When I started to produce music, my rig quickly grew to consist of more than 10 synthesisers; either keyboards or rack mounted units. I had quite a fair amount of MIDI and audio cables running across my room – everything neatly patched into other units so I could have each and every synthesiser on different audio channels in my computer. That was the end of the 1990’s and early 2000. I remember when I sold my Yamaha 01V mixer and went for a Creamware A16 to mix everything in Cubase instead.
I then discovered that virtual instruments could give me a quicker way of working, and I started to move towards a completely software based studio for a while. Well, almost. I’ve had the Clavia Nord Modular G2 for almost 10 years, but it’s actually on the fine line of being a software synthesiser too but with a hardware controlling unit – but I still count it as hardware since I can use it as a stand-alone unit. Anyhow, the virtual way of working gave me the speed I was looking for since I didn’t actually have to record anything and a total recall of everything when I switched between projects.
Then the modular synthesisers came along. It is a thing of the 1970’s, but I’ve never had an interest for them until now.
It was a day in March, 2013, when I received my first shipment of Eurorack modules. My best friend and studio buddy had been a modular synthesiser (dare I say fanatic?) user for a couple of years. He’d sold almost everything he owned, studio-wise, to build a huge modular synthesiser. And my own rack have now grown into an almost complete 9U 84hp wide beast.
What the modular synthesiser have taught me is that I can create a sound, record it, remove the patch chords and probably never ever be able to design that specific sound again. So if I’m not recording it – it’s gone. This tickled a certain side of me which I never saw or felt when working with a hardware based studio. It could probably be compared to something close to improvising on the Piano even though you could play it again if you try to memorise what you’ve just played. I could improvise making sounds and when happy accidents occurred, I could record it and carry on the adventurous journey through the sonic territory laying before my feet – or hands.
This has made me work with music in two ways.
1) I’ve started writing melodies and chord progressions before focusing on the sound meaning that I think I put a lot more energy into composing the melody itself instead of being seduced by sounds. When I’m happy with the melody I move to the next step – to create the sound itself which will bring the melody into life.
2) I’m creating sounds and recording them, then removing the cables and never look back. If I need to redo the song in a new key, or sometimes a different tempo, I have to rely on audio processing tools to fix it and if they can’t I need to create something else. I know some producers and creators have a real issue with this, but I find it exciting and original. It actually pushed me over the edge with my Nord Wave. I haven’t saved the latest sounds I’ve tweaked as presets. I just recorded what I needed and moved on.
Modular synthesisers have made me cherish hardware synthesisers in the same way as modulars. Luckily enough I don’t have room to start hoarding hardware synthesisers again but I’m most certain that I will, someday. Because I don’t need to store every sound I tweak on the front panel. I can use it just as I use the modular counterpart in the studio. Tweak a sound until satisfaction, record it and forget it.
There is a creative advantage with being able to recall a sound or setting swiftly, but working on a modular patch night after night, slowly tweaking it until perfection before deciding to record it and then simply erase it is creative zen to me – and I hope it’ll show in my productions.
Let me know what your approach to music production is. Are you stressed to produce a full song in one evening and then move to the next? Or are you spending night after night looking for that perfect sound?
Now I’ve got some more patch cords to jack in and some knobs to turn.