When I arrived at Catalyst on my first day I was a little nervous. I’d just arrived in Berlin the night before, couldn’t figure out the train tickets, so I got the tram ridiculously early and arrived there a bit after 9am (welcome time is 10am).

My new school is in an industrial area; the tram travels past huge factories with huge pipes on the way. Walking around historic Funkhaus I already felt inspired and at home.

These buildings were where the GDR polished their audio broadcasts and captured sonic culture. So I wandered around took photos of the sleepy buildings and surrounds. A couple of other nerdy nervous students were also quietly waiting by the door or wandering around.

There’s a huge concert hall building (we’re not allowed in), a waterfront area alongside the Spree (paddleboards and kayaks are available for hire), and generally lots of overgrown paths and huge industrial spaces. Catalyst takes up a portion of two floors in a large building – but not all! There are lots of blocked or taped up doors. If you peek over the containers topped with Trabants you can see a bombed-out concrete structure that would be great for raves.

Eventually another tram arrived, then another, each one delivering more students than the last. Trams go every twenty minutes here. A few staff members snuck through the throng – this crowd is not asking questions, they’re waiting for the 10am signal. I had wandered in and out of the building earlier to confirm I was in the right place, and that no one was here yet. Finally at 10:01 a couple of us busted through the doors to sign in – collect an A4 printout of today’s timetable (and an urn coffee, bonus). Once I’d signed in I started wandering around the halls.

On to the course! It’s a gentle pace, and fairly wide open in scope. We have a theory/history class each week, two labs on hardware and software synthesis, and a discussion session for our weekly 1-minute sketches. Listen to mine here.

In our first week we covered some important fundamentals – field recording and musique concréte, and subtractive synthesis. For my sketch I went with the inspiration that the field recordings and industrial vibe gave me. I edited up a bunch of sounds to complement a rhythm that was bouncing around my head on that Monday.

A good chunk of this course is focused on open studio time. You can book by the hour – there are lots of rooms with nice monitors. And I get to play with a library of synthesisers, drum machines and sequencers (and cables and power supplies). Later in the week I layered on a live synth line to emphasise the rhythm, using a Doepfer Dark Energy 2, and “playing” a minimal melody using an LFO. Super techno – nothing is tuned.

It’s called Parkplatz-Schlurfen because one of the signature sounds (“chak-shh chak-shh”) is my course mate Greg shuffling around the gravel when we were recording.