Here’s issue 16 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular, magazine /e-zine whatever you want to call it … Module of the month was from WMD with their Performance Mixer, news was NAMM heavy with Catalyst Audio, Malekko, birdkids, Verbos, Intellijel and plenty more. I also interviewed deStrict to round of the features.
Here’s the November 2016 magazine issue 14 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular. There’s a relatively new company as module of the month, news from BugBrand, Erica Synths, Malekko and random*source and the interview from this issue was with Justin from Abstract Data.
Here’s issue #12 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular from September 2016. The interview is with Ginko Synthese, news featured Mutable Instruments, Music Thing Modular, Thonk, Qu-Bit and Malekko. The module of the month was the TipTop Audio Z-DSP.
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.
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.
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?
Yes, 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.