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. 


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


William Stewart – W1llys

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

Uher Speed Knob

The speed selector on my Uher. The older model has a tiny gear shift for selecting the speed, but the new one just has a knob; a knob with a nice feel and weight. When you move it, you can feel the shifting of the gears inside as the mechanisms thunk into place. It’s immensely satisfying.

Uher Speed Lever
Uher Tape recorders

My second place choice is the hi-hat decay knob on my 808 clone. Riding that during a groove is endless fun.

808 Hihat decay knob

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

It might be the SE-02. The first synth I really learned how to use was the SH-09. It taught me how flexible a simple architecture can be, and how rewarding learning how each piece of a synth works together is. It taught me that the controls are as much a part of the instrument as the keys. Ever since then, no synth has been as fun to play as a solid monosynth.

Roland SE-02

The SE-02’s very much in the same vein, and it seems to be able to scratch every sonic itch I have. The delay’s grainy in all the right ways. The filter has a character that doesn’t make me think “Moog” for some reason. The filter has grit, filth, and somehow feels cold. Not machine cold, but unfeeling in the same that the universe is. When that filter sweeps just right it feels like the dawn, it feels like the slow and sudden heat as the sun rises in the morning. I love this thing. There’s magic in the way the envelopes and filter interact with the delay.

There are three things I’d change. The first thing I’d change is the knob taper. It’s exponential and it makes playing the knobs an extremely delicate procedure. The second is I really wish I had full ADSRs. That extra level of control would be much more welcome than panel controls for portamento. The third is the sequencer. It would be a lot nice if I could have longer sequences, and I really wish the sequence transpose could latch.

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

The obvious answer here is the OP-Z. It’s fun, quick, and easy to use. It’s also super easy to take on a plane. Making a full track with just this is surprisingly easy and fun. It definitely caught me off guard with how user friendly and fun it is to use.

Teenage Engineering OP-Z

Realistically and historically, though, my preference is to bring either the Volca FM and Mini KP or the Roland SE-02. When I sit down to play I’m not typically trying to write or work on a song. Usually I just want to explore a sound or a musical phrase. The SE-02 and Volca FM are excellent for sound exploration. If I want to make a minimalist composition these are my go-to pieces of gear, and fortunately they’re small enough for a carry-on.

Korg Volca FM and Kaoss Pad Mini

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

I am (un)fortunately a luddite. When I record or make music it’s almost entirely analog. One thing I wish I could do with my hardware setup is automate parameter controls. There are ways to do this if I went modular. If I used software I know I could automate some of the parameters of my physical instruments. Bringing Windows, Mac, or Linux into my setup would violate a lot of what my setup’s built on: spontaneity. I can write and record a song relatively quickly and easily, without worrying about system updates or getting sucked down the black hole that is the internet.

Analog recording

This is typically just called a DAWless setup. But I really don’t like that nomenclature. It defines a musical approach as being the absence of something, in a way. Really I just like playing instruments and don’t want to try and play a computer like an instrument.

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

DSI Prophet 6

The Prophet 6 is a rare animal. I’ve bought a lot of gear that I regretted, but this one the only one I’m keeping. It sounds great and it’s super flexible, but it has a lot of little design choices that drive me nuts. The problem is it sounds sooooo good. So, when I use it I love the sounds I get, but I always find myself frustrated by something.

It seems like it’s made for people working in studios who want to lay down tracks, or sample its lush sounds to use in a DAW. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to be made for my workflow.

DSI Prophet 6

But I am going to keep it around because it sounds ridiculously nice. The sound is so rich and deep I forget how annoying it was to program it. It’s like hiking up a mountain with uncomfortable shoes. It’s a real pain at times, but the views you get make the discomfort worth it.

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

The Volca FM is definitely my most inspiring. It’s endlessly versatile, and has more features under its hood than it has any right to for its size and price point. It has the wild and wiry sounds FM is known for, and the limited controls on the surface are deceptive in their simplicity. It’s easy to rely on presets, and tweaking the few controls on the surface gets you tons of control. It also plays nicely with any effect you want to pair it with.

Korg Volca FM

It’s an instrument I have a love-hate relationship with, though. I’ve owned three of them. Whenever I try to dive into the parameters to do some deep editing, it make me want to toss it out the window. The balance of features, and how easy it is to switch between playing modes to introduce variations makes it really fun to play.

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

The Jazzmaster. Even though any synthesizer can run sonic circles around any guitar/pedal combo, it feels more emotional to play than any synth or drum machine. Fiddling around with the different intervals on the neck taught me everything I know about music, too. It’s cliche as hell, but playing a guitar with some fuzz and delay could keep me happy forever.

Fender Jazzmaster

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

The Zoia is hands down the most useful and inconvenient piece of gear I own. If I have an idea that I can’t achieve with anything else, the Zoia can usually get me close enough. It does what it does better than anything else I know of, but I wouldn’t want to use it with a band.

Empress Effects Zoia

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

Envelopes are surprisingly underrated. Clones of “good” ones don’t really get talked about, and people don’t really seem to covet and worship the exact curves of one over another’s.

No two synths I’ve played have had the same envelopes. Each one has its own type of pluck, swell, and decay. It feels like they’re what transform a synth into a playable instrument. I wish there was more emphasis on modulating and controlling their parameters. Slight modifications to the decay of an adsr can completely transform a bland sequence. They really breath life into every sound.


Artist or Band name?

Willy

Genre?

I’ve never been good at sticking to a genre. It seems to waffle between synthwave, cinematic, harsh noise, and synth-pop.

Selfie?

William ‘Willy’ Stewart

Where are you from?

Benson, Utah

How did you get into music?

My mom signed me up to play violin in my middle school’s orchestra. After that it was relatively easy to play bass in my friend’s band. From there I was hooked.

What still drives you to make music?

It’s an emotional thing mainly. It helps me experience my emotions. Lately when I sit down to play it’s after a rough day, and it helps me process what’s happened. Other times, it’s when I’m feeling numb, and playing helps me open up and experience my emotions. This is essentially why I haven’t recorded very much music. It’s usually an expression of anxiety, depression, or fear. So, I don’t really want to live in that moment long enough to record it.

How do you most often start a new track?

Most often it’s with a riff or a phrase. I’ll have an idea for a sound, or find one via knob twiddling, and then I see what notes feel good with that sound. Once I’ve got something that makes me happy, I start seeing what other sounds I can layer in to compliment the original sound.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When I can listen to it without wincing, and it doesn’t feel empty. If I can listen without wincing it means I don’t have anything to redo, and as long as it sounds “full” I don’t need to add anything else.

Show us your current studio

William’s studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Play every day. Some variant of that’s what I hear all the time from everyone, but there really is no better advice. In my twenty years of music making experience, this advice has always held true. If you’re not inspired then try learning theory, practicing your technique, try reproducing real world sounds with synthesizers, try something outside of your comfort zone, or just have fun making noises. Keep at it every day to keep your tools sharp, then you’ll be ready to act when you actually have something to play.

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

The only places I regularly post anything are my Instagram and tiktok.