Interview with Fireberg

1 year ago
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Interview Fireberg

Fireberg arose in the early 2010s as Dan Berg’s vehicle for the expression of cybernetic sound. His early work from 2014-2017 charted a slow approach to dance music, sometimes alongside collaborators, as the project solidified direction while keeping his roots in jazz and keyboard improvisation audibly intact. An ambient collaboration with visual artist Basia Goszcznska, ‘Passage from Gaumukh: Music for the Rainbow Cave’, emerged in 2020, deepening his thematic outlook and experimentation while engaging ideas concerning ecological and social purity and contamination. 2020 also brought his strongest solo work to that point, the ‘Undoing the Future EP’ on Eyedillic music, which cemented his forays towards the dancefloor with flair to spare. Now with his own Mishbaka imprint, Dan Berg seeks to synthesize his personal and musical ideas into one holistic vision for himself and the future.

Hi Fireberg! Welcome to Deep Tech Mag. How are things?

Hi Deep Tech! Things are pretty cool. Thanks for inviting me to have this interview with you. 

Tell us about your journey into electronic music, when did you first fall in love with it?

I think the first electronic music I heard was The Prodigy. I kind of fell in love with their album The Fat of the Land in middle school and actually went to a concert of theirs in London at the Battersea Power Station with my parents and twin sister. My parents had to stand us up on the trash cans so we could see over the spiked mohawks.

But, in a way, I didn’t really know that was electronic music, I just saw them as the alternative-pop icon and an energetic force. 

Later, in college I took a course called “Audio Culture” (check out the book of the same name) which was a intellectual and analytical tour of experimental sound art and music, ranging from early tape music, to ambient, to open works (a la John Cage), and eventually minimalism and house music. 

At the end of my senior year, as I was finishing up a final recital, composing and performing jazz fusion works for a 10-piece ensemble, I took the plunge and bought a synthesizer offline. At first, I would make drones a lot, detuning two sine waves and listening to the beating of the oscillators. That’s when I fell in love with electronic sound…

It wasn’t until I started learning Ableton Live around 2010 that I started really diving into production and making beats.

You are the founder of ‘Mishbaka’ label, what can you tell us about the label?

The label is brand new! This is our first release. I’m choosing to roll things out slowly because I’m still learning so much about the industry, particularly how to show up authentically as an artist and how to be consistent yet dynamic with branding. There’s so many pitfalls to consider around integrity, from the smallest piece of ad copy to the images you use and the so-called “opportunities” you say yes or no to. So yeah, it’s a process. 

But I will say my vision is to create something more like an artist collective and less like a roster of transactional relationships. I envision a strong hub of collaboration at the studio I’ve created in Brooklyn, with artists supporting other artists, not just on event bills but through production, cross-promotion, and even extra-musical affairs. 

As far as our sound, I’m not too tied to a particular tempo or genre, but I do plan to focus on tracks or artists that have some roots in non-electronic genres. I’m missing bass lines and chord changes at the club. I’m missing more conventional musicianship and expressivity… And risk-taking and mistakes! There’s so much to celebrate in the production and the mixing and the sound design of contemporary electronic music, but as far as moving me emotionally and even physically, I’d like some more variety. Perhaps that’s a result of the DJs or venues I’m choosing to see…or that I live in NYC.

As an artist, I’m a victim to some of the same trends. I have so much to say with my piano playing but often, in the studio, I tend to rely on sequencers and shorter samples a lot. The power of machines is very seductive… And I get that “danceability” can be correlated to simplicity and minimalism, but I think there’s room for more cannibalism of the tradition, without needing to stray too far into obvious fusions or deep left field.

With your brand new ‘Call of the Phoenix’ EP you are talking about a transformation. Can you elaborate on that?

Yeah, my reference to transformation in this album is both reflective of my own personal story, and heuristic, as in, a call-to-action for the listener. Working with ayahuasca taught me a lot about this classic human process called the hero’s journey which was first observed by Joseph Campbell as a recurring story arc in many ancient myths from cultures across the globe. I won’t recount the whole process but for the purpose of this album, the hero goes through what’s called a “dark night of the soul” and basically he must die and be reborn before returning home and integrating his lessons into society. Similarly, in psychedelic experiences we often take a similar journey, passing through a threshold of some sort, using our tools of resilience and discipline to survive and thrive, and coming out the other side refreshed or perhaps enlightened in some way. 

The phoenix is an apt symbol for this process, a bird which emerges from the ashes of its predecessor to fly free into the air, a new being. This type of cycle, of rebirth and renewal, is replicated throughout the natural world, from planetary orbits to cellular regeneration. It’s something I wanted to acknowledge and celebrate, and also commiserate about, using this music. 

The different tracks both describe, and emote through sound, the different stages of this process, how it’s been for me and how it’s often described by the people I read or talk with. 

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How do you work, do you have an idea in your head you work towards or do you just experiment and jam and see what happens?

Most of my tracks start with a curiosity about wanting to understand a machine or instrument more intimately and more thoroughly. I’ll have an inclination that a feature of an instrument or the instrument, itself, might have this unlocked potential, or maybe I want to see two machines talking to each other in a unique way. Then, at some point, when I finally get a sound going that sounds unique or moves me in a certain way, then I want to apply my composer brain–either that, or I just let my hands do the thinking on a keyboard. Later, I’ll start applying more samples and effects and exploring the production and mixing elements, but yeah, it usually starts with that spark of curiosity and the will power to work through the resistances.

With other musicians, jamming is more common. And a lot of times, a jam doesn’t really materialize into a track. But I’ve learned to accept that it’s not all about making a product and sharing it. Sometimes the connection and the expression in the moment is equally valuable.

A lot of producers like to keep it pretty loose and flowing–that whole “never stop the beat” mentality. I’ve vibed with that many times in the studio, and often been incredibly surprised by what comes from surrendering control. But, if I’m super honest, I’m most comfortable and happy in a more procedural workflow, with lots of stopping to perfect the lines and parts. 

It’s kind of a balance, I guess 🙂

What are some of the key bits of music-making gear in your current setup?

One of my favorite pieces is the Dreadbox Abyss. It’s dirty and warm and so hands-on. Like the vintage Junos, you don’t really need presets because you can form your patch so quickly since there’s no menu diving or multiple functions per knob. I have a somewhat rare Allen and Heath Mixer, the WZ20:8:2 which has six aux sends and then eight tape ins and outs which means the routing is super versatile–I can send something easily to the Space Echo or the modular system or sample it with the push of a button or the turn of a knob. 

I’ve also been diving really deep into the Elektron Digitone and I switched it out for the keys version which takes it to a whole other level. It’s a vast sea of sound design and sequencing, super flexible and sonically, very beautiful. 

As far as studio/midi brain goes, I’ve been an MPC guy for over ten years starting with the 2000XL, moving to the 1000 and then eventually the MPC Live 2. But I’ve just recently decided to try out the Ableton Push 2 for jamming and live performance. The MPC is a super rich device for production, but after learning several models pretty deeply, I found the user interface is just not actually set up for live performance or jamming at all, at least in the way I need. There’s always workarounds, but I’d rather not settle. If it means taking a laptop and an interface to a gig, I’d be OK with that for a little more ease and contentment behind the decks. 

What would you like to achieve as an artist in the rest of 2022 and beyond?

The last single for this release comes out November 11, so we’ll be coming up on the close of the year. I really wanna spend those next couple months regenerating and taking stock of what I’ve accomplished as well as where I might have gone astray. Even with the incredible team members I’ve had helping me out on this campaign, there were still so many points of overwhelm where my mental or physical health was severely challenged. I need to decide whether to scale up more or scale back. I’ve started to feel that my health and spiritual wellbeing is more important than music or interfacing with the public, or atleast, it’s a priority that comes first in the sequence of my actions. So, I plan to travel a little, spend some time in retreat and meditation and also start seeing a therapist. 

Time will tell if Mishbaka is for the world or a small community or just for my own sense of accomplishment. I hope it’s not the latter, but as I said in the beginning, authenticity is paramount. I don’t want to shout anything from the allegorical mountaintop unless it’s the truth, at least in a temporal sense. But what’s most important is that I continue to invite and accept others into the fold. In Yiddish, Mishbaka means “family.” I never wanted this to be just about me and my tastes and my standards. Ideally, I want to share my resources with a pool of people to create a movement. So, if you’re reading this and you’re looking to contribute or you need support, please reach out! 

Thanks Deep Tech Mag!

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