Interview: 5 minutes with Hrtl

Leoš Hort aka Hrtl is an electronic musician and producer based in Brno, Czech Republic. Known for creating dizzying modular synth-based music, Hrtl’s sound could be best described as a blend between the minimal techno and house eras akin to Detroit’s innovative experiments in electronic music throughout the years.

Hrtl never plays the same thing twice, because as well as his live performances, his recordings are improvised and built purely on hardware synthesizers. In 2015, Hrtl’s Dataloss LP was awarded as best electronic music record of 2015 by Czech Academy Of Popular Music. He is the founder of Brno-based Bükko Tapes imprint, a member of famous Bastl Instruments collective, which creates handmade music hardware and regularly performs at festivals such as ADE & Arts Electronica Linz in cities like Berlin, Vienna, London & Amsterdam. Wolfskuil Limited has released music by Shlømo, DJ Red, Eric Cloutier, Darko Esser among other great artists.

We caught up with Hrtl on studio rituals and living a ‘fairy tale life of fun and happiness’:

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

It seems absolutely necessary to have some form of creative outlet. I used to do a whole lot of visual art earlier in my life, I consider it all like one package that is essential for my happiness and mental health. Now I am fully focusing on sound and music but I feel that the time will come for me to go back to the canvas and paint once more.

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

I am trying to constantly shift the attitude or starting point in order to explore new creative processes in production. Sometime I focus on perfecting one leading sound, other times I start with a pen and paper. Changing my conditions and working with limitation is kind of a creative tool I use to come up with something fresh and exciting.

Does your material feature any collaborations?

I keep my latest HRTL recordings solo, but I love working with other musicians, so I started a few collaborative side projects here and there.

What’s on your current playlist?

Lately I am diving mainly into drones and soundscapes. Artists who have caught most of my attention lately are Cloudface, TouchieTouchie and Abul Mogard.

Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.

I always want that connection to be as strong as possible. I always prefer to play as close to people as I can get. I want be a part of the experience and want to see and feel the reaction from audience when I am performing. When the conditions are right we build an outpost in front of the speakers which is my most favourite situation, then the gig is like a ritual and I always bring a great experience back home.

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

I am exploring the limits of every kind of synthesis, searching for exciting structures. My modular is a great tool that I specifically designed to fulfill most of my needs in any situation. For the rest, I have some outboard gear and several special tools to capture “THE” sound.

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

I always come in to the studio and try to figure out a task to complete. It doesn’t always have to be musical, I don’t always feel inspired to record new tunes so sometimes I am just doing maintenance, repairs or simple cleaning. But when I have that feeling I usually just disconnect from everything and start all clear. Over the course of the day, I get to build something developed and complex enough that I can record it in the evening. Then I record over and over again till I feel satisfied with the result when I hit stop. When the recording is good it needs little to no editing and I just make a nice mix ready to be a mastered.

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?

When I went to study electronic music in Hungary for a semester, I realized that I just can’t do music a bit on the side. I decided that I’d invest all my energy into becoming a better musician and producer. Since then I feel like everything makes sense and my life became a fairy tale full of fun and happiness.

What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?

Always need water to drink, and a clock to know when I am supposed to finish.

Any emerging artists on your radar?

I am really excited about new ambient recordings coming from our local Czech scene. This genre never had much attention in the country, but great emerging talents like Enchanted Lands or Tachycardia Theater are working hard on changing the course and become our first ambient legends. It’s really interesting to see something so new and so fresh rising this high without any previous background in the scene.

What gets your creative juices flowing?

I’m usually triggered by consuming other art. Listening to inspiring music or watching something visual with strong atmosphere, whatever it is; a sci-fi movie, a set of photographs or a comic book etc.

Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.

My main focus is in my Eurorack Modular System. Then I have some vintage synthesizers and drum-machines to jam around with. I record in multi-track and do all my mixes on an analog console, only affecting my outboard gear and my beloved Space Echo. I use my  computer as a tape recorder with unlimited memory, but do not use any plugins or touch the sound in the DAW at all.

Any side projects you’re working on?

Oh yes! I’m now most excited about my new acid house duo Windowlickerz that I’ve started with a talented Berlin-based artist Oliver Torr. We’ve had a great success premiering our live set at the legendary Prague festival Lunchmeat, and working with emerging Prague-based art collective XYZ on some very unique visuals.

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

I’m dedicated to learning everything about synthesis and be able to use it in live situation. Anytime I look back a few months ago, I need to have a feeling of progress in technical knowledge and practical skill, otherwise I won’t feel satisfied with my efforts, and maybe even get frustrated from standing in one place.

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?

My new EP titled ‘Sugarlump’ is coming out shortly on a Dutch vinyl label Wolfskuil Limited. The label is run by my personal hero Tripeo, and is an honour to find myself in such great company. I also have some surprises coming up later in 2018, but for now I must keep this a secret!

For more information follow Hrtl on Facebook