Darwin: Okay. This week, I am very pleased to have someone who I consider a friend, someone I talk to every time we get a chance to talk to, it's Richard Devine... is that how you see your name? It's Divine, right? It is because I have to say that 50% of the people that I've talked to say divine 50% say Deveene. And so I just wanted to verify that
Richard Devine: I've heard all variations everything above, but it all works for me.
Darwin: Welcome Richard. Thanks a lot for being on the podcast with us.
Richard: Glad to be here. Thank you for the interview.
Darwin: Sure. With every podcast, I always kick it off by asking people to give us a little bit of their background. Why don't you share some of that with us?
Richard: Well, let's see here. I guess my background... I've never went to any sort of proper school for music or sound design, I guess the earliest formal musical training I had was I've had piano lessons. Going back at around age eight, and that was purely because my mom wanted me and my brother to do something other than ride BMX bikes and play in the creek every afternoon. And in the beginning we weren't really that into learning music or sight reading or any of that stuff, which was my basic introduction - all that was classical music. And that was basically, I would say, that would be the starting point for me, where I was introduced to composers like Eric Satie, Haydn, Chopin and Bach, having to learn these deeply complex, beautiful, pieces of music that have all these different layers and movements and changes throughout each piece.
It was basically the basic foundations of music for me, where these were the first pieces of music that I had heard at that age, and had to play these pieces over and over for recitals and stuff. And it wasn't, I would say, until when me and my brother got into skateboarding, when we started to get introduced to newer forms of music, like hip hop and thrash metal and early punk music, that's when our brains kind of got exploded into this whole different area, that kind of came along with skateboard culture. And, it was kind of cool because for me, it was sort of like this whole DIY aspect, a lot of these bands were just these garage, punk bands they'd all kind of form together - a group of friends - and started making music.
I love that idea, just kind of the rawness of punk music and even hip hop in a way had this raw do-it-yourself bedroom sort of style approach. I was just always intrigued by that. And that you could just do that, all on your own. And, so yeah, I think going really, really far back to the beginning, those were like my initial, beginning points and along the way, I just, from those forms of music, I started to discover other forms of music, like early electronic music. Noise, techno, electro, house, you name it. Let's say you're going from that point. I started playing other instruments, drums, bass. And then, I actually in high school tried to start a few different bands with friends and it never worked out.
I would always run into a situation where our drummer couldn't meet up for practice or our guitar player was fighting with his girlfriend and he couldn't meet up that afternoon. And it was constantly this battle just to try to make music. I had friends that were really serious about wanting to make music and wanted to get together. Then I had friends that there were other things are more important. So I was like, you know what, I'm just going to buy a drum machine. And so I started looking into buying other gear at that time. And at that same time, I started deejaying a bit [with] two turntables. And this is probably, I was 16 years old when I got my first set of Technics turntables and started buying records. And back in here in Atlanta, there wasn't really a, a big electronic music scene back in the day. There wasn't a whole lot of people that were making this music, I knew of one or two other producers in the area.
Darwin: Well, when you say back in the day, what kind of timeframe are we talking about? Are we talking about the late nineties, early nineties,
Richard: Early nineties, or I'm going to say between '92 and '93 is when I started to buy a lot of this stuff and, and start researching this stuff more seriously. And, I'd say like '94 was really when I started to kind of seek out a lot of this stuff, because I basically just wanted to build up a studio where I could make my own music and have all these machines do what my band wasn't able to do - like the parts. But as I started discovering more electronic music and I started to go out to parties quite a bit too, during this period, I'm going to raves and I'm sure that word doesn't get used as much these days, but back in those days we would find out about parties and travel out of state quite a bit to be the Midwest or a lot of that, the early rave movement was happening and go to these parties where I'd hear Richie Hawtin play.
And, Randy Garcia, a lot of these cool Chicago producers, producers from Detroit, I was really heavily influenced by a lot of the music that was coming out, with those areas and like Detroit techno and the early electro scene, Juan Atkins and Drexciya and all those things that were coming on at that time were just such a huge influence on me. I'd never really heard music. I'd never heard anything quite like it, it wasn't like they were making music that was - it was more music for your mind and your body that was just kind of taking you to a whole different place that all the other records that I've been buying, which were more, just kind of like cocktail music, kind of stuck in comparison you know, listening to a lot of the it's specifically the Detroit techno stuff.
Just love the cerebral dark kind of quality. You know, hearing Jeff Mills for the first time was such a huge, turning point for me. You know, I'm still a diehard fan to this day, but I mean, just some of the things that he would do compositional and a track and some of the places that he would take you were just astounding to me, it was like listening to music that was 10,000 years into the future. And had this really stark sort of sinister sort of vibe and almost like psychotic synth patterns and textures that were just it just blew me away. I just never heard anything like it. And, that was hugely influential for me. And then I'd say it was the sound of acid the sound of the Roland TB-303.
And I had managed to get a few TB-303's and buy a lot of the early Roland equipment and was that was one of the first forms of music I ever started making was it was, was acid music or acid techno, whatever people want to term it. And of course a lot of the Detroit producers were using those same machines and I was influenced by a lot of that early stuff, that first generation of music that came out on Plus 8 records. And, there's just so much stuff. It was such an amazing time to be discovering all that. And, so I would drop back from these parties...
Darwin: I'm channeling what you're saying, because, you brought up like, Juan Akans and Jeff Mills. I just remember, I remember the first time I heard Derrick May's work. I couldn't stop listening to it. It was literally, there've been a few times in my life where I would hear something and all of a sudden the whole rest of the world had to stop while I'd listened to this thing 30 times in a row. And it was - you kind of said something about it being music from 10,000 years in the future. And I think that they were channeling that a little bit, certainly Juan Atkins - he had kind of this futurist vision, but, all of that stuff, it just did seem, even more so than Kraftwerk to me, it just represented a clear path for the future. And I think it's interesting that you kind of felt that same way about it.
Richard: Oh, definitely. You, you mentioned one, I can recall the Model 500 stuff and and I, of course, was listening to Kraftwerk and all of this stuff beforehand as well. And I just loved their take - it's just like futuristic techno sound and I just pictured Detroit, this like crazy metropolis, like producers that were... it just was very mysterious, and is still is to this day. It has a mystique about it that I love that it's very alluring to outside producers who are not from that area. And you know, all of those guys, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derek May, I mean, they were just - I was blown away just by that whole camp. And, and I still have all those records in my collection.
I hold on to them dearly. The Cybertron and all, I mean, there're just so many good records that they they'd put out. And it just has like this nostalgic factor for me. And then I guess shortly after that, I, accidentally discovered the music of Aphex Twin, which was kind of like a turning point for me in my career, when I've come from listening to all those different genres and music and deejaying in high school; I was listening to quite a bit of industrial music as well. I was a big [Einstürzende] Neubauten fan, Skinny Puppy and a lot of the Canadian industrial music and Front 242. And, I was a big Jack Dangers - and still am big Jack Dangers/Meat Beat Manifesto - fan, and buying the Mindstream remixes EP's... and there was an Aphex Twin remix on the EP.
And I was just, I'd never heard of this guy before. I didn't know who he was. And I remember dropping the needle down on the record and being like, "Whoa - listen to this crazy syncopated percussion...", and the high hats and the, just the entire track, the drones and the pad and the way he did the arrangement just blew my mind. It was so different from everything else that I was listening to at that time. And it had a very futuristic, modern sort of feel to it that I hadn't experienced before, with like an electronic rhythmic track. And, it was just hugely, it just inspired me like nothing else at that point. And I was just like, I need to seek out everything that this guy puts out and it's funny cause I went and backtracked.
Richard: I was like, Oh, it was, he runs a record label called Reflex with this guy Grant and they also put out other music that's very similar to this, that showcases other artists. I basically researched at that time and, started buying everything that they were putting out and just everything on the label blew me away where I made discoveries of Mike Peridinas and Luke Vibert, Cyclops, these artists were doing such - and even to this day, there's still such forward thinking music. I was just blown away by it, and you look at... that's where I heard Squarepusher and some of these other artists that were, each one had their own personality in a way, but it was so forward thinking. Even at those times, the first few EPS that they were putting out on the label where just in my humble opinion were just like years ahead of everyone else.
And I was just so blown away by all that stuff. So I was like, "Wow, this is the music that I would love to make and be a part of this, this sort of world." And that kind of began my earliest sort of experiments into that realm. I was like trying to, I don't know, just that was the music that spoke to my brain the most and that's what I continued to, to start making. And that's the, still some of the stuff that I'm still inspired by to this day and continue to make - or try to make.
Darwin: What's interesting to me is that this track through sort of like your history of influencing artists, all kind of have one thing in common, which is that they would take either they would either work hard on coming up with very unique sounds and timbres, or they would take sounds that other people had sort of like dismissed as being too trite or too non-realistic and sort of embrace that synthetic quality and, and ran with it, turned it into art, right? And I feel like if I would sort of wrap my arms around your work, I would say that that's very similar to what you do. You take, sometimes what we would now frame as classic sounds, but twist them up a lot. You are also really active in sound design, kind of in a very unique way. You tend to - things I've heard you do, some of them are very aggressive. Some of them are very, are obvious to the point of being some non-violent - you have a really real breadth, but all of this stuff tends to be really focused on pretty fantastic sound design. It seems to me like there's more to that than just these influencing artists. Have you always been kind of fascinated with sound and sound creation?
Richard: Oh, I would definitely say - I guess when I first got a digital sampler, I was doing a lot of my music compositions with an Akai S-3000. And when I got the sampler, that was like a big turning point for me because before that time, I was synthesizing a lot of my sounds and using analog modulars and drum machines and things that were pretty much fixed environments where you basically just you have what you had in front of you, and that was about it. You could run it through effects or run one device into another device to get different sounds. But, before that point I had no way of incorporating outside sounds into a music composition. And when I got the sampler, that basically just opened the whole world up so I could record anything. And, and that's exactly what I did.
I went out, recorded everything underneath the sun; it was such a huge thing for me to be able to go outside and use my parents' garbage cans as the drums for my track, or go behind the Kroger grocery store and record one of the trash conveyor belt machines and use that in a music track. And the whole idea of just switching out what I would typically use for like a traditional analog drum machine and replacing all those drum sounds of all these weird found sound objects was huge for me. And it was interesting because at the time I got the sampler, I started to study more avant guard music. I heard it a record collection from a friend of mine who had a synthesizer here in Atlanta and he had this crazy, I think it was about four or five crates of records that I inherited from him.
And this is where I discovered the works of Todd Docstader and Xenakis and Morton Subotnick in particular, which was another artist that I had no knowledge of prior to this time. And when I had gotten Sidewinder and Wild Bull, it just blew me away. I'd never heard music that was so organic and free. And I had no idea how he created it for coming from, you know, listening to music that was so linear based. That was so much on a grid, you know, using drum machines and hardware sequencers. It was like the polar opposite end of the spectrum. It was electronic, but the timbres and everything almost sounded like little organisms growing and multiplying. And and then the gestures were so free. It was almost like he was painting these particles onto a watercolor, where the colors were bleeding into each other.
And then it just fascinated me. I was just so, so blown away by that. And I really started to kind of pay attention to sound more, not only within the synthesizers and how I was using the synthesizers, but also with outside found sounds how I could incorporate the sounds of nature or machinery, or ambiances, into my recordings and try to use those more creatively, to come up with new things and to kind of put the listener into these different spaces. And, I just thought that was such a cool thing.
Darwin: Well, it seems like there's a bit of serendipity there too, to have have the background in synthesis to come in to sampling, but also then to fall into what amounts to a complete music education in four crates of albums sounds like a pretty amazing bit of timing as well.
Richard: Oh, it was, I mean, you were ready for it. I was ready for it. I mean, I'm always the sponge. I always tell people that I love absorbing new music and knowledge. And, but I mean, when I heard Stockhausen for the first time or some of the John Cage records that were in there, I had no idea, it was basically the dumbest educational experience I could have had at that point in time. And it was really funny because it made me realize that the music that I was listening to at that point in time, which I thought was so advanced and futuristic, was actually not there. There wasn't a lot more futuristic ideas that had happened like 30, 40 years prior to that, where you have someone like John Cage comes from this completely different approach and with such radical ideas about what sound is and how sound affects people - like I just was like, "Wow!" You know, I obviously need to do a little bit more homework.
Darwin: I have to admit though that John Cage, if there's an argument to be made for time-travel, he's just like right on the cover of that book, because he came up with such drastic things and like over and over and over again, he would change things constantly and put the whole world on its ear.
Richard: Oh, absolutely. I mean as far as non-standard use of musical instruments, he's like the guy and I was already sort of toying around with those concepts, but I just didn't know that there was people before this time that were already taking these ideas to the most radical levels: the idea of playing with chance controlled aleatoric approach of just these radical ideas that I'd been dreaming about. But then now after discovering John Cage's music and going back and listening to the Variation Series and all these incredible records, I was just, I was like, "Wow!" I just, the thing that I need to take away from this is just to learn and to understand, and to find the wonderful things about this, and hopefully try to incorporate some of these ideas into my own music and sort of fun, interesting ways.
And it did - all this stuff was so influential on my sound. I think for people who know about John Cage and some of these artists, they, they understand they'll hear my music. And like, we understand where you're coming from now. Whereas people who haven't studied some of that stuff have a harder time understanding some of my stuff. They're kinda like, "Oh, you just plugged a bunch of junk in and you hit record.", you know, and I couldn't understand. I mean, people come from all different perspectives and backgrounds where they may have heard, or may have not heard some of these composers and some of their works. You know, I find that to even be more of a common thing lately with the newer generation of people getting into electronic music you mentioned some of these names and they don't know what you're talking about like, "Oh, well, I know Skrillex, but..."
Darwin: But you know, the, the flip side of it is, I wonder if I think that a good trail of breadcrumbs is being left. The current generation talks about the previous generation, which talks about the previous generation, and if you're really into it and let's face it, not one out of every a hundred thousand Scrillex fans is going to become a serious serious about music study. But, the breadcrumbs are there, I think, for people to follow it all the way back to Stockhausen. We hope.
Darwin: So now it's one of the things I would say about your work is that you do this. So you have these influences from sort of like the classic electro-acoustic world. You also have influences from Chicago and Detroit and London schools, you tend to meld them in a very interesting way. And it's led to you getting a lot of opportunity to do sound design commercially. I am always curious about that as a gig. One of the things in my podcasts, I've talked to people who've done album releases. And one of the things I always like to talk to people about is, when is an album released on, when do you feel like you're finished with it with a recording, and everybody has an interesting concept and how they can tell when they're done. I would think that sound design work - and especially if you're doing either sound design for a piece of hardware, or if you're doing sound design for like a sample library - how can you tell when you're done? How can you not say there's one more sound or conversely you say, "Wow, I have way more sounds." How can you tell when you've kind of completed, completed the job and produced something that's going to resonate with other people?
Richard: That's a tough question to answer, because I struggled with that so many times with writing albums and working on music tracks that I've worked on some music tracks for months I think the longest I've ever worked on one track was like six or eight months - somewhere around there - where I was just going back and changing things and rechanging things again. And it's funny. Cause when I first started making music, I made music with all hardware, right? And you basically just played through your track and you had to play it all in real time and hit record. So if you screwed up, you just had to rerecord the whole track again. But then an interesting thing happened when I started making music with computers, I could perfect things in, actually perfect every second.
Like control what happens at like a specific point in time within the track where I could make some interesting transition happen or take the track into a whole different direction and with a whole different group of sounds. But in doing that, you're constantly working on these pieces of music where you keep changing things, adding things, just because you can, and you can recall the piece anytime you want work on it at a later time, which I found some times tracks would come together really quickly like three or four days. And then I'd have tracks where I would struggle for months and months. And they would be these dragged out long, tedious processes that were just nerve wracking. And so it's funny because with the technology, there's been points where I've spent too much time on a project where I had all these great sounds and I could have probably added more.
>And the company I was working with was like "Richard, we have to turn this in. We have to release something!", and they've given me a hard deadline to get everything in. So I would have to tell myself, "Okay, well I've only got X amount of time." That would basically be my end point for my cutoff point to turn in stuff. And, and that, that also went with record labels too. They would always give me a due date to turn in a remix or turn in an EP or an album of songs. And so I work better when I have deadlines. Cause if I didn't have them, I'd be endlessly tirelessly working on the tracks for an eternity. And, so it's good that I have those because I'm one of those people that will constantly keep changing or tweaking things or find a better sound here. I'm always one of those people that thinks that that can improve improve a piece. I think that's a better, better description.
Darwin: No, what's interesting is that I've had the opportunity to see you play live, which is almost the exact opposite experience. Where sound design or album creation can be can feed your obsessive nature. When it exists a live performance is you putting it out there and letting it rip. How do you kind of balance your desire for sort of like specific sounds and specific, results in a recorded situation with doing live performance?
Richard: Yeah. And it's interesting because I'm actually trying to break out of my old computer bad habits. It's this attachment to being able to change things and all that business. And when I was talking about this new sort of revolution, that's kind of come around again for me using modular since that's kind of - I've been forcing myself to use them not only in the studio and not only just for sound design projects, but for live performances. And over the past two years, I've been slowly fine-tweaking this live rig that I have, which is a enclave 12 Eurorack case. And I keep switching modules in and out of it, but, of course...
Darwin: You do because that's what we do.
Richard: It's just, that's another place that never ends either. And for me, the cool thing that I've been loving about the modular stuff is there's no attachment to anything - you can't store anything you can't - even if you make patch notes of a particular patch - reproduce that patch, you will never perform that patch the exactly the same way. Because there's so many different factors that come into play that can change the way the patch sounds entirely in a split second one module could shift, the whole timing could shift the speed, the nuance of how like how far shifted in time. So, I mean, there's so many little things that can affect what happens: you can't really grab onto the fact that you're ever going to get anything ever again, that one performance you do is the only one that's ever going to be like that in that moment in time. And I just love that idea. I love that I can't fall into my old habits; it's basically just live in the moment you're riding that fine line of absolute, horrible, brilliant performance. You know, it could go either way and it's all based on what you're doing and what your brain is thinking at that split second. And it's such an exhilarating ballsy thing to do, I guess this is the best way to describe it. Cause you really don't have any fallback plan.
Darwin: Well, I often think I I've been really influenced in my performance stuff by my work with local dance company, and one of the heads of the dance company, this guy named Jim LaVita, is a strong proponent of risk being important as part of performance. That if your performance has no potential for error, it also has no potential for excitement. And, conversely, if your system, whatever system you're using to do a performance, if it has a lot of variables, risky variables, and when you're working with dancers, it's all risk, right? Because dancers are risky people - just period. But, if you have a lot of risky variables, the opportunity exists for failure, but it also exists for something unexpected and exciting, and I've really come to appreciate that view. And it sounds like that's what you're pushing yourself towards as well.
Richard: Absolutely. Yeah. And I completely agree with him in that that whole element of risk is what makes it so exciting because it's going to force you to do stuff that you wouldn't normally do and you won't fall back on your old habits. And I was doing that a lot with my performances on the computer, towards the end where you're more or less just playing digital tracks and manipulating effects and maybe re-sequencing stuff, but you're not really - at least with my performances, I wasn't really taking huge risks. I was just perfecting the show. I had already set up and improving certain breakdowns or builds and stuff. And I still had fun doing them. I think they were really cool, but there was not that element of, "Oh wow!"
Everything could just fall to pieces at any second. You just don't have that feeling in the back of your mind. You know, everything's just right there in front of you, you can see you could, you could see all the tracks and you could change anything at any second and the computer, if something wasn't going the right way, or if the crowd wasn't feeling it, you could immediately pull yourself out. But with the modular, you pretty much just have to go with it. It's like riding a wild bull in front of a bunch of people. And wherever that bull takes you, you just have to kind of for a little while and, and hope that it turns out okay, and that you don't fall flat on your face.
Darwin: Or if I do you at least look good doing it!
Richard: They're like, "Yeah, that guy is crazy." But yeah, I love that and even recording lately, I love that where there's no attachments, there's nothing that you can really get too comfortable with. It's all an experiment in a way, and to see what you can get out, I've made this description in the past, but it's almost like when you create a really coool patch, it's like you have this just really interesting sort of... it's like you've captured this electrical sort of little ghost, this little electrical spirit. That's just kind of living for that one second within this interconnected patch network of cables, that's sort of floating between all these different modules. And it's just kind of how you channel in shape that little electrical organism that's floating and record that little organism, is how I look at these like little modular pieces and patches.
I think it's just such a fascinating organic way of making music. It's kind of like making music with nature, one of the most basic elements - and seeing what happens cause it's it just fascinates me to no end. And I've been finding that taking that idea to a live setting is really exciting and there's been some great shows and there's been some horrible shows, but it has been lots of really cool discoveries and making lots of improvements with every performance. And it's just been a great journey so far. And I'm going to continue to keep playing with a modular system at this point in time and just see where it goes and I don't even know where it's going to go, but sure.
Darwin: Well, the last couple of times I've seen you perform, it was still when you were doing primarily laptop and manipulation of digital tracks on the laptop. And you had some very particular things that I think where you're performing style. Some of it was a lot of interaction with the crowd, which is kind of rare for the laptop crew, because most of them had their nose planted on the number six key on their keyboard and you'd never see their face at all. Right? But additionally, you did a lot of digital freeze manipulation, so like that you were one of the first people I saw that really did a lot of that in performance. It was really exciting. Have you brought any of that with you into the modular? Do you still like have a computer with you that you're using for effects or is everything purely hardware now?
Richard: No. Completely all hardware based. I had made sure that, I really wanted to be anti-computer. I know that sounds funny because a lot of people that know me were like, "Rich, you've been doing computer performances for a decade!" To hear you say no computer - it's just they found that shocking. And, it's funny cause a lot of the videos that I've been posting up on my Vimeo channel of some of my modular patches, I actually put a little note in there saying that the patch was 100% made with the modular, no computers or drum machines were involved in making the band. I'm trying to let people know that I'm trying to make it a different move and see what happens without the computer and not be attached to using it, even though it's an extremely powerful machine.
And you could pretty much do anything you want with it. Really trying to focus in and explore all of the options and possibilities of using just a modular synthesizer. And you know, there's lots of challenges to it. And I'm trying to find, like you were mentioning, in my computer performances where I would use specific plugins and controllers, whether that be like a Lemur or, or a keyboard controller, I use so many different ones over the years. And you know, I think you might've been referring to - I used a lot of the GRM plugins. I was a big fan of the GRM and, and you know, I use a lot of the Cycling '74 stuff, Pluggo and Max and Reaktor. And there was just everything that I could get my hands on, I'll be using in a show.
And, and with the modular stuff, I'm taking that same approach. I'm trying to find all the most interesting processing and sound generation modules and put them into a configuration that would make a really fun, spontaneous performance that would sonically be similar to what I might have done in my laptop performances, but using analog circuitry and some digital oscillators and controllers. This is sort of like Frankenstein mishmash of different modules to kind of make this sort of strange new incarnation of what I was doing digitally with the laptop. And it's funny. I had a lot of friends message me and it's like, they make this comment; they're like "Rich. We find it really funny that you're making music with these analog modular systems that sounds like the music you made with the computer in 2001."
Darwin: Right. Well, I was just gonna say that I think your approach is interesting because, so often when I see people take their first dive into a modular system they'll get a Make Noise DPO and a Maths and they'll hook it up and they'll do the thing that kind of sounds like an FM patch in a blender. Or they'll get three oscillators and a ladder filter and they'll sound like Tangerine Dream from four decades ago. And in both cases, what you see is that is that they become consumed with doing the things that the module does rather than doing the music that represented their voice. And it seems like you're taking a different approach that is specifically about maintaining your voice and finding the modular tools that make it happen.
Richard: Absolutely. That is, I think that's key. I've actually, to a lot of people that were whether they were doing sound design or working to become an electronic musician, I think that it's extremely important to have your own voice and your own sound that you can identify with and that other people can identify with. You know, I know my sound isn't the next big thing or the hippest thing in the world. There's a lot of criticism that comes with the kind of stuff that I was creating in the whole IDM experimental electronic scene. But I mean, it's the music that spoke to me. That's the stuff I love. You know, it's the stuff that I continue to make and I'm trying to make the newest incarnations of that, that musical style that's influenced me so much, that I still find to be fresh and interesting even by today's standards and and even with the modular stuff, I try to convey my own voice and my own style and approach.
And it's funny, I've gotten lots of comments of people. "So they're like Rich, even when you do stuff on the modular, it sounds like you it's mistakenly your your sound", they just find that really interesting that somehow I'm able to get that out of those machines. But I think that's what I feel that's what an artist should do. I think it should just be an extension of their personality and what they're trying to convey artistically; it's just like an artist with a paintbrush and I see no different than the modular or the computer or any instrument it should, it should just be an extension of you and it should just be a channeling device of some sort that just kind of channels your emotions and your artistic creativity.
And, that's, that's always how I've looked at all these tools and all this equipment gear like even a drum machine or just like a like a synthesizer. I still, even at that point when I'm designing sounds for a keyboard, I always try to put my own personal sort of touch on those sounds or they will all have some sort of edgy interesting sort of timbre-changing quality to them. Then I try to put always a little spin on things to kind of give it that, just give it that little that little extra something that says, Hey, this is Richard, you know? And, I don't know. I find that to be hugely hugely important as well.
Darwin: I think it's important because it's what separates your work from just like archive work. I mean, the fact is, I've run across your patches on so many things. And so often I'm drawn to the work you do, because it often has either an idiosyncratic performance characteristic, or if you play it at just the right release time, then all of a sudden it blooms in a way that's completely unexpected. I think I tend to think of your work as having that, even when it is something like your work on the Way Out Ware Timewarp 2600, which is one of the places where I remember being just entranced by your sound design work.
Richard: Oh, wow. Well, thank you. That's all the years of owning an ARP 2600! I love it.
Darwin: Let's talk about some of the practicalities of working with modular systems, because I know from going to synth meet ups and different, different people I interact with, they'll know that I work with the modular or they'll see me work on the modular. And so often questions come up and it's that they can't imagine not being able to reproduce something later. I tell them literally when I turn the power off, if I turn it on again, it's not gonna sound the same, or it's not going to have the same timing characteristics, or if I accidentally bumped it, the whole thing goes in a toilet. When you have the responsibility of getting in front of a crowd and doing a performance, first of all, do you preset up your modular or do you start with a blank slate?
Richard: That's interesting that you bring that up because just, recently at the NAMM show, last weekend I did a couple of performances on a modular, and I used to actually this summer, I was traveling around playing shows with my case, and I would travel with the patch - I travel pre-patched, so, right. And it was basically, I would do that only if I knew that I was going to be arriving at a venue or would be having a lot of time to set up stuff. So I would try to pre-patch as much as I could ahead of time and then finish patching during a soundcheck there. But recently I've been trying to take a different approach where, my show last Friday night in Los Angeles, I actually showed up with nothing patched. I had no plan what I was going to do, and it was kind of scary cause everybody else was of course, totally prepared.
I had friends that were, they had spent all week on their show, and another friend of mine who showed up, who had pre-patched his entire patch and had been practicing it all week. Another guy that was there who, also had pre-patched and, but was using a computer. So it was leaning more on the computer for his performance, less on the modular. And I basically was standing there setting up with all the guys, and I'll never forget the look on my friend's face when they saw me open up my case and, like, you don't have anything pre-patched. I'm like, no, I'm actually going to just see what I can patch up right now. And, I'm going to try something different tonight and see basically whatever I patch right now will basically be what my performance is tonight.
And thankfully the show went very well and it was very spontaneous and kind of totally last minute, nothing planned, I kind of was like, I'd spent probably 45 minutes setting up the patch all in headphones. I didn't even do a level checkers or a line check. I basically set up stuff as good as I could in the headphones. And then when it was time for me to play, I just basically brought up the volume and just said, okay, here goes, it could be bad. It could be, I don't know what's going to happen here. But it worked out really cool. In comparison to my patches, that I was that I had practiced through and pre-patched. I found I had more fun with this performance where I didn't have really any plan of what was going to happen.
I just kind of interacted with the crowd and just use the energy that was in the room to kind of force the changes and the evolution of what was going to happen. Whereas when I pre-patched, I kind of had like this pre-setup set of events that I had in my head that would happen at certain times and would evolve over time. And I did that a couple of times over the summer and that approach worked really well, too. But I soon realized that even pre-planning a patch like that and pre-patching it, and then going through the notions and changes in your head, you still will never perform it perfectly. It will still be it. Sometimes I would perform the same patch and I had friends that went and saw me play a show, saw me perform the exact same patch.
Another says to me Rich, that patch was so sick. It was totally dynamic grease. It's like, wow, it was the same patch, but there's so many things that will influence or change the way that you perform it. And, like you said, one knob could one knob accidentally being nudged the wrong way will shift the whole thing into a whole different direction and change the sound completely. And because of that, the nature of the environment that you're working with, that you could just, I start, I'm starting now more and more to let go of the idea of like the pre-patched come up with the pre pre pre performed something I'm liking the idea of just patching from scratch, with a loose idea of what you want to do, and then just kind of make everything happen and work with the energy of the crowd, and focus more on that then the performance and the tools that you have right there, and then it make it all happen rather than trying to play a patch perfectly all the way through that you have in your mind.
Darwin: Sure. So when you're, when you're creating patches on the modular, do you tend to think of them in like little sub units or do you tend to think of like a signal flow from front to back as it kind of winds its way through the modular system?
Richard: I would say the second half, I think more about the signal flow of things. I have more of the classic approach from just I've been using - I would say I was like the first generation of using the modular stuff. I had the EML 101, the AKF Synthi and the ARP 2600, the 2500, the first time the analog revolution sort of came around when people were starting to buy this stuff. I started buying a lot of that, a lot of the early stuff. And some of the semi-modulars since like the, in particular, the 2600, which was a hugely influential synth for me, I always just kind of looked at the signal flow from left to, right. You know, you start off with your noise sources, your filters, your envelope, generators, and your VCAs at the end.
And, I still kind of keep that sort of classic signal flow sort of idealism when I approach my system. Like I put my sound, I couldn't, I configure my sound sources and my signal generators and all that stuff in a very similar fashion. You know, we're, if anyone were to look at my performance system, a lot of the clock generators and, EEG generators and all that stuff, stuff that shaping and clocking and pulsing the sounds, I keep those on the edges, the left and right side edges of the case where I can tweak them really quickly. And then all the sound generation tweaking stuff, I kind of situate towards the middle of the case. And then I typically will put my mixers over to the right as like the final output of everything being mixed into a system or into a digital recorder. And, so I still get kinda situate things in like a, more of a classical classical way. And, I think that that still carries through even today, even with my more modern Eurorack setup.
Darwin: Sure. That's because of practice, that's the way your brain works. That makes sense. So, one of the things I remember from your performances, and certainly from listening to your releases is that you spend a lot of time tweaking affects. What do you use with the rig like this? What do you use for effects processes,
Richard: For, are we referring to effects processors in the studio or like outside for show
Darwin: Either, or just mostly when you're working with the modular, how do you affect it since you're kind of going in the direction of the anti-computer, particularly, I guess we're talking live, but even when you're just playing with ideas in your studio, how do you keep that same approach when you're working with effects?
Richard: Well, it's interesting. I use a host of different processing modules and, let's see here. Let me think about my case, the way I have it set up. And I like using recorders. Like I use the mod can CV recorder and the Phonogene by Make Noise. And, I love using stuff where I can record a piece of audio pitch manipulated granulated, chop it up, record CV too, as well, CV and audio with the CV recorder, the mod cat, it's really fun. Cause I can record up to four minutes of audio or two channels of audio and I can record two channels, a CV, and play that back and see control that. So you could get all kinds of strange audio iterations and, and fluctuations with, with stuff that's going into that module.
And I also use some of the Mongo stuff, the D0, which is a dual delay line module, which is really fun, super precise. I'm using that with a Macro Machines Expander, which is able to store different states of that module. And you're able to be controlled through those different stored states and then manipulate the A and B delay lines, which gets into all kinds of crazy Karplus-Strong synthesis type sounds and really crazy sort of self oscillating feedback type sort of sounds. I've been running a lot of my percussion stuff through that to do delay processing. And so I use that and the Synthesis Technology Mini Resampling Delay quite a bit. And, I'm trying to think what else - Oh, the Echophon, Tom Erbe's stuff, and if I try to do a lot of that fun stuff within the case I have those effects modules that I send a lot of the audio into.
And then I have a couple of pedals that I use as well. Because I had played around with the idea of using the laptop as an effects processor at some point, but then I was like, you know what, I don't want the audience to confuse because I've had such a close connection doing laptop performances. I don't want them to to misinterpret what I'm doing and like, "Oh, he's, he's in the laptop more than he's using the modular", and I was like, "You know what? I've never was a really big pedal person", but maybe it's now time to start looking at using effects pedals in the setup. And, I've been having a lot of fun with that. I've used the Stryman Big Kky and the Blue Reverb, the smaller one, and the Timeline delay pedal, and quite a few of the Eventide pedals: Space, which I actually worked doing some of the sound patches for, a great pedal.
And I'm really digging the Red Panda particle granular pedal, which is a small little white pedal that does granular chopping and slicing and pitching. And it's got several different modes that add lots of interesting extra sort of granulating gestures to the signal. And the fun thing that I like to do is I'm running an Intellijel Mutamix, or Mutagen Mixer that allows you to switch which output you want. You have an A, B and C, and you have these switches where you can just send that signal to wherever you want. So I route to three different pedals, and then I basically play the switches. So the signals will go through different ones. It may get one to process in more of a granular fashion. One might be thrown into different different reverb. One might go through a different delay and that in conjunction with using all of the Eurorack delays and pitch shifting that I've already going on, in my case, it gets pretty crazy pretty quickly. And it's just so much fun, cause you're constantly just playing switches and tweaking knobs and stuff and finding these cool little pockets and really interesting little texture spaces as I call them that are kind of fun to play with. And, yeah, I love it. It's been a lot of fun and you have a lot of room to kind of drastically change the texture of everything really quickly with all that stuff, even though it's not a computer.
Darwin: Right. Well, that's, that's interesting, how you're actually playing, how you've integrated the modular, or the effects into the modular, even in the case of using pedals, it sounds like it's still getting patched into the modular systems so that you can control it from within that environment. That sounds really cool.
Richard: Yeah. Oh, it is fun. It's a lot of fun. And, I think that there's not much you have in the way of like storing everything, that's all separated out, but it makes room for a lot more improvising. You just kinda go with the flow of things and use what you have in front of you and just kind of coast it out.
Darwin: Right. Well, I also have a great story about the whole thing with having people watch you use the laptop and making assumptions. I did a show where I'd written this piece. And I did a show where I was using the laptop as the effects processor, but I was in real time patching a large format modular. So I'm just like chunk, chunk, chunk - plugging stuff in and going. And a couple of times, there was this one time in particular, I had just the right little FM ratio and just the right little quantized noise sequence. And it just made this beautiful little meandering melody. Right. It was just magical. And when I was done, I had a number of people come up and they all kind of like pointed to this one point in the performance where it just went like really beautifully perfect. And they were like, "So I know that was prerecorded. What else in your performance was prerecorded?" And I just wanted to cry. I was like, man, didn't you see the big pools of sweat under my arms as I was trying to patch this stuff together.
Darwin: But yeah, I think you're really being savvy about making sure that the people that are watching you play understand what's going on. I think that that's a really important part of performance and it's something you've always been really particularly good at. So I've used up an awful lot of your time already and I'm going to try and wrap it up, but I would like just ask you it'll probably be an unfortunate question, which is cast out 10 or 20 years from now, where do you see things going? I mean, you're, you're sort of tapped into the music industry and MI developments and stuff. If you had to imagine what things are gonna look like in 10 or 20 years, what shape do you think that they have?
Richard: You know, it's an interesting question. I think right now, like I think with a lot of people, they were on the same journey I was, where we're doing everything in the computer, and we're going kind of back to our roots. Again, we want to play with knobs and play with keys and faders and stuff. I don't know if we're going to ever really get away from that connection with an instrument where you actually have to touch and play something. And there was still a good deal of time where we were using these touchscreen controllers. I mean, I know I've been using the iPad a lot lately and there's a lot of great stuff and fun things are coming out, but I think even more so lately, people are going back to this physical aspect of things and the physical connection of playing with an instrument and tweaking things.
And, I don't know if we'll ever lose that. I think the things that'll happen is we'll get more advanced processing, engines and tools behind those interfaces that will do more complicated things. You may see some variations and controllers and new things coming out that might be some, I mean, who knows, who knows years down the road, what someone will come up with and where the shift will change. But I think people are still gonna want to play and plug stuff in and tweak knobs and those sorts of things. I think that the things that we'll see is just the microprocessor get much more powerful and smaller, so that we'll be able to do more advanced synthesis and processing, these hybrid digital control modules that control analog circuitry, you'll be able to do much more complicated things, but I think that the interface will still be just as fun.
Because I think it's... I don't know if I would change that much. At this point in time, I think things are already heading in a really interesting direction and that the only place that we could really go is just more advanced processing doing more complicated synthesis, and you know, sort of like higher audio bandwidth 24 [bit] and 96 [kHz]. I know some of the modules are already at 24/96 now, some of the digital oscillators, so we're already getting into the higher bandwidth of audio. But I think that as we progress, the computing technology is going to be shrinking and shrinking and end up in some of the hardware now we're going to have all these - I'm using this Nebulae module that you can run Csound score files off the card now, as in your module. I think that's crazy. I never would've I never would have foreseen that.
But I think we're going to see a lot more of that. I think you know, 10 years from now, that's we're going to just see some extremely sophisticated, little digital playground modules that will do really sophisticated things, but the it'll still be a fun playground. I think that the playground aspect, I always say that the CV playground - where you can play and plug things in and control things with CV - that's always going to be there. I just think it'll get crazier. What you're controlling will be...
Darwin: Yeah, that actually makes a lot of sense. And I do think that you hit something really strong in the head, which is that the use of knobs and cables and CV control and all this stuff has brought an aspect of play back into the game. And now you're seeing companies like Roland and particularly Korg, with the Volca series and stuff, really embracing that the enjoyment of playing as much as the sound design aspects of it. And, it's a pretty amazing, and to me, enjoyable direction. So Richard, thank you so much for your time. This was a fabulous interview and, it was great to get a chance to talk to you again.
Richard: Oh, absolutely. Well, I mean, like I said, thank you so much for featuring me. I'm honored to be talking with you again and we've known each other for a while - we go back. We go back.
Darwin: I think the first time I actually talked to you on the phone was when we were two knuckleheads on the Analog Heaven list. And I was selling an Oberheim that you were interested in buying and we could never come up with a deal, but we talked for hours back then.
Richard: Definitely. It's so cool to that we still remain friends
Darwin: Well, thanks again so much. It was fantastic talking to you and have a great day.
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