08 12 / 2011

The headcleaner modular.

Dave Williams, aka Headcleaner, is a gigging Leeds-based techno musician having a release out back in 2000 on Rephlex. That there’s just one release is an indicator of his fondness for live music: The shows are built around one device - a large, yellow, (more than half home-made) Eurorack format analogue modular synth. It’s pre-patched and ridden live, and his sets are, partly by necessity, always fully improvised. That being the case, and even though his music certainly embodies the unpredictability of modulars, what’s most surprising is how danceable it is. It’s something at odds with the ‘swarm-of-bees-music’ stigma that analogue modulars can get associated with, but Headcleaner has designed his system for a specific purpose, and he performs it very well.

Question One: How do you make music - ie. what are your strategies, methods and thought processes (as you write) and why do they work for you? 

I don’t write music as a piece very often, only when people ask for it. I’m very much about live performance and as such I dont write music at all, I let the machine do that - I just guide it along using standard tricks of arrangement in dance music and just whacking whatever sequence happens to be running. It’s amazing really that it works, but I think with the kind of wonky atonal techno I lean towards it’s doable, or at least get-away-with-able!
 
At the moment I have my drum section which is fairly simple: the snare is on a separate constant 8-step sequence to keep things ticking along, and the bass drum goes at whatever 8/7/5/3 step loop, and hats doing whatever really, again they’re just there to keep things ticking. The synth parts are the thing really though. I have 4 at the moment to flick between (plus a sampler for vocal stabs). Each is 1 or 2 oscillators going into a filter or VCA. I have 6 separate 8-step sequencers which I have at pretty much random settings, plus a couple of gate combiners and CV mixers. From one sequencer I always patch the gates to one part and the cv to a different one, this gives a lot of interlacing overstep timings and gives some correlation between the parts. For the sequencers, I have them all set to different reset points/step lengths - so using a 6 step gate sequence for a 7 step CV pattern and vice versa for example…

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19 10 / 2011

The New Sound of Music - wonderfully nostalgic 1979 BBC documentary with much insight into how electronic music grew, developed was produced in those ‘modern’ times…

(Source: youtube.com)

18 10 / 2011

"The first year is for collecting sounds: this goes here, that goes there. The second year is putting it all together. I am a very slow worker. But once it’s done I don’t touch it anymore!"

(Source: vimeo.com)

17 10 / 2011

Article - Dkon’s tips for creative success, an extract from excellent Create Digital Music interview with Dkon. Pretty much embodies the spirit of this blog all-in-one. Right on!

DKON’S TIPS FOR CREATIVE SUCCESS

1. Less is more.
If you read nothing else in this article, read this. Having more options is not good for your creativity. Learn what you have, use what you have. Having a limited set of options forces you to focus.

2. You don’t need expensive stuff.
There are a lot of people who think you need to keep improving your studio, and getting the latest, most expensive gear in order to have the ability to be able to make something good. This is nonsense. From an economic point of view, the 800 EP cost me about $125 to make. (Renoise license of about ~$75, and I bought the 800 on Craigslist for $40). I made my first several albums (*Lost Subject*, *Greater Cascadia*, and *Mythology of the Metropolis*) with very limited means and equipment. Make do with what you have. Buy gear secondhand, but only what you will actually use. Use free or cheap software. Use free or cheap plugins.

3. It doesn’t matter what software you use.
There are so many DAW options now, but they all do basically the same thing. The only real difference is workflow. Pick one that appeals to you, learn it as you go along, and you will succeed. I have been using mostly Renoise for the past few years because I like the workflow and relatively simple interface. It may look confusing if you’ve never used a tracker before, but once you get the hang of it, it’s incredibly fast to get your ideas down, which is a major advantage. When inspiration hits you, the faster you can start working, the better.

4. Work around the limitations of what you have.
If something is limited in some way, use it to your advantage. Why do you think things like the 303 and 808 are still universally adored? They are both incredibly limited instruments, but what they do, they do very well. Using a more concrete example in my case, the Poly 800. It’s horribly tedious to program, but has a great sound and a lot of character. If it was covered in knobs and sliders, I don’t think it would be as appealing in a bizarre kind of way. The limited nature of the instrument encourages creativity.

5. Treat everything as a sample.
Especially in regards to software like Renoise. Find a sound on an instrument you like. Record yourself playing a few chords or a sequence of notes. Chop it up, sequence it, and rearrange it. Usually, if I do this, the sequence that ends up being used is different than the one that I originally played. Move things around, play with the pitch, change the envelopes. Being imprecise with your editing gives it a more humanized feel, without resorting to adding “humanization” after the fact.

6. Fidelity is highly overrated.
Do you think anyone is going to care if your snares are amazingly compressed and EQ’ed if your song is terrible? No. Making your music sound “nice” should be an afterthought. Focus on content, not gloss.

7. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
Making music, or art of any kind, should be fun. Treat it as play, not as work. Don’t think of what you want to make before you start – let the finished product reveal itself through your work. Dive in and explore without conscious thought.

14 10 / 2011

Extract from Wired interview with Bjork on Biophilia. Full interview available here. Thanks to Max Gold for the find.

She had been tracking rumours about Apple’s tablet device since 2008, becoming convinced of its potential to liberate her writing. She composes outdoors by singing to herself, which has its limitations. “All my songs end up being 83BPM, which is the speed I walk. People I’ve worked with have made fun of me because of it,” she says. “I felt stuck, I was writing most of my songs in four/four — verse, chorus, verse, chorus. It’s so I can avoid doing a maths riddle and singing; for me those worlds are separate.” But a portable touchscreen device with the right software could make it possible to compose intricate pieces without sacrificing impulse.

13 10 / 2011

Extract from a recent Aphex Twin interview in Another Man magazine, October 2010. 

AM: Who is your music for?

AT: On the surface it really is just me. I have noticed that my music does speak to a lot of people and does influence people directly and indirectly; we are all one, so that is obvious I suppose. I’m not an island and I am the result of everything around me like everything else on this planet. I don’t set out for it to be for anyone else but I know it will be heard by a lot of people. I make it mostly to change things and not support things that already exist but this isn’t always the case; sometimes things may have to be reinforced first before you can go elsewhere.

12 10 / 2011

Extract from Resident Advisor interview with Pole, Mastering Engineer. Full article available here. Thanks to @equaliser for the find.

I know this is a very broad question, but could you talk us through the typical process that you would undertake? 

Where to start? [laughs] Let me try to explain a simple and normal mastering procedure. If I get tracks sent over, I first listen to the album, or the EP, to every track that is delivered in the running order it will be released at the end. After listening to it I get an idea about what the music is about, what it’s made for. If I have any questions about it at this point I contact the artists or the label and discuss these questions with them and then the next step is that I start to develop an idea of what I would like to do with it. Do I want to use digital equipment mainly or do I want to use a combined version of analog and digital gear? And if I use a combined version, do I want to go first through digital and then through analogue or the other way round? 

So let’s say I made a decision and I would like to combine digital and analogue gear and I would like to go through analogue first. Then I might run it through, for example, a tube EQ just to add some warmth to it or to work on the high end a tiny bit, and then the low end a little bit to get a first little change in the balance of frequencies if this is needed. That could be a start. I never do it the same way, but this is just one example. And then I might, if it’s a very dynamic recording, just put it through a limiter after that. But just very softly—not heavy limiting, just very, very soft limiting to catch a little bit of the peaks and to get better dynamic control. It’s not a drastic change; it’s just like a fingertip. 

10 10 / 2011

Extract from Wire interview with Monolake. Full interview available here. Credit for the find goes to the awesome @equaliser.

D: I have a direct question about this question of workload. Do you use any of the statistical processes that we discussed with reference to Piercing Music.

M: No. But I still use technology to come up with results which surprise myself. You just put a few elements together and create for instance an audio feedback loop. Make sure an output from effect goes into another effect, and you have a few elements in there which change over time, and things very quickly reach a level of complexity where it starts becoming unpredictable. And to me that’s the beauty and power of electronic music. It’s very simple to create structures which are so complex that the result is not predictable. But it’s still very far away from being arbitrary. You still are able to understand the result as a product of the process, but only after the fact. You listening to the result, and you say, yeah, that’s obviously what comes out of this process. But you wouldn’t be able to predict the result beforehand. That’s a great thing to avoid the bottleneck, building a structure that interacts with you. Thinking in processes is such a common way of working in electronic arts, because it combines profound knowledge about the nature of the process, but even whilst I know the process inside it, it still can be overwhelming with a few tricks. And I very often use this overwhelming switch. Very simple example: Take a step sequencer. It has 16 steps, and you program a pattern. Now you take a second step sequencer, each step of this sequencer is triggered actually by a beat from the first sequencer, and this sequencer maybe only has 15 steps. And you use it to transpose the output from the first sequencer. Immediately you end up with a sequence which repeats itself after something like 15x16 steps. And with Max fror Live, a step sequencer inside Live, you can do this in 15 seconds. It takes you 15 seconds to set up a structure where you predict the beginning, but you cannot really predict what will happen after one minute. And that’s totally amazing.

07 10 / 2011

"I like the physical interaction and all that, because there’s just shit you can’t automate. And stuff you can’t duplicate. A filter sweep even, something as simple as that. It’s just so much cooler, at least in my mind, to do it by hand. Time it to the beat in your own little internal clock in your head."

06 10 / 2011

There is so much wonderful material in this John Foxx interview that it makes my head hurt. As well as providing tremendous insight into how his methods affected his output, of particular note is the ‘Ten Rules of Metamatic’ he set himself as guides/limitations. This article originally appeared in Computer Music magazine, and all credit for the find goes to the awesome @equaliser

Computer Music Magazine: ‘Can you provide a potted history of your career, providing some idea of the sort of kit you were using at each stage and why? Then, when changes occurred, can you dwell on those and explain what the changes were and why they occurred for you as a musician, bringing us right up to date.’ 

John Foxx: ‘The first time I came into contact with a synthesizer of any kind was through Tony Basset. He lived on Park Road, very near my street in Chorley, Lancashire. We were all around twelve or thirteen years old at the time, so this would be roughly 1960/61. Tony was fascinated by electricity and electronics - and the sheer scale of their possibilities. Telstar had been launched and Joe Meek had brought out the instrumental a few years before. Electronics were in the air - quite literally - and the future was already in orbit. So were the atom bomb and the cold war, so it was all equally exciting and terrifying. He bought all the home electronics magazines and was already a sort of eccentric inventor, regarded as a bit of a boffin, always assembling mysterious devices on the kitchen table. The first one I saw was something he’d adapted from a transistor radio - if you went near the aerial, a sound began to come from the speaker. The nearer you got, the pitch rose and so did the volume. Impressive. Tony said it was a musical instrument - or a burglar alarm. He used to leave it on his windowsill at night hoping someone would try to get in or steal it. No takers. We used to try to get a tune out of it, but you needed perfect physical control and patience. 

Still, the noises were quite something. It could really shriek. But what intrigued me most about the Theremin was the fact that you were interacting with a complex, invisible force-field. It was a direct demonstration of unseen energies and the physical effect of your presence and movements on them. Science fiction met reality for me at that moment. Hundreds of years later I was recording with Louis Gordon at our friend Roger’s studio - sound man for New Order. I walked into the control room and sitting on the console was a Theremin he’d just bought. I immediately said - ‘I bet that’s made by Tony Basset’ - there was something about the build and style that immediately brought Tony to mind again. I turned it over and there was his label. Anyway, I got into the Royal College of Art in 1973 - suddenly had a Kensington HQ with a recording facility, video studio, a grand piano. Gift. Even came across a synthesizer. I’m almost sure it was a Minimoog - and it must have been a very early one. Had no real idea how to operate it, but was intrigued again by the bleepy sounds I could get. The cost of these things at that time was phenomenal - around £20,000 in today’s money. I started a band that became Ultravox! The exclamation mark was a reference to Neu! who we admired, along with all that German scene. 

The 1960s were definitely over. I took some tapes to Island Record and they gave us a contract. Eno was around the place at that time. We rated Another Green World, so I asked him if he’d produce. He checked us out and agreed. Steve Lillywhite had got us into Marble Arch Studios where he worked as an apprentice sound engineer with Eno on the final tracks. London was cold, hard, grey and dismal. We decided to make music that reflected that. During those recording sessions we used Eno’s Minimoog and EMS suitcase synth, plus an early Roland drum machine - a TR77, I think, and an Elka string machine. Toward the end of the recording, he got the call from Bowie to work on that first album, Low. We were pleased for Brian - and a bit smug because we’d got there well before Bowie. We used synths especially on ‘My Sex’, which was the last track we recorded on the sessions. It became a sort of blueprint for the future. I think it’s the first electro ballad - and was composed in the studio over a drum loop, at Eno’s instigation. We all developed it together and Eno and Billy Currie played the instrumental section. It became a new way of working. There is a whole evolutionary line of tracks that came from that - ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’, ‘Dislocation’ and ‘;Just For A Moment’, then much of Metamatic. I realised we were finally using the recording studio as an instrument. Until then it had been very territorial, with engineers not allowing bands to touch the equipment. ‘Can’t do that’ was the phrase that used to drive me crazy. Eno and Lillywhite were the opposite - it was all, ‘Lets see what this does’ and ‘Lets try this’. Brian brought in a binaural head and used it to record the ambiences on ‘I Want To Be A Machine’, then miked up the well behind the studio to get those lonely wind sounds. 

We used backwards piano and various sorts of voice and instrument distortion - and synthesizers. I was fascinated by the possibilities here - the range of sounds seemed new and infinite. I hadn’t been much impressed by the way that Proggers had used synths to imitate orchestras. It was clear these instruments had unique properties that needed exploring - they needed to sound like themselves, not an imitation of something else. The drum machine was a revelation too. It was really a cabaret preset device, with Cha-cha and Rhumba settings - but you could treat it with flange, echo, distortion and get another massive range of sounds. You could also dub beats in and out by using the buttons. Warren became very canny at doing this. I began to realise that there was an entire new territory here that had barely been touched. Electric guitars changed popular music when they first became affordable in the ’60s. I felt these instruments would do the same. But they weren’t affordable - yet. That was also the point where studios were ceasing to be the territory of the engineer and becoming something more integrated with music. You could make impossible records, things you couldn’t play live - make forms of life that could only exist in that particular environment. 

The studio was becoming an ecology - and this was also going to be the future. The two friends of ours, Eddie and Sunshine, who had a great band called Gloria Mundi, bought a Korg monosynth. I was amazed - these machines had suddenly become affordable. Sunshine played it at the Marquee club and she got these immense, ferocious noises while Eddie was hanging himself in public, all perverse as hell - vast tearing sounds and huge explosions that sounded like the roof was coming down, We had to get one. I wanted violent strobes and white light and smoke and noise - a total immersive mindwarp. We went out and bought an Arp Odyssey synthesizer and a Roland Drum Machine. And suddenly had a new sound. This was what we really wanted. Chris bought a Minimoog for bass and an EMS for noises. We bought Billy an extra couple of bass cabinets so he could take the synth from ultra high frequencies to sub bass. I wanted it so loud it would make people vomit. 

We were well into Sonic Terror at that point - extreme sound and white strobes. Any finesse came later. Around that time (1977), Billy and I used to drop into Basing Street studios near Portobello Road. On one occasion Bob Marley was recording. Marley had a big entourage with him. It really was King Bob and the court of Marley. Everything impregnated by a fog of high-grade weed. Not clear now it is was to do with Marley sessions or not, but I do have this memory of Lee Perry with all the Ju-Ju bits on the console - electricity and magic - and everyone had a fader or a switch and a job to do in the mix - fire an echo on at this point, instrument fader up there, down there, reverb in on the snare, then off quick, before the next beat. He’d orchestrated the entire clan, plus studio, into a single electro/organic entity. That was dubbing - mixing creatively, switching in an array of effects and pulling selective beats in and out. It all really inspired me - and put all the previous experience with Eno and Lillywhite in perspective. It was where we were headed, but Perry and the crew were already there. Dub was an indescribably significant evolution in studio technique. Everyone uses it now, but it was revolutionary then. 

Meanwhile, we wanted out of England at the time. Punk had become senile and Europe was the promised land, as far as we were concerned. We were very interested in the scene around Conny Plank - especially Neu! and Michael Rother and Kraftwerk. So we decided to work at Conny’s studio in Germany. On the way, we did some early demos for Systems Of Romance in Brussels, in a friend’s four-track home studio. Technologies were shifting again. Tape machines were becoming smaller and you could have a four track, then an eight-track machine at home. This was the very beginning of home studios - something that was really going to revolutionise music. 

Later we came back to London and continued developing demos at Pathway - a small, inexpensive eight-track studio in North London. I liked the place. It was easy to work there and the sound was true - it didn’t alter when you played your mixes elsewhere. It was also eight-track - so there were no hazards from that thin sound that 24 track studios often had. 24 track on tape was a problem - there were phase cancellations and problems with transistors in the sound path that were only just beginning to be understood, but we were all now very alert to how they could weaken a track. Sound recording occupied molecules on iron oxide stuck onto tape - the more molecules, the more detailed the sound. Eight track across one inch was much better than 24 tracks across two inch tape. All you had to do was listen. But bigger studios were so taken with having this relatively new miracle of 24 track that they overlooked a few basic tenets. And we were expected to pay for it all. Pathway’s simplicity meant that you could get a good, true sound there for a lot less than a 24 track set up. I logged this for later. 

We went to Conny’s in Germany to record because there was simply nowhere in Britain that could do what we wanted. There was no electronic scene here at all. No producers who seemed to understand what we had to do next. Meanwhile, Germany had a living scene with a real mission. German youth had to reinvent itself after that horrific war. There was a renaissance in panting, filmmaking, music and all the arts. We benefited immensely from all the energy. In music, Conny Plank was at the centre of it all. He’d recorded all the bands we liked - Neu!, Can, Kraftwerk, Cluster - all the significant German bands of the time. We’d dropped in when we were on tour there and had been impressed. Later, as we recorded, Eno was working on Music For Airports in one of the rooms. Then Holger Czukay was working away at Movies in another. It seemed perfect. 

It was during one of those early sessions that we first used an Arp sequencer - Billy attached the Odyssey and switched it on - and we immediately got the riff for ‘Dislocation’. Really exciting. I seem to remember that Cluster had been in and set it up previously. It would have been in a different octave, different speed, with a different sound and in a totally different context - unrecognisable. But what came out when we connected it to our sound was perfect - big and metallic; otherworldly and threatening. We slowed it down a little more, adjusted a couple of notes so it looped around perfectly, then Conny put it through a Marshall valve cabinet to thicken the sound even more. I wrote the lyrics and vocal parts and Warren dubbed in on the drum machine. Took around half an hour. Conny was marvellous to work with. He understood the links between Psychedelia and Electronica and precisely where rock fitted into it all - and where it departed. He had an array of equipment and used it all in unexpected ways. Valve guitar amps and rotor cabinets on vocals. Synths through a series of space echoes and Marshall cabs, out into the barn then re-miked. Recorded keyboards blasted out through a speaker into a piano to collect stray harmonics, then re-recorded. Tape loops slung on pencils rotated around the room, then recorded onto the multitrack, so you could play the console faders like a synth - the forerunner of sampling. (We used that on ‘Dislocation’ and Eno used it on Music For Airports. He originated all these techniques and more and used them at every turn. No one else’s recordings sounded anything like as complex, yet cohesive as his. He was also a master of spatial sounds - used a bank of half a dozen Roland Space Echoes as precise tools, yet never lost the music’s drive and focus. After that, the next stage was solo. I wanted to explore these new instruments to find out what they could do. Try to make a new language for them. I’d been working at home with the synth and drum machine. Began in 1978 with an Arp Odyssey, an Elka string machine, a Roland 301 Space Echo and a Roland CR78 drum machine and a four track. 

I later sold the 4 track and mixer to Flood. Bought the MXR Flanger and drums in Los Angeles and the MXR Phaser in New York, from Manny’s. Apart from the Odyssey, all this was cheap gear, generally despised by studio engineers, but I’d heard every effects unit around by that time, and I knew these knocked hell out of any so-called studio grade gear. I went back to Pathway studios to record. Analogue 8 track. Home built 12 channel desk. Radnor Valve amp and Tannoy Devon speakers. It all felt good after the complexity of Conny’s studio, which I’d enjoyed but needed a change of perspective. I imposed a strict design brief. 

These were the rules for Metamatic:

1 Minimalism. Minimalism. Minimalism. 

2. Every sound must be strong enough to carry its function alone. 

3. No more than eight tracks on any song. 

4. As few as possible sonic elements playing at any one time - to preserve maximum power and fidelity. 

5. All mixes dubbed ruthlessly, to see how much they can be stripped further - to ensure getting rid of anything unnecessary, then exposing hidden instruments. 

6. Use the instruments I have, with as few additions as absolutely necessary. 

7. Subject matter - a man, a woman and a city. 

8. Attitude - detached urban romance, without sentimentality. 

9. Write only songs you would want to hear - without compromise. 

10. Once you are sure of the direction and content, don’t alter them for anything - no matter what the reaction is. 

Hired in a Minimoog and a Hohner Clavinet. Later realised that Kraftwerk used the clavinet too. No digital instrument has yet replicated the speed, immediacy and power of a clavinet; the depth and complexity of a Moog synth - or the power of the bass drum of a 909 or 808. I was lucky to meet up with Gareth Jones who became engineer - he’d just left the BBC to go freelance. He really liked all the gear I’d brought in and was as intrigued as I was to see what sounds we could get out of it all. So we worked well together - he’d eq and compress and gate and flange and phase and echo, and I’d sculpt on the synth and play it and choose effects and distortions etc, and together we made those sounds. 

Later he became part of Mute Records and worked with Depeche Mode, becoming a significant figure in electronic music. He was good at dubbing too. You have to remember that this was a new language - you had to figure out the function of each sound - re-imagine everything from scratch. Also, synths then were monophonic or duophonic and had no memory function at all. As soon as you were onto the next sound, the previous one was history. All you could do was take a rough drawing of the controls’ position. You would never get that original sound back again, only an approximation - and the effects chain was a whole set of other parameters that would also never be duplicated. So, you got great recordings, with sounds that really were unique - but you couldn’t even get them back yourself. 

While we were making Metamatic, the studio was being used by a lot of outlaw West Indian guys, who were making illegal dub 12” singles from stolen Channel 1 tapes. The first 12” dance records. It was great to hear what they did - really tearing the original tracks apart. It was an education to listen in to those sessions. It was all really a radical devlopment of what we’d heard Lee Perry do, so plenty of it emerged on the mixes of Metamatic. ‘Underpass’ has a reggae bassline, for instance, and all the instruments but the lead synth are completely dubbed. But I guess the context and content of the record are so different, it goes unnoticed. Dub was also good for taking out any tape hiss between sounds, so it had several functions. 

Metamatic was released in January 1980 - the first synth album of the new decade. Next album - The Garden - totally different. I wanted to recover some of the ground we’d broken with Systems Of Romance and see if I could take it all a bit further - I also had the title song, which hadn’t been completed for that album. By that time, there were new generation of synths and polyphony was now possible. The Prophet 5 was the best and Duncan Bridgeman had one. He also had a Jupiter 6, another great machine that had a built in arpeggiator. Most of all he was a great, precise and intelligent musician. So I got him to come along. I’d also bought a Roland vocoder with strings and voices. 

Proper programmable drum machines had also emerged - we had a Roland 808, then borrowed the first Linn drum to come into the country. I used it on ‘The Garden’ track - put down a quick guide drum track, recorded the entire song - then discovered the drums wouldn’t synch back to its own code. Had to get Duncan to play it by hand. Luckily his timing is perfect. We did all the tom fills on other songs the same way, and built some other tracks from just a bass and snare. We’d started the album with a Phil Roberts, a superb young drummer, but he became seriously ill just as he recorded the final backing tracks. So we had to use the Linn extensively to complete several of them - all played by hand from the machines front buttons by Duncan. It sounded great. 

After that I recorded The Golden Section which experimented more with Psychedelia and electronics, then, in my opinion, went right off the rails for a while. Lost interest and went back into Graphic Art. I realised I didn’t much enjoy working with samplers and early digital gear. The Fairlight wasn’t my scene. Music during the mid to late eighties really bored me - until the advent of Acid around 1987/8. Finally here was a real underground again, and even better - all the analogue gear I liked was being reappraised by a new generation, through recent advances in speaker technology. Club and domestic systems were now as good as studio ones, and you could really hear what analogue synths were supposed to sound like. 

Lots of Metamatic got sampled and I was very pleased. Worked with Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass and did an early Warp video for LFO, who produced one of the best club sub-bass tracks ever - with ‘LFO’. Met up with Louis Gordon and started work we still haven’t quite finished. Also got to work with some of my heroes - Robin Guthrie, Harold Budd, Paul Daley (Leftfield), Steve Jansen. Now working on an analogue album with Benge in his Shoreditch Hall of Synths, and on several projects with great engineer/producer Steve D’Agostino. Along the way I used each successive wave of technology - from a BBC micro to a Umi system; a Commodore to Creator on an Atari, to Macs of various kinds, to Logic. 

I realised that each wave of technology was accelerating as new tools arrived at shorter and shorter intervals. It was sometimes hard to access how much certain elements would alter the process - for instance, I totally missed sampling but I was spot on originally about the principle of synths - then home recording and computers changing everything. Now we have digital simulations - some good and some not so. On occasion, I fear we may be looking in the wrong place. I noticed that each wave of technology seems to imitate the previous one, before it finds its real reason for existence. 

I remember when Formica came out in the 1950s. It was pattened to imitate wood before its designers had the courage to make it totally white and plain - then it arrived at some beauty and integrity, simply through doing what no other material could. Synthesizers also went through a Formica period by being used to imitate orchestras, until we got the courage to let them bleep and howl like nothing else could. So with digital. Perhaps this imitation analogue is the Formica period. Perhaps we ought to be trying to discover what digital sounds can do that nothing else can. How can we operate them with new and radical interfaces, and in ways that have never been possible before? I think perhaps only Korg, with Kaoss technology, and people like Autechre have begun that thinking process. And I suspect these are just the very beginning.’ 

CM: ‘Can you take us through the creative process using synths?’ 

JF: ‘I always start with a sound. This has to match up with the mood of a phrase. I collect phrases in a notebook. These are the beginnings of songs. Once I find a sound that works with the phrase, I know I have the song. It can be anything - a drum sound with a particular reverb or a synth note. Somehow I always get an idea as soon as I switch on the CR78, which I still use. Then I’ll sing over a loop - a great thing in a computer, but it can inhibit you producing a structure, so the loop must be really skeletal - preferably just a single monophonic instrument. When the song is developed - it has an intro, verse, chorus, and a middle - plus an instrumental melody. 

Then I work on the sounds seperately, playing them over until they fit. Some things happen quickly. Sometimes you have to come back the next day. Now I can usually get a song down in a few hours, then come back the next day and do all the instrumentation. The results do alter depending on the instruments. Analogue gear has completely different constraints to digital equipment. The best combination is digital control of analogue sounds. I’ve also begun to put digital signals back through the Moog filters and this gives control and richness unobtainable otherwise. When I work with Benge at his studio we only use analogue equipment - but it is recorded onto digital then mixed onto a tape machine for the compression and tape quality. Then this is recorded back into digital for mastering. Eventually we’ll go entirely to eight track multitrack tape - then to stereo tape for the final mix. Everyone will hear it via digital media in the end, of course. Except when we play live.’ 

CM: ‘Can we have a list of your gear?’ 

JF: ‘I couldn’t possibly list all of Benge’s gear but if I work alone then sometimes I record the CR78 and then work on top of this with both analogue and digital synths and effects. I mainly use the Aryp Odyssey and the Roland Vocoder. I believe in using a limited palette of sounds - with just one or two in real focus for the track. The star sounds. This allows for consistency and some innovation at the same time. Arp Odyssey Arp Sequencer Roland Vocoder Plus Elka Strings Moog Minimoog Roland Juno 60 Roland CR78 Roland 909 Outboard: Roland Space Echo 301 MXR Phaser - orange footwitch type Electro Harmonix Electric Mistress Flanger.