Shani Berger in his home studio
Shani Berger in his home studio

March 14th, 2022

ToneGym Hero: Shani Berger

21-year-old composition student with a dream of becoming a video game composer, currently from a small town in Israel. Shani Berger is this month's ToneGym Hero!

Who are you, and Where are you from?

My name is Shani Berger, and I’m currently a 21-year-old composition student living in a small town in Israel.

How did you get into music?

Ever since I can remember, I liked music. My mother used to sing in her youth, and so did I. At around the age of 11, my parents recommended that I start playing an instrument, so I would be able to accompany myself. I started taking guitar lessons, and over time I found myself putting more and more focus on the guitar until eventually, I reached the point where I saw myself more as a guitar player than a singer.

But I was a lazy student, and it wasn’t until I went to a jazz youth program during 12th grade and got a metaphorical slap to the face that I started taking my playing more seriously. When people ask me how long I've been playing, I have two answers. I touched the guitar for the first time when I was 11, but only once I was 18 did I truly start playing.

Shani Berger

After graduating high school I did mandatory national service, some of which I spent as a classical guitar teacher. After I finished that, I took a year off to work and find myself. During that year I took a course in home production in Cubase, which helped me gain the skills necessary to single-handedly produce my own EP.
Today, I’ve just finished my first semester as a composition student in a well-known music school in Israel, with the hopes of transferring to Berklee after two years, having an absolute blast all the way through.

What do you like to do for fun outside of working on music?

I have two main hobbies outside of music. The first, and biggest of the two, is playing video games. I first started playing video games when I was about 13 years old, and I immediately fell in love with the medium. I’m not a fan of big multiplayer games, but rather of story-rich single-player experiences. I love the stories that can only be told by the fact that you yourself are playing them. And of course, some video games contain some of the best music I’ve ever heard.

I also enjoy reading books. I finished the original Dune series just before the new movie came out (which was amazing!), and I also like reading more “serious” books about stuff like music theory or philosophy. Though my favorite works are probably the webserials written by John C. “Wildbow” McCrae, such as “Worm” and “Pale”.

What's your most useless skill or talent?

I can move my ears. One day I noticed a weird tension in my ears and moved them. Ever since then I can move them freely. I’ve actually used it to send secret signals to teammates in card games, so I’m not sure how useless it is after all!

What inspires you to keep making music?

Do you know this feeling, when a song hits you in just the right place? When I get this feeling, I remember why I want to create music in the first place; to create this magical feeling myself. I don’t really care about performing, even though it’s fun. And I’m not very good at jams, even though I want to be. But sitting down in my studio and creating something beautiful is unlike anything else in the world.

Shani Berger in his music production studio

If you could sit down to a session with any artist, who would it be?

I would kinda cheat and say all the members of Radiohead. You can consider them as one “Artist” entity, right? I absolutely love their work. OK Computer was one of the defining albums of my life (so far!), and really opened my ears to new sonic possibilities. Being able to sit down with Thom Yorke and the band would be a dream come true for me.

Any habits you have before starting a session?

I have the amazing fortune of having my music studio in a separate room from the one I sleep in, which really helps me get in the “zone” when starting a session. Every time I go to my studio, I have a kind of little ritual of actions I make, in the same order. I say hello to my instruments and equipment, and put the kettle on while talking to the room about my day and plans for the current session. I find talking out loud like this really helps me put things in order. Then, by the time I finish setting up all I need for the session (usually in the same order) the kettle is ready, so I pour the hot water into the pre-prepared glass of coffee/tea and start my session!

I usually like to start with some administrative stuff, like checking emails and my schedule, and then warm my ears up with some workouts right here, on ToneGym!

What have you been working on lately?

For the past few months, I had been focusing almost exclusively on my studies in school. Writing counterpoint, harmonizing bass lines, writing for solo string instruments, and of course, ear training. I really want to put in the effort while I’m at music school and get good grades (unlike high school…).

I’ve just finished my two biggest assignments of the first semester, which we're writing a 5 minutes classical guitar duet, and orchestrating a piano piece for a string quartet. I’m really happy with how both turned out!

If you could pick one, what would be the theme song of your life?

It might have to be the song “Egospect” by the artist Sheep, Dog and Wolf (Daniel McBride). Everything in this song, from its atmosphere to the guitar riff and beautiful brass, and to the amazing vocals just check all the right spots for me. And the lyrics of the song touch on some very close-to-home struggles I had and still have, while always trying to look forward. 

“Facing forward, it’s not so bad"

What is your favorite musical instrument?

This is a really tough question. I really like the guitar, especially the sound of a nylon-stringed one, but I find the piano to be so versatile and hauntingly beautiful as well… Can I pick both? :)

What is your favorite ToneGym feature?

Probably the contests. I find the act of recognizing intervals on the spot, without thought, to be very different from “just” recognizing them all the time in the world. They can be very frustrating at times, and the competition is always fierce (you know who I’m talking about!), but I feel that they are extremely rewarding.

What does the future hold for Shani Berger?

For the next 3-4 years, a lot of studying, practicing, and enjoying the life of being a music student. However, once I feel more comfortable composing, and I actually have spare time outside of school, I want to start pursuing my dream of being a video game composer!

Comments:


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Congratulations! Great interview! It's nice to learn more from the guy who is currently outperforming almost all of us on almost every contest...You're doing great. I hope you reach your goals and dreams and wish you a bright future. AND if you finally manage to have Radiohead (the whole entity) for tea, give me a call and I'll bring the biscuits!
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Benedek Kiss
Mar 15
Congrats!!!!
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David Alva
Mar 15
Congratulations Shani!
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Shani Berger
Mar 15
Thank you everyone! 😊
It's been really great working out my ears here, and giving and receiving help on all sorts of subjects. See you all at the gym!
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Colin Aiken
Mar 16
Congratulations!
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Kaleb Stock
Mar 16
This is awesome! thanks for sharing!

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