My parents are originally from Barbados, West Indies. They came to England in the 60’s, They lived in West Kensington London, I was born at Westminster Hospital in 1985, then my parents moved to the Borough of Ealing where I currently live.
My Biological father, he was a vinyl junkie, his friend Bobby and himself use to take me to every record store in London and they would be in there for hours, he also owns a akai reel to reel, the generation of today is very lucky with technology because in my father days when he wanted to listen to one of his favourite tunes he would have to fast forward or rewind the tape in order to find it, so one day he sat me in the corner with my fisher price turntable and he tracked down every song he wanted, he started cutting and splicing until he ended up with his very own mix tape. He passed away when I was 8 years old and my Step Dad Kenneth Knight came into my life when I was 10 years old.
He got me in the music orchestra in primary school, the clarinet was my weapon of choice, I did many solo performances at school plays, In 97 was first time I witness The Come to Daddy Music Video by Aphex Twin, I told my mom the following day that I wanted music from him, so she went to HMV and purchased the EP which I still have to this day. I was also getting into Hip Hop at the time and one of my best mate played to me Delarosa and Asora: Sleep Method Suite, I also came across Autechre: Chiastic Slide, my mind was blown.
As years went by I got into Japanese Animation, Classics like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost In The Shell, Paprika and etc, I always based my music around the concept of Anime. One of my best friends from Australia (Daniel Lambert) influence through out the years.
My Technics turntables. I got into Scratching before I got into production, I still dab into scratching because It’s one of of my favourite pass time and I love the Rane mixers, I also hang out with The Community Skratch Games Crew in Ireland and Brighton. I recently purchased a Binaural Microphones / Earphones by Roland, A japanese friend of mine told me about the experience of capturing audio in 3D, I take those and my portable recorder everywhere I go and record random stuff.
I use FL Studio from the get go back in 97 and 16 years on i’m still using it because it was the only program that I could afford at that time and I just grew with it, many people were shocked to know that I use that DAW but I made projects such as my first album Digital Ninja Lp (Global Vortex Records), Tales from A Gameboi EP (Briefcase Rockers), Subliminal Arrangements 12″ (Alkalinear Recordings), Sky Open to Those Who Have Wings LP and Unseen Intruders collab with Qebrus (Bedroom Research), a tape release along side ilkae (Onibaba Records), Fallen Innocence (Bunkai – Kei Records), Biomorph Demo for Glitchmachines, Remix Richard Devine track from Risp and A Fatherless Child EP 12″ dedicated to step dad who passed away last year (Detund).
I also have an iPad, a portable recorder and some of my father’s vinyl for samples.
Workspace and Environment
I mainly make all of my music in my bedroom or walking around my area recording sounds on the go. Where I live in Ealing is a very mysterious and quiet place, it’s like the whispers is louder than the shadows at times so I add that element to my music. My ideal creative location would be a japanese garden where I can capture a lot of inspiration with all the surroundings or hi jacking Ivo Ivanov aka Glitchmachines music gear :P.
I am a strong believer of the term less is more so I make everything in FL Studio, I gather a lot of sounds through my portable recorder as well as improv session with mom in Native Instruments Reaktor, she’s becoming a boss cat now as when she hears the slightest sounds she’ll be like valance get your recorder and iPad ha ha
I did a remix for a mate in Birmingham: Defunkt Dialekt, I’m also going to working on a EP with 3x World DJ Champion: Tigerstyle, Working on some tunes with Enabl.ed from Cyuild Apo, working on remixes for Detund and carry on Beta Testing for Inear Display (France) Mitchell Nordine (Australia) and VI-Sounds (Netherlands)
I’ll be debuting at The Community Skratch Games in Galway Ireland at the end of March and will be showcasing in Leeds with The Tomorrow People. I’m planning to make a trip to the states next year.
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.
How is your studio set up in regards to ergonomics?
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.
All of the sudden and without warning I feel like I have a little bit in common with Matthew Dear. I admit, I haven’t heard too much of his music aside from random tracks on a few Ghostly comps. This is a short video, more like a commercial, but it’s quite beautiful anyway.
“Shot on location in Williamsburg, the black-and-white short features a potpourri of city and studio imagery as Dear narrates his first experiences with electronic-based music and becoming a performer. “Her Fantasy,” the celebratory lead single from Beams, serves as a suitably optimistic backing track for the video.”
“When musician/ photographer Justin King first came across the space that he would transform into Vinegar Hill Sound in the historic Vinegar Hill section of DUMBO in Brooklyn, it was, as he put it “just an empty, grungy warehouse with concrete floors and crumbling walls.” Six months later, he had transformed it into a welcoming and inspiring place to practice and record.”
At this moment, I’m in Detroit. I come back to USA every few months. I am sorta living in Berlin right now, which is where I was last 3 months. I feel rejuvenated by traveling and changing my environment so much. The problem is transporting my studio but I have a travel studio and split my equipment between the two cities.
From as long as I can remember, I’ve been making music. I started very early. My first record came out when I was 17 and I got signed to Warp the same year. I love inspiring people and my curiosity is intense with all multimedia art forms, thats why I’m tripping between photography, video, and all that. I’m an insomniac but i love working a lot. I released my first sample library a few years ago with Fixed Noise called RHYTHM OBJEKT for Kontakt I am currently endorsed by Intellijel, Elektron, Native Instruments, Symbolic Composer, MAXMSP/Cycling 74, dave smith Ins, Apogee, Erthenvar, STG.
Current Favorite Hardware
I just got an octatrack, which is blowing my mind. The sound quality isn’t as great as an MPC but the software on it does some pretty amazing things. I like it because its a new way of working. Not much you can’t do with Ableton, but still sounds better than a computer.
I got about 24U of modular and I’m a big fan of Makenoise. Cant wait for the new 2012 modules. Intellijel (Danjiel) is amazing guy and love his stuff. STG is a great guy too and they both have helped me out with my setup. Pittsburgh is also mentionable.
Richie got me into modular, so I owe him a lot of my inspiration. Trash Audio is a great site so I’m happy to be doing this (even though its years late :) Studio Electronics. Omega/SE1. I don’t mind spilling my secrets because its how I play them, not as much the actual sounds. I made most of RHYTHM OBJEKT with those.
Slices Issue 2-12
Current Favorite Software
Soundtoys is great and some of the best sounding plugins. Alex (Boyz Noise) hooked me up with a lot of my cool new stuff. Sylenth sounds great, Razor is very cool and unique. GRM tools of course. I don’t do much max/msp programming these days but I am using it for my new performance using LED lights. Plogue Bidule, Symphonic Composer, and Metasynth are used really heavily in my music. Everyone asks me if I use Waves. No, I don’t like waves at all. I like my production dry, if you notice I don’t use so much effects in my music… its more like a collage rather than a wash of sounds.
KOMA Elektronik Interview
Workspace and Environment
Its always changing. The lighting and the space and the city. I need change to be inspired. Plus I like visiting my friends studios and having friends hang out in my studio while I produce. I like when my closest friends can do their own thing while I’m making music in the studio. I’m not much into working on airplanes, that when I do my transcendental meditation.
I love performing but if I could, I would just be in the studio constantly, but its nice to change my environment, as I said. I consider myself a visual artist above all, so the visual aesthetic is what I’m working on this year to get my studio up to par. Lighting is key for me, and colors. I’m looking into getting a new place in berlin, somewhere new that I can transform into mine. I’m finally at that point in my life where I want to settle into a place instead of traveling around everywhere and not really having a permanent home.
I need a nice chair, I need visual stimulation. It’s just as important as the sound equipment. I have to be in that mind state. A lot has changed in this respect since I started meditating. I always wondered what constituted inspiration and non inspiration and I realized something. You can create inspiration by imagining yourself in that state. Staying positive. Before I studied meditation I was taking classes for hypnosis for fun… to my surprise they have a lot of similarities. Hypnosis helped me help other people, and myself But meditation is more of a personal thing.
Berlin is a bit overpopulated with people who want to do things, but aren’t very motivated because its so cheap. I lived in NYC for 5 years and this was a good time for me to realize things about people and myself. Detroit was the most inspiring city for me because there is such a lack of something, and people have amazing imagination there, because of the lack. Urban detioration is good for inspiration too. I still can recall this Detroit feeling thats so strong and immediate, its hard to describe but you can hear it in my music. I’ve spent my life trying to recreate it.
I create it. Everyone should. Positive energy. Good people, comfortable. Silence. color very specifically. Ability to take breaks and do other creative things.
Silence is used just as much as sound. I usually change what I do for every project otherwise I feel exhausted. My recent thing has been imagining my song as my band. For instance the bass is my bass player and I give them characters attitudes and personal attributes. Like my drummer and percussionist is really egotistical and likes to show off. This creates a virtual environment and personality in music.
I also love splitting up my parts into bands and imagining music in 3d and attempt to make 4th and 5th dimensional music. I put different effects on the highs, mids, and lows and create layers bands on frequency bands. I’m always combining the best of digital, analog and computer music because they all have something amazing to offer.
Most of my time is spent writing music on piano, since I spent a long time studying with black baptist church jazz pianists, they have a very DIY style of playing and taught me to play from heart. Once you got the structure, its easy to build electronic song around that. Thats why I can effortlessly make melodic cuts and effects into my music, because I’ve organized and structured my music into chords, progressions, melodies and other song structure applications.
First Piece of Gear
The ensoniq ASRXPRO.. then soon later came the808. Still one of the best pieces ever. I think everyone can agree. I remember playing live when I was younger and that thing kills any sound system. You could rock a show with an 808 and a mic any night, in any city, all over earth.
Last Piece of Gear
Octatrack. I think it’ll be sought after for a long time. It’s definitely a time piece.
It’s always quite a surprise hearing my music out. Especially the ones that the DJs didn’t know I produced it. I remember the first time this happened. me and Travis (Machinedrum) were 17 and walking into virgin records in Japan and they were playing my record as we walked in. Amazing feeling. Bunch of people in line were buying our records… just wow yaknow?
I’m an accomplished fashion photographer and I’m working on making short films and have done music videos for artists like Beta Band/Black Affair and Emika on Ninja Tune. I also have a graphic design and multimedia project that I am working on consciousness changing artwork and from my contact with extra terrestrials, and my work with meditation, occult, and alchemy. It’s called magenta, like my new album
I’ve not traveled too far from home. I grew up in a rural Hamlet outside the city of Windsor, Ontario and moved into the city in my early twenties. I started working on the U.S. side of the border which provided more opportunities both within my career and artistically as well.
I started producing music while attending University. I was a fine art major but experimental audio eventually became a big part of my studies. I was in a multi-media program which focused on audio, video and installation art as a discipline. It wasn’t a very popular program at the time but it gave me a foundation for understanding the impact of time based media. Video production at the time was rather pricey so I started experimenting more with audio gear. It was the early 90’s and my work was also influenced by the evolving techno/warehouse scene in Detroit. I made some work at that time which might have been classified as “techno” but I never really took to it as much I as I had hoped I might. So my focus eventually turned to producing audio for video, installations and eventually performance. Producing sound continues to be a more accessible creative outlet for me. My studio is always a few steps away and I’ve found methods for working that can produce satisfying results quickly.
I think it’s difficult for me to identify only a few pieces of hardware that could be called current favorites. A couple of years ago I started down the treacherous path of working with modulars. I researched for months ultimately hoping to find a device that didn’t require that I be staring at a screen and that was instantly accessible to experiment with. The tactile nature of modular gear has satisfied that need perfectly. If you see the modular as a singular instrument, then that is my current favorite piece of hardware. But I see all the individual modules that add up to the system as being instruments as well. With that said, if I were to narrow it to a few modules I would say the last few Intellijel units I’ve picked up. I’ve been using a Dixie for the last few tracks and it’s incredibly full sounding. I really do need a few more.
My first piece of gear was a Yamaha TG-33 that I bought from a local piano dealer. It’s an FM based synth that combines samples that allowed you to morph between four quadrants with a joy stick. It was capable of multiple voices so it was a good place to start. I still own the unit and am not likely to part with it despite not having used it for years. Perhaps I’ll boot it up again in the near future.
The last piece of gear I acquired was the Flight of Harmony IMP eurorack module. I’ve been building and working with a modular system for more than a year now. Those familiar with modulars, especially eurorack, are aware that it’s continually evolving and you never completely settle on a finished hardware arrangement. I haven’t so far and I suspect I’ll keep at it for some time. I’m having some difficulty finding good uses for the IMP at this point. It’s essentially a noise machine that doesn’t take to tuning easily. I bought it understanding that but to force myself to think a bit less musically. I listen to a lot of work that would be classified as noise so you might think I could break my formulas, but old habits die hard.
Other than building the modular more recently, I generally don’t update gear or software too often. I’ve been working with Reaktor for years and it still manages to achieve what I expect as well as continually offering new paths for experimentation. I use it for both sound creation as well as effects. I’ve worked in a digital semi-modular manner for years so the transition and integration of hardware and software has been fairly seamless and intuitive.
Workspace and Environment
I know plenty of musicians that are capable of working in a carefree cluttered environment. That is not my modus operandi. If my studio is too cluttered, I find it very difficult to work. Somehow my mind is on organizing rather than producing. I’ve had a few different work environments but I find the current location to be the most comfortable. A few years ago I was determined to produce work on a laptop in any number of locations, but I’ve found that in foreign environments, I’m continually distracted by my surroundings. My studio is a safe haven from disturbances…for the most part.
Ergonomics play an important role in my studio in that I want to have most everything in easy reach. If it’s trouble to set up or assemble, it doesn’t seem to get used. I think there is a balance between comfort and function as well. I like my studio space to be relaxed but not at the sacrifice of productivity. I don’t want to waste precious time being indolent.
I think at one time both Windsor and Detroit contributed to the kind of music I made as well as providing an audience. Over the years my sound has changed and as a result so has my listening audience, which was small to begin with. I think the art scene was as equally important as the music scene was in contributions. I feel the ability to reach out online via social media channels has provided me a good substitution for exposure to a wider audience.
I’ve always imagined creating a studio in a remote location. Imagine something akin to Philip Johnson’s Glass House. It’s likely to have poor acoustics given the amount of glass, but I can’t help but think I’d be extremely productive in such a tranquil environment.
My studio has been in about 4 locations over the years. It really did start out as a bedroom studio but I started buying larger vintage synths and they really can take up some room. I then moved to a basement studio with more than enough room but it ultimately lacked the comfort needed to spend extended periods of time in. Eventually I reduced the size of my studio as I was working mostly digitally and figured I wouldn’t need bulky hardware as much. I sold a few things I wish I had kept, but realistically I didn’t need them. Too many options can be paralyzing.
There is no question that the “less is more” philosophy applies to my creative process. More accurately I believe “inventiveness is a direct result of working within constraints”. I’ve had more gear at one time and gear lust is by nature part of music production it would seem. But I’ve learned over the years that it’s far too easy to get distracted by a multitude of options. That includes software as well. I’ve restricted myself to essentially three software programs, a couple of outboard processors and a modest sized modular setup. As well, when producing a new track I often restrict my sound sources, attempting to create as many variations with a limited selection.
Veteran Canadian producer and hardware lover, Solvent, gave StudioFeed an inside look at his Bloor-West home studio set-up, as well as discussed everything from why he makes music to the story behind his recent RDJ-CS5 EP. Jason touched on many topics involving music in this lengthy interview, including what it’s like to have a fifteen-year career and to still be considered a “relatively obscure” musician. In addition to making music, Solvent is also involved in a documentary on modular synthesizers called “I Dream of Wires” that is expected to be released later in 2012.
Dowload StudioFeed’s whole interview with Jason from our Soundcloud player (35 mins):
I grew up in a village just outside Cambridge, England. After A-levels, I worked doing electronic technician work for a local firm. Outside of work, I spent most of my time at home making music & playing computer games. I work for the wonderful Version Industries (65dos & Big Black Delta fans will surely know of us) here in London as well, so I can’t see a need to move right now.
My first foray into music making was probably when I was 12. I gravitated towards people who looked and dressed like me (as you do at that age), hoping people shared the same taste in music. This being the early ‘90s in England, you either liked pop, indie, rave or grunge. Within the first week at school I clicked with a guy called Martin due to our mutual love of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains & Soundgarden. At this time I couldn’t really play any instruments that well but Martin could play the guitar to a reasonable standard. Instead of following in the footsteps of our musical heroes, we took to forming a experimental-noise (read: shit) duo heavily influenced by our favorite band, Mr. Bungle. I took up vocal / FX duties whilst Martin basically played thrash guitar / white noise. We used to get together at weekends at his Mum’s house, get drunk and record an album of mad shit into a C90 tape recorder. I would then spend the next week at school designing stupid album covers before we recorded again the following weekend.
Music making got a bit more serious when I was 16/17 and started getting into u-Ziq, Squarepusher & Aphex, thanks to my friends Mike & Jos. I quickly got into programming on trackers (ModPlug being my favorite to this day) & and an outboard step-sequencer (Yamaha RM1x) to start making glitchy beats and weird FX stuff. I bought a couple of cheap Behringer rack FX units and a cheap mic and started making weird, experimental noise with Jos under the name, The Project Mindrape. It was when we were mixing down an album of this stuff in the cold, damp barn at Mike’s house, that I played Mike & Jos what would become the first tracks I made under the name, Accelra. They suggested I should probably put it under a new name, as this music was decidedly more melodic and tuneful than my previous stuff. Since then I’ve learnt how to play the piano and to a lesser degree, the guitar. These now form the building blocks within my music as interfacing starting points to the sounds I make.
When I started making music as Accelra, I used to just make music for the sake of it. Compartmentalizing tracks into albums with no planned release in mind, then just moving onto the next batch. I would then design artwork and give CDs out to my friends. This slowed a bit when I moved to London due to a lack of good space to make music within coupled with my increasing disposable income, that I ploughed into computer games (life’s great, wondrous, time sink of an activity). In more recent times I have been working on-and-off on about four albums worth of material at any one time. Most recently I have completed a remix for Big Black Delta. My friend & work colleague, Caspar pushed me to get stuff up online as I’ve been a bit secretive with my music for the past few years. I’ve now started releasing my earlier work on Bandcamp, which gives me time to focus on more recent projects.
Current Favorite Hardware
Squier Jagmaster guitar: Over the last six months I’ve strived to add new input methods to my music outside of my day-to-day keyboard interface. I felt the natural progression from my more recent music was to add a guitar-based input to my creative process. I didn’t have a huge amount of cash so I bought a secondhand Squier Jagmaster (with a Bowie-tastic, glam silver sparkle finish) and gutted the electrics and hardware so I could rebuilt it. My girlfriend’s brother, James, is a stunningly good guitarist (who also knows how to build and fix guitars) so between us we did it up. I’m a massive fan of the sound of the Fender Wide-range Humbucker so I got a custom one made and partnered that with a P90 in the bridge. Both these pickups react really well to layers of FX processing and can give me a wonderful clean sound.
Apple Magic Mouse: People may complain about the lack of a simple rechargeable battery solution but it makes navigating DAWs far easier. It must have sped up my workflow no end over the last year or so.
Current Favorite Software
In terms of DAW, I use Logic Pro these days as my main arrangement interface. Alongside that I use ModPlug tracker on the PC.
My Macbook Pro pretty much allows me to go silly with FX layering and process chains in Logic. I can essentially craft tonal palettes in terms of FX and then save that off as my own preset. That capability alone revolutionized my sequencing environment and Logic’s straightforward interface means it’s really easy to bring those processes into an existing track when you want to experiment.
ModPlug Tracker never gets old. It handles just about every tracker format and I still prefer the vertical timeline of trackers to that of modern DAW’s horizontal timelines. I can forgive the crude sample handling and VST support as it was born of a time when each new instrument channel meant lowering the sound quality of the whole mix. You had to be ruthless to get a good sound of it and I still think all my old tracker mixes sound like shit today. Luckily it doesn’t handle the lion’s share of duties these days but I’m loath to give it up entirely.
Plugin wise, I’m a massive fan of Apple’s reverb plugins. They work nicely out of the box and have low latency and CPU drain, which is all good in my world. I’m also a big lover of convolution reverbs (mainly as I can’t afford to utilize anything other than the space I’m in). I’m looking into getting IK’s AmpliTube or NI’s Guitar Rig at some point soon to muck around with some amp modeling.
Workspace and Environment
The space around me really does have a huge impact on my creativity. If I can’t control the space, I find it hard to concentrate when it comes to playing around with ideas. Because of this, when my girlfriend and I bought our first flat in London, I built a studio/workspace at the bottom of the garden. I have a background in electrical engineering & was always helping my Dad with home improvement projects, so me and my girlfriend’s brother, James, built the studio ourselves in about 3 months. After living in numerous Victorian terrace flats in London, it was nice to dictate the number of power points in the room by wiring it myself. Building the studio was a tough process but it’s really nice to be able to create music in a calm, sound-proofed environment.
It all started in my parent’s house when I was still living at home. Then I moved around a number of rented flats around in North London before building my studio space at the bottom of my garden. Initially I ran a crappy PC computer, dual CRT screen on a couple of desks in my bedroom but that has moved onto a control room style studio space with a Macbook Pro + PC laptop. If I move again, I’m planning on a larger space with a dedicated live room.
An ergonomic chair is a must. I used to foolishly use one of those ergonomic chairs you kneel in but basically sat on it in such a way that I probably fucked my back up more than sitting in any regular chair would’ve done. I currently sit in a Herman Miller Embody chair in a very bright orange color. On a good day you can feel like Captain Kirk or Blofeld. On a bad day you’re just thankful that you’re not permanently damaging your back in a ‘stylish’ office chair that will turn you into a hunched Gollum within a year. I have a nice big white desk to work on that contains most of my stuff for music & work (again it could always be bigger!). Its set to my perfect working height so I’m not messing my shoulders up or giving myself early RSI. All boring stuff but it really helps when you are working / making music, not having to worry about the detrimental health affects of your workspace.
Ostensibly I would say that it’s more down to my mood than anything else when it comes to the style, quality and feelings found in any given piece of music I make. I am aware however, that the space around me heavily dictates my mood so I would say that although I don’t take direct narrative points from my surroundings, I’m probably subconsciously driven to sound ideas by proxy.
As nice as my studio space is, it could always be bigger! I would like to say a countryside setting with nice views but the last time I was in space like that with a mind to write music (in this case the Big Black Delta remix), I ended up going to a local zoo instead. I did see some cool goats, so not a total loss. However, I do like seclusion if I’m honest. Most, if not all of the music I’ve made as Accelra has been made on my own, when no one else is around. As much as I like working in a vacuum, more recently I’ve been collaborating with some very talented friends of mine. Collaboration at the ideas level is a weird experience for me, as I am more used to a ‘show and tell’ method in terms of working on projects with others. I have some new joint projects on the go at the moment that are true 50/50 collaborative efforts and I’m finding it nice to get stuck into a new way of working alongside my normal processes.
Sometimes I try to force ideas, which does throw up some good stuff occasionally. In more regular work I’m probably guilty of getting caught in stylistic moods that frame periods of tracks over a year. The positives of this is that I can have a lot of different and sometimes conflicting stuff to draw from when working out what to do with it. Bad points are that I’m a lot more ruthless when it comes to the care I have for the tracks themselves as more time passes. I’m doing my best to deal with this by simply releasing what I’ve sat on for the last three years rather just filing it away as stuff that just didn’t work out right or not having enough companion pieces to become something bigger.
Aside from my own projects I occasionally do original music, sound design & foley recording work for Version Industries on websites and other projects. High profile examples are the Beyond Apollo pre-production film website & the JLo Love & Glamour perfume experience website. In an ideal world, I would love to do music for computer games (especially RPGs) or film scoring.
I was born in Abergavenny, a smallish town in South Wales. I went to uni in London for 4 years and now live in Bristol. I started messing around with computer sound when I was 12 or so when my family got our first computer (an epic 186mhz) on this shitty MIDI programme called Evolution Audio Lite. I wrote a couple of potential xmas number ones on that – one anthem called Losenge, and another that consisted of one of the demo songs compressed down to a single beat. Then later got Fruity Loops v1 on a pirated mega-disk of music software my brother brought me back from Thailand, then worked up through every version until now (10).
Listening to the IDM classics got me motivated back then, these days music doesn’t so much. I have real motivational issues sometimes with music, especially when I’m under deadline pressure. The spiral usually goes like this: leave it too late -> don’t think I have enough time to make it as good as possible -> don’t think it’s going to be any good -> put it off -> leave it too late, etc. There a lot of other things I like doing and sometimes music doesn’t get my time for weeks (but when I go back I remember what I was missing and have an all nighter).
Current Favorite Hardware
If it counts, first is my computer by a long, long way. Most stuff that can be done in hardware can be done in software, and if it can’t someone is usually working on it. One thing software can’t very well yet is imitate the real world, so second is my Zoom H2 recorder and mic collection. I bloody love it. As soon as I bought it a couple of years ago it became my camera and I always keep it in my bag, just in case there’s some sound that I want. I’ve got some nice mics to go with it – some deep-ear binaural mics, some waterproofed contact mics (double up as hydrophones) and this relatively new one, a coil mic that picks up the electromagnetic fields of electronics (you can hear CPUs crunching numbers, it’s nuts). I’ve also modded the H2 ready for a soundfield mic that I’m making for capturing ambisonic recordings, for post-rec panning with head-tracking experiments. Third favourite is this little Roland Dr-Drum that I’ve taken the back off to expose the synthesis circuits. When you poke it, it sounds like the scream of someone trapped in a digital nightmare. Instaglitch. Crack a bit of reverb on it, job done.
Current Favorite Software
Synthmaker is fuckin wicked. I started playing with it when Max dropped their export to VST feature in favour of the Max for Live thing (which I have almost no use for, and when I thought I might do I’ve found it can’t do it yet). It’s done so many things right and in some ways I prefer it to Max. It’s so quick to prototype stuff in it that it’s changed what VSTs mean to me – now I tend to knock out ones that create a specific sound for a specific track, rather than more flexible synths etc. Plus it’s tightly integrated in FL which which is great. I’m a Max fan though, but I just use it for live stuff and sound generation, I’ve never found a way of knitting it fully into my setup. A couple of years ago I started programming, and that’s changed things because now I can make new tools for sound design and sequencing. For example, one thing I’m working on is sound painting – sculpting sounds from the ground up by painting their spectrums using a digitizer I got for xmas. Another is a tool for sequencing fractal-structured tracks with infinite zoom (i.e. as the track slows, the next layers emerge in the opening gaps between the beats), a bit like that fold 4 wrap 5 Autechre tune but controllable faster and slower. As for actual VSTs, xoxos.net has some really weird physical modelling ones which are great, and also the convolver that comes with FL is excellent – you can record the impulses of other plugins with it.
Workspace and Environment
I know this is Workspace and Environment, but they don’t really effect me too much to be honest. I find that when I get into the zone it doesn’t really matter where I am. I’ve snapped out of sessions and realised that I haven’t eaten since breakfast and that I’ve been needing a piss for the last 4 hours – where I am is the least of my concerns.
Are Ergonomics Important?
Very, after one summer without a mouse and keyboard and the savage aches and pains in my wrists that resulted. I sorted it out then and haven’t had a problem since.
Does Your City Affect Your Output?
Definitely, but I’m far more affected by the people around me than the music scene of the city itself.
The massive dweeb answer: virtual reality. It would be bonkers. Music wouldn’t be just sound anymore because sound waves wouldn’t exist and you wouldn’t have eardrums to hear them if they did. Everything would become general sensory input. Smelling music and hearing light, etc, etc. Sound/visual synths that you control just by thinking about it. It brings up some interesting questions. How fast could you press a note of a keyboard or twist a dial if you weren’t limited by the physical speed of your finger? How many separate parameters could you control at once? I’ve thought about this way too much. A slightly more realistic location would be in some sort of floating sky-booth that sits above the clouds, like the London eye but not shit, a lot higher and with a stonking sound system.
Generally I make an effort to experiment with new techniques. It’s too easy to get locked in the same formula. A while ago I got muscle memory tweaking this one reverb to exactly the same sound, and put it on almost everything. I try to avoid that now. Though I guess my general process is to listen back to the tune I’m working on for little hooks and ideas (not necessarily intentional ones as I use some generative techniques), and then develop those. It’s by expanding and emphasising these anomalies that my tracks are made basically.
First Piece of Gear
My Event TR-8 monitors. Loved em then, love em now. When I bought them I cracked them on the floor facing each other and lay between them, listening to rain sounds of all things. I know you can more expensive ones with flatter responses, but unless your studio is in an anechoic chamber inside another one in space it seems a bit pointless getting posher ones since the room has much more of an effect…and I’ve been in acoustically turd rooms since I got them.
Last Piece of Gear
10 radios for one of my half-finished projects. My thoughts of them now are that I’ll probably never end up using them so I should just offload them to the chazza shop, but probably won’t. My thoughts of them in the future will be that I should have offloaded them to the chazza shop because I never used them, and now they’re just going in the bin.
How Many Workspaces Have You Had?
As many as I have had houses in the last 5 years…so 7. It hasn’t changed that much to be honest. It’s not the best studio but I only really use the monitors to listen to things really, really loud, generally I find a good pair of headphones better for mixing. The biggest change it got was when I got a sub a couple of years ago. The first thing I did when I got it (as everyone must do when they get a sub) is do a 20kHz to 20Hz sine sweep. I got a call 2 minutes later from my estate agent because the lady next door had ran to the office to complain that my ‘drum and bass music’ was rattling her picture frames. It goes down to 20Hz, and having this entirely new chunk of the spectrum really affected my music (and the neighbours), putting 20Hz rumble in tunes and that.
Me and my housemate made this silly animation recently that seems to be going down quite well on youtube. The internet does love cats it seems. Too much in fact because some people have actually bought the track. Some german public TV show contacted us to feature it and we’re getting 40 quid out of it which is nice.