Yukes – White Ghost beyond the Great Firewall

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

Yamaha MT44 cassette tape recorder
Yamaha MT44 cassette tape recorder

If I’m being honest, the “feather touch technology” buttons on my Yamaha MT44 4-track cassette machine are just… something else entirely.

Back in the 80’s when buttons n’ switches were more mechanical and clicky, a lot of different “options” were lost to the more common ones. What we have here is a thin ribbon beneath a plastic cover with no click. Sounds bad right?

But when you press the button, it causes whatever mechanical function you triggered in the machine to violently come to life somewhere deep within the machine, causing an almost distant haptic shake, despite the button feeling almost unresponsive.

There’s a creative satisfaction to the physical start of a cassette session, of course, but my monkey brain finds some deep satisfaction in how the button feels.

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

Bamboo Xiao and reel-to-reel recorder
Bamboo Xiao and reel-to-reel recorder

My bamboo Xiao, in key of F. We really figured this stuff out 38,000 years ago, didn’t we?

I needed to buy a new xiao when I arrived in Chengdu a few months ago, and got one at a shop that sounded the nicest. I realized it sounded so nice because I bought one in the key of F, not G, so it’s lower with a substantially deeper, woodier sound.

I don’t have any electric gear I consider perfect. I’m a big optimist and love all the gear I have, but there’s always something frustrating, missing, or something lacking that causes desire. Not enough inputs. Too much menu diving. Too complex. Not complex enough.

But the Xiao? Thousands of years of technological advancement and this baby’s not going anywhere.

The only improvement I could ask for is a pickup mic that’s easier to install and doesn’t require a button battery. Those things are so unpredictable.

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

Roland SP404a
Roland SP404a

Gotta go with a classic. My SP404a’s been going with me everywhere. Lightweight, not too big, runs off AA’s, and swappable storage means I can switch between a dozen projects within seconds. If I’m playing a live set, I’m already committed to bringing a zither around that’s 1m, or 1.6m. the rest of my gear is gigantic and heavy; but with this lil’ guy I could feasibly run an internal mic in, throw on some simple reverb, and have as many backing tracks as I want, all with performance effects… Even without making beats on the go, this thing is a workhorse. 
It’s a shame the new one is so hard to get.

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

Software to Hardware: I adore Output – Portal. Its interface, it’s complexity, everything about this plugin suits me and the sort of ambience I share with my audience here. If I could get this into a little box with an XLR input, oh man. Feels like game over. I’ve genuinely considered buying a micro-PC with a 7in’ touch screen, programming an auto-launch and building it myself.

Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal with Guzheng
Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal with Guzheng

Hardware to software: To me there’s nothing more immediately satisfying than how Gamechanger Audio has mastered minimal granular synthesis with the Plus Pedal. I’d love to find some function within a DAW that let me capture the last few moments of audio and mess around with the grain, in such an instantaneous way.

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

Guzheng and pedal board live setup
Live setup and pedal board

I’m not ashamed to admit that my music gear affixation was preceded by nearly 10 years of struggling to know what was right for me. When I was experimenting with a custom electric ukulele in college, I wanted something to make ambience with. I don’t know how on earth I settled on the Electro-Harmonix Ravish Sitar. That’s… like a $300, very specific pedal which they say ‘is an instrument in its own right.’ A sort of synth pedal. I was fascinated by the concept of generating sympathetic drones based on what note i played. In retrospect what I actually wanted was shimmer and freeze. 
I never got the hang of it. I still try.
I also had a Line6 DL4 back in the day. I really never got a sound out of it that I liked, but I spent way too much of what little money I had back then, to get it. 
Forgive the photo; it’s the only pic I have of both pedals together on my makeshift pedalboard.  

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

Novation Circuit and little buddy keyboard
Novation Circuit and little buddy keyboard

The sheer number of micro beats I’ve made on the original Novation Circuit I just got is perplexing. Right now my social media strategy in China is based on quantity, so as much as I want to craft bigger and better songs, posting something new every day is more important for growth. And this thing just churns out ideas and concepts.

I can sit with it far away from my desk, run it off batteries, and even use its internal speaker, and get a little beat together in less than 5 minutes.

Omnisphere may have been what opened me up to the most tangible productivity and hours put in, but as for sheer number of songs, nothing comes close to what the circuit could do for me.

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

Given the nature of being an expat, this is a far more tangible and realistic question than normal. I try not to get too attached to my gear because realistically I may need to leave it all behind someday. But I don’t let that stop me from acquiring (mostly second hand) gear that doesn’t fit inside a suitcase. Don’t let international politics ruin your interests. 

Elektron Digitone and Marshall Speaker
Elektron Digitone

If I sold it all and started fresh somewhere else, I’d probably start with a Microcosm as my main effect processor, and stick to ambient music for a while. After that, I’d probably start fresh with Elektron, starting with a Digitone. My friend loaned me this beast for the weekend and I’m in love. Then a 404mkII as a hardware unit, and finally pick a keyboard. Novation Summit if I could afford it. Otherwise maybe a Komplete keyboard, A49 I reckon. But honestly I’d be fine with just a Digitone and Microcosm. As long as I can find a dope instrument shop nearby.

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

White Native Instruments Maschine
Native Instruments Maschine

Native Instruments Maschine. Putting 9 hours into tutorials on LinkedIn Learning (of all places) was unarguably the biggest leap forward in my music production skills, but it set me up in a music production environment which is sort of toxic in how un-intuitively it works with other software. No hotkeys, terrible mouse navigation… it’s like I’ve been cursed.

If you’ve ever tried to work with Maschine as a VST within Ableton or Logic you’d know what I mean. It’s great on its own, but my god, it’ll choke anything but the strongest computers.

I’ve tried working without it. Tried learning the drum rack on Ableton, session view… but nothing is as fast and intuitive to me.

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

Using the SP404 sampler as a synth
Using the SP404 sampler as a synth

I made a video recently about using a sampler as a synthesizer, using only its internal multi-effects. It was a simple idea that I had, which really blew up into an incredibly complex and wonderful challenge in makeshift synthesis.

I designed the technique as a means of exploring and internalizing what effects truly sound like (what does a bit crash do to a sine wave?) but now realize it’s a great way to really understand what effects can do. I’d encourage anyone with a fancy pedal or getting into magnetic tape recording to try dropping basic waveshapes through it and listening to what comes out.


Artist or Band name?

Yukes玉刻

Genre?

Ambient / Chinawave

Selfie?

Yukes aka. Justin Scholar
Yukes

Where are you from?

New York, New York, currently based in Chengdu, China.

How did you get into music?

Trained in jazz & classic trombone throughout school. I tried music so many times as a kid and never really enjoyed it until I tried ukulele, which led me to mandolin, mountain dulcimer, banjo, then all sorts of folk instruments. While studying abroad I fell in love with the Chinese Zither (Guzheng) and came back several years later to make a career out of playing traditional Chinese instruments in Shanghai. It’s started working out quite well recently.

What still drives you to make music?

I found something that works for me. I discovered a niche with wide public appeal, which is proving to be very lucrative and creatively liberating. Breathing new life into traditional instruments has given me a lifetime of new territory to explore, and my relatively new fixation on gear adds the geeky satisfaction as well. Cassette tapes are scratching the lofi / esoteric itch, and all the brand sponsorships (Eventide, Focusrite, Novation, NI) are offering some real sense of authenticity.

How do you most often start a new track?

I leave my acoustic instruments strewn about the studio. I’ll pick it up, fingerpick til I find a strange new chord, strike up a simple rhythm on a sampled CR-78, and try to record it simply. From there it’ll likely become a demo; if not, I’ll record a video of my fingers while I play, then save it for later. My muscle memory is terrible.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When the call of everything else I’m working on grows too loud to ignore, I anxiously polish up whatever I’m working on, wherever it’s at, and ship it out.

It’s… really not ideal, but it’s better than perfectionism and never finishing.

Show us your studio?

Yukes Studio. Novation Circuit. Sp404a. Yamaha 4-track. Launchpad. MicroKorg. Eventide H9.
Yukes Studio

My girlfriend and I have been artists-in-residence for nearly a year now, so we’ve been sort of living out of a few flight cases. Our studio’s nothing to write home about, but the environment outside is unreasonably beautiful. 

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Always be ready to entertain.

It was a practical piece of advice, given to me by a seasoned acoustic musician who was dabbling in electronics. The basic nature of the idea is that you need to be able to make music anytime, with anything, if only your voice, or with any instrument you’re handed.

One time I was the guest of honor for a government project in Wuxi, China, the governer walked in and asked me to play something from my home country. I didn’t have any instrument on me, so I immediately started singing “I Wish My Baby Was Born” by Tim Eriksen. I would’ve liked some accompaniment, but it was what I had on me, and what was in my head at the time.

But the lesson goes deeper than that. Learn to learn, don’t learn to master. Be ready to try any instrument that’s put in front of you. As a left-handed musician, I’ve come to terms with the fact that no one will ever hand me a left-handed guitar at a party and ask for a song. So I’ve learned upside down.

John Lennon said, “I’m an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I’ll bring you something out of it.” Whatever situation you’re given in life, be the artist and make the best out of it.

You’re never gonna cure your GAS. You’re never going to have every piece of gear you desire, and even if you could, you couldn’t reach it all from one place. And you won’t always have a big enough table. More than half my gear is sitting in a basement in a terribly locked-down Shanghai, I don’t know when I’ll get it back. But I’m making great use of what I have.

So whatever your lot in life is, make the most out of it.  

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

After years and years, I’ll finally release my single this month. Search up Yukes玉刻 on Spotify and follow meet_yukes on Instagram for a look into life as a musician in China. Good stuff, lots of chillout, ambience and fun stuff. 


Urspring – Durch Veraltet Technik

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

The panning dials on the Yamaha MT-120S cassette recorder are just yummy.

I like the pan dials on my Yamaha MT-120 four track cassette recorder. Not as much for what they do, but how they feel and how they enable me to actually play the stereo field simultaneously with 4 fingers. If they were designed as knobs you could only control 2 at a time, in an easy way. But they are designed as dials almost like the 4 encoders on the OP-Z and therefore you can control all four at the same time with one finger at each dial.

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

Elektron Digitakt and Digitone

We are always in endless search for a perfect bit of kit, aren’t we? Haha! Well I don’t think there will ever be a perfect kit – especially not a perfect kit for all times. For me an inspirational kit changes over time. 10 years ago it would have been Ableton Live and a Push. Or simply just an acoustic guitar.

These days I’m tripping over the Digitakt/Digitone combo after watching a Patreon video by Jogging House. I think these two in combination simply allows me to translate melody and sonic texture ideas very easily to tracks that I can then record straight to my 2-track Revox B77.

The Digitakt/Digitone also lets me sit down and make music without sitting in front of a laptop screen. I have a non-music related daytime job where I’m in front of a screen all the time. And music making with hardware has almost become a kind of meditative activity away from the screen. Where the perfect combo is the Digitakt/Digitone … At least it is for me.

I also really dig the Ciat Lonbarde Cocoquantus and Deerhorn in combo with the Digitone.

Ciat Lonbarde Cocoquantus and Deerhorn

There are instruments that when you master them, they almost become an extension of yourself. They let the feelings you are expressing flow without friction. Like the piano or the acoustic guitar.

Then there is gear the keeps surprising you. Like a good band mate. It’s gear that you always have an interesting conversation with. The Cocoquantus is like that.

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

These days I’m bringing the Digitakt/Digitone combo. But sometimes just the OP-1. It’s sometimes really hard for me to get into the creative flow and mood when only having small islands of time, like 20 minutes, between family time. But now I’m better at telling myself “you’re not suppose to make an album now. You’re just having fun!” That inner voice is my friend.
So I often bring my OP-1 to the summer house.

Teenage Engineering OP-1

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

I almost never use compressors in my composing these days, but I like the Vulf Compressor VST for it’s distinct lo-fi squeezed Madlib sound. I could definitely see a use for this as a hardware pedal in my setup. But then again I might just throw a Boss SP-303 into my setup. The Vulf Compressor is heavily inspired by the ’Vinyl Sim’ effect on the SP-303, which is a radically weird compression algorithm.
These days I’m mostly into a DAWless approach, so I don’t have any hardware that I wished was software.

Vulf Compressor

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

I’m really not that much of a gear flipper. I try to have a minimal setup with only a limited set of handpicked pieces. I tend to stick with a piece of gear for way too long before letting it go. I still have a Push 1 laying around, haha. However I see this changing quickly because somehow the amount of gear on my desk has multiplied lately!
Anyways, I don’t really regret buying or selling anything, but one thing I regret NOT buying was a secondhand Juno 6 about ten years ago. The price was around 400-500 euros at that time, and at the last minute I decided that I didn’t have the space for it. Well, now the prices have rocketed out of the atmosphere, and I’m still looking at Junos. Poor me.

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

No doubt it would be the 4 track cassette recorder. When I was around 13 my dad had a 4 track Fostex, that lived in my room. Back then in the nineties I made hip-hop parodies, sad core indie and I recorded my grunge band with that piece of gear.

When listening back today I must admit that most of the music was kind of crap. But I still remember the excitement and feeling of loosing myself 100% in music making for tens of hours and the feeling of listening back and thinking “this track rocks”.
Fast forward 30 years and I was still using a Fostex 4 track (another device though) as a core device in an electronic duo Klingerhult with Martin – yes the editor of this blog.

[Editor: Hello everyone 🙂 … if you’re curios about us? Then check out Klingerhult here]

Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder MT120

I’m also still using the 4 track cassette recorder now as a simple mixer, with tape loops, for pitch and reverse effects, resampling and for crunchy overdrive.
I just like the texture and sound of tape recorders.

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

An Op-1. Then I would sit down for tens of hours and just go with the flow.

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

At the moment it’s mildly annoying to tune the Ciat Lonbarde Deerhorn to a chromatic scale. It’s like Petter Blasser (who invented it) intentionally made it almost impossible, like a big “screw you” statement. But when it is in tune it is so liberating and relaxing to play the notes with the hands on top of an ambient bed. And here’s the thing: Tuning has become a way of clearing my mind, like an inlet for getting into the zone.
But the Deerhorn is not the easiest beast to tame.

Ciat Lonbarde Deerhorn

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

I like the sound of flaws and almost broken things. Whenever I use a bit of gear that supports that, I think I’m more inspired and make more music. For example, when using tape loops or just using tape machines I often find myself deliberately exaggerate the flutter and wobble effect by holding a finger on the tape reels or shaking the dictaphone or walkman. In that way it’s possible to control the pitch flaws almost like playing an instrument. The tape machines are probably not that
happy about it. But it’s fun!


Artist or Band name?

Urspring

Genre?

Ambient I guess

Selfie?

Rasmus Rune Larsen aka. Urspring

Where are you from?

I grew up in the endless suburbs of Odense in Denmark, but currently I’m living in Copenhagen.

How did you get into music?

My parents were music teachers at elementary school and I grew up with guitars, amplifiers and synths in my home. Then I watched MTV and wanted to be like Nirvana, Beck, Beastie Boys and all the rest. It all got rolling from there…

What still drives you to make music?

Music is the art form that, by far, resonates the most with me. I make music simply because I need to. In particular making ambient music is to me an effective way of expressing abstraction.

How do you most often start a new track?

Most often I start by fumbling with a naive and cheesy melody loop and then build upon that from there. But there’s no clear recipe. I could also be a dusty pad loop or a drone done with the Lyra. I can also be really inspired by a track that has a part, a texture or sound that I like. I often wonder how they made it and suddenly I’m switching on my gear, and going exploring.

The Lyra is a really good track starter.

Revox B77 Reel to reel and Lyra-8

How do you know when a track is finished?

It’s finished when you keep adding new things and it’s making it all worse 🙂
Well, I’m not sure it’s that simple. Most often it’s a kind of feeling that is hard to explain. It’s when you somehow suddenly can see that the track has got its own personality and you can see it as a part of the family.

Show us your current studio

Unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of a separate room for my music studio. My studio space is a multi functional, shared family space in my apartment: It’s a home workplace, a walk in closet, a pathway to my daughters room and a hang out
place. So there’s not much room to go crazy with blinking lights, knobs, faders and keys.

Urspring coming out of the closet

Nonetheless I’m quite happy with this little studio space in the corner.
One thing I have done is hack an IKEA storage system (BESTÅ) so it’s almost
a hidden music studio. Open the storage doors, let the ambient spirit out and rock on! (but very softly and quietly)

[Editor: You can get some Impulse Responses from this Great British Spring reverb right click and download here. If you do use’em let us know in the comments😉]

Great British Spring Reverb
Spring tank
Pianette

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

“Make sure you are having fun!” Quote by Jogging House on his Patreon blog. If you are into making ambient music I can highly recommend supporting Boris and joining this fantastic community over at his Discord server. It’s a really supporting and friendly place.

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

I’m still working on an actual release. But until then you can follow Urspring at:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/urspring_/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwiEV85XM7cEElzmEOdfmtg


Navin Kala – Pastoral Electronics

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

Roland RS-09

Right now, the RS09 Tuning knob. I like the little struggle that happens inside our brain when a note is slowly approaching the “tuned” area.
Five months ago, was the Grandmother cutoff filter, it’s addictive, I guess they know it and that’s why they made it so big.

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

Gibson EH150 lap steel

My Gibson EH150 lap steel, from 1937. It’s 84 years old and sounds like it has always been here and always will. I feel inspired just by looking at her. And I’m not a guitar player myself, just an aficionado. It makes me wonder how my Digitakt is going to look in 84, by the year 2104.

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

If I have to leave home, I’ll take the iRig2, the reface CP, and the garage band on my phone. It’s a frustrating experience though, it reminds me how little is needed to make music technically acceptable nowadays.

iRig, Yamaha Reface and cat

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

Studio desk and racks

I don’t use software. Two months ago, I bought Reaper, but I’m using it strictly as a multitrack recorder. Paired with the Softube Fader, so I can have a more tactile experience.
Don’t get me wrong, plugins and VST are as good, and many times better than the real thing. But when I see my studio with all the gadgets, I feel inspired to play. If instead, I see a computer screen, I don’t feel the call at all.
It’s like masturbating versus having sex, you’ll reach the same level of satisfaction. But you’ll miss the joy of the process. Although it will be less tiring, that’s true.

[Editor: Literally I laughed out loud at this comparison…. it’s so true]

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

TC Electronic Finalizer

Due to logistics, I can’t sell anything. The post office is 100 km away and parcel companies are few, and they never find our house. If I was living in a city, I would definitely be selling stuff.
I do regret buying several things, one of them the TC finalizer, I still don’t know what it does. But there’s a small revelation in buying the wrong gear, you slowly find what is adequate for yourself, by elimination.

[Editor: I totally agree, this kinda process is also an essential part of learning and growing. The only thing, is that people get so bummed out by their regrets. Enjoy your regrets! You’ve learned something and it means you’re willing to take creative risk, so it’s all good (I actually just picked up a Finalizer too 🙂 haha)]

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

Piano and pussy

Just like others already answered on your blog, the piano. I sit in front of this massive primitive device, and there’s an instant communion. It’s like the whole mechanism is holding plenty of new songs, waiting for someone to take them out. It is an utter physical experience. And this is something I exclusively feel with the piano.

[Editor: Yup, I got that with the acoustic guitar]

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

I started years ago with Cakewalk and a Dx7, I don’t wish this on anybody. I suffered so much with the membrane buttons, and the menu written in extraterrestrial code. That was a huge technological wall between electronic music and me. And actually, that’s why I completely stopped making music in my first reincarnation. And also why choosing the right tools, for oneself, is pivotal in the engagement with music.
Today, I would buy the Korg Minilogue, functional, intuitive, and with a great sound. I don’t have one though.

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

Cables and patchbays

The Patchbay, but not the front side, the backside of course. It was a pain to set all the cables, but once it’s done, it makes everything much easier. Until you need to change some routing.

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

Korg Monologue

I like to use the Korg Monologue as an analog drum machine. I started diving into this thanks to Oscillator Sink’s rhythm collection on Korg’s site.


Artist or Band name?

Navin Kala

Genre?

I’m still experimenting and trying to find a comfortable place. Right now, this place must be somewhere between electronica with ambient and a bit of experimental.

Selfie?

Navin Kala

Where are you from?

Brazil, with mixed blood.

How did you get into music?

I began piano lessons as a child, it was either that or karate.
But it is extremely frustrating, learning with music you don’t like or feel. Stuff like “What Mozart composed when he was 5”. And I was 10, so it was like saying, you are retarded.

What still drives you to make music?

It makes me feel good, I know that without music I don’t feel fulfilled. Creativity, of any sort, sublimates our existence. This and the fact that I have a 70% of hearing loss, since a child, and at some point, I might lose it completely. I want to play as much music as I can before my only working ear falls under a functional threshold. Funny fact, Stereo does not exist in my universe.

[Editor: Damn good reason!]

How do you most often start a new track?

With Instagram, I force myself to make a post, like an exercise, a few every week. Each time with a different instrument. Something comes up. I see people’s reaction, and from there I decide if I keep working on the idea. Is like a focus group.
This first idea narrows down how the next instrument will interact, and so on. Limiting each time your options. I call it the Funnel Paradox. You begin with a universe of options, and as you add layers, these options decrease.

How do you know when a track is finished?

I don’t have a rational answer to this. I have a big folder with tracks I’ve started. Some go a few years back. And I certainly know that they are not finished. But I don’t know what it takes for them to be completed. Paradoxically, when they are finished, I know they are. I suppose is easier when you work with a client, let’s say making a soundtrack. The deadlines will tell you when something is finished.

Show us your current studio

Navins Studio with a couch, patio doors and a hammock!

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

I was thirteen years old, my piano teacher was pissed with me, again, because I wasn’t able to prepare the lessons before the class. Instead, I was procrastinating playing popular music (the concept of procrastination didn’t exist back then). He asked me eventually; “When you wake up every day, do you feel a compelling need to play the piano?” I said “Nope”.
And he replied; “Then you must find, quickly, something that you feel like doing daily. You’ll be a realized person.”
I quit piano lessons the next day. He was relieved.

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

My second album, Horse. Few months old. I hope you like it.

Navin Kala – Horse album

[Editor: Also check out Navins IG… it’s lovely. C’mon join the funnel paradox]