Digitalisation, New Work back

Matthias Krebs: “Something’s becoming more democratic here.”

Matthias Krebs: “Something’s becoming more democratic here.”
Photo: © Matthias Krebs

How are apps changing music making and the music market? Matthias Krebs has been addressing this question for years. Matthias Krebs: Scientist, musician, music educator, head of the #Appmusik research centre at the UdK Berlin and co-founder of the first professional smartphone orchestra, DigiEnsemble Berlin. In addition, he co-founded the app2music e.V. association, which supports musicians in app music projects at Berlin schools. Ladies and gentlemen, we present a multi-faceted music enthusiast, Matthias Krebs. 



CCB Magazin: Hello Matthias, you have a colourful and dynamic resume. Who would you say you really are?

Matthias Krebs: Well, first of all, I’m a Berliner! Born and bred in Pankow, and indeed, it’s true; I’ve already done quite a bit, especially revolving around the interface topic of music and digitalisation. 

CCB Magazin: What are your exact focal points?

Matthias Krebs: I’m a scientist and deal with various forms of musical practice in connection with digitalisation with a focus on music aesthetics and music pedagogy. For this purpose I lead workshops and give lectures at conferences. In addition, since 2010, I’ve frequently taken the stage with the DigiEnsemble Berlin, a band that plays exclusively using smartphones and tablets. Before that, I studied psychology for a few semesters and then physics, and then even became a music teacher and opera singer. In 2009 I moved to the Berlin University of the Arts, where I developed the course “DigiMediaL - profiling for music, drama and stage“ in the area of further education. At the UDK, I also founded the App Music Research Centre in 2014. My central topics are social media, self-marketing and digital transformation.

Matthias Krebs on the so-called Linnstrument: "Making music with digital musical instruments is a very special experience". Photo: © Stefan Gräfe

CCB Magazin: You recently organised the first international conference MOBILE MUSIC IN THE MAKING 2017 (MMM2017) in Berlin, which networks musicians, app developers, scientists and educators. What insights were you able to gain?

Matthias Krebs: Appmusic is no longer a niche. In the meantime, a market has developed with thousands of powerful apps for synthesisers, drum machines, loopers or sequencers. These days, many established artists such as Gorillaz, Herby Hancock and Björk also produce entire albums with apps. There are even a variety of educational offers on the subject. This also became clear at MMM2017: There were more than 150 musicians and 50 professionals from other European countries who are involved in the cultural education of cultural institutions such as libraries, concert halls and museums, as well as scientists, music teachers, app developers, representatives of foundations and music associations, video artists and theatre composers who work with apps.

I want to explore new forms of musical practice with digital technologies artistically, pedagogically and scientifically.

CCB Magazin: How did you come to deal with digitalisation and appmusic in particular?

Matthias Krebs: Parallel to my classical training in tenor and piano, I also played in various bands. When I came into contact with electroacoustic and experimental music during my studies, the subject simply grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go. In 2009, I discovered the musical potential of apps, and I wanted to explore new forms of musical practice with digital technologies artistically, pedagogically and scientifically. For a long time, music apps were more of a toy. But in the artistic experiments with musicians and students, I was able to see early on how diverse this field is. Today, I am asked about workshops and lectures almost every day.

Appmusic has long since ceased to be a niche. Meanwhile a market has developed with thousands of programmable apps for synthesisers, drum machines, loopers or sequencers.

CCB Magazin: In 2010, you also launched the ‘DigiEnsemble Berlin’, a smartphone orchestra with professional musicians of all professions. How does that work exactly?
Matthias Krebs: With the DigiEnsemble Berlin in 2010, I deliberately wanted to bring together professional musicians from a wide variety of fields in order to explore the musical spectrum of music apps: From conductors and metal drummers to electronic musicians and me as an opera singer. In a band, or an orchestra, this composition might not always work. But with apps there are suddenly completely new possibilities of playing together. This is a very special artistic experience.

CCB Magazin: But can apps replace band instruments? Making music is based on interaction and personal expression. Doesn’t something like this get lost when smartphones or tablets take the place of instruments?

Matthias Krebs: Even the violin, the saxophone or the analogue synthesizer is initially nothing more than technologies for making music - a tool, an instrument. And even the use of keys, valves, piano mechanics or organ technology to expand the sound potential once indicated a development in what electric and digital sound generators are capable of today: To separate sound control from the physical generation of sounds.  I say: Installed music apps on mobile devices are new musical instruments! And in my view, that interaction and artistic expression are not lost as a result. You just make music differently. And it’s not about apps replacing musical instruments. I would rather tend to view that as the process becoming more democratic: App instruments are, more than anything else, everyday objects that are available to everyone. The great variety of apps today makes it possible to make music independently of musical preferences and practical musical skills. In addition, a wide variety of apps can now be combined with each other. I perceive this as a flexible modular system - like an instrument workshop. You don’t even have to be able to program. Last but not least, special techniques that simplify digital music making have developed time and again in recent years. These include, for example, technical solutions such as Ableton Link.

Key-free and fun at the same time. The future could also look like this. Photo: © Stefan Gräfe

CCB Magazin: What is your current assessment of the mobile music making market?

Matthias Krebs: According to statistics from 2014, there are now over 50,000 apps in the “music“ category in the Apple App Store for iPhone and iPad alone. In addition to radio and player apps, I would classify a third of this offering as apps with which users can turn their mobile device into an instrument. The whole development is only a decade old: At the beginning of 2007, the segment was still dominated by numerous hobby projects. Since 2010 at the latest, established music companies with a large number of music apps have been involved, including big names such as Yamaha, Korg, Moog, Mackie and Steinberg. Companies such as Audanika, Olympia Noise Co., apeSoft, Fingerlab and Vir Syn have also founded themselves to specialise in the development of music apps. There are also numerous freelancers like Oliver Greschke or Jonathan Liljedahl who have focussed on the development of music apps; daily updates with new features are released. Every week, five to ten music apps are added to the instrument set.

I can’t see a Berlin-specific market yet. But the Berlin music app developer scene is just beginning to grow. 

CCB Magazin: How is the market for “appmusic“ currently developing in Berlin?

Matthias Krebs: Music apps are not a local phenomenon. That’s why I can’t see a Berlin-specific market yet. Nevertheless, a whole series of successful software developers are now based in Berlin, including companies such as AppBC with the ModStep or Touchable apps, O-G-SUS with Elastic Drums, mobile only with apps such as zMors and Sugar Bytes with Turnado and Egoist. Also interesting is Native Instruments with the apps iMaschine 2 and Traktor DJ. Ableton also works closely with various Berlin app developers. The Berlin music app developer scene is just beginning to grow. 

Relaxed: Mobile Music Making also goes unshaved. Photo: © Stefan Gräfe

CCB Magazin: Recently, the Berlin music app scene has been having a discussion on the web about how constant technical development is nothing more than “technical capitalism“, which ultimately serves consumption. The music sociologist Jan-Michael Kühn published an article on DJ technology capitalism on his blog using companies such as Native Instruments or Ableton as examples. He argued that this impedes subcultural innovation. Do you agree?

Matthias Krebs: Ableton and NI are currently two extremely important developers of music technologies - without question. At the same time, I also observe highly active communities around real-time music, MaxMSP, app music and, of course, analogue and digital synthesizers. On the net there are large forums and Facebook groups that are very active. By and large, many app developers are intrinsically motivated - they are engineers who invent new musical instruments. Most self-employed people don’t even earn 1,000 euros a month with their music app and do it in addition to their job. And I don’t think that technical progress hinders subcultural innovation. Demand determines supply. This means that users also bring the demand for innovative and powerful music apps to the market.

The exciting thing is that Mobile Music Making creates synergy effects between the different industries: Musicians, app developers, scientists and music educators come together to create a new and innovative music app.

CCB Magazin: To what extent is there a synergy arising between the various industries? Some well-known musicians such as Mouse on Mars are developing innovative music apps together with Berlin developers, and the education sector is also developing more and more. The America Memorial Library’s educational offerings now even include workshops on making music with apps for adults.

Matthias Krebs: This is an exciting development, and I was able to observe it at “Mobile Music Making 2017“. Musicians who experiment with apps have approached app developers, scientists and music pedagogues and vice versa, solutions have been developed together. Last year I myself co-founded the association app2music e.V., which supports musicians in app music projects at Berlin schools in order to stimulate the practical use of music in a variety of ways for musical-creative creative processes. Smartphones and tablets have become an indispensable part of everyday life for children and young people. Yet many schools want to exclude them. I observe that a great deal of potential is still being wasted here by consciously trying to maintain a “counter-world“ to the media-influenced everyday world of children and young people. That makes no sense. 

CCB Magazin: What do you think is needed?

Matthias Krebs: People need to open up! And that’s already happening. Some institutions are now actively dealing with the processes of change. This also includes artists, cultural institutions such as the music department of the AGB or the Elbphilharmonie as well as educational institutions, including schools, children’s festivals, social institutions and museums. At universities, the subject of app music has long been dealt with in music pedagogical courses of study and has also been researched in more detail.

CCB Magazin: If you look into the future, where do you see “appmusic“ in 10 years?

Matthias Krebs: I observe how virtual and conventional instruments complement each other and merge in music projects of all kinds such as concert stages, theatres, rehearsal rooms and educational projects. In ten years, hybrid approaches will be established in all music practices and thus rigid boundaries between different music cultures will be dismantled. In this context, the exploration of changed aesthetic possibilities of experience with digital technologies is indispensable. And this requires concepts and educational offers that take current developments into account. This is where I want to continue my work. 

CCB Magazin: Matthias, thank you very much for this interview.

Matthias Krebs: Thank you!

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Category: New Player


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