The lust for new sounds can take many forms. It leads some to reduce, forcing themselves to stick to minimal choices to channel their creativity. It leads some to reuse and recycle, repurposing old gear. But it leads some into a quest for arcane racks of gear, spaghetti tangles of wires and flashing screens alike, a buzzing laboratory of choices and possibilities.
For this chapter in the story, we take a peek at the modular obsessed and toy-packed studios, with Richard Devine, Make Noise, and friends.
The southeastern USA is a pretty summery place now, the day before the Fourth of July holiday. A damp, oppressively-heavy heat hangs long after the sun goes down, accompanied by insects of the B-movie horror variety, hungry for human flesh. Fortunately, this part of the world also has basements and extra rooms and cars – perfect for accumulating treasure troves of gear in your music cave. And just as Moog Music has settled into Asheville, North Carolina, so, too, has boutique modular builder Make Noise, continuing as much the tradition of pioneer Don Buchla as Dr. Robert Moog. There, the intrepid Americans have embraced the Eurorack format born with Germany’s Doepfer, and extended the idea, mixing digital and analog techniques to produce a vast variety of experimental new creations. It’s the equivalent of the American microbrewing movement – and might just as easily knock you under the table.
None of this matters much if you can’t make some interesting noises, though. Before we get to the clan of gear, then, here’s the latest video from southern gentleman sound designer Mr. Richard Devine.
Mutable Instruments, Parisian Olivier Gillet’s firm, may be best known for his Shruthi synth. But here, the Braids Macro oscillator makes beautiful, delicate sounds that mimic plucked strings.
And out of that strange spaghetti comes something really lovely. Listen:
First patch experiment using the Mutable Instruments Braids Macro oscillator running in “PLUK” mode. Emulating the sound of raw plucked strings that change with the timbre control via damping, and the color knob changing the plucking position. MakeNoise Rene sending out CV notes to the 1-v/oct input and Gate triggers to the Braids trigger input. The output is then running into the Phonogene for light processing. Liquid drum percussion sequencing by three gate trigger outputs from the Grids module. Trigger one going into the Mungo g0. Trigger two going to the DPO for the lower end kick drum emulation. Final output running lightly through a eventide space pedal.
This modular business can get very wild, too, if you prefer, in Richard’s hands.
So, what’s going on here?
“Something someone will want to use in twenty years…”
Tony Rolando, founder of Make Noise, tours his Asheville workshop and talks about what drives him – how he designs these instruments, and what he believes in. This isn’t a question of analog versus digital, or new versus old. It’s often both: it combines vintage interfaces and circuitry with the latest in bleeding-edge sound. It’d be as though Chevrolet made an aluminum-composite electric car you could hitch to a horse. But out of those blends of ideas, the idea is to make something lasting, something connected with long-term music making rather than just the latest fashion.
It’s also a rather beautiful video (via Sonic State:
The Techniques of Musique Concrete, in a Modular
A nice window into the scene comes to us from friend of the site Chris Stack and his experimentalsynth site. Here, we get a full half hour of conversation inside the Make Noise factory in Asheville. Tony Rolando, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (the terrific artist Lichens), and Richard Devine share what they’re working on.
Video quality isn’t great, but it’s packed with information, and I think worth watching even to understand this approach for those of us working in computers, too:
Where does he get those wonderful toys?
Sound designer Richard Devine, known both for experimental music opuses and an insanely-prolific sound design career, has parlayed all those sound design gigs into a drool-worthy gear collection. Richard freely admits he’ll often take a sound design gig just to get in on the latest stuff, and if anyone is on top of everything that’s happening, he is.
He recently took the UK’s Future Music Magazine on a tour of his studio, outside Atlanta. Just as the Nordic and Icelandic artists can hole up for the winter, it looks like a great way to soak up air conditioning in Georgia summers.
If his music isn’t in your collection, there’s a good chance his sounds are in that synth you own, a videogame you just played or the TV ad you just watched. Watch and let Richard take you on a tour of his North Carolina studio
It’s also worth following Richard for his haiku-like Vine modular creations – little etudes in noise film.
— now on Instagram, of course, via its new video feature.
To me, this stuff can be inspiring even if you’re sitting with a cassette Walkman and a used KAOSS Pad. (Hmmm… that’d make a nice rig, actually.)
Happy sound exploring – and, America, happy Independence Day.