TubeDigga – Maestro of the MPC

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

Akai S950 Data Wheel

I can’t isolate just one unfortunately!
Boring answer: I just bought an Akai S950 and really like the feel of the main data wheel. The knob itself is quite aesthetically boring but the mechanical click feel of it is great and responsive.

Akai S950 12bit rack sampler

Slightly less boring answer 1: I also really like the XY stick on the Intellijel Planar 2.
Slightly less boring answer 2: The main main frequency knob on the XAOC Devices Belgrad Multimode filter, superb quality!

Belgrad module by  Xaoc Devices

Slightly less boring answer 3: the main pitch knob on the Strymon Magneto is also excellent.
Slightly less boring answer 4: Most of the Erica Synths module knobs.

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

For ease of use, feature set and general overall desire to use, the MPC (previously the X and currently One in my case).
I’d change a fair few things, some examples would be latched pads/looped samples (like the Roland SP404/505 etc have, so you can have an infinitely sustaining loop. I discovered a way to override this in the MPC by tricking it into not receiving a NOTE OFF message which is the issue. I’d also have a much deeper modulation matrix. Disk streaming, ability to install an SSD (MPC One), more CV outputs.

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

I don’t do any of those things to warrant taking a machine with me! But if I toured, my MPC One plus a midi controller or an MPCx would be the logical choice. Or two MPC Ones, a midi controller and a DJ mixer.

Akai MPC One… with a nice metal data wheel and some custom decals

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

No software equivalent of anything, but a hardware equivalent of Renoise would be amazing (if it had the exact feature set and capabilities, with 16 pads of course).

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

I regret selling my MPC 2500SE for sure, I’ve also had a few Yamaha SU700’s and have always thought I should have kept one, but it’s one of those machines that can be amazing and fun, but can be irritating to use on occasion. It also looks brilliant, and unique.
No regrets buying really, not that I can think of right now. Maybe a larger Eurorack case but that would be irresponsible 🙂

Strymon Magneto

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

Once again the MPCs I’ve owned over the years, (2500se, 1000, 5000, X, One, Live).

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

An MPCx or if you mean go back in time, an MPC3000 / 4000 / 60

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

Roland MC707

The Roland MC707, I never intended to buy one, but initially bought it just to try and it’s been a complete revelation. It’s so good in many areas (the synth engine, the Scatter effect, the clips/matrix/scenes etc), but the sampling, file handling, some program parameters (like how the pads in a drum program behave in contrast to an MPC) and various other areas need much improvement. I’d really miss it if i sold it though.
Also my Ensoniq ASR-X. I very nearly sold it recently as it takes ages to load and save samples. I have the Turbo version which means it has SCSI so I need to buy a compatible SCSI drive or emulator ideally, to see if it speeds things up considerably. Also, half the pads are failing (a well known issue) and the encoders can be slightly glitchy. But it just sounds so good and is really quick, plus the effects are great. Lastly, it just looks superb in my opinion. A lovely, underrated vintage piece of gear.

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

I developed my own ‘granular time-stretching’ technique with the MPCx. You can control the start point of a sample with velocity. Dedicated sample start manipulation and automation was one of the biggest omissions from the MPC which the Elektron Octatrack could do since it was released in 2010, this technique brings the MPC feature set for experimentation up to par, but surpasses the OT because of the MPCs sound quality (something I felt always lacked with the OT). https://youtu.be/CE4ZaEExNdc

Ensoniq ASR-X – I

And again, the Ensoniq ASR-X – I discovered, or rather stumbled across a glitch when I was trying to create a synth tone, looping just a few frames of a sample. If you pitch the sample up as high as possible it can lead to some bizarre, circuit bent type effects and mixes and occasionally blends several samples together. Very cool and surreal trick.


Artist name:

Tubedigga.

Genre?

Jungle/Drum and Bass / Hip Hop / Electronica / Drone / Experimental

Selfie?

Mr. TubeDigga

Where are you from?

London UK.

How did you get into music?

Parents record collection, older sister bringing home early Electro records (Cybotron, Man Parrish, Tyrone Brunson etc)

What still drives you to make music?

I have an addiction to learning new bits of gear and making them do things the manual doesn’t mention, and I love designing sounds and discovering new textures/moods/tones/

How do you most often start a new track?

Maybe once a week/fortnight if it’s a full track, every day if it’s a basic loop/idea.

How do you know when a track is finished?

That’s somewhat subjective but I suppose when it sounds good, feels good, does the right things at the right time, and when it feels like it might go wrong or be ruined if I add more or too much.

Show us your current studio:

I keep those things private, sorry 🙂

[Editor: But here’s a photo of TubeDigga’s studio monitor]

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Creative advice would be to try and take a step back from being too serious (electronic music and being a techie/geek can get like that sometimes). A great engineering tip from a well known jungle producer was ‘cut more, add less’ when it comes to EQ and mixing. I often ignore that advice though 🙂

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

Rinse FM Mix with Double O (Rupture)https://soundcloud.com/rinsefm/rupture120820

My private online lessons: www.tubedigga.com/lessons

If you would like to show appreciation for any help I’ve provided you, please consider donating an amount of your choice:

PayPal: http://paypal.me/tubedigga

YouTube: http://youtube.com/tubedigga
My Website: http://www.tubedigga.com


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

Josh Semans – Ode To The Martenot

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

Ondes Martenot

Maybe a cheeky/tenuous answer but – the ribbon of my ondes Martenot. It’s essentially a knob. You wear the metal ring on your right index finger, and it is attached to a string which is wrapped around a drum inside the machine. As you move the ring, the drum spins, a potentiometer is turned, and the pitch is altered. The amount of expression offered by this simple mechanism is unparalleled. My alternative answer would be another tenuous one – the touche d’intensité of my ondes. It is the volume control, and it’s name doesn’t translate exceptionally well into English. It is very tactile and very sensitive. It really is the soul of the ondes, and all your articulation comes from this wonderful key. The further you depress it, the louder the sound gets – simple! 

Empress Zoia

(Honourable mention to the silver knob/button on the ZOIA! The satisfying *clunk* of clicking that button is both mine and my wife’s favourite thing about the ZOIA!)

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

I’ve loved the DSI/Sequential Prophet sound for ages, and I think the Rev2 is a super workhorse that manages to avoid being the typical jack-of-all-trades that some synths aspire to be. For my purposes it is practically perfect, but I would personally want to add a few things; an analog hi-pass filter (instead of relying on the digital one in the effects), an extra effects slot, polyphonic aftertouch, and more noise types…probably other things, too. It hasn’t let me down so far, and I’ve always managed to get the sound out of it, that’s in my head.

Dave Smith Instruments Prophet

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

I don’t know if you’d call it a ‘setup’, but I always have my phone with me, and it is a vital tool in my music making. Most of the pieces on my new album started life as voice memos, and I think I have another two or three albums worth of material on my phone, going back years. I also like to record rivers and birds, etc. Some photographer or cinematographer said that “the best camera is the one you have with you” and I think, for me, my phone is the equivalent for music. I have recordings of a sweet little piano in a BnB in Huddersfield, a few harmoniums in a schoolhouse in Iceland, a violinist in an reverberant underpass in Berlin…but mostly the piano under my stairs or sketches of new ideas on the ondes. I also try to take a notebook with me when I go away on holiday or when I am sojourned in a studio somewhere. It helps me get ideas out of my head to make room for others. I do get twitchy and a bit miserable when I’m away from my ondes for too long but there isn’t really a remedy for that, unfortunately! 

[Editor: ‘Getting ideas out of ones head, to make room for others’ is a great way to think about a sketch pad]

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

I used Max/MSP a lot in college and university, and always wished there was a way to package my patches up into hardware. I haven’t used Max as much in the past few years, but the ZOIA is certainly scratching that particular itch for me, though it isn’t quite the hardware version of Max/MSP. I don’t think I would wish ‘being software’ on any piece of hardware, to be honest. I really value tactility. I don’t particularly hate software, though.

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

I traded an ex-BBC ReVox A77 tape machine for a banjo. If you can’t sense the regret in that sentence, then trust me – I regret it. The banjo sits in my kitchen and haunts me daily.

A Banjo

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

The ondes Martenot. I’d be hesitant to brand it as ‘gear’ but, ultimately, it is a tool that allows us to make heard our own waves. It is an instrument, sure, but Maurice Martenot said “the instrument is first and foremost ourselves”. The ondes has taught me this lesson over and over again in many different ways so far. The ondes and has really become a part of who I am, physically and musically. All of my musical ideas revolve around the ondes Martenot now, and it has inspired me to release music moreso than any other instrument, piece of equipment/gear etc. 

Ondes Martenot

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

First thing I’d get is an ondes. Mine was built for me by Jean-Loup Dierstein in Paris and I wouldn’t hesitate to have him build me one if I was starting over again.

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

My computer. I just think computers are one of those “can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em” sort of things. I hate that it has to be there, but nothing is as convenient and practical for the music I make. A necessary evil! I don’t hate the process of making music on a computer, though, it makes sense.

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

I have this big old Soundtracs 16 – 8 – 16 that I sometimes run things through to get some of that saturation and drive that you can only really get from older analogue preamps. I remember running a drum pattern through it, along with the prophet, a function generator, and some ondes Martenot loops. Driving the preamps hard would make the whole mix pump and breathe with the drum pattern. Lovely.


Artist or Band name?

Josh Semans

Genre?

Hard to say, maybe experimental/electronic/alternative/classical. That sort of thing, I suppose!

Selfie?

If I must! (Attached!)

Josh Semans

Where are you from?

The north of England!

How did you get into music?

I’ve always been around recorded music, and I’ve loved musical instruments for as long as I can remember. Piano and guitar were my first instruments as a child, then I really got into drums and synthesisers. The drums where my main instrument for a while, now it is the ondes Martenot. I still love synthesisers, and do play the piano a lot. 

Upright Piano

What still drives you to make music?

I can’t not do it.

How do you most often start a new track?

I come up with new ideas most days, and I usually record them onto my phone or an Ableton session to be worked on at a later date. I’m currently working on about 5 or 6 new pieces. I like having multiple pieces on the go, so I can work on something else when I’m a bit worn out from another.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When the endless tweaking becomes pointless. 

Show us your current studio

Ondes Martenot
Josh’s Studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Something that James Murphy said about why he reformed LCD Soundsystem made me dig around to find this quote from David Bowie; “Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

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

My debut album, “…And the Birds Will Sing at Sunrise” is out now.

Also here’s my website joshsemans.com


[Editor: Do you have a favorite tip, trick or way of working with any of the gear from this interview?
Then throw a comment below…
]


Mylar Melodies – Talks With Hands

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

UA Apollo

My UA Apollo interface’s on/off switch – it’s a big silver lever that goes CLACK in an extremely loud and satisfying way. Apparently it’s actually the same on/off switch they use on their LA2A’s, so that switch has royal heritage.

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

I think everyone thinks it’s very easy to improve on gear, or that a manufacturer was daft not to include some simple feature when in fact it’s anything but simple (or cheap) to add just any old feature. Or that that feature is the thing stopping you from making good music. But as for perfect gear – I guess the Juno 60. It’s very simple, it has nothing superfluous, and it always sounds absolutely amazing. If I would change it, I would take presets off (because it’s so direct you don’t really need them – and of course, yes that’s a Juno 6) – and if I added anything, well I DID add the Juno 66 mod to mine, the best thing being, that it turns a precise DCO machine into a aphexy wooze-machine.
The perfect effect is the LA2A. It has two knobs, it’s set and forget, and it never fails, or sounds over the top.

Roland Juno 66

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

My iPhone, running Xynthesizr, pretty much just sequencing one blissy dual VCO with 98% echo patch, that I never modify beyond a few basic parameters. That’s all you need. I actually literally played a set at Moogfest on just my iPhone with this – directly connected to the PA through the headphone jack – I just improvised on Xynthesizr for 45 minutes with a couple of other elements for colour. I worked out the kinks about a day before. I can’t believe I got away with that, but I hope it makes a point. In fairness I had spent over a year solid jamming with that app on trains, planes and automobiles. I am always far more impressed with and weirdly, envious of (for their restraint and focus) musicians that have almost no gear, than ones that have everything. I make videos about gear, so it can’t help but pile up.

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

I wish Xynthesizr was hardware. I wish the Reason PX7 rack extension was hardware. I wish the Casio FZ1 filter was software.

Reason PX7 rack extension

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

I regret selling my second-ever synth, the only synth I’ve ever maxed out every single memory location on with my patches – a Korg MS2000.
I regretted buying the Novation Nova, which was my first synth. It was way, way, way too complicated for me and I had no idea where to start. I directly swapped it for the MS2000. And while I think the person I did the trade with thought they got the better deal, I definitely did. That was the synth that taught me synthesis. I rinsed that MS2000.
I definitely bought or traded stuff for a Cheetah MD16 drum machine at one point which I remember thinking “what the absolute hell am I doing with this grey door stop”. In fairness I probably didn’t know what I was doing and it was fine, but I’m still not convinced.

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

Ableton Live. That’s also all you need, but it’s all too easy to fall into jaded patterns of use and habits with it, which you need to be aware of or you’ll end up spending thousands of pounds on a eurorack habit in a desperate bid to rekindle the feeling of “beginners mind” once again.
But mainly, what has inspired the most music is time. Having the luxury of time in which to make music is harder and harder as life goes on and responsibilities grow, and especially the idea of being a full time musician is incredibly difficult to maintain and I’m amazed people do it at all. It’s interesting to consider that many musicians can only become successful through either being utterly utterly dirt poor, or rich to start with – being the only way one could afford the time to become successful. Is there a middle ground?

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

A Digitakt. That’s also all you need.
[Editor: And a nice doggie for company]

Digitakt and doggie

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

Adobe Premiere. It’s a bug-infested rats nest, it’s stupidly basic with audio… but I need it. If it ever truly falls over, Davinci Resolve is waiting in the wings, and is free.

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

The incredible genre-defining boundary-expanding main spooky string riff in LFO’s “LFO”, clearly the sound that inspired the track (because you wouldn’t just magically find that sound would suddenly fit what you were doing, you fit a track around IT) is a straight preset (melody and all) from the cheap as chips Kawai K1. That’s right, one of the best moments from one of the best British dance tunes of all time is a preset. Presets are not “for the weak”. Making a good tune is hard enough as it is. Having FINISHED a tune BECAUSE you used presets is far cooler than having hundreds of half finished tracks where you synthesized every hihat from scratch.
Guitar bands don’t build new instruments for every song – there’s a balance to be struck. You can separate the processes of sound design and song writing – it’s something I’m mindful I need to do more. Either way I accept inspiration wherever I find it.

[Editor: ‘Accept inspirations wherever you find it’ – that is a nicely turned phrase and great advice]


Artist or Band name?

Mylar Melodies

Genre?

Electro/techno. I’m inspired whenever I think about Aphex, LFO, Boards of Canada, James Stinson, and Kraftwerk. So hopefully I float around in their worlds musically… A bit.

Selfie?

Mr. Mylar Melodies

Where are you from?

An hours drive from where Mark Bell was from.

How did you get into music?

A perfect storm of having older brothers to who played me Orbital and RDJ, one of whom had an MC-303 (Yes, MC) which he let me fiddle around with, having access to a stack of Future Music issues in a time before the internet, and being bequeathed several grand from my late great uncle at the age of 16(!) years old.

As you might image I frittered most of that money away on stupid pointless things, but I did spend a massive chunk of it on my first ever music gear and a proper stereo, and I never looked back. That was probably the best imaginable upshot of him leaving me the money, despite me wasting most of it – it’s funny that the right gift at the right time can change someone’s life.

You can see how privileged I was to get that push, and the money, and to be young enough to have the time especially – I lived in the countryside, so there were no friends to see (without a lift) or places to go. It’s good to remind yourself that having access to tools and a relaxed environment and the luxury of time, where you can experiment with them – and to have taste makers like your brothers – is essential to make people who can explore creative pursuits, and I’m lucky I had it.

Ralf and Florian [Editor: Of Kraftwerk fame] were well off, how else would they afford a Minimoog, a Synthi and the time to play it?! Of course now the tools are far cheaper, and the software is free (time is still a luxury). The internet could be like an older brother, but there’s just too much noise. How do you discover your “thing” anymore? I’m encouraged to see that people do discover things like Eurorack, and that’s a route into electronic music for them.

Roland MC303 and Eurorack

What still drives you to make music?

The knowledge that if I sit down and fiddle around, something good will most likely come of it. And about thinking about those people I mentioned before, sat in their personal Kling Klangs, playing around with tools just like the ones I have, and coming up with timeless music. That always makes me want to try as well.

How do you most often start a new track?

Making music is a bit like sculpture, or seeing a dog in a cloud. I NEVER pre-imagine what I’m going to make. I just start turning dials and pushing buttons until something cool pops out and a little light goes on my head, and then I get an idea of what that blob could be further shaped into, and then I zone it in on that, and then other complimentary things suggest themselves.
At the end of it, you end up with a semi coherent thing and wonder… how did this even start out?
Usually, also the first idea is wack, but the second or third thing you make from all the sounds and sequences of the first is far better. The main thing is to just sit down and play, irrespective of whether you feel inspired (that will happen by playing), and not to be concerned whether you will make anything “good” or not (that is – partially – out of your control).

[Editor: Kinda like how it’s useful to separate sound design from composition, I guess it’s equally useful to separate the process of creation from judgement of good vs. bad... Or maybe ‘separate’ is too strict a word? Perhaps ‘compartmentalize’?]

How do you know when a track is finished?

I 100% do not know this, and I fiddle away at things endlessly. So much so, that I’ve been engineering systems, so that I have no choice, but to accept my first or second real-time pass at something as “it”. If I later decide it really is crap, I’ll just have to make something else. Quantity makes quality.

Show us your current studio

Mylar Melodies Studio

This is half plugged in right now, as I’m trying to find a way to have the stupidest amount of gear in the smallest space.
I feel obliged to say there isn’t (so far, for me) a relationship between having loads of gear and making loads of music. Just like having fifty guitars doesn’t make you a brilliant guitarist. I am not in any way proud of having loads of stuff in principle (NB: Although I love all these things, I’ve slowly gathered it all this over decades, it most definitely did not arrive overnight), and most of the things I own are individually pretty cheap bits of gear. I love these individual bits, both for what they are/do (their market value doesn’t correlate to their coolness to me in all cases) and for their place in musical history, I definitely have the curse of being a collector.

Yamaha DX7

Case in point, I own a DX7 – a proper brown old first edition DX7, and I think it’s utterly amazing for both the historical influence and as a synth. It’s such a futuristic beast, yet fuzzy and nostalgic all the same time. FM synths are extraordinary to me and much more like alchemy than subtractive ones.

But the thing I am actually proud of in that studio picture is that in the last three months I have been working to make it all completely accessible and immediate on (3!) patchbays, so I can actually make full use of it, both for impromptu live jams and recording multi-tracks to computer, and variations thereof. About f*king time. Get yourself enough patchbays to have all the I/O of your studio fully plumbed in.

Otherwise you’ll never use it! I didn’t, and I’ve started applying the “build a system” mentality which I’ve learned through Eurorack, to my wider studio. A well organised patchbay system is essential.

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

A recent one:
“Do not try to create and analyze at the same time. They are different processes.”

I believe strongly that quality is a byproduct of quantity. Just make the music and try not to care if it’s good – in fact revel in making something terrible, if that will help you not give up, just don’t abandon it. Finish it and then see what you learned from it. And if you need an evil, but effective way to force yourself to finish something – bet a friend a significant amount of money (£100+, or more if you’re doing well) you’ll make an agreed deadline. Always worked for me.

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

Here’s a video I made about how to recreate a Buchla Music Easel in only 62HP of Eurorack modules. I’m making a whole series of these little mini “Suggested Systems”. Go on and subscribe to the channel if you like nerdy chats about synths and gear? Go on. Go on now:

https://youtu.be/B40AizE6i2g

Also I have a podcast talking to electronic musicians and gear makers, including chats with Scanner, Tom Furse from the Horrors and the wonderful Adrian Utley so far.

http://www.whywebleep.com

Am I allowed three?! Here’s that Moogfest I did on an iPhone:
https://youtu.be/7xhWLtRQ6Aw


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