Untold Shares Five Essential Modular Synth Components
Although we here at XLR8R generally like to keep our focus on the music, it's also become clear that our readers have a genuine interest in how exactly that music gets made. Our In the Studio and From Studio to Stage features regularly take in-depth looks at artists' production lairs and live set-ups, but we figured that it might also be helpful if some of our favorite beatmakers simply compiled a list of their favorite pieces of gear. Our first subject is none of than UK producer Untold (a.k.a. Jack Dunning), whose excellent Black Light Spiral LP just dropped via his own Hemlock label. Dunning's move toward an increasingly techno-oriented sound has been well documented in recent years, but a significant part of that process has stemmed from his embrace of modular synths. Now that his new album has found its way into the world, he'll be spending much of 2014 on the road with a new, gear-centric audio-visual set. In the midst of preparing for that, we asked Untold to detail the most critical pieces of his on-stage rig.
I've chosen five bits of gear from my live show I'll be touring this year. They are all modular synth units in the Eurorack format. I've included some photos of my main rig and the smaller 3U touring box that contains modules resembling a Klaxon-type dub FX unit, gated and filtered noise, and drums. I link these up to a looper and a drum machine and patch together sounds on the modular when I need them.
The nice thing about touring with a modular is it can be whatever you need it to be—a synth for basslines, a Roland drum machine clone, a sample mangler, etc. It's really opened my eyes to the possibilities of making fully realized music away from the computer.
Snazzy FX Chaos Brother
Harnessing chaotic sequences for musical means has become an obsession lately. My Chaos Bro creates controllable patterns that range from simple, predictable pulses all the way up to dense clouds of turbulent noise. I use the patterns to trigger drum fills and bring unpredictability to my synth lines.
This is a filterbank, and it allows me to isolate, mute, and control eight frequency bands, from sub-bass up to very high treble. I usually route some white noise into it and use the kill switches to sculpt percussive sounds. With this, I can make anything from snare drums to high hats, or create a telephone voice effect.
Ever since maths class, the stiff-upper-lipped allure of Boolean logic has been hard to escape for me. The Plog is a logic gate that says "yes," "no," or "maybe" to each note of a pattern that comes its way. The take-out here is you can make breakbeats with it.
Mutable Instruments Braids
This is a synth voice that has similarities with the ever popular Native Instruments Massive Synth. It's got a very clinical digital sound and can do all those 'boinggrrrrbow' bass stabs that I play around with, and much, much more.
Doepfer Dark Time
This is an analog sequencer that I hook up to a drum machine, and use to send a fixed tempo to the modular rig. I create the patterns for drum beats using the two rows of switches, but what makes this thing unique is the way you can randomize and change the length of the patterns on the fly. It's like a supercharged Fruity Loops with wood paneling.