Northern Lighthouse – Travel Moods

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

From an aesthetic point of view I like the big old-looking knobs on Momo Modular’s version of Mutable Instruments Rings. I like having small sets and portable instruments but I admit small devices are sometimes difficult to use, especially live. Big knobs = big satisfaction.

Momo Modular’s Mutable Instruments Rings

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

I don´t, but for gigs I usually have a drum machine, a sampler and two keyboard synths for live improvisations. No midi sync for the clock, just a mixer. I am now exploring all the features of every instrument I have and try to end the Gear Acquisition Syndrome fuelled by Instagram and YouTube! The synth world is so different from the rock scene I entered during the MySpace era. There is too much attention on social media, gear and design than music. Myspace was used to sell merch and organise gigs, the rest was pure fun on stage. No need for 4K videos on your page showing your new shiny pedal. I bought my drum set more than 15 years ago and I basically never changed it. Instead with synths, I keep on checking modulargrid for new modules…

Northern Lighthouse gig setup

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

During my last summer holiday I brought with me some Eurorack modules in a small . It wasn’t easy to decide what to bring with me and I’m always afraid that something could break or not pass airport security. I once was stopped by an Italian officer who wanted to know more about my Arturia Keystep! One day I might buy the OP-Z because it’s as big as a TV remote controller.

4ms eurorack pod

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

One of the things I like the most about Ableton is the ability to slowly launch several clips and use separate faders on a midi controller to control the volume of each one, and that is something that I looked for for ages in samplers. The tiny Blackbox sampler by 1010 music seems to tick this box. Regarding software although they give me endless possibilities they do not inspire me enough when making music. I use my laptop a lot at work already and I do not want to stare at a screen in my free time.

Akai kidi controller

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

I regret having bought the Ableton push 1 controller. It is huge, really heavy and not standalone. I bought it in a second hand shop but I‘ve almost never used it and when I play live I don’t like using my laptop on stage. I prefer launching loops with the SP404 and playing with other synths on top of it.

Live setup based around the Roland SP404

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

Critters and Guitaris’ organelle is my favourite instrument, I use it in every jam because it has so many sounds and it is portable. It’s in every song I have recorded so far because some of the patches created by the users are incredibly versatile, warm and close to real older hardware synths. Who wouldn’t like to have a free Juno or theremin patch in their tiny synth?

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

I would still start with the Volca FM which was my first hardware synth. Cheap and portable and not scary to use at the beginning. I confess, at the beginning I didn’t even know what attack or LFO meant!

Korg Volca FM

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

Reverb. It is not annoying, it is essential in my music. I use it on almost every synth because I rarely like harsh and metallic sounds. That’s why I have a love-hate relationship with FM synthesis. Even when distorted my songs need to sound like they come from the past or from a far away land. When I create music I focus less on melody (although I find long drones a bit boring) and dedicate more time on creating a melancholic atmosphere, usually made of different layers talking to each other. Guitar pedals help me create new sounds. The downside of it it’s that 90% of these sounds cannot be reproduced again. I listen to a lot of posthardcore and post-rock and compared to those, ambient is much more ephemeral.

Digitech Polera

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

Using pink noise to quickly mix all the tracks in a song. I know professional sound engineers might disagree…

Artist or Band name?

Northern Lighthouse

Genre?

Electronic/Ambient

Northern Lighthouse

Where are you from?

Bologna, Italy. A town full of students and music, with its many squats, art cinemas, festivals and bars for alternative music it somehow made me who I am and feeded my interests in films and music. I later moved to Newcastle, UK where I started this electronic music project. I’m now based in Brussels, Belgium. This is where I started jamming with other people and moved from daw to actual instruments and even modular synths in 2019.

Erica synths Cables

How did you get into music?

I always liked percussions. When I was in kindergarten my parents gave me a drum kit for children as a present.

Northern Lighthouse and first drumkit

Years later, during high school a club near my family house went bankrupt and I managed to bring home an old Pearl drum set for free. I was into punk and metal and I started playing music with a guitarist friend of mine. After a while we founded a metalcore band called Rising Hate. There was a big hardcore scene in the early 2000s, we played around Italy for 5 years until I went abroad. It was so fun, I miss that life!

The way I approached electronic music is really different though. I remember as a kid I had an old music software called Music Maker which was my first daw. Years later, in Newcastle, a small town in northern England surrounded by beautiful cliffs and touched by the northern sea, I saw Loscil live and it blew my mind. I was without my drums  and I was so curious about this genre called Ambient that was new to me. I decided to look for a new tool to make music and I started using Ableton. The following year I moved to London looking for a job, but it was a really sad and lonely time, so music was my escape!

What still drives you to make music?

Making music is like a trip from your daily routine to an exotic destination that you choose and create. It affects my mood, it gives me energy and it makes me imagine new landscapes and allows me to meet like-minded people. This project in particular was born from the need to create soundscapes and stories with a deeply nostalgic atmosphere which also includes field recordings, videos and photography. I like curating every aspect of it.

Having lived abroad since 2010, travelling, exploring and missing my Heimat became part of my life. This mix of nostalgia and excitement affects and inspires my music a lot. I also listen to a lot of posthardcore music which I find the most cathartic music ever and I try to transfer this feeling into my songs as well. Besides electronic music, I keep on playing the drums in a post-rock band called Yakhchal. I need this dualism of sadness-happiness, delicateness-anger in my life. Unfortunately COVID put on hold every live gig and opportunity…

‘Fyrtaarn’ is Lighthouse in danish

How do you most often start a new track?

I simply improvise with my gear and if there is a sound or melody that I really like I recorded it as a loop. I then add more parts like bass, rhythms, field recordings and other drones or melodies on top of that. Everything should help recreate a specific image I have in mind. It is usually something coming from a book, documentary or film I saw. But this happens from time to time, without rush. It can take days or months. This also helps me understand what I want to keep or modify from that track because I listen to it with a “fresh” ear every time.

Microcassette

How do you know when a track is finished?

When it sounds full and when modifying it doesn’t improve the song, but actually makes it worse!

Show us your current studio

I live in a 2-room apartment, so I don’t have space for a proper studio. I have a lot of IKEA pieces of furniture where I keep my gear and I dissemble everything after every jam. I’m a tidy person, so when there are too many cables around I get nervous. 

A tidy desk of fun

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

A friend once told me that he liked the story behind my project. I think it’s important that bands and artists develop a strong and personal identity, do research and explore a specific idea or theme. Many people just copy themselves, follow trends. In this case I feel content and branding should be intertwined and support each other. People need to recognise you and your style.

The Sardinian coast

Promote your latest thing… 

My latest self-released tape is called Lantern, and it is composed of layers upon layers of loops of recorded sounds, synthesizers and guitar pedals that pay tribute to distant landscapes, sailors and lighthouse keepers. I am now working on two projects: a split album with a fellow italian drummer and synth lover and a multi-disciplinary project (music, videos, field recordings and analog photos) on an abandoned miners’ village on the Sardinian coast.

Bandcamp: https://northernlighthouse.bandcamp.com/

Northern Lighthouse Lantern cassette release

[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…
]


Droid Zen – Robot Meditations

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

LSDJ and friends

The election of the music gear depends on the emotion feels, desires to learn new music vocabularies or the song itself ask you the tools to create it, but the DMG-01 (any Game Boy model, with LSDJ and other music rooms) is one of my favorite music instruments, because is probably the best example that making music is a game and working with this tool is so fun. You know, you can made the DMG-01 a synth, sequencer, drum machine and MIDI controler; all in one, is fantastic.  When you compose music with DMG-01 the form to see the complete music enviromment and aproach the ideas conditions the results, and let you explore unique options, wich would be impossible to conceive with other kinds of music tools; mantra: “one thing is with a guitar and another with a violin”; new mantra, “one thing is with a traditional synth and another with DMG-01”. Another favorite tool to ordering sounds is the Speak & Spell, it´s very rock, and the tape machines are pure magnetism. 

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

Another nice odd question my friend. I think if that chaos or randoms sounds are incorporated in all music tools, we could see the extra layers of the marble to create a better scupture. Sometimes we can control and generate our own chaos and random ideas, it´s part of the creative drift, but if we had the option to turn on and off an alternative chaos to compose is that what would change everything.

Light and layers

Optimize the creative cables. We all need the chaos, it´s like an angry ocean, you know, removes sediments, and create opportunities to see new forms of musical life. Imagine a random 5th channel on LSDJ; or more crazy also, like an extra random rope in the guitar, piano, violin, etc., to change its pitch without our being able to prevent it; composing assuming that randomness would be a good exercise.

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

Game Boy DMG-01 of course (it takes up little space in the suitcase) and a Zoom H6N or H4N. Sometimes I carry my guitar, but a paper and pencil are always the best tools.

Zoom recorder. Boss Pedals and GameBoys running LSDJ

Now, let me ask you a similar question.

What setup would you like to carry on a vacation to Mars or Space Station?

And imagine that there is a weight limit per passenger… perhaps Carl Sagan could advise us better at that time.

[Editor: I’d bring a tank of oxygen, it’s great for making sounds and it’s my absolute favourite for breathing. 🙂 Throw us an answers in the comments below]

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

Reason´s Subtractor Synth please! But I´d be very happy with all Propellerhead Software hardware racks, and I would like to have a Circuit Bending software, but one in which you can add and also buy toys to short-circuit them, just imagine, go to the library and select a Speak and Spell as a base, and have the possibility of hacking it virtually, for example: add controls for pitch, loops, hold, glitch, CV ports, LFO’s, etc.,

Korg Volca FM. Earthquaker Devices Dispatch Master and saucer

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

Yes, a wrong Mabuchi engine. I bought 2 of those motors to hack the Tascam Porta 03 and due to an inattention I bought the same motor model. Also I bought a TI-82 calculator and it still fills its main functions: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

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

Nice question my friend, and answer is: the Reason from Propellerhead Software, my guitar of course and the LSDJ. Most of my compositions start from any part of this trinity.  Sometimes I imagine a melody playing a synth from Reason and continue it on LSDJ and other times I start something on LSDJ and take it to Reason, and my guitar is always there to solve any musical puzzle that comes up and initiate other ideas.

Sound as rituals

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

Tesla and Space X Stock when those companies started too; to be able to by more synths and audio equipment, but I wouldn’t change the order of things with which I started making music: my guitar, and actually, I have the desire to buy a drum set since my childhood.

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

TI-83 Calculator! It’s so heavy to use them with the Houston Tracker, sometimes I hate it, don’t get me wrong, because when I can make it sound, the bass lines sound so powerful, and I find it crazy to be able to make music with a calculator and place notes with sine and osine, but maybe I do several things wrong because I cannot turn off the calculator once I use them and I have to do the entire Houston Tracker installation process and when I compose something I have to take photos of the screen as a backup and breathe very deeply if unexpectedly it crash, but that “little calculating bug” produces good sounds and I would live very sad if I did not have my TI-83, I would even miss my TI-82 to which I still cannot install the Houston Tracker; somebody help me with that!

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

Synth Rotek’s Atari Punk tunes very well, it is unstable, but with patience it can sound very powerful. Atari Punk in general are valuable wildcards to create and express emotions, when I connect any sound source in its CV ports, like a DMG-01, sounds really fat, on fire!.

If you connect the Atari Punk to an arpeggiator or fuzz pedal, you can rock out for a long time, and with long reverbs they can sound like trival songs. Another trick is to rock the DMG-01. Using an overtone pedal and a distortion, you can get really crazy sounds! Sometimes it’s great to do power chords: two channels sounding at the same time, the first channel does the tonic and the second channel the fifth, but, to this channel different values are applied with the D (delay) command to each note, then you can spice it up with individual wrappers per instrument, put values in with the K (stop) command and Vualá, it sounds so close to a guitar.

Through the porthole

Artist or Band name?

Droide Zen

Genre?

I’m going to paraphrase a great musician: Kevin Johansen “Soy un Desgenerado” (without musical genre). 

Selfie?

Droid Zen

Where are you from?

Guyaquil – Ecuador

How did you get into music?

I honestly don’t remember an exact date, because I liked the music for as long as I can remember, music is part of my biology.

What still drives you to make music?

Breathe. 

How do you most often start a new track?

Again, breathe and feel peace by my limbic system, And have the fortune to see an idea that excites me. Jorge Drexler in an interview said that making music is like a hunting ground, with different entrance doors, where you enter to hunt the same, but through different doors. The song that starts from the text, a sequence of chords, a melody, noise or random proceses is different. 

How do you know when a track is finished?

Perhaps intuition, you never know, maybe a track is never finished. Songs like that have only single chord have a life and their own and their own evolutionary path. The thermometer that I trust when I make music is the feeling, if the result transmits energy to me and when I add something the original emotion changes or that energy is lost, well, it’s time to stop and let the song breathe on its own, and listen to it after a long time and if it still retains the same feeling, it was always alive from the beginning.

Show us your current studio

Studio cat

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

A universal advice: live with the mistakes that we will make. 

Another good advice is one that Leda Valladares gave to Pedro Aznar: feel the ancient cosmic, sing with the guts, without worrying so much about aesthetics, your song must be credible. In spanish you say: cantar desde las entrañas.

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

[Editor: Check out the Droid Zen channel below]

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_-K0KHWU8JNWeBR8IHtXOg/videos


[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…
]


Project Null – Noise and Dropouts

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

The speed selector of the Uher 4000 Report-L. You have to push it down and drag it like a gear lever, so satisfying.

Uher 4000 Report-L

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

The Tascam Portastudio 424. It’s a 4 track tape recorder, you can adjust the pitch by more or less 4 semitones, you can switch the speed from « high » to « normal » and to « slow », that’s pretty unsusual for a tape recorder, it distorts well when you record a hot signal, it has a good and effective EQ, panning for each track. Only regret is that there is no xlr input and no phantom power to use condenser mics with it – but this is not really a problem, I use a portable phantom power supply -.

Tascam 424

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

For sure my Volca FM, a tape recorder or a dictaphone, my shortwave radio and a Zoom MS70. (However, when I’m on holidays (which is rare), I don’t do music that much (if I do, its generally field recording))

Volca FM, tape recorder, shortwave radio and Zoom MS70

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

I don’t use that much my computer when I produce music. Of course, I edit/mix my tracks with it, especially when tape recorders are too noisy using a denoiser or to compress a little bit using Klanghelm’s MJUC, or to arrange the stems. However I tend to say that iZotope’s Iris 2 would be great in hardware.

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

Not really a regret because it’s objectively a great synth, but the MS20 (mini) doesn’t really suits me. It’s the first synth I bought when I started – because it looked cool with the patch panel, I felt like a mad scientist or some shit – but I rarely managed to use it in my music, even though some patches are unique and amazing. Sold it 1 week ago because I’m low on money.

Korg MS20 mini

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

The Minilogue has definitely inspired me a lot, especially the mono voice mode – highly underrated imo -. You can bring a sub oscillator, detune you 2 vco a fourth, a fifth or just a little bit, affect your lfo to the pitch or the shape – to get some shifting in the sound – at a really slow rate and you get a massive sound on the lower notes. Also, the sweet spot on the Q of the filter is really nice. The built-in delay is incredible too, noisy as hell and dirty, absolutely perfect.

Korg Minilogue

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

I would get the Yamaha VSS-200. The sampling section is insane on this one, I use it a lot in my music production. I sample basically anything and everything, from other synths to acoustic instruments such as flute, guitar, even my voice, and it sounds so gritty, lovely. I made this demo on my YouTube channel, to show how it sounds like: https://youtu.be/vxlvFDanYbo

Yamaha VSS200

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

The Casio CZ-101. I love this synth, great evolutives sounds and has a warm character for a digital one, but it erase all the presets you’ve done if you don’t use it for two days. It uses those big expensive batteries (type D I believe), and I didn’t figured out yet how to mod it so it can use standard AA’s batteries. It’s a pain to program too, especially the enveloppes, so I use my iPad and Patch Base to edit my presets and manage them.

Casio CZ101

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

The generation loss technique. It’s mostly known for vhs, but it works with regular cassette tapes as well. When you record something into a tape, and sample it back into another tape, you experience the generation loss. And each generation sounds « worse » than the previous one, with more artifacts. I use it a lot with my two vcrs, but sometimes I also use two walkmans and bounce my stem from one to another. Experienced it on this little snippet on my Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/p/CBLj1X9o4De/

(you can hear the dropouts and the subtle wow and flutter as soon as I engage the vcr)

VCRs

Artist or Band name?

PROJECT NULL

Genre?

Electronic

Where are you from?

Draveil, France

How did you get into music?

When I was 17 years old, I watched on YouTube a drum solo by Joey Jordison, drummer of Slipknot, I was impressed and I wanted to play drums.

What still drives you to make music?

Making stuff that I would like to listen to, I mean, I put a lot of pressure on myself, I don’t want to share anything if I am not ok with it.

How do you most often start a new track?

I start by finding a chord progression or a melody. Then, I work the sound on a synth, depending on the type of sound I’m looking for I’m gonna use a different synthesizer or a different effect chain. Finally, I record it into my tape recorders, reel to reel or vhs, and if I want to give it some mood I resample it again and again, degrading it until I like the result. Then, I add other stems, like some noises, samples from my own stuff, some radio interferences, field recordings… Recently, I even tried to add subtle rhythm (recording real drums/various percussions mixed with electronic sounds) but I’m not really satisfied by the result.

How do you know when a track is finished?

Honestly, I don’t know, I am never satisfied by how my track ends.

Show us your current studio

Project Null Studio
Project Null Studio
Project Null Studio
Project Null Studio

Sorry for the bad light, its a very tiny room (less than 7 sqm) without any window, so no natural light. Lots of mess too, especially on the last photo, and the « light spots » I use for my videos are two Ikea’s light with tissue to avoid too much reflection (hmm I should buy proper lights at some point)

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Less is more. I often want to add too much but I realised that, sometimes, when I « clean » my Ableton session by removing stems, it sounds much better.

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

I released my first album on march, you can listen to it on every streaming platform you use – I put a Spotify link here but it is on every streaming services -.

https://open.spotify.com/artist/2c52lcjvCs1T7mKbXA2fFS


[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…
]