In the Basement with Ghaliz

Ghaliz Filkhair Haris takes us through his studio and reveals how the circumstance that dictates its operation transforms his process. 

Words and photography by Azhari

Ghaliz in his studio

Across rows of tall housings that line up along Neckarstrasse, stands an even taller wall that doesn’t seem to belong to anything or anyone. The wall remains white and plain at the top and gradually filled with colorful graffiti as it reaches the pavement at the bottom. Layers and layers of spray paint hide a couple of doors like a camouflage. They are barely recognisable if not from the stickers that people keep adding on them as time goes by.

One of these doors takes us deeper and lower into the ground. The dark and cold hallway that follows doesn’t seem to integrate with the rest of the building. But this place actually houses more than 20 music studios. Away from the outside, this place doesn’t exchange any noise with what’s beyond the wall. Only a faint, continuous sound barely escapes the many doors on both sides of the hallway. The first door on the right side of the hallway belongs to Ghaliz’s studio.

As he opens the door, Ghaliz recalls how he managed to find this place. “I was at a friend’s concert when someone told me that there’s an available studio to rent. He gave me a number and within a week I have moved all of my stuff here.” 

At that point Ghaliz had been looking for a working space for a while. It’s not always easy to find a long term solution for a studio in Berlin. At the very least there would be a compromise between price, facility, or location. Along the never ending mess that is Living Space in Berlin (or the lack thereof), many creative individuals also struggle to find a space to work and create. The people have learned to utilise unconventional spaces, go a little far from the city, or accommodate a little give-and-take.

“We’re in Neukölln which is great. But this studio is not my own. I share the space with 5 other musicians.” This exact arrangement allows the rent to stay affordable, while providing adequate facility in a strategic location.

Ghaliz in his studio patching cables through his modular synthesiser.

With a flick of a switch, the light reveals a dimly lit room with a long wooden table in the middle. It provides plenty of survace to work with.  Between the table and the wall behind it, stand two sets of monitor speakers and a widescreen. “The table is our main workstation. We also share the screen and the monitors.

“Most of the people mainly use this studio to mix and master their music. They would come with their laptops and simply connect to an audio interface and the speakers. All of us leave the rest of our stuff here. But because I use this place to practice and rehearse as well, I think I’m the one who keep the most things here.”

Each corner of the studio (and pretty much the rest of the space) filled with instruments, cases, cables, and various other type of gears that belongs to all of the musicians that use the studio. At first glance there is no obvious order to be seen. But for our hosts it is undoubtedly simple: each corners and available walls are designated to someone.

Ghaliz takes a couple of bags and cases from one corner and unloads a mixer, cables and modular synth onto the table. He swiftly patches them together and 10 minutes later the desktop turns into a personalised workstation. Working in a shared space compels Ghaliz to optimise his workflow. “I have to be mindful with the time I spend here. For example If I book this space for 5 hours, within 5 hours I also have to allocate some time to set up and clear my gears. I guess it forces me to work more efficiently.”

An adjustable wooden desk serves as the main workstation.

Everything is within a hand’s reach. Ghaliz made sure that he has everything that he needs and more.  “It’s important to be able to keep all of my gears in the studio. Ready to grab, plug them in, and just create.” Able to react spontaneously and quickly is crucial for his music. It is not only reflected in the sound that he makes, but also in the very process that generate said sound.

At the heart of his working desk is a case of modular synthesiser. Patch cables interlace, loop, plugging in and out of effect pedals, mixer, and computer, branching out to unlimited sonic possibilities. Understanding the responsiveness of his sound making makes sense of the unpredictability and versatility of his music. The flexibility of this worklfow facilitate his need to control everything, while still leaving some room for unexpected aural discoveries.

Sharing the space with other musicians also brings other creative perks. “I see what other people do, what they’re using. I’m even allowed to use a couple of instruments that they’ve left here. It inspires me a lot.” A constant search of new sounds is a must for him. He uses every tools and gears that are available in the studio. But that doesn’t stop him to make use of non-music related things that he can find. Chains, cans, wooden blocks, anything.

The only things in the studio that are still untouched in his music and noise making are the yoga ball (that does seem out of place) and a D.I.Y. minibar by the door.

Do-It-Yourself seems to be the main atttitude in this studio. In addition to the conventional acoustic panels, there are many upcycled coffebean sacks filled with foam sticking on the walls. Wood panels and bass traps also supports this studio’s acoustic treatment. Ultimately all of those are an unquestionable necessity for Ghaliz. “For me it’s important to be able to be loud, and not worrying about some neighbors knocking on my door.”

This studio becomes the sanctuary that Ghaliz had been looking before. In this place he finds an atmosphere that he doesn’t find at home or other studios. “In Berlin it’s quite hard to find a place like this, let alone in a place like Neukölln. At first I only want this to be a temporary solution, but everything turned out working pretty well. And now I’m actually pretty happy with this place.”

Read our previous interview with Ghaliz here.
Follow Ghaliz on Instagram @emperorsslaves.

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Not an artist, nor a musician, Azhari orbits around the amazing people in Berlin. Translating his admiration towards them into words.