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.
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.
Back in February I interviewed VCOADSR for DivKid’s Month Of Modular. Here’s the interview. Catch up with VCOADSR with releases here – http://vcoadsr.bandcamp.com/ – you can also see how his sound and set up has changed across performances videos from both me and Sonic State. Check out this one the Brighton Modular Meet for a good techno injection.
So Phil, for those that haven’t seen any footage of you playing live or being at a gig tell us about your set up. It’s centred around your 12U modular system but what else are you using live?
As you say my 12U eurorack modular is the centre of my studio & live set that’s organised into 3 monophonic voices, 1 polyphonic voice and a drum section section. These are all going to my Mackie Onxy mixer where I’ve got an Eventide Space reverb & TimeFactor delay pedals on the sends when playing live. The main musical ideas and rhythms are all being sequenced from the Sequential Cirklon sequencer but within the modular there’s a ton of internal sequencing and modulation to add interest to the various parts. Basically means that each gig I play is never the same which for me is important both as a live experience for the audience but also for my own interest too.
What’s your process in the studio? Recording jams, multi-tracking, running stems and then FX mixes etc. How involved is your DAW both in terms or arrangement of tracks and parts and also in terms of sound generation and/or processing?
Last year I caught Moritz von Oswald trio playing at BLOC weekend that pushed me in the direction of early dub techno. I became really interested in the production ideas of dub in general and how the process of mixing itself was a performance when it came to playing the sends & returns. So for my new EP I wanted to experiment with some of these dub production ideas and decided to do the core composition and sound design on the modular and then once I was happy I’d multi-track several jams of the song, as if I were playing a live set, into Ableton. Then I’d edit these down into more coherent structured arrangements before running each stem back out to the mixer for further dub takes were I’d jam the sends and returns dub style. Every track on the EP was made using a variation on this technique even the remix track, at the end of the EP, went through this process.
What’s coming up from you next?
Well, apart from the new release I’m still focussed on performing live to get my music out in front of people – to me it’s important that people get to experience the dynamics of live, and to be fair raw, electronic music that isn’t processed & compressed to death. Like any other live performance with an instrument you’ve got prepare and practice but this is also where a lot of my new material comes from so playing live more should lead to new ideas and tracks later in the year.
People LOVE to chat gear, more than music sometimes so let’s do just that! Which modules are used across the album. Without listing every single one, what stands out as the key pieces for say drums, bass sounds and the sequencing?
So in terms of the melodic & bass content, on the EP and live set, these are coming from the amazing Akemie’s Castle by ALM and the Hertz Donut mkII by The Harvestman. The Akemie’s is by far the most interesting and versatile oscillator I’ve owned in the 6 years I’ve been using modulars, and having the chord output is the icing on the cake. It would be criminal if I didn’t mention the Makenoise QMMG – is vital to my modular setup with it packing in 4 VCAs, 4 LGPs, 4 LPFs & 4 HPFs in just 24HP! A real shame that this module is no longer manufactured. Drum duties are mixture of the 808/909 Tiptop audio drums as well as Dinky’s Taiko again by ALM and in terms of sequencing you won’t be surprised if I’m going to say the Cirklon. This is THE hardware sequencer to have IMHO and it is seriously deep in functionality – I’ve barely scratched the surface so far, after having it for about a year, but a word of warning if you want one you’re going to have be patient…I was on the waiting list for 200 days before mine was ready, but without it I don’t think I could play the type of live set I’d want to.