I haven’t written much on this blog over the past year. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say but that I simply didn’t feel an intense compulsion to write up my thoughts on this space. Are blogs dying in favor of social media? To a degree, yes. Certainly more people read Facebook posts than would ever read these words. But who cares? I write because I am.
So what was 2014? It was an interesting year, to be sure. Aside from the usual work and family events, my lasting memories of the past 12 months will be the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl championship, the World Cup, buying and selling tons of different Eurorack modules, and finally digging into the world of Marvel comics (go Kitty Pryde!).
On the music front, there was a number of standout works, from Pye Corner Audio to IX Tab to Kemper Norton to Mika Vainio to Leyland Kirby. I listened to and enjoyed all of this music. However, if I had to pick one album for 2014, I’d probably go with Kemper Norton’s Salvaged. It’s a weird mixture of spoken word and ethereal electronics, and it’s been in my car CD player since I bought it back in September (or thereabouts). To me, it’s the sonic equivalent of Children of the Stones and other awesome occult 70s sci-fi from the UK. It’s just a beautiful and beautifully creepy work that grows in my imagination every time I listen. Listening to the floating drones and the random vocals that flitter through songs like “To Mahina: Departing” and “To Mahina: Meeting,” I really feel like I’m floating slightly above stone circles and other pagan monuments in and around Avebury (or getting flashbacks to the classic John Pertwee Doctor Who episode “The Daemons”). Wonderful work!
Really, though, my musical focus this year has been in the Eurorack modular world. I absolutely love creating music with a modular synth. It’s so much more unpredictable, fun, rewarding, challenging, and frustrating than creating music with a computer! Creating music on a modular synth has forced me to rethink my whole idea of music and music composition. If you are at all interesting in creating music, I highly recommend modulars–they are well worth the investment (which is significant, trust me).
As I said earlier, I buy and sell modules all the time, looking for that perfect combination that doesn’t exist but that I continue to see all the same. In the process, I’ve actually used just about all the big Eurorack modules over the past few years. What are my favorites? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are my current top 5:
- Intellijel/Cyclonix Shapeshifter–calling it a “VCO” (Voltage-Controlled Oscillator) is really not doing it justice. This is the most complex and dense module I’ve ever owned, and it’s also the most rewarding. It has the potential to create just about any weird sound I can imagine, though getting that sound to match up with the sound in your head requires a lot of patience and sweat and tears. Still, totally worth it!
- Hexinverter Jupiter Storm–I got into modulars mostly because I wanted to pretend I was in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop creating sound effects and alien music for Doctor Who and Blake’s 7. With the Jupiter Storm, I can do all that. It’s a noise module that can be twisted and manipulated in all sorts of interesting ways. It’s great for percussion, to be sure, but I find it most interesting when I hook it up to an echo/delay module for truly alien soundscapes.
- Hexinverter Galilean Moons–I can handle the Shapeshifter’s complexity, in part, because of modules like Galilean Moons, which is about as simple and straightforward (yet incredibly useful) as a module can get. It’s a VCA and an envelope generator, meaning that I can plug in an audio source and immediately generate long drones, short percussion sounds, or anything in between without the need of any other modules. Really, really useful!
- Synthrotek’s Eko (or Echo)–a weird little echo module that I often pair with the Jupiter Storm to create total weirdness. It’s a simple echo mostly, but push this module to the extremes and you get some of the weirdest and most wonderful sounds you can imagine. I’m actually building myself another one of these modules so I can have two!
- Transistor Sound Labs Stepper Acid–I don’t really get along with sequencers all that well. I can’t explain it, but they tend to annoy me. However, I immediately bonded with the Stepper Acid. It’s super easy to program and manipulate on the fly, and it works incredibly well with just about any VCO I use.
Honorable mentions should also go to Make Noise’s new Wogglebug, Flame’s C-3 knob recorder, Qu-Bit’s RT60 effects processor, and especially Synthesis Technology’s E102 Quad Temporal Shifter (which I left out of the top-5 because it’s so new I haven’t really been able to explore its full potential).
What is in store for 2015? Tons, from what I can gather. In fact, I’ve already pre-ordered three awesome modules that should all arrive in January: Mutable Instruments’ Streams (VCA/VCF/EG combo), Sputnik Modular’s Quad VCF/VCA, and Ginko Synthese’s Sampleslicer (which might just be the modular sampler I’ve been waiting for all these years). Here’s hoping these and many more modules make the coming year bright and interesting.
To end, here’s a memorable song of mine from 2014. Its working title is “Trantor 007,” though if this ever finds its way to an album, I’ll most definitely find a better name. Enjoy!