Yukes – White Ghost beyond the Great Firewall

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

Yamaha MT44 cassette tape recorder
Yamaha MT44 cassette tape recorder

If I’m being honest, the “feather touch technology” buttons on my Yamaha MT44 4-track cassette machine are just… something else entirely.

Back in the 80’s when buttons n’ switches were more mechanical and clicky, a lot of different “options” were lost to the more common ones. What we have here is a thin ribbon beneath a plastic cover with no click. Sounds bad right?

But when you press the button, it causes whatever mechanical function you triggered in the machine to violently come to life somewhere deep within the machine, causing an almost distant haptic shake, despite the button feeling almost unresponsive.

There’s a creative satisfaction to the physical start of a cassette session, of course, but my monkey brain finds some deep satisfaction in how the button feels.

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

Bamboo Xiao and reel-to-reel recorder
Bamboo Xiao and reel-to-reel recorder

My bamboo Xiao, in key of F. We really figured this stuff out 38,000 years ago, didn’t we?

I needed to buy a new xiao when I arrived in Chengdu a few months ago, and got one at a shop that sounded the nicest. I realized it sounded so nice because I bought one in the key of F, not G, so it’s lower with a substantially deeper, woodier sound.

I don’t have any electric gear I consider perfect. I’m a big optimist and love all the gear I have, but there’s always something frustrating, missing, or something lacking that causes desire. Not enough inputs. Too much menu diving. Too complex. Not complex enough.

But the Xiao? Thousands of years of technological advancement and this baby’s not going anywhere.

The only improvement I could ask for is a pickup mic that’s easier to install and doesn’t require a button battery. Those things are so unpredictable.

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

Roland SP404a
Roland SP404a

Gotta go with a classic. My SP404a’s been going with me everywhere. Lightweight, not too big, runs off AA’s, and swappable storage means I can switch between a dozen projects within seconds. If I’m playing a live set, I’m already committed to bringing a zither around that’s 1m, or 1.6m. the rest of my gear is gigantic and heavy; but with this lil’ guy I could feasibly run an internal mic in, throw on some simple reverb, and have as many backing tracks as I want, all with performance effects… Even without making beats on the go, this thing is a workhorse. 
It’s a shame the new one is so hard to get.

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

Software to Hardware: I adore Output – Portal. Its interface, it’s complexity, everything about this plugin suits me and the sort of ambience I share with my audience here. If I could get this into a little box with an XLR input, oh man. Feels like game over. I’ve genuinely considered buying a micro-PC with a 7in’ touch screen, programming an auto-launch and building it myself.

Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal with Guzheng
Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal with Guzheng

Hardware to software: To me there’s nothing more immediately satisfying than how Gamechanger Audio has mastered minimal granular synthesis with the Plus Pedal. I’d love to find some function within a DAW that let me capture the last few moments of audio and mess around with the grain, in such an instantaneous way.

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

Guzheng and pedal board live setup
Live setup and pedal board

I’m not ashamed to admit that my music gear affixation was preceded by nearly 10 years of struggling to know what was right for me. When I was experimenting with a custom electric ukulele in college, I wanted something to make ambience with. I don’t know how on earth I settled on the Electro-Harmonix Ravish Sitar. That’s… like a $300, very specific pedal which they say ‘is an instrument in its own right.’ A sort of synth pedal. I was fascinated by the concept of generating sympathetic drones based on what note i played. In retrospect what I actually wanted was shimmer and freeze. 
I never got the hang of it. I still try.
I also had a Line6 DL4 back in the day. I really never got a sound out of it that I liked, but I spent way too much of what little money I had back then, to get it. 
Forgive the photo; it’s the only pic I have of both pedals together on my makeshift pedalboard.  

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

Novation Circuit and little buddy keyboard
Novation Circuit and little buddy keyboard

The sheer number of micro beats I’ve made on the original Novation Circuit I just got is perplexing. Right now my social media strategy in China is based on quantity, so as much as I want to craft bigger and better songs, posting something new every day is more important for growth. And this thing just churns out ideas and concepts.

I can sit with it far away from my desk, run it off batteries, and even use its internal speaker, and get a little beat together in less than 5 minutes.

Omnisphere may have been what opened me up to the most tangible productivity and hours put in, but as for sheer number of songs, nothing comes close to what the circuit could do for me.

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

Given the nature of being an expat, this is a far more tangible and realistic question than normal. I try not to get too attached to my gear because realistically I may need to leave it all behind someday. But I don’t let that stop me from acquiring (mostly second hand) gear that doesn’t fit inside a suitcase. Don’t let international politics ruin your interests. 

Elektron Digitone and Marshall Speaker
Elektron Digitone

If I sold it all and started fresh somewhere else, I’d probably start with a Microcosm as my main effect processor, and stick to ambient music for a while. After that, I’d probably start fresh with Elektron, starting with a Digitone. My friend loaned me this beast for the weekend and I’m in love. Then a 404mkII as a hardware unit, and finally pick a keyboard. Novation Summit if I could afford it. Otherwise maybe a Komplete keyboard, A49 I reckon. But honestly I’d be fine with just a Digitone and Microcosm. As long as I can find a dope instrument shop nearby.

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

White Native Instruments Maschine
Native Instruments Maschine

Native Instruments Maschine. Putting 9 hours into tutorials on LinkedIn Learning (of all places) was unarguably the biggest leap forward in my music production skills, but it set me up in a music production environment which is sort of toxic in how un-intuitively it works with other software. No hotkeys, terrible mouse navigation… it’s like I’ve been cursed.

If you’ve ever tried to work with Maschine as a VST within Ableton or Logic you’d know what I mean. It’s great on its own, but my god, it’ll choke anything but the strongest computers.

I’ve tried working without it. Tried learning the drum rack on Ableton, session view… but nothing is as fast and intuitive to me.

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

Using the SP404 sampler as a synth
Using the SP404 sampler as a synth

I made a video recently about using a sampler as a synthesizer, using only its internal multi-effects. It was a simple idea that I had, which really blew up into an incredibly complex and wonderful challenge in makeshift synthesis.

I designed the technique as a means of exploring and internalizing what effects truly sound like (what does a bit crash do to a sine wave?) but now realize it’s a great way to really understand what effects can do. I’d encourage anyone with a fancy pedal or getting into magnetic tape recording to try dropping basic waveshapes through it and listening to what comes out.


Artist or Band name?

Yukes玉刻

Genre?

Ambient / Chinawave

Selfie?

Yukes aka. Justin Scholar
Yukes

Where are you from?

New York, New York, currently based in Chengdu, China.

How did you get into music?

Trained in jazz & classic trombone throughout school. I tried music so many times as a kid and never really enjoyed it until I tried ukulele, which led me to mandolin, mountain dulcimer, banjo, then all sorts of folk instruments. While studying abroad I fell in love with the Chinese Zither (Guzheng) and came back several years later to make a career out of playing traditional Chinese instruments in Shanghai. It’s started working out quite well recently.

What still drives you to make music?

I found something that works for me. I discovered a niche with wide public appeal, which is proving to be very lucrative and creatively liberating. Breathing new life into traditional instruments has given me a lifetime of new territory to explore, and my relatively new fixation on gear adds the geeky satisfaction as well. Cassette tapes are scratching the lofi / esoteric itch, and all the brand sponsorships (Eventide, Focusrite, Novation, NI) are offering some real sense of authenticity.

How do you most often start a new track?

I leave my acoustic instruments strewn about the studio. I’ll pick it up, fingerpick til I find a strange new chord, strike up a simple rhythm on a sampled CR-78, and try to record it simply. From there it’ll likely become a demo; if not, I’ll record a video of my fingers while I play, then save it for later. My muscle memory is terrible.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When the call of everything else I’m working on grows too loud to ignore, I anxiously polish up whatever I’m working on, wherever it’s at, and ship it out.

It’s… really not ideal, but it’s better than perfectionism and never finishing.

Show us your studio?

Yukes Studio. Novation Circuit. Sp404a. Yamaha 4-track. Launchpad. MicroKorg. Eventide H9.
Yukes Studio

My girlfriend and I have been artists-in-residence for nearly a year now, so we’ve been sort of living out of a few flight cases. Our studio’s nothing to write home about, but the environment outside is unreasonably beautiful. 

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Always be ready to entertain.

It was a practical piece of advice, given to me by a seasoned acoustic musician who was dabbling in electronics. The basic nature of the idea is that you need to be able to make music anytime, with anything, if only your voice, or with any instrument you’re handed.

One time I was the guest of honor for a government project in Wuxi, China, the governer walked in and asked me to play something from my home country. I didn’t have any instrument on me, so I immediately started singing “I Wish My Baby Was Born” by Tim Eriksen. I would’ve liked some accompaniment, but it was what I had on me, and what was in my head at the time.

But the lesson goes deeper than that. Learn to learn, don’t learn to master. Be ready to try any instrument that’s put in front of you. As a left-handed musician, I’ve come to terms with the fact that no one will ever hand me a left-handed guitar at a party and ask for a song. So I’ve learned upside down.

John Lennon said, “I’m an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I’ll bring you something out of it.” Whatever situation you’re given in life, be the artist and make the best out of it.

You’re never gonna cure your GAS. You’re never going to have every piece of gear you desire, and even if you could, you couldn’t reach it all from one place. And you won’t always have a big enough table. More than half my gear is sitting in a basement in a terribly locked-down Shanghai, I don’t know when I’ll get it back. But I’m making great use of what I have.

So whatever your lot in life is, make the most out of it.  

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

After years and years, I’ll finally release my single this month. Search up Yukes玉刻 on Spotify and follow meet_yukes on Instagram for a look into life as a musician in China. Good stuff, lots of chillout, ambience and fun stuff. 


Chris Joye – Joy of Crisynther

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

Probably the Cutoff knob on my Moog Mother-32. I just love how dramatically it opens or closes the sound.

Moog Mother-32 Cutoff knob
Moog Mother-32

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

Pladask Elektrisk Tåken delay pedal.  I would put three together (a Triple Tåken?) similar to my TC Electronics Triple Flashback delay.

Pladask Elektrisk Tåken delay pedal
Pladask Elektrisk Tåken delay pedal

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

It depends where I’m going, but I usually end up bringing the wrong kit and then get an e-mail request to create something entirely different. I’ve been trying to bring my Zoom H4N to capture sounds or found instruments and usually a Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator or three.

Zoom H4N and a bunch of Pocket Operators
Zoom H4N and a bunch of Pocket Operators

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

My Omnichord OM-84 as a playable plug-in would be cool.  Conversely, putting the complete Soundtoys plug-in suite into a pedal would be amazing!

Omnichord OM-84
Omnichord OM-84

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

I sold an Ibanez Gary Willis signature 5-string fretless bass for a Fender Jazz copy and cry every time I remember.  I’m pretty careful what gear I buy now, generally, but there have definitely been a few pedals I questioned and re-sold rather quickly.

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

Probably a tie between my Warwick Infinity LTD 2000 bass and my Fender Telecaster.  

Warwick Infinity LTD 2000 bass and my Fender Telecaster
Warwick Infinity LTD 2000 bass and my Fender Telecaster

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

First, a sufficient room to compose and mix in… but that’s not gear, so maybe proper room treatments… ok, ok, a nice set of monitors.

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

The short guitar pedal connector cables that always seem to break or crackle.

Short cables

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

Maybe not a bit of kit, but in Apple Logic, the “Chase MIDI Note” option so that it triggers the MIDI note even if you start the playhead in the middle of the note.

Apple Logic Chase MIDI Note

Artist or Band name?

Chris Joye (but, I also created a handful of albums under the moniker Cue, and then also as Christopher Joye, before settling into my actual name)

Genre?

Typically a blend of indie rock with classical/soundtrack elements

Selfie?

Chris En-Joye-ing himself in his studio

Where are you from?

I live near Seattle, Washington.

How did you get into music?

My dad always played classical music on his big sound system and my mom listened to Oldies. I took piano lessons as a kid, but quit for sports until one of my brothers bought an electric guitar as a teenager and I decided to play it. Eventually, a friend convinced me to try out bass guitar and I was sold on that!

What still drives you to make music? 

The endless options of blending sounds and textures.  This can also be a hinderance, too, when you hit a creative block, but it still makes me come back to experiment more.

How do you most often start a new track?

Most of the music I create for myself, I’m still writing with the intention that it may be used in sync to video or a video game or some sort of storyful project later on.  So, I guess, I usually start with a concept, maybe it’s a mood, or a theme, or a character or something.  However, sometimes, I just mess around with sounds or chords and find an interesting combination.  

How do you know when a track is finished?

I’m always intrigued by how a simple melody or chord or texture turns into a full piece.  Something usually clicks at some point in the process where I feel like I’ve found the direction to take, I can never pinpoint it, but usually after the 4,000th time of playback, that I can generally feel when a song is done and ready to mix.  Sometimes, I’ll add another element or two and if it sounds too cluttered or muddy, then I know I’ve nearly reached this point.

Show us your current studio.

Here it is, more or less.

No Joye in Chris’ studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

One of my Film Scoring instructors at Berklee said something once that I always remember, “Just finish it and move on.”  That may not motivate some people, but it resonates with me!

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

I released my 14th album, “Reposition”, which is an album of spacious ambient tracks that I wrote thinking of dialogue- or emotionally-heavy film scenes that just need a slow-moving “mood” for a backdrop.  It’s available everywhere and here https://chrisjoye.bandcamp.com/album/reposition


Joel Negus – Synthing Classics

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

Cutoff on the Moog Sub25. Nothing like the ladder filter!

Moog Subsequent 25

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

The Vermona DRM-1 mkiii is amazing, but maaaan I wish the trigger inputs were on the front panel!

Vermona DRM-1 mkiii and Lyra-8

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

OP1 basically lives in my backpack if it’s not out in the studio. I’ll often develop ideas on it that end up staying on a track.

Teenage Engineering OP-1

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

Couldn’t come up with a direct answer to this question 😂 so decided to answer it by saying that the Arturia Polybrute beautifully blends software / hardware as a complete instrument.

A Strymon Zuma trying to hide an Arturia Polybrute

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

I used to own a Korg SV-1 until my dad passed his 1977 Rhodes down to me. I always enjoyed playing the sv-1 and realize I shouldn’t have sold it whenever I see one.

On the Rhodes again… I cain’t wait to get on the Rhodes again!

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

The Moog Subharmonicon!!! More ideas have started on that thing than any other instrument for me (except maybe the piano).

Moog Subharmonicon and friends

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

If I had known just how magical tape echo was, I probably would’ve wanted it sooner… but it probably wouldn’t have been first 😂

Echo Fix EF-X2

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

The helping hand for soldering!!!

A helping hand for soldering

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

I recently learned about the tails mode on the Earthquakes Avalanche Run – haven’t used it yet, but I couldn’t believe I didn’t know about that before I bought it!

An avalanche of eurorack! Run!!!

Artist or Band name?

Joel Negus

Genre?

Various, often in classical / jazz / electro-acoustic worlds

Selfie?

Joel Negus

Where are you from?

Born and raised in Chicago IL, but I’ve been in Cleveland OH for 15 years.

How did you get into music?

Both of my parents are professional musicians. Growing up, I was a boy soprano 🤵 and my dad had me sing on a number of commercials on the jingle scene. Eventually I fell hard into the punk rock scene, which turned to metal – I was a part of starting the band Born of Osiris. Changed directions in high school and focused on classical / jazz upright bass.

What still drives you to make music?

Creativity cannot be severed from relationships. The very act of making itself is collaborative – this connection to others is a constant source of inspiration.

How do you most often start a new track?

Playing an instrument and a spark hits. Recently though, trying to think more in silence before jumping in – starting more in my head. Always looking for different ways to compose!

Korg MS-20

How do you know when a track is finished?

I rarely “feel” that it’s finished, but I suppose it’s when I’m at the height of my excitement over it. I’ve found it best to wrap it up somewhat quickly when I’m really excited about how things are sounding.

Show us your current studio

A solemn of guitars
Bass-synth, bass-ukulele, contra-bass

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

We can’t just think about what we’re making, but the social context in which we’re making.

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

I just released a score I did for a modern dance company in town called Inlet Dance Theater. The piece was called Red Tape and was a total joy to collaborate on. Cheers!

https://joelnegus.bandcamp.com/album/red-tape-original-score