End of An Era

*Electronic Music Nerd Warning*

Today is release day for Sine Tempus-“Run” EP, a Techno and Deep Tech (short) album inspired by Android: Netrunner. It’s the end of an era in that it will be the last Sine Tempus release (and close to the last for most of my pseudonyms) that relies on software for its sounds.

When I started making this stuff way back in Anno Domini 1996, hardware was the only option. I took MIDI 1 at Florida State University, where there were workstations in the lab for each student as well as a separate studio. Each workstation had an Atari ST running Cubase, a Korg M-1, an E-Mu Proteus, and an Alesis Quadraverb. We started off using the Korg’s internal sequencer for our first project (play “Mary Had A Little Lamb” in any way you choose. The professor remarked that mine sounded like “Mary Ate A Little Lamb”), but after that we switched to Cubase doing the work and dumped everything down to a standard cassette tape. Fun stuff.

I got a couple pieces of hardware over the next couple years, but it was limited to cheap samplers and drum machines. i didn’t have a a DAW that could really carry the load, the era of soundcards that let you record to your computer hadn’t really started yet, I didnt have much in the way of options. So, as software came of age, i slowly shifted to software. Cakewalk, Cubase, Reason, Live, Pro Tools, Logic all came through over the next 20+ years. VSTs really improved remarkably and I was able to do everything via software.

However, I realized over time that I was forcing myself to make music, and that I actually hated it and couldn’t figure out why. All my songs (which you can hear if you go listen through my back catalogue. Ugh.) sounded left-brained as hell. As Mike Monday puts it, “it’s like you can see the playhead in the DAW moving”.

I’d always been somewhat interested in hardware, but it was so expensive that it was always out of reach. Also given the emulation prowess of companies like Slate, U-He, and Arturia, it just didn’t seem necessary. My favorite electronic act of them all, Download, had a studio absolutely stuffed with analog synths, drum machines, modular, etc. Aphex Twin, of course, was even more intimidating (see his Syro gearlist).

And then someone sent me this video of Shlomi Aber. I’d never heard of him, but now I was interested. He had a single rack of (crazy expensive) outboard gear that he processed everything through, and a few choice hardware synths that he had brought with him to Barcelona from Tel Aviv. Shlomi said in this video (paraphrasing) “I know it’s a cliche, but I have to use my hands to make music. I need to touch it.” Despite the fact I didn’t really have any hard evidence to support it, I felt the same way.

In time I realized that the whole problem was that I hated making music by looking at a computer screen, that it caused my mind to go into a similar place as making spreadsheets in Excel (no offense to people like my wife who are creative wizards with Excel).

Jump forward quite a bit and I got my first hardware synth, an Arturia MicroFreak. I wanted a Korg Monologue, but Guitar Center couldn’t sell me the used one they had on the floor because of a SNAFU dealing with state regulations. I really liked it, but ended up returning it because of some technical difficulties caused by the wiring in my building. Still, the lid was off Pandora’s box. I had discovered that I, too, worked 1000% better looking down at a synth and twiddling knobs and working through limitations than looking up at a screen, pushing a mouse around, and havign effectively zero limits (and therefore nothing tangible to rebel against).

Thanks to Behringer (and to a lesser extent Korg) there was suddenly a metric ton of real, live, honest to goodness analog synths that were professional quality that I could ACTUALLY AFFORD. So over a couple months I converted to a rig that is almost completely hardware, using only a bare minimum of software assistance in the composition phase (but 100% software in mixing and mastering because viva Slate).

So, its taken me a few months to get up to speed using hardware, and if I’m being honest about it, I’m not completely there yet. But the shockign thing is that, to my ears, the hardware stuff sounds markedly better than the software stuff, despite how good the emulations are. (Previously I was using U-He’s Diva, Repro, and Bazille for 90% of the work). I’m sure I’ll talk more about my hardware rig in specifics at a later date, but I don’t know that I want to sit here and blog out reviews of the product unless I can find a point of view that someone else hasn’t covered 100 times already. Maybe Techno-specific reviews?

So, Run is the last of the software albums for Sine Tempus. In a couple months the hardware stuff will start seeing the light of day and, well, I hope you like it.