DOMINIK EULBERG: BIRDWATCHER BY DAY, DJ BY NIGHT
Dominik Eulberg is a professional ornithologist but he’s better know for his music - tracks that weave the sounds of his beloved birds into mesmerising electronica. His curious concoctions of birdsong and bass fill dance floors around the world. A self-declared sensitive soul, he doesn’t sleep without earplugs, and spends most of his time in his woodland home avoiding the artificial sounds of the city in favour of the peace and quiet of the countryside. We caught up with him to find out more about his love for the outdoors and how it influences his work.
I wasn’t really interested in music until I heard electronic music for the first time in 1993. I grew up in a very rural region and without a TV, and I spent most of my time outdoors. I knew the names of all the plants, butterflies and birds. Electronic music was so different to this former life, and I thought wow, fucking hell, what is this? I felt like an astronaut on a new planet. I bought my first synthesisers to work out how this sound was made. I was literally taking apart and rebuilding them to understand how they worked.
At the beginning of the 90s nobody here had ever seen a synthesizer or heard electronic music. People thought I was a loser, just a crazy professor doing electronic music. They pushed me away. Not many people understood me and my behaviour. To my father, making music was totally senseless. He was a teacher and he wanted me to become a teacher too. There was always this anger in me that my father didn’t accept me as I was, didn’t accept that I wanted to make music. I wanted to say fucking hell, I want to show you all that I’m not a loser and that I can become something, you know? And this was a motor for my creativity.
When I first started making music it was kind of naive. I was really direct and sometimes I’d nail a feeling really well, but it was not so deep. Over the years it has been getting more and more detailed. Like a painting with more colour, more depth. The most important thing for me is to convey a feeling and that feeling has to be clear. That’s what good music is to me.
I bought a microphone and used it to record the sounds of insects in a box and mixed it with my music. That was the very beginning. I still have those tracks but they’re really bad, they sound horrible. I had no knowledge about mixing; it’s really distorted and noisy. Then I started to go out and record sounds in nature. I had a few tracks, but I was studying at the time and then went to work in the national parks. It was always a hobby; I never wanted to release my music because I was afraid of losing my freedom over it, being at the whim of a record company and their demands.
Riley and Jacqueline from Traum Schallplatten told me I could do whatever I wanted and they would release it. I wanted to combine my music with my passion for nature, I wanted to name the tracks with titles about nature and animals, and everybody said you can’t do that, it’s not cool, it’s not allowed. I was told “no one can remember your titles, you’ll lose a lot of listeners, it’s not very commercial”, but I didn’t care - I just did it.
Everybody can write notes, but to write the right notes…you have to feel it. I can’t play any instruments, I can’t write music. I remember when I was starting to become successful and the first journalists came to my house to film. They were saying “oh my god, what are you doing, you can’t do it like this, this is not regular, you’re not allowed to do it like this!” Who cares?! If it sounds right, it’s right, you go your own way. I think this is really important.
When I go out for a walk I have a Sony PCM-D50 field recorder in my pocket. I also do proper recording sessions. A few weeks ago I was recording some water sounds, dropping water onto the hot plates on a stove, doing a lot with ice, crushing ice, I have an air gun, and it’s really interesting for creating sounds - shooting ice, plates, or shooting into water.
Nature is the artist. There are a lot of bats around my house. I have two bat detectors outside and I channel the sounds into my mixer, maybe add an effect and then I just record for 6 minutes, without doing anything, and it’s music. The last few days I’ve been recording the starlings. There are thousands, all singing, the sounds coming from every direction. I pitched it down 20 times then I put effects on it and it’s just like music. On my latest EP all of the sounds are from nature, I’m adding nothing, just manipulating them a little bit. This time I am not the musician; I’m just the guy who recorded it.
There are two reasons why a bird sings. To attract a female or to defend its territory. Birds have individual voices just like humans. Every year a few Great Tits nest in my garden. Each of them sings ‘hello hello, this area is already mine’ in lots of different voices, so when other Great Tits come into the area they think fucking hell, there are already loads of birds fighting for this area I better not go there! They’re so deceiving.
It’s a cruel world, the bird kingdom. Coots are pretty violent birds. They have a lot of babies - 10 maybe 12, and they only eat water insects. When they are stressed and can’t feed all their babies they take the weakest ones, violently shake them and then put their heads underwater so that they drown, so they only have to feed the few that remain.
My favourite birdsong is the blackbird. Humans recognise tonal scales - for example 440 Hz is an A. Birds of course don’t know tonal scales. They sing just between those scales so it generally sounds a bit weird to us. But a blackbird sings really close to C major or G major. So this sounds familiar to us and we love it. Its songs flow calmly and solemnly like church songs. The sound also reminds me of when I was a child.
The sound of the Common Loon is used in a lot of Hitchcock's horror movies. I love it. I also love the sound of the Nightjar. The sound of stepping through snow is so satisfying. It’s like biting a red apple, which is another sound I love. I love all the sounds of the elements - wood, water, wind.
A car is like a predator, like a tiger that wants to kill you for your subconscious. I hate the sound of cars. Really. It disturbs me a lot so its always a problem on the weekend when I’m in big cities, looking for a quiet hotel room in a courtyard or something. I grew up really in silence, no TV, nothing. So I can't stand urban noise.
I often find myself subconsciously re-creating sounds from nature. A few days ago I was tweaking my synthesisers for hours, and I said to myself I have this feeling of sound in my head and I want to create it, and suddenly I was thinking what am I doing here, what is it reminding me of? And then I recognised the Great Crested Grebe. Its sound is so melancholic. For me it’s a symbol of…desire, longing, aspiration.
Read the full interview online here: http://www.appropriatefootwear.co/blog-1/2016/4/1/dj-dominik-eulberg-birdwatcher-music-maker