1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?
I’m gonna go with the Monome Teletype’s single “param” knob. It might be a weird answer, since this knob can do whatever you want it to do, but personally I almost always have it mapped to a global “probability” setting in my Teletype patches. Probability that a trigger will pass through, probability that triggers might jumble and be routed to an unexpected output, etc. I consider this a bit of a secret weapon, and discovering this was a moment when I was really feeling like I was figuring out how to work modular into my music. With this single knob, I can control the “energy” of a patch, taking it from sparse and mysterious to lively and animated with a quick flick.
2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?
I’ll say the Elektron Machinedrum. It sounds amazing, and I feel like I barely need to edit and mix the sounds that come off of it, but it’s definitely dated. It doesn’t have all of the niceties of the newer Elektron boxes, like the Rytm mkII or Digitakt. I find it really easy to edit the wrong track, and it unfortunately doesn’t have the modern Elektron sequencer with trig conditions and microtiming. I’ve even considered sequencing it externally… But the sounds themselves are totally worth keeping it around, even with these limitations.
3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?
Historically, I’ve taken the Digitakt. It’s easy enough to throw in a backpack, and you can even record off it without an interface via Overbridge. For whatever reason though, I usually tend to be finishing projects while traveling, so it’s often just my laptop and headphones.
4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?
I don’t use a lot of software… I’ll cheat and say that sometimes I wish I had a real piano or Rhodes, as opposed to the VSTs that I use in my music. In terms of hardware, I often wish the Strymon Big Sky was a plugin that I could pull up on the computer. I really just use it as a master send effect from Ableton.
5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?
Most things I find myself regretting selling, I eventually end up buying again. It feels a little silly (and I lose some cash in the process), but sometimes it takes some time away from something to really respect its worth. I’ve sold and re-bought Make Noise Morphagene, Intellijel Metropolis, and I recently bought an ER-301 back from a friend. I did nab a really nice Yamaha electronic drum kit for an utterly insane deal a while back, and ended up passing it on to somebody else when I was living in a small apartment. Now that I’ve got the room for it, I definitely miss it.
I regret buying an Arturia Matrixbrute. Some of the keys broke somewhere along the way, and it’s so heavy and large that it’s been unruly to get it fixed and eventually sell it. I’ll get around to it, but I’m never excited about the idea of lugging it out to the car…
6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?
Probably Morphagene, the same Morphagene that I’ve sold and re-bought haha. Nowadays, it’s genuinely my favorite module and really epitomizes eurorack to me. I never know what it’s gonna do, but I always love what it ends up spitting out, which is a huge part of the fun I have with modular. It’s like my little bandmate that comes up with something interesting and inspiring for me to craft a song with.
7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?
In the same vein as my previous answer, I’d probably start with the Make Noise Tape & Microsound Music Machine. I’ve essentially got this in my system in my rack, purposefully placed right next to each other too. Each module in that system is something that I don’t believe quite exists in the software realm. So I feel like I could do a lot with that system and any DAW for drums, soft synths, effects, etc.
8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?
Pieces of gear that annoy me don’t tend to stick around very long. 🙂 I’ll say the Hologram Electronics Microcosm. I don’t think it’s very flexible, but what it spits out is absolute gold. It feels kind of scared of sounding “bad”, and I frequently find myself wishing I had access to the sounds “between” the settings that it offers. But at the same time, it’s my go-to for spicing up a track, and creating something unexpected. I will say, I think if I didn’t have experience with modular (meaning, having so much experience making bad sounds), I would be totally content with it. But with that experience, it often feels like a box of nice Clouds presets.
9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?
I mentioned the Machinedrum feeling a little primitive, but I’ve figured out a couple tricks here and there that get me where I need to go. One is that I’ve been using the “swing” to make my beats more interesting. The MD doesn’t have microtiming, but you can add swing per step (even on individual tracks), and adjust the amount of swing. I’ll often have fun with punching in a standard beat, adding swing to a couple steps, and then setting the “swing” amount to something extreme like 75%. This way, it might imply a 32nd note in some places, without adjusting the overall sequence timing to be 2x. It’s something that you could easily do with microtiming on something like the Digitakt, but it needs this fun little workaround on something older like the MD.
Some kind of downtempo, cinematic ambient meshed with hip-hop style beats.
“Hey, can you take a picture of me?” in the middle of writing this.
Where are you from?
Outside of Philadelphia, PA (which is where I currently live too!)
How did you get into music?
I started by teaching myself guitar and eventually started making sample-based beats with Ableton in high school. I wanted to trend more towards “composing” than “producing”, so I caught the hardware bug once I realized it could be like commanding your own little orchestra.
What still drives you to make music?
From a musical perspective, I don’t think I can honestly claim that it’s therapeutic or anything like that, but creating something is an activity that I genuinely very deeply enjoy (I suppose this is some form of therapy…). I like creating the music that I want to hear and feel like the world might enjoy. There’s also a sense of pride in creating something that feels very gratifying.
From another perspective, there’s a vast world of instruments that offers a great sense of exploration to me. There’s always a new stone to uncover, a new path to try out, some combination of things that you might never have considered before. Kurt Vonnegut said “we are put on earth to fart around,” and I can say for certain that hardware and modular synthesizers can provide you with a great deal of farting around.
How do you most often start a new track?
Ambience, atmosphere, texture – some kind of ambient wash that becomes the sonic bed for the track. I like to set up a generative bed with something like Morphagene or a granular module, which gives me the “kindling” to find inspiration from and write with. I’ll listen to these beds and hear accidental snippets of chords or melodies – this gives me inspiration to refine those random ideas into something more formalized. Also, I find it very hard to add in texture after the fact, so I like to start with it to keep myself sane.
How do you know when a track is finished?
In line with the previous answer – when I’m working on a track, I’ll hear “whispers” of things to add, little ideas that pop into my head that become a melody, bassline, chord progression, rhythmic element, etc. Once those stop revealing themselves, I take it as my cue to hit record.
Show us your current studio?
Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?
Probably to “invest in happiness”. Suffering from GAS and chasing gear is one thing, but if there’s something you can tell will help you feel creative and make your life more fun and easier, get it. Looking around my studio though, maybe I’ve invested in happiness too much 🙂 But at the end of the day, the only reason I hold onto something is because it makes me happy to use it.
Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.
I just put out a new collaborative EP with my friend Fossilize Me on Mystery Circles! 2 songs each from FM and myself, and one mash-up track. It can be purchased on a 7” vinyl here and is available for streaming under each of our names.
[Editor: Do you have a favorite tip, trick or way of working with any of the gear from this interview?
Then throw us a comment below…]