Graduating from our Electronic Music Production and Performance [EMP] programme in 2022, Frederic was barely out of the Catalyst doors before showcasing his project Mantissa Audio at Superbooth – the world's largest trade show and festival for electronic music instruments, taking place annually here in Berlin.
Mantissa Audio began when Frederic started learning about programming, shortly before joining Catalyst and the brand has grown alongside his obsession with digital audio processing. A self professed nerd, Frederic used his time at Catalyst doing what he loves: exploring the hazy space between art and technology. We caught up with Frederic to find out more about Mantissa Audio, how Superbooth and Catalyst have helped Mantissa Audio develop, and what wisdom Frederic could share with others looking to make their artistry economically viable.
Mantissa Audio began circa 2019. Practical, technical and theoretical knowledge that Frederic gained both in and around the EMP curriculum has refined the Mantissa Audio project. Frederic points to the name of their brand, explaining that Mantissas are the bits (0s and 1s) of a digital decimal number (FPU) that represent significant figures.
“Each module idea of mine is intended to realise a concept that could only be done, or done best, in the digital domain. I'm fascinated by the idea that everything in digital processing is built on simply 1s and 0s.”
If this is sounding very technical, it’s because for Frederic this has become a second language after investing more than four years into the topic.
Frederic’s obsession with music in the digital domain is not slowing down – they intend to explore algorithmic music and generative concepts as much as possible. "Euclidean sequences and rhythms are widespread in Eurorack already, and also gaining popularity in the box. I think there are many other similar concepts, based on alternative algorithms, that can be explored as well. Using the Collatz Conjecture, for example, to generate sequences and make a sort of data sonification based system." One prototype Frederic brought with them to Superbooth used the Collatz Conjecture.
Superbooth is perhaps the biggest expo for synthesisers and electronic music technology currently running. Manufacturers come together to announce and demonstrate the latest in their product lines, audio technophiles come to play with the latest goodies and scenesters gather to share their anecdotes. Europe's premier music tech shindig draws crowds from well beyond Berlin and is a technology paradise for music nerds, providing the perfect setting for Frederic to showcase their brand.
“Superbooth definitely informed my practice and the progression of Mantissa Audio.”
Frederic’s approach was to only bring prototypes, instead of officially releasing any modules, using the show to get feedback and gauge interest from the community before going all in. “The feedback I got was incredibly positive, and has given me a fresh motivation to finish the first prototypes right away". Follow the Mantissa Audio story on Instagram.
Mantissa Audio prototypes set up
Details of the one of the prototypes
Frederic was quick to mention the tuition received from Jeff Stern during a third year module as pivotal - during this module Frederic developed two prototypes. “Jeff was incredibly helpful during this process, and I knew all the feedback I was getting from him was always 100% honest and to the point". Robin Koek also took on a main role for Frederic, and Robin’s MAX/MSP course during the second year was influential.
I felt like I could relate a lot to Robin on a technical/artistic level… sometimes I find it difficult to find people who I think share my opinions and level of nerdiness of art/technology.
Our goal is to give our students as many tools as possible to explore their craft from multiple angles. The tools available brought Frederic’s ideas to life - and before coming to Catalyst, Frederic had never heard of Eurorack. Eurorack is a particular format of modular synthesiser originally introduced by Doepfer Musikelektronik. Our music tech shop has six Doepfer cases with modules from various manufacturers, as well as a Roland system 500 plus Eurorack compatible instruments like the Moog Mother-32 and Doepfer Dark Energy. “Eurorack is very expensive, especially for students, so I'm definitely grateful that I had the opportunity to explore modular synths at the school. Even now, my personal system is just a few modules, a fraction of what's available at Catalyst.”
Find out more about our music facilities here.
The full stall at Superbooth
Frederic demonstrating how to use the equipment
Frederic was surprised at the demographic of the crowd at Superbooth and said this was a useful takeaway. "I met many people who will probably play an important role in the development of the company and the release of the first modules. I was expecting to be talking mostly to modular synth artists and enthusiasts, but there were also quite a few shop owners and some manufacturers that I met, who I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet otherwise." They also made it clear it’s best not done alone. "I had some of my peers help me during the show, but next time I will definitely try and have someone who is at the booth with me the whole time".
We were curious if there was any advice for those earlier in their creative journey.
A great starting point for Frederic was an online course they did - Crash Course Electronics and PCB Design by Andre LaMothe. The course taught him foundational skills like how to read a datasheet, and the terminology needed in order to find resources to continue learning about synthesizers. “There was a lot of this basic knowledge about electrical engineering that I had to learn which allowed me to search for other learning resources more intentionally.”
Frederic also pays dues to the city of Berlin, for its restless electronic music scene. “There are so many DIY and electronic parts shops and just the ‘wont-take-no-for-an-answer’ attitude of the city has helped me to feel like my goals are accomplishable.”