Producer Spotlight: Terr
Producer Spotlight: TerrMay 20, 2021
Terr, or Daniela Caldellas, arrives to our chat fresh out of a German lesson, which seems fitting given the cosmopolitan life that music has given her. The Berlin-based DJ/producer grew up in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, and is speaking to me from an apartment in Barcelona.
“I’m actually in Barcelona because my label mate Daniel Watts lives here. We work on music together so I left a lot of studio gear here. Now that it’s getting a little easier to travel I can start coming here again.”
Even though Caldellas’ globetrotting was temporarily confined by lockdown, creatively she hasn’t stood still for a moment. Terr’s first sample pack with Loopmasters, Cosmic Electro, is a genre-bending collection of sounds from analog drum machines, modular synths, and other noise makers. Along with hearing what went into making the sample pack, we talk sci-fi novels and Stanley Kubrick films, playing a set in the Berlin TV Tower during a pandemic, and how she juggles the different aspects of creating, releasing, and performing her music.
What was the process of recording the sample pack like, was it mostly analog or digital?
Most of it was analog, but I used some VSTs as well. In Berlin and Barcelona, I spent a lot of time recording and editing on tape, and using drum machines and the other gear that I have. I used the Alesis Andromeda a lot, which is one of my favourite synthesisers, and classic stuff like the Moog Sub 37, the Little Phatty and so on. Another synth that I like is the Access Virus, it’s not totally analog but it sounds great and I use it on a lot of tracks.
In terms of drum machines, I have an Elektron, a Roland 808 and a Boutique TR–09. In the mix I used some hardware like an Avalon compressor, but also some really good digital plugins like the UAD EL8 Distressor. I really like the texture it gives you.
What was your process in terms of the concept for the sample pack?
I imagined what people looking for a Terr sample pack would expect from me. I became known on the scene for a retro synthwave sound, so I didn’t want to do anything too different from that, like make a vapour-wave pack for instance. My sample pack had to cohere with what I’ve put out as an artist, so it was important to stay loyal to those sounds.
What is your writing process normally like, and did you enjoy the diversion of creating something different like the sample pack?
It was very relaxing! I enjoyed going back and looking at old projects to see what I could take from them, and also being able to play around with things without feeling any pressure to finish a track. It took three or four months to do, and it just felt like one big jam.
When I’m writing I usually begin everything on the keyboard; my fingers express whatever it is that I’m hearing in my brain. Normally I establish a hook melody or a sequence of chords and just go from there. The next step is to record MIDI, and then I start to shape the track, adding basslines, kicks, and so on.
I’m a bit shy, so I never thought of myself as an actual singer, but when I started adding my own vocals to tracks I got a lot of positive feedback about my voice. That made me feel more confident about singing, so now instead of chasing people to do vocals for me I just pick up a microphone and do it myself.
Not only are you a singer, a producer and a DJ, you also run a label – Clash Lion. You’re doing all these different things, do you see them all as elements of your expression as an artist, or is each one a separate thing to you?
I had an unusual introduction into all of this, because I actually started producing before DJing. With most of the people I know, it’s the other way around. I got really into Cubase and Fruity Loops and that kind of thing when I was nineteen, and I was so obsessed with all that technology that I didn’t even think of DJing. I loved live music, but I didn’t want to DJ.
A couple of years after I started producing I was playing in a duo called Digitaria with Daniel Albinati, my partner, and that’s when I began to feel the need to DJ. At this age I was really enjoying partying, and DJing was a way to connect with people. When I played music as a traditional live act, I sang, played keyboard, and controlled drum machines, so it was a lot more stressful because there were so many things that could go wrong. DJing was much easier for me and more enjoyable.
In my production now I think with the mind of a DJ, which is something I didn’t do before. I know exactly what I need to do with a track to make it suitable for dancefloors – change the structure, lose some vocals, all those kinds of things. With the label, even though we’ve all had different journeys that inform our individual styles, we always find common ground because our music taste is very similar.
On the sample pack you have a folder of old sci-fi movie voice samples, and you seem to be really interested in science-fiction in general.
When I was younger, I was really into sci-fi literature; Aldous Huxley, Phillip K. Dick, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. There’s an EP of mine called Neuromancer which is inspired by a book by William Gibson that made a huge impact on me when I was a teenager. I studied literature at university and read a lot back then, but not so much anymore, unfortunately!
As well as the authors that you mentioned, you’ve said in the past that you’re inspired by film directors like David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. Film and literature are not quite electronic music, so how do you take inspiration from such different artforms to your own?
I find that I can get really into how the soundtrack interacts with the imagery in a film, especially in the case of more artistic directors like Kubrick, in whose work there’s a strong relationship between visual and audio elements. For me it’s like an explosion when the soundtrack merges with the aesthetic of the film, I love it!
I actually took the name Terr from a French/Czech film called Fantastic Planet, which blew my mind when I saw it first. It’s about aliens using humans as their pets, and there’s a human character called Terr. It has a beautiful soundtrack that reminds me of the French band Air – it’s got a lot of that ‘60s and ‘70s retro synth music feel.
There’s a lot of electronic music used in film soundtracks. The soundtrack to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange was made by Wendy Carlos, one of the pioneers of synth music. She re-interpreted all this classical music from the likes of Beethoven on synthesisers. I consider her to be one of the most important figures in electronic music, because she was doing something so avant-garde.
You mentioned re-interpreting music. Is that something that you do with your own music? For example, your track “Energy Sync” has both a club mix and an original mix. Did you write the original version first and then re-interpret it to be more club orientated?
That’s exactly what I did because to me it felt more organic to create an interesting original track first. Obviously, if you want the track to be functional on a dancefloor it’s not going to be as artistic as you might like, because there are certain techniques that you need to apply to make it work that way. Unfortunately, that means there’s a lot of plastic music around that’s solely intended for dancefloors and sales.
I can’t play the original mix of “Energy Sync” in my sets, so that’s why I created two versions of it. Maybe I could play it at some crazy after-party, at 4 AM! I know what I can do with the club mix; it’s more percussive, and there’s less melody and vocal elements than in the original. A version like that is useful for me obviously, but it loses some of the art of the original mix at the same time.
Have you missed playing those club nights and crazy after-parties?
Definitely, I’m hungry to play – it’s what DJs do. I’ve spent a lot of time in the studio over the past year and I’ve told my agent that he can book me for as many things as possible now! I’m looking forward to being in travel mode again because I’ve been in studio mode for quite a while. Of course, after a few weeks of traveling, I’ll probably want to go back to the studio, it’s all about balance I suppose.
With all that time spent not touring and playing to crowds, has your music and the way you’ve been playing it changed?
I had this really beautiful experience of playing inside the Berlin TV Tower, which was actually my first time even stepping foot in it. It was really cool, and a privilege to play there, but it was more about performing to the cameras because there was no one around. It’s weird, that kind of atmosphere is actually more tense than having a crowd, and I had to try and make it more of a musical set. In a normal party environment, with loads of people and distractions around the dance floor it’s better to keep things very percussive, with a lot of low-end and boom. In this case, though I tried to be more mental, more fluid, so that the music itself would speak to people. Apart from that I didn’t really get involved in any other live streams, I was invited to do quite a few but I think they’re a bit weird!