Interview with Acumen

Frey & Acumen

Given to Legend Diskmagazine's issue #3, Hugi Diskmagazine's issue #21 and NoName Magazine on the 1st of October, 2000.

Hello Acumen, tell us about yourself.

Hi there, readers of Hugi. My real name is Milan Kolarovic, but in the demo-scene I'm better known as 'Acumen', which is my alias name. I'm a Finnish composer, living right outside a small city called Orivesi, in a small place called Hirsila. Although I have a foreign name, I was born in Finland where I have lived for my whole life. My father was born in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, from where he moved to Finland in the late 1950s. So in other words I'm half Slavic and half Finnish as my mother is a native Finnish (savolainen). I was born on the 9th of October, 1980, so my 20th birthday is right around the corner. More information of me can be found at my homepage.

When did you start composing and when did you enter the demo-scene?

I started composing at the end of 1994 with Scream Tracker 3, and later on I started to use Impulse Tracker 2 (at the end of 1997). I had already conducted some experiments with tracker music on my Amiga 600 with a program called Pro Tracker, but "officially" it all started when I got my first PC. My very first computer was a Commodore 128D. I released my first song called 'Affection' on the Internet in 1998, so I guess I officially entered the scene then. No previous songs to that can be found anywhere, not even do I have them since I had a mysterious harddrive failure and I lost all my music and samples previous to that. Years of sentimental work and memories had been permanently erased. That was extremely hard to go through mentally, but I think in the end 'Warder' pointed out the true value by saying to me right after the accident: "The Brain is a composer's most important tool, and that you haven't lost". Ever since that I have kept backups of my work on a separate harddrive and CD-R discs. Although I agree with Warder's phrase, I wouldn't want to go through that ever again.

Are you in any group now?

No, I'm not in any group right now and never have been. Although I've been asked to join groups various times, I haven't seen or felt reasons why I should join one. I feel that I'm on a one-man mission to explore the musical world and to represent my own ideas, thoughts and emotions for others to dive into and experience, and hopefully also to enjoy. However, I've always been open for projects concerning music, co-operative work, demos, animations, games, and so forth. In fact many co-operative projects are being done and planned as we speak, it just happens that I have never released or completed one before.

What style of music do you prefer?

There is no particular style I prefer over another, but if I had to name one, it would definitely be 'New Age' music, and all sorts of intelligent electronic or instrumental music styles. I like all kinds of music which have a certain mood inside, a part of the creator's heart, passion beyond expression, something that makes you just wanna close your eyes and drift away with the music. The only music style I really don't like is 'death metal', and all other pure metal music. Also I can't stand the typical recycled pop or dance music like 'Britney Spears', and other similar so-called "artists". I love intelligent music, music that is unique and well done, music that cannot be described 'cause it has to be felt and experienced. Good music has to be a total emotional, satisfactory, and overwhelming experience.

How would you describe your music style?

It's a mixture of 'New Age' and 'Electronic Instrumental' styles, with some orchestral and classical influences. Most of all I'd like to believe my music is very emotional and intense, that it reflects my soul, body and mind with every single note I write. It's very hard to describe my style in closer details, since I feel that I'm writing music in various different styles and moods. Even a single song can hold influences of many particular styles. It's better to listen to the music itself, and to have no thoughts over the style, but more on the music itself, and hear out what it has to offer.

Where do you get your inspiration?

The word "inspiration" is more like a cliché for me. It lost its genuine meaning ages ago, since I very rarely see that I'm having an inspiration. Mainly it's just sitting in front of the monitor with your headphones on top of your head and just trying out different things, though sometimes this leads to some kind of "mental drive" which could be referred to as "getting inspiration". In my case I'd much more rather call it "strength", and ask myself where I find the strength to seek new ideas, and to compose. My answer would be: "from normal everyday life". I seek for issues, news and events that I feel important to fight for and to let people know about, be they personal or things that affect all of us. I find it very hard to come up with the right motivation these days, to find a reason why to write new music, to find a reason for existence even in general, to find an answer to my question: "why?". Most of the time of a year I have a depression, and maybe that's one of the main reasons why my music often comes out so melancholic. From this mixture of emotions I eventually again and again come up with the right mood to compose new music, as music resembles a diary where I write my thoughts. I guess you could say I'm not a very private person since I let all the people in the world "read" my diary. ;)

How much time do you spend on other scene activities?

Activities? Basically I just do music, and some other projects I'm asked to do music for. I'd like to do more, but to tell you the truth I'm having a hard time finding the energy to do the little things that I'm doing right now, so I don't want to overload myself with things and give promises that I couldn't keep. I'm in that stage of life that I've moved onward from just doing music for a hobby and gone forward into desiring and wanting to find a commercial use for it as well. I've always done music for myself, always (!), but I'm also hoping that some day it will give me a real career.

Your song used in Legend#2 was really great! How much time do you need to make a song like 'Serenity of Silence' ?

Thank you for the comment. 'Serenity of Silence' was probably one of the most "quickest" tunes to finish in a long, long time. I used few weeks to get it all together, maybe spending about 100 hours in total. Usually songs require a much longer period to finish, but with 'SOS' I made a knowing decision to release one more song before my work for 'Assembly 2000' would seriously begin. Usually songs require about a month or two to finish, taking more than 200 hours of time in total. A good example of a time consuming tune is 'Out of The Blue'. Nowadays I find it more difficult to come up with the right mood for composing than finding enough time for it, and as if this wouldn't be enough, I get very easily frustrated with myself. So in the end, it's a very complicated and difficult process, and only a very small percentage (%) of my songs ever see daylight (get released).

What software and hardware do you use?

Well, I still mainly use 'Impulse Tracker 2' to orchestrate and put it all together. I also have a Korg N364 workstation synthesizer that I mainly use as a resource for my own samples and instruments, and occasionally I compose and come up with song ideas with it. For example 'Adagio for Freedom' was composed totally by it, and I did almost all the samples for that song myself on the Korg N364, but it's still totally done (put together) in Impulse Tracker 2. I also have a hometheatre system which I use for listening music and watching movies. I mainly use headphones for composing (Fostex T-5), and my loudspeakers (Dali's "Red Series" 450 and 350 speakers) for listening to the final result and when doing the final mixing on my songs. I also have a microphone (AKG D50 S) which I think I last used with 'Guinea Pig' in 1998, so I really haven't done any serious recording with it, at least not yet.

Do you use MIDI? Do you like it more than tracking?

Nope, I don't use MIDI, although I've tried a number of different MIDI programs (since I have 100% MIDI connectable synthesizer), but none of those which I have tried have served my purposes. I want to have the ability to try out and experiment with things in a blink of an eye, and so far I haven't felt like I could do that in a MIDI environment, at least not with the programs I've tried so far. I'm hoping that eventually Impulse Tracker 3 when it's finished and released will offer me a whole better environment to "connect" these two existing worlds (trackers and MIDI). I'm also afraid of failing at learning anything new if I try, so I'm the sort of guy who sticks to the old and safe rather than taking his chances and trying out something totally new. In another words, I'm a slave of my old habits.

What is the hardest thing in making a tracked module?

This is an easy question to answer: "To be satisfied with it". I often describe myself as a "perfect perfectionist", but I have to admit it's the perfect disease. It's really hard to get a song sound the way I want, it's beyond despair sometimes. Luckily I've learned to live with it, and to control it, but every now and then I end up overproducing a song simply by using too much time and effort to enhance it.

Tell msx beginners what they should do to become good? :)

Practice makes perfect, eh? There are no easy ways to becoming good, and it most certainly won't happen over one night. If you want to see instant results, you've chosen the wrong hobby. You have to explore different songs made by "veterans", explore their techniques, and how they have built their layers of sounds and structure. Most of all, you must never give up if you happen to fail or fall down, just get back on your feet and learn from your mistakes. The same rule stands for all situations of life in general, don't you think.

What's your biggest success in the scene?

I don't consider myself being really successful in the scene ever. The best part is when I get comments and thoughts on my songs from the listeners (good or bad comments!). I have never really gone after success or being famous, and I hope it will never change to that either. Still I'd like to measure the quality of my music in some other way than just by self-observing, so this is where your comments' and emails' true value is shown!

What do you think about ripping samples?

I have nothing against it as long as people remember to credit the sample sources in their own songs, although nowadays it's very easy to obtain original samples with the infinite resources on the web. If you're seeking good sample resources on the web, check out my homepage's links. I've listed the best websites I've come across there. They are well worth checking out, I guarantee!

What do you think about MP3s in demos & other scene productions?

I have never really quite understood the big fuzz and fight over the issue "MP3 vs. Mod", since it all boils down to the music itself in the end. MP3s and MODs after all are just two different audio formats invented by man. Although I must confess that I would much rather download the MOD version of a song if there one was provided than the MP3 version, since, as I explained earlier, I want to see how it was all done, organized together. You cannot learn or see that from an MP3 file. That's the main reason why I'm still releasing my own songs in both formats, so that others could take full benefit of my music, both in learning and listening experience. Only heaven knows where I'd be right now if I hadn't had the opportunity to learn from some of today's famous trackers the skills to compose and orchestrate music. The "learning experience" is the most important defence for the MOD format that I can think of. MP3 is just compressed audio data, but in the end it all boils down to the music itself. For defence of MP3 I must say that it has already opened many doors that had previously been shut tight for "home musicians". Now with MP3s we can distribute songs to a much wider and bigger audience, worldwide! I try not to think too much of this format issue, since it feels more like wasting time on a subject that really isn't worth talking about. Although one thing is for sure, MP3s are here to stay. Funny, but in a way MP3s have meant the end of the "old demo-scene", but at the same time they save the entire music scene as we know it.

What do you think about using MP3s done by a non-scener in demos (State of Mind, Toys, Shad2, Vip2, etc.)?

Actually I haven't followed the news so carefully that I would exactly know what you're talking about. MP3s by a non-scener are fine with me as long as they aren't violating any copyrights of known artists, bands or groups. I can tell you for sure that if 'Michael Cretu' ever did a song only for a demo, that would be something I'd have to have and see immediately. ;)

How often do you visit demoparties?

Not as often as I'd like to. So far I've only attended Assembly '99 and Assembly 2000 where I had quite some success by placing 7th in the 'multichannel music competition' with 'Landmark of Lullabies' and placing 11th in the 'MP3 music competition' with 'Adagio for Freedom'. I've thought about going to some other major parties in Europe, but at least for now those thoughts are not very likely to come true. It would definitely be a lot easier to attend a demoparty outside Finland if there were other travellers to make the journey with from Finland, an organized trip with maybe even some people I already know.

Some parties have cancelled 4-channel music compos. Do you think that this is a good idea?

Although never released a "4-channel song" before this year's Assembly's 'oldskool music competition', I like seeing and hearing songs that have the "classic" sound and feel to it. Sure, it's always a heart-warming moment to hear what people can make out of 4 channels. Also C64 tunes can be amazingly well-crafted, for example those for the Assembly 99 'C64 music competition'. It was the best music competition there in my opinion.

Among our scene people there is the opinion that the demo-scene is dying. What do you think about its future?

It's the whole world that is changing, and so is the demo-scene along with it. The everlasting and ongoing process is called "evolution", and I for one have nothing against evolution, nor the aging process or anything else that comes with time. It's quite normal that we humans are afraid of changes, we'd all like to live in a safe environment, and this very often leads to the fact that we feel unbalanced if something changes around us, or we experience things that our brains cannot "register", or suddenly lose control over some matter. This is a quality that was written into genes millions of years ago and is rooted in human nature. Mother nature surely knows how to make it hard for us to feel comfortable and to adjust. I'm sure the demo-scene isn't dying, but I agree that the golden days are over, but there might be new "bright eras" ahead, who knows. It's all up to us, whether we want it or not. I guess in a way the demo-scene has to go through a change, a facelift, a rebirth. I think that the beginning of a "new generation" came with Assembly 2000, and hopefully others will follow the example. The productions presented there were terrific, people really seemed to enjoy themselves and to take full credit of their achievements.

Do you have any idols, musicians or other people who you especially respect, admire and look up to?

Michael Cretu (Enigma), for giving me faith, an inspiration to do 'New Age' music and emotions I never knew I had in me until I heard Enigma's 3rd album ('Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!'), which still remains one of my all-time favourite albums. Vangelis, for giving so much for so many legendary movies like 'Blade Runner'. Also one thing about Vangelis that fascinates me especially is the fact that he's taught himself everything connected with musical knowledge. His example gives faith and courage to my kind of people who don't know much about musical theory but have a big heart full of passion towards music. I know there are a lot of people like me in the demo-scene. Last but not least, I admire people who have good moral sense and values, and their own genuine taste and style. When it comes to tracker musicians, I can easily raise one name on top of the others. Surely my biggest respect and admiration go to Vesa Norilo (aka 'Warder'), and to his genious mind & music. Every composer who does music with a sincere heart has my total respect!

Your favourite demo groups, music groups, demos, intros, coders, graphicians, etc.?

Yikes, well.. 'cause I don't really watch or download demos so often, I should say my choices go back in time by naming 'Future Crew' as my favourite demo group. My favourite demo would have to be the recent winner of the Assembly 2000 demo competition 'Spot' by 'Exceed'. Extraordinary well-crafted demo which I applauded standing. I don't really know so many music groups, maybe 'Five Musicians' and 'Third Eye' are the best so far that I've come across. I really don't follow the scene much outside the music scene, although I'd love to do music and soundtracks for all sorts of productions, demos, animations, games, etc.

What are your future plans? Are you going to do something commercial?

Commercial, yes - very much hoping so, but even I cannot predict my own future. After Assembly 2000 I got a handful of projects offers like composing music for games and websites, of which I've already accepted one and I'm currently negotiating with the others. It's all up to the quality of the music and coming across with the right contacts and persons.

Tell us something about the state of the demo-scene in your country.

In my eyes it seems as if it's growing strong and attracting more and more new young hobbyists. Finnish trackers have always been very skillful and well-known around the world. People like Dune, Skaven, Purple Motion, Elwood and Mellow-D are Finnish. I hope that what I saw at Assembly 2000 was a new start for the Finnish demo-scene.

Any other hobbies except computers and music?

I'm glad you asked. Yes, I'm fighting against becoming a nerd. ;) I love motorcycling, fishing in the summers, driving indoor karting, watching movies and listening to music. I also have this cute little doggie called 'Peggy' (5 years old) who needs attention and caring. Besides these, I've also taken up on my studying and I'm currently getting a Media Assistent's degree at Jamsa city (Jämsän Seudun Koulutuskeskus) and if everything goes according to plans, I'll graduate in spring 2002. Hopefully my studying won't interfere my music composing, but I cannot give any guarantees. I hope that I'll also get new ideas and methods for my music making through out my studies. I'm also going to teach some areas of education myself, like 'audio' and 'homepage' designing.

Do you like disk-mags?

Yes, very much so. I enjoy reading them, the articles are the real gems of every magazine, the charts positions are fun to watch if you don't take them too seriously, and it's even more enjoyable when you can contribute some work (music/articles) for them. I guess my disk-mag-relationship started with Hugi diskmagazine. Before that I had only heard people talk of disk-mags, but I hadn't ever been really interested in exploring them. Nowadays I download almost all diskmagazines I can find, like Hugi, Pain, Shine, Sunray, etc.

Do you have a personal motto?

I don't have any of my own, but I will always remember this next phrase I heard in one of Scooter's old songs called 'Move Your Ass'. If people lived by it, repeated it daily to themselves, the world would become a much better place to live in. The phrase goes like this: "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice." It says it all, don't you think.

Where can one get all your modules?

On my homepage where everything is and will always be linked. This is a very often asked question, and I'm a bit surprised that people haven't read the sample/instrument and message areas in my IT files, or the .TXT files within the zipped MP3s, 'cause the URL of my homepage is mentioned in every one of them. Maybe people listen the songs nowadays with different players like XMPlay (which is the most accurate module player!).

Now, if you wish - it's time for greetings.

Greetings to all those people who've been in contact with me over the past years. Take care of yourself and of your loved ones! Thanks for the interview!

Frey (Legend diskmagazine)

How to contact Acumen
IRCnet: #trax, and #Acumen
Telephone: +358505251135
Address: Milan Kolarovic
Hollontie 59
35320 Hirsila