs across the globe either solo or as part of Apollonia). Once I’d picked my jaw up off the floor at the sight of his Korg PS-3200, he gave us a whirlwind tour of his studio workflow that revolves around the incredible Cirklon sequencer. His studio is an impressive exercise in efficiency and streamlining – effortlessly combining the very new iPad-based sound sources with the best in vintage (an enviable collection of classic synths and drum machines) with ultra-tight timing and the ability to rapidly record and edit ideas. It is a truly impressive set-up which shows what can be achieved when you focus with laser precision on making music rather than just accumulating more and more gear.
We’ll cover Shonky’s set up in more detail in the future – great info for people looking to marry old gear and a streamlined, modern workflow. For now here are a few shots from the visit:
Next up was my birthday party at Funkhaus, courtesy of Nils. Funkhaus was built beside the river Spree with little expense spared as a GDR broadcast facility in the 1950s and is on a truly epic scale. As we meandered around the outside of the vast building complex in the afternoon sun the air felt heavy with atmosphere and history. Nils stepped out of an open ground floor window and greeted us warmly, ushering us into the hallowed space that is Saal 3: his studio space. Neither Gid nor I were quite prepared for what we found inside: stunning and lovingly-crafted recording spaces, filled with an exceptional collection of vintage and bespoke equipment. All the rooms are achingly-beautiful and were clearly built as a show-piece and to evoke feelings of a bygone age: wood panelling, parquet floors, ornate plaster work, opulent wall-coverings and fabrics, and everywhere the utmost attention to detail.
The control room alone is enough of a treat for any studio obsessive, but that is only a fraction of the story. Towering rack units filled with multiple examples of classic processors from Langevin, Gates, Pultec, EMT, etc, are arranged around the custom-built broadcast quality console. Delays from Ursa Major (two Space Stations, including an early blue fronted unit), Binson Echorec, TC-2290, Dynacord VRS-23, a newly-installed Lexicon Prime Time 93 that had just arrived from Soundgas, and of course a couple of the inevitable Roland RE-501 Chorus Echoes that are such a part of Nils’ signature sound.
Through the wide control room window is the vast main live area which houses Nils now familiar live rig as well as many other instruments, including the towering Klavins 450 piano, accessible by vertiginous ascent up a tall set of ladders. The grand room was designed for recording chamber music and is truly spectacular: if the Duke Of Devonshire had built a recording space at Chatsworth house here in Derbyshire, it might well have looked like this.
Next door to the control room is a smaller recording space which houses several guitar amps as well as Nils original Moog System 55 Modular and EMS VCS-3 synths. During our tour we visited the tech room – which doubles as storage space (so Nils could adjust the pinch roller on one of his eleven RE-501s) and down several corridors, but wired into the control room desk, the fabulous reverb chamber – the only one (of three) remaining in use in the complex, and which also houses the studio’s EMT Gold Foil Plate. The place is a warren of corridors and staircases; later that evening we visited the main hall where Richard Devine was performing – the hall upstairs being used as the green room being bigger than many concert halls.
Nils had laid on a fine selection of food and drink and a very enjoyable evening was had with friends old and new. We’d invited a few customers and Gid and I were especially pleased to meet Richie Hawtin – we’d both been heard him play and bought Plastikman records back in the hazy nineties – at one point I found myself demoing the Lexicon Prime Time 93 to him in Nils’ control room. Later we got to jam on Nils’ live set up and the big beautiful Moog, and hear the latest recordings he’d just completed for the next Encores release for Erased Tapes (including a track made exclusively on the ‘73 Minimoog we’d delivered to him in Manchester earlier this year) as well as quite a few unreleased recordings – some wild dub excursions and an especially memorable Arnold Schwarzenegger “collaboration”. Quite some birthday…
Our deepest thanks to Nils, Frank, and Shonky for their kindness and hospitality, and to everyone in Berlin who made our trip so very special: we’ll be back soon!
The Funkhaus website is a mine of information about this remarkable place, and for a more in-depth look at Nils’ set up in Saal 3 the peerless Hans Bieger’s Sound On Sound article is the one.
Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.
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