A wise man once said "It's the ear, not the gear", but I can take it to the next level - "It's the ear and how you use your gear".
My setup can be considered to be a modest one if we narrow it down to budget. I only spent €4000. I am a pianist, and since synthesizers with key-beds are usually larger and heavier than "Albeton setups" or modular rigs, since I plan to easily travel with my gear I did not buy the top shelf products, but I focused on comfort, simplicity and something I can rebuy, if someone would pour beer on it. I also noticed that a lot of products which cost more are far more complicated and often require menu diving or focusing (like Elektrons or Dave Smith synths), yet they have much more to offer sonically. Anyway, the fact of using a piece of hardware already makes the sound superior to computer ones. I recently jammed in a professional studio with some excellent PAs installed in every corner, you could hear every little thing, hiss, bump coming from your gear, and I could not believe how cheap and shallow any bass drum or bass would sound, coming from my friend's Ableton setup. At the same time, every synthesizer uses the same techniques of sound shaping and routing (well, it is very similar at least), so I believe that if you spent time learning every little part of your synth, experimenting with different techniques, will lead to better results, than buying more expensive gear where you can achieve the same results by diving in more complicated menus. Also the compressors, mixer's EQ, this is what you should focus on, while the source should remain simple - like in jazz ensembles. The sound comes from instruments which have everything at hand, no hidden aspects, you not only play but also experiment, using it in a different way, than intended (eg. playing drums on a double bass case). Then, here is this guy sitting at the stereo sum, who can add spice, like reverbs, different EQ settings, add a compressor etc. In my case everything is done by a single person - me.
When I started playing techno and live electronic music in general, back in 2017, my knowledge of how things work club and dance wise, was very basic. I think I had a lot of self-confidence, frankly speaking. Every month when I play or not play, but simply hang around a turned on gear with a sustained chord, I learn that many things I did previously, were wrong partially or totally. I started minimizing my setup, focusing on using very little synths, to achieve a comfortable flow. I started using my mixer as a sound-shaping tool (the magic of equalization) by using the audio levels more properly. Then I noticed, that even a TB-3, which is a digital, very basic (limited controls) bass synthesizer, can sound unique, fat and juicy and be better, than a possibly overrated, Moog synthesizers. Yes, I wrote that :) Some synth freaks might consider it as heresy, however, every sound can be shaped and amplified in such a way, that without visual reference, just by hearing the sound, you might think - Damn, that must be a fine piece of bass synth. Now, I understand how the Ableton productions sound often so well - it's the engineering, the mastering process.
Keeping in mind, that complicated equipment leads to frustration and slows down the flow, and that learning and experimenting with your sound-shaping tools, like mixer's equalization, appropriate effects application, leads to a point, where not the number of gear matters, but the skill.
I stopped using the Arturia's Minibrute as additional lead synth leaving only one bass, one drum and one lead/pad synthesizer + ES2 as drum sampler and KP3+ for effects processing. I might limit it, even more, leaving ES2 out or the TB-3.
The techno movement, as a club scene, started in warehouses. That's how the abbreviation house got its way into music culture. Soon after that came techno. As if from psychedelic feelings a futuristic statement was born. Techno then was apparently very different from what is considered to be now. If you are old enough to see the beginning of electronic music history, you know that it is different and far more complex.
Since the process of making music in my case is similar to how pioneers recorded (hardware synthesizers recorded on some device, in my case, it is a two-track software program, without further coloring & mastering), with a lot of influence from jazz, funk, modern classical and film music, not from electronic music, I tend to put a lot of feelings, more specific content, rather than focusing on automatisation - more breaks + more melody.
"It's all techno" and "What is techno after all?". Why so many types of techno exist? Word "techno" no longer serves as a description of strange sounds, structured rhythms, and futuristic landscapes combined with characteristic 4 on the floor beat. The slight differences between genres of this specific electronic music tell us only how very different this music is, and electronic music in general. It is understood often by the context of the party or philosophy of a club, by the personality of the crowd. "This club gives me this feeling, I like it, therefore I like this music too". Listeners often categorize it by the aesthetics of the event and place, not the music itself. This is all because electronic music is far too complex, it is too big, for everybody to understand it. If you open a catalog in a music store labeled eg. ambient you will find a large number of different styles and genres within each genre - a space within.
"Genre, we might say, is a set of conventional and highly organized constraints on the production and interpretation of meaning"
John Frow, Genre, 2005.
Every day some musician drifts from this non-abstract quality of certain electronic musical genre, inspired by modern social relations and even typical consumer's decisions. This is why, in my opinion, sticking genre labels to electronic music are only a tool for marketing purpose, which can help the audience to expect a certain type of party, of overall aesthetic experience, music comes with the package. It might bring large expectations from the side of the audience as well. Like word - minimal. It comes from minimalism and it can mean very different things if we speak about ambient or techno music, very different expectations.
Can techno music get the more proper context? Mean something again. Or is it only a color?
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.
Roland's Transistor Rhythm Synthesizer number 8, the TR-8. What a marvelous percussion beast it is.
All the sounds in this video come from it, including the reverb and delay effects (onboard). I also added a slight two step octave arpeggio on TB-3 sub bass sine wave. However, the punch of the 909 kick can still be heard very clearly, on top of TB-3. It is due to the fact, the bass drum is sent through a separate mono channel in the mixer. It has different equalizer settings from the rest of percussions. In the beginning of this improvisation, you can hear the first bass drum used, a 606 or 707 one (can't really remember, the first in the tom section). It has no separate rooting, nor compression and you can mostly hear the higher frequencies. The fact you can use 2 different drum basses makes the TR-8 a jack of all trades for me.
8th July 2017 - Powszechny Theater in Warsaw
I have been playing a deep & dub techno live act in the foyer of Powszechny Theater in Warsaw. The act was set in a "garden" which was constructed from plants in pots (it is on the other side, then the photo was taken, unfortunately). While playing, I was focusing on the experience the garden immediately imposed on me - the experience of natural beauty there, trapped the music into a different level of perception. It generally does. Natural beauty is in European philosophy and culture - the highest esteem, nature is the beauty itself. In music composition, the set of similar classical instruments has been in our history for hundreds of years now and they made it to the point in which we call them natural. Electricity has not been for that long and sounds created with it are yet not considered to be natural, even though electricity is as natural as water, flowers... all around us.
It is not possible to understand the beauty of electronic music as art without understanding natural beauty. If you think about what natural beauty is, then think for example about a bird song. Natural sounds are naive, simple. We do not often notice how bound up are the natural sounds of nature with unnatural sounds of synthesizers. Nature's beauty is hidden in its appearance, in images, it is not an object of an action. Birds do not play melodies as we know from mass media, but listening to a bird song is an essential experience of natural beauty. At the same time, it is something ambiguous. It is found by everybody as beautiful, yet something is wrong - because it is not a song, it's an organized chaos. These sounds are placed by a spell and we experience them only then as beauty. When you notice it, the satisfaction from experience of nature is gone with it. Because art is complicated and difficult, while nature is natural.
Music is not reserved for elitist listeners, to people who understand a secret language, but it is open to everybody, who understands the primordial world of animals, of nature. The truth about music is often found in exaggeration.
And here it goes, I have been invited by my Mexican friend in Warsaw to play a live act on Friday night in an underground Metronom club.
The best way to visit clubs is to have a purpose other than letting it go at the bar or on the dancefloor. By playing there, I will visit this club inside and out that way. That photo is from the web, looks kind of nice, but that place is considered an underground club, so I do not expect it to be neat and tidy at all.
The thing that worries me, is that my other synthesizers are still being fixed. I have been waiting for parts from USA and Japan for more than a month now. Without it, I will have to go minim'a la'acid techno. Playing warm pads on a monophonic Arturia Minibrute or TB-3 is not an easy task. Especially during a live act.