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Berlin to go, english edition, 02/2017

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TALK OF THE TOWN HOW

TALK OF THE TOWN HOW DOES THE ORCHESTRA GET IN THE BOX? Text: Ines Hein Photo: Native Instruments Pushing the future of sound is Native Instruments’ mission. Around the globe, computer-based music production relies on the virtual instruments of the Berlinbased company Over the past two decades, the Kreuzbergbased digital instrument pioneer Native Instruments (NI) transformed from a niche startup into a global leader. A visit to the courtyards on Schlesische Straße at Berlin’s Osthafen port can help trace the company’s successful DNA. In the industrial heart of Kreuzberg, one steps off the whirr of the early summer streets through a gate and into a shaded complex with five courtyards stretching to the banks of the Spree. Previously home to the 21st District Inspectors of Berlin’s Gas Works and the Singer & Co. Sewing Machine company, NI established its headquarters here in 1999. The red-brick building with its white-rung windows still bears the mark of Germany’s rapid industrial expansion in the early 20th century. Having tapped that tradition, Native Instruments has become a global leader in the music instrument sector. The company creates virtual sound and rhythm solutions for musicians, DJs and producers in the form of software and hardware. Their spectrum ranges from samples, that is, original instrument sounds, to highest-performance DJ software and groove boxes that form the basic rhythmic system of every music production. Everywhere from Burghausen to Bangalore, NI’s product names – “Komplete,” “Maschine” and “Traktor” – represent the innovative spirit associated with products “Made in Germany.” Indeed, theirs is a successful pairing of technical expertise, tonal finesse, digital entrepreneurial spirit and that lifeblood that helps creative minds turn high performance into series manufacturing. The special thing about NI products is the absence of any ability to identify their origin: in other words, their sounds are so authentic that listeners don’t notice they’re listening to digital instruments. “One important part of our success was the fact that in 2004, even though we started out as a software company, we began developing our own hardware,” explains Tom Kurth, CLO and Executive Board Member at NI. “Musicians and composers prefer to work with instruments whose usability they’re familiar with, so we merged the two and equipped the instrumental feel of keyboards and DJ controllers with thousands of digital functions.” Technical advancements 10

set the pace for innovations such as these. The smaller the processors the larger the possibilities. The pressure to constantly develop and achieve success is enormous. NI’s roughly 400 employees at its Berlin location work in 17 different office spaces in four buildings. Their office geography shows very clearly that growth is not a linear process. “Back in the day, you needed a label to produce an album professionally. Today, you can use our instruments and a common computer to produce a high-quality album that is marketable worldwide,” notes Kurth, playing a couple of sound samples. Maximum sound brilliance in the smallest space possible. Twenty-one years ago, NI was a startup consisting of seven founders. Back then, the concept of a “startup” didn’t even exist. Today, with a team of 460 employees, the company counts among the “grown-ups” of the industry. The Berliners even have a number of satellites on the world map, including offices in L.A., Tokyo, Shenzhen, London and Paris. When they were starting out, it was very common for team members to go straight from work to the club – and sometimes from the club straight back to work the next morning. Today, the lives of many of their often long-term employees have changed; some are parents who start their workday at 8am and go straight to the daycare center after work. In a city like Berlin, however, that doesn’t affect the basic beat, just the general rhythm. The lifeblood of their joint endeavor has stayed the same. “We’re definitely not the crazy music nerds we used to be, we see ourselves more as electronic pioneers. What motivates us to this day is the drive to define the future of virtual sound,” argues Kurth. And NI has succeeded in doing just that. Today, English is the language spoken at the office, and the company has experts from over 30 countries on board helping them steer the course of the expanding company. In 1999, one would have said those red-brick courtyards were in a no-man’s-land on the periphery of Berlin; today, Schlesische Straße is the epicenter of the city’s international club scene and creative avant-garde. Kurth is convinced that “a company like ours would not have been possible in any other city in Germany. Berlin has a type of freedom that doesn’t exist elsewhere. It is a city with no social constraints and no curfews. People come together from all corners of the world. The freedom you find here creates fertile soil for creativity and innovation.” From the looks of it, it appears that Native Instruments is opening a new chapter in the history of sound. 11

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