Hors Sujet – MusicMaker & FXbuilder

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

Definitely the frequency knob on the Randy’s Revenge from Fairfield circuitry. The pedal has a ton of amazing different sounds, I feel like they chose so perfectly the right potentiometer value to cover such a wide-range amount of sounds for the ring modulator and for the tremolo. Plus, having a big knob makes it even more enjoyable to use, and for once the pointy knob also adds to the feeling of super-precise setting. I’m not that much a pointy-knob guy (just because of its look), but Fairfield circuitry nailed it on all of their pedals : their potentiometers truly have a super precise feeling when changing the settings, even by doing super small adjustments.

Fairfield Circuitry Randy

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

I’m really happy about the guitar pedalboard that I’ve build. I like going through years with different tastes, buying and selling gear to find the ones that fit the best for what I like to do. My project went from guitar only to guitar + reel-to-reel machines + tape players + circuit bent toys + keyboards, so I also had to adjust my guitar rig to go along. I can sample a lot, play with modulation pedals, I have different textures of fuzz/overdrive, two pedals that can sustain notes and creates drones…. everything fits into the custom wooden flight case that I’ve build years ago in my tiny student room (musician’s neighbors always suffer I have to say!), it’s somehow a bit crooked and it wears some traces of the past, but I can’t stop trying to improve it ! And if I had something to add it would definitely be more stutter/glitch/looping pedals (I admit I’m lurking on the Stammen[n] from Drolo for a long time now, as much as the Bloopers from Chase Bliss Audio).

Neat treat of a pedalboard

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

When I play live, I usually bring everything. That means guitars, amps, pedalboards, tape players, synths, drums sometimes, tape/toys/keys and its dedicated pedalboard. And just by reading my answer again I understand why I don’t play that much live! And for holidays, I like to bring a small Zoom sound recorder, and a walkman to capture low fidelity sounds of friends and nature. It’s a bit heavy and it some precious space, but I do the same with photography (I always bring twin-lens reflex during holidays).

Danelectro BackTalk reverse delay

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

I don’t have anything digital, I don’t work with plugins & vsts. I record on a multi-tracks DAW of course, but everything has to start as a live composition that I could be able to play solo live, so I try to get rid of the computer as much as possible when it comes to music composition.

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

I regret selling the Danelectro backtalk reverse delay years ago (the old version one), I needed money back then but I’d love to have it back now, even if the pedal is super big, and if the effect can be found on other gear… I really liked its silly look.

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

Multiple ones of course, but the main one that help me to find a new way of composing was the Tascam 414 (a 4-track tape player) when it came to entering into tape loops. I mainly use it to support now the guitar and other instrument, but when I started with it I couldn’t stop making tape loops of anything around me. I still do, but now that I have find a better use of the instrument, I can still notice how everything often starts from it.

Tascam Portastudio

And tiny mention for the ehx freeze pedal for drones. Amazingly, having one drone and multiples pedals plug right after it open so many possibilities. I love how one sustained note can be developped for hours.

Ehx Freeze

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

Learning violin or piano. I’ve decided to add piano in my compositions just couple of months ago (I bought one last year), and the possibilities that are in front of me amazes me everytime. I also bought a violin years ago, and only use it (as the piano) to experiment stuff since I’m learning how to play with them. But I can’t stop having an accoustic set in mind with prepared instruments. A kit consisting of a piano, violin, loopers and tape machines would be something I’d love to start over with.

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

Probably the whammy 4. But just because it’s too big, it take the size of 2 pedals, and I don’t use it that much except for having an octave below and for down-tuning (sounds amazingly powerful when coupled with a fuzz). I’ve opened it once to see how the pedal was working, and immediately got surprised by the expression pedal’s system. I won’t spoil it (if you have a whammy 4, do it if you’re experienced with opening stuff… I don’t wanna be responsible if you break something!) but this tiny detail also changed my decision to sell it for a smaller version, just because I loved what I saw. And also, every time when I was posting a picture of my pedalboard on a forum or social media, I instantly got that question : “Why do you put your whammy so high? Isn’t that hard to reach it?”. At a point that it started to be my own meme, and some people that followed me were openly asking it again, and again, and again as a joke. The unreachable whammy guy.

Digitech Whammy

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

Nothing too fancy, but recently the unsynchronized loops on the Ditto X4 got me super excited, because I love looping a small phrase on two separated tracks at the same time and stopping the recording with a super slight delay. That way, the two samples will slightly drift from each other and create a whole new rhythm. I’ve always loved doing that with tapes, but trying it as well on a pedal was something new, since I didn’t have a multi-tracks looper. I edited and posted a video on my youtube channel called “Asynchronous loops” where I explain how I play with this technique.


Artist or Band name?

Hors Sujet

Genre?

Instrumental ambient/drone

Selfie?

That’s the only picture that I don’t take unfortunately.

Hors Sujet

Where are you from?

Toulouse, France.

How did you get into music?

My parents obviously have put me on a good path. My father, grand father and great grandfather were drummers, and as a kid I once saw some picture of my mom & dad playing bass and drums with friends, that got me thinking “What would it feel to be in a musical band”. There are some picture of me behind a drumset at age 1, and my grand-father gave me his drum set when I was around 12. I only had one band in my youth, a grindcore band (I was behind the drums), then I’ve decided to start Hors Sujet around 2005.

What still drives you to make music?

I realize that everytime I wanna compose something, I wanna say something or scream it out loud, but I don’t feel able to do so. Mostly inner questions about love, solitude, injustice, anger and desire. So maybe not finding answers to those questions, but trying to liberate a bit of the energy that drives those questions to understand them more.

How do you most often start a new track?

I usually start with unexpected ideas. Some images, a feeling, an emotion, a trip, a book, a voice, anything that can produce in my brain some changes, some new air to breath. I love that feeling of having ideas out of nowhere, and having a carnival brain that never stops help. Wether it happens when I’m on my bike, in the bathroom, in my bed right before to go to bed, I try to write down everything, or record my voice singing a melody, a story…just not to forget them. I’m not that much of a rehearsal person who practice hours before finding something that I like or that could work. Most of the time when it comes, I’m away from any musical gear. Ideas are a real magical moment for me when it happens, when you stop walking just because something caught your attention inside, and when you’re in a hurry to go back home just to try to put in music what you have been thinking about. That’s usually how I start to compose. After laying down a couple of things that sound like what I had in mind, it can be pretty fast to develop afterward.

How do you know when a track is finished?

Things are obviously different when I record for professional contracts or for myself as Hors Sujet. I try to repeat to myself “Better is the worst enemy of good” most of the time when mixing a track. Because I always want to add an extra arrangement, to record something that will make a difference. As the common saying goes : the only rule is that there are no rules. Wether it can work for you in 4 months or in 4 days, then do what’s good for you.
I’ve worked once on an album for a year and this is something I try to avoid as much as possible. Every time that I start a new release I decide a deadline (so also a deadline for each track as well, to have a small agenda for myself), that way I can choose listening days in advance, so during the recording process I can let a track rest for a couple of days, then listen to it again and make a todo list of things that I have to correct/re-arrange/delete/record again, and I repeat the operation multiples times, until the todo list gets smaller and smaller.

Show us your current studio

Hors Sujet Studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

I don’t know if it’s related to creation, but I’ve met a sound engineer and a composer a couple of years ago that I’m now close friends with, who both work in a local recording studio, and shared with me their point of view on the music industry after years of work. Finding the proper “use” of your art. That moment when you decide to make a living out of music can be decisive, specially because all of the conditions which can sometimes result from it (way of life, intermittent work, financial issues, depression…), and they totally helped me to focus on the fact that it’s a job like any other job.

There’s a magical liberty of creating music and building a lifetime artwork, but it requiers hard work, dedication, constant efforts, humility, inspiration and sometimes perfectionism.

Talking about this condition helps a lot, in my case being in a one-man project taught me a lot of things and I’m thankful that I’ve also met great minds to help me go forward on my musical journey.

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

My latest album : “Avec la distance”

I post most of my music as Hors Sujet, and the handcrafted effect that I build as TATAKI. So you’ll find my music, my musical video clips, things that I build, demos of circuit-bent gear, and some other videos that I make when I feel like it (road trip, thoughts) here: https://www.youtube.com/user/horssujet21

My bandcamp to support me: https://horssujet.bandcamp.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…
]


Julia Bondar – Fearless One-Taker

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

Endorphin.es Furthrrrr Generator Mood index knob

If you’ve ever heard the metallic scream from Endorphin.es Furthrrrr Generator Mood index knob, it will not be difficult to recognize that I am a fan of it and even more during live performances.
MOOD INDEX knob allows thru-zero job by modulator or FG modulating the carrier that plays the lead melody and unite both sounds in one. Especially I love using it with the additional Furthrrrrr wavefolder and that particular metallic sound is achieved with the Strong Zero VCO core. I do use Mood index knob gently during my studio recordings, but I do not shy to put it on maximum at peak hour on my live performances. People tend to love more crazy, dynamic, untamed and raw sounds at the concerts. This trick became my signature sound at some point.

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

It was a long way of trials and errors to build my live system I have now (left on the picture below), which I feel like it is ‘almost’ perfect.

The only thing I would change is the size of some particular modules. The features they give for my set up are not that significant and I still love and need them but the size and weight make me want to get rid of some particular modules. I also try to avoid thru-hole built DIY modules and they add a lot in the final weight of the case. I think with modern DSP powers manufacturers have to rethink the formats of previous editions to make them more ergonomic and at the same time reduce the use and waste of components needed to produce new gear.

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

It might sound offbeat, but I would not bring any set up on holidays for a number of reasons.

First, if it is not a laptop, it will add a few more kilos to your luggage and will make you dependent on belongings. When I travel, I prefer to have a minimum of things with me to move around and discover new places. It is also related to my main job as I am dealing with modular gear on a daily basis, which I am happy about. In those rare vacations moments, I want to disconnect from the electronic world.

Another reason, I have a hard time focusing unless I am in my studio. Maybe it will change one day. But if I would have, lets say a month of vacation, then I would bring with me my 6kg live system… which I still plan to reduce to at least 0.5kg less weight. I could still make sketches, rehearse and advance the live program and train on better transitions and will still be able to give occasional live concerts.

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

It is impossible for me to answer this question, as I never ever used any software for producing my music. I mean of course we all use DAWs for multitrack recording and with plugins for mixing/mastering, but every track of mine you have heard was recorded live in one take. I love real interaction with the instrument.
I know many musicians want to have more modular gear available in VCV rack, as it brings more opportunities at less expense. The fact of interaction with real instrument and aesthetic pleasure is immense. Moreover, the musician can reproduce his/her work on stage with real raw sound, instead of playing your own track as a DJ.  

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

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.

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

Endorphin.es Shuttle system and Roland system 1M.

The Shuttle System was the first, it’s where I started my journey. As it has all the  double blocks and lots of controls, I found out a way to make a two-voice patch.
I’ve used one part for the bass and another for the lead. I added a drum kit from iPad’s Patterning and voilà – I had everything I needed to make a proper minimal composition. With this approach, I recorded my whole album Blck Noir.
Later, Andreas, my boyfriend brought me a Roland System-1M and I did not like it at the beginning, as it was not easy for me to get used to new a interface. It always takes a long time to integrate new gear into my music. Once I took a risk and brought the System-1M to a performance and it worked out super well in a club. It is a dedicated bass voice, so it can do its job, while I can advance the Shuttle System patch.
Since then these two pieces have become the skeleton for my music.

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

A better studio layout.
A comfortable setting is what every artist has to have to be productive.

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

Strymon Magneto

Magneto from Strymon. It is too big for my travel case, but it creates this perfect, moody rumble, that I just can’t get rid of.

9. What is the most surprising tip/trick/techniques that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?? 

Eurorack is all about surprises, but you have to be a real gear junkie to find the easter eggs.
Manufacturers usually hide many nice utility features in the modules and the more you work with it, the more you discover. We did a hidden noise generator in our Godspeed+ module and even described that feature on the first page of the manual, but still received many support emails, why sometimes there a noise coming out.

My new live performance patch involves many of my own pre-recorded sampled loops, layered along with drums, all synchronized by CV. It is probably a few per track, so around 15-20 samples per program to be triggered at the proper moment. I have decided to automatically change them according to CV retrieved from velocity of the note that triggers the sample start. That immediately brought the problem, as samples triggered immediately and only afterwards, did they change under CV. Some research and an update of Erica Sample Drum introduced trigger delay. Just a random 20ms delay immediately solved the issue.
This was a big revelation for me to discover this. I could not even imagine it was possible and I spent a week researching and programming it to make it automatically played with the change of each pattern.


Artist or Band name?

Julia Bondar.

Genre?

Techno, Electro, EBM.

Selfie?

Where are you from?

Ukrainian-born, based in Barcelona.

How did you get into making music?

Desire to make creative friends.

What still drives you to make music?

Feedback.

How do you most often start at new track?

By finding a nice groove between bass and drums.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When it starts to be annoying. [Editor: Ha!]

Show us your current studio

Julia’s Studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Learn by doing © David Lynch.

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

EP “I Want Forbidden”

For more, go to: http://www.juliabondar.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…
]


Tom Whitwell – Mr MusicThingModular

[Editor: I gotta preface this interview with the fact that I’m very pleased that Mr. Whitwell has agreed to be interviewed. His blog, MusicThing, was a wonderful resource and a great inspiration to me back in the heady days of the late ’00’s… and one of the original reasons I wanted to start a blog for nerding music gear. So without further ado…]

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

So many: the start button on a Technics 1200, the Intensity knob on a Princeton Reverb, the rotary mode switches on a Makenoise QMMG, the aluminium mod wheel on a Nord G2.

Princeton amp and Telecaster with a deadly tremolo

Of things I’ve designed myself, I’m still proud of the random/lock knob on a Turing Machine, the way it steers between randomness and repetition. And the Station knob on a Music Thing Radio Music is always pleasing, you never know quite what you’re going to get. 

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

A Wurlitzer 200A. I’d known about them forever – that sound on Supertramp and Beck and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’ and so many other records. I first met one for real in a second hand shop in New York. I stared at it, then finally asked the woman in the shop if I could try it. They came over and turned it on, I played a chord and that incredible sound came out, the feel of the wooden keys, the two speakers, it’s like a hug. I bought one a few years later from a guy in London and have gradually upgraded it with a new amp board from RetroLinear, replacement legs and pedal. It’s the only vintage thing I own – about the same age as me. It would be improved if I was a better piano player.

Wurlitzer 200A with friends at the beach

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

My favourite place to research and design circuits is on a laptop in a beach bar, watching my family playing, completely relaxed with no pressure, a cold beer, and the ability to spend hours trying to work something out. Those ideas often lead nowhere, but turn into things years later.

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

The Moog Model D app is great. I’d love a hardware version of that. I’ve just built a version of the external input section for my modular, because it’s such a cool effect. 

Eurorack modular and patch cables

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

When I was about 14 I bought a Korg MS10 for £75, then sold it to a friend for £50. [Editor: Ouch!]

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

Eagle is the software I use to design circuit boards. You start by drawing the schematic and end up routing all the traces on the circuit board. There’s a long learning curve, but it now feels like a superpower. I can have an idea like “what if I had the Minimoog drive circuit in a 4hp euro module?” and have the thing my hand a few weeks later.

Big knobs and Motu UltraLite mk4 soundcard

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

A laptop or an iPad and some headphones. 

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

I have a love/hate relationship with coding. At the moment I’m enjoying the Monome Norns (I have the DIY Fates version). It’s clever and powerful, but also it’s coding, so a bit annoying.

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

Always feedback everything. Whether it’s feeding back the reverb sends into themselves in Ableton, or self-switching feedback loops using the Turing Machine Vactrol Mix Expander, it’s always always interesting & unexpected.

Nagra 4.2 with books

Artist or Band name?

Tom Whitwell / Music Thing Modular 

Genre?

Solder 

Where are you from?

South East London 

How did you get into music electronics?

I’d always been interested in music gear. In 2005-8 I wrote a blog called Music Thing, which was a celebration of gear for the sake of gear. In 2009 I got an arduino kit and started making guitar pedals, then in 2011 I bought a small Eurorack system and started making modules for myself. 

What still drives you to make music electronics?

I keep having ideas for things that I want. 

How do you most often start a new circuit?

I normally start with a sketch, sometimes a part of a circuit, or a panel. It’s a very round-and-round process, so there will be sketches, bits of circuits in Eagle, maybe bits of circuit on a breadboard, articles or papers to read. 

How do you know when a ‘thing’ is finished?

When there’s nothing else to remove. [Editor: Sounds like a Dieter Rams fan]

Go on… show us your current studio!

A window in a studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

If in doubt, leave it out.

Promote your thing…. Throw us a link

[Editor: Mr. Whitwell has a severe case of British modesty and won’t self-promote. So I’ll be cheeky and do it for him. Find his eurorack modules here musicthing.co.uk. Also, leave a comment if you ever read his blog back in the day?]