New EP (Cumulus) Released!

The first Cumulus EP is complete and uploaded to Bandcamp!

The tracks on this album represent different fantastic visions of abandoned environments that could or perhaps do exist somewhere only the clouds travel. The tracks are meant to be heard in order as a continuous journey.

All tracks were recorded using my modular synth (The Cumulus Machine) with Ableton Live as a recording deck. With the exception of a few overdubs the tracks were recorded ‘live’ as continuous takes.

Download it now!
It’s free, or you can pay any amount you want
if you feel generous and like what you hear :).

Special thanks to Adam Watson for mastering and feedback!

Portable Sound System / Live Setup

I’m about to head out on the road for a couple of months or so which means I wont have access to my regular music making machines. All the keyboards, synths and the modular and other gear will be out of reach.

My wonderful modular ;-)

My wonderful modular ;-)

Naturally I can’t go for 2 months without making music, and so I was researching various ways of staying productive while on the road. I came up with 4 different alternative setups that I think would have worked for me. I’m sure there are others but those are the ones that felt viable in terms of what I was looking for.

Figuring there might be others looking for the same I decided to write up a short explanation of how and what I ended up with.

Scroll down to the end for pictures of the end result :).

First the Criteria:

  1. Portable
    I wanted a system that I could carry or lug around without too much effort. Pocket size was not a requirement.
  2. No Computer / DAW dependency.
    I wanted to be able to set it up and jam / mess around without having a computer nearby.
  3. New
    I wanted the setup to be a new learning experience with gear and/or a workflow that I had not used before. Also, I wanted those learnings to be relevant not just to the system at hand but for other scenarios / tech / workflows as well.
  4. Full circle
    The system had to be capable of producing a full track with all parts and sounds necessary (under realistic constraints of course).

Option 1. The Groovebox

At first I was looking at various self-contained groove boxes like the Korg Electribes and the Roland MCs. They are certainly capable boxes, but the Rolands I ruled out right away as being to big for their feature sets, and having to out-dated i/o options. The MC808/909 looks like a lot of fun, and as a future addition to the studio I think they would be great, but not for on-the-road work. On the other hand the Electribes have the perfect size but felt like they were to restricted sonically (at least for the type of music I want to create). Finally, any workflow or techniques that I would learn from these boxes felt like they would be tied very closely with the particular box and not translate well to other tools.

Option 2. The Pocket Synth

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last year or two you know about the Teenage Engineering OP-1 synth. A fantastic little instrument that is kind of like a groove box on steroids, shrunk to fit in your palm. However, the hardware has gotten a lot of negative reviews/feedback as a novelty toy, and with little to no expansion options, for the price it felt like a very limited way to go. Also, the OP-1 seemed like a dead end in terms of live, cooperative jamming. I’m all for setting up constraints to explore creativity but the OP-1 was simply to far from where I’m heading with my music.

Option 3. All Software

While certainly the most portable solution, this violates the 2nd criteria. And seriously, how fun is that?? ;-)

Option 4. The Portable Studio

So finally I started asking my self what the minimum required instruments are to be able to create the music I strive for without a DAW or any of my larger modular systems or synths. What would it take to essentially shrink down the sonic palette that I want to work with into a system that would meet the 4 criteria and also be fun and inspiring to work with.

I knew I would want some kind of percussion / drum sequencer, a dedicated bass voice, at least 1 dedicated lead voice, something to experiment with for atmospheric sounds and effects, and some way of mixing all the voices together.

Looking at what I had at hand I decided that my Elektron Analog Four should have a spot in the setup, as well as the Meeblip. For effects I could bring my Eventide Space and Timefactor pedals, and to spice things up even more I ordered a Nebulophone from Bleep Labs. Next I needed some form of note / melody source so I decided to include a Doepfer Dark Time sequencer, and for percussion a Korg Volca Beats. Also, to add another voice to the mix, and because it pairs so well with the Dark Time, I’m considering throwing in a Dark Energy synth as well. Finally to mix them all together I’ve included an Allen & Heath ZED10-FX mixer which will also allow me to record the stereo mixdown over USB to a computer.

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 11.21.15 PM

SketchUp model

I figured I could build a custom, heavy duty but portable, case that would hold all of this gear so I started looking into custom ATA cases, but a friend pointed me in the direction of the Pelican brand cases instead. Those cases come in a huge variety of sizes and colors so after some measuring and careful modeling in SketchUp I decided to go for one of those.

In the end I would agree that this setup is far from the most simple or portable solution, but it feels extremely inspiring and I can’t wait to set this rig up and start exploring it.

If you have any questions about the case or any of the gear inside it please leave a comment and I will answer as best I can.

Here’s a complete list of the gear:

  • 1x Allen & Heath ZED10-FX Mixer
  • 1x MeeBlip SE
  • 1x Korg Volca Beats (to be added in Japan)
  • 1x Elektron Analog Four
  • 1x Eventide Space
  • 1x Eventide TimeFactor
  • 1x Doepfer Dark Time
  • 1x Bleep Labs Nebulophone
  • 1x Doepfer Dark Energy mkII (TBD)
  • 1x Pelican Cases 1610
The Pelican 1610 Case

The Pelican 1610 Case


Inside the case. The mixer is one level down.


Jamming with the setup.

New Song (Die Morgensonne von Innsbruck)

My daughter asked me to do another Untz Untz as she calls them, so here we go… I wanted to do more with this track, such as adding another build/bridge and some more melodic stab/pluck stuff, but Maschine maxed out the CPU so bad that in the end it just got impossible to work with the project.

For the record, this track uses 2 FM8, 2 Prism, 1 Razor, 3 Massive and 3 Spark instances, and there are no pre-made loops in the dums/perc section. I could probably ease the load on the CPU by bouncing some of the parts to loops and import them back in, but that’s really hard given the scene-based workflow of Maschine…

I’m guessing it’s part me pushing maschine to do things its not meant to, part Maschine being single core and part me not using all the available tricks in the Maschine sequencer. Either way, I hope you enjoy it.

Headphones for Mixing and Tracking (BD DT 770 Pro)

Ignoring the fact that headphones are almost always frowned upon for mixdowns and mastering, here’s the short story of my search for a pair of good headphones for my bedroom studio.

Before we start, just let me do a quick note on the whole ‘you cannot / should not mix on headphones’ argument. Not true. The true statement should read ‘You cannot / should not depend on headphones as your ONLY source of truth when mixing (or mastering)’. The truth is that good headphones have a perfectly fine place in any mixing process. They offer a closeness to the stereo image that monitors often cannot, they reflect what many of your average listeners will actually hear, and they can let you catch minute details about your sound that only the intimacy of headphones will show you.

But enough about the pros and cons of mixing on cans, this post is about how I decided to buy a pair of Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro (250ohm) for my bed room studio.

This was my list of criteria:

  1. Closed Back
    (To not disturb the rest of the family)
  2. Under $250
    (Since I figured I would probably want to upgrade to more expensive ones later anyways if this music thing really takes off)
  3. Light weight and soft pads
    (My head is tiny, my ears are not…)
  4. Relatively low impedance
    (I didn’t want to buy a dedicated amp)
  5. Flat response
    (Naturally, as flat as you get with the above requirements)

Give the above, my short list was:

  • Denon AHD2000
    According to graphs I dug up online their response freq. looked ok but in the end they were ruled out since they were too expensive, and Denon’s reputation for reference class headphones was speaking against them. Also, the 5000 looked so much better but would have put me even further way out of my budget. I have this itch when I buy something that I know there is a better version of out there… Also, according to reviews online they are very very tight on the head.
  • AKG (Q) 701
    Great looking but too open, the noise leakage would have kept the rest of the family up and that defeats the whole purpose…
  • Beyerdynamic DT 880
    These cans are supposedly ‘Semi-Open’, and their cost / performance seemed excellent. In the end though my online ‘research’ ruled them out as leaking too much noise.
  • Beyerdynamic DT 770
    For a closed back headphone their cost / performance seemed unmatched. They look great and the response freq. is flat enough for you to learn to compensate. They’ve been around a long time and seem to have a relatively good reputation (in their price class) amongst electronic(a) producers / artists. In the end, this is what I went for.

You might wonder why there are 2 open / semi open cans in the short list, and the answer is simply that anyone you ask on what headphones to get for mixing will tell you to at the very least get open ones. Supposedly this is because open cans, by virtue of their design, are capable of more faithfully reproduce especially lower frequencies. For this reason I wanted to see if something like the semi-open design might be passable, but in the end I had to rule them out.

I’ve paired my 770’s with a Focusrite Scarlett interface without any special amplification, and at 250ohm you do have to turn up the volume a bit further than on consumer class headphones, but the Scarlett is more than capable of driving them. Especially if you are like me and do most of your mixing at night when the rest of the house is very quiet :).

After I got them I have revisited some of my older songs, and the brutal honesty with which they show how poorly mixed those songs are was a bit hard, but at the same time an eye opener.

The BD DT 770 Pro are extremely comfortable even for long (think 5 hours +) sessions. I usually forget I’m even wearing them after an hour or so. My only complaint is that the attached cable is a coiled one and that can get a bet heavy depending on how you wear them. You just need to be careful with how you place the cable so that it has a bit of support resting on a table or something in between you and the source.

I highly recommend those headphones for anyone looking for an affordable pair with great cost / performance and comfortability, but as anyone will tell you, they shouldn’t be your only or final source of truth while mixing. No headphones should.

Get them from Amazon on the following link:
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, 250 ohms

Let me know if you have any questions.