Heat and the Constant State of Flux
Still awaiting completion of the studio and so still stuck in a tiny back bedroom, hemmed in by equipment and drenched in the warm womb-like glow of a bunch of LED lights from IKEA. I’m easily pleased. Here’s a little jam I did whilst trying out my new toy – the Doepfer Dark Time. It’s a rather beautiful and quirky little analogue sequencer, reminiscent of the old Moog modular sequencers from the 70s, but in miniature and with MIDI and USB. It’s just begging to do Berlin school (Tangerine Dream et al) noodlings, crazy ever-changing polyryhythms made of little repeating phrases. So seeing as it was begging for it…
The recent heatwave* here in England made it slightly less bearable than usual though, for both man and machine. I spent several hours setting up a rather promising restrained, contemplative piece, but by the time I got to hit record the room was so hot I was screwing up, (knocking pots by accident etc.), and the tuning was drifting. In trying to fix it I made it progressively worse, till I gave up, stopped the recording, and then spent another hour trying to get back to where I started. It failed – I ended up with something entirely different, though it perhaps is a more accurate representation of my state of frustration, impatience and overheatedness.
I’m discovering that this is a major feature of working with analogue synth technology. Everything is in a constant state of flux. When you use softsynths all the time you get used to everything being saved and tweakable right up to the mix stage. There are numerous obvious advantages to this approach, but the downside can be a certain lack of focus. I find that with softsynths I tend to spend hours going through all the presets. Like, all of them, because if you don’t go through every single one you might miss that killer patch. It’s a really soul-withering way to spend your time.
With hardware synths, on the other hand, I just dive in and start twiddling knobs till it sounds pleasing. I think in a year of owning the Voyager I’ve saved a grand total of two patches. It’s quicker to make a sound from scratch than it is to go scrolling through menus looking for it, and even if you do recall a sound it never seems to be quite as good as you remember it anyway. Plus there’s that added element with analogue circuitry being susceptible to changes in heat etc., the fundamentally chaotic nature of it all, so that even if you don’t touch a single key, knob, switch or patch cable the sound just changes of its own accord.
The transient nature is what makes it so inspiring. The process is a constant exploration, an adventure where you don’t know what’s around the next corner. The tricky part is capturing the good bits while not filling up your hard disk with hours of rubbish that you’re going to have to sift through later. I’m learning to make sure my levels are set and I’m ready to record at the press of a single key.
And I’ve bought a bigger hard disk.
* note: “heatwave” here means a couple of days where it doesn’t rain and a strange unfamiliar glowing yellow orb is briefly visible in the sky.