Aesthetic _ Interview with CTRLS
Wicked! I just figured out how to work out Euclidean rhythms from first principles in my head, which has made things a lot more interesting! What you mentioned there about the rhythmic components of a sound, like reversing and compression and such, I find (from conversations with others too) that it can be hard to know what elements are going to work… How do you manage sound design? And do you know before you sit down what you want it to sound like, or are you an experimenter at all?
Well I’ve always had a fairly specific aesthetic in mind for my solo stuff and I started trying to get specific results as soon as I realized I could. Just keeping at sounds until they came out sort of what’s like in my head. It’s important to not get too specific with these things or you’ll be tweaking details forever but I always have a fairly good idea of what I want things to sound like or represent.
I spent a lot of time learning synthesis and audio engineering, so It’s not too hard for me to get something I like fairly quickly, there are enough tools in my mental toolbox that I rarely run out of ideas of what to try next. I don’t use samplers and loops and such these days and I don’t render things out and bring them back in so I usually have to come up with something on the spot. I spent enough time choosing and studying my instruments and practicing stuff to be able to do that now. Doing various types of audio work for other people definitely helped me become faster and more fluid at chaining decisions together and avoiding those soul-destroying creative blocks. Intuitively too, not just on paper. I deliberately made sure to clock in a ton of hours on the gear I saw potential in. I usually delete the factory preset bank right away so I’m forced to get to know the thing inside out. You gotta work these things under your skin or things will get too premeditated and all your vibe in the session will be lost. The modulars are an important part of this for me because of the control and surprises that come with their complexity.
I also try and make sure I use the best sounding stuff that my setup will allow me to; it’s much easier to get into it when things just sound good right away. A good synth will let you do silly stuff (by traditional standards) like 10-20 Hz saw waves in a track because even though it’s a messy sound the definition and tonal qualities of the synth will make it sound good. There are very very few soft synths that can do this properly, they all start sounding bad with very high and low notes and don’t blend into the mix without lots of work. And with a few exceptions (like Aalto’s modifiers, comb filters on Zebra and Diva’s circuit simulation) they don’t do much by design to sound natural/organic either, you have to program the life movement into them. So I do my best to only have plugins that sound great and keep out stuff that only does 1 or 2 things well unless it’s really unique. But I really wish that developers would think more in terms of things like comb filters and other modules that don’t necessarily let you edit every little detail, but gives you more organic and less obviously math based qualities.
Sometimes I feel like I should just get lots of analog to get at those beautifully natural tones but it grates against my futurist principles a bit, and I feel like I have more to offer in a purely digital environment. Getting my output chain and room in order has also done a lot for the quality of my sounds and their diversity. I usually want to hear everything and know about all the resonances and unwanted artefacts and that just doesn’t happen (to my knowledge) with speakers in the range of say Adam a7 and audio interfaces in the 2-400 euro range. Basically I’ve realized that if you want things to sound good you either get really good instruments and processors or you make sure your monitoring is so good that you can hear everything that’s going on.
Ideally, it’s a happy mixture of both. Going out to listen to great sound in mastering houses, concert halls, orchestras, your audiophile friend’s stereo or whatever sounds good to “calibrate” your brain is also really important so you’ve got a wider scope of what’s possible.