Q1: What got you into electronic music and eurorack in particular?
A1: I started playing piano at 8 years old and music has completely dominated my life ever since. When I was a teenager I learned many more instruments, which culminated in playing an accordion in a travelling folk band. In 2006 I was an exchange student in Hong Kong, and when I attended my first ever rave party on a secluded beach here, I saw a very DIY setting that resembled many punk shows I'd been used to, but with people dancing and going into a trance for hours and hours like I'd never seen, all at the hands of a DJ. I knew instantly that I wanted to make that kind of music. Since then, I've been DJing and making music in Ableton Live, and in 2015 I started playing live sets of house and techno using hardware synthesizers and an MPC 1000. In the end, only modular synthesizers could accomplish the exact sequencing tricks I wanted to do to keep an improvisational live set going. So in January 2016 I started building a completely DIY eurorack modular synth, although I've since started buying more complicated modules. In April 2017 I played my first live show using the modular synth at Sonar Hong Kong.
Q2: Do you stick with one patch for the whole set or change patches for each song? How do you transition and keep the momentum going?
A2: I stick to the same patch for months at a time! If you're performing live in a concert setting, I think you can take your time more with patching. But playing in clubs where people are used to dancing every weekend to DJs, who are playing tracks that producers spent hours or days perfecting in the studio, if you focus too long on your patch cables or anything else besides constantly improving the sounds you're making, eventually people will stop dancing, people start leaving, the bar finds they made less money - basically everyone gets angry at you! Thankfully I haven't had a disaster happen (yet), but my point is there's so much more pressure when the goal is to keep people dancing. With all that said, parts of the patch do change frequently when playing live, but my solution is I re-route patch cables without physically removing them. I use lots of sequential switches, matrix modules, switchable multiples/logic, and other selector switches I've built. Some good examples of those are the WMD Sequential Switch Matrix, Barton Programmable Router, RYO Paths, and Low Gain Short Bus. My main way of transitioning and keeping things evolving depends on the Turing Machine by Music Thing Modular. I turn a knob and notes come out at random, without repeating. When I hear a group of notes I like, I can grab them into a repeating loop. So when performing, after I've squeezed everything I can out of a track for several minutes, I'll start filtering the sounds down quieter, rely on the drum machine more, then turn the Turing Machine to get a new random loop. It might take a few tries until I find one I like. Using the routers I mentioned, like the WMD SSM, I can send that new sequence to any of my seven VCOs (or all of them at once). I use Euclidean Circles, logic, or another Turing Machine to get the rhythmic gates, which can also be routed to different filters or VCAs with switches or a matrix. When I've settled on that new loop, I'll start adding in other layers of sequences and sounds, then I'll record new drum patterns that match the new rhythm, and then it's a fully formed track! After several more minutes, I repeat the whole process for something new. I could potentially keep improvising for hours, and since the basis for everything is that randomized Turing Machine module, it's impossible to save or recall anything I've played before. It's all in-the-moment, then gone forever! I can't really prepare anything before a gig, just practice to the point that every change I need to make is muscle memory. That's why I don't make major changes to my patch a whole lot.
Q3: Where do you want to take your music making next? Technique or styles you're interested to explore?
A3: I'd like to have some video modules that interact with the sound. Most clubs usually have a bare-minimum, generic visual thing going on, like a flashy video playing, which typically has no relation to the music or even the rhythm. I think there's a lot of potential there for the eurorack video modules to be a part of a live system. I have an un-built circuit board sitting around for a Ming Mecca module, which is like an original Nintendo where you can control all the graphics with CV in your eurorack. You can even plug the original NES controller into it too. That's the first video module I'll make, and then LZX Industries and Dave Jones have excellent video modules too. I'd like to have ways that people could control and interact with the video as well, like ideally a giant NES controller for that Ming Mecca, or other ways that people can create CV to affect the video. You could project video onto a wall that has light sensors on it, so as people walk or dance in front of it their shadows would affect the video in different ways. I would even like to do this with the sounds, like imagine having an acid bassline and there are two huge wheels for the filter cutoff and resonance at the front of the room that anyone could play with. Otherwise, at the moment, most of my sounds are from analog VCOs, so I'd like to start integrating more organic sounds and samples, and even processing other external instruments in the eurorack. I've been practicing hand drums like the djembe for over a year now, and I think it'd be cool to have those going into the modular with envelope followers, some rhythmic filters and effects. I'm already at the limit of how much I can carry to a gig, but I can go on forever about little experiments I want to try. My next live shows are July 8th and 11th, both at Savage in Hanoi, Vietnam, so I'm spending the rest of the time practicing for that. I've spent so much time building the ideal live setup that I've kind of forgot to record any music along the way, so really, the next focus is to get a computer up to speed and actually record some finished tracks
Eurorack Modules Featured In Article
2 Upcoming Casey Anderson Performances
For those of you in Hanoi on July 8th 2017:
For those of you in Hong Kong on July 21st 2017: