An Interview with Alex Otterlei Feature - The Next Level

An Interview with Alex Otterlei

Hear from the man behind Xyanide's haunting soundtrack.

Article by Aaron Drewniak (Email)
November 24th 2005, 04:10AM

You can find out more about Alex Otterlei and his works on his official website, though he was kind enough grant me the following interview:

Let's begin at the beginning. How did you decide on a life in music?

Alex: I guess it all started by the fact that I was trying to find a way to tell a story. As I child, I felt very compelled to writing fantastic stories, and later on I also started drawing cartoons, preferably on the same fantastic topics such as dragons and dinosaurs, knights and spaceships. I actually went to art school to become a draughtsman, but there it all went wrong. You see, one of my friends' older brother had a little music studio up the attic, an he allowed us to "play around" there every once and a while. It was there that I picked up a guitar, touched a keyboard for the first time...and realized: this is the perfect medium that I've always been looking for, the purest way to convey the images and stories that dwell in my mind...

So I soon started skipping school, spending more and more time jamming in the little studio. I discovered I was able to actually write songs, despite the fact that I had no music education whatsoever. More so, I "heard" each and every instrument in my head, the only problem was I couldn't play all those instruments well enough to really represent what I was sounding between my ears. So the next step was: sampling, keyboards, and MIDI-sequencing, which at that time (1987) was really quite new!

I abandoned school, started all sorts of jobs in factories and restaurants. Yeah, even played guitar on the streets for a while in order to a)survive and b) buy my first professional midi-studio. How's that for street credibility?

Ouch, sounds pretty rough. When did all this hard work start to pay off?

Alex: ...I guess to see if I could really create a whole album, I challenged myself to tell one of my favourite legends, the story of King Arthur, in music. In three months. I don't remember why exactly, I gave myself a hard time with a self-inflicted deadline, but it sure paid off later on, when deadlines became real. Arthur was finished in about three months, and I invited some friends for a listen. They were so enthusiastic that I decided to send a copy to Music Maker, a leading music magazine in Holland. And guess what...Arthur became demo of the month, and letters poured in from people who wanted to order the tape. I couldn't believe my eyes!

And later on, those same people wrote back to me, to thank me for the music, saying how it had moved them in many ways. That touched me really deeply, and has probably given me the confidence and belief that kept me going, even through the darker times.

Personally, it still amazes me the way works of art can inspire emotion. What music has managed to move you, and have an influence on your work?

Alex: that time (early 90's), I was very much into playing roleplaying games. You know, Dungeons & Dragons. We always used music to enhance the mood of our game-settings, preferably great soundtracks from John Williams such as Star Wars, some Jerry Goldsmith, but also works from Basil Poledouris, like Conan the Barbarian and Hunt for Red October. Oh, and of course King Kong from John Barry. I guess these composers had, each in their own way, quite an influence on me. Williams for his melodic and orchestrating skills, Goldsmith for his hybrid sound (he used synthesizers quite often together with orchestra, as in Legend), and Basil for his raw, powerful epic sound.

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