Monday, September 17, 2018

Meet Sanuk, my techno-wizard friend (repost)

"Music is a purposeless play, an affirmation of life – not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we're living." ~ John Cage (in a 1957 lecture, Experimental Music)

Deejay Sanuk (Daniel Schwörer) has been playing with sound since 1993

Born and raised in Zurich, Switzerland; now residing on Koh Samui, Thailand, where he DJs at parties and produces music on the side, using state-of-the-art hardware and software.

That's a one-line description of Daniel Schwörer, my techno-wizard friend who kindly agreed to digitally enhance and remaster my 1986 solo album, 2nd Coming. On Facebook he is known as Deejay Sanuk. In Thai, sanuk is a multi-purpose expression meaning pleasure, joy, delight, euphoria, contentment, bliss...

How I found Sanuk is a story unto itself. And why he would offer to me his expert services as an audio sculptor and sound cosmetician is another mystery I would prefer to remain unsolved.

Especially when the sort of music Sanuk manufactures in his tropical paradise lab is mainly for beach parties under the full moon - while the music I generated back in the 1980s can be described as mostly anarchic, expressionist, idiosyncratic journeys through inner space - not exactly danceable unless you happen to be a post-modern choreographer who has evolved beyond the Cagey silences and random industrial sound effects favored by Merce Cunningham.

Anyway, it all started with a visit to the SPCA a few years ago. Two of my cats urgently required spaying and I was pleased to meet a vivacious animal-loving young lady named Farida who was a volunteer or part-time staff.

I discovered that Farida was also a blogger. Apart from that she enjoyed beach parties in Thailand and that's how it came to pass that the first time Farida visited Magick River, she had this Swiss DJ on a visa run in tow.

When Daniel (who hadn't morphed into Sanuk at that time) heard I was also a musician he was curious to check out some of my early output. Played him a few tracks of recently digitized material and he found it intriguing. He asked if he could have a copy of the CD so he could fool around with the sound.

Months passed. One day I found a package waiting for me at the post office. It was a CD from Daniel Schwörer, posted from KL by Farida, who had been carrying it for weeks in her backpack.

I put on the CD and sat for a whole hour mesmerized.

What Deejay Sanuk had done was literally massage the music back to life. The material had originally been recorded on 2-inch, 16-track acetate, mixed down to 2-track stereo masters on ¼-inch magnetic tape, and dubbed directly to compact cassette (so that it could be played at home).

Another Daniel - a Tang - had laboriously digitized hours of material and saved it all on DVDs as wav files. However, without equalization and processing, the sound was dull and flat. Converting analog to digital isn't a straightforward task. The vitality of analog waveforms tends to get lost when translated into raw binary code.

Without altering the music in any way, Deejay Sanuk had succeeded in restoring the brilliance and clarity of individual instruments while consolidating the dynamic balance between the highs and the lows. In other words, whatever he did and however he managed it, my audio wizard friend from Switzerland had injected new life into music recorded more than 20 years ago, making it sound as fresh as when I first created it.

Sanuk's cultural imprinting as a Swiss native stands him in good stead as a techno-wizard. He is meticulous to a fault and ended up working obsessively on my Lazarus Project, tweaking hours of digitized music files.

Finally, many weeks of sweat later, he delivered two versions of the 2nd Coming master - one upfront, the other laidback - plus a completely unretouched version, tape hiss and all, as a reference to how the original mix sounded. I listened to both versions carefully, decided on the one to release, and wrote Sanuk a thank-you note via Facebook, incorporating some feedback. This is part of his response:

i have done the best i could not to deliver you something that sounds nice but shows its shortcomings when played at high volume, even though most people will not listen to it too loud i guess. i have used very drastic equalization which you will not hear in the final mix, i added bass frequencies in the low end which i then would cut back again. then after having cut low frequencies back i compressed the piano line as the leading element of dynamic in the mix. some other instruments had very extreme peaks in the problematic frequency range (e.g 1 khz, 3-4 khz ) so after any frequency manipulation and compression i had increased noise occurrence which i had to get rid of again without taking out the brilliance. so imagine that as an iterative process trying to achieve an acceptable result. i did the final step with a special emulation of the famous SSL (Solid State Mixing Consoles) equalizer and buss compressor.....

all in all i used quite a lot of different tools and dunno how many steps of rendering different versions from which i worked further where needed. that's only possible since we have powerful computers and can stay in the digital domain where there is no loss of data. another trick is to first transform the original file into a floating 32 bit data file since the good plugs all work in the 32 bit or 64 bit domain, then in the end you dither the whole thing back down to 16 bit 44.1 cd quality.... However, thank you very much that my work finds appreciation, it's the most difficult thing i have ever done and was a real challenge since it really is a remarkable recording with all possible sound elements and dynamics in it.

All the best and thank you again for the opportunity to work on something like that.
best regards from cloudy Samui

I am none the wiser as to how Sanuk does it, since I know zip about the technical aspects of sound mixing. He did explain to me that he has special software that allows him to analyze the sound spectrum layer by layer and sculpt soundwaves with far greater precision than was possible in the analog era.

Of course, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to have met this wonderful wizard who happens to be a perfect blend of artist, scientist, aesthete, philosopher - and cultural philantrophist too, for I can't imagine getting this sort of magical results even if I could afford to fork out thousands. If you're interested in sampling some of Deejay Sanuk's head-banging dance tracks, go here. He has also produced soundtrack music for various European filmmakers.

Sanuk's amazing achievement is that he succeeded in restoring vitality, depth and presence to my 1986 recordings. I'm particularly pleased with the way he tweaked the piano so it sounds as if you're listening to a live performance. In short, I feel totally assured that the 2010 edition of 2nd Coming can hold its own anywhere in the world as a recording, in purely technical terms.

However, whether or not listeners will be receptive to the utterly unclassifiable music is something I cannot and dare not predict. Be warned: this album was recorded in the mid-1980s before music videos contributed to shortening people's attention spans.

But if you're curious enough, or kind enough, to order a copy:

2nd Coming is now downloadable online! 

[First posted 2 September 2010]