Performing In Digital Space

Photos by Omar Mosleh.

Musician and sound editor Karl Mohr uses his creativity and technical know-how to produce everything from chill house to movie explosions.

After 23 years of making music, sound editor and electronic musician Karl Mohr decided to get serious.

That is, as serious as one would expect from someone whose spectrum of musical output ranges from “epic, ballad, goth, electro-type stuff” to “video game music”. Mohr stopped recording under his name and now juggles three vastly different projects: Dead Red Velvet, Blue Visions and Droid Charge.

“It was time to get serious about branding,” said the Roncevalles Village resident. “To have one name and a kind of non-brand covering all that stuff was a bit self-defeating.”

From dark wave goth rock to chill house to machinecore — a vaguely defined form of electronic music characterized by abrasive mechanical noises — Mohr’s musical taste is certainly eclectic.

Mohr realizes his music isn’t for everyone and he says that’s fine by him.

“It gets into electroacoustic weirdness territory and I don’t expect everybody to like that,” he said. “I think if you make fringe music, you never go into it thinking you’re gonna be Lady Gaga or something … God forbid.”

Having come from an artistic family, Mohr was encouraged to pursue music early in life. He played piano from a young age and started composing at 17. He studied musical composition at Queen’s University and also took a course in sound recording at McGill University.

Mohr says his approach to creating is, in essence, manipulating digital space.

In addition to his music, Mohr works as a sound editor and designer. His company, Multibeat Music, offers mastering services to artists and he’s collaborated with Canadian musicians such as Hawksley Workman and Ruth Cassie. He recently did audio work with Thillaye Productions for Rocky Mountain Express, an IMAX film by Stephen Low Company about the transcontinental railway link.

“When I met these IMAX guys, all the tools that we used for building these weird electronic art tracks, were the same tools they were using to build sound design for these films,” he said. “So I was basically set.”

The documentary is centred on how the railway was able to go through the Rocky Mountains. Mohr helped create sounds like explosions or avalanches, often building them from scratch using various samplers, synthesizers and software or by modifying pre-existing sounds.

While the majority of the work is done in a dark, dingy studio, Mohr said his composition process is not too different from performing live.

“I have all these controllers and then I very organically play and shift while I watch the picture,” he explained. “So I’m actually performing in my own way … except I’m manipulating things in digital space.”

That digital space is where Mohr spends much of his time. Despite coming from a background of playing with classic instruments, his parents were supportive when he made the switch to electronic composition. But he remembers a time, such as when drum machines first came out, when many in the music industry had contempt for electronic composers.

“Now you turn on the radio, everything is electronically assembled,” Mohr notes. “A plugin hits everything, almost nothing on the radio is not auto-tuned.”

Mohr appreciates that the digital revolution has allowed his music to reach a wider audience, but at the same time, he says selling music online comes with its pitfalls.

“Considering the number of albums and the number of outlets, I can’t help but feel like stuff must be getting sold where the revenue is not coming back to me,” he said. “And I hate the thought of that.”

As Mohr knocks on wood, he quips that he has generally been able to pay his bills thanks to his sound design and mastering services. Despite this, he said he couldn’t abandon his artistic endeavours to focus on post-audio production because the journey of composition makes it all worthwhile.

“There’s something incredible about building a really great song from the ground up,” he said. “You get those messages from the ether, like cosmic wisdom, and you build this thing and think ‘part of this is me … and part of this I don’t know where I channeled it from’.”

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