The goal is, of course, to come up with new sounds that haven't been heard before. I run stuff through as many plug-ins and as much hardware as possible.
Francis Preve, The art of extreme noise, Keyboard Magazine 29/9, 2003.
Some musicians are experiencing this strange frustration on the origin of sounds they use in music creation process. I am talking about stock patches which are considered almost a taboo. If you go to a local electronic live jam and tell everyone you are going to use the presets only, you will get ostracized and tagged as an uncreative noob. This approach is full of bullshit.
Take into consideration a characteristic 808 or 909 bass/kick drum sound. It is so classic that it became a golden standard of every four on the floor, and not only, electronic music. Or a sawtooth wave lead synth with high resonance. Or a sine wave deep chord with delay effect. These sounds are used in so many electronic compositions, yet we do not call them stock.
We are experiencing now a very interesting process during which, in a very short time, electronic sounds, considered to be unlimited, have reached a certain moment during which they are crystallizing as a distinguished structure, which will be now polished for next couple of, not centuries, like in case of classical instrument, but dozens of years. There will be new eras and new happy mistakes which will lead to modification of certain instruments and invention of new structures, new sounds. Think about new interfaces which will be used in the future... For classical music, these were the skilled carpenters, luthiers, and skilled musicians. In case of electronic music, these are engineers and kids from your neighborhood.
The majority of my time (dozens of minutes) I spent in front of synthesizers is focused on creating sounds. My own personal sound. Which is, as a matter of fact, created from those standard stock sounds, which are so characteristic and well known, that you can distinguish them and name them specifically. A quick idea and few minutes of ad libitum. I am wondering if it is not a waste of time.
I got sick, I am legally staying at home for another week. Since my fever is low now, I returned to cooking hot patches and composing bits and pieces.
Knowing till when the sick-leave is, I made some arrangements. This is the best workflow - you count days till sick leave is over, then plan maximum a piece a day, per every 3-4 days, then a 1-2 day break to reset. After few days, you just wake up, peel a sound of a raw sawtooth wave, PCM and with fresh LFO & filter combination, with such a ready sound-palette - you just go for it. Nothing to add, nothing to take away. Without preparations, pure improvisation, to see, where the sounds you just created, will and are capable to take you.
I had some trouble seeing well the sequencer in dark clubs or even at night at home with mild light. I am talking about the situation when you want to manually add high hats on the go etc. Here is an overlay for anyone who needs a more clear visual reference or just needs a nice touch for JD-Xi. Since the drum part is inspired with the TR-808 sequencer, the stripe is in the acid legacy colors:
INSTRUCTIONS: Download the file, print it 1:1 on A4 size, adhesive matt foil (any printing service in town should be able to do it) then cut it out. The dimensions are exactly matching the height and width of JD-Xi official overlay.
I must admit, that even though I have been an active pianist for more than 10 years, I have always humbly accepted the weight and size of my transportation kits. There was always enough room on stage or the floor. When I started playing techno music in underground clubs, picnics, galleries etc. I started to realize that bringing an 88 key synthesizer with a whole set of additional instruments is impossible to fit in many DJ booths, especially when DJ's are playing there too and need the whole deck space for themselves. There is a smaller and lighter version of my Juno DS with 61 synth keys, weighing only 5,2kg (my current version of Juno DS weights 17kg). That was my target - to have the two Juno sisters under one roof.
Quite recently I started looking around those mini key synthesizers like Microkorg, Novation ...and then I bumped into Roland's JD-Xi. It is considered to be a decade late reply to ever popular Microkorg. Because it looks like a shining little "toy" and most demos were not so impressive (focused on EDM mostly) I never focused much on it. Never judge the book by it's cover. Just by accident, I found out, that this little beast has a four track sequencer - which basically means that you can play 4 sounds at one time - two digital sounds, one for drums and the fourth - an analog monophonic engine. Juno DS has 8, JD-Xi has only 4, but it weighs 2,2kg and has around 50cm length! Less carriage, less space but almost the same possibilities.
Heavy indeed. Imagine the faces of people in the public transport I often use. Apart from speakers and mixer, I can travel in a bus, however, I must get a smaller version of Juno DS, haha - the 88 key version I have, weights 20 kilograms., while the 61 key one ...5,6.
Well, unlike sculpting or painting, when working with music... For example, to compose a large-scale orchestral piece, you use an orchestra. But the instruments for an orchestra, during the 100 years between Mozart and Wagner, were improved to the point where there is no more room for further enhancement. So orchestral instruments, whether they be horns, trumpets, violins, or the woodwinds like the flute, can't be improved any further. So instruments haven't changed much from Wagner's time to today. (...) Writing a score for 4 or 5 players or one for almost 100 made little difference in terms of fee. (...) Except, the sound components of an orchestra, such as the flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and the trumpet, horn, trombone, tuba... I have to select a tone quality from these when I do the orchestration. Consider that as opposed to art, in which there are no longer such restrictions when painting or sculpting. You could use gold dust in your painting, or grind up cinder and paint with it, it doesn't matter what you do. But with music, you can't do that. Even if you were to invent a unique instrument and get a musician to play it for you... Take the violin for example. Becoming pro takes years of practice. Who'd be willing to do that? There was no way to make it possible. But I did want to create music using a different tone quality, and around the time I began to feel that way when I'd sort of hit a wall with orchestral arrangements, I heard about the existence of Moog synthesizers. If I could create my own sound, then that meant I could create music that broke free from existing ideas.
-- Isao Tomita, RBMA Tokyo 2014 lecture.
Being a musician is mostly about carrying stuff or caring about stuff. You carry, with care, practice, practice, practice, carry, with care, and finally perform, with care. Et encore un fois. This is my only sport now.
Caring about the equipment is as important as practicing with it. All the bags are my custom projects, suited for my personal needs (precisely the dimensions of my hardware), but one bag, the one with writing on it, has far more style than others. An unexpected birthday gift from my beautiful friend Natalie, perfectly matching its current function - a bag with cable spaghetti.
The Roland SH-201, one of my friend lend me that synth recently, was turned by me into a pad machine. My setup looks like a band with a sound guy: I have TR-8 on drums, TB-3 on base, Minbrute on lead and SH201 on strings. It all conveniently is mixed and processed through the KP3+ and Mackie 802vlz, then summed in Really Nice Leveling Amplifier.
Here is a proof that good folks exist. I am still eager to get my Juno DS back into my studio, yet I have to earn for living somehow - so I still catch any gig I can. But with one monophonic synthesizer, it is ultra hard.
I asked many, but only two of my friends, Seban and Piotrek, lend me their synths - an SH-201 and tiny Volca FM. Both great, but I rode with SH-201, as it has a synth keybed with around 51 keys (Volca has only a simulation of the keyboard). The Volca FM is super sweet though.
I got the SH-201 on Thursday and spend 7 hours - from 6 pm till 1 am - making my own patches. I made a lot of pad sounds and synth sounds, with one crazy sub sound and one patch sounding as if it was played on a Moog. (Then straight to work at 8am next day on Friday and then immediately to play the gig at 8pm).
Because this Roland synthesizer is ugly and looks plastic, it has 4 vcos and wobbly parts, I was not convinced at all. But in the middle of the night, when extraterrestrial pads and glitches started coming out of my headphones, I felt in love. Pitty it does not have the octa track sequencer like Juno DS, then it would be a killer of all the deals for me.
Thank you Seban and thank you Piotrek for helping me out and trusting me with your personal synthesizers.
It isn't the instrument that gives you the answer (...) it always comes from you somewhere. The instrument is the way of then externalizing that. But the illusion with the big synthesizers is that somewhere among all those wires is the thing that is going to save the day for you, and it's never true.
-- Brian Eno, BBC interview from 1983.