Stefan Tretau – St Modular

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

Lots of Freq Knobs

First of all, I love every cutoff control. It is just such a powerful and enjoyable part of subtractive synthesis, that it will always be my first and preferred choice when looking for a knob to turn.

Elektron Octatrack

Second, the Elektron Octatrack fader is definitely one of the most powerful controls for a wide range of parameters, be it effects or sample processing. The possibilities are endless and its so easy to use.

Contour – Shuttle Express

Last, but not least, I bought a multimedia editor controller called “Contour – Shuttle Express” that allows me to create shortcuts for certain functions in the Eagle CAD program, which I use to design circuit boards. This has drastically improved my efficiency and speed when designing PCBs.

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

S-CAT Double-Trouble Dual Filtered Distortion

I recently bought the S-CAT Double-Trouble Dual Filtered Distortion and I would immediately call it a perfect device. It has two channels, one optimized for synths and one for drums, and sounds delicious. I started to used it with the Roland TR8-S and the Behringer TD-3-MO and immediately went into an acid-frenzy. Here’s a video snippet where I also used it with the little Roland T-8 Aira compact groovebox.

Fun thing! :-

Blokas Midihub

Also worth mentioning is the Blokas Midihub, an interface and standalone MIDI processor that is as flexible as a midi interface can get. With the included editor, you can configure every midi setting imaginable. The only improvement would be a larger version with at least 8 channels.
Finally, the “GIVE2“ Oscillator I designed is still my favorite and I use it in almost every single patch. The only thing I would change in a future version would be to add faders instead of knobs and VCAs for each waveform at the mix output.

GIVE2 oscillator

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

A couple of years ago I put together a small Eurorack case that would somehow eliminate my GAS for the Buchla Music Easel (I named it “Euro Easel” ;-} ). It’s a small case with quite some limitations, but it has just the right modules to create very interesting sounds…. and it worked, I haven’t bought the Easel yet 🙂 It’s my travel case that I choose to take on vacation. You can find some videos about it here.

Takin’ it Easel

If I can’t take the travel case with me, I like to use an iPad or the three Aira Compact Grooveboxes, which are definitely fun.

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

There are many multi fx vsts available, but there are just few ways to add multi fx with a hardware device that is not a pedal. I currently use the Octatrack to add effects to the main output. But I would like to have a device that looks like one of the Pioneer FX series units and has a functionality like Sugar Bytes Turnado VST, Fabfilter Effects VST or the Ozone Mastering Tools – and nothing less 😉

VCV Rack

If VCV Rack didn’t already exist, I would want to see some sort of modular software to test and review modules. Fortunately, VCV Rack is already the perfect solution for that. It has helped me to come up with new module designs that combine various module functions into one unit. In VCV Rack I tested their practical application in advance before writing schematics and making prototypes.

I can’t think of any other hardware that I would like to see as a software solution.

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

I wish I still had my Korg Electribe R and the Clavia Nord Micro Modular. They were way ahead of their time and I really enjoyed using them.

These were some of the last sounds I made with the Micro Modular, and it breaks my heart not to have it on my desk today.
There are some modules I bought that I didn’t keep for long. But the list would be too long to mention them here.

As for my designs, there are a few modules I have published that I regret creating.
Mostly because my design skills have improved and I wouldn’t design them the way they used to be published. But I won’t tell you which ones they are 🙂

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

The ST Modular Beast

Definitely my modular. Especially the last album „Ostinato Modulare“, released in 2020, is strongly inspired by modular synthesis. But also other releases have their origin in melodies and sequences I created on my modular system.

A little close on the ST Modular Beast

Also worth mentioning is the “Mopho“ from Dave Smith Instruments, which I used very often in the past. It’s such a great sounding and powerful little instrument when used with a software editor.

Little Mopho hiding there

I also often used the Korg Gadget iOS app to sketch out ideas that eventually found their way into a final track.

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

Any Groovebox (Syntakt, Roland TR8-S, or Roland MC707 or similar)

Elektron Syntakt

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

My soldering iron! I used to love soldering and enjoyed that deep yoga-like relaxation of soldering in repetition and deep concentration. But the solder fumes and flux residue, the time it takes me to solder prototypes and troubleshoot, and the fact that my body doesn’t like sitting in one position for long periods of time are increasingly annoying me.

Soldering iron

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

PCB

I would like to mention the moment when I found out how easy it is to order ready soldered PCBs. I used to solder all SMD components myself and at some point decided to use PCB assembly for prototyping. This dramatically increased the speed at which I could work on my PCB designs. That was both a surprise and a relief.

Closer to the PCB

Apart from that, almost every single unit has some “hidden” features that surprise me – like the ducking functionality with the FX tracks on the Syntakt, the control-all functionality on most Elektron units, or the way you arrange effects in scenes on the Octatrack.

Also, a modular system is an endless source of “happy little accidents,” as Bob Ross would say. There are so many different techniques to use CV. Every time I patch, I’m surprised how musical challenges can be solved with modular control voltages. I remember being overwhelmed by the possibilities offered by a single function generator. Depending on the patching technique you can use it as an oscillator, a filter, a distortion and an envelope with sustain stage.

Not what you think of when you see a module like this, is it?

A single module can be a world in itself, spreading its CV tentacles into an endless modular universe full of surprises.


Artist or Band name?

Stefan Tretau / ST Modular / ST Records

Genre?

From Ambient to Techno

Selfie?

Stefan Tretau

Where are you from?

Oberhausen, Germany

How did you get into music?

Well, it’s not the piano and guitar lessons I used to get, but it was actually a friend’s Roland MC- 303 that I was lucky enough to use in 1999. That was my rabbit hole that I never got out of.
Shortly after that we bought a Roland MC-307, a Future Retro 777, a TB-303, a Micro Modular and a Jomox Xbase 09 and we started playing acid live acts as Complexx303“ in the early 2000s. Some time later it was just a small step to jump into the Eurorack universe. I bought my first Eurorack modules in 2016.

Stefan’s first eurorack case

ST Modular also started with a little push from a friend. He showed me how to build a Schmitt- Trigger oscillator, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to recreate it on a breadboard. That was the second rabbit hole that somehow replaced the synthesizer-hole for some time. So instead of making music, I breadboarded, read books, created magic smoke, and eventually designed a desktop synthesizer, effects pedals, and a first Eurorack module, a passive mult.

Live synth setup

However, before I got into Eurorack designs, I focused on pedal and synthesizer designs. In the video linked here, you can see how I create all sorts of noises with these DIY boxes. You can also see a first logo design there, which is the predecessor of the current ST Modular logo.

Now that I had a foot in the door I could not resist to deal further with concepts and circuit diagrams and spent whole weekends researching on the internet and watching youtube tutorials.

First synth design called Dillen in 2015

When the first working Eurorack module was built (Triple Tom), I didn’t actually intend to offer modules or boards to other builders. It was then the builders themselves who kept asking for boards and finally got me to make a first attempt to offer PCBs in cooperation with pushermanproductions.com in 2018.
And ST Modular was born.

What still drives you to make music?

That moment you surprise yourself.

How do you most often start a new track?

A kick and a bassline or a sound/melody that fascinates me.

How do you know when a track is finished?

I used to be very fast at producing and it wasn’t uncommon to finish a track in one day. I once participated in a remix contest for a label called “Karmarouge” and produced and submitted my remix within a single day. Surprisingly, my track was chosen to appear on the final vinyl release.

So, I’m not a perfectionist I guess and I don’t spend hours working on a snare sound.
If the track conveys a certain vibe, I can’t remove anything superfluous from the mix and nothing else extremely bothers me, it’s done!

ST modular System

As for the ST modular designs, each new prototype has to go through several weeks of extensive testing in my case. I design modules primarily for my personal use. If I don’t like the experience of playing with it, it doesn’t get released. I have a whole case full of finished prototypes that I have never published. They work technically fine, but they somehow didn’t turn out the way I had imagined.

Show us your current studio

Attic home studio
To the left of the Attic home studio
Center of the home stuio
Left side with the modular beast

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Just sit down and start!

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

ST Records – Latest Release „Ostinato Modulare“
https://www.st-rec.de/

ST Modular – Euphoria (DIY Semi-Modular Synthesizer)
https://www.st-modular.com/euphoria/

ST Modular – Eurorack DIY
https://www.st-modular.com/

Follow me on Instagram
@stefan_st_modular

[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]


Cntr Rndm – Christian Paga

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

I really like the TYPE knob on my NTS-1, because it lets you browse through all the FX programs and oscillators you have installed… and this is what makes the NTS-1 such a valuable synth/FX unit: you can customize the living daylight out of it!

Korg NTS-1

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

Ok, I really love the PO-128 Mega Man and it’s (almost) perfect in every way BUT it would be even more amazing if it had a backup function like the PO-33, the PO-32 or the PO-133! It’s so annoying when you have to delete a song or a pattern you were rather satisfied, with just because you want to make a new one.

PO-128 Mega Man

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

I have this thing called “the Krako” which is just a portmanteau word consisting of the German words “Krach” (noise) and “Koffer” (case). So it’s this super old hairdressing case I got off Ebay for a couple of bucks (way cheaper than an actual flight case) and it literally does what it says on the tin: it’s a case for little noise-makers, preferably pieces of gear that run on batteries or that don’t need batteries at all (like my crappy Kalimba). Usually, there are a bunch of pocket operators in there as well as my NTS-1, my Korg Volca Modular, my Korg Monotron Delay, and both my Koma Elektronik Field Kit and my Field Kit FX.

NTS-1, Korg Volca Modular, Korg Monotron Delay, Koma Elektronik Field Kit and Field Kit FX

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

What a great question! Erm, I would love to see a hardware version of Airwindows’ Galactic which is one of my favorite plugins at the moment. It’s this super amazing “I will turn anything into an ambient atmosphere” monster of a plugin – and the best thing is, it’s freeware! I can’t think of a vice-versa-example so here’s another piece of
software I wish was hardware: Valhalla’s Supermassive! I mean, seriously, isn’t Supermassive just the best Reverb-Delay plugin out there? But hey, basically all Valhalla plugins are amazing – what a great company!

Airwindows’ Galactic

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

Puh, nah, not really! I know this is super boring, but I tend to research a lot before I buy stuff – so I keep my bad-buy-level to a minimum.
However, I have kind of a difficult relationship with my Korg Volca Modular. It’s weird because on paper, we should be BFFs but in reality, meh…

Korg Volca Modular

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

That’s an easy one…pocket operators! I just love pocket operators – they have completely changed the way I approach producing music. Thanks to pocket operators, I can make music EVERYWHERE!

Pocket Operator Office

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

Three words: Ableton Live Suite!

Ableton Live shining brightly

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

Well, I’ll go with the PO-133, as it’s so much fun, that it’s annoyingly hard to put it aside!

PO-133

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

My buddy Pete Prodoehl (@raster on IG) taught me this super awesome Korg Monotron Delay latching trick, hack, whatever you want to call it. So, if you want to create a hands-free drone sound with this tiny dirtbag of a synth, all you have to do is put a nut on the ribbon keyboard and wrap a rubber band around it. This way, the Monotron plays a constant tone and you can tweak the sound with both hands.

Korg Monotron Delay

Artist or Band name?

Controlled Randomness aka CNTR RNDM aka CR aka Uncle CR.

Genre?

Erm…

Selfie?

Kind of…

Christian Paga aka. Cntr Rndm

Where are you from?

Essen, Germany.

How did you get into music?

When I was 14, me and my mates wanted to start a rap group. We had the lyrical skills (nah, we didn’t), we had the looks (nah, we didn’t), we were cool AF (hell no) – the only thing that was missing were beats! So I got a copy of Magix Music Maker and I made the most amazing beats ever created (no, I certainly didn’t).

I decided to become a professional musician after I won a couple of really big remix contests – including Daft Punk’s Technologic remix contest (back in 2005 I think) which was also the door opener to getting a major record deal in the mid-noughties. This was really exciting and all, I really enjoyed this for a while but after some time I realized that there were too many people around me that wanted to have a piece of the pie; who wanted to tell me what music to make, what gigs to play and what clothes to wear (seriously!!!). I didn’t make the music I wanted to make and ultimately I didn’t care about all of this and all of a sudden, making music wasn’t fun anymore! I had lost both the spirit and myself along the way.

After some time, I decided to quit making music for a while because I wasn’t feeling it anymore. Well, before I knew it, “a while” became 10 years and I only got back into making music when the first lockdown happened…and well, here I am, making music I really want to make; nowadays, after all these years, making music is fun again; and that’s why I strongly believe that music is all about experimenting, having fun, and community!

What still drives you to make music?

If I only knew 😂 but I guess I really love experimenting!

How do you most often start a new track?

It depends, really – if the song includes drums, I’ll probably start with the drums. If it’s an ambient piece, however, I’ll probably have a little piano jam, record it to tape, load it into Ableton and stretch the hell out of it 😁

How do you know when a track is finished?

Tracks are never finished – you just stop working on them 😂

Show us your current studio

I don’t have a studio anymore… just a “Krako” and a laptop 😎

“Krako”

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Do what you love!

Ok, then I’ll shamelessly plug my Partygate PO-33 kit on YouTube… it’s this little jam at the intersection of music and journalism, as it reveals the true (like so true) story behind Boris Johnson’s Partygate scandal 😂


Max Beatwerk – Finger Rabbit

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

Dirtbox by Dr Alien Smith

As a drummer I am not so much of a knob guy, but right now I always enjoy dialing in the amount of distortion with my newly acquired Dirtbox from Dr Alien Smith.
And then there is that light switch in my studio which powers up everything with just one touch. Very satisfying!

The studio switch

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

I think that would be my two Sebatron VMP4000e tube preamps. They are tubey but fast and make me sound better without having to practice, haha! However I wished for a more relaxed output dial knob. You need a calm hand to use them, because it quickly jumps from not enough to way too hot output, at least with loud sources like drums. But that’s a minor issue, I really love these units.

Sebatron VMP4000e tube preamps

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

Compact stage drum kit

Generally I like compact setups. The stuff I bring depends on the music, but it is basically my 20“ aluminum bassdrum, two shallow snares, a cymbal and a floortom. Then an array of sizzlers and dampeners and maybe a sample pad for sounds that are hard to reproduce mechanically in a live setting.

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

Never really thought about that. My tracking room has all the tactile stuff like drums, cymbals and analog gear, whereas my mixing space is at home and strictly software. Perhaps some of the elaborate software I use would be more fun, if it was hardware. But I don’t care because I could not afford it anyway.

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

In today’s used gear internet cycle, it’s easy to sell and rebuy stuff. However, I really regret selling a Noble&Cooley Piccolo Maple snare drum I bought used for cheap. I sold it for another snare and since then I ask myself: Why? Then there was this big Sonor SQ2 high end kit I ordered when that line was first released. It was a great sounding instrument, however the wait was really long and during that time I began switching to smaller kits, so when it finally arrived it felt massively oversized.
Things got even worse, because when I tried to cut the air vent into the resonant head of the bass drum, I slipped off and cut my thumb so badly that I had to drive to the hospital. So I had a brand new, oversized kit, that I could not even play for three weeks.

But I have a story with a happy end, too! A few years ago I regret selling my Pearl Masters drumkit I bought new when I was 16. I contacted the guy who bought it from me back then and he agreed to sell it back to me. After 18 years. That kit sounds so good and I still use it regularly.

Pearl Drums

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

Broken lamp percussion. Not to be played by hand!

That’s a tough question. There certainly is some piece of gear I produced the most beats, with but that might not necessarily be the one that inspires me the most. However there are things that are part of my setup almost all the time. For example that quirky single tension pancake aluminum drum from Sugar Percussion. That’s a funky piece of gear with a stunningly versatile sound – at least for my stuff. Recently I found out that a broken IKEA lamp I accidentally killed with one bash, gives me a lot of inspiration. And that’s true for both the intact and broken condition.

Pancake snare

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

I would probably treat my room with acoustic elements.

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

It’s soft mallets, no matter which brand. I love the broad sound and the tamed transients, but the way I use them (hard hits on cymbals, rimshots etc.) they never hold up well for longer than a few weeks. That’s really annoying…and expensive. But I simply cannot live without them.

Mallets

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

I once discovered that plastic bottles and metal nut cans are not only great for carrying around water and nuts, but also act as great sound bending tools. Another cool discovery was the doorway to my studio. I found out that it doesn’t only act as a decent doorway, but a very exciting and dirty (and cheap!) reverb device. Pretty cool!

Bottle Phaser
Natural Reverb

Artist or Band name?

Maxbeatwerk

Genre?

Electro pop, hiphop, experimental, industrial, remote work for basically every genre

Selfie?

Max Gebhardt and the rabbit finger

Where are you from?

I am from Bremen, Germany.

How did you get into music?

My parents are both music lovers. When I was a kid my dad played the saxophone in a bebop band. He regularly „ordered“ me in front of my parent’s stereo to listen to Charlie Parker, Don Ellis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, my mom also played classical music to me. Then at age 13, I visited my cousin, whose brother had a drumkit. Although he was not at home at the time my aunt allowed me to try it out. The rest of my stay must have been a nightmare for everyone except for me, because it was impossible to make me stop banging on those drums. After I got home my parents had no choice, I had to have my own kit. It was a beat up Gretsch from the 70s.

What still drives you to make music?

Music!

[Editor: Yes!]

How do you most often start a new track?

I modify parts of my kit until I „hear“ something exciting. Or create something from my little instrument collection. Many drummers play the best when their kits are set up exactly the way they are used to. But at some point I found out that it pushes me when the drums and cymbals are set up somehow weird or odd. This approach is certainly not the best when you have to play a certain routine, but for my work mode it’s great. Sometimes it feels natural from the get go, but often enough I have to really learn my „inventions“. You don’t see it in the videos, but almost any horizontal motion interferes with the physical playing balance because it messes with gravity. The same goes for let’s say a bottle on a bass drum beater. It looks easy, but it changes the feel drastically to the point where my stuff is almost unplayable. These breaking points are where I become creative.

How do you know when a track is finished?

My mix place is at my appartement. At some point I turn up the volume, go to the kitchen and if it still feels good while hearing it from the coffeemaker I know it’s finished.

Show us your current studio

Max Gebhardt Photo:Ben Eichle
A slam of snares

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Be fearless! Sounds easy, but it took me years to listen to my inner voices and apply what they say to what I am doing. Another great advice came from drummer Jojo Mayer who said something like: „don’t aim for perfection, but instead for clarity“. I don’t know if that’s an original quote, but it is powerful.

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

www.maxbeatwerk.com

[Editor: Max also have a lovely Instagram chock full of weird beats and odd noises. Check it out instagram.com/maxbeatwerk]