In light of MUTEK 2015, we had the opportunity to sit down with New York based Gunnar Haslam, of L.I.E.S Records, to look at music from a physicists point of view. We covered everything between academics to production before he took the stage to perform his first ever live set at the MAC.

From prior research, I notice that you have a strong background in particle physics. Where did your decision come from to make music?
Well really, techno came first. And to go as deep into particle physics as one would need to, I would need to leave everything else behind… and I didn’t want to do that. I really enjoyed physics but I saw that as you really go on to do a PhD and then further, you really need to devote yourself rather fully to it; and i decided that while I liked math and physics a lot, I wanted to be able to still sort of have enough left over to focus on music.

Do you still keep math and science in your life?
Yes, I’m about to pursue a PhD in math, so I’m very much still involved. But I had to learn to balance. There are so many people around me in physics that made it become clear to me that I’d have to choose. However, the math that I do is more related to music.

What inclined you to push out your creative outlook?
I don't know… I mean it’s kind of a natural thing, you know? So I eventually started making music and saw how that worked. I never really thought I was going to be a creative person... I still don’t see myself as a “creative type”.  I still primarily see myself as an academic, but it’s kind of nice to discover this about myself.

Do you have any opportunity to relate what you study into your music?
Yes; I tend to keep them a bit separate but it’s hard not to combine them, especially with the math that I do [signal processing]. It’s sorta related to how electronic music works in a fundamental way, so it shapes how I see everything. It shapes how I practice music and how I visualize it.

Can you give us a simplified explanation of what signal processing is?
Signal processing refers to taking any signal, the most obvious one is an audio signal, and just sort of doing something to it. It’s basically the discipline in which you study and create things like filters. In a musical way, signal processing is basically how all effects units work. For my own purposes, I knew that the basis of signal processing was taking a signal that had a representation of it in relation to frequency... so it’s how simple filters work. And I knew all of this from physics and in my research in particle physics, I was doing experimental physics. So, I was looking at signals that came from particle detectors and I really liked that aspect of it and really early on in particle physics, I saw how related it was. For example, if I was in a lab and had to build a filter that had to filter out some noise in the particle detector, I immediately saw how this was the same as building a filter in a synthesizer. But what I’ve done lately is more abstract signal processing stuff that isn’t used for music at all but stuff that could potentially be. That’s the stuff I get excited about down the line.

Are you capable of building hardware?
No, I don’t know the first thing about electronics really. When I was doing research, I was with people who did. I mostly knew the physics and programs but I didn’t really know too much and now that I’ve been getting into the modular thing, I realize I’d like to know more.

What type of social and personal changes came when moving from the academics world to the world of performance arts?
Not a whole lot, even when I was studying physics, I was going out all the time and DJing, just with friends, nothing serious. But when I left, I worked for a couple years and when I did that, I had more free time to work on music. It’s just the usual thing… I’m travelling a lot more and meeting a lot of new people by virtue of having music out and that’s really nice but I think at home, in New York, it’s mostly the same.

May Nguyen

To have a further look at Gunnar Haslam's music, check out his Soundcloud below: