This years RPM challenge is the first one where Ive used solely hardware synthesizers since tape days in the 1980s. The album is about North Pole exploration (theres a PDF inside which explains all of the tracks, the title, background etc, so Im not going to repeat this here) and it was very tempting to use all manner or archive field recordings and extract with granular sampling etc. But that is exactly what I didn’t want to do- for starters Ive not been there, so I really don’t have any context for the samples other than whats been published about them, and more importantly, this is now too common an approach, so I thought this was an opportunity for a re-think.
What I decided to do is quite old hat in a way; to give an impression with artificial, synthetic means. This was a mainstream synthesizer approach back in the 1970s, and as such certain key “Krautrock” albums acted as a starting point, namely the early Klaus Schulze albums, and the 1970s Tangerine Dream albums. In the case of Tangerine Dream, their skill at (often cheesily) creating sonic impressions landed them some lucrative Hollywood soundtrack commissions in the 1980s, This genre/ approach now has a name “Berlin School of Electronics” which typically consists of sequencer/ arpeggiator patterns, in counterpoint, which nods at American Minimalism in its patterning, but is often layered against the beat with synth solos, pads etc.
What interested me, however, was the use of pads, which I think can be further explored with modern effects (together with the more usual sequencer parts). I used 4 hardware synths on this album; The Korg MS20 Mini, the Arturia Microbrute, The Waldorf Streichfett and the EMU virtuoso. In particular the EMU virtuoso is capable of being much more than a hardware sound library, which I blogged about here, and the Streichfett I reviewed here There are no softsynths or max patches in use on this album.
As a result of this being without field recordings, this is a much more ‘notey’ album with the textures being made of complex harmonies as well as synth sounds- and I’m quite pleased how these two domains came together on this album.
The main thing I noticed about working this way is how little post production I had to do; all I had was a teeny bit of compression, and effect chains for the two monosynths (which traditionally would be things like a Roland space echo and or a few guitar delay pedals) so much of it was tracked very quickly and cleanly straight into Ableton Live 9.
The album is reviewed on the Scattlerfilter blog here