This past Halloween night, the NYMS invaded The East Village Playhouse for one hell of a show! Sounds of Horror!
NYMS members Dysonant, Jon Bohm (one half of Saddle Up the Robots), DJ Cherishtheluv, Crew Called Self, This Digital Landscape and Ben The Glorious Bastard took the stage for a night of bleeps, bloops and frights. I had the opportunity to virtually sit down with each of the performers and ask a few question about their individual modular philosophies and performance setups.
This week’s interview is with none other than Dysonant. Be sure to check out his Instagram to see what else he has going on.
Modular synths seem to be a pretty specific niche. What draws you into modular vs. standard synths or other options?
I was tired of scrolling through presets trying to find a sound that was close to what I wanted, then modifying that
sound to suit my needs. I thought I knew how synths worked prior to using modular, but I was really wrong. With
modular synths your are locked into crafting each sound from the ground up. I know now that I still have a lot to learn
about sound synthesis and design. I never learned this on fixed architecture synths because, for example, the VCA is
almost always end of chain. On most fixed synths you can’t decide, hey, what if I modulate the VCA with audio?
Learning each building block has gotten me closer to “my sound” than anything prior.
Why do you choose to perform live on what can potentially be a fairly complicated setup?
I never thought about playing live when I was using a computer to make music. It really lacks that element of danger
where anything can go wrong and then turn into something that goes right. If it is not interesting to me, how can I
expect an audience to be interested? I think using a modular synth is a lot more like playing guitar or piano. You
need to practice, rehearse and hone your craft. I am not implying using a computer you do not do these things, just
that I approach a modular synth more like an instrument than a studio.
How long have you been playing on modular?
I’ve been playing live for 3 1/2 years and using modular August of 2014.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of modular synths?
Cable management and module arrangement. I try to arrange my modules so that cable runs are shorter to hopefully limit spaghettification.
What type of music (non-modular) do you find inspirational? Artists and/or genres.
I am a big fan of dark, heavy, sad and weird music. I still think My Bloody Valentine is one of the all time best. Shoegaze in general is very appealing to me because it incorporates all those elements. Often before I begin preparing for a show, I may start listening to sludge and doom metal for textural inspiration. Sometimes I listen to techno, hip-hop, jazz and more abstract electronic for rhythmic inspiration. Often the ambience on the Enterprise is enough to get me going.
Can you name a module that inspires you the most?
The Harvestman Zorlon Cannon. It is a bit daunting at first, but can be used in so many creative ways. For example, I have coaxed from it very cool sounding hi-hats, many flavors of noise, chords, clock dividers, semi-random stepped voltages, semi-random rhythmic gates and more. In fact, with only a quad VCA you could make close to a full drum machine, albeit and very uncontrolled and weird one. I have had it for over four years and still find new uses for it.
What was the first module you purchased/acquired?
I went all out and got a full Pittsburgh System-90 for my first foray into modular. I had no idea what I was doing, but figured I wanted something intended to be a complete instrument. This system really appealed to me because it merged digital and analog modules and seemed to encourage creativity.
What was the last module you purchased/acquired?
Instruō Troika. I have been wanting a triple analog oscillator for quite some time. A few years back I got 3 WMD/SSF Spectrums thinking, why not keep it fully modular (i.e. no normalizations) thereby maximizing patch-ability. The Spectrum is a killer little VCO, but patching 3 to a mixer and setting up routing started to be come a chore and limited my creative flow. Recently I got Troika and find it really friendly to work with. For the Halloween show, I made the main melody from it and was able to easily modify the sound live for different parts of my set.
Currently, what is your favorite module?
Warmstar Electronics The Bends. Simply put, it is a 4 channel attenuator. The magic is that you can input CV or audio and allow the channels to bleed into eachother. So it is also kind of a mixer. But it also has inverted outputs per channel. Unpatched it is a voltage source, so creating offset or macro knobs is rather simple. Because the bleed is controlled by Vactrols you can even use it to create decay envelopes from gates/triggers. It is kind of an uber utility that I am going to be finding new tricks on for years.
How do you prioritize musicality vs. the “weirdness” that modular offers? For example, are there times when you abandon harmony in favor of weird and interesting patches and vice versa?
I work primarily at the intersection of experimental and accessible. So, I do not necessarily prioritize one over the other. I like to create very abstract music that much of the world would not consider music. The modular synth, with all the modulation possibilities really lends itself to being weird. I move between these sounds and more traditional musical structures hoping to introduce those unaccustomed to abstract music in a more open way. Often I will introduce a weird sound, let it sink in for a bit, then begin to modify and warp it into something tangible, like rhythm or pitch.
Can you give a brief “rig rundown” or “patch notes” from your Halloween performance?
Oh man, it was complicated. I’ll try to be brief. There were 3 voices, bass, melody and chord pads. Then I had a 4 part rhythm section, kick, snare, percussion and hi-hat. Pretty traditional, really. Rather than detailing the full patch, I’ll tell you a couple of interesting things.
I was using WMD Crucible for hi-hats, but it was not spooky enough and too realistic. So, I had it set to Curved Plate at the highest deform mode. The trick was sending unattenuated Pink Noise into the pitch input. This gave the hats an almost squishy liquid sound that felt sickening.
The “snare” was made from the Schlappi Engineering Interstellar Radio. Eric Schlappi tipped me off to self patching the Error Output straight into the input. This gets you some pretty amazing and gnarly pitched noise. The trick here was patching my sequencer pitch to the freq input on a band pass filter and another sequencer CV out to modulate the ERROR CV on the Interstellar Radio. Per step I was able to tune in a different noisy snare sound.
Lastly, how would you describe your Halloween performance to someone unfamiliar with this crazy modular world we live in?
Like an early 80s TV horror theme that slowly creeps up and then stabs you in the face with heavy electronic beats and bass.
Thanks Dysonant!! Great stuff…Looking forward to your performance at H0L0 on Dec 20th!