Reuben/Blastique/Mile High Sounds Q&A
It would be fair to say (right or wrong), much more is expected from DJ's in this digital age, playing records(vinyl) or Digital files just isn't enough. Your social media presence must be spread across the majority of platforms these days letting people know where your playing and then there's the thought of trying to be a producer pressure adding as many strings to that bow! Reuben Samuels AkA Blastique AkA Head Honcho of Mile High Sounds is no exception to this as we find out how he balances Dj'ing in Kuala Lumpur, recording sessions and how being a tech geek lead to running his he ellaborate's more on how he got started back in 2000(DJ)
City List - Your website quotes you as being Classically trained, what was the first instrument you learned to play and when?
Reuben - I picked up the violin at the age of 4.5. It was heavy. This was followed by the piano at 5.
CL - We noticed that you have a BSc in Sonic Arts, what made you decide to pursue this rather than say, a BSc in Music?
R - While exposure to classical music has been a part of me (since I was in my mum’s womb), I’ve been a bit of a tech geek since the days of Basic. I even used to swap quartz crystals to overclock (and fry) pcs before that could be done on the BIOS level haha I also had (and still have) a very keen interest in Psychology which I minored in while in Western Australia. When I ended up graduating from SAE in Sound Engineering and working for a while, I became quickly drawn to the area of Psychoacoustics and became hungry to learn more beyond the purely technical aspects of sound engineering I had studied up until then.
CL - Is your family musical?
R - It definitely runs in our blood! Back in his college days, my doctor-dad played the guitar and sang in a band in India called “The Playboys” - I’ve been told that he wooed my mum with his playing too. Mum sings and plays the piano as did her late sister who used to perform classical cantatas in India. My mum’s great-grandmother played the violin, and dad’s mum was classically trained as well.
CL - What are your fondest musical memories? In your house? In your neighbourhood or town?
R - Being passed on the same violin that was given to my dad’s father by his mum’s Grandma at my grandparent’s wedding in 1936 was a truly emotional experience. In the early 90s during a family Christmas gathering, what left a lasting impression was listening to a 1940s vinyl recording of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture on dad’s classic insanely powerful and balanced Altec Lansing system from the 60s. The vinyl is special in that it features real canons and even the sleeve comes with a warning that the transients are so fast that some amplifiers can’t handle it. His phase linear x Altec combo did a great job ramping up from the quietest string passages to the wall-shaking cannon segments. This raw display of dynamic range was probably one of the first triggers that lead me down the path of sound engineering decades later.
Leading an orchestra in the Perth Concert Hall in 1999 playing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. One could say that it was technically my first public performance/gig. I can’t recall ever sweating through the palms so much since. In ways, it acts as a reminder to calm me when speaking publicly, be it for production workshops, seminars or electronica-related gigs.
CL - Who are your past and present musical influences and why?
R - As I mentioned earlier, I believe my past musical influences are most likely due to being exposed to classical music before I was born. When I started violin, I dived straight into the academic approach to learning the violin with ABRSM and Trinity. With each grade that I would do, I found myself drawn to choosing baroque compositions as preparation pieces for exams. Looking back, I believe that it was the
CL - When did you first learn to DJ and what struggles did you find, if any?
R - I learnt beatmatching first by syncing a Roland EM-50 arranger keyboard to Essential Mixes playing on my HIFI in the background. The struggle (or blessing some might say, in terms of learning) was keeping MIDI grooves in time by using the tempo minus and plus buttons. When I first got to mix on turntables, it was in Perth in 2000 and my first attempt at beatmixing on Technics involved rapidly moving the tempo slider up and down to “nudge” before I was shown the beauty of pushing the platter and blistering the thumb and fingers with the spindle. The struggle would probably have to be electrocution. I didn’t know about ground lifting in 1999 and someone had a dodgy rig set up. I became the ground.
CL - Any stand out gigs?
R - This may sound strange but every workshop I teach actually feels like a gig. I talk to myself to get in the mode just as I would just before a DJ or Ableton Live gig. My favourite gig in this sense would be local - my workshop for Petrosains. I taught sampling (including items such as rubber chickens, newspaper and wine glasses) as well as noise reduction to a very entertaining and up-for-it audience. In terms of performance gigs, It’s The Ship was off the hook as usual. It was also the first time DJing with a wig on, in my favourite colour - rockstar blue haha
I also really enjoy playing with sessionists. Kuven and Ivon Smith have been my favourite musicians to play with thus far. Our DJ crew always play in key and going beyond just looking at the key of a track and playing along, having a mutual understanding of chord progressions takes a jam session to another level. You’re moving entire sets not just dynamically but harmonically with an instrumentalist - it’s the one thing other that gives me goosebumps apart from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (oh, and memories of/reminiscing my first few rave experiences, jungle or otherwise).
In terms of overseas experiences, it would have to be the time after I had moved away from Perth, coming back a few years later and playing at Ambar in Perth for the first time when I was booked by Fine China (OneAM) was surreal - I used to go to that club all the time and get my dose of broken beats when I was living there in 2000. I have some embarrassing unintentional crotch crossfader stories I may share in person.
CL - Where are you Dj’ing currently?
R - I play at The Locker & Loft, Junglebird and Supperclub with a brilliant saxophonist called Kuven. Mile High Sounds will be starting another residency at Mantra on Saturdays. I also occasionally play at The X and will be playing at Shelly Yu’s.
CL - Describe to us a little bit about Mile High Sounds, when did you start it and where do you see it in five years’ time?
R- Mile High Sounds was founded in 1999 with the aim of bringing comprehensive audio and music technology education to Malaysia without enthusiasts having to spend 20+ months in a diploma course just to learn core concepts which were never really explored in depth within these programmes to begin with. We’ve been operating for just under eight years now and in that time have taught the value of original software. In doing so, we have enabled the purchase of over 100 licenses of Ableton Live (which is a huge win for Malaysia which has always been known as a country of software piracy). We are fortunate to be recognised as an educational institution by stalwarts of the industry such as Izotope, Rob Papen, LennarDigital
CL - Describe a typical day at Mile High Sounds
R - Coffee, a scrumptious breakfast made by my wife (who is also my favourite colleague in the world) followed by teaching 3 music production and sound engineering classes. We have multiple rooms at our facility so depending on the module being taught, I will either be in one of the labs with our students while a mixdown, voice-over or sound design session is happening downstairs. Our rooms are acoustically treated so we can dynamically
CL - What has been the most exciting production you have worked on?
R - There are too many to mention, but there are two favourites. One is the GAPS Cerebral Palsy fundraiser track I produced with Amanda Avyanna in collaboration with Livescape’s Electric Run 2017 titled “We Run The Night”. The other was for Oreo whereby during the production phase we worked with stems from Zee Avi, GAC, Up Dharma Down that were recorded in completely separate studios (and countries mind you) and combined all of their elements into a new arrangement that sounded like they had been together from the start. The challenge and the resulting outcome was a truly unique feeling, and the feedback we received to this day puts a huge smile on my face. Check it out below.
CL - A little birdie told us you are working on a project with Spotify, are you allowed to tell us more?
R - In a nutshell, we’ve been involved with them on the 3D-audio aspect of audio production and reproduction using headphones as the receiving medium. Psychoacoustics are at the core of positional audio trickery and a truly exciting field to be in.