Hakan Sunar - founder of Spiritual Machinery

Back in August of 2018, I had the opportunity to review the music of Spiritual Machinery and talk with the founder Hakan Sunar. Since writing the article, I’ve had the blessed opportunity of talking with Sunar about music and some of its histories that he has personally witnessed. I am delighted and honored that his maestro has agreed to discuss these topics further in the following interview, which I’m sure many of our readers will find beneficial in their own work.

Hakan Sunar – founder of Spiritual Machinery

Warlock Asylum: Thanks for taking time to answer a few questions and share some of your insights with us. However, for some of our readers who may not be familiar with your person, please introduce yourself? Who is Hakan Sunar?

Hakan Sunar: I’m a Swedish musician with a few gray hairs on the whiskers [laughs]. I’ve been making music on and off since I was a youngster in the 80’s. I grew up with the so-called “New Romantics’ movement [silly haircuts, shoulder pads, and eyeliners] in the early eighties. Electronic pop music had just come to the forefront with bands like OMD. Human League, Ultravox, and etc. I really wanted to do the same stuff they did but I didn’t have the gear.

Warlock Asylum: What inspired you to get involved with music?

Hakan Sunar: Eventually my father bought me a synthesizer [KORG Polysix] a drum machine [Yamaha RX-21] and a four-track tape recorder]Fostex X15], but I couldn’t figure out how to sync stuff so it would sound as tight as any Kraftwerk track. At that time I wasn’t aware of sequencers. It wasn’t until the early 90’s that I would get my first sequencer. It was a built in a digital synth called Roland D-20. The synth sounded terrible. But I bought it because of the sequencer. It wasn’t until a couple of years later when I got my first DAW [Digital Audio Workstation] that I could start doing tracks that sounded like something. The software market for audio gear had a real boom in the mid 90’s.

Warlock Asylum: What is the music scene like in Sweden?

Hakan Sunar: Pretty much as in the rest of the world. At least in Europe and America. We are exposed to a veritable bombardment by the music industry. In effect, we tend to listen less active to music. In many ways, music has become some kind of background noise. A backdrop to events in our daily life. Music for ever occasion. Going to a concert is more about experiencing an event than actually listening to the music. It’s more like music for the event. As in music for shopping, music for sporting, music for studying, music for eating etc.

Back in the days, we used to talk about albums. Today, it’s all about playlists. People, especially young people, are going for the easy ride. An album requires more from the listener than a playlist filled with hits and favorites. It’s like watching a movie by cutting out the most colorful and exciting parts. Sure, that could be fun for five minutes. But you’re missing out the essence. There’s no deeper quality in there.

Warlock Asylum: Can you tell us how the project Spiritual Machinery began and what was your role in getting it off the ground?

Hakan Sunar: Well, there are some obvious benefits of working alone. You don’t have to compromise. Nobody’s pushing you and so on. But it can also get a bit lonely. I realized that collaborating with others could be a really good ear and mind opener. So I started the Spiritual Machinery project as a platform for collaboration. Spiritual Machinery is not a band with a fixed lineup. Other musicians and producers constantly move in and out.   I’m like a spider in the net inviting various flies for dinner [laughs].

Warlock Asylum: People who are aware of your career history not only respect your talent as an artist, but also the courage that you’ve demonstrated in overcoming setbacks in regards to your eyesight. Can you please share with us what it took to overcome such difficulties and how it affected your creative process?

Hakan Sunar: I have an eye disease called glaucoma. Over the years, it has gotten worse. I’m now totally blind on one eye and have very little eyesight left on the other. So, yes. It’s a struggle. Thankfully there are plenty of tools that make it easier for me. Especially the computer software. But even so, it’s still a struggle. Not all digital instruments and audio processing gear have GUIs [Graphical User Interface] that are friendly to my eyes. I try to use, so-called, midi controllers as much as possible. Meaning I can control digital instruments from a hardware device. So with the hands on the knobs and sliders, it’s easier. However, that’s not always possible.

I also try to avoid having to edit stuff. For example – I try to set a drum pattern by playing it manually in one take. In case I play a bum note I prefer to re-record the whole section all over. Rather than opening the midi or score editor and try to adjust the bum note from there.

Hakan Sunar’s passion for music has been instrumental in overcoming physical setbacks.

Warlock Asylum: A lot of the music that you’ve created has a nostalgic feel, a vintage sound, which serves as a bridge between generations. How did you develop Spiritual Machinery’s sound?

Hakan Sunar: If you ask anyone in my generation how a ringing telephone sounds like they will probably think of the sound of a phone bell from the past. Not a funky smartphone ringtone. I associate certain sounds with a synthesizer in a similar way. A lot of electronic music of today is not so much defined by the sounds as by the style. You can hear those “electronic” sounds in any pop tune today without thinking about it as electronic music.

In the original version of Lady used a sample of a Linndrum snare that I hooked up with a gated reverb. This technique along with the Linndrum was fairly common in the early 80’s. Think of Prince’s “Purple Rain”. But if I used that sound in a DubStep track I don’t think anyone would have recognized it as a typical 80’s sound.

In the Lotuzia Remix Laurent used the STIX By XILS-Lab battle station for the drums. If you listen carefully to the drums you’ll hear that they sound very unique. So I would like to think that the main reason people feel this vintage vibe to the tracks is due to the overall production.

Warlock Asylum: Over the past year, you’ve released several songs under the Spiritual Machinery banner. One tune, in particular, that seems to be getting a lot of attention is Lady of Night, which features your collaborative effort with songstress Alice Leonz. How did you two come up with such a brilliant melody?

Hakan Sunar: I stumbled into Alice Leonz on a music forum. She’s actually a jazz singer. What I liked about her voice is that it’s very unique sounding. A lot of vocalists in the pop genre tend to sound very similar. Many of them are also in the habit of imitating their favorite artists. Alice is different. She has her own style. “Lady” was the first track we did together. Parts of the track was slightly different when she added the vocals. The chord progression was originally a bit flat. She brought in some more dynamics to the song by coming up with those wonderful backing vocals.

Warlock Asylum: Lady of Night has several versions and a couple of remixes. Can you tell us about the different versions of this song and why they were developed?

Hakan Sunar: I’ve always loved remixes. I used to collect loads of maxi-singles back in the vinyl days. So it felt quite natural to let others have a go with “Lady”. Valtko’s [Vlatko Georgiev] mix has a bit of a more modern edge to it. It’s more of a remake than a re-mix. What Vlatko did was that he replaced parts of the track with his own stuff, especially the rhythm section. But keeping the structure of the song intact. His mix is also generally better mastered then the original track that sounds fairly dull. There’ll be a remastered version of the original track coming out along with the Lotuzia mix. The remaster is made by a guy called Nathan Feler from the Jungle City Studios in NYC.

Lauren’s work on the song involves more extensive changes. He started out by trashing most of the synth sounds I used, bastard [laugh]. Replacing them with other sounds that he designed on the fly. He’s one of those guys who can have a sound in his head. Walk up to a synth and tweak the knobs for half a minute and get just that sound out of the machine. Although he added quite a lot of stuff to the song, he too kept the song’s structure. This mix has a very strong early 80ä’s feel to it. Think of Human League, before the girls joined the band, Vince Clarke or early Depeche Mode

Warlock Asylum: What can we expect to hear from Hakan Sunar in the near future?

Hakan Sunar: Well, I do have several projects in the air. But probably the next release will be either a remake of a previous song or a modern Italio Disco mix of “Lady”. We’ll see…

Big thanks once again for sharing your wisdom with us! On behalf of Warlock Asylum Internation News, I would like to extend warm wishes of success in all your musical endeavors.

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