Paul Cousins – Reel-in-Vibes

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

The play switch on my Akai X-100D reel-to-reel. It’s extremely sturdy and has a very rewarding click. It’s 56 years old and works perfectly, which just blows my mind. There’s something pleasing about having to use physical energy to make sound happen.

Akai X-100D reel-to-reel

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

Roland Juno 6

A slight cheat on this answer. I thought my Juno 6 was somehow inferior to the Juno 60 (which is what I truly wanted) because it doesn’t have memory patches. That would’ve been my answer, but I’ve grown to love and appreciate the fact that the instrument exists as it is – whatever you want from it you have to make happen. It’s a productive way to learn how to use a synth because there are fewer shortcuts. See also anything pre Prophet-5.

Tape machines

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

On writing trips I just take a laptop and good headphones. So AKG K701s get packed!

AKG K701

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

I’d love a software version of the Empress Echosystem, it’s my favorite pedal. And if there were somehow a rackmount version of the Fabfilter Pro-MB I’d be all over it!

Empress Echosystem

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

I once sold a 1973 Gibson EB0 to the bass player from Showaddywaddy. It was a really beautiful bass, no idea why I did that. And the second synth I ever bought was an Alesis something… which I didn’t gel with at all and regretted pretty quickly.

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

The Roland Space Echo RE-201. It’s just the most amazing piece of engineering, half a century old and it can still create magic from nowhere. I use it any chance I get.

Roland Space Echo RE-201

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

A good set of monitors. I think this is the most valuable piece of equipment you can own. Currently I’m loving the PMC Result 6.

PMC Result 6

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

I’d have to say the amp powering my Yamaha NS10’s, it buzzes slightly but I always need to use them. It’s on my to do list!

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

Watkins Copicat

I think using the pre amps of echo machines is often overlooked. Just driving a guitar or bass through a Copicat or Space Echo is the most awesome tone. Same with reel-to-reel, they can be overloaded to produce amazing results.


Artist or Band name?

Paul Cousins

Genre?

Ambient, Tape, Experimental

Selfie?

Paul Cousins

On tour in Mordor

Where are you from?

London

How did you get into music?

I’d been singing and playing bass in bands for a number of years before I started making electronic music.

What still drives you to make music?

Finding a point of creative satisfaction.

How do you most often start a new track?

I’ve recently got into writing a short piece, transferring it to tape loops, and playing it back through various effects or in some obtuse setup. The original piece comes back like a weird photocopy of its former self. There’s something about transferring music to a physical format that revives it from a potentially anodyne digital state and gives it a different life. 

How do you know when a track is finished?

You stop wanting to mix it.

Show us your current studio

The organized chaos of my studio is frankly an embarrassment. Instead here’s a heavily curated corner featuring my new upright piano and an Akai 4000DS.

Upright piano and an Akai 4000DS

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Music is the silence between the notes. Which Debussy said over a century ago, but has never lost relevance!

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

A recent 20 min ambient reel-to-reel mix: https://youtu.be/_g7Kurux36w

[Editor: Paul also has a quite lovely and lively instagram @paulcousinsmusic which I don’t think you should miss out on]


Mikael Tobias – ResonanTechno

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

After much deliberation, I’m gonna go with the volume knob on my 80’s Japanese Fender Precision Bass. Something about the textured metal just feels so solid and badass.

MIJ Fender P Bass Volume knob

Honourable mention goes to the knobs on the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor for their sheer monstrosity, which I get to use when I work at @SixBitDeep.

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

Every piece of kit is perfect just the way it is =D

VervilleAudio MDC-1

Ok, actually I’ll shout out my homies at @VervilleAudio for their MDC-1 which is a hand-made 2-channel Variable Mu tube compressor on steroids plus 2 preamp channels. I have a Beta version which sounds incredible, but I’ve been in close contact with them discussing some minor improvements (mostly just the interface) and I think the next version will be close to perfect! These guys are developing some amazing gear in Montreal.

VervilleAudio MDC-1

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

The last tour I did was a solo one around Europe and the UK. I was taking planes, trains and busses everywhere, so I needed a really compact setup. Laptop, small RME FF400 interface and Novation Launch Control XL controller (+ some vinyl and extra clothes) in a backpack and my lap steel guitar and a few pedals in a soft gig bag (actually a rifle case!)

Gibson Lapsteel in a rifle case
Rifle softcase

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

Hardware sequencer Faderfox SC4

I don’t find myself wishing this very often. A lot of the software I love is already great emulations of hardware, and generally when I’m using hardware it’s because I want to have my hands on something other than the mouse. Having rare and expensive hardware reverbs and compressors easily available in the form of plugins is a godsend! And conversely, there are so many software sequencers, but I always seem to get more interesting results when I use a hardware sequencer. So I guess the short answer is no 🙂

Hardware sequencer Akai MPC1000
Hardware sequencer Arturia Beatstep Pro

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

When I moved to Copenhagen from Montreal I had to sell a ton of stuff, and while sometimes it’s nice to do a purge and move on, I sure do miss the amps I had. There was a Traynor YBA-1 head with this awesome old Peavey cabinet that was painted white and that I put a vintage 15” Jensen speaker in. And the love of my life was a Music Man 210HD One Thirty. One of the guys from Arcade Fire once asked if they could buy it from me and I said no. 

Traynor YBA-1 with Peavey cabinet

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

Sennheiser MD211
Electro Voice RE15

Probably getting a new microphone. Whenever I pick up a new mic, I immediately want to hear how it sounds on different sources, and putting myself into that engineer mindset always makes me feel super creative. A new instrument has a similar effect. When I got my Korg Mono/Poly I did a pretty deep dive and got really inspired with the sounds it can make. That thing is all over my new album.

Korg Mono/Poly

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

That’s a tough one because I started with a guitar (a cheap copy of a Gibson Les Paul) then an amp, then a wah pedal, and I don’t think I’d change that course of events. But in the early 2000’s I had a friend who sold all his keyboards. He had a Rhodes MKI, a Roland JX-3P and a Korg MS-10. I bought the Rhodes and 2 of my friends each bought one of the synths… all for dirt cheap. I wish I had taken the MS-10 instead of the Rhodes (I can’t play piano for shit) but synths were such a mystery to me then. My homie still has it though so at least it’s in the family.

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

Getting on the case

CASES! Rack case, road cases, instrument cases etc…It’s such a juggling act to set up a studio that’s ergonomic and makes good use of available space. I feel like I’m on a never-ending quest to find the best compromises between a great setup that’s easy and inspiring to work in, and portability (if I need to take some gear on location or on tour, etc…). And all the seldom-used cases take up so much space, but, like what do I do when I need to take my synth somewhere once every 2 years?!?!

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

It’s not actually about the gear, it’s all about what you do with it.


Artist or Band name?

Mikael Tobias

Genre?

Ambient / Post-Rock / Neo-Classical / Experimental Techno

Selfie?

Mikael Tobias

Where are you from? 

Toronto/Montréal Canada

How did you get into music?

My parents put me in guitar lessons for a year when I was 10, then I essentially taught myself the rest.

What still drives you to make music?

Some kind of burning inner demon, I mean a compulsion to create, to experiment, to push boundaries. Music has given me so many of the most visceral and emotional experiences of my life and I’m very interested in all the ways sound can affect us, both physically and emotionally. So there is a constant quest that I can’t imagine ever coming to completion.

How do you most often start a new track?

Generally with some kind of “play.” If I can lose myself and not worry about how productive I’m being or what I’m doing this “for” that is when I feel like I’m accessing real creativity. So being in the moments and just playing is often how my tracks begin. 

How do you know when a track is finished?

Some kind of combination of utter mental exhaustion, and 1 or 2 re-scheduled self-imposed deadlines.

Show us your current studio

A leopard skin chair is essential…. for those vibes
FX and Pedals
Stacks and Racks
Guitars and Synths living together in harmony

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

If you’re getting stuck, grab an instrument that you don’t know how to play. It breaks you out of the confines of muscle memory and patterns you’ve developed and it opens up creative doors that you probably didn’t know were closed.

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

My new album APERTURE:

https://mikaeltobias.bandcamp.com/album/aperture


Aqeel Phillips – A View to Aqeel

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

Monome Teletype

I’m gonna go with the Monome Teletype’s single “param” knob. It might be a weird answer, since this knob can do whatever you want it to do, but personally I almost always have it mapped to a global “probability” setting in my Teletype patches. Probability that a trigger will pass through, probability that triggers might jumble and be routed to an unexpected output, etc. I consider this a bit of a secret weapon, and discovering this was a moment when I was really feeling like I was figuring out how to work modular into my music. With this single knob, I can control the “energy” of a patch, taking it from sparse and mysterious to lively and animated with a quick flick.

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

Elektron Machinedrum

I’ll say the Elektron Machinedrum. It sounds amazing, and I feel like I barely need to edit and mix the sounds that come off of it, but it’s definitely dated. It doesn’t have all of the niceties of the newer Elektron boxes, like the Rytm mkII or Digitakt. I find it really easy to edit the wrong track, and it unfortunately doesn’t have the modern Elektron sequencer with trig conditions and microtiming. I’ve even considered sequencing it externally… But the sounds themselves are totally worth keeping it around, even with these limitations.

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

Elektron Digitakt

Historically, I’ve taken the Digitakt. It’s easy enough to throw in a backpack, and you can even record off it without an interface via Overbridge. For whatever reason though, I usually tend to be finishing projects while traveling, so it’s often just my laptop and headphones.

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

Strymon Big Sky

I don’t use a lot of software… I’ll cheat and say that sometimes I wish I had a real piano or Rhodes, as opposed to the VSTs that I use in my music. In terms of hardware, I often wish the Strymon Big Sky was a plugin that I could pull up on the computer. I really just use it as a master send effect from Ableton. 

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

ER-301

Most things I find myself regretting selling, I eventually end up buying again. It feels a little silly (and I lose some cash in the process), but sometimes it takes some time away from something to really respect its worth. I’ve sold and re-bought Make Noise Morphagene, Intellijel Metropolis, and I recently bought an ER-301 back from a friend. I did nab a really nice Yamaha electronic drum kit for an utterly insane deal a while back, and ended up passing it on to somebody else when I was living in a small apartment. Now that I’ve got the room for it, I definitely miss it.

I regret buying an Arturia Matrixbrute. Some of the keys broke somewhere along the way, and it’s so heavy and large that it’s been unruly to get it fixed and eventually sell it. I’ll get around to it, but I’m never excited about the idea of lugging it out to the car…

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

Make Noise Morphagene

Probably Morphagene, the same Morphagene that I’ve sold and re-bought haha. Nowadays, it’s genuinely my favorite module and really epitomizes eurorack to me. I never know what it’s gonna do, but I always love what it ends up spitting out, which is a huge part of the fun I have with modular. It’s like my little bandmate that comes up with something interesting and inspiring for me to craft a song with.

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

Make Noise Tape & Microsound Music Machine

In the same vein as my previous answer, I’d probably start with the Make Noise Tape & Microsound Music Machine. I’ve essentially got this in my system in my rack, purposefully placed right next to each other too. Each module in that system is something that I don’t believe quite exists in the software realm. So I feel like I could do a lot with that system and any DAW for drums, soft synths, effects, etc.

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

Hologram Electronics Microcosm

Pieces of gear that annoy me don’t tend to stick around very long. 🙂 I’ll say the Hologram Electronics Microcosm. I don’t think it’s very flexible, but what it spits out is absolute gold. It feels kind of scared of sounding “bad”, and I frequently find myself wishing I had access to the sounds “between” the settings that it offers. But at the same time, it’s my go-to for spicing up a track, and creating something unexpected. I will say, I think if I didn’t have experience with modular (meaning, having so much experience making bad sounds), I would be totally content with it. But with that experience, it often feels like a box of nice Clouds presets.

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

I mentioned the Machinedrum feeling a little primitive, but I’ve figured out a couple tricks here and there that get me where I need to go. One is that I’ve been using the “swing” to make my beats more interesting. The MD doesn’t have microtiming, but you can add swing per step (even on individual tracks), and adjust the amount of swing. I’ll often have fun with punching in a standard beat, adding swing to a couple steps, and then setting the “swing” amount to something extreme like 75%. This way, it might imply a 32nd note in some places, without adjusting the overall sequence timing to be 2x. It’s something that you could easily do with microtiming on something like the Digitakt, but it needs this fun little workaround on something older like the MD.

Machinedrum

Artist name

Aqeel Aadam

Genre

Some kind of downtempo, cinematic ambient meshed with hip-hop style beats.

Selfie

“Hey, can you take a picture of me?” in the middle of writing this.

Aqeel Philips in the middle of writing this interview

Where are you from?

Outside of Philadelphia, PA (which is where I currently live too!)

How did you get into music?

I started by teaching myself guitar and eventually started making sample-based beats with Ableton in high school. I wanted to trend more towards “composing” than “producing”, so I caught the hardware bug once I realized it could be like commanding your own little orchestra.

What still drives you to make music?

From a musical perspective, I don’t think I can honestly claim that it’s therapeutic or anything like that, but creating something is an activity that I genuinely very deeply enjoy (I suppose this is some form of therapy…). I like creating the music that I want to hear and feel like the world might enjoy. There’s also a sense of pride in creating something that feels very gratifying.

From another perspective, there’s a vast world of instruments that offers a great sense of exploration to me. There’s always a new stone to uncover, a new path to try out, some combination of things that you might never have considered before. Kurt Vonnegut said “we are put on earth to fart around,” and I can say for certain that hardware and modular synthesizers can provide you with a great deal of farting around.

How do you most often start a new track?

Ambience, atmosphere, texture – some kind of ambient wash that becomes the sonic bed for the track. I like to set up a generative bed with something like Morphagene or a granular module, which gives me the “kindling” to find inspiration from and write with. I’ll listen to these beds and hear accidental snippets of chords or melodies – this gives me inspiration to refine those random ideas into something more formalized. Also, I find it very hard to add in texture after the fact, so I like to start with it to keep myself sane.

How do you know when a track is finished?

In line with the previous answer – when I’m working on a track, I’ll hear “whispers” of things to add, little ideas that pop into my head that become a melody, bassline, chord progression, rhythmic element, etc. Once those stop revealing themselves, I take it as my cue to hit record.

Show us your current studio?

Home studio desk
Home studio with eurorack
Moog Matriach

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Probably to “invest in happiness”. Suffering from GAS and chasing gear is one thing, but if there’s something you can tell will help you feel creative and make your life more fun and easier, get it. Looking around my studio though, maybe I’ve invested in happiness too much 🙂 But at the end of the day, the only reason I hold onto something is because it makes me happy to use it.

Aqeel’er Studio [Editor: Ok. I’ll stop now]
Fx Pedals and 4-track tape
Ed O’Brian Strat [Editor: just about the perfect guitar]

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

I just put out a new collaborative EP with my friend Fossilize Me on Mystery Circles! 2 songs each from FM and myself, and one mash-up track. It can be purchased on a 7” vinyl here and is available for streaming under each of our names.


[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…
]