At his home studio in the Koreatown section of L.A., Linev walked us through his process for using KOMPLETE, MASCHINE and the KOMPLETE KONTROL S88 to create music that has both the visceral power of live orchestration and the pinpoint precision of well-crafted electronic music.
How did you get started in music? Were you classically trained or more self-taught?
My uncle was a classical conductor where I grew up in Sofia. I went around to watch operas with him. My first opera was when I was like eight, which got me into the piano at that age.
We had to get an upright piano into a small apartment. The outskirts of Sofia is all 25-story apartment blocks, and you can hear your neighbors from 10 apartments away. So having a piano — I just could never play it because we kept getting noise complaints.
Then later on, in my teenage years, I had this illness and I was forced to stay at home for about a year. And that’s when my folks got me a guitar, which I started playing every day. Then I got into punk rock and started playing in local bands, and at some point my friend who played in a rockabilly band was like, “Hey, we don’t have a bass player for our show. Do you know how to play bass?” I was like, “Nope.” “Well you should try anyway!” (Laughs) So that’s how I started playing the bass.
I think that’s the story of half the punk musicians in the world. “Can you play this instrument? You’ll figure it out.”
Exactly. So I continued to figure it out with a few other instruments. And eventually it was like, “OK, I’m playing at a moderate to low level on every instrument, but I’m not like a master of any of them.” So at that point I started prioritizing my time more on learning how to compose and write music — film music in particular, because I always loved soundtracks. One of the first cassette tapes I had when I was growing up was the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
I moved to L.A. in 2007, I think, with the ambition of doing the whole music thing out here. I was here for about a year and a half before I decided it was a terrible place for me at the time, and I needed to get out as soon as possible. So I moved to Leeds, and I lived in the U.K. for about three years. That’s when I got into electronic music more. I don’t know if it was the somber, cloudy weather or what, but ambient electronic was a big thing for me. And when I moved back to L.A., around 2010, that was when I started this project, Kan Wakan.
The idea was to use Maschine to sample my own music… and basically perform and loop them live, in combination with some live synths and plugins…I was never a fan of just having everything on a backing track. I feel like it’s kind of impersonal
Were there specific artists or labels when you lived in the U.K. that first drew you into electronic music?
I loved the Ninja Tune catalog. Erased Tapes. I loved some stuff on XL and their sub-labels. Aphex Twin and Portishead. Squarepusher and Massive Attack.
Does any of this gear in your studio now date back to those days?
Yeah, the [Korg] MS-20 right here. This is a reissue; all the originals were in black. I think the original is quite a bit bigger. But yeah, that’s one of the reasons I got this — a lot of those records from that period in the ‘90s, they were using the Korg MS-20 on almost everything.
Do you remember what the first piece of Native Instruments gear of software was you started using?
I think Battery was the first one that I used, for making beats. I used Massive for synths and stuff back then. And Kontakt. But Battery was great because I was able to sample things and import them and create my own beats with my own samples right off the bat. I didn’t grow up in the era when MPCs were a thing, so naturally I worked towards implementing my ideas with the tools I had availble to me at the time.
When and how did MASCHINE become part of your arsenal?
I believe it was around 2013 when I was finishing the first Kan Wakan record [Moving On]. 90 percent of that record was all recorded in the studio with live musicians. There was an orchestra on it, all analog synths. But then after the fact, it became a problem performing that live. So the idea was to use Maschine to sample my own music, [especially] a lot of the percussive elements of it, and basically perform and loop them live, in combination with some live synths and plug-ins.
So you were drawn to it not just as a studio tool, but also for its possibilities in live performance.
That was the initial appeal for me: the live aspect of it. I was never a fan of just having everything on a backing track. I feel like it’s kind of impersonal.
When you’re in the process of taking all those various acoustic elements in your music and putting them together, what software plays a role in that?
The Komplete bundle. I’ve always gotten every single one; I’m on 11 right now. They usually come with MIDI strings, and I often use these instruments to map out the arrangements. Many times these MIDI instruments end up serving as additional textural components and glue to the live instrument counterparts. Even when I do film stuff — I just scored a film that came out on Showtime in October called Dead Draw. With a lot of film scoring, it’s usually about 80 percent live orchestra and 20 percent MIDI.
Is that because sometimes you’re trying to get a particular effect that’s difficult for a live orchestra to replicate?
It’s less about the actual players. A lot of times it’s about the way the live orchestra is recorded and the dynamics of that. Also, as you’re scoring a film, you’re going back and forth with a director and you’re doing each cue and things are constantly changing. The dynamics can change very quickly. So doing everything in MIDI allows you the flexibility to change things much quicker.
What are some of your other go-to effects or plugins?
In Reaktor, I use Rounds. Rounds is a soft synth. The reason it’s called Rounds is that it has eight different engines, and each one is rotating between a bunch of different effects and presets. So every time you hit a chord, it’s slightly different. It’s constantly changing. So it’s a really great creative tool. You can kind of stumble on things
Kontakt is probably my main tool with Native Instruments as far as the software goes. Usually a lot of my productions will start with a beat and piano. So I’ll be using Battery to program a beat and drop in samples and kind of mess around.
And I love using automation. That’s probably one of my biggest things. Electronic music can be very stagnant if you just leave it as is. So I go in afterwards and I use the automation within Logic to change parameters. For example, the reverb can gradually get bigger throughout a phrase. You can have a snare that’s really distorted but then gradually gets less distorted. So all of those adjustments with automation make it feel like it’s more free and that it’s going somewhere — making it as fluid and expressive as possible.
You mentioned MASCHINE is part of your touring rig. Do you take the KONTROL S88 keyboard on the road, too?
This guy? No. It’s extremely heavy. It’s just for the studio. I love this thing because the action is incredible on it. It has the best action out of any MIDI controller that I’ve owned.
So it really performs more like an electric piano.
That’s exactly the goal of it. You can sit down on this and open up a piano instrument — Alicia’s Keys, for example — and you can really feel like you’re playing a real piano. That’s the main reason I wanted to get this controller. Every MIDI controller I’ve had prior to this felt more like [the Korg]. It made it really hard to play a piano sound. It makes it so much easier to get into the vibe and really express yourself. You can also manipulate all of the presets of whatever instrument you’re playing within [Komplete] over here [on the keyboard]. So that makes it much quicker. You can spend more time playing and less time messing around on the computer.
Do you want to talk about any other projects you’ve recently worked on?
The Moses Sumney record [Aromanticism] — I produced some tracks on that. I produced the song “Lonely World” and did the arranging and played a bunch of stuff on it.
What was it like to work with Moses?
He’s extremely motivated by the fine details of things. So it was a challenge. Every single element had to be sculpted in a way that was complimentary to his voice and the message.
photo credits: Shane Lopes