Colleen – See Silly Shot’s Synth Sounds

[Editor: I remember listening to The Golden Morning Breaks back in the mid 00’s and being completely mesmerized. It was and is for me personally an album that influenced me greatly and expanded the landscape of my musical interests. Therefore it’s with great, great pleasure that I can present this nerdy and odd interview with the artist Colleen]

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

Moogerfooger MF104M – Photo: Cecile Schott


This is a really tough one. I love switching in rhythm the short/long switch of the Moogeerfooger MF-104M analog delay, as it produces a change in tone (darker on the long setting, brighter on the short one) which can really sound amazing (you can hear this effect very clearly on my song “Holding Horses” from my album Captain of None).

Moogerfooger Grandmother – Photo: Cecile Schott

But I am also madly in love with opening and closing the cutoff knob on the filter of both the Moogerfooger Lowpass Filter and the Moog Grandmother: I love that this can be the subtlest, slowest rise to build tension and suspense (“Hidden in the Current” on my last album The Tunnel and the Clearing) or totally wild and angry (middle section of “Implosion-Explosion”, also on my last album). The expressive capacity of the Moog filters really leaves me speechless.

Moogerfooger MF 101 – Cecile Schott

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

Roland Space Echo Re201 and furry buddy – Cecile Schott

The Roland RE-201 Space Echo transforms sound in a truly magical way (when I first started using mine in December 2019, two images came to my mind: sending the sound on a space rocket into outer space, or having stardust sprinkled on the sounds). If it could magically be made to be 100% reliable for years without the need for revision, that would be incredible – then again, it goes against the very nature of its mechanism, so I know that this is a bit like asking for the weather to be perfect all the time: not possible.

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

Concert in Chiquita Room 23 May 2021 – Photo LiLINTERNA

Since I have decided to stop playing live for the foreseeable future and have only one last show planned abroad (Kingsplace, London), I will not have to think too much – except for that one show – about the conundrum of travelling internationally with heavy, fragile, vintage – and even super rare in the case of the Elka Drummer One – gear. Fully-working Drummer Ones for sale are so rare that you need to be on a waiting list if you are hoping to buy one, so if your unit is damaged, delayed, lost or stolen during travel, it would be impossible to find a replacement (in fact, had I decided to go on tour for this album, my plan was to order a digital custom replica of the Drummer One – which would also have been its own challenge to make).

Studio and cat buddy – Still from forthcoming documentary – Photo: Luis Torroja

For the last two albums, I had found a sweet spot in terms of making albums that were voluntarily restricted in terms of gear, but didn’t feel restrictive at all in terms of musical and sound possibilities, which meant I could go on tour on my own with all the necessary gear and play the albums live (something that was much harder to do, or even impossible, for my earlier work).

For Captain of None: treble viola da gamba + an array of various looping, delay and octaver pedals.

For A Flame my Love, a Frequency: 2 Critter and Guitari synth + 2 Moogerfoogers + Soundcraft mixing desk. However, that was hard to do physically, with me carrying more than half of my body weight across the world, and you’re never safe from delayed luggage, failing gear, etc.

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

Assembly in the DAW – Acid. Still from forthcoming documentary – Photo: Luis Torroja

Not really a software person myself: I must be one of very few professional musicians who are still using the Acid software to record their music, and these days I am using it purely as a recording and mixing device. On the last album I don’t use a single plugin, everything is played and recorded live through either my Soundcraft mixing desk or my Scarlett 18i20 Focusrite soundcard or both, with only a couple of minor edits where takes needed to be joined. The only exception to this very pure recording process is vocals, where I still need to join takes.

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

Not really: I always think and research for a really long time before buying anything, so usually I don’t have any bad surprises, and the opposite even happens: I’m so happy with my purchase that I wonder why I thought about it for so long! And because of this I usually don’t have to sell anything.

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

Impossible for me to reply to that, as truly every album I’ve made has been so different in terms of instrumentation. My 3rd and 4th album couldn’t have existed without my bass viola da gamba, my 4th and 5th without my treble viola da gamba. The Moogerfooger pedals – which I started to add from Captain of None onwards – were a real game changer for me, and in terms of electronics were my introduction to analogue gear, and that was a game changer.

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

I started making music with a simple classical guitar, and honestly, if I were to start over, I probably wouldn’t change anything: there is something humble and honest about an acoustic guitar that still resonates with me, even if I haven’t played one in years. It’s also beautiful that it doesn’t need electricity: should the planet get even worse than it is right now, I think that acoustic instruments and the human voice would play a great role in maintaining music-making alive.

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

Can’t think of any annoying piece of gear of mine, I love them all.

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

Not sure if it’s “surprising” as such, but Soundgas – from whom I bought both my Elka Drummer One and my Space Echo – give this tip of inserting a blank plug in the “from PA” input on the Space Echo in order to get a 100% wet signal, and that is so much better than just getting the mixed mono output, since you can then play with panning between your original dry sound source and the 100% wet signal, giving you a beautiful stereo field.

Elka Drummer One and Roland Space Echo – Still from forthcoming documentary – Photo Luis Torroja

Artist or Band name?

Colleen

Genre?

Proudly genreless. I honestly have no clue what my music is supposed to be called. It’s too pop to be experimental, too experimental to be pop; when I used only acoustic instruments but processed them, it was labelled “electronica”, but now that I truly make electronic music, I still think what I do doesn’t sound especially like “electronic music”. One thing I do know is that I make songs. So sometimes I just say “I make weird songs”.

Selfie?

Thanks but no thanks.

Workshop in Chiquita Room 23 May 2021 – Photo: LiLINTERNA

Where are you from?

Montargis, small French town 100 km south of Paris.

How did you get into music?

The Beatles’ “A day in the life” changed my life forever. I was about 13.

What still drives you to make music?

Undying love for it. The desire to see if I can still surprise myself. The desire to learn. Feeling like I actually contribute something useful to people other than myself, even if music is not really recognized as socially useful (I think that’s a mistake, and that music globally contributes to our mental health).

How do you most often start a new track?

Putting my hands on the instruments or gear.

Moogerfoogers – Photo: Cecile Schott

How do you know when a track is finished?

A combination of 3 inputs: one that is purely musical, the other two are: intellectual and emotional.

Show us your current studio

Colleen Studio – Photo: Cecile Schott

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Not creative advice as such, but more an analysis of the difficulties faced by artists, this 1927 quote by Brancusi: “It is not the work itself, it is to keep oneself in condition to do it, that is difficult.” So true at every level: emotional, physical, mental.

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

My 7th album The Tunnel and the Clearing, out on Thrill Jockey Records.

colleenplays.org
instagram.com/colleenplays
facebook.com/colleenplays

bandcamp.com/colleen


[Editor: Which artist has been a huge influence or inspiration to you? Answers in the comments]

William Stewart – W1llys

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

Uher Speed Knob

The speed selector on my Uher. The older model has a tiny gear shift for selecting the speed, but the new one just has a knob; a knob with a nice feel and weight. When you move it, you can feel the shifting of the gears inside as the mechanisms thunk into place. It’s immensely satisfying.

Uher Speed Lever
Uher Tape recorders

My second place choice is the hi-hat decay knob on my 808 clone. Riding that during a groove is endless fun.

808 Hihat decay knob

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

It might be the SE-02. The first synth I really learned how to use was the SH-09. It taught me how flexible a simple architecture can be, and how rewarding learning how each piece of a synth works together is. It taught me that the controls are as much a part of the instrument as the keys. Ever since then, no synth has been as fun to play as a solid monosynth.

Roland SE-02

The SE-02’s very much in the same vein, and it seems to be able to scratch every sonic itch I have. The delay’s grainy in all the right ways. The filter has a character that doesn’t make me think “Moog” for some reason. The filter has grit, filth, and somehow feels cold. Not machine cold, but unfeeling in the same that the universe is. When that filter sweeps just right it feels like the dawn, it feels like the slow and sudden heat as the sun rises in the morning. I love this thing. There’s magic in the way the envelopes and filter interact with the delay.

There are three things I’d change. The first thing I’d change is the knob taper. It’s exponential and it makes playing the knobs an extremely delicate procedure. The second is I really wish I had full ADSRs. That extra level of control would be much more welcome than panel controls for portamento. The third is the sequencer. It would be a lot nice if I could have longer sequences, and I really wish the sequence transpose could latch.

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

The obvious answer here is the OP-Z. It’s fun, quick, and easy to use. It’s also super easy to take on a plane. Making a full track with just this is surprisingly easy and fun. It definitely caught me off guard with how user friendly and fun it is to use.

Teenage Engineering OP-Z

Realistically and historically, though, my preference is to bring either the Volca FM and Mini KP or the Roland SE-02. When I sit down to play I’m not typically trying to write or work on a song. Usually I just want to explore a sound or a musical phrase. The SE-02 and Volca FM are excellent for sound exploration. If I want to make a minimalist composition these are my go-to pieces of gear, and fortunately they’re small enough for a carry-on.

Korg Volca FM and Kaoss Pad Mini

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

I am (un)fortunately a luddite. When I record or make music it’s almost entirely analog. One thing I wish I could do with my hardware setup is automate parameter controls. There are ways to do this if I went modular. If I used software I know I could automate some of the parameters of my physical instruments. Bringing Windows, Mac, or Linux into my setup would violate a lot of what my setup’s built on: spontaneity. I can write and record a song relatively quickly and easily, without worrying about system updates or getting sucked down the black hole that is the internet.

Analog recording

This is typically just called a DAWless setup. But I really don’t like that nomenclature. It defines a musical approach as being the absence of something, in a way. Really I just like playing instruments and don’t want to try and play a computer like an instrument.

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

DSI Prophet 6

The Prophet 6 is a rare animal. I’ve bought a lot of gear that I regretted, but this one the only one I’m keeping. It sounds great and it’s super flexible, but it has a lot of little design choices that drive me nuts. The problem is it sounds sooooo good. So, when I use it I love the sounds I get, but I always find myself frustrated by something.

It seems like it’s made for people working in studios who want to lay down tracks, or sample its lush sounds to use in a DAW. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to be made for my workflow.

DSI Prophet 6

But I am going to keep it around because it sounds ridiculously nice. The sound is so rich and deep I forget how annoying it was to program it. It’s like hiking up a mountain with uncomfortable shoes. It’s a real pain at times, but the views you get make the discomfort worth it.

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

The Volca FM is definitely my most inspiring. It’s endlessly versatile, and has more features under its hood than it has any right to for its size and price point. It has the wild and wiry sounds FM is known for, and the limited controls on the surface are deceptive in their simplicity. It’s easy to rely on presets, and tweaking the few controls on the surface gets you tons of control. It also plays nicely with any effect you want to pair it with.

Korg Volca FM

It’s an instrument I have a love-hate relationship with, though. I’ve owned three of them. Whenever I try to dive into the parameters to do some deep editing, it make me want to toss it out the window. The balance of features, and how easy it is to switch between playing modes to introduce variations makes it really fun to play.

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

The Jazzmaster. Even though any synthesizer can run sonic circles around any guitar/pedal combo, it feels more emotional to play than any synth or drum machine. Fiddling around with the different intervals on the neck taught me everything I know about music, too. It’s cliche as hell, but playing a guitar with some fuzz and delay could keep me happy forever.

Fender Jazzmaster

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

The Zoia is hands down the most useful and inconvenient piece of gear I own. If I have an idea that I can’t achieve with anything else, the Zoia can usually get me close enough. It does what it does better than anything else I know of, but I wouldn’t want to use it with a band.

Empress Effects Zoia

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

Envelopes are surprisingly underrated. Clones of “good” ones don’t really get talked about, and people don’t really seem to covet and worship the exact curves of one over another’s.

No two synths I’ve played have had the same envelopes. Each one has its own type of pluck, swell, and decay. It feels like they’re what transform a synth into a playable instrument. I wish there was more emphasis on modulating and controlling their parameters. Slight modifications to the decay of an adsr can completely transform a bland sequence. They really breath life into every sound.


Artist or Band name?

Willy

Genre?

I’ve never been good at sticking to a genre. It seems to waffle between synthwave, cinematic, harsh noise, and synth-pop.

Selfie?

William ‘Willy’ Stewart

Where are you from?

Benson, Utah

How did you get into music?

My mom signed me up to play violin in my middle school’s orchestra. After that it was relatively easy to play bass in my friend’s band. From there I was hooked.

What still drives you to make music?

It’s an emotional thing mainly. It helps me experience my emotions. Lately when I sit down to play it’s after a rough day, and it helps me process what’s happened. Other times, it’s when I’m feeling numb, and playing helps me open up and experience my emotions. This is essentially why I haven’t recorded very much music. It’s usually an expression of anxiety, depression, or fear. So, I don’t really want to live in that moment long enough to record it.

How do you most often start a new track?

Most often it’s with a riff or a phrase. I’ll have an idea for a sound, or find one via knob twiddling, and then I see what notes feel good with that sound. Once I’ve got something that makes me happy, I start seeing what other sounds I can layer in to compliment the original sound.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When I can listen to it without wincing, and it doesn’t feel empty. If I can listen without wincing it means I don’t have anything to redo, and as long as it sounds “full” I don’t need to add anything else.

Show us your current studio

William’s studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Play every day. Some variant of that’s what I hear all the time from everyone, but there really is no better advice. In my twenty years of music making experience, this advice has always held true. If you’re not inspired then try learning theory, practicing your technique, try reproducing real world sounds with synthesizers, try something outside of your comfort zone, or just have fun making noises. Keep at it every day to keep your tools sharp, then you’ll be ready to act when you actually have something to play.

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

The only places I regularly post anything are my Instagram and tiktok.


Paul Cousins – Reel-in-Vibes

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

The play switch on my Akai X-100D reel-to-reel. It’s extremely sturdy and has a very rewarding click. It’s 56 years old and works perfectly, which just blows my mind. There’s something pleasing about having to use physical energy to make sound happen.

Akai X-100D reel-to-reel

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

Roland Juno 6

A slight cheat on this answer. I thought my Juno 6 was somehow inferior to the Juno 60 (which is what I truly wanted) because it doesn’t have memory patches. That would’ve been my answer, but I’ve grown to love and appreciate the fact that the instrument exists as it is – whatever you want from it you have to make happen. It’s a productive way to learn how to use a synth because there are fewer shortcuts. See also anything pre Prophet-5.

Tape machines

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

On writing trips I just take a laptop and good headphones. So AKG K701s get packed!

AKG K701

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

I’d love a software version of the Empress Echosystem, it’s my favorite pedal. And if there were somehow a rackmount version of the Fabfilter Pro-MB I’d be all over it!

Empress Echosystem

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

I once sold a 1973 Gibson EB0 to the bass player from Showaddywaddy. It was a really beautiful bass, no idea why I did that. And the second synth I ever bought was an Alesis something… which I didn’t gel with at all and regretted pretty quickly.

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

The Roland Space Echo RE-201. It’s just the most amazing piece of engineering, half a century old and it can still create magic from nowhere. I use it any chance I get.

Roland Space Echo RE-201

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

A good set of monitors. I think this is the most valuable piece of equipment you can own. Currently I’m loving the PMC Result 6.

PMC Result 6

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

I’d have to say the amp powering my Yamaha NS10’s, it buzzes slightly but I always need to use them. It’s on my to do list!

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

Watkins Copicat

I think using the pre amps of echo machines is often overlooked. Just driving a guitar or bass through a Copicat or Space Echo is the most awesome tone. Same with reel-to-reel, they can be overloaded to produce amazing results.


Artist or Band name?

Paul Cousins

Genre?

Ambient, Tape, Experimental

Selfie?

Paul Cousins

On tour in Mordor

Where are you from?

London

How did you get into music?

I’d been singing and playing bass in bands for a number of years before I started making electronic music.

What still drives you to make music?

Finding a point of creative satisfaction.

How do you most often start a new track?

I’ve recently got into writing a short piece, transferring it to tape loops, and playing it back through various effects or in some obtuse setup. The original piece comes back like a weird photocopy of its former self. There’s something about transferring music to a physical format that revives it from a potentially anodyne digital state and gives it a different life. 

How do you know when a track is finished?

You stop wanting to mix it.

Show us your current studio

The organized chaos of my studio is frankly an embarrassment. Instead here’s a heavily curated corner featuring my new upright piano and an Akai 4000DS.

Upright piano and an Akai 4000DS

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Music is the silence between the notes. Which Debussy said over a century ago, but has never lost relevance!

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

A recent 20 min ambient reel-to-reel mix: https://youtu.be/_g7Kurux36w

[Editor: Paul also has a quite lovely and lively instagram @paulcousinsmusic which I don’t think you should miss out on]