Stefan Tretau – St Modular

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

Lots of Freq Knobs

First of all, I love every cutoff control. It is just such a powerful and enjoyable part of subtractive synthesis, that it will always be my first and preferred choice when looking for a knob to turn.

Elektron Octatrack

Second, the Elektron Octatrack fader is definitely one of the most powerful controls for a wide range of parameters, be it effects or sample processing. The possibilities are endless and its so easy to use.

Contour – Shuttle Express

Last, but not least, I bought a multimedia editor controller called “Contour – Shuttle Express” that allows me to create shortcuts for certain functions in the Eagle CAD program, which I use to design circuit boards. This has drastically improved my efficiency and speed when designing PCBs.

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

S-CAT Double-Trouble Dual Filtered Distortion

I recently bought the S-CAT Double-Trouble Dual Filtered Distortion and I would immediately call it a perfect device. It has two channels, one optimized for synths and one for drums, and sounds delicious. I started to used it with the Roland TR8-S and the Behringer TD-3-MO and immediately went into an acid-frenzy. Here’s a video snippet where I also used it with the little Roland T-8 Aira compact groovebox.

Fun thing! :-

Blokas Midihub

Also worth mentioning is the Blokas Midihub, an interface and standalone MIDI processor that is as flexible as a midi interface can get. With the included editor, you can configure every midi setting imaginable. The only improvement would be a larger version with at least 8 channels.
Finally, the “GIVE2“ Oscillator I designed is still my favorite and I use it in almost every single patch. The only thing I would change in a future version would be to add faders instead of knobs and VCAs for each waveform at the mix output.

GIVE2 oscillator

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

A couple of years ago I put together a small Eurorack case that would somehow eliminate my GAS for the Buchla Music Easel (I named it “Euro Easel” ;-} ). It’s a small case with quite some limitations, but it has just the right modules to create very interesting sounds…. and it worked, I haven’t bought the Easel yet 🙂 It’s my travel case that I choose to take on vacation. You can find some videos about it here.

Takin’ it Easel

If I can’t take the travel case with me, I like to use an iPad or the three Aira Compact Grooveboxes, which are definitely fun.

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

There are many multi fx vsts available, but there are just few ways to add multi fx with a hardware device that is not a pedal. I currently use the Octatrack to add effects to the main output. But I would like to have a device that looks like one of the Pioneer FX series units and has a functionality like Sugar Bytes Turnado VST, Fabfilter Effects VST or the Ozone Mastering Tools – and nothing less 😉

VCV Rack

If VCV Rack didn’t already exist, I would want to see some sort of modular software to test and review modules. Fortunately, VCV Rack is already the perfect solution for that. It has helped me to come up with new module designs that combine various module functions into one unit. In VCV Rack I tested their practical application in advance before writing schematics and making prototypes.

I can’t think of any other hardware that I would like to see as a software solution.

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

I wish I still had my Korg Electribe R and the Clavia Nord Micro Modular. They were way ahead of their time and I really enjoyed using them.

These were some of the last sounds I made with the Micro Modular, and it breaks my heart not to have it on my desk today.
There are some modules I bought that I didn’t keep for long. But the list would be too long to mention them here.

As for my designs, there are a few modules I have published that I regret creating.
Mostly because my design skills have improved and I wouldn’t design them the way they used to be published. But I won’t tell you which ones they are 🙂

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

The ST Modular Beast

Definitely my modular. Especially the last album „Ostinato Modulare“, released in 2020, is strongly inspired by modular synthesis. But also other releases have their origin in melodies and sequences I created on my modular system.

A little close on the ST Modular Beast

Also worth mentioning is the “Mopho“ from Dave Smith Instruments, which I used very often in the past. It’s such a great sounding and powerful little instrument when used with a software editor.

Little Mopho hiding there

I also often used the Korg Gadget iOS app to sketch out ideas that eventually found their way into a final track.

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

Any Groovebox (Syntakt, Roland TR8-S, or Roland MC707 or similar)

Elektron Syntakt

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

My soldering iron! I used to love soldering and enjoyed that deep yoga-like relaxation of soldering in repetition and deep concentration. But the solder fumes and flux residue, the time it takes me to solder prototypes and troubleshoot, and the fact that my body doesn’t like sitting in one position for long periods of time are increasingly annoying me.

Soldering iron

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

PCB

I would like to mention the moment when I found out how easy it is to order ready soldered PCBs. I used to solder all SMD components myself and at some point decided to use PCB assembly for prototyping. This dramatically increased the speed at which I could work on my PCB designs. That was both a surprise and a relief.

Closer to the PCB

Apart from that, almost every single unit has some “hidden” features that surprise me – like the ducking functionality with the FX tracks on the Syntakt, the control-all functionality on most Elektron units, or the way you arrange effects in scenes on the Octatrack.

Also, a modular system is an endless source of “happy little accidents,” as Bob Ross would say. There are so many different techniques to use CV. Every time I patch, I’m surprised how musical challenges can be solved with modular control voltages. I remember being overwhelmed by the possibilities offered by a single function generator. Depending on the patching technique you can use it as an oscillator, a filter, a distortion and an envelope with sustain stage.

Not what you think of when you see a module like this, is it?

A single module can be a world in itself, spreading its CV tentacles into an endless modular universe full of surprises.


Artist or Band name?

Stefan Tretau / ST Modular / ST Records

Genre?

From Ambient to Techno

Selfie?

Stefan Tretau

Where are you from?

Oberhausen, Germany

How did you get into music?

Well, it’s not the piano and guitar lessons I used to get, but it was actually a friend’s Roland MC- 303 that I was lucky enough to use in 1999. That was my rabbit hole that I never got out of.
Shortly after that we bought a Roland MC-307, a Future Retro 777, a TB-303, a Micro Modular and a Jomox Xbase 09 and we started playing acid live acts as Complexx303“ in the early 2000s. Some time later it was just a small step to jump into the Eurorack universe. I bought my first Eurorack modules in 2016.

Stefan’s first eurorack case

ST Modular also started with a little push from a friend. He showed me how to build a Schmitt- Trigger oscillator, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to recreate it on a breadboard. That was the second rabbit hole that somehow replaced the synthesizer-hole for some time. So instead of making music, I breadboarded, read books, created magic smoke, and eventually designed a desktop synthesizer, effects pedals, and a first Eurorack module, a passive mult.

Live synth setup

However, before I got into Eurorack designs, I focused on pedal and synthesizer designs. In the video linked here, you can see how I create all sorts of noises with these DIY boxes. You can also see a first logo design there, which is the predecessor of the current ST Modular logo.

Now that I had a foot in the door I could not resist to deal further with concepts and circuit diagrams and spent whole weekends researching on the internet and watching youtube tutorials.

First synth design called Dillen in 2015

When the first working Eurorack module was built (Triple Tom), I didn’t actually intend to offer modules or boards to other builders. It was then the builders themselves who kept asking for boards and finally got me to make a first attempt to offer PCBs in cooperation with pushermanproductions.com in 2018.
And ST Modular was born.

What still drives you to make music?

That moment you surprise yourself.

How do you most often start a new track?

A kick and a bassline or a sound/melody that fascinates me.

How do you know when a track is finished?

I used to be very fast at producing and it wasn’t uncommon to finish a track in one day. I once participated in a remix contest for a label called “Karmarouge” and produced and submitted my remix within a single day. Surprisingly, my track was chosen to appear on the final vinyl release.

So, I’m not a perfectionist I guess and I don’t spend hours working on a snare sound.
If the track conveys a certain vibe, I can’t remove anything superfluous from the mix and nothing else extremely bothers me, it’s done!

ST modular System

As for the ST modular designs, each new prototype has to go through several weeks of extensive testing in my case. I design modules primarily for my personal use. If I don’t like the experience of playing with it, it doesn’t get released. I have a whole case full of finished prototypes that I have never published. They work technically fine, but they somehow didn’t turn out the way I had imagined.

Show us your current studio

Attic home studio
To the left of the Attic home studio
Center of the home stuio
Left side with the modular beast

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Just sit down and start!

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

ST Records – Latest Release „Ostinato Modulare“
https://www.st-rec.de/

ST Modular – Euphoria (DIY Semi-Modular Synthesizer)
https://www.st-modular.com/euphoria/

ST Modular – Eurorack DIY
https://www.st-modular.com/

Follow me on Instagram
@stefan_st_modular

[Editor: There are affiliate links to the relevant gear throughout the articles. It helps to support this blog. In fact, should you be needing some patch cables or guitar strings. Then clicking on one of the above links and buying any product that you prefer, will help the blog… doesn’t even have to be the ones in the link. Thx]


Nick Lisher – LesjaMusic

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

The filter modulation (as opposed to filter cutoff) knob on my Oberheim OB-Xa. The slightest circular movement can change the character of the sound from fluid and subtle to a punchy and brassy.

Oberheim OB-Xa

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

Impossible to answer with one!

1. Oberheim OB-Xa. I have had this synth for about 12 years, and I just love everything about it. I wish you could have more precise mix control over the two oscillators, and cross modulation like on the OBX, but otherwise what other piece of gear makes you sound like both Prince and Boards of Canada?

Oberheim OB-Xa

2. Vongon Ultrasheer [US]. An almost perfect reverb/vibrato pedal. Add a wet-dry mix and it would be even-more-almost-perfect.

Vongon Ultrasheer

3. Schippmann PHS-28 16 stage dual super phaser module, to give it its full name. It’s a beautiful phaser but also capable of utterly feral behavior with the right kind of modulation. 

Schippmann PHS-28 16 stage dual super phaser module

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

Polyend Tracker! [US]

Polyend Tracker

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

I’d love AudioThing, Valhalla or SoundToys to make some hardware, though I think Valhalla reverbs are available on the TipTop DSP module. As I work almost 100% in hardware (computers are for my day job!), the second half of the question is too difficult to answer.

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

I bought a Roland Juno 6 for £50 in 2000. The seller even drove it round to my house. It was such a lovely, lovely synth. I sold it to a friend to help fund my Oberheim.

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

Akai Headrush V1

I adore looping pedals and modules. In the early 2000s I bought an Akai Headrush V1 and used to just create layers upon layers of guitars on top of one another. Here’s a couple of tracks I made under my old moniker Ecce that used this very specific technique, one of which is even called Headrush! One, Two, Three. Nowadays I use the excellent Chase Bliss Blooper in a similar way.

Chase Bliss Blooper

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

A guitar and a looping pedal!

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

I’m gonna say my electronic drum kit, in that I wish it was a real kit, but I am not sure my family would put up with the noise of an acoustic kit.

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

On the Juno-6 I sold – if you pressed both Chorus buttons at once gave a wild chorus effect. 


Artist or Band name?

I relaunched myself as LesjaMusic last year, but I am yet to release anything under that moniker except short Instagram / Youtube clips

Genre?

Nautical fiction

Selfie?

As much as I hate to…

Nick Lisher

Where are you from?

Kent, UK

How did you get into music?

I played the saxophone when I was 9. Sax was cool in the 80s!

What still drives you to make music?

Fun! I have near-to-zero ambition for my music achieving any sort of popularity – I feel that ship has sailed – but it’s nice when a few folks listen to my stuff on social media.

How do you most often start a new track?

Either by playing the drums or by messing around with a looping pedal

How do you know when a track is finished?

It never is. Ship it.

Show us your current studio

Happily.

Nick Lisher Home Studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Don’t be afraid to have a method – a repeatable creative process. I used to mix it up a lot, but came back to my favourite techniques, and these help form a signature sound.

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

Follow me on Instagram! http://instagram.com/lesjamusic


[Editor: There are affiliate links to the relevant gear throughout the articles. It helps to support this blog. In fact, should you be needing some patch cables or guitar strings. Then clicking on one of the above links and buying any product that you prefer, will help the blog… doesn’t even have to be the ones in the link. Thx]


How I met Mr. Steve Albini

Steve Albini and Martin Yam Moller in Electrical Audio Studio A

Ok, so here’s a wild thing that happened. I got to meet Steve Albini at his studio Electrical Audio in Chicago.… and embarrassingly I got so star-struck meeting him, that I completely forgot to ask all the questions that I would normally do for this blog!

So that’s why this post is a little bit different than the usual ‘9 Odd Questions for Music Gear Junkies’ Interview.

First of all, if you don’t know about Mr. Steve Albini. He’s a producer/engineer who famously recorded Nirvana’s In Utero, but also hundreds of other records that I and millions of others, have listened to since the ‘80’s.

He has got to have one of the heftiest discographies ever!

But more interestingly, he has a particular kind of attitude to recording and music in general. He records all analogue, not just because of the sound and workflow, but because of its importance as an archival medium. He also keeps his rates as low as possible in order to keep working with independent bands/musicians. This attitude is very much reflected in the way that he constructed Electrical Audio, the studio that he built and opened in the late ‘90’s.

Outside Electrical Audio

So I was in Chicago this summer playing a couple of concerts for the release of my debut solo album, and I was talking to my bassist, who mentioned that he’s recorded at Electrical Audio with other bands. He said “Give’em a call and ask if you could come by and take a look at the studio and talk to Steve”. For him, having lived in Chicago for many years, Electrical was simply the local studio that everybody used. For me, it was the holy ground on which Sunn 0))) conjured Pyroclasts, their excellent 9th album from 2019.

It simply didn’t seem possible to just call up the studio… and so for the 14 days that I was in Chicago, I procrastinated and did a whole bunch of other stuff.

Then on the last day before I had to fly back to Denmark. My buddy Anthony, the bassist, reminded me “Just call and go out there”. So I called up Electrical and there was a nice person who answered “Yeah, come on by… There is a session today at noon, but there should be some engineers here to show you around”.

So of course I took a cab out there at 9am! Jumped out and rang on the door.

Electrical Audio Studio Door and Bell

And… the same person on the phone says “Oh, there are no engineers here right now to show you around. Can you come back in an hour?”

“Sure” I say. An hour goes by. Me, loitering outside in the general area.

Ring that bell again. Same thing. So I come back 30 min later.

Receptionist says “Hey, what about if you give me your tlf number and I get someone to call you back when they get here?”

“Perfect” I say, and think ‘Damn, they’ll be busy with that session today and I’m leaving tomorrow’. So a bit disappointed, I walked down the road from the studio that I didn’t even get into, to find lunch somewhere.

I’m just about to order a sandwich at a cafe … and my cellphone rings.

“Hey, this is Steve… you wanted to take a look around the studio?”

“YES! I’ll be there in 2 min”… and I run out of the cafe.


The following is a loose, badly-remembered re-paraphrasing of the hour long tour that Mr. Steve Albini gave me of his wonderful studio and gear. Mainly just photos with whatever I could remember that Steve said.


At Electrical Audio, walking from one live room to the next, seems just like any other studio, but what is not visible, is the fact that each room has it’s own separate foundation, for near total acoustic isolation between rooms.

Walking from Studio A to B

You know how you always hear of studio owners tearing the roof off their house in order to get their massive consoles into the mixing suite? This is the upside down version of this! Buying a building and re-digging it’s foundation, with the building still in place. A pretty intense approach to acoustic control.


The mic collection at EA is a sight to behold. While I was a little too busy salivating over the mics, I barely managed to register that Mr. Albini said something like… ‘Every sound is different and every mic responds to that sound in a different way… so for every recording, you have to try out a lot of mics.’

Headphone tree
Guitars and Pedals

Analog recorders and effects racks play a huge role in the daily recording life at Electrical Audio. These aren’t there for show or the occasional ‘retro band’ that books a session once a year.
They are constantly serviced and maintained by the in-house tech.
Mr. Albini even showed me their service log books, and described the administrative system they use to keep everything up and running. Which means that anything that’s not working, gets pulled out and fixed off-site. Anything you see in the mixing rooms is plugged in and ready to go.

Studer A 820 MCH 24 Tape Recorder
Studer A 820 MCH 24 Tracking Recorder
Ampex ATR-102 2-Track
Ampex ATR-102 2-Track Master Tape Recorder

Electrical Audio even make their own brand of equipment. Their in-house studio tech has plenty of work to do, in order to maintain all that juicy analog equipment. But somehow they make time to produce a lovely EA preamp and shelving EQ (the bi-colored LED lit logo is a signature).

EA’s preamp and EQ

EA also make a passive direct box, which Mr. Albini say is a workhorse and gets used a lot, both for re-amping and sending mic level signals to guitar pedals. Since it’s a passive design, it is bi-directional.

Check out the super high ceilings in Studio B. There’s lots of natural light, which is very lovely, but quite unusual for a live room, there’s also tons of diffusion in the ceilings.
It was really funny to clap in this room, coz I could easily recognize the distinctive reverb, from countless albums with recordings of snare drums in this room. Strange to experience such familiar early reflections, in real life.

Studio B with very high ceilings and natural light

Steve took particular pride in describing the non-parallel walls made from Adobe mudbricks that were used inside the studio live rooms. They are unfired and have the odd properties of both reflecting sound in a diffuse way, but also absorbing it over a ‘pleasant’ spectrum.


Lastly… yes, I did remember to ask him what his favorite knob/fader or switch was….

Penny & Giles Motorised Faders on the Neotek Console

Thanks Mr. Albini for graciously taking me through your awesome studio!


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Clicking one of these links and buying any product that you need, will help support this blog… doesn’t even have to be the ones in the link. Thx]