Israeli producer Noam Helfer, who works under the moniker Helfer, makes music that sounds organic and synthetic at the same time. Maybe it’s because he blends together old school analog synths with samples of the natural world, creating arrangements that’ll start with a bird chirping or wind blowing, and end with an artificial crash of mediated electronics. Or maybe it’s because his pulsing, heavy baritone is uniquely unprecedented, but somehow timeless. Whatever it is, it makes for an unpredictable listen.
After releasing a series of albums with his experimental post-rock act Kitzu, Helfer began creating solo work, releasing his debut EP, Air Drops, for BLDG5 earlier this month. The EP is six tracks of burbling, squawking, synth ‘n’ sample work, placated by Helfer’s weighted vox. I caught up with Noam via email to talk about the new EP, performing live and couch-surfing. Helfer embarks on a European tour next week, but for now, you can download his new EP, Air Drops, here.
Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind Air Drops?
Air Drops is my debut EP so it consists of tracks about different periods in my life. I’ve always written my own music, and in 2013 I went through changes in my life. I stopped working with others and started performing as a solo artist. Air Drops marks the first chapter as my solo career blossoms.
It seems like you use a lot of samples of natural sounds (birds, water, etc.) on the EP. What was the decision behind this?
When I’m outside, walking or riding my bike I never have my headphones on. I like the sound and ambience of our world. Every situation and scenario sounds completely different and compiles from different elements that combine into one big crazy symphony. Something about the “clean” and “dry” sound in a recording studio just doesn’t relate to me. In reality there are always other layers going on while the main thing is happening.
So what was the recording process like?
It was a long process, almost three years of recording from time to time, scribbling down words in my notebook, small and big moments of inspiration and flow. Then came the decision to put it all into an EP. From there on, many hours of sleepless night in my studio and then mixing with my amazing brother Shimon Tal who helped me turn my ideas into a complete piece.
What instruments/equipment do you use?
The work in the studio is very different from the live set. I started off as a guitarist, so I use guitars quite often, but usually it quite changes once it’s on Ableton. Besides that I work with analog synths like Korg Trident, Siel and sometimes just use Ableton’s Operator. I also work a lot with my voice, for samples, synths and pads. For the live set I bring an AKAI APC40 and a Fender Mustang 64′ guitar.
How does playing your songs live differ from recording them?
My live set is built so I can change almost everything on the spot, so each concert has a different feel, a different crowd and a different me. If people are into dancing, I give them dancing, if they just wanna hear songs and kick back, I play my songs more chilled. It’s really dynamic, and that’s exactly what makes it so alive and exciting.
Is your song Couch Surfer inspired by actual couch-surfing? Do you have any stories about that?
Actually I’ve couch-surfed only once in my previous band (Kitzu) while touring, but the song is not about that at all. It’s actually in a way about my living room couch, and a day where it felt like getting up would be impossible. But, as always, the music got me up. I started recording and things just got better.
You’re going on a European tour soon. Is there anywhere in particular you’re excited to visit?
The whole tour is really exciting! But there are two places I really wanna see and feel. One of them is Zagreb in Croatia—what goes down there?! The second is Vienna. I imagine it to be such a magnificent city. I’ve heard really good things about it, and we’ll have the chance to stay there for a few days so we’ll get to feel it.
What’s the music scene in Israel like?
Really great musicians/DJs keep on popping up. Most of the artists live in Tel Aviv, but there also good ones scattered all around. There are two or three main “families” that lead the scene in Tel Aviv. BLDG5 is my family, which represents other great artists like Garden City Movement, 3421 and Rotem Or. Another great family is Raw Tapes which focuses mainly on beats, Brainfeeder-style. It’s not London (yet), but Tel Aviv is definitely happening.
How do you think your surroundings affect your music?
Israel is a complicated place, but let’s not get into it.
How have things changed for you since signing with BLDG5?
BLDG5 is a sub-label of Anova Music, the biggest indie label in Israel. I’ve been working with those guys for a while now, as I released two albums with Kitzu on their label. BLDG5 works on almost every aspect of my solo project. Being surrounded by great crews of professional and caring people is one of the best things an artist can wish for himself. It’s really like a family.
What can we expect from your full-length album?
Whenever I work on a new tune I just can’t wait to get it out. But I really want to be able to take the time and build a conceptual album, where each track connects to the previous one. It will all tell one big story, probably an abstract story because I’m not much of a storyteller.