1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?
Maybe a cheeky/tenuous answer but – the ribbon of my ondes Martenot. It’s essentially a knob. You wear the metal ring on your right index finger, and it is attached to a string which is wrapped around a drum inside the machine. As you move the ring, the drum spins, a potentiometer is turned, and the pitch is altered. The amount of expression offered by this simple mechanism is unparalleled. My alternative answer would be another tenuous one – the touche d’intensité of my ondes. It is the volume control, and it’s name doesn’t translate exceptionally well into English. It is very tactile and very sensitive. It really is the soul of the ondes, and all your articulation comes from this wonderful key. The further you depress it, the louder the sound gets – simple!
(Honourable mention to the silver knob/button on the ZOIA! The satisfying *clunk* of clicking that button is both mine and my wife’s favourite thing about the ZOIA!)
2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?
I’ve loved the DSI/Sequential Prophet sound for ages, and I think the Rev2 is a super workhorse that manages to avoid being the typical jack-of-all-trades that some synths aspire to be. For my purposes it is practically perfect, but I would personally want to add a few things; an analog hi-pass filter (instead of relying on the digital one in the effects), an extra effects slot, polyphonic aftertouch, and more noise types…probably other things, too. It hasn’t let me down so far, and I’ve always managed to get the sound out of it, that’s in my head.
3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?
I don’t know if you’d call it a ‘setup’, but I always have my phone with me, and it is a vital tool in my music making. Most of the pieces on my new album started life as voice memos, and I think I have another two or three albums worth of material on my phone, going back years. I also like to record rivers and birds, etc. Some photographer or cinematographer said that “the best camera is the one you have with you” and I think, for me, my phone is the equivalent for music. I have recordings of a sweet little piano in a BnB in Huddersfield, a few harmoniums in a schoolhouse in Iceland, a violinist in an reverberant underpass in Berlin…but mostly the piano under my stairs or sketches of new ideas on the ondes. I also try to take a notebook with me when I go away on holiday or when I am sojourned in a studio somewhere. It helps me get ideas out of my head to make room for others. I do get twitchy and a bit miserable when I’m away from my ondes for too long but there isn’t really a remedy for that, unfortunately!
[Editor: ‘Getting ideas out of ones head, to make room for others’ is a great way to think about a sketch pad]
4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?
I used Max/MSP a lot in college and university, and always wished there was a way to package my patches up into hardware. I haven’t used Max as much in the past few years, but the ZOIA is certainly scratching that particular itch for me, though it isn’t quite the hardware version of Max/MSP. I don’t think I would wish ‘being software’ on any piece of hardware, to be honest. I really value tactility. I don’t particularly hate software, though.
5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?
I traded an ex-BBC ReVox A77 tape machine for a banjo. If you can’t sense the regret in that sentence, then trust me – I regret it. The banjo sits in my kitchen and haunts me daily.
6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?
The ondes Martenot. I’d be hesitant to brand it as ‘gear’ but, ultimately, it is a tool that allows us to make heard our own waves. It is an instrument, sure, but Maurice Martenot said “the instrument is first and foremost ourselves”. The ondes has taught me this lesson over and over again in many different ways so far. The ondes and has really become a part of who I am, physically and musically. All of my musical ideas revolve around the ondes Martenot now, and it has inspired me to release music moreso than any other instrument, piece of equipment/gear etc.
7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?
First thing I’d get is an ondes. Mine was built for me by Jean-Loup Dierstein in Paris and I wouldn’t hesitate to have him build me one if I was starting over again.
8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?
My computer. I just think computers are one of those “can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em” sort of things. I hate that it has to be there, but nothing is as convenient and practical for the music I make. A necessary evil! I don’t hate the process of making music on a computer, though, it makes sense.
9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?
I have this big old Soundtracs 16 – 8 – 16 that I sometimes run things through to get some of that saturation and drive that you can only really get from older analogue preamps. I remember running a drum pattern through it, along with the prophet, a function generator, and some ondes Martenot loops. Driving the preamps hard would make the whole mix pump and breathe with the drum pattern. Lovely.
Artist or Band name?
Hard to say, maybe experimental/electronic/alternative/classical. That sort of thing, I suppose!
If I must! (Attached!)
Where are you from?
The north of England!
How did you get into music?
I’ve always been around recorded music, and I’ve loved musical instruments for as long as I can remember. Piano and guitar were my first instruments as a child, then I really got into drums and synthesisers. The drums where my main instrument for a while, now it is the ondes Martenot. I still love synthesisers, and do play the piano a lot.
What still drives you to make music?
I can’t not do it.
How do you most often start a new track?
I come up with new ideas most days, and I usually record them onto my phone or an Ableton session to be worked on at a later date. I’m currently working on about 5 or 6 new pieces. I like having multiple pieces on the go, so I can work on something else when I’m a bit worn out from another.
How do you know when a track is finished?
When the endless tweaking becomes pointless.
Show us your current studio
Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?
Something that James Murphy said about why he reformed LCD Soundsystem made me dig around to find this quote from David Bowie; “Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.
My debut album, “…And the Birds Will Sing at Sunrise” is out now.
Also here’s my website joshsemans.com
[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…]