Shounen Yuki – Dragon Shaped Clouds

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

Strymon Nightsky

It would be the modulation controls/knobs on either a reverb or delay. Most reverbs sound really good in my opinion, but modulation can set them apart and how they implement it. Even different algorithms on the same reverb will often have different modulation characteristics. Take the Cloud algorithm on the Big Sky for example. You start to push the modulation and it goes from huge reverb to something magical.
Same goes with the mechanics knob on the Volante, it goes from great tape delay into a way back machine that sounds like it’s about to start eating your tape loop and spit it on the floor in an act of rebellion of not getting it fixed. And if the effect is super cool you get both depth and speed for modulation like on the Night Sky.

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

Korg Minilogue XD

The Korg Minilogue XD comes to mind. While it is a nice improvement over the original, it removes a full secondary ADSR envelope. If it had that second full ADSR envelope and a mod matrix with assignable parameters and sources past the few “hard wired” sources and destinations, it would be perfect.

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

Novation Circuit Rhythm

Usually a really easy to use groove box. I used the original Circuit from Novation for years and then switched just recently into the Circuit Rhythm, that I load up with ambient and video game samples. It helps me come up with the basic structure of a song that I will translate later using my more at home/not mobile equipment. I tried to use an iPad for a while, but I just open the web browser and get distracted. 

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

I can’t really think of any. I spent a good 2 hours on this question. I hate making music ‘inside the box’ as they say. I’m an IT professional by day and do not want to sit at my computer when making music. I only use Logic to do some simple post production, like compression and the like, of my music work.

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

I can answer both with this, I sold my Novation Circuit Monostation to help buy a Digitone after the prices went insane for a little while on the Monostation. I got the Digitone and hated it. The sounds of the Digitone were not all that hot for what I wanted to do. Which is odd since I love FM. Luckily the opsix came along and it had the FM I liked. I did get maybe 2 good songs out of the Digitone, before I decided to sell it.
I also did not like the way presets were saved and recalled. The Monostation however I used for making faux NES/Master System 8bit style soundtracks and loved it. It really did some cool stuff when you used it in paraphonic mode.

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

The Korg Minilogue XD for sure. It was the OG Minilogue before that but the XD really expanded what I could do quickly. Having a super easy to use sequencer to get the base melody going to play over is so inspiring. That and it is so easy to make patches on, since it has very little menu diving, unless you want to use the 3rd oscillator. You just get something good easily with it without much effort. 

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

A Minilogue XD! I could honestly have that as my only synth if I really needed that to happen.

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

MacBook

It would have to be my desktop/laptop computer. I hate working on the computer when I get home from work, but I like to do my final mastering inside a DAW. This is also the only way I have found to do any sort of decent video editing for my music based Youtube stuff. 

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

The Minilogue XD and OG Minilogue have very limited routing and modulation options, but you can get around some of that by using the sequencer. You can motion sequence almost any knob and have that running as a sequence with or without note data as a pretty neat way to evolve your sound. 


Artist or Band name? 

I have 2 projects at the moment. My ambient project is called “Dragon Shaped Clouds” and my video game style stuff is called “At The Mana Tree”. 

Genre? 

I mostly do ambient and Japanese RPG style game music

Selfie? 

Shounen Yuki

Where are you from? 

Bremerhaven, Germany but I currently reside in Mesa, Arizona.

How did you get into music? 

I think I have been into music since I was at least 10 or so. Mostly coming from game soundtracks from Japanese RPG’s, especially the Final Fantasy soundtracks from the SNES and Chrono Trigger at that time and oddly enough Enya…
But I do remember going to the World Expo in Hannover Germany in 2000 and hitting up some music shops. I found an album by Tangerine Dream called “Underwater Sunlight ” and it changed me forever. I chased the retro (at the time) but foreign (to me) sounds of that album. It was not even the sounds, it was the overall sequences and progressions. Simplistic but captivating, like a game soundtrack. By that point I started trying to figure out how to make game and electronic music myself. 

What still drives you to make music? 

As odd as it might sound, the fact that I can make something that can be enjoyed by others makes me less depressed. 

How do you most often start a new track? 

I will grab a synth from my collection, some effects pedals, and a looper. Then I will come up with a signal chain based on what I feel like I want to sound like at that moment. At that point I will work on a patch on whatever synth I chose and change the parameters of the effects to get my desired sound. I will then start messing around with different scales to see what works best with the sound I made, lay down a melody or a drone on the looper and start layering sounds. 

How do you know when a track is finished? 

I guess I just go on until I feel the song starts to get repetitive or boring.

Show us your current studio

I use the living room as my studio, so I have a shot of my studio space/computer and my collection in a separate room. I will take stuff from my storage area into the living room to record videos and songs as needed. 

Gear storage
Home studio setup

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard? 

Back in high school I would use a piano at my school after hours and a minidisc recorder with an external microphone to record quite a few tracks of stuff I was working on as my parents could not afford an acoustic piano nor did we have the space. I would then delete them thinking they were garbage. One day the head of the music department noticed I was recording my work and wanted a copy because they thought it was really good. I said I never kept them because I thought they sucked and were just stupid and no one would ever want to listen to them. In shock the teacher assured me the music I was producing was not garbage and I should believe in my ability and I should really hold onto what I make even if I think it’s garbage. This has helped me actually release music past that point and I was shocked to find out people actually like it. Anyway the takeaway on that is: don’t be too overly critical about your music and don’t assume it sucks. 

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

My latest track I’m super proud of …

My youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/YukiTheSynthDragon

My IG: https://www.instagram.com/shounen.yuki/


Prior Use – Andreas Bak-Reimer

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

Gettin’ it on with the Roland SH-1

The power switch on the Roland SH-1. It’s an old synth, and the button has a distinct mechanical quality to it. The way it feels, the way it sounds, and the way the power LED lights up immediately – it just feels like getting it on! The SH-1 does that really swell PWM (pulse width modulation) that I enjoy immensely, and simple as it is, it invokes an atmosphere of a simpler time, with a lot of nostalgia to it.

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

My Roland Juno-106 is close to perfect for it’s purpose. Countless 80’s and 80’s emulating tracks have been born using it, and it’s built in a way that grants plenty of sweetspots, and not so many dead ends. Some people prefer non-DCOs, and have plenty to say about the 106 being a budget synth, but mine’s fresh back from service, and it makes me happy.

Roland 106

I sometimes wish it had another oscillator with an easy option for detuning, to get a wider sound from it, but there is a lot to be said about limitations to foster creativity.

… Also, I am not particularly fond of the way the resonance sounds when it’s cranked way up. It’s glassy instead of being juicy – and rarely that’s a good thing. On the other hand, I don’t have any other things that sounds like that, so it’s probably best to leave that unchanged.

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

Roland TB-03

Laptop, almost certainly. I am no where near anything dawless, and don’t have anything that I could arrange anything with, besides a computer. If I weren’t writing, but merely playing around, I would bring my Roland TB-03, or Yamaha Reface CS – built-in speakers and battery operated, they are 1. 2. go!

Yamaha Reface

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

Absynth, Brain, Modular.

Software -> Hardware: I think Native Instruments Absynth. I have had that since forever, and still use it heavily. Also, I would like to see the physical shape/color/layout of such a thing!

Absynth

Hardware -> Software: My brain. Although it feels soft at times, I consider it hardware. It certainly interfaces like 40+ years old hardware (poorly that is), it is sometimes difficult to control when hot or cold, and it’s almost never in tune. Also – patch memory is severely limited. If I could instantly recall patches, production tricks, channel-settings and export/bounce the tunes and sounds directly, like with a lot of software, then… Well, it might take out the fun at times.

Brain

To be serious: My modular setup would be nice as software – mainly for patch recall.

Eurorack modular

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

I never sold anything ever, so that doesn’t apply. And therefore I never regret selling anything either!

I once bought a portable recorder, thinking I could get a lot of good sample material that way. I only did once, but it never made it into a track I finished. I have fond memories of getting up early to catch a few big trucks on big roads going by, though… So, no regrets I guess…

Tascam Recorder

I bought an Ensoniq SQ-R module, because it features Transwave synthesis. Never used that, but it had a nice belltree sound that I used once or twice. It’s probably the thing I’ve bought that comes the most close to being a regret.

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

My trusty iPod classic 80 GB. That’s a lot of late 90’s goatrance… Listening to that is what inspired me most over the years. It had a growing line of dead pixels over the course of a year, and when the line was fully dead, the pixels started working again from the beginning of the line! A year after, the whole display was good again. That is probably my strangest experience with any electronic gadget ever.

iPod classic

If I should channel this to some sort of an inspirational tale, it would something like how the small and weak Hobbits defeated the mighty Sauron – it might appear to be failing, and an unlikely source of victory, but give it some time, and it will surprise you.

That is also why I have never sold anything. You never know.

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

A decent room for working in. Go all crazy thinking about getting the ‘right’ monitors, nice preamps, the perfect cables (ugh!)… But if your room is horrible, none of that matters. I have sunk a fair bit of time into acoustic treatment, and it has made a world of difference.

Foam

Also: time. So that’s it. Time and space – that’s all I want. At first…. Then a Mac.

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

Laptop

Mac laptop

Again, my computer. Ill timed software updates, one too few CPU cycles in stacked projects, failing disks… The woes are many, but I wouldn’t have written a bar of music without it.

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

Roland JV-2080

About 20 years after I got my Roland JV-2080, I realized it was capable of faux PWM. If I set a regular sawtooth wave on one osc, and an inverted sawtooth on the other, and modulate pitch slowly and independently, then it happens. I wish I had known that 20 years earlier, but that would probably mean I wouldn’t have bought my SH-1 (with the fab power button) – so it’s all good!


Artist or Band name?

I have mainly been producing under the moniker “Amygdala”. Goa and psychedelic trance in the old (old!) sense of the word.

Lately, I have been making some drops in the already over saturated ocean of synthwave music. I enjoy that very much, and as a child of the 80s, it takes me back to a simpler time – worries forgotten. The moniker for this activity is “Prior Use”.

Genre?

Many kinds of trance music: Goa, psychedelic, melodic, uplifiting, minimal, tech-, progressive.
Besides that, a bit of synthwave, and the odd “psy-bient” piece.

Selfie?

Andreas Brain

Where are you from?

I am from Denmark – just a tad north of Copenhagen, but most of my music has been produced in Århus. You can really tell what a big difference those 170 km makes!

How did you get into music?

My parents and brother. Music was omnipresent at home when I grew up. My parents encouraged me to take up playing violin when I was 6, and I have had some great experiences with that. When music production became reasonably available to the regular consumer with computer interest, I was hooooked! At first, it was just another thing I could do with the computer, but rather quickly it was pretty much all I ever did with it.

What still drives you to make music?

The two biggest drivers are probably the “flows” and “highs”.

Flow when I can be completely engrossed in production, enjoying the situation, and getting something done which I like and feel as an accomplishment. Time flying as I ignore my body’s attempts to drag me to the loo, trough or bed.

Highs when I hit something that (in the moment) is spectacular – a catchy tune, a sweet timbre, or a really dope fill or transition. It can still make me laugh after all these years, and the surge of energy and motivation I get from that is unparalleled.

How do you most often start a new track?

Sometimes I start with a very simple idea like a tune, a chord progression or a synthesizer patch concept. Then Drums. Then bass. That’s the most usual case, although sometimes I skip directly to the drums. Lately, I have been thinking that it’s not the best way to go, as I am finishing fewer and fewer tracks. I often end up with a pretty decent groove, but lacking the centerpiece idea that makes the track stand out. I polish the rhythmic section and transitions, until there is not space left in the spectrum (frequency and/or mental) for anything else.

So, from now on, I am trying to start off a new track with an idea, and then build drums and bass around that. We’ll see how that goes.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When a track has all the arrangement elements (intro, good stuff, breakdown, great stuff, climax, outro – or some other configuration), I bounce it and listen away from the studio. I make a lot of notes I want to change, enhance, remove, whatever. When that list feels complete, I do those changes. Hopefully I am happy with the result, because at that point I am usually fed up with the piece. I am not one for endlessly tweaking everything, and I have a tendency to detail focus early – which means I “decide” that this bit is perfect, and then unconsciously prohibit myself from editing it (too much 🙈).

I know there is some degree of contradiction in the above, but I’ll just hide behind “you can’t argue art”.

Show us your current studio

Andreas Studio
Andreas synths

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

I bought a CD from Eat Static sideproject Dendron (Merv Pepler). I think he burned the disc himself and mailed it. Included in the package was a makeshift invoice with the words “always experiment” on it. I think that’s pretty good advice. It’s hard, because as time grows scarce I tend to stick to the beaten path, but even though it feels like it’s safer and more productive that way, I get less enjoyment from it.

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

As mentioned above, I dabble in synthwave. Swing by https://soundcloud.com/prioruse and tell you friends.

[Editor: if you want to check out Andreas psy-trance stuff it’s here: https://ektoplazm.com/profiles/amygdala]


Kevin McKinney – QueTheWash

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

Cooper FX Generation Loss V1 mix knob.  Something about the oversized knob, the smoothness with which it moved, and the symmetry of the 6 knob setup with the mix knob proudly in the middle…I ended up parting ways with it to fund the V2 and i have to say, i miss that knob.

Cooper FX Generation Loss V1

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

The Digitakt is so powerful and versatile, I have used it to make beats, ambient loops, and everything in between. For me, I have always wished that it had more playable keys/pads.  I am actually currently looking into pairing it with some kind of external pad controller to fully maximize it’s performance playability.

Elektron Digitakt

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

The OP-1. I almost put this answer for the previous question as well, because just think if it had bluetooth! That would make the already quintessential travel companion undeniably perfect.

Teenage Engineering OP-1

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

I run my studio completely DAWless via the Squarp pyramid, so I don’t have much experience with software synths beyond some of the ones I play with on the iPad. There was this one I remember playing with, ‘Poseidon Synth’, that had a function where it would just randomize all the settings and leave you with something ridiculous. I think that would be fun on a piece of hardware, like say, my DSI Rev2 😛

Poseidon Synth

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

I regret selling my Tascam Portastudio 424 Mk1. I ended up making a pretty penny on it thanks to the recent boom in cassette music being made, but I definitely miss it. I have other cassette recorders, but that one was something special.

Tascam Portastudio 424 Mk1

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

I compose everything at the piano and then move it to the saxophone, or my electronic gear, or wherever I envisioned it. So, while it might not technically be ‘gear’, it was my first instrument, and everything I do, both electronically and acoustically, stems from the piano.

[Editor: I’d definitely say it is gear 🙂 ]

Kawai Piano

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

If I had to start over I would probably buy a really nice audio interface first. I currently run everything into my studio through an Allen & Heath qu-16c, which acts as both mixer and audio interface for me. I have always wondered what things would sound like and how my workflow would change if I was working with an interface from Universal Audio or something comparable.

UAD Apollo

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

Probably the Keeley compressor on my sax board. I couldn’t live without it because some of the patches I have are really hot and require the use of both a programmable EQ pedal and this compressor/limiter pedal to tame. It’s only annoying because it is not programmable like the EQ, and every time i get my board out of the case I have to readjust the knobs to where I need them.

Keeley compressor

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

A lot of people complain about the OP-1 internal engines sounding extremely digital, tinny, and somewhat like a set of children’s toys. I achieve full, warm sounds on the OP-1 pretty easily with the use of the Elektron Analog Drive at the end of the effects chain. Even just the clean boost setting with a bit of tweaking on the highs and a bit of drive goes a long way and adds a great depth of sound.

Elektron Analog Drive

Artist or Band name?

My name is Kevin McKinney. I play saxophone/effects for the stinky garage jazz band, ‘Doctor Pizza’ in Detroit, Michigan.

Doctor Pizza Stickers
Doctor Pizza Band

Genre?

I am an improviser and saxophonist, although I do a lot of ambient/soundscape work with my electronic instruments.

Selfie?

Kevin McKinney

Where are you from?

I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio.

Cleveland Ohio

How did you get into music?

I got into music as a toddler. I had a little toy piano that I carried around with me and played all the time. My parents noticed this and started piano lessons for me when I was 4 years old. I was hooked for life.

Toy Piano

What still drives you to make music?

I am a new father of boy/girl twin babies, so I have a lot of trouble finding time to make music lately. What drives me to make music, when I do have the time is definitely the way it makes me feel, and the way it can make others feel when they experience it. The rush of holding an altissimo note while the crowd screams..or, contrastingly, the calmness of playing piano alone in your studio with all the lights down… those moments are what make music making so special.

Twin Babies… seeing something hilarious

How do you most often start a new track?

I have lot of gear, so sometimes it can be a case of too many options. I like to pick one piece of gear that will be the focus for that session and then build everything around that. Sometimes I will just pick a single pedal, or a synth, or a set of drum samples…anything that can be a launching point.

Novation Bass Station

How do you know when a track is finished?

With my band and often with my own music, songs are an ever-evolving thing…I will bring in a loose idea, or a lead sheet with some basics and then we shape the rest together during rehearsal.  A lot of times solo sections, the general form of the tune, and even sometimes the melodic information are all up for discussion and debate while we are working through the new idea.  I may go back to things I created years ago and change them if I am having trouble coming up with something new.

Kevin’s band at rehearsal

Show us your current studio

Kevin McKinney’s Studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

I forget who told me this, maybe Dave Liebman?… Anyhow, I remember being in a masterclass and being told that you don’t truly know a song, a melody, a transcribed solo, or whatever it may be until you can SING it. The human voice is the most fundamental and primal of instruments and having that connection to your voice before picking up any instrument and attempting to play something is crucial. As an improviser, I try to employ this same thinking… only let out of your horn what you hear in your head as being complementary to the music that is happening around you.

Kevin singing with sax-iness

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

Check out my band Doctor Pizza! We are recording our latest album in mid July and hope to have it out later this year. We are on YouTube, Spotify and all major platforms.
www.doctorpizzaband.com

Doctor Pizza Band