mind.in.a.box interview:

mind.in.a.box - Interview for magazine 'Commodore Free 40/2010', Interviewer:'Nigel', about: 'R.E.T.R.O', Date: 2010-05-01
Link: Commodore Free 40/2010
Please introduce yourselves to our readers.
Stefan: Hi Nigel. We are mind.in.a.box. The project itself consists of Markus and myself. Markus writes all the lyrics and works on the background concept, and I compose and produce the music and sing the vocals. We are both from Vienna, Austria, and R.E.T.R.O is our fourth album.
Can you explain to our readers what sort of music you produce?
Markus: Our first three albums were quite different from R.E.T.R.O. They have a kind of science fiction story behind them, which actually connects all of the albums, and is told in the lyrics and additional text in each CD booklet. We try to interweave the emotions that we want to convey with the music itself, with this additional background, where characters in the world of mind.in.a.box experience something that evokes certain feelings in them. A lot of this is meant as a metaphor for aspects of the real world. We really like this duality - pure emotions evoked through music, and an additional science fiction background. The name mind.in.a.box itself is a metaphor for not truly being free in your mind, not being able to do what your heart desires to do.
Stefan: Musically, people often say that we are doing technopop or maybe futurepop, but we are not big fans of genre classifications. Our music is definitely quite electronic, which of course is even more pronounced on R.E.T.R.O. Our latest album is a homage to the golden times of home computer and video games music, especially the Commodore 64 and its SID chip, as well as the amazing composers of those times. We wanted to transform some of our most favourite tunes into the present, releasing this 'special' album as a tribute to some of our C64 heroes.
What makes you unique?
Stefan: It's hard to say that about ourselves, but a lot of people have said, or written in the past that we have a very unique sound, which at the same time has a lot of variety, for example very different vocal styles, but that also always has a recognizable signature sound that people often recognize instantly.
Markus: We are probably also one of just a few bands who try to integrate a larger story background of some kind into their albums, especially where not only each album is a kind of concept by itself, but several albums are connected together and you can always look forward to the next album from a story perspective as well as the music.
So do you use retro machines in all your music?
Stefan: I used to do that, but not anymore. Markus even designed a SID soundcard for PCs at school many years ago, together with a colleague (Mr. SID, who is well known in the SID music scene). We thought about using it in our own music, but nowadays we like to work as integrated and easy as possible, instead of integrating too many different devices that tend to make everything too complicated.
Markus: The sound card also needed an ISA slot, which you cannot find anymore in PCs that you can buy today.
Do you feel emulation or the real hardware is better?
Stefan: In general I think real hardware is always better. Not so much because of the sound, but I think the main goal is that you have something in your hands that you can actually touch and turn some knobs and switches; physically play around with, and of course that you can also throw at the floor :) I'm joking! But I really think it is always better when you can directly control the sound, without fiddling with a mouse. When you compare the real SID chip to emulations, it is more difficult because without a physical user interface to begin with, the only thing you can compare is the sound, where it used to be that real hardware always sounded better but today it's really hard to hear much difference.
Can you list the hardware you would use to create a 'usual Mind.in.a.box' song?
Stefan: My main Synthesizers are the Roland JV880, JP8080, Waldorf Pulse, MicrowaveXT, and a Korg Wavestation SR.
What hardware did you use to produce the Album-R.E.T.R.O?
Stefan: In general the same items that are listed above. For the SID sounds I have also used the Quadrasid Plugin.
Do you use any real Commodore equipment in your composing/writing?
Stefan: Nowadays no, sorry :) I think it would be too difficult to include in my music setup. From that perspective, I can only work when I can be as efficient and seamless as possible. For me the production setup is very important, and I still try to make it better all the time. If something isn't working I throw it away... like an Access Virus TI, for example, which had so many amazing bugs that I never could never get it to work properly even after numerous firmware updates.
Do you still own any old Commodores?
Stefan: No, but Markus has all of them :)
Markus: I only have a few, but I kept all my equipment I had in the eighties, and got some additional stuff over the years since then. I still like to put them up from time to time and play around for a while. There is nothing better than playing a few rounds of Winter Games on a real C64.
I presume you are retro gamers?
Markus: I buy and play; or I should say look at, a lot of games, and download retro games. And the new game console retro download venues like the Wii Virtual Console will make me poor one day ;) I love retro gamer magazines, I was really happy when more of those started to be produced.
Obviously this is a Commodore dedicated magazine, however some readers are fond of other machines to have you any machine related memories to share with our readers.
Markus: I remember times when I read the German game magazine ASM almost from cover to cover, which covered all the major games machines like the Spectrum and CPC in addition to Commodore computers, and later I always wanted to get an Acorn Archimedes. But actually, I never got any of those myself. Nowadays I'm a big fine of game consoles, and a big part of that is downloadable retro content. The Virtual Console is great, although did I mention that it is really outrageously expensive? ;)
How did your music end up on the soundtrack of the Xbox games?
Stefan: Someone from the studio who developed the games asked our label to include some of our tracks. It was a real pleasure for us, because we spent a lot of time in our past making music for computer games. Maybe a major part of our childhood:)
What do you feel was unique about the SID chip and its sound?
Stefan: Maybe most of all it's the analogue filters, which were very unusual for that time. The sound from this chip really had something magic, and I think there were just no computers out there at that time that could even remotely compare. It was a true masterpiece of chip design.
Have you been keeping track of the C64 remix scene?
Stefan: Yes, sometimes I'm listening to remixes on remix.kwed.org or the great online radio slayradio.org. I enjoy listening to this kind of music a lot. Sometimes I listen to the original SID files, until someone around me says that I should turn off this shit... but i love this shit :)
Have you been inspired by any of the famous C64 composers?
Stefan: Of course! I think the musicians from this area were my first electronical music heroes. They were incredible. Rob Hubbard, Reyn Ouwehand, Chris Hülsbeck, and so on... they were incredible. Of course you can notice a certain correlation to the artists whose songs we selected for R.E.T.R.O.
What were your favourite C64 games?
Stefan: Maybe you can see it when you take a look at the track list of R.E.T.R.O. I think it was the Last Ninja series. :)
Markus: Did I mention Winter Games? Yeah, the Last Ninja games were terrific. For me, there are two periods you could say. When Winter Games came out, I was just a kid, and so this is pure nostalgia for me. Starting with the first Last Ninja, I was at least feeling much older :)
What apart from the SID chip was special about the Commodore 64?
Stefan: Everything...! it was such an incredibly great machine. It was like an old car which you could tune/modify easily. Put a reset button into it, make the load times shorter with FastDOS / DolphinDOS. Lots of people left the floppy drive case open. Sometimes you loaded something that had a disk read error and when you put your fingers on the drive head you could make it continue! I think this computer was one of the last ones where DIY guys could get by with easy tricks. Today, if you have a computer problem you can update your drivers, software etc. but the connection to the computer and its problems is just not there. Everything is much more complicated today.
Markus: The photos in the booklet of R.E.T.R.O, where you can see a C64c with lots of additional buttons, LEDs, etc., this is my old C64 that I modified as a kid, including putting in a second SID for stereo sound. The ease with which you could something like that was amazing. I even did this crazy potentiometer that's sticking out at the back, where you could reduce the clock frequency smoothly from just below 1Mhz to zero while it was on. Or the LEDs on top, they light up when different memory banks are accessed. Ha, great :) It was a machine where you could have the feeling that you really understand the hardware down to the smallest detail, read ROM listings and know every bit of every register. That's a feeling I really miss in today's computers.