Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.
The Institute 91' is a synthwave producer who is a serious metalhead. He was drawn to making synth music through his love of metal and a desire to create music on his own. ln an email, I talked to him about how he got started making music, how he goes about creating new music, the origins of "The Institute" and the role this idea plays in his music.
Karl Magi: How'd you first get passionate about creating music?
The Institute '91: I've played guitar ever since I was a child. I was fortunate in the fact that my mother listens to a ton of various genres of music and I grew up being exposed to a wide array of different things. I was born in '91 so I had the luxury of being between the realms of not so young that I couldn't connect to older music but not so old that I couldn't appreciate newer things.
One of my key memories from was when I was eight or nine years old is that I had a small portable CD player and my mom had given me Metallica's "Ride The Lightning" album. I can remember sitting with my headphones on, playing an acoustic Walmart Mark II guitar. I'd keep hitting the play button, letting one note play, pausing it and trying to match that note on the fretboard. I learned how to play the guitar for years through trial and error and by ear until I met a friend who taught me to read tabs, and practically ever since that day, all I've wanted to do is play music, it basically consumed me honestly.
KM: What were the elements and ideas that attracted you to making synthwave music?
I91: I honestly hadn't given it a thought as in, "I am going to make synthwave." I have always played metal, and living in a small rural town, it is extremely hard to form a full-fledged band. When you do, there are usually things such as jobs, families, and just general life/adulting things that make it hard to practice as often as I would like but I have to have some sort of creative outlet. I had been given an iPad about six years ago and I began messing around with GarageBand and the synths on there. That provided me an adequate outlet to create while there was downtime between practice. I showed one of the guys that I worked with some "old school '80s sounding stuff" that I had been working on and he had mentioned that it was similar to a genre called synthwave. I looked up what synthwave was and instantly fell in love with it
KM: Inspiration-wise, which artists have touched you?
I91: I love metal first and foremost, so my biggest influences are usually from that genre with bands such as Necrophagist, Nile, Opeth, Amon Amarth, Agalloch, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Gojira, Vildhjarta, Meshuggah and many others along with some more obscure groups like Wardruna, Heilung, The Caretakers, and so on.
As far as more retro and older things go, I love Hall and Oates, Talking Heads, Alan Parsons Project, Pink Floyd, Boz Scaggs, The Ink Spots, George Clinton, Parliament Funkadelic, Sisters of Mercy, and Weird Al Yankovic. I also love old-school horror movie film scores from people like Fabio Frizzi, John Carpenter, Philip Glass, and Danny Elfman. Honestly there are so many that I like and have been regularly listening to for years that it's hard to compile it all into a list because I can't think of them all right now.
As far as synthwave itself goes, I’m not too well versed in the groups. So far I love the darksynth standards: Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, and the like. I also like Wice and Dynatron, Com Truise, and even a few vaporwave groups like St. Pepsi. I know as soon as I move onto another question, my brain will be going off with a ton of others that I will regret I didn't mention!
KM: Talk me through how you go about creating new music.
I91: Everything that I make, I make on an iPad in GarageBand. I have a $20 app called Zeeon Synth and another $5 app called Sensual Sax. That's all I use honestly. I am rather broke, so I kind of make do with what I can. Eventually I hope to get a PC and some good VST's, a MIDI controller and an axeFX for guitar stuff. It can be ridiculously complicated to do leads on a touch screen keyboard so the MIDI controller is almost becoming a must have.
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As far as my process goes, I just sit down with my headphones on and get lost in a jam usually. I just play around and whatever mood I'm in I make stuff to reflect it I guess. I'm not really that well educated on chord names or scales or progressions or anything and have always sort of just played what I felt and what comes out comes out. I have over 300 old songs that have never seen the light of day that I just tossed out and never figured anyone would like them! Just recently I've become more studious and began researching things to actually pursue the synth stuff.
KM: Tell me more about your self-titled album? How did it come about and how did you go about producing it?
I91: I had this idea that it would be cool to tell an old school pulp fiction style horror story about zombies with a fictional corporation called "The Institute" being the cause of it all and the events took place in '91 in the lore.
The self titled-album on Bandcamp isn't really an album honestly. I just made one-off songs here and there to toy with that whole premise and began uploading them to SoundCloud because a friend talked me into it and said that I should try getting my work out there.
I didn't set down to write an actual album until "Hiraeth." The self-titled thing on Bandcamp is really just a collection of all of those one off songs I had made and released for fun back when I first started. I'm fairly new to the scene really, I just started actively working hard on making synthwave the end of August 2019.
KM: What are your future plans for your music?
I91: I would love to grow my project into something more substantial sooner or later, incorporate animated videos if possible to tell the story of the whole "Institute" lore. I honestly just want to have fun with it and see where it goes,. I know when it comes to notoriety the chances of "making it big" are slim, so I really just want to use The Institute as an outlet to get some ideas out of my head and into the real world and if people enjoy it then that's awesome. I just don't want to get older and look back and wonder what could have been, so I would like to at least make the attempt, ya know?
KM: How do you feel about the rise and growth of the Twitter #synthfam? Talk about what it means to you?
I91: While I am new to the scene, I can honestly say that they are one of the most genuinely helpful groups of people I have ever came in contact with music biz wise. They gave me such a warm welcome and continue to help me grow and everyone helps promote each other and share ideas with each other. A.GE actually talked me into starting an account when I only had two songs up on SoundCloud and I couldn’t be happier that he did, he even made my logo for me.
It honestly warms my heart to see a community so willing and wanting to help each other grow. It’s so different from the metal scene where you are usually met with this cold “machismo” where everyone is trying to be “brutal” or “kvlt” and everyone seems to treat everything like a constant battle of the bands (which in a way it kind of is). I’ve seen situations with friend's bands where things devolved into an almost high school mentality with a constant need to be better than another band or to have all that attention while playing a live show.
I am sort of an introverted extrovert so I don’t really like the whole false bravado people put on for certain images. I’d much rather stay happily in my home, write the music I love to make and just do everything online if it was viable enough to sustain growth and become a career. I can safely say that the synth community has shown none of that mentality yet, at least from what I’ve seen of the folks I’ve been in contact with.
What blows my mind is how so many people come from a metal background and that mentality doesn’t seem carry over between genres. it’s almost like a refuge for metalheads!
KM: What do you do to re-invigorate yourself creatively?
I91: Honestly, I don’t have anything in particular that I do. I have always had songs and melodies in my head as far back as I can remember, so if I hit a wall with anything, I just set the ol’ iPad down for a day and don’t think about it. Usually by the time I come back I’ve been mouthing riff ideas for metal or melodies for synth stuff throughout the day like Beavis and Butthead. Thankfully, a lack of creativity is not something I have had to deal with yet and I hope that is a bridge I never have to cross!