[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Artist or Band name?
Tom Whitwell / Music Thing Modular
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!
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?]