Every person's story (in electronic music or otherwise) is a journey. I thought I'd share mine.
My name is Andri Søren Haflidason. My family is from Iceland, I was born in Scotland, and recently I became Belgian. I'm ultimately just another humble human.
My parents are both musicians. My mother a pianist, and my father first a cellist, and then a composer of modern classical music.
Growing up in Edinburgh, I learned how to play the piano, the violin, and even sung in an Icelandic choir for a while. Those are the limits of my "formal" education however. Everything else I've learned has been thanks to slowly but surely absorbing knowledge and experience that I've hunted from the first moment I discovered...synthesizers.
What a moment that was. I wasn't even 10 years old, and my cousin, Hallgrímur, showed me his synth collection. They seemed like technology from an alien planet, for until then I'd been surrounded by classical acoustic instruments.
I remember the first time he handed me a pair of headphones, I sat at a synth, and I pressed some keys.
That moment makes me think of the same one I've seen again and again over the years of teaching thousands of students. I've seen that moment arrive in their eyes and faces. I call it the "Death Star" moment. The moment it explodes. The moment of an explosive, beautiful realisation of an idea, or the moment someone truly understands that this...this is their thing. There is probably a better metaphor out there, but this one sticks with me.
Music. Synthesizers. Vibrating Air. I don't need to tell you, the reader, how fascinating our enjoyment of these things is. It's too huge to even dare to dip my toe into here.
Back to this moment, the one when I first heard a synthesizer, raw, naked, alive, I made a connection that I hadn't through acoustic instruments. I have my theories why this way of sound attracted me so, but again, these are for another time.
A few years later, around 1994, something extraordinary happened. My father, a composer, asked if we (my brother and I) would help him learn how to use a computer together with a new piece of notation software, called Sibelius.
Ask a silly question. But it wasn't silly, it was serious. What it meant was that one day an Acorn Computer (based on the the forerunners of the processors that iPhones run, by the way) would land in my life, together with an external soundcard, a Roland Sound Canvas SC-88 VL. I still smile when I think about it. This was my Millennium Falcon.
It had General MIDI sounds, as well as some extra libraries. It sounds really quite terrible today. But then, back then..I was sure the sky was the limit.
I started making music, using classical notation software, and this little box of basic sounds. Again, I could talk about this at length. Needless to say, I discovered what I could do with it (gentle, orchestral, melancholic compositions) and what I couldn't (synthesizers!!). I tried my best to make "Dance Music", as it was called back then, but the results were, well, very basic indeed. I comforted myself with trying to understand the component parts of dance music, and mapping them out step by step.
I continued with that setup for years. One day, I saved up enough money and bought my own computer, with a Creative Soundblaster Platinum 5.1 (again, I'm smiling), upon which I started running Cubase, a proper DAW.
I continued in my mission to emulate the music I was starting to fall in love with (early Trance, Belgian Techno, etc). I made progress. I also met a lot of frustration. Oh boy. Back then things were were slow. Very limited. Even the timing was often out. It drove me slightly gaga. But I managed to put together some songs. I still call them "songs" to this day, instead of tracks, it probably sounds kind of funny.
It was 1999. My brother gave me a copy of Beaucoup Fish by Underworld. I bought my first synthesizer. Life changed once again again, new landscapes and vistas opened up.
I remember spending forever in the shop, choosing what I was going to buy. They were starting to find me rather strange, I feared. I had managed to save 700 pounds, an amount I could barefy comprehend as a 17 year old, after a year of working in a Safeway supermarket as a shelf-stacker, when I wasn't at school. I was paid 3.10 an hour, before tax. I ate plain bread at lunch to speed things up.
I can be very indecisive. I'm scared of making mistakes. I didn't want to screw this up. I had narrowed things down to the following; a Roland JP-8000, a Nord Lead Rack (I couldn't afford the one with a keyboard), and a Novation Nova (again, a rack). The Roland had one patch that just melted my ears, it was Japanese. The Nord seemed somehow complicated, and was, well, Nordy, literally. The Novation had these neat patches that let you play sequences by holding down just a few notes. It was British.
One day I decided which one it would be. I chose the Novation.
I chose wrong.
How I wish I'd bought the Nord. Oh lordy. I spent years with the Novation, sending MIDI out to it, bringing the audio back into my now-aging tower through the SoundBlaster. I always ended up with aggressive, cheesy sounding things.
Many moons later I would get to know the Nord. I saw it turn up in live acts that I love 10-20 years on. I realised my mistake in a compound fashion.
Still 1999, I went to university, and decided to study architecture. In short, I had seen what an absolute struggle it was to try and make a living from one's passion/art, through the unbelievable difficulties my parents went through, and I decided I had to find something that would allow me to at least pay the bills, but also do something creative. Once again, I could talk for days on this topic. I am really happy I chose architecture, I can tell you, but the story doesn't end there.
I tried to keep making music at university. But it was hard.
It was at that moment that I discovered Propellerhead's Reason. A new vista opened up on the landscape of making music. I liked what I saw. Everything in one box. No more sending MIDI out to synths, and audio back in, only to find that the timing was all out.
I got to making music again, when I could. I liked Reason, and then after a while, it didn't work for me anymore. I kept hitting roadblocks, or felt like the results were often just the same as what I'd made before. I lost interest. I think, honestly, that by now my passion for making music was suffering from the many dead-ends I felt I had gone down over the years.
And the Novation Nova was still there, mocking me! It sits to this day in my room, I'm not able to part with it, even though it has exactly no use to me whatsoever.
I started working as an architect. Being an architect is, in general, pretty intense. Ask anyone you know. I worked a lot. But, it did good things for me. Just not for my music. Well, not yet.
And then. And then... I started to recognise what I had known for so long. That music had to be part of my life. That I needed to give it another chance. I had already built buildings, and they were great, but, they weren't music.
I did what I've recommended later to so many others, I quit my job, and took a creative sabbatical. It was 2010. I was still in Brussels, a city I had come to love. But there was another place calling. Literally, people I didn't know, who I met would tell me; that's the place for you. Berlin.
I am the last person to wax lyrical about the place. It's both absolutely amazing and at the same time desperately overrated. But I will say this, it's the place where I ended up, for 50 days, with the promise that I would try out the things that mattered to me. One of them music.
It was also that year that I had, ten years after it was launched, discovered Ableton Live. It seemed very abstract. Even as an architect, its minimalism was almost shocking. But, it started to dawn on me, this was a creative playground that had enormous potential.
In Berlin I failed to do any of the things I had promised myself I would do. Except one. Start making music again.
After six months, I ran out of money, creative energy, and the ability to "deal with myself", working alone every day on music and photography. Being self-employed is tough. Being a self-employed artists is tougher.
So it was, with a heavy heart, but an optimistic mind, that I went back to architecture. I worked on the largest building I'd ever designed, a building for hundreds of people. A curvy building. A complicated building. It was an amazing challenge. But it wasn't music.
In 2013 I found the courage to admit to myself that I had to stop, and I did. At the same moment, Push 1 was released.
Since then, I've done many, many different jobs, to pay the bills, but also to try and realise dreams both personal and shared with others. In 2013, when Push came out, I instantly knew something had arrived that would change everything. Why? Because I saw it was a sketchpad like no other, I had the sense that it could allow me to work faster, but more than that perhaps play live. I did my first live show just months later, and published a video of it online (I cringe if I watch it now, but I am also proud of how I "just did it"). I was absolutely stunned when after my performance people applauded and asked for more.
Ableton saw that video. In 2014 I became a freelance product specialist for Ableton. I could barely believe it.
In 2015 I co-founded a music collective/family called FTRSND, with which we have had so many adventures, and in 2016 I created a music festival, Brussels Electronic Marathon, which quickly became the biggest of its kind in Belgium, alas never becoming a financial success and stopping 3 years later, but more on that another day. Meanwhile I taught students what I knew (and what I didn't), at workshops on behalf of Ableton, at schools like SAE Institute, and ESRA and others. I often found it remarkable that I was teaching. I mean, I had learned this all myself. Proof that formal education isn't the only way to go. I played shows in bars, huge clubs, concert halls, museums. Even someone's bathroom (mine). Again, there's so much to say here. :)
I should add that I feel I'm very much still on my journey, both succeeding and struggling to envelop myself in music, to enjoy it, and to, well, if I'm honest, create a life where I can live from what I love. But I have travelled some distance, that I can say, and I am grateful for it.
In 2020, I launched WRKSHP.eu, taking what I've done for the last years online. And here we are. Here you are. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this all. Thank you so much for your kind words, enthusiasm, and support. The first weeks of WRKSHP online have been just mind-blowing. So many stories that have been shared with me, stories of hope, joy, and synthesizers. I am humbled if I can be part of your story in some way.