1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?
It would have to be the giant knob on the Orthogonal Devices ER-301 Sound Computer. It’s exceptionally smooth, without feeling loose or wobbly. Its size and feel are welcome, considering it’s the only way to navigate throughout the module.
2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?
I’ve tried out many reverbs throughout the years, and the OTO Bam is probably my favourite. The one thing that’s keeping it from being perfect? There is no continuous control over the filters, only switchable settings. That’s not enough to keep me from loving it though.
3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?
I can’t remember the last time I went on holiday that didn’t involve playing shows/touring. The setup always varies depending on travel. If I’m travelling within the United States, I tend to bring out my 7U eurorack case + an Analog Heat (my secret weapon during live shows) + another piece of gear that rotates out depending on what I’m working on at the moment. If I’m travelling internationally, I have a smaller eurorack case I bring out, and a few other smaller items like pedals and CV controllers.
3. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?
Maybe Borderlands Granular on iOS. But part of what makes Borderlands so great is its touchscreen controls, so maybe it wouldn’t be as good without an iOS screen. It’s one of my favourite implementations of granular.
It would be really interesting to have the Ciat-Lonbarde Cocoquantus in software. Sometimes it’s so beautifully unpredictable, but I wouldn’t be lying if I sometimes wanted some kind of predictability in certain situations. I really like tape and cassette emulator VSTs for much of the same reason. There is some kind of magic with unpredictable devices, but sometimes that requires getting through the issues (“where is that noise coming from?!”).
4. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?
Anything I’ve ever regretted selling, I bought back again. Mutable Instruments Elements would be an example of that. Bastl Microgranny another. For the most part, as long as something wouldn’t be hard to acquire again, I don’t have an issue moving on. I don’t like to keep things around that I’m not using or intend to use actively.
I can’t say I really regret buying anything either. If it turns out I’m not gelling with something, I don’t feel regret. It’s easy enough to move onto the next thing.
5. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?
Mutable Instruments Clouds. What can I say? I love effects. I love granular. Clouds has been a staple in my setup on every release I’ve put out. It just has a certain magic to it, a certain character. Like how tape or old samplers have a certain character. Whatever sound source I run through its many different modes, I still feel inspired.
6. If you had to start over, what would you get first?
Honestly, I don’t think I’d change a thing. My first hardware electronic instrument was a Korg Volca Keys (the MicroKorg I bought and didn’t understand a couple of years earlier doesn’t count), and it was the perfect instrument to test the waters of synthesis and hardware electronic gear. I didn’t know if I would gel with synths, and coming from the guitar world, I knew I would better understand something with a physical interface, rather than something in software.
It was a great first synth and its interface was simple enough to help teach me the basics of subtractive synthesis, all without breaking the bank.
[Editor: This is sage advice. Knowing what you need to progress, when you don’t yet know so much, is often clouded by what you want]
7. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?
I guess if anything, some of my cassette recorders. Sometimes there are noises and hums and issues that are seemingly impossible to diagnose. But I can’t imagine not having any of them. Each of them has their own importance and place in my studio.
8. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of gear?
Using tape loops as an effect, rather than just for looping. With 3-head tape recorders, they often have a setting to monitor the tape as it’s being recorded to, allowing you to have the playback head and record head active at the same time. If you use an endless looping cassette, the tape will just keep going through the machine; through the record head, to the playback head (and to your ears), and getting erased again as it heads back to the record head to repeat the cycle. If you use a cassette that has been played a lot, or has been beat up, you can get some awesome character. This allows you to get that character for whatever you decide to run through the tape machine, instead of being limited to the length of the cassette loop.
This is probably common knowledge, but I also haven’t seen many people using the endless cassette loops in this way either.
Artist or Band name?
Where are you from?
San Jose, California
How did you get into music?
I grew up playing guitar and had family members that were musicians.
What still drives you to make music?
The need to express myself and connect to people in a way that I find difficult with words.
How do you most often start a new track?
First, I will try to find a sound I like by making a new patch on a synth, or running something through a sampler or effects. Once I reach that point, I will try to come up with a melody or at least a part of the track to start building around. From there, it’s like doing a puzzle, adding and subtracting other sounds and arranging them until the track match the mood I was trying convey, or if it makes me feel something. There are many parts to this process.
Conversely, sometimes I will start from the point of having a melodic idea or track part before having any sounds in mind and try to find the sounds that fit.
How do you know when a track is finished?
It’s hard to explain. It’s similar to feeling full after eating a meal, but in your brain and heart rather than your stomach. It’s all based on intuition for me…for better or for worse.
[Editor: It is nice to know that the completion of a track or song can come with a sense of fulfilment. So often the process is plagued by frustration or boredom. So this is a nice, positive way to measure the end]
Show us your current studio
Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?
It’s okay to not feel creative and to take breaks. Keep working on it, but don’t overwork yourself.
Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.
The label, Dauw just reissued my first 4 albums on vinyl for the first time. Packaged as a 4xLP collection called Seafoam & Dust, each album is also available individually. Beautifully remastered by Ian Hawgood. This has been a project over a year in the making and I’m incredibly proud of how it came together. It can be found at rbeny.bandcamp.com or dauw.bandcamp.com
I also have a new self-released album called Natural Fiction, out now on digital and cassette: rbeny.bandcamp.com/album/natural-fiction
[Editor: Do you have any of R Beny’s gear? Or just enjoy making slow ambient music? Then why not share a tip or trick? Leave a comment below]