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MARTIN STÜRTZER/ Sphäre Sechs interview

MARTIN STÜRTZER/ Sphäre Sechs interview by Baz Bardoe (

The pandemic changed society beyond recognition but if there is a silver lining to be found it may well be in how some musicians were able to adapt, using the internet to stream performances and collaborate. As a resident of Victoria I found myself at home a lot more than usual for the better part of two years, so it is not surprising that I spent some time on You Tube and it was there I stumbled upon – blessed be the algorithm – Martin Sturtzer’s Stay at Home concert series streamed from his home studio. His amazing music helped keep me sane and as I explored it I came upon his Sphäre Sechs project which is a duo with his friend Christian Stritzel – it has become an integral part of my daily routine.

Martin is prolific to say the least so there is a lot of material to explore. It has been fascinating watching him sitting calmly in his gear laden studio, creating music that reaches the world. And what I have learned from interviewing him is that this approach, largely instigated by a singular moment in history, has worked very well for him.

His music is electronic based but I won’t attempt to confine him to genres within that as it doesn’t do justice to the breadth of his creativity. So let’s crack on and learn about this incredibly talented musician.

What got you started with music and what instrument did you start with?
I have to thank my parents for giving me a very musical education. They are both musicians and it was the most natural thing for me to make music as a child. I started playing the piano very early and was lucky to have a piano teacher who was also very much into experimental music (mostly free-jazz) and hosting a series of concerts for experimental music in a church. When I was 11 my step-father moved in and he had a *drumroll* music studio with lots of synthesizers! His Waldorf Microwave and Oberheim Matrix are in my setup today and I was very fascinated by the sounds they can produce.

After finishing school I studied at the music conservatory and got a professional education in making music. I had a „real“ job playing the organ at a church and conducting choirs.

My interest in electronic music was triggered by watching the broadcast of a techno event at the age of 12. I soaked up every bit of electronic music that was broadcasted on the radio and I was a regular visitor at a local record shop. It took some effort to get in touch with music back in the days without internet and as a child I was of course not allowed to visit any events at clubs.

Today I still value classical music as much as electronic music, both define who I am.

What has made you especially interested in electronic music?
I enjoy creating worlds by making music. The variety of sounds and musical structures are endless with electronic music and if you know your tools you can go anywhere you like. As much as I love to play the piano, it will always sound like a piano. But with my synthesizers I can bring all the sounds to life that I hear in my head. When I listen to electronic music by other artists I enjoy those who can create a depth and atmospheres with their music. With Ambient music it is especially interesting because there are no rules regarding the length or structure of a track.

You have a LOT of kit – can you run me through some of your gear? What are your favourites?
My setup grew over the years and I know every synthesizer very well. 10 years ago I already had the Virus TI and a Moog synthesizer. Since we are living in the golden age of synthesizers in terms of availability and range of options I was able to work with a lot of different instruments since then. What I look for in a synthesizer is a good user interface, because that is what distinguishes from software. A Repro-5 by U-He will sound exactly the same like the original Prophet 5 after being processed with the gigatons of delay and reverb that I usually put on my sounds. But for quickly patching a sound that I have in my head during a performance nothing comes close to the original hardware.

Most of my synths are contemporary by companies like Moog, Sequential and Waldorf. I also have a few vintage synthesizers like the Roland Juno 60 and an Oberheim Xpander. The integration of the synths into my setup is very important so that I can be creative and don’t need to worry about cables and configurations. I have a large audio interface by RME with 28 inputs and all synths are always patched directly into the computer. Same goes for the midi configuration. A few controllers like Ableton Push 2, Faderfox EC4 and Midifighter Twister on my desk to control effects and other important things. With this no-mixer-setup I can immediately record music anytime.

Do you have any particular approach to composition, for example do you put aside designated time and kind of ‘force’ yourself to come up with something; perhaps ideas just come into your head and you take note of them; do you just start tinkering around…..? I know this is a really hard thing to quantify but people love hearing about the creative process.
You already described different approaches that I use. Sometimes I do a lot of planning and think about a track and the sounds that I want to use. When I start working I already have an idea which synths to use and how to create the music that is already in my head. On the other hand I enjoy the improvisational and spontaneous approach. Since my studio is in my living room I can start working at any time. A lot of good music (if I may say so myself) was put together without the intention of creating something. Sometimes I start programming a patch on a synthesizer and then get an idea which sound from another synthesizer would sound great on top. From there one thing leads to another and I have a sketch for a track. Today most of my music is not arranged in a sequencer but played live. So I prepare all the sounds and sequences and then hit „record“ and play everything live like I would do it on stage or during my youtube livestreams. My hardware setups allows me to quickly access the settings that I want to change and to spontaneously react to ideas that I come up with on the go.

Do certain pieces of gear inspire particular stylistic approaches?
In an ideal scenario my gear works as a tool to transform my musical ideas into reality. I know which synthesizers is suited best for a certain sound and I don’t want it to work the other way around. Of course a Moog synthesizer will always be the perfect choice for a sequencer pattern or a solo-lead sound. But when I want to have that on my Prophet (which most people prefer to use for chords and polyphonic sounds) I just do it. When a synthesizer has some limits by design or in its features it can be interesting. I still did not get a midi interface for my Juno 60 which means that I have to play all sequences and melodies with my hands instead of using sequencers. The arpeggiator can be synced to my other sequencers but that’t it. I never used arpeggiators before but with the Juno I started to explore the possibilities due to the lack of other options. But like I said, I seek my inspiration from thinking about music, listening to music and reading and not from a piece of gear.

When I started there was physical product sales, which meant income, and lots of touring which meant dragging around equipment. Now we live in a world of downloads, and performances on You Tube. Do you think this is an improvement or not? Or just a different set of challenges and opportunities?
For me physical sales are still a major source of income but I can’t compare it to the 80s or 90s of course because I started releasing my music in 2006. I certainly would not be where I am today without Youtube and Bandcamp. I not only present my music on Youtube with my studio concerts, I also create a lot of my music while I am streaming live from my studio. The whole way of working and being creative changed since I started to use Youtube on a regular basis. I still see the music album as the „highest“ art form and would never stop to release my music in that format. But the whole package with the videos on Youtube, presenting myself in the studio, interacting with the listeners and sharing my recording process is what works very well for me.

For me the whole covid situation was the best thing  happened in a very long time. I was struggling finding good gigs and did a lot of very bad ones for little or no money, hoping for better times to come. I tried to adapt my music to what was popular in the clubs and what promoters would like to see. When everything was put on hold I started to really unfold my creativity and do the music that I want to do (without really knowing what that was at the beginning). My audience started to grow fast and people from all over world purchased the records that I put out on my own mini-label. Last year playing „real“ shows was starting to be a deal again and I was literally shocked to see so many people attending my shows in Berlin and at Planetarium in Bochum. Most of them came because they got in touch with my music on Youtube or other places online. I love to use these tools and I love to play at home from my studio having my own tea and my cat next to me. From time to time I also enjoy being at an awesome place and play in front of an audience.

You have plenty of gear but as you would be aware there are countless affordable or even free software that allow people to make music. To my mind this has flooded the world with lots of adequate music, but has made it perhaps harder to unearth the quality material. What are your thoughts on this?
I think that it is a good thing that making music became accessible to a lot more people than 10, 20 or 30 years ago. The quality of music is most certainly not determined by the price of gear or the number of expensive synthesizers. Anyone who has a good idea and a vision can make music and release it without a label or a big marketing budget.

Of course I see your point that it can be challenging to find the gems hidden under the constant noise floor but I still prefer it that way rather than having creative minds out of the game just because they cannot afford the equipment or an album production costs. For me Bandcamp is an excellent tool to discover new music. The „best selling“ tab gives you a hint to what is popular in your favorite sub-sub-sub-genre and I love to find exciting albums there.

Yet I believe that it can be overwhelming to have all tools on your hands right from the start. I am probably the last generation of electronic musicians who started making music with hardware and then witnessed the birth of VST and virtual instruments. My first steps were made on a Yamaha CS1X (a very bad rom synth) that I squeezed out hard with my fathers’s Atari ST computer. I learned a lot about making music and dealing with limitations and I like to believe that my approach to work with music today benefits from this. It is too easy to throw another software instrument and another plugin at a musical problem where instead a careful examination of the sounds that are already there would be at hand. Even though I have a lot of synths and also most of the popular plugins installed I use not more than a handful of sounds, sometimes even less, for a track.

I love your work as Sphäre Sechs – can you tell me a little about this collaboration, how it came about, your creative intent, and any benefits to collaboration.
Thank you! Sphäre Sechs is a duo with my friend Christian Stritzel. We started playing together in 2001 and it took as quite a while until we released our first album. We record our music in improvised sessions, only a few sounds are planned in advance. His way of making music differs a lot from mine and this is why we complement each other well. He comes up with sounds that I would never program and uses them in a rather chaotic way. Our first album „Tiefschlaf“ (German for deep sleep) was recored live during a sleeping-concert. We never planned to release the music but after the event I realized that there were a lot of good parts on the recordings.

Christian plays all of his sounds on a Moog Theremin and processes it with a lot of analog and digital effect units. I try to limit my sound palette to very slow and drone-like sounds that often lack a traditional tonality. The theremin is not quantized to notes like our western music does it on all instruments. As a result the music often has a very eery quality. The music of Sphäre Sechs is very different from what I would do alone.

Anything else you want to add?
Thank you very much for inviting me to do this interview! I also want to say hello and thank you to all my listeners in Australia, I was packing a lot of orders to go to Australia throughout the last years. It still fascinates me that our postal system is handling that so well!



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