Despite being an electronic musician of international acclaim, Dominik Eulberg takes as much enjoyment in wandering aimlessly through his local woodland as he does setting thousands of ravers on course to euphoria. A slight surprise for an artist associated with a genre of music so intertwined with hedonism at a frenetic pace. But, Eulberg isn't your typical producer.
Once a part-time forest ranger, Eulberg, who remains an avid ornithologist, dedicates a considerable amount of his time working on beneficial ecological projects. Sometimes even before his sets, if he can find the time. And he makes his love affair with nature known explicitly; his most recent album Mannigfaltig draws inspiration from the eco-systems that surround us, unravelling as a love-letter to nature's awe and its unequivocal connection to us and music.
Eulberg projects this organic energy in his production and performances, merging relentless beats with luminous, analogue synths. Let it be known, however, that his respect for Mother Nature in no way detracts from his gift for going hard.
With a unique upcoming live set at SEMF next month, we dissected Eulberg's inspiration for Mannigfaltig, his origins in electronic music, and his perspective on how the industry needs to change to protect the living world.
Do you think there’s an element of irony that you also developed a passion for techno, a genre of music and subculture that’s typically associated with urban spaces and synthetic sounds?
Not at all - electronic music is based on monotonous 4/4 rhythms, which can already be found in the archaic tribal music, to which shamans dance in trance. So, there is hardly any music that is closer to natural impulses than electronic music. It's the most instinctive form of music. And in the late nineties, my curiosity about science was mixed with the curiosity about the technical production possibilities. They went pretty well together.
Electronic music has no limitations in terms of sound. I can express every feeling with it. Therefore, it's the optimal tool for me to express my feelings, like, the longing for resonance with nature. Even the repetitive rhythm of life, with seasons etc, can be described excellently by the loop-like nature of electronic music.
When did you first discover you had a talent to remix and produce?
I started to create electronic music in 1993, having no intention to become a professional musician. At first, I did pure sound research to understand how electricity turns into music. Only ten years later, at the encouragement of my friends, I began to publish my music. Musically, in terms of production and the technical side, I'm a thoroughbred autodidact. For years I had no contact with anyone who had even done anything like this. That's why I found my own, unconventional ways to create my music.
Your sound has been described as merging organic rhythms and emotions with trance-inducing beats. Can this stylistic choice be attributed to your experiences with, and influences from, the natural world?
I find it almost impossible to assign my music to a certain genre. This is also something I do not want.
The music I do is always intrinsic, for the sake of the music, without any genre-convention thoughts. I find it strange and mentally limiting to have music in 'drawers'. Music is a communication medium that is older than our language. I think you can hear good music without recognising the kind of genre, or genesis, the recorded music has. I pursue the approach of manifesting the positive vibrations I feel nature in my contemplative experiences, in the form of melodies. Similarly to a painter who paints pictures of nature.
The love of nature has been with me since childhood. I grew up without TV and other media contamination, in harmony with Her. Nature was my entertainment program.
Which artists would you say have influenced your sound directly?
For me, nature is the greatest artist of all. Its variety of shapes and colours being symbolic of the diversity of life. Nature is the main inspiration source for my creativity, a never-ending treasure. I spend a lot of time outside, doing field studies, counting birds, working on nature conservation projects. Every time I go out, I can observe something new, due to natural life-cycles and rotations of the seasons.
Musically, I've been inspired by artists like Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, or Future Sound Of London.
You mix tracks that generally have strong, mesmeric synth sections, lending your performances a richly textured, ethereal aesthetic. Is this a component you purposefully seek when working with tracks?
I always start mentally with a concept from nature that I want to set to music. So, I know what I want to paint for a picture. For example, the cover of "Mannigfaltig" was finished a long time before I even started making music; the next album cover is already sketched-out.
Making music is nothing other than selecting from an infinite number of options. But with a finished concept, I've already got a red line in which direction I want to go, for example, that it had to be exactly twelve tracks long. Then I usually start to play the main melodies, or to draw in the DAW. I use a lot of analog synthesisers - all my synthesisers are connected to a large analogue mixer on different channels. Here I can refine them with external analogue effects via the aux sends, for example with a Bricasti-Hall or the Eventide H8000. Harmonically matching, I then play pads and basslines. Finally, I program the drums that fit. If I have enough content, I start to arrange the piece. Certain parts fall out again because they aren't necessary, then I can create the very necessary sections. Rough-mixing occurs during the development process, then fine-tuning comes in at the very end.
I mix "in the box". This method is the more appropriate form of working for me. In my opinion, not creating digital clippings has more advantages than disadvantages, in terms of sound. For me, something is always lost in the conversion. Additionally, in this way of working, the great advantage is that you can always improve subtleties, in which I am a master of my trade.
In regards to your latest album Mannigfaltig, is this an ode to your ongoing relationship with nature?
I made the album to raise awareness for nature, on a meta-level. I think it is our duty as successful artists, to use our reach and influence to sensitise people towards progressive projects. The album has also been recognised by the UN Decade Of Biodiversity, gaining ‘An Outstanding Contribution’ award whilst also receiving recognition from the Federal Agency of Nature Conservation. With twelve colourful pieces of music, I want to create a positive plea for the breathtaking beauty of our biological diversity. But, I also want to raise awareness of its importance to us humans. An intact ecosystem is a kind of 'life insurance' for us and future generations, because every species is an important gear in a system whose services we make use of daily. Moreover I want to encourage reflection on the ever-increasing degree of their threat by us.
I came up with the idea for my new album’s concept during a hiking tour in my home region of Westerwald a few years ago. On a flower meadow, I spotted a yellow-luminous butterfly which had a figure-eight shaped pattern on its outer wings. Therefore his name is literally translated as 'golden-eight.' Then, I saw a very special songbird in a blackthorn bush. It stores food for bad times by spearing its prey on spines - formerly it was thought he would kill nine before eating one. Hence it's name “nine-slayer“ in German. Shortly thereafter, I heard the calls of a dormouse in a forest, a rodent that owes its German name to the long hibernation. Its verbatim translated name is "seven-sleeper". So, I thought: "Wait a minute! Nine, eight, seven?". I spotted the causal chain, went further and found for every number from one to twelve a name of a native animal species. So diverse is our nature, or more beautifully expressed, so manifold. This is why the album title is Mannigfaltig (which means manifold in German). I named each track number from one to twelve, after those 'numeric' animals in my mother-language.
We also produced various 'awareness music videos'. The renowned nature filmmaker Jan Haft shows the breathtaking diversity of our native flora and fauna, for example, in his clip for 'Goldene Acht'. With macro photographer Thorben Danke, I have portrayed insects via focus stacking like humans, portrayed the individual being in order to put the displaced view on them back into an equal perspective on eye level.
The current climate emergency is now very real. What steps do you think the music industry can take to reduce their carbon emissions in the coming years?
Music is the perfect way to reach people and sensitise them towards something thoughtful. A big problem of our time is the transferral of knowledge, of essential topics in particular, to the general public. We have amazing scientists, but often their knowledge benefits only a few, because the building bridges to the masses are missing.
The electronic music industry is reaching a lot of young people, the future of tomorrow. Many festivals take place in nature, where people can reconnect with our natural environment, a small contribution against alienation from it. Also a lot of festivals are doing a great job for sustainability awareness, as they are only using green energy, serving vegan food and being plastic-free events. I love to use this setting to do bat excursions or ornithological tours on big festivals or before club gigs. It's an attractive prospect for the audience to do such a tour with their favourite DJ, and it's a great opportunity to catch them, to light the fire in their hearts for the beauty and the refinement of nature. For me, this closeness to nature, is the first step to recognise the need for protecting nature and our living environment.
As conscious of this as you are, being an ecologist and former part-time forest ranger, how does this impact on your touring schedule, in terms of your personal carbon footprint?
Of course, I try to get on the train as often as possible and completely avoid intercontinental flights, which accounts for approximately 80% of flight emissions. Aviation accounts for less than 3% of total CO2 emissions. We need to grasp the picture as a whole, know the facts, and not be misled by our emotions. We must not succumb to hypocritical greenwashing or indulgence. We must not numb our guilty conscience and think that if we stop using plastic straws, the plastic problem would have been solved. Or hang a nesting box in the garden and my bird's death is averted. The majority of emissions are energy and heat requirements, followed by industry. In the end, things that we do not have directly in our hands, but indirectly.
Our capitalist system works in such a way that change is only offered in the long-run, and for which there is a demand. In other words, we can eradicate climate-damaging ways through our purchasing decisions. We need to get our damn addiction to fossil fuels under control so we do not become homo-suicidal, substituting sustainable fuels. Personally, I find the principle of hydrogen-fuelled cars great, since they only emit water vapour, only needing water and electricity to produce which can be green. However, this essential process of transformation will not happen overnight, and there will be a phase of resignation. But we must not commit the mistake again and make ourselves dependent on only one energy source, because having alternatives is the core of freedom.
You’ve released a number of works on Cocoon throughout your career, with Sven Väth himself also appearing at SEMF this year. Did Väth offer any advice when you founded your own label Apus Apus?
Haha, no, of course not. Since I left the Cocoon agency, I'm barely in contact with Sven, unless I happen to meet him at a festival. Of course, I'm incredibly grateful for everything I was able to learn from him. As a DJ he massively influenced me at beginning of the 90s - it was his musical journeys with this witty progression from ambient to animalistic techno that introduced me to the scene.
Despite crafting your own brand of sprawling, organic minimal, do you feel there’s still plenty of inspiration to be taken from your producer peers?
I follow no trends in my music creation phase, always looking for some innovative momentum, trying not to fit a style, or even copy myself. I only make music when I feel like I want to express something musically. So, my motivation becomes more and more intrinsic; we live to live our lives, everything else is a waste of time in my eyes.
Of course, there are always colleagues with whom I feel a similar motivation, who really have something to say. This inspires me a lot, because it is a totally different world to dive into. I appreciate artists who have their own handwriting, like Jon Hopkins, Rival Consoles or Recondite.
Now in its thirteenth edition, how important do you think SEMF is to the fabric of contemporary techno?
The entire Cosmopop team are global leaders of our scene. I'm very glad that they publish the vision of electronic music worldwide. SEMF is now something of a 'mini Time Warp', and it's of supra-regional importance!
What can we expect from your [live] SEMF set?
There will be a mix of my tracks from the last 17 years, from my first album Flora & Fauna to my current work Mannigfaltig - a colourful potpourri of my different timbres.
Mannigfaltig is out now on !K7 Records.