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Interview w/ Rikard Jönsson & Svante Stadler of Forever 89, Creators of Visco

I met Rikard Jönsson a few years ago when he was working at Ableton. The company came to my home studio to research how musicians were using the DAW. We became good friends and stayed in touch over the years - bonding over our shared affinity for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Suffice to say, when he told me he was working on a new plugin with his friend, Svante, I was really excited for him and his new adventure in music.

Without further ado, Rikard Jönsson and Svante Stadler talk about Forever 89 and Visco.

Rikard Jönsson in his home in Berlin
Rikard Jönsson in his home in Berlin.

Svante Stadler by Annika Bäckström
Svante Stadler by Annika Bäckström.

Synth History: Both of you have experience working at Ableton and Teenage Engineering - what inspired you to start Forever 89?

Rikard: We’ve both been standing on the shoulders of giants for almost two decades each. Forever 89 is the culmination of our long-standing dream to connect and contribute even more directly to music-makers. All while hopefully nudging the technology behind into a new direction as well.

My observation, and the embryo for our engagement, is that UX methodologies and technology move faster than most instrument builders can adapt to. I think we both wish that more companies were talking about and daring to take more chances on what the future of music-making could look like.

Svante: So, with Forever 89, we want to build products that help you make more music faster. It’s OK if you feel that you need more oscillators, envelopes, LFOs, or whatever else to progress with your sound, and many new products will give you that. Still, our philosophy is to focus on process, fun, flow, feature reduction, and progressive disclosure. I mean, it’s a hot take, but I think a lot of music instrument manufacturers should be more opinionated and do their users a favor by saying, “Hey, here’s our new and updated product, and it has way fewer features, so you can focus on making music instead.” Of course, it’s easy for the underdog to say stuff like that, and ultimately, we all have bills to pay, but I do hope Forever 89 can be one of the companies that inspire others to think more holistically about music-making.

Rikard: With all that in mind, we’ve both been on the lookout for people and ideas for a long time. When we met, it was apparent that we shared many values and beliefs. As a bonus, we’re both musicians! Among many things, Svante made one of the biggest viral hits of 2015, and I’ve been making utterly silly instrumental pop music for many years. Now, we get to design the musical instruments we think there’s a need for! I’m also extra proud that this is a pan-European collaboration between myself in Berlin and Svante in Stockholm.

Svante: We chose to call ourselves Forever 89 to pay tribute to the era of groundbreaking innovation that characterized the late 1980s and early 1990s. It reflects the rapid transformation of the world during that time, marked by milestones such as the emergence of the internet, breakthroughs in genetic engineering, the widespread availability of GPS systems, the historic fall of the Berlin Wall, and many other significant events.

This applied to technology, too, of course. Being born in the late 70s, I still remember early home computers struggling to run plenty of software released just a year or two later!

Rikard Jönsson's Buchla Easel, Elektron Octatrack and Elektron Syntakt.
Rikard Jönsson's Buchla Easel, Elektron Octatrack and Elektron Syntakt.

Rikard: In our music-making processes, we’ve also embraced the idea that less is more, which also reflects how we want to design products. Fewer machines, less software, and less thinking—it’s more about trust and intuition. We’ve bought and sold so many instruments over the years that we both kinda stopped counting.

Still, for me, there are a few things that I am keeping forever, such as the Buchla Easel, an Elektron Octatrack, and a Roland SH01A. The first one because of the immediate relationship I formed with it — it became my instrument from the first time I picked it up. The second because of the flexibility - if you, ironically, double-down on letting it just do one thing at a time, and the third because it aligns with my core value that simplicity drives my music-making process. Also, sliders for envelopes are hard to beat.

Svante: Although we’re starting this project by releasing a software drum machine, we’re framing ourselves as a creative studio. We’re pretty serious about our ethos of making people make more music, and we think that saying we’re a music technology company risks narrowing the field too much of how we can support musicians. Who knows what we will do next! I mean, we do, but you get the point.

Rikard: So, if you are interested in similar topics and are on a similar journey, please get in touch — we’d love to exchange perspectives!

Synth History: Can you tell me about your first product, Visco - what is it?

Svante: As music-makers and working a lot with percussion, it felt natural for us to start here. And when it comes to shaping drums, using the right samples can be the fastest way to the sound in your head. But altering them has its limitations. On the other hand, if you use synthesized sounds, you get all the flexibility in the world, but not everyone can design sounds without the right expertise. Hence, Visco was born — a VST/AU sample-modeling drum machine that can resynthesize any sample you supply, allowing you to focus on the creative process. Just pull in the samples you already love, and we will convert them instantly so you can re-shape them however you want.

Rikard: We see it as an equal parts designated beat maker, competent sound design tool, and live performance drum machine. In the middle of the interface, you’ll find the blob - a malleable representation of your sound on a 2d grid. Attached to the blob are character and shaping tools similar to modern UI design software, such as a hand, magnet, and eraser tool, allowing you to grab, pull, and push your sound however you please.

Svante: The included toolbox enables you to be creative and precise with sound design: bend and stretch samples across frequency and time, merge the qualities of two sounds into one, or fine-tune any sound to fit your mix. Each sound in Visco can consist of up to two sample sources, which you can freely mix to find the right timbre — or use the onset of one sound and the tail of another to create something truly unique.

Rikard: It also has a built-in sequencer with note randomization, a generous modulation matrix, and a capable mixer section with high-quality effects to get you going. The performative macro section allows you to take full control of your sound while on stage. It can receive external MIDI and send each sound out on separate buses for easy integration into your existing workflow. We think it's is a novel, capable, and playful way to engage with creative sound design and performance to make your music sound more like you.

Svante: Some people have also asked if it’s an AI-based technology. Although we’re both fascinated by machine learning, our technology is deliberately hand-built for the purpose of making drum sounds. It’s fast, easy on the CPU, and replicates - not only - drum sounds with great precision. We aim to support Visco with many updates over the years and jokingly said that we strive to be the Photoshop for sound, although we’re still in MS Paint territory. In short, there’s plenty more to come!

Synth History: If you could build a dream product - even if some of the technology hasn’t been invented yet - what would it be?

Rikard: We are both fascinated by anything that removes thresholds for music-making! It might sound boring at first glance, but imagine things such as a sync protocol between machines from different manufacturers that literally just works when the machines are next to each other. Or how about a standardized, super-low latency wireless audio protocol? Or the perfect motorized faders that are cheap, reliable, and sustainable.

Svante: For us, the focus is less on more features and more on how a product can support your music-making journey. We’re jealously looking at the gaming industry here too — if we can make music creation as fun and engaging as video games, then we’re ready to retire.

Rikard: Finally, the ultimate pasta maker would be great too.

Learn more about Forever 89 and Visco here.

Synth History Exclusive.

Interview conducted by Danz.


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