March 7, 2014

My Current Toolset...

by Chris Randall

Hey, hey, it's time for WORKFLOW talk! One thing that has been happening to me with alarming frequency lately (due in no small part to dipping my toe in the torpid waters of academia) is that Dude makes a declarative statement about Gear in the context of Task, then says "what do you use for Task?"

Now, I often point out that my way for Task, and the Gear I choose to accomplish it, is in no way the right way, or even the best way. It's my way. Sub-conversation: tools are just that, tools. You don't look at a beautiful house and say "gee, I wonder what hammers the carpenters used?" Same thing here. While it's nice to learn new techniques and move your craft forward, at the end of the day, figuring out a way to accomplish Task without knowing how Dude did it is far more satisfying than aping his technique. To that end, knowing how to produce is far more useful than knowing what to use to produce.

Anyhow, as a merciful return to the subject, it was recently pointed out to me (and the which is something I knew, but hadn't vocalised before) that when I'm doing an album project, I pick a palette of sound sources and tools, and use pretty much only that to create the end product, not straying from it too far. This conversation was started by way of inquiring what palette I had chosen for the album I'm working on now. It was further intimated that perhaps I could write this down as a conversation starter. Since this album is far more "produced" than my last few, and the first album to which I've applied significant production in some years, I agreed it merited some talk. Anyhow...

DAW: I'm actually splitting duties almost equally on this album between Ableton Live 9 and Bitwig Studio. The WORKFLOW is nearly identical in both DAWs, so it's not much trouble to flip back and forth between the two. There are things that Live does that Bitwig sucks at (M4L being chief among these, plus far more control over MIDI sync) and things that Bitwig does that Live sucks at (hosting 32-bit plug-ins and 64-bit plug-ins side by side, a much better arrange view), and I like keeping my brain nimble. I've mixed all the Live-based tracks and have moved on to the Bitwig-based ones. We'll see how things shake out.

Synths: For this project, I find myself using Monark for bass almost exclusively. I'll go out on a limb and say this is the best 3-osc subtractive mono-synth plug-in made currently. I wish it was a real plug-in and not Reaktor-hosted, but that's not a big deal. Most of the pads and FM-ish tones are coming from the DK Synergy II+. Bleeples and blorps are from the Euro, the Analog Four and Aalto. I just acquired a Novation Ultranova the other day, and it may make an appearance. A surprisingly handy little synth.

Drums: Here's where things get interesting. 99% of the rhythmic information on this album is location recording or real-time recording, to cassette or Nagra loops. I'll put up a detailed explanation of how I did this once the album is released, but I'm using a lot of ambient "open-mic" noise as rhythmic source material. This is very satisfying. Every track on this album has 10 to 20 tracks of ambient noise from tape loops that are gated, sliced, diced, Beat Tweaked™ (©2014 BT, All Rights Reserved), or otherwise coerced in to being drum-like. I'll put up a more detailed post of what I did once the record is released, but this is the unique aspect of this album and I'm fairly proud of what I came up with and how I pulled it off.

Effects Plug-Ins: I have, via either purchase or NFR trade, pretty much every native plug-in ever made. There's a strong temptation to go buck wild with the plugs, and thus, for this project, I made a separate plug-in folder, and only put the stuff in it that I'm "allowed" to use (circumstances permitting.) As a result, the only effects I'm using here are the Audio Damage plug-in suite (duh), Valhalla Vintage Verb (along with Eos, the main send 'verb on all tracks), Ozone 5 Advanced, DMG Compassion, and Trash 2. I am, aside from Rough Rider Pro, using the built-in compressors and EQ in Live and Bitwig exclusively.

Anyhow, that's my palette for this project, in its entirety. I personally find using everything to lead to non-finished tracks, which is why I do this sort of thing. Do you guys, when you're committing to a full project, similarly limit yourselves? Or do you just use everything you have all the time?


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Mar.09.2014 @ 10:54 AM
@basscadet: I'm curious to know what you're using for field recordings with your iPhone. I'm very low on cash, so buying a standalone Tascam or Zoom recorder isn't in the cards, but if there's something superior to the crummy mic on my cheap Panasonic earbuds that's also affordable, I'd like to know more about it.

Mar.10.2014 @ 3:51 AM
i'm definitely of the limitations school of thought. i like the idea of things coming from one or two ideas exhaustively teased out, transformed, etc. in terms of equipment workflow i do remember one experimental FM synth setup involving a DX100, sysex and Max (yep, preMSP, running on an SE/30) where i went from having control over every parameter, to having control over 11 parameters, to saving various settings from these 11 as a preset, to then using the keyboard to trigger the preset sounds. once i got it to that point i started making something really happen.

there are definitely times i try to limit myself to creating all or a good portion of my sounds from just one or two sources. i did a experimental electronic piece based on a short improv clip of someone letting loose with a Buchla 200e and a Source Of Uncertainty on Youtube. the total sound (the synth plus the room sound) was so awesome i downloaded that and used it for practically all the cut up rhythms and drum sounds. it even imparted a rough harmonic motive that inspired me to set it in a complementary key/mode.

@stratus - i might recommend the Blue Mikey - about $40 maybe possibly less if you get blemished.

Mar.11.2014 @ 8:48 AM
My workflow works in phases. Demo/Writing with Purpose/Live.

In the Demo phase, I have my own set up that changes on every revolution. Right now, I'm back into my hardware. I set up two rigs - one literally in front of me, the other behind me. I have my iMac running Logic and my smaller, quick noise generating equipment consisting of a Microbrute, KaossKP3, Monotron, shortwave radio and iPad going into my shitty little 6channel mixer. I can quickly make sound/get an idea down, noodle, whatever. Behind me, I have my Controller, MicrowaveXT, Nord2 & Indigo2 going into my not-quite-so-shitty 8channel mixer for more serious mangling. Everything routes to my IO interfaces and all devices are already setup in Logic along with all the plugins for recording and building out my demos. So, I suppose I limit myself to my little setup for inspirations and then open up a little more as something starts to take shape. I have found myself really sticking to hardware this time around. The main actual plugins I'm using are typically for drums (Battery/BFD, Kontakt)...Effects/Mixing plugins I typically use lightly here and save for using during the next phase...

Writing with purpose is when we have a solid concept and go in to our studio and transfer over all the demo tracks to Protools and start building, recording live elements, fine tuning and transforming into a band song. We'll use anything here. No limitations.

Live phase is where limiting really comes in and we build the rigs around what is absolutely necessary for live performances and practicing, etc.

Rinse, Repeat.

Mar.13.2014 @ 5:05 AM
Chris, are you still using the motu as A/D-D/A? I've seen you recording with various stuff from more hi-pro to semi-pro stuff.

Mar.13.2014 @ 10:54 AM
Chris Randall
Yeah, I sold the Mytek 8x192 because it was a ton of money tied up in something I didn't really utilize. However, lately I've had the jones to go back to a high-end recording/mixing rig. If I had the cash (which I don't) I probably would have done it already.

That said, the MOTU Ultralite is fine for this sort of thing.


Mar.15.2014 @ 1:49 PM
HI Chris, I was wondering if you have used the MOTU to control your modular from the computer? I thought I read that this can control cv directly.

Mar.15.2014 @ 5:26 PM
@stratus - if you have a soldering iron and 15 minutes:

link []

Mar.15.2014 @ 9:09 PM
Chris Randall
@winterhater: Yes, this works with Silent Way and Volta (I have the former). All MOTU interfaces are DC-coupled and work with these plugs. That said, I almost always use the Analog Four and soon [REDACTED], because these are much more immediate than fucking with a computer.


Mar.16.2014 @ 5:02 PM
OK, that is one of the more interesting [REDACTED]s I have read in awhile...

Mar.16.2014 @ 5:35 PM
I was hoping that [REDACTED] was the name of this cool thing, with the punctuation.

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