Hey Zack – Bringing Back Whack

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

PAE Lock-in Amplifier

First of all, I LOVE this first question. I think I’d have to go with the “Signal Channel” knob on my PAE Lock-in Amplifier. It’s huge, it’s clicky, it’s satisfying….and most of all it’s a gain knob on a distortion. If you’re unaware: Lock-in amps are basically an overdriven filter used in Engineering labs for finding voltage inconsistencies in the 1960’s on, and are a WONDERFUL choice, if you’re looking for an over-powered distortion with a ton of sweet-spots (somewhat reminiscent of a Sherman Filterbank). If you’re interested in learning more, Hainbach covers the musical use of these in much more detail on his Youtube channel here.

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

Yamaha RY30

I feel I have a somewhat surprising answer for this question: The Yamaha RY30 drum machine. A boring-looking, cheesy, 90s sample-based ROM synth. It’s truly a simple box: you layer two sounds, pitch them, filter them, put them through a pitch EG, and then play them on velocity-sensitive pads while pitching them with a wheel. I think I feel so connected to the RY30 because the workflow is so streamlined, yet it gives me such unique percussion that I would’ve never made in a DAW… it just feels FUN ! These limitations are inspiring, but if I could change anything about it, I’d love to load my own samples in and would appreciate a reverb no matter how crappy. With this in mind, I’m trying to learn my Korg M3R in combination with a Wavrex Samplecard to make that dream a reality. Both the M3R and the RY30 are layer-based ROM synths a-la Roland R8 or AI / LA synthesis found in the Roland D50 and Korg M1. So in theory, I should be able to surpass RY30-esque sounds with the more robust design of the Korg M-series (as long as I can wrap my head around it).

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

Zoom ST-224 sampler

I often bring my Laptop, Zoom H6 field recorder, and Zoom ST-224 sampler (known online as the poor-musician’s SP-1200) around with me in my bag. The ST-224 is such a surprisingly inspiring sampler, mostly due to its extremely musical array of effects (and gorgeous sample rate), so it’s perfect for quick explorations to record out of the main outs and revisit later. If I’ll be gone a while, though, it’s hard for me to leave my Intellijel Rainmaker at home ! It’s by far one of my favorite pieces of kit as it’s basically a strange-sounding infinite loop-maker machine. I have countless recordings that I’ve cut up into sample / loop packs and use extremely often… it’s truly a gold-mine for new sounds and inspiring ideas if you’re willing to tame it.

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

As far as software to hardware I’ve wanted an Ableton Operator clone for YEARS, as well as Ableton’s Drum Buss and the Max Convolver (but really any hardware convolution reverb would be wonderful to have). If it wasn’t clear by now, I’m a huge Ableton lover haha ! For hardware to software I’d love to have a Rainmaker VST, as well as some Lab Equipment-inspired effects to get that raw electric sound.
[Editor: Hainbach is working on a VST Lab-Equipment Plugin with SonicLab]

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

Lexicon Vortex

This is actually very relevant to me, as recently as last month I bought a Lexicon Vortex for the 2nd time after missing it so dearly !!! But as of now I’d say that I miss my combo of the Eurorack modules: Ornament & Crime, Clouds, and Plonk. The three of them could cover so much range of mutating and captivating sound design. I’m still going through recordings I have of them from years ago and repurposing them in Ableton projects.

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

Over the course of the last year I’ve been growing into more of a hybrid music setup where I use my hardware as strictly sound creation tools and Ableton for sequencing and chopping up samples / loops from them. It took me years to find that I simply don’t write fully-realized songs when I use my hardware setup alone. I’ve owned the MPC 1000, OP-1, Octatrack, Squarp Pyramid, and TR8s, over the years, but none of their workflows really clicked with me. It could be that I don’t have enough sound sources or that I don’t have a big enough mixer or that my gear just isn’t hands-on enough…. but I believe that it’s more that my production style revolves around sound exploration first and song realization as a reaction to it. With my current setup I feel that almost every piece of gear is catered to my workflow of improvisation and recording to create a pool of content to pull from. The pieces I use the most, though, are: The Intellijel Rainmaker, Zoom ST-224, Lexicon Vortex, Yamaha RY30, Ucreate, and my Lock-in Amp.

[Editor: I gotta say, it took me years to figure out a similar workflow to what Zack describes above. Creation first. Editing afterwards]

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

Although I’ve mostly moved away from Eurorack I’d definitely start with the Rainmaker and grow into a modest 84HP setup from there. Without the constant yearning to make fully-fledged songs like in my past, I feel that I’d get so many more ideas down than I did originally.

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

Definitely the Korg M3R as mentioned earlier. The workflow is still completely over my head at the moment so I usually edit presets. Luckily I recently got the Korg RE-1 controller for it and hope to put some time into learning the combo more fully, hopefully to turn it into the most capable synth that I own. A close second would be the Zoom MS100BT multi-effect pedal that you can make virtual pedalboards with BUT there are no expression or MIDI inputs, so it’s very hard to integrate into any setup, except very static ones or perhaps mixing.

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

A simple trick that BLEW me away recently was using internal feedback with the Lexicon Vortex. The otherworldly aggressive sounds you get from patching it into itself gives it a completely different character, than when you use it to process outside audio. This technique can also be implemented so easily into setups with matrix mixers, mixer sends, filters, and effects to create an endless inspirational output to explore.


Artist or Band name?

Zack Alkek / Zack.website / 2nd Place / Quirimps Swaramps / Milk Puzzle.

Genre?

Experimental Electronic / Experimental Pop / VGM / Soundtrack.

Selfie?

Hey Zack

Where are you from?

San Francisco, CA.

How did you get into music?

Piano lessons from when I was 7-11, Trombone from 12-16, Guitar from 13-18, Music production from 18-now.

What still drives you to make music?

Collaboration and the excitement of new projects.

How do you most often start a new track?

Messing around in Ableton, cutting up recordings, or recording voice memos with riff ideas.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When it feels right and it makes me happy.

Show us your current studio

Sure! It’s a MESS because I’m always moving things around, but it’s MY mess. (:

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind, than the one where they sprang up.” COLLABORATE !

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

Right now, I’m part of a team called Five Side Studios and we’re creating a computer game called Memorial ! Playable demo should be out soon, but follow our twitter in the meantime ! http://fivesidestudios.com/memorial

[Editor: What would you call the Zack’s gear category? 90’s rack and romplers? Leave a comment below]


Maysun – Drummer Of Synths

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

The Mighty Power Swith

My #1 favorite switch is the one from the power supply to my rack mount gear. It is hard to reach, it makes a loud click sound and it is the first thing I turn on before
starting a recording session. It is my preferred one, because activating it means I’m about to create something. (I also like my modular synth power supply switch, my camera’s on/off swivel switch, my cassette player’s stop switch, my dictaphone’s stop/eject switch and my lego wheel OP1 knobs.)

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

A lot of my gear is broken / acts weird / only works sometimes, and I like them just like that. I enjoy the thought that the machines have moods and maybe don’t want to cooperate sometimes, or that they want to influence the artistic direction. I try to accept the glitches and use it to a musical advantage. I would not change anything about them.

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

Sony A6000 Camera + OP1 + Zoom H6 + iLok, Laptop and Headphones (ATH M50x).

Sony A6000 Camera + OP1 + Zoom H6 + iLok, Laptop and Headphones (ATH M50x)

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

I wish I had a hardware version of the Pusher plugin from Kush Audio. I use it to add dirt, grit and noise to any track that needs a bit more personality, be it synths, bass,
drums, etc. It works on everything. I have a EHX memory man deluxe delay pedal that I use as a kind of dirty preamp / chorus / overdrive. I haven’t been able to find a
plugin that sounds like it.

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

I regret selling my Strymon DECO pedal. It had a very good tape emulation sound and was stereo. I used it for live shows at the end of my signal chain. I sold it
because I needed to money to buy a sampler. (I also regret selling my Korg Poly800, it was a really nice synth.)
I don’t think I regret anything I bought, but a piece of gear that I sold after only a few days of having it was the KMI Boppad. It just wasn’t for me.

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

MorfBeats

Any instrument by Morfbeats. When i’m running out of ideas, I’ll pick any piece and throw it on the drums to add rattle and new sound possibilities, or i’ll use the melodic instruments like the gamelan strips to create an ambiant loop. They also work well with a contact mic and effect pedals.

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

An acoustic piano. I’ve wanted one for years and recently was given one that I have slowly been integrating into my music. I find that composing is much easier on a real piano than on synths and if I were to start over, I would get that first.

Upright Piano

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

My zoom H6, I like it and I hate it because it’s really finicky on SD cards, but I always have it with me for sampling, or as a portable sound card to my computer.

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

Bells and Rattles

If a snare drum counts as a bit of kit, what I like to do, is tune it low, and add a t-shirt and object on top, like bells or heavier metal. It makes it sound really deep, controlled and punchy, but you have random rattles from the bells that will add nice texture once you compress a bit.


Artist or Band name

Maysun aka. Etienne Mason.

Genre?

Instrumental, cinematic.

Selfie?

Etienne Mason aka. Maysun

Where are you from?

Montreal, QC, Canada.

How did you get into music?

I always wanted to play drums, I don’t know why. Maybe because my father is a bass player. After years of asking, my parents got me a snare, hihat and a cardboard box with a pedal attached to it. From there, I went to high school in a music program, took private lessons, completed a music degree in college, did a small part of a Jazz Performance degree in university, that I quit after a year. From that point I was in an apartment where I could not play drums, so I started getting into synths and recording, which turned me onto modular synths, which led to sound design, which brings me to where I am now.

What still drives you to make music?

I like sound, I enjoy completing pieces of music and I like the whole process of sculpting music through playing, recording and mixing.

How do you most often start a new track?

Recently, for my daily videos the process has been about recording a short drum performance and adding synths to it afterward. I do this as quickly as possible and try to not censor any idea while doing it, allowing the piece to go into any direction, even one I don’t like. It helps me practice new ideas and test out recording techniques, plugins, instruments, etc.
For EPs, I usually start with a strong story line in my head that I transfer to sound. The drums usually represent me, and the other instruments are my life events. I create different sound scenarios and then add transitions between them. I mess with physical movement of sound through 4 speakers recorded through a binaural mic to create ambiances and add synth textures and drums after that.

How do you know when a track is finished?

For my daily videos, they are done once I run out of time.
For EPs, it is more difficult. The last EP I recorded (should be out fall 2020), I had trouble letting go and finishing it. I think it was because I had been used to doing daily compositions, where you can always do better the next day. For an EP, I felt like it was more permanent.
And so, when I thought I had gone to the maximums of my capacities, I asked for help from another sound engineer, and together we finished it. I think it helped a lot to get a second opinion.

Show us your current studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Once, I took a skype lesson with a guitar player, and I was asking questions on what exercises to practice to be able to do a certain rhythmic thing. He told me to just do it until I hear it. No secret exercise or shortcuts for learning this.
That was 10 years ago and it really changed my approach to music.
I feel like many musicians, especially online, are looking to find that perfect video, piece of gear or secret exercise that will make you play better / create better music / find your identity.
But in my opinion, I think that there are no shortcuts to building your sound and that your musical identity is not only about going directly to what you like about someone else’s performance or music, but forged through personal experiences and experimentation. It takes time, effort and patience.
In short, his advice was to simply do it, until you figure out on your own, how to make it work for you, and not procrastinate by waiting around for the answers to pop up by themselves.

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

New music almost everyday here: https://www.instagram.com/maysun.music/
A new EP out after the COVID situation here: https://maysunmusic.bandcamp.com/
Free samples for everyone on my bandcamp.

[Editor: It seems like Maysun really enjoys acoustically prepared instruments: drums, piano and percussion. Do you have a favorite method for modding acoustic instruments? Leave a comment]


Shawn Jimmerson – Nice Noise Blaster

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

Tasty Chips GR-1

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.

Game Changer Audio Plus Pedal

The main control on this old Westinghouse portable reel-to-reel is beautiful and feels great.

Westinghouse portable reel-to-reel

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.

Flight of Harmony Choices joystick

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.

Cordoba Mini

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.

Noise Engineering Briefcase Eurorack Modular

This thing is thin!

A very thin briefcase modular

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.

T. Chordstrum DIY kit

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?
Von Doog

Genre?
All that will have me 🙂

Selfie?

Clark Nova

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

The Pyraphonic 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):
https://www.instagram.com/pyraphonic

Music account (Von Doog):
https://www.instagram.com/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]