1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?
I recently acquired a Tasty Chips GR-1 granular synthesizer for the very reasons that it is standalone, has tactile controls, and great visual feedback. I was at Perfect Circuit here in the Los Angeles area checking out a bunch of new synths and couldn’t stop playing with the GR-1. I fell in love with it. The fader that moves the playhead across the sample is extremely satisfying to use and is a current favourite.
Some others worth mentioning are:
The Gamechanger Audio Plus pedal, which has a giant piano-style sustain foot pedal. It is great for quiet ambient stuff especially because there’s no physical ‘click’ when you engage it. It just feels cool to use and the pedal is great. Very intuitive.
The main control on this old Westinghouse portable reel-to-reel is beautiful and feels great.
I’m also a big fan of the Flight of Harmony Choices joystick, which is a eurorack modular synth module. I use it all the time for sound design work.
2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?
The GR-1 kind of falls into this description because for all it has going for it (which is a lot!) the sample/bank/patch/performance loading and saving scheme for me was not very intuitive and is still taking me a while to get the hang of. That said, I really hate to nitpick. As someone who is friends with many small synth manufacturers, I completely understand that this thing is a product of passion created as a kickstarter project without the resources of a synth giant like Roland or Korg, so hats off to Tasty Chips for making something so great. It takes me a while to get patches and performances set up, but I can work with that because, once those are in place it is super fun to use.
3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?
I have a Cordoba Mini which is a nylon string travel guitar, which satisfies the musical urge when away from home.
I also sometimes will bring one of my briefcase modular synths. I’ve converted a few old Samsonite slim briefcases into very portable synths.
If anyone is interested, I did a whole guest blog post about them for my friends at Noise Engineering here.
This thing is thin!
I also really love the T. Chordstrum, which is a DIY kit made by Johan Berglund
(https://www.instagram.com/trasselfrisyr) that uses a Teensy board. It is like a tiny Omnichord. It has Korg Mini Pops drum samples, chord, bass and two sounds for the strum strips. It’s an absolutely fantastic device. It’s my absolute favorite airplane travel instrument.
4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?
Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when all I had was a Yamaha cassette 4-track and a handful of instruments I recorded tons of music. Now, with the incredible technology of a studio on my laptop, I strangely don’t finish as much music. (To be fair to myself, I had a lot more free time then!)
While I absolutely love the capabilities of a modern DAW, there is something about using the computer to record music that hinders me, and I’m not even sure what it is about it. It seems like such a lame thing to say, as I know I am a lucky human being to even have the luxury of owning such equipment, but there’s something about the computer that repels me from even getting started sometimes. I don’t subscribe to the ‘Analog vs. Digital’ mindset, so it’s not that. They are both fantastic for different reasons. (War is over, if you want it!) As a sound designer and musician, I love and use both analog and digital gear.
So I guess what I would really want is something like a standalone Reaper device. A hardware box that I can just turn on and has all the inputs/outputs I need, a few faders and knobs, and a large decent screen. I’ve looked into some of the standalone digital multitrack recorders, but so far nothing has the right appeal. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at what’s available, so maybe I should look into it again.
5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?
I regret that I traded my first ‘real’ guitar that I ever owned for a Rhodes piano around 2002. It was a 1972 green Fender Mustang with the mint racing stripe (it was actually a blue finish that turns a lovely green over time as the clear coat yellows). I got it in the mid ‘80s for $200. Nirvana hit big a few years later and after that, everybody would see me with this guitar and say, “oh, doing the Nirvana thing, eh?” which was a drag because as much as I liked them, I’d had the guitar for years before the Teen Spirit video. At the time I traded it, I didn’t have the money to get it re-fretted and I wanted a Rhodes, so away it went.
That said, I have always had incredible luck with finding musical equipment at yard sales, swap meets, and thrift stores, for which I am grateful. I have amassed quite a great collection of gear, so I really can’t complain.
6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?
As I mentioned earlier, My old Yamaha cassette 4-track was really inspiring and was my training ground that led to me being a professional sound designer and musician. When I first got that and a Midiverb II I was so thrilled. I made music with that set up for years. I still have over 150 cassettes (all numbered and labeled!) from that long period of my life.
7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?
If I could start over, I would have the same gear, but I would embrace music theory and would try harder to learn to read music. I am now, much later in life, getting into studying theory. When I was younger, I avoided music theory because I thought it would just make me sound like everybody else, plus it made that magical musical world I used to intuitively explore feel like more academia. I think there was some merit to exploring on my own, as I came up with some weird cool voicing and songs, etc., but I now feel in the long run, having that knowledge just adds to one’s musical vocabulary.
As far as reading music goes, I may be missing part of my brain because I have a real hard time with it, even though I’ve tried to get into it in earnest many times. I do think the system is pretty terrible though, with the weird staff layouts, sharps and flats, different names for the same notes, and don’t get me started on instruments you have to transpose!
8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?
My iPhone. I use it to record videos and for posting stuff to social media. I use a Roland Go:Mixer Pro to get the audio into it, and randomly the sound will have all these clicks in it, or be super garbled. It’s not the mixer. I’ve found that if I quit all apps, reboot the phone, plug in the mixer, THEN open video app it generally won’t do it.
It’s not lost on me that smart phones are absolutely amazing technology and in the ‘80s these things would have seemed amazing, impossible and alien. It is truly incredible to be alive at a time when you can walk around with a wireless pocket computer with access to all your friends and a global database. But it is funny how frustrating modern technology can be at times!
9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?
Back around 2001 my home ‘studio’ was pretty humble. I was using minidiscs quite a lot (which I still sort of love, as a format). I discovered with just my Sony MBS-JD920 minidisc deck that not only could you edit tracks, but you could seamlessly loop tracks, and you could program track lists that would play them all without gaps. It was like a primitive DAW! An example of what this enabled would be: recording some drums with my portable minidisc unit with the stereo mic (which had a great compression to it), chopping it up in the deck into the various parts of the song (verse, chorus, etc. ) and then programing the structure (repeating ‘tracks’ as needed), then running the entire full drum track out to the 4-track (to build the rest of the song from there). I also did this with long jams; I would edit them down into more concise songs just using the deck. It was like building a ship in a bottle, but it worked!
[Editor: Cool use of a minidisc. I wonder if the Sony MBS-JD920 has a shuffle mode too?…Glitch generator]
Artist or Band name?
All that will have me 🙂
Where are you from?
I grew up in Michigan and I have lived in California since 1996.
How did you get into music?
I have always loved music and sound. My dad brought home a tape recorder and a 3-pack of blank cassettes from K-Mart and gave it to me when I was five years old. It was the first thing I owned that wasn’t a kid’s toy. I revered it and recorded everything with it.
I got my first guitar when I was eight years old. It was a Kay electric guitar my dad bought for $15 from a classified ad. I plugged it into my stereo. By the time I was 15 I was in a band playing bars in Detroit and Ypsilanti.
What still drives you to make music?
I play music every single day just for personal sanity and enjoyment. For me, music is one of the things that makes life worth living. It’s meditative, too. Sometimes while I’m just playing I’ll start remembering dreams from the night before. I imagine this has something to do with the state I get in while playing is in the similar brainwave range as dreaming, but that’s just a guess. If I were stranded on a deserted island, I’d be making instruments out of coconut shells and anything else I could find just for my own well being.
How do you most often start a new track?
For me, musical ideas usually show up on their own and boss me around. I think of them like children. If you have a kid, you just want to help them be the best version of themselves, not make a mini version of you and project too much onto them. I let songs tell me what they want, even if that means following the muse off a cliff.
How do you know when a track is finished?
I wouldn’t know, I never finish them! Seriously though, when I can listen to the whole track in the car and nothing jumps out at me as needing attention, it’s good to go.
Show us your current studio
Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?
Thank you for asking me to participate, Martin. At the time of answering these questions, the Corona virus pandemic is happening, so it is a very strange time. I’ve seen people questioning the importance of artistic endeavors while something so heavy is going on, but it is often art and entertainment that can lift us up, and get us through, so my advice is to keep creating.
Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.
My Instagram accounts are where I’m currently most active and will link out to any other stuff I have going on:
Main IG account (Pyraphonic):
Music account (Von Doog):
[Editor: Well said Shawn, with regards to the corona pandemic. It would be interesting to hear how other creatives (:you the reader) responds to the “art isn’t important during times like these” argument? Leave a comment]