Oh yes everything made in SunVox and Android tablet.
So put other things to the side and focus on what he has to say about many things related to music, production, SunVox and other interesting issues!
And as a bonus there is one of his latest tracks as a SunVox Song file in the end!!!
Do you play any instruments and in this case which ones?
Well, I'd have to say I used to play guitar. Past tense, really. It has been up in the loft for nearly four years now and I've forgotten every song I could play. I can only play scales now and a rusty 12 bar blues. I always wanted to play an instrument. I tried to learn piano properly, reading music and all. I just found it too hard. I absolutely admire anyone that can get to a decent level at it!
What got you started producing electronic music and what was you first experience with Hardware / Software?
I was lucky enough for my parents to buy me an Amiga 500 computer in the late eighties, when I was a young teenager. A friend and I got hold of a copy of MED, before it became the better known OctaMED. We loved it and made a fair bit of music on it, mostly cliché ridden rave tracks based on samples discs (floppy, not CDs - this is the 80s!) that we would get in the post. My dad still has the only surviving recording of this work – on a cassette tape. He threatens to play it at family reunions every now and again.
After MED, I started using an early version of Cakewalk on a PC. I managed to get an AWE32 soundcard with some sample RAM on it, and later added a DB50XG card. I used that for a few years, getting distracted by general MIDI. My brother did a lot of music on that setup after I left home for university. I still have the source files somewhere if he ever wants a copy.
After I graduated and started working in London, I started putting together a (slightly) more serious studio. I got an SW1000XG card, a SB Live card running the KX project and a few bits of kit, notably a Kawai K1r. I used an early Sonar release to do a complete album on that. It was reviewed in the sound-on-sound magazine demos section in, I think, May 2001 or thereabouts.
After that my productivity went downhill. I got more kit (too much to list, I had a standing rack), loads of VSTs and spend almost all my time trying to make it work, which it never did. Perhaps the lowest point was the purchase of a Creamware Luna card which had all the promise and absolutely did not, ever, work properly. I got about five songs done in ten years.
Can you tell us how you got into SunVox?
Eventually, I got married five years ago and had a son three years ago. Needless to say that was the end of the physical music studio. I was not sorry to see it go. My brother took most of the hardware. He is a lot better than me at running the physical kit. As my son grew up a bit and time returned, I started thinking about producing music again. This happened about nine months ago.
My commute to work is a 45 min train journey each way. Crazy as it may seem, I tried making music on this journey. I got a laptop up and running with an old copy of Reason and started having a go. Unfortunately, the seats are too small and the train is too crowded. There is just not enough elbow room to use the trackpad.
I had a think and I thought I could use a tablet on the train; there was enough room for that. It was at this point that I started to wonder if the android music scene was any good. It certainly was. I had missed a lot! I looked into tablets and quickly found a good, quad core tablet. I then found Caustic and a few other apps and downloaded them. I liked the look of Caustic because it was like Rebirth. A few days later I stumbled across SunVox and I knew instantly that was the one, no doubt about it. An old skool tracker combined with a modular studio designer on top of a totally superb arranger. I was immediately excited. I downloaded all the tutorial videos, read the instruction manual top to bottom. A few days later I was ready to start my new project.
Is there any other software / applications that you depend on?
Not at the moment, for now I am all SunVox. I am looking for a good sample editor in android and I expect to use it. I would love something that tags sample filenames with their BPM. I am curious about production in other android apps and I keep meaning to give Caustic a go too.
Could you tell us a little bit of how you start your compositions in SunVox?
I wish I could say that I have a vision of a masterpiece and then set about carefully creating it, but that is just not true. To be honest, I generally play with generators and effects for a little while on a blank canvas until I like how they sound. I know I need drums, bass, a pad of some sort, a noize, some acid-ish sounds and something unusual. If I have heard a song I love, then I will listen to that just before I start and maybe try to make similar sounds.
Once I have the basics, I will build up a 128 line loop, adding and adding to it until it sounds nice and full and tweaking the modules. That will be the 'meat' of the track. From there, I know I can arrange around it, do a beginning, end and breakdown without much need to change the core sounds. Just some automation, dropping out things and putting some fills in. I tend to switch between making sounds and doing the arranging.
I always have one or two ideas that I want to try each time, such as the reverb 'freeze' effect, note slides, the 'loop' effect, etc. There is always something new and tricky I like to try. Also, there are solid landmarks that usually appear in my tracks, such as the four to the floor beat, side chain compression on most things and a noise 'woosh' of some sort in the background. Of course, I'm always learning things all the time and SunVox is always being developed - it is sure to stay ahead of my abilities, which is ideal as it is hard to grow out of.
How much in your music that you make in SunVox is based on samples and how much is based on synthesizing?
I do use some samples. Not many, but if I find a drum loop or oddity that fits and enhances the track, I'll use it. The purist may that say it is not 100% SunVox if it uses samples, but I disagree. SunVox is a tracker and trackers started out with 100% samples! I never used a melodic sample or loop, just about every note you hear in my work is from a SunVox generator, I will say that.
You can hear the SunVox in my tracks, I’m sure of it. The FM and SpectraVoice generators are very distinctive, they are undoubtedly SunVox. The reverb too and the drum synth are also quite distinctive. Personally, I like to concentrate on making the music sound the way I want it too, not the tool so I don't worry about being 'pure' myself.
What modules outside of the sampler do you use the most?
The analog generator is the most common sound source for me and the filter the most used effect, I think. I tend to have long chains of effects. I have also recently made some of my own XI files for drum kits from various samples I have. This gives me some alternatives to the built in drum synth.
Are you excessive in your use of modules in your compositions?
Hard to say! My tablet plays most of my stuff with no stuttering, so I guess not. Also, I don't use the layers in the module view, at least not yet.
Any sound shaping tricks you want to share?
Well, if anyone wants to get a general EDM sound, try the side chain compressor. It’s great. Put it on long pad type sounds, trigger with a ghost kick drum and get it pumping a bit. Drop the audible kick drum, keep the ghost going and there you are – that sound you hear all the time. Another little trick to get 303-ish is to drop a slide on one or two notes in a busy acid loop, try values between 40 and 80. A good way to get sounds to sit well in the mix is to put them through a band pass filter. I love the LFO on the filter; it is a great and easy way to get some movement in a sound. In fact, I wish the LFO itself could automate any parameter. A triangle generator squared-off by a limiting distortion makes up many of my bass sounds. I also like to separate my automation from my notes in the arranger. That allows me to drag automation envelopes around and clone them. Finally, I always keep my individual drum tracks separate so that it is really easy for me to drop parts with no pattern editing.
Do you mix and master all in SunVox and if not what do you use?
I mix everything in SunVox, but I master outside. I have an old copy of iZotope Ozone which I run in an even older copy of Ableton Live as a VST. I don’t add anything in Live (I don’t want VST hell ever again). I take the ‘output’ modules WAV export out of SunVox on a laptop PC and import it as a single sample into Live, trim as needed and route through Ozone. It usually takes a few exports from SunVox before I don’t have any clipping, it always seems to come out hot. Once I have the levels about right I’ll start listening to the presets in Ozone. Once I find one I like I’ll edit it a bit more. I normally end up changing the compression bands a little, tweaking the parametric EQ and getting the levels right.
What do you think of the latest update SunVox 1.7.4 ?
Well, I guess it was a little while coming! I was worried that I had backed the wrong horse. Caustic 3 had come out and we’d not seen a SunVox update for a while. So it was great news when an update came through! It has some great stuff in it. The new ‘Sound2Ctl’ module is the main thing for me. I am already making use of it and thinking about what it can do.
If there was one thing you could implement into SunVox as a future update, what would that be?
SunVox is absolutely fine as it is, but I do have some ideas for it… which reminds me that I must log onto the SunVox forum and contribute something. I’ve been lazy and not done that yet. I want to be a part of that community too. One thing I would love to have is a way to write my own modules. The Buzz tracker (http://www.jeskola.net/buzz/) is similar in many ways to SunVox. It has so many amazing user-created ‘machines’ as it calls them – and they actually WORK unlike so many VSTs.
It would be jaw dropping, I think if SunVox could do that too. For sure, I understand the portability and performance concerns make that a daunting prospect to implement. But if there is anyway it can be done, if a community of great coders with great talent and inspiration can be let loose on SunVox at a lower level than MetaModules, then I think we can all stand back and watch SunVox take over the world!
Ok, if we can’t have that can we please have SoundFont support? Please!
For someone that is starting to use SunVox what would you recommend is the best way to go about learning it?
Watch the tutorial videos first, study the manual a little bit, listen to the excellent demo songs then dive in and make something of your own! If you know nothing at all about synthesis or effects, then you will benefit from some study of that, but it is not important. You can just try things out in SunVox to see how they sound. I still don’t fully know how FM synthesis works, but it doesn’t stop me from using the FM synth. Don’t expect too much from yourself initially. You will improve as you use it more. Certainly I think my later work six months on sounds better that my earlier work. Also, don’t go for perfection. Just try to get something out and heard. Try to be prolific. A great thing about SunVox is that the save files are 100% standalone. You can be sure that if you want to change a track in years to come you will be able to.
When did you first start to listen to Minimal Techno and what was your first influences?
Oh, I’m late to this game. Minimal Techno for me is one of those things I discovered rather too late in life, along with motorcycling. About a year ago I stumbled across a copy of ‘10 years CLR’ by Chris Liebing (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chris-Liebing-Presents-Years-Clr/dp/B006OFMXB4) . I took a chance and bought it. There were no reviews and no links to anything else. I just liked what I heard on the previews. Listening to it was a seminal moment for me. I was like ‘where has this music been all my life?’. Ten years! I felt as if I had walked down a modern art gallery for the first time and ‘got it’. When I talk to people about this techno, few understand. I guess it is like looking at a Rothko painting, you either get it or you don’t, it does not work for everyone.
Now that I had heard my first route into this music, I loaded up on it. I’ve listened to little else in the last year and it rarely repeats itself. It is such a massive genre, so much excellent stuff out there of which I am still barely scratching the surface.
Any modern producers that you recommend?
From commercial stock, Chris Liebing and his CLR label as I mentioned earlier. This is some of the deepest and darkest stuff I have found. I like the stuff on Frequenza, too. I also listen to Alex Bau, Adam Beyer, Speedy J, Chris Fortier, Richie Hawtin, Luke Slater, Joris Voorn. Much of what I listen to is compilations and DJ sets. There is some good stuff on radio too. I often enjoy Drumcode radio (via Adam Beyer on SoundCloud), Slam radio (via Soma on SoundCloud), TM radio and Intergalactic FM.
Do you learn a lot from listening to other peoples work?
Absolutely, yes! When you find a track that you love, study it. Listen to it properly. How many different sounds are going on? What sort of sounds are there? How would you create those sounds? When and how often does it change? What changes? What would that look like in the arranger? I have in the past listened to tracks with a pen and paper and made notes. When you try producing something you want to sound like, put the track on your tablet or whatever and listen to it just before you start on your own track. Then listen again every so often as a check point. Isolate sounds in your own mind. Do your sounds match up? Are they fitting nicely into the mix?
Any tips for making / producing Minimal techno?
In a nutshell, play fewer notes! It sounds so simple, but it is something I have struggled with for over a decade. As an exercise, try making a full track where the only note you play is C. Any octave, any sound, but it must be a C. You will find yourself concentrating on the sounds more and on the notes less. You will have to automate, to use the filter LFO, concentrate on drums and have interesting arrangements to make it sound good as a track. The subtleties of the sounds are everything in this genre, I think. Small changes make a large difference to the feel of the track.
Do you have any favorite producers / musicians that use SunVox?
The SoundCloud group SunVox is very active. There are loads and loads of superb musicians out there doing all kinds of different things. Join the group, have a listen to the producers, follow them (they won’t mind!) and give them your support. By doing so, they’ll probably follow you back and give you some encouragement on your own work. Being involved in the community is something that spurs me on to do more and more. Unfortunately I don’t get nearly as much time as I would like to listen to other producers’ tracks but I do try to set aside one evening a week when I will catch up with what everyone has been doing.
Any specific song you want to share with us?
Sure, I’ll share my current most-liked track with you all, ‘Waypoint Lost’. This track emerged from some seriously deep messing around with sounds over a few days. After the soothing tranquility of the preceding track ‘Interplanetary Cruise’, this track evokes a brooding uncertainty.
Any last words?
I’d like to say thanks to you Frank, for interviewing me! It has been fun thinking back through the past and also thinking about how I use SunVox. I would also like to mention in passing my brother’s latest project TimeDog (http://racketracket.co.uk/music/force-habit/). He is making some very cool ambient music now. I secretly want him to do something on VirtualANS. Well, I hope this has been an interesting read for you all. See you all on SoundCloud!