Interview – deStrict

For issue 16 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular I asked deStrict (a modular using techno producer in Italy) some questions for an interview about his work and use of modular. Here’s the interview. 

I met deStrict as he was getting into eurorack and he was adding that to his studio to work alongside other equipment and software creating more minimal techno. So I wanted to talk to him about life pre and post modular regarding music production arm talk about the use of eurorack in a production context.

Hey Igor, so first of all tell us who you are and what it is you do. It’s easy to skip that as we’ve been speaking for sometime now but it’s good for everyone reading to have an idea of who you are.

Nice to meet you all I’m Igor Lessio some of you know me as deStrict or S!LK or 50% of SKMK I’m a music producer and also DJ. But since i started the music production school most of my time is devoted to that so let’s say I’m a retired DJ and music producer/teacher 🙂 I run Opium Audio and I’m the A&R of the Involuntary movement project alongside Chstiandi Stefano. We can practically say that music is my life.

So how did you get into music early on and what made you lean towards minimal techno?

Back in the days I was 6 and my father was used to keep me awake during Folk bands “after party”. Is where they get aware I was made to play percussions, then music school then bored to death by classics… then late after techno (also hardcore) DJ and party boy. Minimal came form a romantic walk under rain in Milano, I remember I entered a shop called Fluxus and they was selling ambient stuff so instead of get back to the rain I listened some of the CDs… and boom! Fuck there was a way to groove without and kick drum?? WOW I must learn that. So even if I made various genre in my various aliases my love if for small super detailed grooves and 8am after party music.

Before getting into modular synths what were you using for music production?

Like everybody I had a many transitions. Back in the days machines and clock problems then computer only then computer and machines but I was keeping me far form modules for many reasons like the price and all that people that keep you scared telling you will never finish a track with them.

And what was it that started to interest you about Eurorack modules?

I was at a Ricardo Villalobos concert and after listen what he was doing and producing in real time I decided to try it. Then you know, you give me a lesson one day ahaha. The use of modules and their simply but really effective workflow was perfect for my way of work.

Did you have any frustrations or issues working with Eurorack or did it slot into your workflow pretty easily?

Euro slipped in my workflow with absolutely no issues, I can do in same project everything form Euro to sampling to computer and not a single clock issue or problems. I’m pretty happy with that! Plus the real frustration comes from looking into my 300000 samples and find something…. you know that kill me for real!

How are you using your Eurorack system? For drums, custom synths, FX etc?

I use them for everything from synth to drones to percussion. About FX I prefer pedals or VST I still think that there is a lot of work on eurorack to achieve their usability. But you know this is my point of view. Now Eurorack has firmly taken place as a key part of your studio do you wish your system could do anything else? My studio will do what I do, instruments are something that are there to help your expressions but you cannot be a slave to that hardware. I will keep getting more modules I have some in mind but to be really honest, talking about my own style I already have enough to make records till 2050 🙂

To finish on tell people where they can find your music and more about you.

Well if you play records so you can find me as deStrict at this link https://goo.gl/wIa88K on Decks and all major and minor record stores. But if you are my friend you can also play my unreleased music in you next set 🙂 I’m thinking I will avoid releasing my stuff and keep giving it to the right people to test out, itwill be even more underground that way!

 

Interview – BASTL Instruments

This interview is from issue 15 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular from December 2016.

Hey Václav, good to be speaking you and asking some questions for the magazine. First can you tell us about about your own background?

We started the company together with Ondřej and we played in a band together but also went to art school together. So basically the background is art and music. The good thing about art school was that I had a lot of time to learn how to do electronics and programing and from doing video-synthesizers and mechanical installations I shifted to making synthesizer, because I really needed to focus my energy towards music.

What made you start designing modules and launch the company BASTL?

At first we started a project called Standuino (est. 2011) which was focused on the local history of DIY movement in contrast with the global trends that came with the maker movement. The name itself connected the Arduino (prototyping platform) and a name of our hero Standa Filip – a local guy that was making synths, drum machines, theremins and electric guitars since late 70s. With the Standuino project we have been doing workshops, art exhibitions and concerts all around Europe, but at the workshops we were building synths anyway. So at first the idea was to make workshops and art but then we came to the point: “Hey! we are actually making synths and people want to buy them?!” we decided to start from scratch and make a real company – Bastl Instruments.

Eurorack was actually the format of choice for my diploma project in which i wanted to translate physical events into simple language (control voltage obviously) with sensors, and than i wanted to influence the physical environment with the same language – motor controllers. I build a rack with bunch of modules to demonstrate that you can use modular environment to reconfigure physical ecosystems. And of course some of the modules were making sound as well.

Your line of modules has grown quickly. Was building full systems a goal at the start?

Well I always wanted to create complete musical instrument/environment for myself. It took a long time between I started to turn circuits into modules and the time when we were ready with the panels, knobs, graphics, manuals and everything else. So it piled up and then we released 10 modules at once and it appeared to work as a complete system already. Also the motivation behind making the modules in the first place was that I had a lot of friends here in Czech republic that wanted to build that stuff also, but couldn’t afford to buy it. And we all needed all the basic modules, like mixers etc.

We can’t have an interview without me asking about the wooden panels, what made you choose wooden panels?

So the story is that we have a CNC machine in the house that we use for several other projects and when we were prototyping the panels we used it just to check that all the holes are in the right place so we could order some metal panels. But the moment we saw how it looked and how it behaved it was decided! But than it also took some time to figure out the right printing method and the type of varnish we need to use so it stabilizes the color and makes it really durable.

You have even made custom knobs for the modules, are the aesthetics of your systems something you make a priority?

Well I guess our art background makes that aesthetic stuff automatically 🙂 so we focus more on the instruments themselves and that seems to be the priority. Luckily we have awesome friends that do all our graphics – the Anymade Studio and they really push the look of our stuff and make our brand something special. They also enjoy working with us because we are not normal clients and they can afford to make more extreme jokes in more progressive designs.

I think BASTL deserve an award for the most creative and fun stands at shows. Where did the idea to do something so different come from?

Haha thanks ! Well if you look at my diploma project it must become obvious https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUeHUuyPa84

Basically it is art installation that I finished my art school with. From this point to our show stands there is very direct link. We tried it the first time and it simply worked. I also really enjoy making these installations. At Superbooth for instance we showed the Hendrikson module that interfaces with the guitar and guitar pedals, but we didn’t want people play guitar at our booth so I made the robotic self playing guitar that you could sequence with a modular. That was fun!

As well as providing modules to interface with external devices (instruments, motors etc) you’ve released the bitRanger and Kastle. Which are both stand alone devices. Will we see more stand alone devices in the future?

I need to mention Peter Edwards a.k.a. Casper Electronics at this point. He is a circuit bending legend and really innovative thinking instruments designer that happened to move to Brno to work with us on synths and instruments. The bitRanger is his design that we released and the Kastle is my design that is obviously inspired by the bitRanger. We have always been doing standalone instruments and to be honest it is much easier from the design perspective to make a module than to make a tabletop thing (that is why it takes so long sometimes). Now especially with the bitRanger and the Kastle we wanted to address the situation of starting modular user (so you don’t need so many modules and expenses when starting to have something fun to play), but also somebody who doesn’t have more space in the rack (so you get an external device to enhance it).

Personally I like the wooden panels, they look and feel great but it’s hard to escape people asking for aluminium panels. Will you offer those in the future?

Yes we will ! It took us really long time because all our production is local or in house (pcbs,assembly, panels) so we were trying to find somebody local, too. That turned out to be impossible so we started to look further and found a company in Germany.

With them we managed to develop a technique how to do the printing and post processing so it becomes very durable and also looks amazing so we are really happy with the result. So hopefully we have the panels very soon.

Finally anything else you would like to tell us or promote? Any new module teasers?

Well we always talk about the community around Bastl Instruments. We are mostly musicians and all the guys working with us have build a modular for very little money. And we all play these instruments, we organize monthly concerts and also we try to make internal weekly workshops on synthesis, music, electronics and related topics. There is a real music scene forming around Bastl now which is really exciting.

With products – there is very anticipated effects processor called Thyme getting finished so we can hopefully soon start the production. It also took much longer than anticipated but is really worth it. Sounds and feels truly great! When it comes to modules… yes there will be some new modules next year. There is still a lot of modules that I desire that don’t exist so i need to make them exist!

Thanks to Václav for chatting to us and checking BASTL here – http://www.bastl-instruments.com/

Interview – Abstract Data

This interview is from the November issue of DivKid’s Month Of Modular. Find that magazine issue HERE.

Hey Justin, thanks for answering questions and chatting to us. To start with can you tell us what your background is? Be that music related, engineering etc.

My background is pretty mixed. I was born in London but I ‘grew up’ (still growing up really…) in Sydney – London has been home again for nearly 20 years now but my accent often sounds like I just arrived. I got into music seriously through late 80’s Punk and Hardcore but by the 90’s I was making and playing Techno, House and Breaks. Over the years I’ve played in bands as a guitarist, DJ’d, produced, remixed and run record labels. My engineering and electronic design background is mainly self-taught – I started repairing bits of my own music hardware and studio gear to keep it running and at some point, I started thinking about building something for myself.

How did Abstract Data come about? You were making desktop units before modules if I remember correctly.

Yes, I started building one-off, self-contained, desktop designs around 2008. Basically, small sequenced, mono synths with some basic CV control over stuff like PWM. It’s interesting for me to see the current crop of smaller sequenced synth designs that companies like Korg and Roland are doing now – I do wonder if I would have started on this path if those designs had existed back then.

My first ‘commercial’ builds were the Hex Series – a set of three, complimentary synth/effects boxes that covered signal generation, filtering/morphing and modulation.

I started doing my own designs for two main reasons. I was doing a lot of music and audio writing and production for television and advertising companies. This work was all ‘in the box’ – everything was done in a DAW and while I really enjoyed and appreciated the power and flexibility that gave me – especially for all the last minute or short-deadline changes that work requires – increasingly, I felt more and more like I was spending my entire day just sitting at a computer and less like I was doing anything really creative. Increasingly, the computer became much less interesting to me as a creative tool. That hasn’t really changed for me since then if I’m honest.

The other was that I really started missing playing a physical instrument – be it a guitar or percussion or a synth and I started thinking about buying a decent, fully-featured analogue synth. This was before the current crop of smaller, cheaper builds and back then – you were either buying a modern, monster-synth or you were trying to track down one of the few really good modern analogue synths that existed or you were buying one of the old-school legendary synths like an SH-101 – but also paying the ridiculous prices that those builds often go for.

From there, since I’d been tinkering with more of my own gear anyway – I started looking into building my own designs.

You had a great core set of modules early on with the ADE-10 Reactive Shaper, ADE-20 Multi-Mode Filter and ADE-30 Wave Boss. What inspired these as the first modules?

I got into Eurorack kind of by accident. I bought a couple of modules to set up a bench test rig for the desktop builds I was designing – I figured it would be a good way to get a decent sine wave and a power supply without buying expensive lab gear. From there – I was hooked very quickly. About the same time I was offered a good deal on a large – but very badly treated – Doepfer rig out of a studio that was down-sizing. I repaired the ones I could, sold some on and suddenly I’d gone from having 3 or 4 modules to approaching 9U of Eurocrack.

The first Abstract Data modules covered a lot of different bases for me. The ADE-10 was more experimental – it definitely didn’t take the safe, clean, linear approach that many Euro designers take now – there were great sweet spots but you had to find them and you could also fall off the edge with it. I like that element in sound creation.

The ADE-20 was my first attempt at doing a serious discrete analogue design. That’s ‘proper’ electronics as far as I’m concerned. I’m no purist, I have no problem with digital – but for sound generation – analogue is where it’s at for me. It wasn’t perfect but I learnt a lot from that design and I’m really looking forward to some of the designs that build on the core circuits that were developed during that stage.

Your modules are densely packed and full of features yet easy to use. Do you always set out to cover a wide range within the type of module that it is? Take the ADE-31 Logic Boss for example. It’s a comprehensive logic module with multiple channels and multiple logic types. Personally do you prefer that over say breaking anything into separate modules?

I think there’s an important balance between giving the customer something fully-featured, something that is absolutely usable in any situation – be it noodling around in the studio or doing some sort of live performance but also something that is genuinely interesting – something they can experiment with, something that doesn’t give up every feature in the first session. Getting that balance right is one of the great challenges of Euro design.

I like modules that pack a lot in, I don’t like modules where the functionality is hidden or obscured and I don’t like modules that bring absolutely nothing new to the game. I guess I try and aim somewhere between those three points.

It’s fair to say you made a big splash with the ADE-32 Octocontroller. Were you aiming to make something that would really ignite a small system? Or was it making a swiss army knife module that filled any sort of “I wish I had more modulation” type thoughts users may have?

Yeah, obviously I’m very proud of the Octocontroller, it’s become Abstract Data’s flagship module and it’s great to see that new people are still discovering it and experienced users are still finding new things to do with it.

The ADE-32 design came out of trying to solve a problem that I was having with my own rig in that, if you’re doing music that relies on clocked and quantised sequences – like most forms of dance music for example and you’re running a rig that is stand-alone i.e. you’re not slaving it to a DAW – then getting multiple, synced modulations going is actually really challenging. That seemed like a glaring hole in my early Eurorack experience – so I set out to fill it.

It ended up being a lot more than just a bunch of synced LFOs but I found that once we’d sorted the navigation method – which gives you access to all the key features right on the front panel – then we could squeeze in some bonus features like looping CV and arpeggios.

The upcoming waveshaping VCO, envelope generator and VCA flesh out the Abstract Data system into a full and comprehensive voice. Was an all Abstract Data rig always a goal?

That idea evolved over the first couple of years of designing modules but it is the long-term plan to have a complete Abstract Data signal path.

We have VCO, VCF, VCA, VC-AHDSR and a number of modulation and utility designs in development and the current Abstract Data demo rig has prototypes of all those modules running.

So where do you see Abstract Data going next? FX, sequencing, drums maybe? Any particular avenues you’d like do explore?

As far as new modules go – there’s currently a half dozen new designs working through prototyping – so that’s the next couple of years work sorted right there. The priority right now is to have a complete Abstract Data system that handles sound creation and modulation.

I am still committed to ADE-32 development, there’s some ideas for future firmware upgrades that I really want to explore and I am seriously looking at expander development.

There’s currently no plans for sequencing or percussion – but there are some digital synthesis and sound generation that I’d like to explore. There’s also loads going outside of product development, I’m looking to move out of the spare room and into dedicated work space and I’m also looking to bring some people into the team. Small steps – but all things that will hopefully keep Abstract Data growing.

Slightly off topic but you play guitar (as do I) so I wanted to ask if you see guitar and Abstract Data crossing paths at any point? Pedals maybe, or even just playing the guitar through or alongside modular.

Yes, I’ve played guitar on and off for years and I’ve been playing seriously again the last few years.

As far as using the guitar with my modular, in all honesty – I see them as two totally different music projects. The music I do with my modular leans heavily towards Techno and the stuff I play on the guitar, these days, leans heavily towards slow, soul and gospel-influenced Blues. There’s a few key styles of music that I’ve been into for most of my life – but they’ve always been part of their own thing.

As far as doing some non-modular, guitar-oriented designs – then yes, that’s definitely something I’d like to pursue.

Thanks to Justin for talking to us. Check out his site www.abstractdata.biz and watch out for updates on his Twitter and Facebook.

Interview – Erica Synths

This interview was from issue #13 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular back in October 2016.

In this interview I talk to Girts from Erica Synths about how the company started, how they managed to create such a strong and large product line and where he sees the company heading in the future.

So Girts, tell us how did you get into synths and electronics prior to modular. Do you have a background in similar things?

I grew up in a small village and for some reason from early childhood I had a drive for inventing things, doing something that others don’t do, and so on. Ignoring the fact that I didn’t have any reasonable tools, advice, references or examples from others in my teenage years I built velomobile, a delta plane (which luckily didn’t fly), electrical grass trimer,
emulated space shuttle Challenger disaster with 80cm high model of it, turned accordion into aqualung, considered applying to military school in Moscow, performed crazy stunts on a bike, that I would never do today, and other totally crazy stuff.

When I was in 7th grade in primary school, I “borrowed” from school library a book about some DIY electronics and I totally fell for it. Back then Latvia was a part of Soviet Union, and we were basically isolated from information around the rest of the world, but I subscribed to both DIY monthly magazines available in USSR. In the secondary school I already have developed some synths and stompboxes. In beginning of 90s I moved to Riga, capital city of Latvia, studied physics and become a physics teacher. Then my skills of building stompboxes advanced to the level that I could sell them. But when Latvia gained independence, market opened, and western-produced electronics become available and I put DIY electronics hobby aside.

Some 7 years ago I decided to make an electronics DIY constructor for
my son. It basically was a modular constructor consisting of small boxes,
each hosting some component (LED, potentiometer, for example), that
were interconnected via patch cables to make electronic circuits. When I
had some 20 different boxes developed, I searched the internet for schematics of “something that makes sound”, and come across Music From Outer Space… In next three-four years I built virtually all DIY projects in all possible formats (my monster rack had both +-12V and +-15V rails) that were available online. But the eurorack boom hadn’t begun, yet.

The company started with models of the Soviet Polivoks synths. What was the connection to that sound?

It was more to do with the availability of original components. I just decided to make rack-mount Polivoks clone with a midi implementation. I found schematics and PCB drawings online, redrew PCBs, etched them at home, and actually made the synth. But before that I built the Polivoks VCF DIY kit, I ordered somewhere, and it was developed around western analogues of programmable opamps that were used in the original Polivoks. And it didn’t sound nearly as good, as my VCF. So, I decided to make my first DIY kit to offer it on Muffwiggler. And honestly, I do not give a f**k about that soviet heritage. That was pure nightmare.

You started with and since have made plenty of DIY kits, PCBs & panels available. Is the DIY something you will focus on in the future too?
Honestly, with launch of first modules from Black series focus has shifted to factory built eurorack modules. But, as I feel nostalgic about DIY, we definitely will continue offering DIY kits and will develop some more in future.

How did you manage to create such a wide range of modules so quickly? And not just cheap modules that people only keep for a while. You’ve a large range of very strong modules, Polivoks, Black Series, Fusion Series how did it all happen?

Like many eurorack companies, Erica Synths started in my bedroom (literary), where I had soldering station, did all packaging for sending first orders, etc. And I wasn’t a community of engineers and musicians – I was running one of largest advertising agencies in Latvia. But then, I still wonder, how it happened, I accidentally met genius people who are engineers and musicians, and now they are in Erica Synths team: Janis is engineer for most of our digital stuff, Kodek makes demos, plays gigs on Erica Synths gear, tests prototypes both from musical and functional perspective, Anastasija is my ex-student (I teach marketing in a university), she takes care about marketing and logistics, Ralfs tests every single module that comes from the factory and does cases assembly. And in similar way few outsourced engineers appeared. Eduards aka D-tech, genius engineer and self-taught composer and blues piano player, used to work in huge company that develops high-tech communication devices, but, as he works almost exclusively during night-time and music is his true passion, he’s more happy to work for Erica Synths and I’m happy, I met him.

On the other hand, we have like 5-6 electronics assembly companies of different size here, few PCB producers (I can get prototype PCBs in 3 days), companies that can make front panels, and a friend of mine owns a silkscreen company. All those are small-medium companies and therefore I can keep production processes effective and short. And within last year their doubts “who a hell buys all this crazy shit?” have been leveraged, and they kind of admire Erica Synths for what we do together.

During soviet times Riga Musical Instruments Factory (RMIF) was the largest musical instruments producer in Soviet Union, so I want to make Riga great again! In terms on synth reputation, of course.

Do you have any connections to tube amps or bits of tube driven vintage gear? I’m wondering what led you to develop the Fusion series.

In my early DIY experience back in 80-ties I made some tube stuff, but that doesn’t count. The inspiration for Fusion series and early designs came from Aivars Kreivics, DIYer, engineer, self-taught musician and sound engineer. He was a mastermind behind monster drum machine RMIF ES25 that was being developed in Riga. Only single prototype was built in 1991 before factory gone bankrupt. Check it out here: www.ruskeys.net/eng/base/rmifes25.php He was 65, when I met him performing live in festival Night of Wonders, organized by Kodek in his small hometown, on his creation – one of kind synth HIDRA built solely on vacuum tubes (https://soundcloud.com/senators-1/sets/hidra). We become good friends, and developed first versions of Fusion modules. Unfortunately, Aivars passed away this January. R.I.P.

With Fusion V2 we have way more experience both in design and production, and D-tech has taken over schematics part of the project. V2 brings Fusion series to brand new level! I hope to release the missing links in the series Fusion VCF and Fusion VCA in next 2-3 months.

Recently you’ve developed a DSP platform with the Black Hole DSP injecting digital FX into your line up of modules. Are you working with DSP developers on new digital projects and FX too?

The Black Hole DSP is developed around well-known SPN1001 chip, which is found in many DSP modules. But we didn’t want to have native effects on the chip, therefore we collaborated with Gary Worsham developer of Spin CAD software dedicated to SPN1001 programming (http://holycityaudio.com/spincad-designer-2/ ). He did several major
adjustments in the software, and Kodek spent 3 months in row to develop effects so, that they sound really great. The success of the module confirms that. We’ll have expansion chip with 8 more effects out by the end of the year.

One of the standout series of modules has been the PICO range of 3HP modules. Not just for their small size but also the sound and functionality. Were you dreaming of filling small gaps in people’s systems or dreaming of a small portable system when work on those began?

Pico Series was, kind of, accidental sidestep! Janis was pissed off working on Graphic VCO firmware early this year, and said out loud something like: “I wish I could do something small!” And same day we came up with concepts for 16 Pico modules. We were so excited about these ideas, that we put aside Graphic VCO and focussed on Pico. It didn’t only take a lot of engineering, but also – a lot of creativity to develop user interfaces so that modules are really playable and do the work of regular sized modules. We did lot of revisions and prototypes before we were happy about the result both musically and functionally. And I would never ever again launch 16 modules simultaneously! 😀 Just imagine all production routines with 16 modules! Production files, front panels, designs, manuals, packaging, logistics!

But I’m really happy about the result! I can proudly say that we have developed the world’s smallest self-containing (no external interfaces needed) eurorack modular system that really works! You can play serious one-hour gig only on 42HP system.

Will we see more PICO modules soon? And do you think there’s anything you can’t fit in 3HP?

Yes, the second run of Pico modules is arriving from the factory these days, and then our Pico series will be complete. We’ll launch pre-assembled Pico System mid-November. We’ll have 6 more Pico modules: Pico DSP (8 effects stereo FX processor), Pico STRINGS (string sounds VCO), Pico Logic (2×8 logic algorithms), Pico SEQS (voltage controlled
4-channel sequential switch), ALOGIC (“analogue logic” signal processor – takes two incoming signals and derives sum, difference of them, as well as max and min curves) and MASK (advanced S&H module, based on Mask Value principles).

The only limitation for 3HP is physical space of the faceplate. J It would be hard to imagine 8 channel performance mixer in 3HP!

Finally, what’s next for Erica Synths? Anything you can tell us about?

As Pico series are temporarily complete, we shift our focus back to Graphic modules, and I hope to have Graphic VCO ready before Christmas! Also we have Fusion VCF and VCA on the way. And couple of very distinct VCFs. To date we have only Polivoks VCF in our line, therefore we want to fill that gap.

To end on I’d like to say a huge thanks to Girts for all his support of my work and for taking the time to answer my questions.

Interview – Ginko Synthese

This month I’m interviewing Jan from Ginko Synthese. He makes the awesome Sample Slicer, TTLFO, Grains and more. With a line of a DIY cases and new DIY modules there’s loads going. So I thought we should have a chat!

Hi Jan, I don’t think we’ve ever spoken about anything other than your own modules. Let’s start with some background, what got you into music?

Oh that is a long time ago… I learned flute when I was a young kid. But I really have difficulties in focusing on things I am said to do so teaching me something is quite difficult ;). I had a private teacher and as I hardly practiced at home she thought it might help if I write my own homework, so I got an empty notebook to write down my own ideas about music in musical notation. This helped me a lot and I really liked it! When I went to the middle school we got an early old grey big computer and there was a program on it where you could cut phrases in pieces and rearrange and pitch them, and all monophonic. And as there was only one sound sample “You’ve got mail” on that computer (I really did not know how to make a new one) So my parents went crazy and asked my brother to put some software on the PC for making music. This led me to tracker programs like ST3 and Fast Tracker. But the first experiences of cutting and rearranging one single phrase led me in the end to one of my current products.

How did these experiences lead you into technology and more specifically
eurorack?

My addiction of making music on tracker programs led me into hardware in the beginning. Tracker programs make lots of use of samples and they had weird names like 303, juno, ms20 etc. I really had no idea where those weird names came from so I started to investigate and reallized soon that these names came from real instruments. So I wanted a hardware synth from that point!.. but I was young and did not had any money and could only affort an Electribe EA1, a Roland U220 and an Atari 1040STF to sequence them. I felt like I was the king of hardware :D. But my taste of music was developed by listening more and more to experimental music and especially the U220 made me disappointed in my idea of hardware. I wanted more glitchy weird sounds instead of those bread and butter sounds and I started to experiment with circuit bending and dreamed of a big modular system. And from circuit bending the step to my big dream was a logic step forward, first I simply put those circuit bend stuff behind panels but I became more and more skilled in electronics.

How long were you into eurorack before making your first module the TTLFO?

I have been into eurorack for a few years before making the TTLFO. I
had a little Doepfer rack, a PAIA and some DIY modules and wanted
to make something like the TTLFO just to put in my rack. I thought it
would be a good Idea to make a few to cover the costs. I asked on
the web if there where people who where interested in one and to my
surprise there where more people interested than the amount of
modules I ever could make!

The TTLFO was DIY and assembled, then just available as assembled.
But now you have a new range of DIY modules to compliment your
assembled ones. Is DIY a specific goal for you to support with the
modular community?

Behind all my products there is an idealistic idea of making them affordable for everyone. I started ginkosynthese to make modules I wanted to have myself but did not had any mony so selling them was just a way to cover the costs but since I did not had any money of my own I had (and still have) the feeling that you should make products for a fair price and DIY is a way to keep them more affordable. But after a while I realized that the first PCB’s I designed for the TTLFO where to difficult for many people as there where a lot of standing resistors and they where not layed out very well. I learned a lot and my new designs are easier to solder and that makes me comfortable to make DIY kits again.

Was it the DIY ethics that led you to making your own line of cases?

Yes! Those ethics are really important for me as I have had struggled about money for many years and want to keep things affordable for others. And as I had the opportunity to use a laser cutter daily in my workshop it was a logic step to make those DIY cases. Last winter I moved my workshop to an amazing new space but without the laser cutters so I have to find a way to get those cases back in stock and as money is still a little issue I have to find a right moment to invest in all the parts I need to get them back in stock.

Again you offer pre-assembled and DIY cases, is seeing the end user with a complete Ginko Synthese system something you’d like to see?

I don’t know if that is what I want as the fun part of modulars is that you can combine modules from other builders as well to create your own personal ideal synth. But I am working towards a little complete line I call the GRAINS line for now as the GRAINS is the first module I designed in that range. It will be a super affordable compact series of only 4HP modules and all only available as DIY.

Your Sample Slicer is a unique module in how it presents live sample recording and mangling. What led to that module? Were you chopping lot of samples on other devices prior to you creating the Sample Slicer?

The sampleslicer is for me the module that resembles my first experiences in making electronic music. It has everything to do with the phrase “You’ve got mail” I talked about above.

What’s next for Ginko Synthese? Anything specific you’d like to tell us?

Since I moved my workshop to a new extremely creative space I have worked hard to build up my studio and have our own bar and a stage. I am going to use this to get other people involved in making music and give them a change to play on a proper PA system for small audience. After the summer there will be several studio sessions where artist can use my studio for free. Results will be released on tapes. All these things give me a lot of energy to develop new products. But there are already some products almost finished to release; some new products in the GRAINS line (a filter, a small sequencer and a feedback distortion) and a sequencer as add-on on the TTLFO.

Finally, anything you’d like to add before we finish?

I love your video’s!!!! They inspire me lot of times.

Interview – Mylar Melodies

This interview was from issue 11 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular back in August 2016. 

Mylar Melodies is someone I’ll happily say was partly responsible for me getting into modular synths. Alongside the likes of James Cigler and Raul’s World Of Synths there wasn’t much content online for the eager newbie to check out. Like most I went through a ‘filter junkie’ stage and I’m sure most of us are still firmly in that stage of synth equipment use … we all love a low pitched saw through a resonant low pass! Two videos stuck out to me as a real “you have to get into eurorack” moments. First the Livewire Frequensteiner click HERE for that video or hit play below. The second was his video for the Wiard/Malekko Borg 2 filter which you can see HERE or again hit play on the embedded video below.

Not too long after these videos Mylar Melodies was working with Future Music magazine and we “met” online and started talking not long after that. Mylar handed over the video and some of the in magazine article duties to me as he cut back on work for Future Music (thanks again for that one!) as I think it’s fair to say his videos slowed down … he’s a busy boy and you know, life and that! Anyway he’s back with a plan, a killer new video so I wanted to ask him some questions for you fine people to get to know him a bit too.

So Mr. Mylar Melodies let’s go back to the start, when did you get into electronic music, and what got you into modular?

Man, it’s quite a long road. I’ve been making electronic music in one form or another using hardware since around 2000, after a somewhat distant yet deeply kindly relative left me some money in their will, which I put towards getting my first stereo. What better thing to do with money, other than travel – right? My brothers had been drip feeding me music to see if they could push my musical tastes in their directions, and to be honest I was a late bloomer and didn’t really find any music I particularly loved until I was around 16/17. They played me old Orbital, and I remember thinking…hang on, what’s this?! How on earth is this done. Like, how you think the people who make this stuff must have some kind of illicit skills – it’s impossible. And so electronic music had such an allure, it kicked my musical tastes off – that was it. I saw Orbital at the Sheffield Octagon in 1999, and I remember the sense of dread at the strange places that electronic music can take you at high volumes – unnameable emotions, and of course a sense of wonder at the two guys surrounded by all this impossible technology. I still remember the first time I heard Selected Ambient Works I, and the first time I sat in my Dad’s car and listened to Drukqs. I mean, those take that concept to the n’th degree since they’re just utterly timeless and impossible pieces of music. They’re bigger than a person. You genuinely can’t conceive that a person could sit down and dream them up – I couldn’t even conceive how the sounds were made let alone how they were so singularly orchestrated. Anyway – one of my brothers is a DJ and had bought an MC-303 to dabble in production, and he’d bought Future Music for a few months too, so beyond this machine there was a load of back issues lying around. And I started playing with the MC, muting the preset tracks on and off, fiddling with the sounds, and reading the mag. And so with this money I suddenly thought…I’m going to buy some (new) gear. So I did, and I taught myself, bit by bit, to use it. What amazed me was to discover I had a latent passion for it…it wasn’t a fad. It really really stuck – even though I don’t think of myself as a ‘musician’. So I’d always owned standalone groovebox type units and a rackmount sampler (Yamaha A4000 – ace) as at the time we were coming out of the age of samplers and hardware, and moving into a computer age. And later, my grandparents gave me some money which they had saved for me to buy my first car. Now I don’t have strong feelings about cars, but I have very strong feelings about synthesizers. So I thought…right. I’m going to buy a fuck-off analogue synthesizer with this. And I think I wanted the Macbeth M5 but couldn’t afford it, so decided to get a Cwejman S1 MKII instead. (Here’s a recording I made on it: Link) Now that thing is obviously pretty ace, but I have to admit I never quite gelled with the sound. Much as folks love Cwejman, it was just too clean and precise for my tastes – it always did only what you asked it to, and no more. I wanted something rawer, raunchier, more untamed – something that would argue with you. And ultimately I sold it while traveling. Years later, I saw this video: Link – I mean, ouch. Owwwwwch. This was what I wanted. So I had to get back to it, to have a modular again, only this time a Eurorack. And one cardboard case and a shopping trip later, it began, and so far hasn’t un-began. It’s kind of ace and weird to have contributed to Future Music, years later, and be hearing about people getting into modulars from videos we’ve done. CIRRRRRCLE OF LIIIIIIIIIIIIIFE!!!!

I always like to see how modular integrates with other gear and ideas / platforms that were in use before modular came onto the scene for people. So on that note what were you up to musically and what other gear were you using? Did modular stand alone and a self contained thing or did it integrate into the rest of your set up? 

Your music is always the product of the ear you make it with. On computer I end up making tunes that sound like I’ve listened a lot to LFO, Kraftwerk, Boards of Canada, Legowelt, Aphex and Steve Reich, that’s using Ableton Live and all my various outboard and keyboards/rack bits. I primarily treat the modular as a separate entity though that’s about to change. Though, for multi-track recording modular audio, I’m exclusively using the Expert Sleepers ES6 (and which is amazing) lightpiped into Apollo, which sounds absolutely spot on and is just ridiculously convenient, and I have the ES3, the reverse, too so you can pipe audio and CV direct from computer to modular.

Generally I end up treating the modular like a source of inspiration and sounds, which I sample and build tracks on the computer out of. So it’s a case of having a ‘modular session’, record it all in Live via the ES6, then move entirely to computer to build a full track, and pipe bits and pieces back for processing. Or, I use it entirely self contained – like you see in loads of my videos. I remember the eureka moment I paired the Intellijel uStep with the Make Noise Rene, and a drum beat. It was like…holy shit – a track – I’m back to the MC-303 again, but this time it just sounds ludicrously, ludicrously better. And like the way every bit of the gear influences the music itself, my modular music has ended up faster, more aggressive, more acid than what I make on Live.

I’m finishing a ‘computer sequenced’ album at the moment and when that’s done, the ES3 is going to be more in play as I’m going to have a go at something more proto-electro using Push 2 as primary sequencer, sequencing the whole studio, the Yocto, and modular percussion and voice elements live, all from one physical interface. That should be ace – the Push is just nuts.

What led you to making videos? Was there a thing that made you decide to film some modular stuff?

Needing to sell modules! Literally, shifting modules I had for sale. That Frequensteiner video was done by me thinking…Shit. I need to move this on and there are no good videos of it on YouTube, and nobody’s biting my B/S/T post so I’m going to take this into my own hands and try and make people want it. Because it’s amazing, you only just need to hear it doing its thing, you know? And a bit inspired by the approach of James Cigler and ZVex’s video demos, I did. And shortly after I posted the video…I swiftly sold the module. But I first did the Metropolis video (and I’d paid for the module!), not to sell it but just because I so loved the damn thing, and was so happy it existed, and was like, I know I can do this justice, and I really want to be able to show it as fully as it can be done because this module deserves to succeed, to be shown off properly, and nobody else is really going to do it properly if I don’t. Seriously. And of course came another moment where I realised, well, hell, I could earn key modules I wanted by offering a demo for a manufacturer – send me this thing I’m desperate for, and in exchange you show it off properly. You know why you want it, so in turn you want to inspire people, make people get what makes this stuff so wonderful. And it’s amazing the response the videos can get. In many cases the manufacturers either don’t have the time, or mainly don’t specialise in doing videos well. It’s a very different skill-set to making a product…and the risk is spending (in some cases) years developing products that don’t succeed or don’t sell very well due to obscurity or misunderstanding, especially given the competition there is now and how important YouTube is for selling gear now. And these are small companies who can’t necessarily afford to have a flop. I mean, YouTube videos got us both into the format. And still, the absolute best comments are people saying they literally got into Eurorack because of a video I’ve done. That’s wild, that’s so great. I apologise to their bank accounts – but just know that I too have hemorrhaged a frightening amount of money on this hobby, and yet…I still regret selling both that Frequensteiner and Borg.

As I said at the start after making some of your own videos you were then
working with Future Music magazine, then stopped for a while (known as the “the great depression” for some) but now you’re back in full force with monthly videos (and more to come). What’s your plan for videos going forward?

To finally make regular videos again on my own channel – at least one a month, and with bonuses for the folks supporting on Patreon. I’m sort of spiritually going to continue the ‘Modular Monthly’ concept, which can take the form of demos of specific modules, as well as conceptual videos which talk through a patch, or a system configuration idea, or just modular philosophy etc.

Tell us about the Patreon platform and why you’re using that as a vehicle for you pushing forward.

Well as you know – making videos just plain takes a long-ass time. I think probably the shortest turnaround for a video I’ve done is 6 hours from start to finish, and that’s not factoring in the (days, potentially) required to learn and consolidate your thoughts about the thing you’re showing off. Something like the Stepper Acid video is two evenings and an afternoon of shooting, two evenings of editing, and a few hours of last minute polish. And you have sound to mix too, and some colour correction. It’s one thing to do it. I’m trying to keep a quality/engagement and pacing that’s to a very high standard.

I saw Patreon as a way to justify all the effort involved in doing that and producing regular videos, and to give a bit more to people who keep up the support. It’s been amazing to get it to the point it is already, and although it’s not a lot of money, it’s the significance of that money – who it’s from, and the manner in which it is given – which has given me the focus to do it. It’s just really, really nice people who have come out of the woodwork to say: “We’ve been watching and we really like what you do, so here, have a few dollars each month and keep it up”. How nice is that? The last thing I want to do is disappoint people like that – so I’m making videos for them, and making them available for everyone else too.

Your newest video is for the Transistor Sound Labs Stepper Acid, what made you choose that module to kick things off?

I’ve owed Nina & Zoe a video forever, and it’s such a fun thing to start with – it’s a frigging awesome module – very immediate, and very acid so pairs well with the Atlantis. But also it gave me the opportunity to have a proper 4/4-off with Rings in combination with Atlantis, which I think is a particularly delicious pairing. Literally the output of Rings is going into the External input of Atlantis. And I love me a good 4/4, and I think Rings has huge techno potential – how odd yet cool is it to think of a 303-sequencer-controlled guitar?

You’ve just posted on Twitter (if I remember right) that you’re next video will be on the Doepfer PLL. I’m intrigued by Phase Locked Loops and haven’t played around with them myself, how are you getting on with it?

I’ve just plugged it in for the first time tonight. That was one of my $10 Patrons Ryan asking for a video on the PLL, and I was really happy he mentioned it – because exactly as you’ve suggested…I was vaguely aware of it but have never tried one. Perfect candidate. It’s not something on many people’s shopping lists, which I think is the beauty of it, as like all Doepfer it’s very affordable, well made, and interesting. Literally the only other PLL I can find in the format is WMD’s, which is kind of nuts, don’t you think?

It’s kind of a strange hybrid ‘VCO/Hard Sync’ module, which is capable of some freakish tones as it locks on to an input signal. I’m really looking forward to trying it on things like speech, singing (using Radio Music most likely), on drums and so forth, and just getting to the bottom of it. I think it’s going to be ace to demo something that’s more affordable too – and there’s a hell of a lot more to come.

We saw a glimpse of some live improvised modular acid on your YouTube channel around a year ago (click HERE for the video) will you be taking the modular out live again?

Yes, massively. Being the late bloomer I am, I’m only just now starting to truly appreciate how completely fucking brilliant dancing to interesting techno in good clubs is. The techno 4/4-leanings in the Stepper Acid video is not coincidental. I’ve been enormously inspired by two people – Surgeon, with his 2014 Dekmantel boiler room video (Link), and Steevio, who just blows my frigging mind (Seriously, just watch this), and despite talking to him about this very subject (Link to his description of the rig), I still struggle to comprehend the exact flow/system of Doepfer utilities by which he works his magic – the key in his approach is how truly modular it is, it’s absolutely the best expression of modular – next to Richie Devine he’s easily the most innovative and developed modular artist I know. What’s so good about this approach to live electronic music is that it is truly that – nothing is pre-prepared beyond a tuning standard, so as an audience you can ONLY witness something completely unique, a totally unrepeatable performance. Isn’t that the absolute best expression of what live music should be? Let a record be a record. I have no interest in seeing someone who pretends to play live by DJing their tracks, or muting some elements in and out while adding the odd hand-played element or effect send. It’s just not interesting. Instead let’s take risks and give an audience an experience they can only witness because they were there. So I’m trying to build a rig that operates somewhere inbetween Surgeon and Steevio’s techniques, and play some shows built for dancing. I’ll do a video explanation and demo if I can manage to pull it off …

To round off is there anything you’d like to mention or shout out?

Ironically, I want to make a hypocritical reminder – that the gear doesn’t matter. Really.

Zoe of Transistor Sounds Labs pointed something significant out to me recently – You might think Selected Ambient Works 1 was made with incredible gear, with an actual 808 and so forth, but it’s quite clear if you do a little detective work that it almost certainly wasn’t posh gear at all, quite the opposite. “Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Surfing on Sine Waves are mostly if not entirely digital sounds. Even the 808s are samples on an R8.” (Link to more on that) Probably an R8, FZ1, probably an Atari, Quadraverb and a DX100 – certainly you could do it with that. From these shitty, cheap, DIGITAL bits of kit, comes organic music some of us can’t possibly conceive of how it could be made by human hand. You likely already have everything you need to do amazing work RIGHT NOW, you just need to sit down and do it. Just make music every day. Don’t be precious about it – quantity is far more important than quality because nobody ever sits down and says “Today I will write my masterpiece”. It’s a statistical battle, so tip the odds in your favour by writing more music at all costs. One day you’ll write shit, but the next day you’ll probably write something wicked. Just write. If it gives you goosebumps, it’s good. Don’t stop.
Cheers to Mylar Melodies for the interview he’s a darling and a Yorkshireman hiding out in London (I’ve got a soft spot for him). Be sure to check out his YouTube channel and his Patreon page. Go support him, he’s doing good stuff.

Interview – Ben Davis

 

This interview is with Ben Davis from Malekko and is from issue 8 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular. Click HERE for that magazine issue. 

malekko-logo

This month I chat to Ben Davis from Malekko – Hey Ben (good name by the way), tell us who you are and what you’re doing. People that recognise you will most likely know you from recent work designing modules with Malekko.

I’m originally from North Carolina. My first musical instrument was the guitar which I started playing in elementary school. I didn’t get into synthesizers until much later. The thing that got me interested in synthesizers was most likely discovering artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre and Squarepusher. I picked up any keyboard or drum machine I could get my hands on to get started making electronic music. I made a few tracks but never released any of them. I started building a Synthesizers.com system probably around 2008. At this time my mind wasn’t open to the possibilities of a modular system and I basically used it as a keyboard monosynth. I eventually started learning some of the unconventional uses of this 5U synthesizer. This system sounded great but wasn’t quite what I was looking for as far as making really experimental music. I saw people like Richard Devine and Surachai posting pictures of eurorack modules and I had no idea what they were at the time. I started doing some research and realized the eurorack format was a better fit for me. I sold all my 5U and over the next few months had filled up a 12U rack. This was around 2010 just as more manufacturers were getting into eurorack. I played shows around North Carolina performing solo and as part of an industrial band called Mecanikill. I’ve always enjoyed performing live and my focus with Malekko is to make modules that work well in a live rig.

Have you worked with anybody else before Malekko regarding modular?

storagestripYes, I moved to Michigan 3 years ago to start the company Macro Machines with my friend Nico Raftis. Macro Machines started with a module called the Storage Strip which took advantage of the MIDI capabilities of the Mungo 0 series modules. These modules could all pick up on program change messages allowing them to save and recall multiple presets. The storage strip made it possible to manage these settings into 16 locations and sequence through them or recall them manually. We also put out a dual 4:1 switch called the Dynamic Destiny. Nico has been working on a new module called the Omnimod which is a complex modulation source and should be available soon.

So what experiences music or technology based led you to eurorack?

My first experiences with modular were with software like Bidule, Reaktor and Max/MSP. While these options were very capable they just weren’t fun to use and took so much work to get results. I had a 5U system for a while but there were really no options to expand it other than to essentially create a Moog modular clone. The main attraction of eurorack was the amount of options available. When I got into it years ago there may have been 20 manufacturers or less. Today that number has gone way up and looking through sites like Modulargrid can be overwhelming with the number of modules available now. I really enjoy the immediacy of using eurorack. It’s fun to just plugged things in and start making sound. I got an Arduino Uno shortly after getting into eurorack. I was doing extremely basic stuff like turning LEDs on and off to just learn programming because I’d had very little experience writing code up to this point. My first things I worked on were gate/clock modulators and simple sequencers. These never turned into anything beyond a breadboard because of my lack of knowledge around analog and simple stuff like how capacitors and opamps work. Eventually through trial and error I learned the basics of getting a module to work standalone as opposed to using an Arduino hooked up to a breadboard. Out of necessity I learned how to create schematics and lay out PCBs. I use a program called Diptrace which I would highly recommend to anyone beginning to make modules as it’s very intuitive unlike other software like Eagle. Thanks to services like OSH Park I was able to affordably prototype some early designs and still use them to this day for initial prototypes. With Malekko my focus has been making modules that are made for live performance. This usually means making things as small as possible which has led me to learn how to solder stuff I wouldn’t never imagined possible to do by hand. Many of the new modules I’m working on are based on the Teensy LC which uses a QFN package type. Soldering this for the first time was a nightmare but after learning the technique and having proper magnification I’ve soldered them a few times since with no issues at all.

You designed the Varigate4 (click HERE for a video from me) and are working on the ADLFO as well. What’s next and do you see DSP / coding as your strong point?

I’m no expert at any one thing I do but I believe my main strength is that I can take a module from concept to finished product (schematic/pcb design, soldering, programming). I would say programming is what I’m best at. Up to this point the hardware side of things has been learned as I go to support what I want to do with the code. I actually don’t have much experience with DSP programming. I’m looking at a few platforms to start doing experiments with this summer. Many of my module ideas are based around sequencing, clocking and interesting ways of creating rhythms. I’m always trying to think of unique ideas that haven’t been done or making modules that perform functions that would’ve previously taken many modules to accomplish.

For example, the Varigate 4 allows for something I’d not seen in modular by being able to set probability within a sequence of a step triggering. I’d seen this applied to clocks but that wasn’t as predictable as what I created. Also the repeat function of the Varigate 4 is hard to replicate without using a few modules.

Finally anything you’d like to add?

I’ve just got home from Moogfest where we showed the Varigate 8+ for the first time. At the time it had only been together for about 2 weeks, but the code was more than 90% with only some minor things left ot finish. We got a lot of good feedback the few days we were there and I’ve come up with a few cool things to add to it. I also played a live set over the weekend using it which helped me figure out some things that would make it more friendly for live performance. The Varigate 8+ is my main focus right now and we plan to have it out this summer for $599. I’m also working on a few other projects as I have time which may be ready some time this summer or could have to wait til NAMM. Keep an eye on Malekko’s website or Muffwiggler for new nnouncements. We’ve got some really cool stuff in the works that I can’t wait to share with everyone. Thanks so much for having me this month. I really enjoy your work. I’m always recommending people check out your Varigate 4 video if they have any questions. Keep up the good work, looking forward to upcoming videos from you.

A big thanks from me to Ben Davis for the interview, it’s always great to get to know people a bit more and I’m excited to see more of his work in future Malekko products too.

And … why not take the opportunity to share a couple of others Malekko videos.

Interview – Datach’i

This interview is from DivKid’s Month Of Modular Issue 9 back in June which was before the album System was released. 

system

Getting to know people is always good and getting to know people who have new products or music coming out is always good too. Only briefly had I spoken to Joseph Fraioli before but more recently we’ve been talking about his new album as “Datach’i” called “System”. You can pre-order for various formats on Bandcamp HERE or through the Planet Mu website HERE. You may also know Joseph as Jafbox Sound which is an award winning sound design company. Check out the website it’s full of all sorts to check out. Excitingly for modular users (or wannabe modular users looking to get into it) pre-orders are entered into a competition partnered with TipTop Audio to win an oscillator and starter case/power set. Check out the quotes below from the press information and read ahead for an interview discussing general approaches to music with modular and some track specific things (huge thanks to the team for giving me a sneak peak) to ‘whet your appetite’ prior to the release on August 19th.

“Featuring 16 tracks of beautiful yet unsettling electronic music recorded exclusively on a Eurorack Modular synth, ‘System’ will be released on August 19th via Venetian Snares’ Timesig imprint.

Speaking about the album Fraioli said, “I’ve spent much of the past decade building up my own sound design company, Jafbox Sound, and in recent years have become fascinated by modular synths. I’d been making a series of performance videos, showing how they work and that inspired me to start making music as Datach’i again. I suddenly realized I had a growing collection of tracks that worked together and had something new to say. Aaron heard some of them and encouraged me to start thinking of them in terms of an album and here we are.””

On with the interview – Hey Joseph cheers for taking the time to answer some questions. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to ‘System’ your new album prior to this interview so I’d like to bring up a few questions relating to specific tracks as well as the process in the general. A quick note for the readers we’ll also be creating a video interview for Modular Podcast after the album release where we’ll go into detail and have a group discussion about gear, techniques and approaches where we can all share experiences alongside Datach’i. So watch out for that one.

My first question about the album has to be, what gear did you use? The promotional material around the states an all modular set up, deliberately making things hard to force working with limitations. Was literally nothing else used?

The only non-modular sound on the album is the Luminist Garden by Folktek which was used on the track “Luminist Modular”. I played this instrument during the performance of the patch and processed through the modular. It’s more used as an effect rather then a musical part. What’s funny is that out of the 108 tracks I made for this release, that’s the only one that has anything used out side the modular system. So I like that its on there and is the last track and sends you off in a slightly different space.

The opening track has flurries of single notes that swell and echo across the choral backdrop, was that composed / sequenced to be specific and repeatable or is there an element of random generation possibly feeding a quantizer to create that line?

I wouldn’t say random, Just longer phrasing probability. More specifically because of the amount of notes in the sequence (5 triggers across a 16 step note sequencer – Tiptop Circadian Rhythms and Z8000) and durations of those notes in the lead line, that lead melody would start and end at different points of the chord sequence which is a sequence of 8 at a different division. I do this a lot actually. Can create an interesting feel.

Sticking with the opening track ‘In The Field With Brain’ how are the chords generated? Are they layers of single notes or a chord mode on a digital oscillator?
The chords on that one are the Modcan Triple VCO with Modcan Multimode LPF sequenced by the Tiptop Audio Circadian Rhythms and Make Noise Pressure Points. (Unquantized) though it’s really fun to create chords with layers as well. Love doing that with pressure points as you can sequence three note chords that have varying note composition quality across the steps.

Across the album we hear various reverb and modulated textures, what are you using for FX?
Oh, so many FX! I collect them all like Garbage Pail Kids. Lets see off the top of my head, Tiptop ZDSP, MI clouds and rings, mungo D0, mungo G0, qu-bit RT 60, synth tech e560, e580, modcan dual delay, audio damage dub junior and spectre, ladik R-330, intellijel rainmaker, flame FX-6, Make Noise Erbe Verb and Echophon and problaby others I’m forgetting 🙂

A question that comes up with lots of modular related content is – how are you handling pitch information across multiple layers? Is it several quantizers or pre quantized sequencers with oscillators tuned in prior to recording?

It’s all over the map. To this day I have not tuned an osc with a tuner! haha. I like how when sequences appear slightly detuned from one another they can feel more human and honest almost. It’s also a cool way to discover microtonal scales. Most often ill start with a chord structure or melodic sequence and layer on top of that other sequences and find the notes I like by ear. It’s also really fun to use unquantized and quantized sequences together. Can lead to interesting results. I also often create multiple layers of simpler sequences instead of fewer more complex ones as the separate parts lends the patch to have more variation options while performing.

The album has elements of more standard “drum machine” like percussion sounds but on the third track ‘Synthetic Metals’ (and others) we also get more synth heavy clicks, pops and low-end thumpy kicks. So on that note, what are you using to create the drum sounds across the album?

Well on “Synthetic Metals” specifically the kicks are the blue lantern asteroid BD v4 and Tiptop BD808, the main snare I made from the epoch Benjolin and then the metal clank snare that comes in later on is the Noise Engineering Basimilus Iterus. Hats are the SSF Quantum Rainbow with a maths expo envelope. The more microtonal melodic metallic percussion stuff is the MI elements that’s sequenced / performed on the circadian rhythms and z8000.. For the album as a whole, percussion sounds are coming from a variety of places, I tend to lean on kick modules such as the blue lantern Bv4, audio damage neuron, jomox mod.brane 11 for kicks and often wind up making the snares from various sources though I do use the hex intvertor mutant clap, ALM dinkys, MI peaks and jomox mod.brane 11 for “snares” too. Sequenced percussion I often used fro the cylonix shapeshifter and MI Braids in Meta mode both which I use additional envelopes for more control and variance.

Out of curiosity as this is something I’m considering at the moment – are you using compressor modules as part of either the creative process creating sounds or as part of the mixing within the modular system?

Yea ill use the L-1 stereo micro compressor but for a very different more utilitarian purpose.. The stereo out of my modular goes through a recording chain before hitting the convertors. In that recording chain is an API compressor that I use to get ultra tight and sharp transients. The downside to this is that it can suck out all your low end as its making the linear bass envelopes hyper exponential. To counter this id use the L1 to really push the bass envelopes into heavy logrhythmic territory so when they hit the external compressor they level out to more linear. That said the L-1 is great creative tool as well. You can get really cool pumping and sidechaing effects going. You can hear this done really well on Surachais new one “Instinct and Memory”. His use of the L-1 here is amazing and inspired me to pick one up.

As part of Modular Podcast I recently interviewed Richard Devine talking about his use and processes with regards to modular synthesis. I asked him “Looking at a blank set up with no cables patched, what would be the first cable you plug in?” Richard’s answer was that it’s always different, experimenting and trying new things. I’m sure you experiment in the same way but some of us do tend to have habits when working towards certain goals so I’ll put the same question to you. Looking at a blank set up with nothing patched what would be the first thing you patch?

More often then not, a patch (or track) starts with a question “ I wonder what happens if I do this……” so its always changing. Though making so many patches/tracks now I know if I want to achieve a certain style of sound design or music I can patch it up pretty quickly but try not to do that and continue exploration with each new piece.

The harmony choices and chord voicings used are often dark and ominous providing a definite “vibe” or “feel” through the album. Are they conscious pre-defined efforts to work with that harmony or does the equipment influence that sound and style in anyway?

I do everything by feel alone. Basically just know when the sounds and
sequences are feeling right and then I build off of that. I’d say the design of sounds that feel right can influence the sequences greatly though. Like I love how 24db slope LPF on detuned saws sound. So warm and intimate which can inspire the feel of the melodic sequence.

You’ve a sizeable eurorack system that I imagine many of the readers have seen in your videos, is that a set system in anyway? To expand on that do you feel either all of or certain parts of your system do everything you want to when making music on that system?

I rarely use the entire setup for a track, in fact I don’t think I ever have. The variety and largess of my system is greatly there for my work as a post production sound designer so ill have multiple paths to choose from given a clients needs. The system itself is not set up with any logic. I prefer it to be all over the place, sometimes ill move modules around so the workflow feels a little different, while this is a really simple change, it can really inspire you because you wind up interacting with the system a bit differently and certain modules you’ve had for a while can feel new again just based on their location.

On track 7 ‘Omni 2’ as the track plays out it’s final peak and wind down there’s a hint of a speak and spell or some primitive vocal synthesis sounds. Firstly, am I right in that’s what I’m hearing? And second if it is, what module or piece of equipment was that? I’m a sucker for those retro vocal synth sounds!

haha! Me too. That’s MI braids in Meta mode with internal tong env and external maths env for extra control. Both of those modules are being modulated by the Macro Machines OMNI.

How much interaction do you have with your patches for the album once set up? From your videos we often see you set something going and then little interaction beyond that.

My patches for tracks usually start out pretty complex with a lot more patch points then what I do in the videos. I typically go through a process of evaluation of what’s necessary and then re-patch more efficiently and/or simplify based on what aspects of the track I want to perform and which I prefer to be automated. Mostly I do a lot of control with the Circadian Rhythms in terms of performance but also will switch parts with the WMD SSM, or even play melodic lines on the Pressure Points in real time and of course various filter and modulation tweaks 🙂

There are some intense and sporadic rhythmic moments across the album with fills, flurries, gestures and stutter style effects changing amongst what I imagine are set sequenced rhythms. However beats 2 and 4 seemed to pinned down on some sort of snare, clap or glitchy synth percussion sound throughout. Is that an effort to keep a steady sense of time? Do you feel that having a simple and more static element allows you to be more free with the other rhythmic layers?

YES and YES 🙂 I love keeping the funk in the beats by having somewhat
consistent 2s and 4s and then manually performing the various features of the Tiptop Circadian Rhythms in a way that allows me to be expressive with the beats and sequences.

I can go on asking lots of specific questions about gear and approaches with tracks on the album but I’d like to save some of these for the discussion we’ll be having on Modular Podcast post album release. So finally, is there anything you’d like to add?

Thanks Ben, I suppose the only thing id like to add as while were talking loads of fun tech stuff, what really got me on the path of making the music that’s on the album was looking beyond the idea that its made in such a technical way and making a more intimate and emotive experience that’s as genuine as it could be. For example, sort of inspired by sci-fi, I started to think of the system as a bit of artificial intelligence that I collaborate with.. So in my mind the more emotion I could get out of a patch/track just felt like the system was a higher level of artificial intelligence. that said of course I love the more abstract patching flows as well. There’s just something really special and exciting when you have a patch going that’s automated and emotive in a way that really feels right.

I’d like to say thanks to Joseph for the interview and I’m looking forward to exploring his ideas and album further in the up-coming video interview with Modular Podcast.

Interview – Matttech Modular

This interview was from Issue 7 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular. Click here for that issue of the magazine.  Note this was back in April 2016. 

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So the reader can get to know you a little … first, what led you to music? And what had you been doing as a hobby or professionally leading up to getting into modular? 

I was classically-trained for years as a kid, and went on to take a degree in Popular Music & Sound Recording at the first University to offer it, Salford. After that I had a 10 year career as a recording artist and producer, largely under the name Blue Light Fever. I eventually tired of the continuous see-saw hype train of the music industry and retrained as a teacher, moving from that into college technician work (which I know you’re familiar with! 🙂

That takes us up to you working with modular, what were you using it for at the time and how long was it before you started making audio demos for modules? 

I completely gave up music for a while after quitting the industry, but eventually got sucked into giving it one last go – but strictly as a fun hobby. I bought a huge Mac and a ton of software, and that was great for a while – but I hit a wall. I was treading the same creative paths over and over again, and also suffering with RSI from being tied to a mouse constantly. I investigated buying midi controllers for my plugins, but decided that setting them up would suck up too much time & energy. Eventually I decided to take the plunge into modular, and found that I was suddenly bursting with ideas and recordings – and they were happening much, much quicker than in the past. A lot of it may not be particularly mainstream, but it was a lot of fun putting it together. I was putting tracks together, including mixing, over a weekend. If you want to get an idea of the kind of music my modular led me to, check them out at:

After a couple of years I started producing demos for modular manufacturers (Synthetic Sound Labs, WMD, Intellijel, Frequency Central etc..). This happened organically, after I had got involved in suggesting ideas for modules and beta testing them – something that had grown out of long email conversations with manufacturers troubleshooting issues with modules. I did demos in exchange for free modules, but eventually decided that he sheer amount of work I was putting in was not making much sense (as much to do with my own tendency towards perfectionism as anything)

I found you online through those audio demos and we got talking then met in person. You were a great help in me getting into modular myself. Was the position you were in making audio demos and keeping active on the Muff Wiggler forum answering questions / sharing experiences and generally just helping other users a big part of why you decided to open up your shop? 

Well many thanks! Yes – I used to be so involved in the scene, and particularly on Muffs, that people started coming to me for advice and help all the time. If I’d bought a new module they’d ask what my feedback was after a week or so. I started to wonder whether there might be some kind of business in advice, or modular tuition…but then started to consider the retail angle.

What was your initial idea for the shop and has your initial plan changed regarding stock and general plans for the future? 

My initial idea for the store was to ONLY sell products that I had used for ages, and was particularly passionate about – and which had proved to be reliable. I was also initially concerned that stocking new modules as soon as they were released might result in a myriad of problems with faults and bugs, and this was something I was keen to avoid. However, several people pointed out that this wasn’t exactly the best business move in the world, so I have had to try to combine that idealistic approach with a more realistic one, adding emerging modules to my range when I think they suit my brand. In the end, I have only had a handful of returns out of the hundreds of orders I’ve shipped, so I think it’s safe to say that the quality control in Eurorack has gone up a good few notches of late.

I don’t just stock anything that comes out, and only stock things that I think have something really unique to offer. I also tend to specialise in modules that are in that special category, where they are able to produce a wide range of results – whether that be VCOs that can be both precise and unstable; or modulation sources that can turn their hand to any number of tasks. Oddly enough, I am also slightly obsessed with VCAs, which maybe stems from my hi-fi and engineering background. I love to have a range of those, from warm saturating ones (AJH Synth Minimod VCA, WMD/SSF Amplitude) to clean, crisp units and designs that merge flexible mixing into the package (Tangle Quartet, Erica Quad VCA).

I am also very keen to support the brands I stock by trying to keep their older “classic” products in stock. I might only sell a couple of them every few months, but I think it’s important to keep them alive. Recent examples are the Richter Envelator from Malekko, which has never been available in the UK in its current form – something I find hard to believe, as it was a “must have” product when I started out. Another is the “Multimode” collection from WMD – the VCA, Envelope & Expander – some seriously feature-packed designs that are sometime overlooked in favour of their more flagship products.

In addition I am trying to promote UK brands as much as possible, when they fit in with the rest of my range – for example, Expert Sleepers, ALM Busy Circuits and the smaller brands such as Future Sound Systems. I have also been the first UK store to stock Transistor Sound Labs’ wonderful Stepper Acid sequencer. If you’re starting out producing modules in the UK, or moving into that field – get in touch!

Eurorack and the general awareness of modular has grown significantly in the past couple of years. Where do you see it going? 

Well, obviously the big boys are getting into the game now, along with a lot of other stores which previously only sold more mainstream music gear. How that will play out is anyone’s guess, but hopefully there will still be a place for the smaller, boutique affairs such as myself as we reflect the DIY ethos that the scene was built on. I actually really like the look of the stuff that the big brands are putting out, but I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense for a store like mine. I have a somewhat “maverick” approach to business that has worked extremely well for me thus far, but may not be completely understood by huge multinational companies! Also, I simply can’t compete with the mainstream retail outfits in terms of purchasing power and logistics – but what I lack in those areas, I make up for with a ridiculous dedication to customer support, flexibility and reliability. I remember from my history as a customer just HOW important it was that the shops I dealt with were friendly, polite and fair, even when things were going wrong – and that is something I really hold onto. I have been incredibly loyal to some of the people I have bought gear off over the years – and often that is down the the person, not the shop.

I will always be looking to stock the “classics”, and to keep my ear to the ground in order to sniff out the most exciting and innovative new products. And trust me, my ear is VERY close to the ground!

Finally, anything you’d like to add? 

Thanks to everyone who has supported the store so far, and helped me get off the ground – especially the many loyal, repeat customers. It really does mean a lot 🙂 …and please come and say hello at the various modular meets that take place during the year. Matttech Modular is always in full effect at the regional events (Leeds, Huddersfield, Sines & Squares in Manchester…) and can even be found skulking in more far-flung propositions, such as last year’s “Bells & Whistles” in Peterborough. Hopefully see you at one of these soon!

Interview – Papernoise

mutant_bassdrum_quickstart1 mutant_hihats_quickstart1In the March issue of DivKid’s Month Of Modular I spoke to Hannes aka “Papernoise”. If you haven’t heard of him you’ve no doubt seen his work with a range of modular companies for promotional graphics, panel designs and it looks ace! I’m definitely a big fan so was happy to have an opportunity to ask him some questions. Check out his work and website for more. http://www.papernoise.net/

This month (well over the past couple of months really) I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Hannes Pasqualini aka “Papernoise”. We’ve got a few things “in the works” as it were but for the benefit of everyone reading I thought an interview would be great to get an insight into how he became “the guy” for eurorack panel design. As you’ll see, I’ve spread plenty of pictures across the next few pages so show off his brilliant design work. So Hannes, clearly design work came first but how did you first come to work with modular synthesizer companies. Was it very much a “by chance” stumble into it through friends or were you actively aiming to work within this community?

As you say! It really was a thing that happened by chance, or better as the result of a peculiar chain of events. If you had asked me 5 years ago about getting into modulars I would have said: “no way man!” I’m not going to buy into that money-eating habit!” (laughs). I was more interested in chiptune stuff (C64s and Game Boys), circuit bending, DIY and in building small desktop synths. Through my engagement with the chiptune community I first learned about Olivier Gillet’s Shruti-1 DIY synth (the predecessor of the Shruthi, notice the lack of the “h”). I had to email Olivier a couple of times, convincing him that I had a great idea for an enclosure, until he finally sold me one of the few kits he had made. The
Shruti-1 was one of my first proper DIY projects, after the SammichSID and a couple of Atari Punk Consoles. From there I got more of his synths and started to regularly post and comment on his online forums. As a graphic designer I come from illustration and comics. I had posted some of my works on the Mutable forums and apparently Olivier was aware of them. When he got the idea to make the 4-Pole Mission Shruthi he asked me to work on a movie-poster-like promo postcard. The 4-Pole Mission was a morphing filter and the name was inspired by the movie The Thing (the Carpenter remake). From there we kept working together on several other things: we did the Yellow Magic Shruthi, which featured an illustrated sticker and PCB graphics by me and my wife Elizabeth, various graphics for the Anushri and Ambika synths and redesigned the Mutable Instruments logo, visual identity and website (together with fellow graphic designer Patricia Plangger, who was a co-worker of mine at the time) Then, as we all know, Olivier got interested in modular synths, and developed his first 4 modules (Braids, Peaks, Grids and Edges) and since we were already working together he asked me to take care of the graphics. When he asked me if I was interested in working on something like this, I immediately said: “hell yeah!”, even though I didn’t even have a modular synth at home. Given that I couldn’t possibly design anything for a system I didn’t know much about, I borrowed a couple of modules from friends to learn more about it (Olivier also sent me a bunch of things he wasn’t using at the time), my bandmate Michele sold me his old case (which was basically a Doepfer DIY kit and a couple of wooden planks, held together by tape). That was how I started my journey into modulars.

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Who was the first company you designed panel graphics for?

Definitely Mutable Instruments, though Hexinverter followed shortly after. A friend told me that Stacy had was looking for somebody to design a logo for Hexinverter and I immediately contacted him. For some time these were my only clients in the modular community. I was lucky to start with them, since they really make amazing modules, which of course helped a lot in spreading my work as well.

Do you get involved beyond the design stages? Working alongside companies with module ideas, helping them get started etc?

It’s really hard not to do that! The thing is: often new clients approach me asking for a combination of panel, logo and visual identity. In these cases it’s often small makers, just starting out. To be able to create a good logo I need to get pretty deep into what people do, why they do it, who they are, what their motivation is, etc. Often these things aren’t fully conceptualized, so I end up helping them to get started in some ways, defining their identity beyond just the logo. Another thing that might happen is that somebody has a new idea for a module and just wants to see how it would work as a panel, or needs feedback on the functionality. In these cases I get involved in the design stage pretty early and sometimes even get to shape the functionality. Lately this happens more frequently, for example, for Black Market’s upcoming Colour Palette Standalone Edition (the pedal), I was part of the core design team from the very beginning. It’s really exciting for me to work like this!

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Your designs have something unifying about them, I can tell when I see something from Papernoise, but I can’t put my finger on what that is. Each module company has distinct and varied themes running through them. What’s your approach to creating something unifying both for the company and regarding your ‘style’ … if you’d say you had a style.

Good question. I believe designers shouldn’t try to be artists. Being an artists is all about expressing yourself, being a designer is all about turning form into function and function into form. So what I try to do with each new client is to create a visual style that matches that their identity, help modular users in using and understanding a module’s functionality and in general doing my part in creating great, playable and enjoyable instruments. But of course there’s two factors that still contribute to a style of some sort: first of all, no matter how hard you try, there will always be your personality in anything you make… you just can’t help it, and I admit that I’m not really trying that hard to suppress that either (laughs). The other thing is that people contact me because they have seen my work and like it. That’s great since I want people to work with me precisely because we feel the same about the style and the approach to visual design, not because they need a random guy to “do the graphics”. I should mention that I often work together with my wife who is also part of Papernoise. Some of the designs we made in the last years, like the Alright Chronoblob or the Sonic Potions modules, are really a combination of our respective approaches. She has a more handmade, cute and cartoonesque style (she also works as an illustrator for school and children books), which is often a great counterpart to my own style. Then it also depends if we’re talking about graphic design, or illustration. As an illustrator I pursue two distinct but very defined styles. One with my “real name” and one as Poka Bjorn. The first style is what you can see in the Hexinverter promo stuff, it’s inspired by retro sci-fi and horror illustration and in general is a bit more realistic and detailed. Stuff that would go well with a John Carpenter soundtrack. My Poka Bjorn stuff is more colourful, whimsical and cartoony, I like to think of it as going well with uplifting chiptune tracks, or Solvent. You can spot one or the other approach in my graphic design work as well, even where you wouldn’t expect it. If you look really close, the Indian decorations I make for Olivier’s modules share the same linework style as my Poka Bjorn illustrations, though admittedly the end result is very different.

Do you like to be left to ‘run wild’ with ideas or revamping existing branding and working alongside the companies?

The projects I like most are the ones where somebody just comes to me with a vague set of features and I can go crazy coming up with ideas! This can happen with redesigns as well as with from-scratch projects. In the end I always work alongside with the companies, since as I said, it’s all about turning their identity into visual material or their ideas into a usable interface. But of course some are more strict and others leave more space for me to “run wild”.

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Finally, can you tell us about anything you’re working on to be released this year? Obliviously not sharing private company secrets but is it safe to assume most of the people you work with have new designs in the works?

Right now I don’t have many secrets to keep. Some of what I’m working on has already been announced at NAMM: The previously mentioned Black Market Standalone Edition Colour Palette is one big project I’m fully immersed in right now and another one is the faceplate for WMD’s Performance Mixer Other things will be presented soon at Superbooth, among these check out the new panels I’ve made for Sonic Potions and Frap Tools. There’s some older project, which are still going on. The Soviet-space-race-inspired modules from Tsyklon should land sometime this year (some of these can already be pre-ordered from their website: http://tsyklon.com/) and Rabid Elephant, another new face on the market, also should have their first module coming. Of course both Mutable Instruments and Hexinverter are currently very busy coming up with new designs and ideas, which keeps me pretty busy as well. On the non-modular front, I have been working with Japanese developer Ju-X on a new freezer plugin called Frosting (which should hit the web soon) and am tweaking graphics for Fxpansion’s upcoming sampling drum machine app/plugin Geist 2, which is currently in Beta stage. With Ju-X we also have a bigger project in the works, a multi-track looper called The Cake, once we get Frosting out, that will get some updates as well.

A huge thanks to Hannes for his time letting us get to know him and his work. Be sure to head to http://www.papernoise.net/ to check out his work as well the Horizontal Pitch site here – http://www.horizontalpitch.com/