Aqeel Phillips – A View to Aqeel

1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?

Monome Teletype

I’m gonna go with the Monome Teletype’s single “param” knob. It might be a weird answer, since this knob can do whatever you want it to do, but personally I almost always have it mapped to a global “probability” setting in my Teletype patches. Probability that a trigger will pass through, probability that triggers might jumble and be routed to an unexpected output, etc. I consider this a bit of a secret weapon, and discovering this was a moment when I was really feeling like I was figuring out how to work modular into my music. With this single knob, I can control the “energy” of a patch, taking it from sparse and mysterious to lively and animated with a quick flick.

2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?

Elektron Machinedrum

I’ll say the Elektron Machinedrum. It sounds amazing, and I feel like I barely need to edit and mix the sounds that come off of it, but it’s definitely dated. It doesn’t have all of the niceties of the newer Elektron boxes, like the Rytm mkII or Digitakt. I find it really easy to edit the wrong track, and it unfortunately doesn’t have the modern Elektron sequencer with trig conditions and microtiming. I’ve even considered sequencing it externally… But the sounds themselves are totally worth keeping it around, even with these limitations.

3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?

Elektron Digitakt

Historically, I’ve taken the Digitakt. It’s easy enough to throw in a backpack, and you can even record off it without an interface via Overbridge. For whatever reason though, I usually tend to be finishing projects while traveling, so it’s often just my laptop and headphones.

4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?

Strymon Big Sky

I don’t use a lot of software… I’ll cheat and say that sometimes I wish I had a real piano or Rhodes, as opposed to the VSTs that I use in my music. In terms of hardware, I often wish the Strymon Big Sky was a plugin that I could pull up on the computer. I really just use it as a master send effect from Ableton. 

5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?

ER-301

Most things I find myself regretting selling, I eventually end up buying again. It feels a little silly (and I lose some cash in the process), but sometimes it takes some time away from something to really respect its worth. I’ve sold and re-bought Make Noise Morphagene, Intellijel Metropolis, and I recently bought an ER-301 back from a friend. I did nab a really nice Yamaha electronic drum kit for an utterly insane deal a while back, and ended up passing it on to somebody else when I was living in a small apartment. Now that I’ve got the room for it, I definitely miss it.

I regret buying an Arturia Matrixbrute. Some of the keys broke somewhere along the way, and it’s so heavy and large that it’s been unruly to get it fixed and eventually sell it. I’ll get around to it, but I’m never excited about the idea of lugging it out to the car…

6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?

Make Noise Morphagene

Probably Morphagene, the same Morphagene that I’ve sold and re-bought haha. Nowadays, it’s genuinely my favorite module and really epitomizes eurorack to me. I never know what it’s gonna do, but I always love what it ends up spitting out, which is a huge part of the fun I have with modular. It’s like my little bandmate that comes up with something interesting and inspiring for me to craft a song with.

7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?

Make Noise Tape & Microsound Music Machine

In the same vein as my previous answer, I’d probably start with the Make Noise Tape & Microsound Music Machine. I’ve essentially got this in my system in my rack, purposefully placed right next to each other too. Each module in that system is something that I don’t believe quite exists in the software realm. So I feel like I could do a lot with that system and any DAW for drums, soft synths, effects, etc.

8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?

Hologram Electronics Microcosm

Pieces of gear that annoy me don’t tend to stick around very long. 🙂 I’ll say the Hologram Electronics Microcosm. I don’t think it’s very flexible, but what it spits out is absolute gold. It feels kind of scared of sounding “bad”, and I frequently find myself wishing I had access to the sounds “between” the settings that it offers. But at the same time, it’s my go-to for spicing up a track, and creating something unexpected. I will say, I think if I didn’t have experience with modular (meaning, having so much experience making bad sounds), I would be totally content with it. But with that experience, it often feels like a box of nice Clouds presets.

9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?

I mentioned the Machinedrum feeling a little primitive, but I’ve figured out a couple tricks here and there that get me where I need to go. One is that I’ve been using the “swing” to make my beats more interesting. The MD doesn’t have microtiming, but you can add swing per step (even on individual tracks), and adjust the amount of swing. I’ll often have fun with punching in a standard beat, adding swing to a couple steps, and then setting the “swing” amount to something extreme like 75%. This way, it might imply a 32nd note in some places, without adjusting the overall sequence timing to be 2x. It’s something that you could easily do with microtiming on something like the Digitakt, but it needs this fun little workaround on something older like the MD.

Machinedrum

Artist name

Aqeel Aadam

Genre

Some kind of downtempo, cinematic ambient meshed with hip-hop style beats.

Selfie

“Hey, can you take a picture of me?” in the middle of writing this.

Aqeel Philips in the middle of writing this interview

Where are you from?

Outside of Philadelphia, PA (which is where I currently live too!)

How did you get into music?

I started by teaching myself guitar and eventually started making sample-based beats with Ableton in high school. I wanted to trend more towards “composing” than “producing”, so I caught the hardware bug once I realized it could be like commanding your own little orchestra.

What still drives you to make music?

From a musical perspective, I don’t think I can honestly claim that it’s therapeutic or anything like that, but creating something is an activity that I genuinely very deeply enjoy (I suppose this is some form of therapy…). I like creating the music that I want to hear and feel like the world might enjoy. There’s also a sense of pride in creating something that feels very gratifying.

From another perspective, there’s a vast world of instruments that offers a great sense of exploration to me. There’s always a new stone to uncover, a new path to try out, some combination of things that you might never have considered before. Kurt Vonnegut said “we are put on earth to fart around,” and I can say for certain that hardware and modular synthesizers can provide you with a great deal of farting around.

How do you most often start a new track?

Ambience, atmosphere, texture – some kind of ambient wash that becomes the sonic bed for the track. I like to set up a generative bed with something like Morphagene or a granular module, which gives me the “kindling” to find inspiration from and write with. I’ll listen to these beds and hear accidental snippets of chords or melodies – this gives me inspiration to refine those random ideas into something more formalized. Also, I find it very hard to add in texture after the fact, so I like to start with it to keep myself sane.

How do you know when a track is finished?

In line with the previous answer – when I’m working on a track, I’ll hear “whispers” of things to add, little ideas that pop into my head that become a melody, bassline, chord progression, rhythmic element, etc. Once those stop revealing themselves, I take it as my cue to hit record.

Show us your current studio?

Home studio desk
Home studio with eurorack
Moog Matriach

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Probably to “invest in happiness”. Suffering from GAS and chasing gear is one thing, but if there’s something you can tell will help you feel creative and make your life more fun and easier, get it. Looking around my studio though, maybe I’ve invested in happiness too much 🙂 But at the end of the day, the only reason I hold onto something is because it makes me happy to use it.

Aqeel’er Studio [Editor: Ok. I’ll stop now]
Fx Pedals and 4-track tape
Ed O’Brian Strat [Editor: just about the perfect guitar]

Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.

I just put out a new collaborative EP with my friend Fossilize Me on Mystery Circles! 2 songs each from FM and myself, and one mash-up track. It can be purchased on a 7” vinyl here and is available for streaming under each of our names.


[Editor: Do you have a favorite tip, trick or way of working with any of the gear from this interview?
Then throw us a comment below…
]


Sofie Birch – Productive Gear Flipper

1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?

Filter cutoff slider

The cutoff fader on the JP 08. It is so small that not everyone can use it. But for me it is perfectly formed. After so many years of using that instrument almost everyday, I have practised how to make very small changes with very small knobs. The faders on JP-08 are all the same, but the cutoff is without a doubt the one I have used the most. High frequencies is not my thing, so I like to cut a lot.

2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?

Roland JP08

I would love it, if the JP-08 had more tracks like for example the Analog Four. Just four tracks would make it possible to make beautiful patterns on top of each other. Or if you could play tapes on the Casio CK-500 while playing its keyboard. Then you could record pads and soundscapes and play on top of them. Would also be pure magic if my clarinet had a wireless invisible incorporated microphone 😀

Clarinet

3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?

I always bring my Octatrack mk1, Roland JP-08 and my Strymon Big Sky when I play shows. I think I could do all of my shows on just these machines, but I always feel like I have to add something. An extra element, like a mic, a clarinet or some more effect pedals. So I usually have these machines as a basic setup and then add some more on top!
When I go on holiday or travel I bring my zoom recorder and my laptop and headphones. Then I can mix and edit unfinished stuff and add new recordings on the go.

Octatrack, Strymon Bigsky and Roland synth

What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?

I wish that the chorus from Ableton Live was also a hardware effect pedal. Somehow it always gives me exactly what I am looking for when I want to spread or diffuse a sound. I have used it a lot on vocals. It makes it easier to mix my own voice when it sounds differently, but I’m also starting to like the effect on vocals in general. Makes the voice kind of dubbed and takes the sweetness out of the sound. It is also very nice to use on synths.
Don’t really know about the other way round….

Ableton Chorus

5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?

I like to have a minimalistic and managable studio setup. Instead of having too much gear that I don’t use, I buy something new, use it and record it, sample it and compose with it, and then I sell it again. For example: I used the Roland EP-30 as the main keys for half of my latest release Island Alchemy, and sold it right after the release. Recently I bought a Casio CK-500, which I have great plans with. It has two cassette players incoorporated and some really nice sounding presets. Especially the reverb and sustain function/switch adds very nice layers to the presets. Also there is a radio in it, that can be sampled directly to the cassettes. Right now, I have borrowed a MOOD pedal from Chase Bliss, that I have hooked up with the Casio – it can create some really nice pads together with the organ preset for example. 

Anyways, this way of buying and selling, creates a good flowing creativity that constantly brings new ideas. AND it fits my very small studio!

[Editor: I couldn’t agree more! No more agonising over purchases or regrets of selling. Just be ok with being a gear-flipper and feel comfortable using that as an aid the creative flow. Even better than gear-flipping though, are generous friends that you can borrow gear from]

Casio CK500 with cassette decks

6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?

Roland JP-08 is the boutique version of the old Jupiter 8 synth (which is <3). It’s a very small synth. I bought it with the 25 keyboard and even though it can be hooked up with a bigger midi keyboard, it just lives in that bundle and has done so, ever since I purchased it. I love that it’s tiny. I love how it fits in everywhere. And it is no problem for me to use the transpose knob when changing octaves. I know this little machine in and out.

7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?

An Octatrack. Or at least I would have gotten a sampler way before I did. It makes so much sense to use a sampler for my music. I love to layer sounds and I love to record nature sounds and atmospheres. When I began to play live shows, I started out with bringing tape machines to play my recorded atmospheres.

Elekton Octatrack

I also use the OT as a looper now which could have saved me from using the Boss RC-30 loop pedal for years. I have always missed a MIDI input on that pedal, but on the other hand it is also very nice to create unpredictable and organic floating patterns and harmonised pads on it.

8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?

Before I started using my OT as a looper also, I would have said the Boss RC-30. I needed it to layer my sounds, but it is so unprecise and bad sounding. Now, I don’t have any annoying gear!

Boss RC30 Loopstation

9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?

I remember when I learned to play with the FX track on Elektrons Analog Four from a guy who tipped me about it, after I played a concert. You can create some incredibly atmospheric and suspensefull buildups by playing around with the parameters on the FX track, especially the feedback and the filters (HPF, LPF and overdrive). And then you can send the FX track to the reverb and delay again and make it feed into beautiful suspensefull pads.

FX tracks on the Octatrack

Artist or Band name?

Sofie Birch

Genre?

Experimental, minimalistic synth and ambient.

Selfie?

Sofie Birch

Where are you from?

I’m from Denmark and grew up both in the countryside, on a small island and in Copenhagen, where I currently live.

How did you get into music?

I started singing and playing guitar as young girl. But I quickly got interested in the process of recording and producing, because I felt there was more to music than composing and writing. I started out with Reason on my parents computer. This led me to study sound design many years later and that really got me into hardware and experimental music.

What still drives you to make music?

When I listen to some very beautiful music that inspires me to imprint or interpret it into my own.
The constant need in me to improve and develop ideas is what makes me want to keep on producing. But also the fact that I get peaceful and concentrated when I produce and play.

How do you most often start a new track?

I start by making loops and figures that can be replayed over and over and extended and layered with new figures and so on. And then at last, I have a big amount of work in deleting tracks again and find out what is really working together.

How do you know when a track is finished?

I know the track is finished when I’m no longer interested in working with it. There is this perfect moment when a track is not too finished and not too unfinished. When it still has the soul of a one take and the sound of careful work.

Show us your current studio

Birch home studio

Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.

Go listen to Hidden Terraces which was aired on the swedish radio channel Retreat Radio.

It is a 36min long sound piece of synth figures and ambiences from my trip to Colombia this winter. It’s an audible postcard, a travel through nature and harmonies. It will be released on cassette through the german label VAAKNER later this year.

[Editor: Do you have any tips, tricks or fun techniques with any of the gear mentioned in this interview? Leave a comment]