by Danny Turner

Noga Erez: Music as freedom

Israeli-born Noga Erez talks about how she made debut album 'Off the Radar'.

Raised in Israel’s political boiling pot, the debut album by Noga Erez — ‘Off The Radar’ — gave birth to a visceral and confrontational sound, powered by Native Instruments MASSIVE.

Although Israeli-born Noga Erez had always thought of music as a form of escapism, once she became a producer she discovered the cultural and political tensions that enveloped her daily life began to seep into her creative process.

The result is debut album ‘Off The Radar’, created alongside studio partner Ori Rousso. Two and half years in the making, the record is driven by a discordance of drilling, scattered beats and acerbic lyricism. Her message? Fight the power, irrespective of the cozy privileges that your culture provides.

Both in the studio and on stage, Erez creates a battle-hardened sound by tapping into MASSIVE‘s deeply intuitive and powerful sound design capabilities.

Music as escapism

For sure, music used to be escapism for me, because I grew up in a home where the political and social climate was a very big conversation. That’s what we used to talk about, and my parents thought it was very important that I knew what was going on around me and able to form my own critical judgments about everything from all sides.

I discovered that the things that were happening in Israel, and globally, could influence my emotions in a way that was not always very proportional. Music was my way of escaping, but as I got into making my own music, all of those thoughts that I needed to deal with just blended into the sound. Then my music was no longer escapist, but confrontational.

Although I had no intention to create protest music I do have a message, that people should be informed about what is happening in the world and not surrender to what our cultures give us, which is the opportunity to get completely disconnected. We sometimes get so invested in our individual lives, that we tend not to care about what happens around us.

Discovering Tel Aviv

The thing about Israel is that even if you live in a suburb like Caesarea you’re never far away from the city, so if you want to be a part of what’s happening in Tel Aviv it’s accessible to most people. I wasn’t a big electronic music fan as a young girl, I became that years after moving to Tel Aviv when I was able to finance myself. The city has a big reputation for its nightlife and clubbing scene, but I’m not into clubbing at all.

I love electronic music, but I don’t go dancing. I like listening to music in an intimate environment and going to shows. Like everyone else, I got into electronic music through the Internet. I was really into jazz, which might be thought of as a weird way of getting into production, but I met a lot of good jazz musicians in Tel Aviv that were leaning more towards modern beat makers in the LA scene like Flying Lotus. He made the bridge for me between jazz and electronic music and marked the scale.

Getting into production

When I was 18, I got my very first MacBook. I wanted to start making music on it, but not electronic music. I wanted to be able to record acoustic music. Having studied composition, I was still very much into my ‘jazz phase’, and instrumentation led to my studies in sound. When you study instrumentation, you learn how to make many different instruments sound good together and I found that very intuitive when translated to mixing and sound engineering.

I found Logic very hard for me because I didn’t have a natural approach to using it. So I was going back and forth with it when I discovered Ableton, which opened up a whole new world for me because it allowed me to work with plugins and VSTs that were user-friendly.


Off the radar

I look at the songs and really see the history of myself as a musician through the stories they tell. Technically, we worked on Off The Radar for a couple of years. Originally, Ori would work more on the sound and music production and I tended more towards lyrics, but the blend became harder to distinguish as I became more and more involved in everything that had to do with production and sound. Now it’s hard to figure out who does what.

Every song was made differently, and the thing about working in the box is that it allows you to work anywhere. I created beats and wrote songs in so many places. Sometimes we would hang in the studio, record a lot of noise and chop it up, and that’s probably the approach we’re going to continue with, trying to create a very rich and large custom-made library. It’s a lot of fun, and a craft – like playing with colours.


Discovering MASSIVE

We processed a lot of sounds in Ableton and used plugins from Soundtoys and Waves, but MASSIVE was used on every song on the album. The first thing I did with it was to return to an old song called ‘Same Things’. It used to have acoustic piano and vocals, but I reworked it as a new production and the first thing I did was remove its lead sound and design a new one in MASSIVE. There’s something that’s so right about how it complements the track. After that, every time we needed something melodic we would usually go to MASSIVE.

The software was a real discovery for me because it was so easy to use. It’s weird that I started inside the box before using hardware analogue synths, but MASSIVE was my first introduction to a synthesiser. It was my schooling, because it taught me everything about analogue synthesisers and how to use them. It makes amazing sounds that we’ve used so many times, and although we replaced a lot of the things that we did in the computer with analogue hardware, the sounds that we created using MASSIVE always stayed.

We used it to create bass sounds, melodic and harmonic parts, and to create a lot of random and crazy noises. We find it’s a very good tool to use because it has such a variety of sounds.

An intuitive synth

Analogue people will get angry, but MASSIVE can do a lot of things that analogue hardware can’t. The whole thing with a hardware synth is that you need to take cables to connect one thing to another, but with MASSIVE you just drag it with a mouse. It’s so intuitive and I love to work with things that work in the same way that I think.

Sometimes I’m in that mood to do something that I’ve never heard anywhere before, but that’s not my primary goal, primarily I’m trying to find what serves the song best. Some people might have a room full of analogue synthesisers and all the money in the world to buy crazy plugins, but if you have to be very precise about what you have to work with, then MASSIVE enables you to have the variety that a room full of synths can provide.


Noga’s live setup

In our live shows, we use the Novation LaunchPad and Launch Control XL to switch between songs, play VSTs or to put an effect on something. The whole live setup is MIDI-based, but we wanted to find controllers that create liveness. You can have someone playing beats on a drum machine or a small controller, but you also want to feel the motion of a real drummer when he plays. The decision to use gear like the Roland SPD-SX sampling pad helped make it as easy as possible to translate the recordings live, but also create a live performance with physical instruments.

Ron, the drummer, is using one of them for all the electronic beats and also has cymbals and floor toms. I have an Akai MPK-225 keyboard, which has keys, pads and knobs, and Ori has the other SPD-SX, the LaunchPad and Launch Control XL. Everything’s running through an RME soundcard and a Behringer preamp, and then we have Ableton on stage. When we press a button, it opens all the instruments that are required for a particular song. We have six or seven different setups and MASSIVE is in every project, recreating every sound we’re using and changing the vocals or the key that the drummer’s playing in.

We’re playing the music, but we’re not machines. We make mistakes and sometimes we’re off-tempo or out of tune, but that’s what makes a live performance. I embrace the mistakes, especially when they’re not my own [smiles].

photo credits:
live shots courtesy of UrbanMythology
backstage shots by Nici Eberl


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