Emile Hoogenhout, or Behr as some may know him, is not being pedantic as he runs through the various ways to morph and manipulate sound through technology. He is being thorough however, and oh-so-passionate about it all.
Situated in a small, open-plan space on the fourth floor of Johannesburg’s Downtown Music Hub, Emile’s talking on about music the way only a skilled instrumentalist can. He’s a laid-back guy. Perched on the edge of a small desk, he’s dressed in a short-sleeved, collared shirt and a fedora atop his head – every bit the jazz cat. Downtown Music Hub itself has housed many a jazz great, having seen the likes of Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Lucky Dube pass through its doors to record. The space Emile has recently moved into now houses a similarly iconic addition to the local music scene – The Academy of Music Technology (AMT), Johannesburg’s first ever school of music production.
“It’s such a vibe man. I love being a part of this space,” says Emile. “It’s so well located and I really love the cross-pollination between the musicians who come here to record and the students coming here to learn how to explore their sound. I want to start merging the two soon where the recording musicians come through to collaborate and do talks and vice-versa and just jam you know? After every lesson we have, we always clear the space out, set up all the gear and just jam. It’s a great way to learn.”
Only four months old, AMT provides formal training for music production through certified training in Ableton Live. Emile, who’s been an Ableton Certified Trainer since 2013, has a history with music that goes way back. As a youngster, it was all blue mohawks and grindcore bands before playing as a session musician for the likes of Lira, Tasha Baxter and more. In Cape Town he would then study jazz composition at UCT’s college of music, and later teach music at Johannesburg’s St Stithians College. He’s a multi-instrumentalist with a repertoire spanning drums, fretless bass, guitar, and of course the shiny analogue gear that lines the walls of AMT. For Emile, music is an experience best enjoyed collaboratively and with a healthy dose of innovation.
“Those session days and those days playing in a grindcore band were so cool, because they were so much more open than a lot of formal music training,” he explains. “At UCT I was around a lot of purists who were very regimented in their school of thought. They’d practice their instruments and learn their theory and they all just wanted to sound like Charlie Parker. I can completely dig that, I mean I was into that too, but that’s not really what the whole scope of music is about you know?”
We break from talking for a while as Emile sets up the Ableton Push 2 and sets up a sound-rack he put together after a recent stint in Nairobi spent recording local musicians. The instrument he’s sampling now is the zeze, played by the Tanzanian-born instrumentalist Msafiri Zawose.
It’s a kora-styled instrument with steel strings that sound out with a dense twangy reverberation. “So that’s the original sound,” he says whilst pushing down on various touchpads, each one evoking a different note. “But things get really cool when you just push it into another universe.” From there he reverses notes, runs a filter through them, spreads the stereo out and cuts off the initial attack of the sound, completely morphing the original notes into a new and entirely cosmic soundscape. After an arpeggio is brought into the mix, a track is born entirely out of improvisation and all in the space of a few minutes.
“Music really is an experience,” expresses Emile. “Right now I’m trying to take all these elements and all these influences and trying to solidify it into something I can pass onto others. What’s really important is to allow anyone who has something to express, to be able to access the tools to express themselves.”
And that, in a nutshell, is what he’s doing with AMT. With the modern day Soundcloud generation seeing countless individuals putting out music with ready available technology and software, we’re certainly not at a loss when it comes to musicians. But to be able to truly master the technology and couple it with comprehensive musical theory can see a musician go from a bedroom producer or a garage band member, to a master of their own sound. At AMT, musicians of all kinds have started emerging. With an official open day still to come, Emile’s class only holds about seven or eight students at the moment, but each one has their own style. From the musical newbies to the 40-something worship group member and the 18-year-old house DJ, each student is here to refine their music and expand their repertoires, while learning off of one another through many an improvisational session.
“I like the idea of getting people into a headspace where they feel they can do whatever,” Emile enthuses. He’s fiddling around with a sound rack he built from recorded adungu notes, and the small room comes alive once again, swirling with sound. “Especially with electronic music, we need to start pushing the boundaries more and getting people out of their pigeonholed little stylistic headspace you know? There are so many great musicians, but in terms of switching people on and pushing that headspace towards all-inclusive styles of music, that’s what I’d like to do.”
Find out more about Emile and the Academy of Music Technology on his website.