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…
]


Red Means Recording – Jeremy Blake

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

The Hydrasynth main encoder knob. It’s huge.

Hydrasynth main encoder knob – it’s lit from beneath

Second place goes to anything that turns up the volume. 

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

I wish the Synthstrom Deluge had an OLED screen and I wish the Mashine+ could make actual synth patches from scratch. 

Native Instruments Mashine+

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

OP-1 or Deluge or iPad for granular apps like Borderlands.

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

I used to think a bunch about this, but after getting the Hydrasynth I don’t really care about software in hardware. If I could get Pigments as hardware that would be dope. I would love more wacky probabilistic and self-patchable software stuff.

Slow spagettification of a studio

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

Zero regrets in selling. Selling is freedom. 

A corona lockdown audience

Buying, I dunno. Everything I’ve bought I’ve bought because it had a reason to exist in my setup at that time. When I sell it, it’s because it’s redundant or I’ve outgrown it.

Vivid colors of eurorack

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

Neatified cables

Up until this year, the Teenage Engineering OP-1. This year it’s been eurorack.

A rainbow in eurorack

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

I still think a good DAW with a decent sample library, one good synth VST, and a hunger to learn is the best thing you could possibly start with. So I would do that.

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

Anything involving my computers, haha. I know that’s a cop-out answer, but like, man. They can do everything, but fuck up harder than anything else.

Can’t get around computers. But you can mount them up high!

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

I think audio-rate modulation, in general, is something that never occurred to me until recently. Everytime I see DivKid do something with it I’m like “oh right, I can do that”. It’s wild.

Audio rate mod everthing… in eurorack

Artist or Band name?

Jeremy Blake for music, Red Means Recording for YouTube

Genre?

Electronica, Downtempo, Alternative Electronic

Selfie?

Jeremy Blake aka. Red Means Recording

Where are you from?

Seattle, WA

How did you get into music?

I started playing the flute in Elementary School. Was lucky enough to be exposed to orchestral playing and jazz ensemble. Flunked out of music performance school because I was spending too much time sneaking into the studio to use the equipment and I didn’t wanna play the flute anymore. Was playing with trackers and anything I could get my hands on. Went to audio engineering school, kept experimenting. Eventually fell into YouTube music production videos. Most recently I’ve fallen hard for modular and I’m having a blast.

Desktop inspiration

What still drives you to make music?

When life gives you cables, make yellow shelving organisers

All the little pieces of things I know can be rearranged to augment some new idea. Everything can be recontextualized and spun into a new idea. There’s no end to the inspiration.

Gratuitios knobalation of the Sequential Pro 3
Knobalicious

How do you most often start a new track?

Lately, a lot. Modular has been a really refreshing platform for experimentation. I’m writing at least one new thing a week.

How do you know when a track is finished?

With modular and hardware it’s easy: when the performance is done and I’ve mixed and mastered it. With DAW-based stuff, it’s when I’ve gone through all my iteration passes, like idea, arrangement, mixing, re-arrangement, ear candy, and mastering. I go by a rule of three approach: if I can listen to a track 3 times and not mess with it, it’s done. If something bothers me 3 times, I change it.

[Editor: That answer is one of the most systematic and quantified approach to that question. That I’ve read. Excellent!]

Show us your current studio

Jeremy Blake’s very red Red Means Recording studio
Blackmagic ATEM Mini and a tuner

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Limitation breeds innovation, tied with “put a donk on it”.

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

I make music performance and education videos here: https://www.youtube.com/redmeansrecording

You can find my music on all platforms here: https://rmr.media/findme


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


Oriol Domingo – El Garatge

[Editor: This is interview nr. 100! Yay!!! And to celebrate, we’re doing a GIVEAWAY! Oriol has kindly donated an El Garatge expression knob to one lucky price winner. Check out how to enter on my Instagram]

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

Moog Sub 37 chicken head knob

My Moog Sub 37 has a very good over all build quality. I like that despite being quite big, the filter knob moves really smooth, but what I like even more, is the pattern type and octave selectors, even the click sound is very pleasing!.

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

Access Virus Indigo 2

I really like my old Access Virus Indigo 2. Sounds really powerful and offers a lot of sonic possibilities, but due to the metal sides it’s insanely heavy and the keybed feels really cheap for me. I already have a bigger midi controller connected to it, but I like to use the built-in keyboards, especially when I’m just creating new sounds.

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

Teenage Engineering OP-1

Most of the time, just the Teenage Engineering OP-1. It’s perfect to practice with limitations. It allows me to create full songs without using any other device and I remember discovering some cool melodies that, with another piece of gear, wouldn’t have happened, because of the way it makes me work. Also, I can use the built-in mic, line in or FM radio too, when I want to use a little more elaborated portable setups.

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

VST Synthogy Ivory Piano

As a piano player, I really like the VST Synthogy Ivory Piano. Most of the time I do my music without a computer, where the OP-1 is current main device to record with.
It would be really cool to just have that piano sound out of the computer, as most of the time I just want to play and it doesn’t make sense starting up a DAW or even a computer simply to play a sound, when I don’t want to do anything else. In fact, they did release a hardware version, but in addition to being really expensive I think they discontinued it.

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

Yamaha RM1X

Since I first discovered grooveboxes and synths, over time I ended up with a fair amount of devices, but sometimes I was more attracted to the aesthetics or possibilities, than what I really lacked in my studio.
Other times maybe I needed what I purchased, but in the end, the device didn’t fit my preferred way to work. I remember buying (and selling again very soon after) a Yamaha RM1X. It had a really powerful sequencer, but it wasn’t satisfying for me to play with. I also had fun with the Roland MC-303 Groovebox and even though I wouldn’t give it much use nowadays I still miss it sometimes.

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

Again, the OP-1 alone has given me a good amount of ideas. The workflow and immediacy to record and loop is something really well designed and that works very well in my case, because it really helps me to have visual feedback on what I’m doing.

TE OP-1

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

Probably a Korg Minilogue XD. It offers a lot of immediacy and very little menu diving, which is great to design sounds fast. In addition, the sonic possibilities and extra oscillators make it a really good synth to start with. It can easily do everything from drum sounds to bass, leads and pads. I miss a little more of polyphony, but adding a little of the internal reverb or delay effects can help with that.

Korg Minilogue XD

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

Despite having some decent synths and quality pedals, I still own, not one, but two Behringer mixers and a Tube Ultra-Q which I have only connected to my Yamaha Reface CP to add some EQ. I have one rack mixer with 8 stereo inputs where I connect all the synths. From that, I connect the main out to the other small mixer. where I add aux effects and additional synths or mics. Both mixers add a considerable amount of noise, especially the small one, depending on levels, but I’m just used to it and I keep using them for now.

Behringer mixers and Tube Ultra-Q

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

Maybe this can’t even be considered a technique, but sometimes I have fun placing piezo microphones between my midi keyboard keys and then amplify and add EQ to the noise while I play. Then I can record piano music with some real noises. I even tried placing the mic on old wood furniture to add some cracking noises while I record, which adds a little more atmosphere in my opinion.

[Editor: That is fantastic lateral thinking technique! I dig it!]

Piezo mic for mechanical noise

Artist or Band name?

I make music as Efímer on YouTube/Spotify. You can find me at youtube.com/efimer where I upload soundpacks and demos of my own devices too.

Genre?

I’d say Ambient/Downtempo, but sometimes I make piano and orchestral music too.

Selfie? 

Oriol Domingo in his studio

Where are you from?

Barcelona, Spain.

How did you get into music?

My grandparent used to take care of another family’s orchard. One day he returned home with one of these little mechanical toy pianos, that the kid of the other family didn’t want. I was 4 years old, but I still can remember what I felt when I played the first notes, I was immediately hooked and I’ve been playing by ear from that age.

The first song I played with that toy piano was MacGyver by the way, haha. When I was 8 my father understood I wasn’t going to stop playing the piano and he bought me a more decent one. From there, I discovered what I really liked was to play by ear and also create my own songs. All the synth stuff and GAS came when I was about 16 when I discovered the Roland MC-303 and Korg Electribes.

What still drives you to make music?

The act of creating something out of nothing, the possibility to create some unique music that could convey feelings to other people makes me happy. Of course it’s complicated to do anything really “new” but even the process of trying to create it can lead to understanding ourselves a little better, by trying to find our own voice. Creating music makes us wonder what do we want.

How do you most often start a new track?

I use two different methods. Sometimes when I’m learning to use a new piece of gear I just want to create some sounds. If during the process a new melody comes to my mind, I try to follow that and see where it goes, and if not, I’ll still have some patches to use another day. The other method I use is just starting with a piano or rhodes sound, which are my favorite, and start improvising while I think about other things.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When even the “worst” part of a track is still acceptable in my opinion. I usually listen to each fragment many times and try to correct the things I still don’t like. Sometimes works well too just listening to it in another moment or another day to realize there are still things to fix. I think it’s good to listen to your own old music too, in order to see if you would make the same decisions again.

Show us your current studio

I don’t have much space so it’s quite fragmented and messy.

Oriol Domingo’s home studio

I love synths with keyboards, so it can be quite uncomfortable sometimes.

The El Garatge home studio keys

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Embrace limitations. It may seem very common to hear and I think it may not work for everybody. Not just your own creative limitations, but also adding and forcing other kinds of limitations like gear or even time.
Especially when starting new songs, the less options the better for me. It’s easy to get lost in the possibilities when you have a lot of gear, you could be constantly wondering if you chose the right synth or sound to start and which effects add, etc.
If you force yourself to use one synth, sound or even sample, changing is not an option, it’s all you have, so no need to think about that again and you can now start creating.

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

In the last weeks I’ve been developing this piggyback LFO knob with extra features for pedals with expression inputs, which will be finished soon I hope!:

https://elgaratge.com/echo-knob/


[Editor: It’s been a wild ride doing this music gear blog this past year and the blog isn’t even over 1 year old. Over 30,000 unique visitors have stopped by and had a monthly readership of between 1500 to 4000 readers.

… And I’d just like to thank YOU, my fellow music gear junkie…. But also, of course, the 100 artists who contributed and made this past year a little more tolerable.

Do you have any suggestions for the future of this blog? Then leave a comment below.]