Hakan Sunar is a nostalgic and spirited combatant for the things he desires. He suffers from a disease called glaucoma. But being totally blind in one eye and having very little eyesight left in the other, has not hindered him in trailing his passion. Hakan is the founder of the electronic music project called Spiritual Machinery, which he launched as a solo artist in 2017. The project has since grown, and is now a great big revolving door which invites diverse musicians, producers and singers in. An eighties kid, Hakan grew up during the New Romantic era of electro-pop, fronted by artists like OMD, Human League, Ultravox, and many others. His project, Spiritual Machinery, though absolutely embedded in the modern electronic technological era, still retains the nostalgic and vintage feel of analogue synthesizers, sweet melodies and hooky choruses.
All of which they forge on the project’s second single, “Lady of Night”, which was originally recorded in 2017, and then remastered and remixed in October of 2018. They also added a version by Laurent Bourgeon aka Lotuzia, who totally reworked, and infused a dark wave flavor into the track, which is entitled “Lady Of Night (Lotuzia Mix)”.
Lotuzia deconstructed the synths and rebuilt his own sonic package to fit his version of the song, which assumes a darker and edgier tone. The goliath synth motifs are tremendous, instantly burying themselves deep into the folds of your mind.
Composed and produced by Hakan Sunar in collaboration with Indonesian vocalist and co-writer Alice Leonz, “Lady of Night” corrals everything in vogue with the genre’s soundscape — ethereal atmospherics, pulsing synths, throbbing baselines — with infectious hooks and the emphatic vocals and harmonies.
Spiritual Machinery has created a pop song that is as accessible as it is layered. Though the song may appear to have a sweet candy gloss, there’s a substantial bite to be aware of. This isn’t bubblegum pop.
If you have any affinity with the 80’s synth-pop era, this melody will haunt so many dormant emotional recesses of your brain that it will take you back to forgotten times, like seeing a warm face you recognize but just cannot place.
To hear and see a band that appears to be doing what they’re inspired to do rather than dawning forged personas is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise choking industry. Hakan Sunar doesn’t copy or clone an iconic genre of music, like 80’s electro-pop, as much as renovate and restore it to its former glory.
In other words Hakan Sunar and Spiritual Machinery haven’t gone back in time to nostalgically relive the sound. They’ve grabbed and dragged electro-pop forward into right now, and totally invigorated it. At the front of the mix, jazz singer, Alice Leonz – who was handpicked by Hakan for her distinctive voice.
Not only does she do a superb job on lead vocals, but she padded up the tiny little spaces with some fantastic backing vocals which she herself arranged. Leonz’s voice is as vital an instrument as any other in the project’s arsenal, weaving throughout the instrumentation with nary a seam to show for it.
Despite all the close examination afforded it, “Lady of Night” doesn’t have to be analyzed and dissected to be enjoyed. There’s so much to love on its surface that the record could live in a collection and function solely as a catchy pop nugget for the rest of its existence. It is a melodic, driving and euphoric experience.
A kinetic, evolving landscape that’s never less than totally absorbing, whether you’re chilling with a pair of headphones or grooving under the disco lights. There can be very little doubt that with the right direction, continued high production quality, Hakan Sunar and Spiritual Machinery could make a name for themselves in the synth-pop scene and beyond.
INTERVIEW WITH HAKAN SUNAR
- How long have you been performing and recording, and how did the project Spiritual Machinery come about?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): Instruments always had a strong magnetic appeal to me when I was a child. When I was 14 or 15 my father bought me an analog synthesizer, a drum machine and a 4 track tape recorder. I guess that’s where it all started. In my early 20s I’d the opportunity to study music theory and some basic recording technology as well as jamming with several of the towns older and experienced musicians.
Spiritual Machinery started in 2017 when I got feed up tweaking the knobs in my home studio all by myself and instead decided to collaborate with others. SM is more of a collaboration project then a regular band. Currently I’m the only permanent member. The others are a blend of session musicians and friends. Mostly friends.
- If someone has never heard your music, which keywords would you personally use to describe your overall sound and style?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): Probably something like old school pop music with an early or mid 80’s sound.
- If any, which current producers or artists do you listen to and respect for their artistic endeavors?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): As for current I don’t know since I don’t really listen to much contemporary music. But generally speaking there are so many artists and producers I admire. Gareth Jones, Mark “Flood” Elli, Tony Visconti to mention a few producers / engineers. Bowie, Depeche Mode…
- Do you remember the first piece of musical equipment that you actually purchased? And which is the one piece of hardware or software you’re still looking to add to your setup now?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): The first gear I purchased myself was my Roland D-20 synthesizer. On top of my current wishlist is the Moog Sub 37 for hardware and XILS-Lab PolyM for software.
- Where do you do most of your recording and production work? And do you outsource any or all of these processes?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): Most of the recording is done in my home studio. But since SM is a collaboration project there are also recordings taking place in various other locations. Mixing and, especially, mastering is almost always taken care by professionals or semi professionals in their studios.
- For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own style?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): In my early days I wanted to cover my favorite songs. But not only that. I also wanted to sound like the original. As you can imagine it’s not easy to emulate a top notch production with Synclaviers Moogs and SSL consoles when all you got is a one oscilator synth and a four track tape recorder. After a long period of experimentation I started to focus more on the musical aspects. Which was a good thing. I studied music theory, basic recording technology and I even bothered learning notation. At first I though that if I could only get hold on the right gear I would be able to do the same things as my idols. Obviously it doesn’t work that way. Music is to some extent very much about copying or imitating. If you make a blues song you’ve to include certain ingredients required for the song to be recognized as blues. A given formula. Hopefully you can add some of your own musical identity to it. Something that arises from your experiences, preferences and prerequisites. One’s musical identity develops in the same way as one’s personality. the only different is that it requires a certain level of skill to be expressed. While you don’t need any particular skill to express your personality. Your improved guitar playing increases your ability to express your musical identity. It doesn’t, necessarily, creates it.
- What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as Spiritual Machinery and how have they changed over time for this project?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): I want to reach out to people with the music. It’s still a struggle. There’s a veritable tsunami of new songs being released every day. There’s no way people can consume all that. There’s a lot of extraordinary good songs out there that never reaches anyone’s ears due to the cheer amount of releases. As a DIY musician you easily end up in a loophole where you consume more promotion services then actually reaching out with your music.
- Is there a particular song in your collection on which you feel you’ve delivered your most perfect performance, technically and emotionally? And is there maybe one song that you keep thinking you should have done differently in some way?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): I’m very happy with Lady Of Night. Although it’s not a perfect song in a commercial sense. It requires some patience from the listener. I always wanted to do a kind of an 80’s synthpop song. And I think I achieved that pretty well in Lady. I think most listeners would recognize it for what I intended it to be. The Greedy Man is a track that I think deserves a bit more care then what I gave it. It has a good potential. Great catchy hook. I’ll most likely go for a re-make of that one.
- Could you describe your creative process? What do you usually start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas into a song?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): It varies a bit depending on the type of track. But generally I would start out with humming along to a piano improvisation. Then I would make a basic sketch in the DAW. Starting out with a simple beat and a bass or chord track. Laying out the arrangement with a fairly simple orchestration. Then I would build it up from there. Up to a point where I’ve a rough mix. If it’s a vocal track I would then send it to the vocalist who’ll add their parts. Once I’ve the vocal tracks in place I would start trimming the track. Adding fills, layers, additional instruments etc. It’s also in this stage where I start to focus more on the sounds. I try to avoid dealing to much with the sounds in the initial stages. Then I would mix it. Or leave it to someone else to mix it.
- How does Spiritual Machinery find collabrators, and is the project open to anyone?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): Most collaborators are friends or people I know. Occationally there has been hired musicians or engineers. Well, even though SM to some extent is an open project it’s probably fair to say that it’s more of an invite only project. Allthoug I’m always open for proposals.
- What do you feel are the most important tools, voices, and/or instruments you’re using in creating your sound on your latest release?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): For the latest release (In The Dark Of Night) that is a soft ballad I think the most essential element is the vocals. It’s a very scaled down track that builds a lot on the vocals. Both lead vocal and choir.
- How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a producer of music and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? How does this relationship manifest itself during a creation of a song?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): I can’t think about that. If I did I wouldn’t be able to produce anything. I know there’s a high demand for genre defined music. It’s understandable considering the veritable tsunami of daily releases. People need a manageable way to find their way around. If you want a hamburger you’d look for something like McDonald’s. But it isn’t that you can’t have a hamburger on a five star restaurant too if you ask for it. One can get noticed and recognized for what one do or as a supplier for somebody else’s needs. As for the later the competition is already overwhelming. We make pop music and try to keep a good quality to the production. If anyone like what we do that’ll be great.
- What’s your view on the role and function of music as cultural, political and social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of artistry and entertainment?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): In many ways music has becocme a backdrop in our lives. A kind of sonic interior. There’s music for every event. Music for shopping, music for dining, music for training. music for walking to the office etc. Even music for converts. Where the music itself not necessarily is the center of the event as much as the event itself. One the one hand it means music still has a role in our lives and society. On the other hand it also leads us to listen less actively to music. It’s often just there to add to something else. Be it daydreaming, driving or partying. Here the fixation to genres plays an important as well as understandable role. For music to play a role as something that can influence people, other then make us chew faster at McDonald’s to leave place for new customers as soon as possible, it requires an active listener. As a writer you would be happy if anyone bought the magazine with your article. But even more so if someone got back to you and said – hey, I actually read your article and it really brought something to me. And so, that’s what I try to do. Musically and lyrically.
- With more and more musicians creating and releasing music on their own, what are your feelings on how the music business works right now with all the digital platforms and streaming services? Is there anything you would change or are you happy with the way it functions?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): That’s a coin with two sides. It’s great that anyone can produce and release their music without a need of a huge budget. But when it comes to getting noticed or get into the charts not much has changed form the past. The digital revolution has also resulted in a flood of crap as well as a never ending runnel of services that more or less exploits DIY musicians attempts to get noticed. I also think the current playlist culture erodes people’s ability to listen actively to music.
- Do you consider Internet and all the social media websites as fundamental in building a career in music today, and what is your personal relationship with the new technology at hand?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): After an unsuccessful night at the club in my early 20s. No girls, A friend suggested that we should go to a big city and walk up and down a busy street asking every single good looking girl if she wanted to go home with us. One would most likely be ignored, slapped or even worse by nine hundred ninety-nine of them. Eventually the thousand would accept. And that would make up for all the slaps. The idea was that your chances would increase if you act in a place where there are a lot of people. This is how promotion services speaks to us. Sign up to our service and we’ll promote you to one billion people in China. Sounds great. Right ? the point is that it doesn’t work like that. Not only because there’s another one billion people already trying to getting noticed in China. But also because you’ve to get attention from the right person at the right time and place. The first girl might had said yes if it wasn’t on that day on the street. Moreover. On social media people even have a hard time catching up with their friends. Add to that there is a never ending stream of other things that is calling for people’s attention. It won’t hurt to put up a sign on a crowded street. But one shouldn’t expect to much of it. Facebook and websites are good as a reference point. In a way I’d compare social media and the digital technology as if someone gave you access the every spot on the planet. But that doesn’t mean you’ll actually be able to reach more then a very small percentage of all those places.
- How essential do you think video is in relation to your music? Do you have a video you would suggest fans see, to get a better understanding of your craft?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): In this visual oriented time we’re currently living in videos of course are of importance. Recently I released a new video for the song As The World Goes Around. It’s made by a talented woman named Stephanie Price. The great thing is that we’ve access to a small theater and a few actors. So this time we where able to create a bit more of a “story”. In that sense I think it’s our most interesting video. I like the film for Lady Of Night a lot too. It doesn’t have the same connection to the song as the newly released video. But it has a great flow and feel. Besides the model Natalia Garba is someone you would love rest your eyes on.
- How strict are you with genres? Are you comfortable working with most styles and what is your preferred EDM style?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): I’m not at all strict with styles. But as for genres I’d say it’s probably fair to brand SM’s music as pop. Or perhaps old school pop. I guess it has a bit of an 80’s feel to it. As for EDM. Well, I’m not very familiar with all it’s sub and sub sub genres. I’ve done a few techno tracks. But I believe they’re more influenced by electronic minimalist music from the past. Acts like Front 242 and Cabaret Voltaire did this sort of things more then 30 years ago.
- What do you find most rewarding about what you do with Spiritual Machinery?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): Just making the music is a reward in itself. You start out with nothing and after a few hours there’s a song there. That’s really magic. Also, when listening to an old track and realize it’s actually not bad at all. Or when someone I don*t know tells me they really liked a song or video.
- What would you consider a successful, proud or high point in your endeavors so far?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): Oh, I don’t really know what that would be.
- Do you have a specific musical vision or dream that you’re wanting to realize in the future?
Spiritual Machinery (Hakan Sunar): I’d like to build a better home studio. The current setup is a bit of a compromise due to lack of space. Once I’ve done that I’d like to record a whole album. I’m a bit Kraftwerk-ish in that sense that I excuse my slow working pace with technical issues.