Emily Hopkins – Harpedalist

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

Meris Enzo

This is definitely the little button on the Meris Enzo that puts it in “Arp” mode. It essentially turns the chords you play into sequenced patterns at whatever tempo you set. It was such an amazing experience interacting with that mode for the first time, because I heard Enzo go from doing my bidding, to it having some thoughts of its own and playing alongside me. If you split your signal so one is dry (or going through a separate pedal chain) and the other one is through Enzo on arp mode, the sequences create a wonderful foundation for improvisation. I wouldn’t depend on being able to recreate some of those moments easily; but that’s why I love Enzo. Meris pedals are like people.

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

EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath V3

I’d say the EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath V3 is near-perfect for me. The reverb pairs perfectly with the harp, and pretty much every other instrument (especially voice)! It would work well in any piece I play. The only improvement I can think of is an upgrade to stereo output.

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

Out and about with a Harp

Unfortunately my electroacoustic Camac harp is too large and too sensitive to the weather/humidity to bring on vacation; I’d just be worrying about it the whole time and not be able to enjoy myself! On vacation or long car rides, I usually bring my Harpsicle; it’s a tiny budget lever harp that I don’t have to worry about as much. If I want to bring a few effects pedals for fun, I’ll bring whichever pedals I got recently, with my tiny travel amp and either my Organelle or keyboard to play through them. I just got my new Lottie Canto Colour Palette electric kalimba, which will now be a vacation staple. My wedding gig schedule doesn’t usually allow me to tour, or perform far from my home state, but I’d love to consider it after the pandemic! 
If you’re wondering how I transport my harp to gigs:

https://youtu.be/1SAcSHNpTvE

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

I wish I had Fab-Filter Pro-Q 3 in a pedal box, with the same spectrum analyzer graphic display on a screen, complete with dynamic EQ. I know, it’s a lot to ask for. I’ll keep dreaming.

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

Cooper FX/Chase Bliss Audio Generation Loss limited edition pedal, hands down. The pandemic hit me really hard. I’m primarily a wedding musician, and at the start of the pandemic, I had so many gigs being cancelled/postponed and the uncertain future forced me to sell the majority of the pedals I owned at the time. I’d have to pay an insane price to get one now due to the limited availability/price inflation. I’m hoping Cooper FX decides to make a Generation Loss V2 so the amazing sounds of Gen Loss can be more available to everyone!

Cooper FX/Chase Bliss Audio Generation Loss

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

Chase Bliss Audio’s Thermae has such insane chemistry with the harp and my playing style. Whenever I plug into it and improvise some sketches, I create some of my best music. That pedal has resonated with me above most others over the past few months. It’s not so much direct inspiration from understanding the gear or thinking about it; more so the dialogue between Thermae and the harp in real-time has brought my improvisation to a higher level. The first time I used it, I was recording a demo with it for my YouTube channel, and I’ve used pretty much every sound made in that demo for original music releases, or background music across my YouTube channel. The foundation for my new single, Backyard Spaceship, is actually directly from my Thermae YouTube demo! It was such an amazing moment that I couldn’t recreate in the studio, so I just decided to use that audio as the starting point for that project.

Chase Bliss Audio’s Thermae

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

If I could go back, I’d definitely get a higher quality amplifier than the one I started with! I was playing my brand new electric harp through a very small $150 amp; it was like putting a bumper sticker on a Ferrari. I was new to gear at the time, and didn’t understand my options and the importance of investing in a higher quality amp.

Harp with PA

I also probably would have got an EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath right away, which is an amazing device to help introduce yourself to more out-of-the-box effects pedals if you’re new to electric instruments and effects.

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

My camera tripod is currently the bane of my workflow. I do a lot of reamping and desk recording, and it just doesn’t really go well with my setup and what I need it to do. I’m yet to find one in my budget that does what I need, but for now, I’ll have to keep taping mine to the edge of my desk on an angle and contort around it to make it work.

Camera tripods

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

The other day, I found out the EarthQuaker Devices / Death by Audio Time Shadows pedal has a secret mode. If you put the switch in the center (it doesn’t click in place but it will stay there) it’ll create some interesting Rainbow Machine-like modulation.

EarthQuaker Devices / Death by Audio Time Shadows

Artist or Band name?

Emily Hopkins

Genre?

‘Cool harp stuff’. I always have trouble putting myself in a genre.

Selfie?

Emily Hopkins

Where are you from?

Long Island, NY.

Working with the harp

How did you get into music?

When I was 8 years old, I went to a Mexican restaurant on my birthday and there was a man playing harp during dinner (I later found out this was the amazing Edmar Castaneda during his college years!). I was absolutely mesmerized by his music, and begged my mom for harp lessons. Since I was homeschooled, I had plenty of time to practice, and was already playing piano for 4 years by the time I started (I tell everyone the harp is essentially just a piano flipped on the side!).

Emily Hopkins early years with the harp

What still drives you to make music?

The desire to connect to others and to break that stereotype of the harp being an exclusively classical / “boring” instrument. I love using effects pedals to show what a versatile instrument the harp is, and to constantly discover the new sounds it can create.

Astral Destiny by Earthquaker Devices

How do you most often start a new track?

Improv! Most of the time, I discover a cool theme while I’m improvising during an effects pedal demo. My new single came exclusively from my CBA Thermae pedal demo, because I’m not overthinking anything.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When you accept that it’s finished, and you stop obsessing over it; whether it’s the composition, mix, or any tiny detail.

Show us your current studio

Emily Hopkins’ Studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

The story of the “two bad bricks” really resonated with me. The short version is that Ajahn Brahm, a Buddhist monk, built a wall of a thousand bricks by hand, but two of the bricks ended up crooked. When visitors came to the monastery, he tried to avoid showing them the wall because he was so worried about them noticing those two crooked bricks. One day, someone approached him and told him how beautiful the wall was, but he disagreed, pointing out the two bricks. The visitor said, “There might be two bad bricks, but all I can see are the 998 perfect ones.” Even if you don’t play a piece absolutely flawlessly, most of the time you’re the only person who can hear the imperfections. It’s important to appreciate the successful elements of your work, and understand that imperfections in a piece are what makes it human. Also, I don’t believe in ‘wrong notes’ — only ‘interesting’ ones. 

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

Here’s my very first single, Backyard Spaceship!

https://youtu.be/pbPayOi28II

https://open.spotify.com/album/0SZH7JV0eMWyoXpWRuMGdE?si=tbgKgYNMR0m5kuw9BRU2MQ


[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…
]


Paul Talos – Signal Soundlabs

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

Make Noise Morphagene

Lately, it’s been the Vari-Speed knob on the Morphagene. It’s really incredible how something as simple as changing the speed and pitch of a sound can turn it into something completely unrecognizable. Things get even more interesting when you start reversing things too. You really end up discovering all kinds of sounds within sounds that you never really would have thought were there, especially when slowing samples down. Gotta love the wonderful world of microsound.

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

Moog Subsequent 37

The closest thing for me would be my Moog Subsequent 37. It just puts so much sound design power at your fingertips, you almost don’t need anything else. Between having one of my favorite filters, two different kinds of distortion, and plenty of modulation options, there’s enough in there to make a lifetime’s worth of music. It may not be as infinitely versatile as my eurorack setup, but there’s a certain immediacy about it that allows me to get what I need out of it very quickly. The only thing that could possibly make it even better is if it had voltage control over more of the parameters. I actually really regret not jumping on the CV version while they were still making those, as that would have been as close to perfect as you can get.

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

Moog Mother-32

I can’t say I do much traveling with my gear, as my setup wasn’t exactly designed with mobility in mind. But I guess if I were to bring anything, it would be my Moog Mother-32. Not only is it one of my more compact instruments, but I find its limitations to be pretty inspiring. It’s a surprisingly deep instrument and can yield some very unexpected results with a bit of clever patching. I often feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what it can do, so I suppose traveling with it would really force me to get everything I can out of it.

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

Spectrasonics Omnisphere

I really wish there was some kind of hardware version of Spectrasonics Omnisphere. It’s such a useful instrument when scoring for a film, especially for creating cinematic soundscapes. It’s one of the few VST instruments I find myself going back to time and time again. If they made a hardware version with some CV control over the parameters, I’d buy one in a heartbeat. Of course, with the size of the library being what it is, I’m sure it would be incredibly impractical to actually implement in hardware form, much less in eurorack format.

Walrus Audio Descent

On the flip side, I’d love a plugin version of my Walrus Audio Descent reverb pedal. I use the shimmer mode on that pedal quite a bit to add an almost choir-like quality to synths, and would love to have multiple software instances to use throughout a mix. Sure, there are ways of creating a similar sound using other software (the Descent is digital after all) but the pitch shifting on this pedal has a very particular, kind of unnatural sound to it. Hard to describe, but it definitely has a tone and I haven’t really come across anything else that sounds quite like it.

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

Korg MS-20 mini

I sold my Korg MS-20 mini when I first started diving into eurorack. At the time, I figured it didn’t make sense to have a semi-modular synth that didn’t speak Volt per Octave and was looking to get some cash to finance the beginnings of my modular (I believe I ended up buying a Maths with the money I made). But over time I realized just how much I missed those oscillators and filters. It’s such a unique instrument, and much like the Mother-32, it just has a very inspiring set of limitations. So last year, I actually ended up buying it again and will never repeat the mistake of selling it.

Arturia Minibrute 2S

As far as buyer’s remorse on a piece of gear, I bought an Arturia Minibrute 2S when they first came out and had some regrets on that one. The synth voice itself is phenomenal, and the ability to integrate it with eurorack really enhanced the functionality of my existing modular system. But I never got into a good flow with the sequencer. As someone with a background in music theory, I found it really difficult to visualize musical intervals due to its lack of a traditional keyboard. So I eventually ended up selling it and getting the keyboard version instead. Been loving it ever since.

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

Signal SoundLabs Eurorack

Lately, my eurorack rig has been the most consistent source of inspiration. I made some upgrades to it recently, and after about three years of buying and selling modules, I finally feel like I have most of the puzzle pieces in place. Modular synthesis definitely has an element of unpredictability, feels like these modules have a will of their own sometimes and I’m just along for the ride.
It really is a happy accident machine. The downside is it can be a bit difficult to tame, especially when working on music that is synced to visuals. But lately I’ve managed to find a workflow that has been very effective for film music. The key was to start recording everything I did on the modular and then spending some time editing to pick out all the best parts. The editing can be time consuming, but I find myself getting faster and faster with patching so it all evens out. Overall, I just find it more inspiring to capture a bunch of audio from the modular and then work by subtraction rather than addition.

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

If I had to start again, I’d probably get the most powerful computer I could afford, along with a copy of Cubase, a Universal Audio Apollo Twin, and some kind of semi-modular synth like the Minibrute 2. A basic rig like this would cover pretty much all the essentials, while combining a tactile hardware workflow with plenty of digital flexibility.

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

Mutable Instruments Clouds

Hard to say, but I guess I kind of have a love/hate relationship with my Mutable Instruments Clouds module. I rely on it pretty heavily when it comes to making any kind of ambient drone patch, but I find it rather annoying having to remember what all the controls do in its various different modes. Having installed the Parasite firmware really didn’t help with that either. That said, I came across an iOS app called Modes that acts as a nice cheat sheet for some multi-function modules, so I’m definitely not pulling my hair out as much as before. As much as I have a few gripes with Clouds, it really brings a lot to the table and has become pretty much irreplaceable in my rack.

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

Chase Bliss MOOD

I’ve recently been getting more and more into processing audio from Cubase using effects pedals. Plug-ins can be great, particularly for utility functions like EQ, but nowadays there are so many unique pedals out there, it feels like a shame not to use them to process in-the-box sounds as well. I’ve been doing this a lot with my Chase Bliss MOOD pedal in particular, which lets me grab a short slice of audio from the DAW and transform it in all kinds of quirky and interesting ways. Lately, whenever I get stuck on a track, I’ll start feeding random audio into MOOD (unused takes from the modular work particularly well) just to see what happens. It’s a great way to get myself out of a creative rut.


Artist or Band name?

Paul Talos

Genre?

Cinematic Electronica. I’ve never been sure how to categorize my music exactly, so eventually I just made something up. I think it sums things up pretty nicely.

Selfie?

Paul Talos

Where are you from?

Born in Germany, grew up in Boston, MA. Currently living in Philadelphia, PA.

How did you get into music?

I started playing electric guitar around the age of ten and started experimenting with home recording on a laptop when I was a teenager. After high school, I spent some time at Berklee College of Music studying guitar and discovered a love of synthesis and all things electronic music shortly after that.

What still drives you to make music?

Music’s become my job over the last few years, so a paycheck is definitely one thing that drives me. But more importantly, I constantly find myself inspired by just listening to other people’s music and trying to deconstruct what I’m hearing. I’ve come across some very interesting synthesis and production techniques just by trying (and usually failing) to emulate something I heard somewhere else.

How do you most often start a new track?

As a film composer, the answer to that question really varies from project to project. Production timelines and deadlines can be vastly different from one film to the next, so sometimes it might be starting a new track every day, other times I’ll write two or three a week. I do try to spend some time every day just to make some kind of noise though, usually on the modular. I find that synthesis is a skill that really needs to be maintained, otherwise it just gets harder the longer you are away from it. So regardless of what I’m working on, I try to squeeze in some synth time at least once a day, so I don’t get too rusty.

How do you know when a track is finished?

It really never is, but once the deadline hits it’s usually good enough. Honestly, if I didn’t have deadlines of some sort, I’m not sure I would ever finish anything. 

Show us your current studio

Signal SoundLabs studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

This one kind of relates to one of the other questions about finishing tracks. I took this music production class in college, and the professor said something one day that really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of this: A mix is never done, you just stop working on it eventually. To hear that from a professional in the industry was incredibly reassuring at the time. I think it’s something that applies not only to a mix, but to music making in general. Nothing is ever truly finished and that’s okay.

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

Back in July, I released my score for a short thriller film called ‘Just Like You.’ The score is available on all streaming platforms. Links below.

Just Like You (Spotify)

https://music.apple.com/us/album/just-like-you-original-score-ep/1521324795

https://paultalos.bandcamp.com/releases


[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…
]


TJ Dumser – Six Missing

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

Jazzmaster volume knob

Yes, absolutely, without a doubt, the volume knob on my Jazzmaster. Coming from a band background and learning how to blend with other musicians and when to step out front, I was always using my volume knob. Mostly to clean up my tone and then to send it into overdrive. I play expressively and dynamically, never with a compressor pedal so I am always going for the volume knob. I can control swells and it’s become such second nature to my playing that my pinky just sort of rests there all the time.

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

My room is pretty dialed in right now. Since my day job of being a sound designer and mix engineer for advertising, film, and TV keeps me mostly in the studio, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into making the room my instrument. I have my modular rack, my pedalboard, my synths all patched and routed so I can send and receive audio from any of those places – I have total freedom to create. But I would change the amount of space I have, haha, I always want more.

The Six Missing hub

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

Since the start of the pandemic we haven’t traveled anywhere. And before that I wasn’t touring all that much since my live setup got pretty large, in fact, the setup got to the point where I wasn’t able to take the subway any longer – I need a cab or to drive to the gig. Which for people that have never lived in NYC, that’s a huge dealbreaker as you’ll often spend the money you made from your set on cabs. So the biggest thing for me when I go on holiday is my headphones. I try to create music every day so when I take a vacation, I am truly off-the-grid. But now that I’m in Austin which is far from my home in NYC, I have begun planning a travel/mobile rig – it’s Ableton based and I think the Arturia Keystep looks like the best investment in a tiny keyboard as I could integrate it into my modular rack as well as controlling VSTs. I fall prey to the “I want to have all my options be options” mentality, so traveling light will be a fun challenge I look forward to. I’ll have to check back in with you and keep you posted on how I net out!

Compact setup: MacBook, UAD soundcard and guitar

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

An interesting question indeed. I had seen someone else you interview mention that a lot of software is hardware emulations or based on some piece of hardware, which I agree with. I don’t get picky, though I do think that having Big Sky algorithms in plug-in format would be super cool. Although, I’m sure you’d need a separate computer to run all that DSP, which then circles back to having a box, so I suppose they thought about that and why they stayed away from it. I mostly feel like there’s a companion piece of hardware or software for anything you can dream of these days, and like I said, I don’t discriminate – while, yes, an original Minimoog Model D probably sounds better than a VSTs version, I don’t have the $10k for the real thing and dang if presets aren’t awesome to recall.

Moog Matriarch and Eurorack

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

I’ve been fortunate enough to never really have buyers remorse because 30-day return policies are awesome. But I will say that I purchased the ROLI Seaboard recently with hopes and dreams of it completely transforming how I compose with strings and MPE devices and it was just…awkward. Perhaps I didn’t give it enough time to grow on me. The squishy part was fun for a bit, though I can see it attracting cat hair like crazy. I have only ever sold gear I know I was never going to use again. I tend to hang on to things because I’m a sound designer and having random old pieces of gear are inspiring and you never know when you’re going to need it.

Pedalboard goodies

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

Surprisingly, diving into modular gear was the most inspiring and overwhelming. And now that I’ve picked up Norns and Grid, I’m feeling that same sense of “how do I control you!” which I really think makes you enter into that beginner’s mind and where the magic happens. It’s for this reason (and I’ll get roasted for this, I’m sure) that I absolutely never read a manual. I love clicking about/turning knobs/making horrible mistakes when I first get a piece of gear. I think not knowing what you’re doing is when your true talent shines through. You just kind of use The Force to figure it out and stumble your way through. But to stop getting preachy and answer your question, modular. My newest EP on Inner Ocean Records happened in about three weeks after I got all my rack set up, it was just insanely inspiring to have semi-generative sounds morphing and allowing me space to write other lines over it with other instruments.

Norns and Grids

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

If I had to start over I would still start with just a single piece of gear and learn it completely inside and out before buying the next piece of gear. I admit to falling victim to gear acquisition a while back but I always had this sense of wanting to know how to use the gear I had before stepping up. Granted, I have a ton of pedals these days, but it took me a good three years to get to this point.

Pedals galore

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

Haha, this question is great. The most annoying piece of gear I have (though I still love it) is my DD-20, the old big block delay. When the thing boots up it defaults to being on. There’s probably a way to change that but I never looked it up and when it kicks on with the board the first algo is my custom 16-second delay. So if there’s a bit of hum from the unplugged ¼” cable or I flub a note I won’t hear it for another 16-seconds, way after I’ve forgotten and then I’ll chase line hum or a looper pedal somewhere in the chain for five minutes, until I realize it’s just the delay kicking around every 16-seconds. I have Nels Cline to personally thank for making me lust after 16-second delays.

Boss DD-20

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

Hologram Electronics Microcosm

I got to be one of a very small handful of beta testers on the Hologram Microcosm, so I had the pedal well before the public did and I have never had the opportunity to speak directly to the minds that designed and created the pedals I played, so I learned tons of fun insider tricks with it. But my most favorite trick on it, is taking a live effect and capturing it into the looper and then sending that loop back through the live effects pre-effect and processing that loop a second time but through a different live effect. So fun.

[Editor: The Microcosm is gonna be a classic!]


Artist or Band name?

My name is TJ Dumser but I perform as Six Missing.

Genre?

Ambient, Electronic… Meditation Music sounds grabby, so does Furniture Music or Music for Plants. Music that allows you to do other things and zone out to it.

Selfie?

TJ Dumser aka. Six Missing

This isn’t a selfie, but I spent money on this session with this talented photographer Shervin Lainez and so I usually like to get some mileage out of it 😛 

Where are you from?

I’m from NY, but have been spending the past year (lol, let’s be real, quarantine) in Austin, TX. 

How did you get into music?

I have always loved music and performing, I used to do it even as a baby in diapers, shouting nonsense into a microphone and directing orchestras through the kitchen. But it really hit when I saw Back to the Future and caught my first glimpse at Marty’s red Gibson 335. After that, I uncovered milk crates of records in my grandma’s attic and heard Stairway to Heaven and had my mind blown as a 11 year old. After that, I needed to have a guitar. So I was able to convince my parents that I was interested enough for them to get me one and had been playing since I was 12.

What still drives you to make music?

Music has always been a way for me to retreat from other stresses. Given the state of the world and the general level of collective anxiety, music has given me a way to take care of myself. It’s a way that I can contribute something positive. It ends up making me genuinely feel better having taken some time to play. My hopes are that I’m able to give just even the smallest bit of relief to people who hear my music, maybe it gives them that chance to take a breath or to help them meditate or go to sleep – which I realize isn’t every musicians dream “for folks to fall asleep to my music” but hey – if that helps someone, then I’m happy.

How do you most often start a new track?

It has morphed. When I was mainly composing ambient guitar loops or guitar based tracks, I would just turn on the gear and let the DD-20 sit in 16-sec delay mode and start piling layers into it, slam that into the Ditto x 2 and knock it into half speed and that became my bed. But these days I’m spending more time with eurorack modular gear and synths like the Monome Norns. I can usually get a nice atmosphere created by sending some audio to my modular gear and manipulating over there, capture some ideas and then start adding a bass line with the Moog Matriarch. Though I’m new to it, Norns is massively inspiring and I love the idea of having a tiny digital bandmate taking care of melodies and rhythms for me.

How do you know when a track is finished?

I’m sure the answer is very different for the musicians you’ve interviewed, but for me my answer changes all the time. I have a set of tracks that comprise an LP, about 11 tracks, just sitting collecting dust because I “still feel like they need something” and then I have EPs that I sit and complete in a weekend. Honestly, it’s that different for me. I suppose there’s just a knowing you feel about the track, like, did I serve this? If so, I move on. Also, if I get bored with or anything I try to add to a track starts sounding like garbage or I spend far too long working on a line…that’s how I know. If the track tells me it’s complete. It’ll push away all the superfluous junk.

[Editor: That’s a different way of doing things, it sounds almost like your songs have their own desires and needs. I guess a more empathetic approach to composition by considering the needs and wants of a piece, independently from your own wishes as a composer]

Show us your current studio

Six Missing home studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Show up each day and do something. Whether that’s reading about someone who set out to achieve a goal or career and is doing it. Or just noodling with the guitar. Or perhaps even just turning on the synth, just to let it warm up. You don’t have to expect a masterpiece, but the fact that you’ve done something with the day means that you’ve placed your intention on it and odds are you’re going to get surprised every once in a while.

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

Thanks for asking! I have my debut EP coming out on Inner Ocean Records called “Patricia” on February 12th.

It’ll be available via Inner Ocean’s site as well as mine – or you can stay tuned to my Instagram (www.instagram.com/sixmissing) for more!


[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…
]