Big or small, talk to many music gear makers, and you’ll find they’re in the business largely for love. But it’s still amazing just how many gear makers choose to go it alone. They build equipment in their flats and garages, hand-packing their creations and shipping it to a world of fellow musicians. Koma Electronik is just one of those in the worldwide scene of boutique hardware makers. We’re especially fond of their interfaces and the company of musicians they keep. So, following up on the video that showed what it’s like getting a demo in a van from Koma, complete with champagne, here’s a more serious look at their process. Kristin Trethewey went to their studio to take a look around, and offers this profile – along with, in its entirety, a conversation she had about what it means to be in this business.
The young Berlin-based pedal producers combine effects and technology in sleek, black-and-white cases, with analog Control Voltage I/O. Inspired by the resurgent interest in modular synthesis, their effects combine multiple effects, as in the Gate/Gelay BD101 and the Filter/Sequencer, FT201.
One feature common to KOMA Elektronik is a patch bay that’s accessible on the face of the unit. This allows the user to directly input and output signals, playing with the possibility to generate new sounds easily. Ed.: Models like the Moogerfooger have similar ins and outs, but tucked away on the back of the unit, not on the top where they’re easier to get at. And, of course, lots of modular equipment has these sorts of ports, but not necessarily on a stomp-style effect. An infrared motion sensing system gives musicians the freedom to bypass the knobs, and control the sound with a hand, foot or any other object.
In 2010, the founders, Wouter Jaspers and Christian Zollner, took a pause from musical pursuits to work full-time on making KOMA a reality. Zollner, originally from Linz, Austria, studied social work at school, but consistently played in bands and had an inclination towards building modular gear. He still gets in a show or two with his band, Regolith. And somehow he also fits in an experimental online MIT course for circuits and electronics.
From age 17, Jaspers was dedicated to music. Although he also didn’t study anything related to music – instead working in Dutch and social science — he viewed his formal education as a means to expand his mind rather than his CV. He jumped into forming a record label, Vatican Analog, where he released his own records as well the work of as a growing community of other Dutch “anti-musicians”. This past-time became a full-time profession, taking Jaspers all over the world touring under his own name and different aliases. (Check out his music on SoundCloud.) In 2010, after five years of constant movement and music making, Jaspers decided to switch gears and focus on setting up a base. Soon after he met Zollner, the two decided to work together, and have been happily married to KOMA Elektronik ever since.
KOMA Elektronik’s mandate is to make “pedals for serious players,” but they also want to build a music community. They emphasize that this means more than receiving user feedback about their products. By hosting events and workshops, they seek to connect to a growing scene, playing along with musicians using KOMA pedals. They’ve moved to a larger and cleaner workspace in Berlin’s Neukölln neighberhood – a big step up from their previous home, living and working in a cramped, unfinished apartment. Bringing musicians to the space gives it a special, backstage kind of feeling. Here you could talk not only about gear, but also about music and travelling, common topics regardless of their various musical backgrounds.
This week the whole team made it to Musikmesse in Frankfurt am Main, the world’s largest music show. However, they skipped the booths. KOMA does things a bit differently, and as a young start-up, they often need to find creative solutions. This year they pimped out a rental car, dubbing it the “KOMA cab,” and offering free tours around the Musikmesse convention center. They followed up the tours with a big bash on March 22 at Silbergold. Celebrating their one-year anniversary, fellow KOMA friends Serena-Maneesh, Kaap De Goede Hoop and O Tannenbaum DJs played through the night, bringing a Berlin-style party to the generally-sleepy, buttoned-down Frankfurt trade show scene.
In the coming months, you can expect to see more growth from the small company. Aside from an expanding product line, they have further plans to substantiate their ties to both the Berlin and international music scene. In May they will travel to Poland to present workshops at the Asymmetry Festival.
Ed.: Indeed – the gear is great, but I look forward not only looking closer at that but also getting to know the Koma crew’s musical friends. After all, that’s what all this is about – and it’s the communities that form around all these makers, all you folks we’ve built relationships over the years, that’s why we keep doing it. Enjoy the weekend; go hear and play some live music, wherever you are. I know I will. -PK
Kristin has an extended interview she did for us with the Koma guys, on SoundCloud. (Some audio issue toward the end, but quite listenable.)
More photos inside the Neukölln studio. (All photographs: Kristin Trethewey.)