I was bored with scene in Frankfurt…I needed to get away. Suddenly everything came to a halt, development was over, and it was like ‘music has to sound like that, because a DJ has to do like that’…I started to feel trapped in that scene, and I started to look for places that were remote, not a place that had a scene” says Uwe Schmidt. The prolific and legendary German composer, musician and pioneer record producer started his career creating electronic music in his native city of Frankfurt. Via phone, he is describing the reasons for relocating in 1997 to Santiago, Chile where he has continued a lifetime exploration and evolution of electronic vibes and grooves of every kind.

His musical path emerged basically from a programmers background, says Schmidt: “I started programming beats, drum machines, and synthesizers without any typical classical musical background. I learned making music through all this different equipment, and the different interfaces, and basically invented a system of making music with all these interfaces …The machinery was quite abstract, knobs and buttons and I started layering tracks of sound. I wasn’t interested in melodies and harmonies. I was interested in sound and rhythm and creating a certain energy with that.” It also all began when as a solitary child in a working-class Eastern European family, he developed musical as well as artistic talents (he designs all the artwork related to his CD covers, including visuals and typography) as a way of entertaining himself.

Schmidt has composed and performed for several decades now under a multitude of aliases, including most famously, in the mid 90’s as Señor Coconut, recording “Fiesta Songs” and several other CD’s focused on tropical Latin electronica. Schmidt became Señor Coconut after a six-month stay in Costa Rica in ‘92-’93, where he says, “I listened to a lot of music there and I really liked what I heard. I was impressed at how different the musical code was, how musical ideas were presented and solved, and all these different musical possibilities. I suddenly realized how little I knew about all these things. I started to investigate what kind of Latin music was, there, what styles I liked and got very interested in trying to incorporate all that in what I was trying to do that at that time, which was basically cut and paste, programming and editing abstract data.”

And the name, wild imagery and even typography for the first “Señor Coconut” CD? It came to him as a vision when he was in bed and with a fever, says Schmidt. Such moments are not that uncommon, he adds wryly: “My ideas, like typography or sounds, really pop up randomly. I hardly ever am looking for things in a focused or disciplined way. I start to write things down, because they are interesting, and then the ideas build up to a song or project.”

After decades of musical aliases, Schmidt appears to be now settling into the persona of Atom ™. In Chicago, where he will be performing with long-time colleague Tobias Freund, he will be making music on beautiful machines that are even decades old, he says: “The whole idea is not to know what is going to happen. That is the fun part. To arrive at a place, and be faced with an audience and a vibe and a sound, and try to communicate with the audience and create something together. What you are doing in the studio, you are freezing time. You can really go deep into a structure and into time. On the stage, it’s real time, in the flow of time. It’s really all about the moment, what you make out of the moment. ”

Atom ™ is performing with Tobias Freund in his Chicago debut Saturday August 11 at the Viaduct, also as part of the launch event of Electronic Sound and Art Chicago.

Check Catalina’s radio show Beat Latino  (On FB and itunes too!) as well as recent NPR features to explore the past, present and future of Latin music.

 

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