How long have you been making music?
I’ve been making music on my own since I was around 16. I had always seen bands I adored in pictures on the internet, and wanted to become as cool as they were. I didn’t really know what that meant, but the initial thing that wowed me was stage presence and live shows. Seeing people really dominate in a live setting and command a crowd was something I was into. Very vain of me. Once I started actually creating music, I found the most rewarding thing was the actual creative process. Making something from nothing, something that I had never heard before, and that I could enjoy listening to, became the ultimate goal. I would sit for hours with my first synthesizer and just drone tweaking a patch, learning the ins and outs of sound design, and hearing sounds which at the time I thought had never been made before. I played in various bands throughout high school, and in college I sought to finally start a project of my own.
What is the name you work under and where can we find your work?
I work under the name BLUSH RESPONSE. My official website is http://wearereplicants.com – that is the portal to everything I do, and all the various social networks I participate in. I’ve been making music under this name since 2009.
The first BLUSH RESPONSE album, WE ARE REPLICANTS, was released in May 2010. Since then I’ve released a few EPs, and two singles leading up to the second album TENSION STRATEGIES. The second album will be released March 05, 2013, on Tundra. Two singles have been released so far, AMERICA, and VOICES (with it’s accompanying video).
What is your current favorite piece of hardware?
My Eurorack modular is the most inspiring tool I’ve ever used. Limitless sound uninhibited by interface. Using modular gear has made me realize the limitations present in something like a traditional black and white keyboard. When you use an instrument like a guitar, for example, every touch you make is visceral and reactive. The string vibration and sound is something directly affected by so many variables. Hand pressure, picking, angle of picking, speed, air pressure, body movement, etc… All of these directly connect you to the raw sound of your guitar oscillator in a way that black and white keyed synthesizers simply do not. You at most have pitch bend, mod wheel, aftertouch, and whatever knobs the synthesizer gives you, but these offer no direct connection to bend the circuits at will.
With a modular synth, you have something that is infinitely more direct, and more similar to the dynamic approach found with a guitar. First off, you don’t need to use a keyboard. You can just open up a VCA (or not even use one), and drone! I find cv to be much more “alive” than midi, and the results you can get with similar patches on a modular versus a non modular synth are much more dynamic. Plus, the interface encourages experimentation. I’ve had cool patches by just messing with the ground on patch cables. Tripping sequencers by touching one cable end to a conductor, jamming audio sources into cv inputs, etc… It really is a life changing thing. I don’t know if I could ever go back to the regular approach. It seems so archaic. It would be like trying to play a guitar by guiding somebody else’s hands.
My euro is mainly made up of modules from Make Noise, The Harvestman, WMD, and Intellijel, but there are some other great pieces in there. Favorite modules at the moment are the Schippmann CS-8, Harvestman Tyme Sefari II, Make Noise DPO, Echophon, WMD Synchrodyne, and Intellijel Rubicon.
What is your current favorite software or plugin? What makes this your favorite?
I’ve recently switched DAWs to Ableton Live, and I feel that Ableton is a party I should have attended years ago. The interface and workflow are simply unrivaled. Even basic stuff like audio editing in the arrange window is a million times smoother and more intelligently implemented than my last DAW (logic pro). I can’t believe I didn’t use this before. I had some concerns about the quality of the mix engine, but I just mixed a song with the Ableton 9 beta, and I think it sounds just as good as any other DAW out there. Much improved.
There are also several new plugins that have come out that I am blown away by. Off the top of my head – Eventide H3000 Factory, Sonic Charge Permut8, Izotope Iris and Trash 2, the Soundhack Suite, and several others. Plugins have finally (IMO) reached a point where they are powerful enough to explore new concepts in sound that do not imitate existing hardware, without faltering due to CPU overuse or bad implementation of concepts. That is incredibly exciting to me. I enjoy combining these esoteric sound shaping tools with hardware to create entirely new sounds that were simply unavailable before.
How does your physical space and surroundings influence your workflow?
My studio is set up so everything can be on and recording all at once. I don’t want to have to worry about things being plugged in or having to set up a piece of gear just to use it. I make sure everything has a dedicated channel that can be armed and recorded at a moment’s notice. This allows me to have one man “jams” where everything is going at once and evolving organically while I flesh out raw output to later be shaped into a proper song.
I live in New York City, and my output is a direct result of my existence here. The concrete jungle is filled with noise at all times. All of these sounds bounce around in my mind subliminally and influence the types of sounds I create when I am in my workspace. I spend a lot of time sampling things I hear around the city. It could be anything, from noisy construction site sounds to overheard conversation or subway preachers. My phone is one of the most useful pieces of gear I have in this respect – I can pull it out and record sound at a moment’s notice and archive it for later use.
As I mentioned before, I like having everything set up to be able to record at a moment’s notice. Vocals, guitars, synthesizers, drums, etc. They all have their own dedicated channel ready to go with whatever plugins I need on them to sound the way I like.
Physically, every gear is in a sort of “station”. My desk has my computer and all my drum sources on it. To my immediate left is a keyboard stand with my Virus and Poly Evolver, and to my right is my modular and FX rack. All of this stuff can be routed into each other with the click of a mouse, and it’s all set up to be within reach so I can just go with no stopping, and without having to mess with the computer that much.
What is your ideal location for a studio?
I’m pretty satisfied with the location I have now, but I definitely would like something a bit bigger and a properly treated room. Also a live room so I could sample acoustic instruments and mess with miccing samples and creating weird impulse responses.
Are you involved in any music/sound work outside of your own projects?
I have been doing a lot of sound design and engineering work for other artists as of late.
I contributed sound design/programming and a remix to the most recent FEAR FACTORY album THE INDUSTRIALIST. It was an amazing opportunity and a lot of fun to do. I was given free reign to fill their songs with whatever sounds I saw fit, and they would pick and choose the parts they liked. It ended up that I am on nearly every track on the album, and the remix I did turned out pretty cool and was included as a bonus track.
The offshoot of this is I was able to work with Rhys Fulber (FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY, CONJURE ONE, DELERIUM), who produced the album, and I’ve done a bit of production work for him here and there, which has also been a great opportunity.
I also contributed some synth work to Tyler Burns’ most recent release VULGARIS, and helped co produce and write for Tom Napack’s project VANITY POLICE. I wrote the lead single THINGS YOU DON’T MEAN with him, and co produced several of the tracks on his upcoming release(s).
How would you describe your work ethic?
My music writing generally has two phases. First there is the “jam” phase. This phase generally revolves around the idea of playing with raw sound until I’ve created a large section of audio that I can later mess with/edit/warp/turn into a more structured skeleton for a song.
This jam phase can be anything from tweaking a modular patch, a raw oscillator output, or a full fledged beat with drum machines, basslines, and other ideas. I try to work in a way that is fueled by immediacy. If I don’t have something cool coming out of a piece of gear within 5 minutes I switch to something different and continue on. I don’t like to be stymied by frustration with one sound that simply isn’t working, and I also believe every piece of gear can be used well in some way. I don’t like comparisons, I think everything has a role, and that role can always change dependent on what you are going for – or not going for. Happy accidents are beautiful.
The second phase involves taking the raw audio and editing down and cutting the coolest parts into useful segments. Sometimes they don’t even make it into proper song structure, sometimes they just get thrown into a sample folder. What matters is having this audio, and being able to draw from it when it is time to move into structural thinking. I guess this falls under sound collage, but it feels much more organic to me. Ableton Live is a big help in this process – the liberties it allows you to take with audio are simply mind blowing.
What was the first piece of hardware you remember obtaining? What’s your newest?
My first piece of gear was a Microkorg. I found it to be a pretty solid synth, but a pain to learn on. Soon after I got a Virus B for very cheap, and was able to teach myself the basics of subtractive synthesis on that. I also had downlaoded Fruity Loops (to use as a drum machine) and Sony Acid Pro so I used all this stuff in tandem to teach myself the most basic forms of audio production.
I most recently picked up the Elektron Analog Four. I haven’t come to a conclusion on it yet. I feel that it has a lot of very cool ideas with sequencing analog sound that are limited by the sound engine. I would have liked stuff like linear FM, waveshaping, and perhaps a digital oscillator or two to be implemented to really flesh out the sound. The analog engine is beautifully implemented and sounds great, but I’ve always felt there is only so much you can do with an analog oscillator and filter.
I need FM, I need wavetables or shaping, and I need esoteric sound sources to use with the sequencer. Perhaps an Octatrack would be more up my alley, but I am trying to give the A4 it’s proper due before I make my final verdict. I love the parameter locking and micro timing stuff in the sequencer.
What is on your current ‘wish list’ for new hardware or software?
I would love to have a Buchla 200e system. I was lucky enough to use one recently and it was simply beautiful. It has actually re-informed my approach to my eurorack system because of the limitations implied by the format. With Buchla, you only get one selection of modules and a sparing choice of third party manufacturers, which forces you to make the most out of your system configuration. Eurorack is a format that is booming and has so many different choices that you can often become overwhelmed and overbuy or end up with stuff that is cool in theory but you never end up fully maximizing. Using the Buchla made me reconsider the idea of building a system for a certain purpose, and not moving from there. Limitations force you to be creative in ways you wouldn’t otherwise if you were inundated with options. They force you to explore every inch of one tool, rather than small portions of several.
I’d love to see some more innovation with sampling in modular systems, going into spectral morphing type of stuff like Izotope Iris. Also perhaps more esoteric digital modules exploring concepts like additive synthesis, and more alternative control interfaces. Control surfaces like the Haken Continuum and Buchla 222e really redefine interaction with sound, and allow you to be expressive in a way you would never achieve with a black and white keyboard – all while remaining “musical”. You can have a million sound sources, but the way you interact with them is what makes them really come alive.
Do you have a mobile studio setup?
My mobile setup consists of Ableton Live, a Teenage Engineering OP-1, and a huge bank of samples from all my various synthesizers that I can throw in and mess with. With this in mind, I generally don’t get much work done on the road as I feel confined by the lack of hands on control. Working on software is tiring for me a lot of the time.
Do you have a setup for live performances?
My live setup is revolved around the idea of reproducing studio tracks while being able to riff on them and take them into new performative places mid song. The last few shows with the live band have seen us transition from a straight playing back approach to improvising and branching out with different approaches to the songs. This means adding new sounds that weren’t present, and playing off of each other so it’s a little bit different every time.
On stage I will sing and play with my modular system, or sometimes the OP1. I have two other members. Brendan handles drums, and Spssky changes from guitar to synth to drum triggers dependent on the song. Each song requires a different approach, so sometimes I will just sing, sometimes I’ll be sequencing with the modular – either by sending midi out or using the rene, or sometimes I’ll play a keyboard.
The goal now is to be able to change up songs on the fly, and not just by improvising new parts, but fundamentally changing the structure, build up tracks from nothing, and play around with them realtime. This will require a reworking and stripping down of a lot of the material, but I think it will make for a much more dynamic live show. The other goal is to have the sound never stop, so that there is no lull between songs.
Have you ever heard your music being played at a random/public place?
I’ve walked into a few clubs here in NYC and heard some of my songs playing, and it’s really a surreal experience. One side of you is beaming with excitement and wants to tell everybody, and the other side wants to analyze the crowd and see their reactions. I try to keep my cool though, because either approach can be maddening if you think about it for too long. I tend to just appreciate that it is even happening and continue doing what I am doing.