Emily Hopkins – Harpedalist

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

Meris Enzo

This is definitely the little button on the Meris Enzo that puts it in “Arp” mode. It essentially turns the chords you play into sequenced patterns at whatever tempo you set. It was such an amazing experience interacting with that mode for the first time, because I heard Enzo go from doing my bidding, to it having some thoughts of its own and playing alongside me. If you split your signal so one is dry (or going through a separate pedal chain) and the other one is through Enzo on arp mode, the sequences create a wonderful foundation for improvisation. I wouldn’t depend on being able to recreate some of those moments easily; but that’s why I love Enzo. Meris pedals are like people.

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

EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath V3

I’d say the EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath V3 is near-perfect for me. The reverb pairs perfectly with the harp, and pretty much every other instrument (especially voice)! It would work well in any piece I play. The only improvement I can think of is an upgrade to stereo output.

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

Out and about with a Harp

Unfortunately my electroacoustic Camac harp is too large and too sensitive to the weather/humidity to bring on vacation; I’d just be worrying about it the whole time and not be able to enjoy myself! On vacation or long car rides, I usually bring my Harpsicle; it’s a tiny budget lever harp that I don’t have to worry about as much. If I want to bring a few effects pedals for fun, I’ll bring whichever pedals I got recently, with my tiny travel amp and either my Organelle or keyboard to play through them. I just got my new Lottie Canto Colour Palette electric kalimba, which will now be a vacation staple. My wedding gig schedule doesn’t usually allow me to tour, or perform far from my home state, but I’d love to consider it after the pandemic! 
If you’re wondering how I transport my harp to gigs:

https://youtu.be/1SAcSHNpTvE

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

I wish I had Fab-Filter Pro-Q 3 in a pedal box, with the same spectrum analyzer graphic display on a screen, complete with dynamic EQ. I know, it’s a lot to ask for. I’ll keep dreaming.

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

Cooper FX/Chase Bliss Audio Generation Loss limited edition pedal, hands down. The pandemic hit me really hard. I’m primarily a wedding musician, and at the start of the pandemic, I had so many gigs being cancelled/postponed and the uncertain future forced me to sell the majority of the pedals I owned at the time. I’d have to pay an insane price to get one now due to the limited availability/price inflation. I’m hoping Cooper FX decides to make a Generation Loss V2 so the amazing sounds of Gen Loss can be more available to everyone!

Cooper FX/Chase Bliss Audio Generation Loss

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

Chase Bliss Audio’s Thermae has such insane chemistry with the harp and my playing style. Whenever I plug into it and improvise some sketches, I create some of my best music. That pedal has resonated with me above most others over the past few months. It’s not so much direct inspiration from understanding the gear or thinking about it; more so the dialogue between Thermae and the harp in real-time has brought my improvisation to a higher level. The first time I used it, I was recording a demo with it for my YouTube channel, and I’ve used pretty much every sound made in that demo for original music releases, or background music across my YouTube channel. The foundation for my new single, Backyard Spaceship, is actually directly from my Thermae YouTube demo! It was such an amazing moment that I couldn’t recreate in the studio, so I just decided to use that audio as the starting point for that project.

Chase Bliss Audio’s Thermae

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

If I could go back, I’d definitely get a higher quality amplifier than the one I started with! I was playing my brand new electric harp through a very small $150 amp; it was like putting a bumper sticker on a Ferrari. I was new to gear at the time, and didn’t understand my options and the importance of investing in a higher quality amp.

Harp with PA

I also probably would have got an EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath right away, which is an amazing device to help introduce yourself to more out-of-the-box effects pedals if you’re new to electric instruments and effects.

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

My camera tripod is currently the bane of my workflow. I do a lot of reamping and desk recording, and it just doesn’t really go well with my setup and what I need it to do. I’m yet to find one in my budget that does what I need, but for now, I’ll have to keep taping mine to the edge of my desk on an angle and contort around it to make it work.

Camera tripods

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

The other day, I found out the EarthQuaker Devices / Death by Audio Time Shadows pedal has a secret mode. If you put the switch in the center (it doesn’t click in place but it will stay there) it’ll create some interesting Rainbow Machine-like modulation.

EarthQuaker Devices / Death by Audio Time Shadows

Artist or Band name?

Emily Hopkins

Genre?

‘Cool harp stuff’. I always have trouble putting myself in a genre.

Selfie?

Emily Hopkins

Where are you from?

Long Island, NY.

Working with the harp

How did you get into music?

When I was 8 years old, I went to a Mexican restaurant on my birthday and there was a man playing harp during dinner (I later found out this was the amazing Edmar Castaneda during his college years!). I was absolutely mesmerized by his music, and begged my mom for harp lessons. Since I was homeschooled, I had plenty of time to practice, and was already playing piano for 4 years by the time I started (I tell everyone the harp is essentially just a piano flipped on the side!).

Emily Hopkins early years with the harp

What still drives you to make music?

The desire to connect to others and to break that stereotype of the harp being an exclusively classical / “boring” instrument. I love using effects pedals to show what a versatile instrument the harp is, and to constantly discover the new sounds it can create.

Astral Destiny by Earthquaker Devices

How do you most often start a new track?

Improv! Most of the time, I discover a cool theme while I’m improvising during an effects pedal demo. My new single came exclusively from my CBA Thermae pedal demo, because I’m not overthinking anything.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When you accept that it’s finished, and you stop obsessing over it; whether it’s the composition, mix, or any tiny detail.

Show us your current studio

Emily Hopkins’ Studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

The story of the “two bad bricks” really resonated with me. The short version is that Ajahn Brahm, a Buddhist monk, built a wall of a thousand bricks by hand, but two of the bricks ended up crooked. When visitors came to the monastery, he tried to avoid showing them the wall because he was so worried about them noticing those two crooked bricks. One day, someone approached him and told him how beautiful the wall was, but he disagreed, pointing out the two bricks. The visitor said, “There might be two bad bricks, but all I can see are the 998 perfect ones.” Even if you don’t play a piece absolutely flawlessly, most of the time you’re the only person who can hear the imperfections. It’s important to appreciate the successful elements of your work, and understand that imperfections in a piece are what makes it human. Also, I don’t believe in ‘wrong notes’ — only ‘interesting’ ones. 

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

Here’s my very first single, Backyard Spaceship!

https://youtu.be/pbPayOi28II

https://open.spotify.com/album/0SZH7JV0eMWyoXpWRuMGdE?si=tbgKgYNMR0m5kuw9BRU2MQ


[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…
]


Tyler Cassidy – Studbagl

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

Sequential Mopho X4

My favorite knob is actually a combination of knobs; cutoff frequency (LPF in particular) and Resonance. Coming from a jazz saxophonist background, I did not have any interest in gear until my mid 20’s when I was at a music store with a good friend of mine. We sat down at the synths, found my way to a Microkorg XL, again with no real interest in them, and then I somehow managed to play around with the filter knob. I was mind-blown how cool sweeping a filter was! It was so space-sounding and magical and a sound I didn’t expect to find. I sat there for 30 minutes just playing a chord, letting it sustain while I swept the filter/resonance to get the dreamy space sound. The picture is of my Mopho x4, which has a stunning LPF Cutoff and Resonance combo.

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

Pedalboard

I love my pedalboard! Again, as a saxophonist, there was no clear tutorial I could find on YouTube to figure out how to get the sounds I wanted to now achieve using a saxophone. I started experimenting with pedals in 2017, and have found a great balance between in-home solo ambient jamming and live performance utility. At home and by yourself, you can try any pedal/combination for anything, but playing with a live band, especially in a jazz setting, it becomes difficult to find the right pedals. The saxophone is a very difficult instrument to use with pedals live because most of the sound still will come acoustically. Therefore, I had to choose effects that would compliment my sound rather than change it. Looping makes a cool background in live settings, delay/reverb always nice because it lingers in the spaces of your playing, and the right kind of pitch shifting will add depth to your playing. No dirt here because it doesn’t really work well live because you’ll basically only hear the acoustic sound.

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

Recording setup – saxophone with pedals

With the pandemic going on, there has not been much opportunity to travel for musical reasons however, I was able to go and record my dream album in Washington D.C. back in December. It is an all-original music album of mine where I utilize the same pedalboard in the picture above in combination with my saxophone. When traveling home for holidays, I usually only bring the saxophone. I don’t end up playing much but will sometimes get some practicing/noodling in to try and stay in shape. The picture is of my set up from the album recording back in December

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

To be honest, I don’t use too much software as far as instruments/effects are concerned. I mostly just use Ableton to record my solo-ambient music and lightly mix/master it there. I prefer the hardware due to my tactile way of approaching music. I learn best through my sense of touch and it is crucial for me when playing/writing music. This is probably why I am so bad at vocals, but also why “button” oriented instruments like saxophone, piano/synth, pedals are my instruments that I use the most.

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

Earthquaker Devices Avalanche Run and Meris Hedra

There is nothing that I regret buying. I take a very long time thinking about what gear I want and why I want it so I never really have impulse purchases that I regret later. I do have a few pedals that I don’t often use; for example, the Avalanche Run and Hedra. However, they are not regrets as I still will pull them out from time to time to create a song or two. They are just not as crucial for most of the things I do with my music. I also have never sold a piece of gear so I can’t really say I regret selling anything, ha!

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

Meris Polymoon

Finally, an easy question to answer! The Polymoon by Meris is ABSOLUTELY 100% the gear that has inspired me to produce the most music. It has so much to offer, especially when you run it at the end of your chain. It can do the simple delay stuff, but also has a gorgeous phaser-verb when you crank the dimension. Putting it 100% wet mix will give what I consider the most beautiful sound a piece of gear can offer to this day. Not only that, but it has a wealth of modulation options that I use in so much of my music. Most notably, the octave up/down pitch shifted delays add such a beautiful space-cruising sound to your song. Being in the end of the chain, after my loopers and everything else, you can manipulate your loops by doing any of those things mentioned above and it will really dynamically change your composition/jam.

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

Afterneath by Earthquaker Devices

If I had to start over… this is a tough question to answer. My first purchase was the Afterneath by Earthquaker Devices, and it was probably the best thing I could buy to get into this stuff. I really wanted to find a way to stack multiple notes on saxophone as it is a monophonic instrument. Afterneath having the capabilities of having a really long/pronounced sustain, it was perfect for what I was trying to do. The only issue I ran into was when I would stack a chord of some sort, playing over the top of it would get added into the Afterneath. So going back, I would probably get the NS-2 by Boss and run it in conjunction with it. That way, I could stack my chords, then essentially mute my microphone so I could, acoustically, improvise/play over the top of my new chord. Also, I would buy a phaser, because as Stefan from the Pedal Zone has shown, running a phaser after the Afterneath is just beautiful and has that sweeping motion that first got me hooked in the first place.

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

Boss NS-2

I don’t know if I would call it annoying per say, but I have found that the NS-2 by boss is absolutely necessary for probably any player who relies mostly on their acoustic sound. When playing live with a band, especially the louder bands, your microphone is going to bleed in all those drums, guitars, whatever. The NS-2 is SO useful with its gate function so it will only pick up whatever is directly in front of the mic. Not only that, but it cancels any feedback that I would get in those live settings which playing with a microphone will almost always give you (especially when using noisy effects). The only reason I would consider it slightly annoying is that because it takes up real estate (in my pedalboard picture you can see that I taped it to the side of the board) for something that I use basically as a one-trick always-on effect. However, it must be said that the NS-2 is a live-setting modified saxophonist’s biggest buddy.

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

I think the best trick I have learned about gear in terms of using gear as part of the compositional process is to experiment with your signal path and definitely put effects AFTER your loops. For example, having the Polymoon after my looper lets me change the composition so drastically that you almost wouldn’t believe it’s the same exact loop if I showed them separately. That is a very powerful thing to have at your disposal for those live gigs when a solo interlude to start the second set is warranted. Another idea is to put a pitch shifter after your loops so you can modulate to a different chord/key center to give you something new to play over the top of (this might require more parallel signal paths but I have done before and is very cool).


Artist Name

Tyler Cassidy (studbagl on youtube, Instagram, etc)

Genre

Adventure music, jazz, ambient.

Selfie

Tyler Cassidy

Where are you from?

I am originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, now living in Boston, Massachusetts.

How did you get into music

I played saxophone in middle school and was very neutral about it; it wasn’t fun or boring. But then my first day in high school in 2006, my grandad picked me up, who was the only other musician in the family. He had the music of Richie Cole and Charlie Parker playing on his CD’s and I couldn’t believe my ears. I didn’t know these things were possible on a saxophone. So when I got home, I opened up YouTube and listened to everything I could. It all spiraled from there.

What still drives you to make music?

I love writing music! As I said previously, I wrote an album and got to record it with a bunch of my friends and some new people back in December. The feeling of writing songs and then having them come to life is nothing less than fulfilling; you feel proud, happy, and satisfied all at the same time. This particular album was special for me because I got the chance to record live with a huge band. It was 10 people, myself on saxophone/effects, an electric guitarist, nylon/steel-string/electric guitarist, pianist, bassist, drummer, string trio and person conducting the string trio. It was magical and I can’t wait to write more and bring them to life.

How do you know when a track is finished?

So this question is better answered for my solo ambient stuff. Being a live-oriented musician, I usually one-take all of my compositions. So whatever you are listening to was all done live and in one track. It basically boils down to if I was satisfied with it or not and that’s how I will know if it is finished. Most of these compositions are live jams, some have a little more planning, but never usually that much.

Show us your current studio

I call it the LazerMaze

Tyler’s home studio

Best creative advice I have ever heard?

Trust your ears. If your ears say it’s good, it is good. Sometimes it’s easy to let your brain get in the way when it says, “No, this definitely shouldn’t work” or “This wouldn’t make sense to go from this chord to this chord”. Your ears should always be trust! We are musicians after all.

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

The latest thing I have out is “Gentle Shore” which is a solo ambient album of mine. On my studbagl.bandcamp.com you can find 3 of my solo ambient albums as well as an album I did as a bandleader back in 2017 in Washington D.C. Definitely want to look out for the new album coming out in summer 2021 that I just recorded though; it blends all the jazz, ambient, post-rock, romantic adventure music that makes up my imagination into one.


[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…
]


Paul Talos – Signal Soundlabs

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

Make Noise Morphagene

Lately, it’s been the Vari-Speed knob on the Morphagene. It’s really incredible how something as simple as changing the speed and pitch of a sound can turn it into something completely unrecognizable. Things get even more interesting when you start reversing things too. You really end up discovering all kinds of sounds within sounds that you never really would have thought were there, especially when slowing samples down. Gotta love the wonderful world of microsound.

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

Moog Subsequent 37

The closest thing for me would be my Moog Subsequent 37. It just puts so much sound design power at your fingertips, you almost don’t need anything else. Between having one of my favorite filters, two different kinds of distortion, and plenty of modulation options, there’s enough in there to make a lifetime’s worth of music. It may not be as infinitely versatile as my eurorack setup, but there’s a certain immediacy about it that allows me to get what I need out of it very quickly. The only thing that could possibly make it even better is if it had voltage control over more of the parameters. I actually really regret not jumping on the CV version while they were still making those, as that would have been as close to perfect as you can get.

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

Moog Mother-32

I can’t say I do much traveling with my gear, as my setup wasn’t exactly designed with mobility in mind. But I guess if I were to bring anything, it would be my Moog Mother-32. Not only is it one of my more compact instruments, but I find its limitations to be pretty inspiring. It’s a surprisingly deep instrument and can yield some very unexpected results with a bit of clever patching. I often feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what it can do, so I suppose traveling with it would really force me to get everything I can out of it.

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

Spectrasonics Omnisphere

I really wish there was some kind of hardware version of Spectrasonics Omnisphere. It’s such a useful instrument when scoring for a film, especially for creating cinematic soundscapes. It’s one of the few VST instruments I find myself going back to time and time again. If they made a hardware version with some CV control over the parameters, I’d buy one in a heartbeat. Of course, with the size of the library being what it is, I’m sure it would be incredibly impractical to actually implement in hardware form, much less in eurorack format.

Walrus Audio Descent

On the flip side, I’d love a plugin version of my Walrus Audio Descent reverb pedal. I use the shimmer mode on that pedal quite a bit to add an almost choir-like quality to synths, and would love to have multiple software instances to use throughout a mix. Sure, there are ways of creating a similar sound using other software (the Descent is digital after all) but the pitch shifting on this pedal has a very particular, kind of unnatural sound to it. Hard to describe, but it definitely has a tone and I haven’t really come across anything else that sounds quite like it.

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

Korg MS-20 mini

I sold my Korg MS-20 mini when I first started diving into eurorack. At the time, I figured it didn’t make sense to have a semi-modular synth that didn’t speak Volt per Octave and was looking to get some cash to finance the beginnings of my modular (I believe I ended up buying a Maths with the money I made). But over time I realized just how much I missed those oscillators and filters. It’s such a unique instrument, and much like the Mother-32, it just has a very inspiring set of limitations. So last year, I actually ended up buying it again and will never repeat the mistake of selling it.

Arturia Minibrute 2S

As far as buyer’s remorse on a piece of gear, I bought an Arturia Minibrute 2S when they first came out and had some regrets on that one. The synth voice itself is phenomenal, and the ability to integrate it with eurorack really enhanced the functionality of my existing modular system. But I never got into a good flow with the sequencer. As someone with a background in music theory, I found it really difficult to visualize musical intervals due to its lack of a traditional keyboard. So I eventually ended up selling it and getting the keyboard version instead. Been loving it ever since.

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

Signal SoundLabs Eurorack

Lately, my eurorack rig has been the most consistent source of inspiration. I made some upgrades to it recently, and after about three years of buying and selling modules, I finally feel like I have most of the puzzle pieces in place. Modular synthesis definitely has an element of unpredictability, feels like these modules have a will of their own sometimes and I’m just along for the ride.
It really is a happy accident machine. The downside is it can be a bit difficult to tame, especially when working on music that is synced to visuals. But lately I’ve managed to find a workflow that has been very effective for film music. The key was to start recording everything I did on the modular and then spending some time editing to pick out all the best parts. The editing can be time consuming, but I find myself getting faster and faster with patching so it all evens out. Overall, I just find it more inspiring to capture a bunch of audio from the modular and then work by subtraction rather than addition.

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

If I had to start again, I’d probably get the most powerful computer I could afford, along with a copy of Cubase, a Universal Audio Apollo Twin, and some kind of semi-modular synth like the Minibrute 2. A basic rig like this would cover pretty much all the essentials, while combining a tactile hardware workflow with plenty of digital flexibility.

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

Mutable Instruments Clouds

Hard to say, but I guess I kind of have a love/hate relationship with my Mutable Instruments Clouds module. I rely on it pretty heavily when it comes to making any kind of ambient drone patch, but I find it rather annoying having to remember what all the controls do in its various different modes. Having installed the Parasite firmware really didn’t help with that either. That said, I came across an iOS app called Modes that acts as a nice cheat sheet for some multi-function modules, so I’m definitely not pulling my hair out as much as before. As much as I have a few gripes with Clouds, it really brings a lot to the table and has become pretty much irreplaceable in my rack.

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

Chase Bliss MOOD

I’ve recently been getting more and more into processing audio from Cubase using effects pedals. Plug-ins can be great, particularly for utility functions like EQ, but nowadays there are so many unique pedals out there, it feels like a shame not to use them to process in-the-box sounds as well. I’ve been doing this a lot with my Chase Bliss MOOD pedal in particular, which lets me grab a short slice of audio from the DAW and transform it in all kinds of quirky and interesting ways. Lately, whenever I get stuck on a track, I’ll start feeding random audio into MOOD (unused takes from the modular work particularly well) just to see what happens. It’s a great way to get myself out of a creative rut.


Artist or Band name?

Paul Talos

Genre?

Cinematic Electronica. I’ve never been sure how to categorize my music exactly, so eventually I just made something up. I think it sums things up pretty nicely.

Selfie?

Paul Talos

Where are you from?

Born in Germany, grew up in Boston, MA. Currently living in Philadelphia, PA.

How did you get into music?

I started playing electric guitar around the age of ten and started experimenting with home recording on a laptop when I was a teenager. After high school, I spent some time at Berklee College of Music studying guitar and discovered a love of synthesis and all things electronic music shortly after that.

What still drives you to make music?

Music’s become my job over the last few years, so a paycheck is definitely one thing that drives me. But more importantly, I constantly find myself inspired by just listening to other people’s music and trying to deconstruct what I’m hearing. I’ve come across some very interesting synthesis and production techniques just by trying (and usually failing) to emulate something I heard somewhere else.

How do you most often start a new track?

As a film composer, the answer to that question really varies from project to project. Production timelines and deadlines can be vastly different from one film to the next, so sometimes it might be starting a new track every day, other times I’ll write two or three a week. I do try to spend some time every day just to make some kind of noise though, usually on the modular. I find that synthesis is a skill that really needs to be maintained, otherwise it just gets harder the longer you are away from it. So regardless of what I’m working on, I try to squeeze in some synth time at least once a day, so I don’t get too rusty.

How do you know when a track is finished?

It really never is, but once the deadline hits it’s usually good enough. Honestly, if I didn’t have deadlines of some sort, I’m not sure I would ever finish anything. 

Show us your current studio

Signal SoundLabs studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

This one kind of relates to one of the other questions about finishing tracks. I took this music production class in college, and the professor said something one day that really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of this: A mix is never done, you just stop working on it eventually. To hear that from a professional in the industry was incredibly reassuring at the time. I think it’s something that applies not only to a mix, but to music making in general. Nothing is ever truly finished and that’s okay.

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

Back in July, I released my score for a short thriller film called ‘Just Like You.’ The score is available on all streaming platforms. Links below.

Just Like You (Spotify)

https://music.apple.com/us/album/just-like-you-original-score-ep/1521324795

https://paultalos.bandcamp.com/releases


[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…
]