Writing and performing songs is a way for me to communicate. When compared to communicating in normal life, I feel like I’m able to express myself and my feelings in a very different way when I’m writing and singing songs. Through art, humans are able to more easily break out of their more habitual roles and communicate in a way that gets messages across very directly or just differently. For me, that’s through writing music, singing, and playing guitar, and it’s enabled me to deal with my own thoughts and feelings as well as with the outer world in a more thorough way. And it’s also enabled me to meet a lot of interesting people, some of whom have become very close friends that I dearly love and would not want to lose.
Growing up, I was fascinated by the idea of making computers work the way I wanted to, molding them into something I found useful or even beautiful myself. I started using programming languages at quite an early age, first using QBASIC under DOS before moving on to writing small games for Windows and then Linux. I liked programming because it was a creative and mathematical tool at the same time, something that followed certain simple rules but could be used to create something powerful. Being mathematically minded, I chose physics as my major at university, moving from Braunschweig to Heidelberg and then eventually to Geneva in Switzerland, where I obtained a PhD in theoretical physics. During my studies and PhD work, I still pursued computer stuff as a hobby and eventually decided to move back to it as my main career.
When I finished my PhD at the University of Geneva, it became clear to me that my professional future would be in computer science. I applied at several companies in different locations in Europe and interviewed with them before deciding to work for my current employer, who happens to be based in Munich. Munich is one of the technological hubs in Germany, with many IT and tech companies having offices here. The IT community is quite active and there are many meet-ups, conferences, and other events, offering many possibilities for learning (or just sharing a good beer). The city itself is very liveable, big enough to meet all kinds of people with shared interests, close to the mountains, and with many parks and green spaces.
Outside of my job, I love music. I come from a very musical family, my parents both being musicians and my brother and I both learning musical instruments. When I was a child, my parents wanted me to learn a musical instrument but left the choice of which one to me – I chose the drums. Later, I expanded onto guitar, bass guitar, and vocals.
As a child, I listened to my dad’s record collection, with albums mostly from the 1960s and ’70s from artists such as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane. As a drummer, I was inspired by Keith Moon, The Who’s drummer who was known for his virtuosic, wild, and unconventional drumming style. Neil Young was a big influence on my guitar playing and songwriting. Later, I moved on to admire more modern artists such as Sufjan Stevens Radiohead, or MGMT. Current indie artists that I enjoy are Aldous Harding, Let’s Eat Grandma, and Superorganism.
I started to play the drums when I was about nine years old; around the age of fourteen, I started taking guitar lessons. There were always different guitars lying around my parents’ household, and I just picked them up and tried to compose songs in the same style as I heard them on my dad’s vinyl records. Expanding from a purely rhythmical instrument towards something where I could experiment with melodies, harmonies, and chords was crucial for me to become more musically creative and expressive and allowed me to take more initiative, starting my own bands that would play songs that I had composed or helped compose.
I have played in bands for almost as long as I have played musical instruments. Sometimes, these bands were bands that someone else started, and sometimes, they were vehicles to play my own songs – in this case, it happens quite naturally that I have to assume a bit of a band leader role, which means organising rehearsals, gigs, and recordings and coordinating collaborating musicians.
The songs I write usually start out as some kind of folk songs (that’s probably still the Neil Young influence). However, depending on the collaborators around, they often end up being molded into some kind of indie-pop songs or even electro-pop. I also sometimes dabble in electronic music, completely based on synthesizers, computers, and drum machines.
How I write my songs varies – often, I just try out a bunch of chord progressions until some sort of melody starts to emerge by me humming along randomly. This then often leads to some preliminary lyrics, but I often come back to them afterwards and change them quite drastically or even completely rewrite them. Sometimes, I also have a particular idea or theme that I want to write about, which then leads to some lyrics that I have to find a melody for.
My most memorable experiences were always the human connections that came with music. Those can be meeting new people by playing music together, meeting people that talk to me after a gig, or people contacting me when they liked my recordings. Sometimes, this can happen in unsuspected or surprising ways. For example, once I performed with my band in Geneva at a local community festival where many families with kids happened to be present. This was not our usual audience, but then some of the kids were so impressed by our performance that they were replicating it during the concert in front of the stage – pretending to sing into a microphone, jumping around just like we were. For the last song, I invited them all on stage and we danced and sang together. Afterwards, some parents told me “it’s so nice that you were doing something for the kids”. Not quite how we expected the gig to turn out, but fun nevertheless.
In the future, my goal with music is to stay open-minded, express myself, communicate, and continue to meet interesting people. I hope I will always continue learning and not get stuck to one particular direction or style of music and songs.
There are a number of parallels between writing music and developing software. Both are inherently creative endeavours – one can start with nothing and develop virtually anything. I guess in my current job, I cannot just develop any software I want due to certain business requirements – but the same thing would be true for someone composing music for a living, e.g. for film or commercial purposes. Both music and software development also tend to follow certain rules or building blocks that have been established a long time ago, which are however flexible enough to express the most complex programs, ideas, or feelings. Both activities profit immensely from human collaboration and interactions, and managing and shaping them is a big part of creating an interesting band or a successful software project. Unfortunately, it is also true that both the pop music community and the software industry suffer from some of the same problems in our society, in particular insufficient diversity. Starting bands as well as writing software is still being dominated by white males, which is so much lost potential.
I would definitely say that my experiences with music have been beneficial to my technological career. They would have been beneficial to any career – making music and meeting people through music has helped me become the person that I am today.
Living in Munich has supported my passion for music, as it is a big city with a number of musicians. I have moved cities quite a lot during my life already and, so far, my experience has always been that once you start meeting one or two musicians to collaborate with, things start moving and you get to meet other musicians through them. Munich hasn’t been different. Sometimes, it takes a while to meet the right people, but eventually, it happens.
Finally, my advice to anyone interested in learning the guitar or starting to write songs is to just do it. If you are passionate about it, you will automatically stick with it; if not, you learned something new about yourself. When starting to write songs, it’s quite natural to first more or less copy material that one likes. That’s not a bad thing, especially in pop and folk music. It takes a while to develop more of a distinct style and voice, but one should never be afraid to be influenced by others, share experiments and initial attempts. Especially with modern technology nowadays, it’s very easy to record one’s own songs and share and collaborate with people online.
To listen to some music from David’s bands, Le Fuzzball and Bring Your Bear, be sure to check the following Spotify and Bandcamp links: