Robin Hannibal: On the Essence of Music

02/24/2017 01:27 am ET

Music exists as an intangible power that transforms everything around and inside us with quicksilver changes, and when artists create music they are willing to invest something from themselves and reconstitute an intensely personal, yet universal experience.

Robin Hannibal, a composer and producer based in LA, is giving us a lot of this magic. His work exhibits certain unconventional power and sensitivity. In 2009, Robin and singer Coco O. created the band Quadron, and rather than following certain aesthetics, their music exists somewhere between mind, body and senses in an infinitely shifting pattern of relations.

Image courtesy: Dan Monick

JL: I've been listening to Quadron for many years and your work seems to maintain a multi-faceted structure, there’s a heady mixture of ..everything.

RH: Thank you, the fact that you've been listening for years is the most biggest and most meaningful compliment to me, that I can think of. I strive to make music that you can keep going back to and can "live with". I personally love when composers and artists put that level of detail and love into their work, that it can still keep giving the listener something back even years after listening to it for the first time. It's obviously a little pretentious to think that you can make timeless music, but you can attempt to, and to accomplish that I think you have to live and breathe it, and keep chiseling away. There does come a time where you might have spent too much time, and you start degrading and destroying the beauty of the original pure thought, so it's a constant balancing act, of determining when you have given it your all, and being aware of not crossing the point where you are starting to resent it and feeling contempt for the work. The saying "can't see the trees for the forest" is very fitting for the process of when you are losing track of the bigger overview of the song and its original sentiment.

I've always been very curious and try to research new and old music every day, which helps to stay inspired, and a by-product of that is probably that I like a lot of musical styles, instruments and types of arrangements, and want to t a lot of it into my music.

I love new hybrids of music, and when you can mix classic ways with new shapes and forms.

JL: What is your philosophy behind composing?

RH: It's a weird one, because as much as I love certain ways of creating, it happens all the time that something random happens that is unexpected and takes you in another direction than what you expected or set forth to do. Also working with other people constantly changes your approach and philosophy, and forces you to adapt to a wide range of scenarios, that might not be your "philosophy".

So I try to keep an open mind, and let the ow of the day/person/room lead me. With some people or environments it's more conducive to do it a certain way, and others you are asked to lead. My overall philosophy behind composing is openness, and not being scared of jumping off the ledge, which is scary at times because you find yourself in situations with people whose music and artistry you respect, and you are asked to create something from nothing in front of them. and you can't help feeling judged, but I try to remind myself that if you don't fail you can't learn, and to let myself loose myself, and trust that something interesting will happen through the energy in the room. I'm not gonna lie, it can be challenging sometimes though, because you want it to be pure and honest and in the inception phase it's very fragile and sensitive, because you are trying to share something very personal and it gets emotional. So, there has to be some trust, and that often develops over time, so you need to create that in a matter of hours. It reminds me of that exercise where you are asked to fall backwards with closed eyes and a person behind you is supposed to grab you.

I try to let myself experiment when composing and I'm looking for something that will move me. It can be a small piece of a melody, a chord progression, the sound of a certain instrument. But I try no to judge it when I am creating, and then, often, there is a alchemic moment where something comes together, and it's almost like a chemical reaction, and it feels at times like it is beyond you - like it takes shape and has become its own identity or organism. I am looking for something that moves me, and takes me some place. Where that place is, I try not to discriminate. Sometimes it's pretty, sometimes it's sad, but I try to go with it.

Making music is an odd combination of logic (theory and understanding of music) and a big dose of spontaneity, improvisation and randomness. I think the art lies in identifying when something interesting is happening that isn't your original thought and allowing yourself to go with that.

JL: Music is always affected by other people as well. Can you tell me about your influences and what shapes you outside the music world?

RH: I am hugely affected by other artists, and especially by visuals. Cinema, paintings, pictures and installations. One of the things I enjoy the most is closing my eyes when listening or making music, and see what my inner cinema shows me. That's often a great indication of what you are making touches something. I've always loved watching movies, and I use it for stimulation. I guess it is very close related to my work as most movies have music in it.

JL: You've created and played music in different places around the world. How space shapes sound and does architecture influence your composition?

RH: It has a big influence. Maybe less now though than 5-10 years ago, because of the connectivity of the internet. Before the internet had such a big presence in our lives, I was more influenced by my surroundings and environments, I think.

Because I didn't know what went on in huge parts of the world, at least not on a daily basis, and music traveled slower, and because of technology you/ we weren't exposed to that many artists and styles. But I still think where you live has an influence on your music. I don't know if my music is more happy or sad being in sunny LA, than in the cold north of Europe, but I do think stylistically you can't help but pick up on what people listen to around you, and that's obviously still different depending on where you are in the world. I do remember that I felt a sense of relief when I started to coming to LA, and then relocating here. I finally felt that it was okay that I loved soul music, and there wasn't such a divide between what people liked here, and people where less focused on only liking the cool new hip bands. It was much more diverse. You'd hear a motown song, next to a '80s one-hit wonder song on the radio. And people that didn't look like it was into rap, classical, jazz and pop at the same time.

What I have found over the years is that the space I am in doesn't change the music I make drastically. I've worked from very nice studios, to bedrooms, and I don’t think my music has gotten better or worse, to be perfectly honest. So, I think what influences me more is the overall environment, than the architecture of the room or place I'm in.

JL: How do African rhythms influence your work?

RH: Well, to me it's the foundation, so it's very important. It has a very big influence. I love all sorts of rhythms, and I'm fascinated with what that does for the feel and mood of a piece of music, and how it affects the composition. I love when there is a song that has something going on that I can't figure out on first listen, and I'll pick it apart and try and learn from it. I'm a pretty terrible drummer, but it's fun to learn new rhythms, that you can maybe adapt to your own compositions.

JL: Can you tell me about an exciting project you're working on right now?

RH: Yes ! I just finished producing two full albums, one is by the artist named Niia, which is coming out in a few months on Atlantic records. One song came out around Christmas, and that Kylie Jenner loved so much that she used in her video with Tyga.

The other album is by Danish jazz composer and artist August Rosenbaum, which is set to be released later this year. It's an mainly instrumental album which concept was "a score in search of a movie". Perfect driving music, but still with a lot of musicality to delve into. We worked on it for a long time, wanting to get it right, and he found a very interesting partner to release and unfold it with. Then, I've signed my first artist to my imprint under Interscope that I've started working on. A very talented singer/songwriter. More to come! Plus a lot of collaborations and productions for a bunch of artists both major and Indie, that I'd rather wait on talking about until the music is actually out so I don't jinx it!

JL: Thank you, Robin! Looking forward!

More music by Quadron here.

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