Tag Archives: studio

Artist Agnes Martin on Inspiration, Interruptions, Cultivating a Creative Atmosphere, and the Only Type of Person You Should Allow Into Your Studio – Brain Pickings

“The development of sensibility is the most important thing for children and adults alike, but is much more possible for children…. Adults are very busy, taught to run all the time. You…

Source: Artist Agnes Martin on Inspiration, Interruptions, Cultivating a Creative Atmosphere, and the Only Type of Person You Should Allow Into Your Studio – Brain Pickings

Although studies of the psychology of the optimal creative environment indicate that some artists and writers thrive when surrounded by stimulation, most creative work requires unburdened space and uninterrupted time for what Mary Oliver calls “that wild, silky part of ourselves” — also known by its commonplace name, inspiration — to reveal itself.

[…]

“An inspiration is a happy moment that takes us by surprise.

Many people are so startled by an inspiration or a condition of inspiration, which is so different from daily care, that they think that they are unique in having had it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Inspiration is there all the time for anyone whose mind is not covered over with thoughts and concerns, and [it is] used by everyone whether they realize it or not.

[…]

“It is an untroubled state of mind. Of course, we know that an untroubled state of mind cannot last, so we say that inspiration comes and goes, but it is there all the time waiting for us to be untroubled again. We can therefore say that it is pervasive.”

In a sentiment that echoes and adds dimension to Picasso’s famous proclamation that every child is an artist, Martin considers how our relationship with inspiration evolves over the course of a lifetime:

“Young children have more time in which they are untroubled than adults. They have therefore more inspirations than adults. The moments of inspiration added together make what we refer to as sensibility — defined in the dictionary as “response to higher feelings.” The development of sensibility is the most important thing for children and adults alike, but is much more possible for children.”

But inspiration, Martin argues, cannot be controlled or willed — it can only be surrendered to. She illustrates this by way of the child:

“What is the experience of the small child in the dirt? He suddenly feels happy, rolls in the dirt probably, feels free, laughs and runs and falls. His face is shining… “The light was extraordinary, the feeling was extraordinary” is the way in which many adults describe moments of inspiration. Although they have had them all their lives they never really recall them and are always taken by surprise. Adults are very busy, taught to run all the time. You cannot run and be very aware of your inspirations.”

It’s a sentiment that pierces our modern condition and calls Kierkegaard to mind — as he contemplated our greatest source of unhappiness more than a century earlier, the Danish philosopher lamented: “Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.” To counter this ridiculousness, Martin urges artists to create a sanctuary for inspiration — a space devoid of busyness and dedicated to unburdened clarity of mind, with “no telephone,” where one is “to be disturbed only if the house is burning.” A century and a half after Delacroix admonished against social distractions in creative work, she counsels aspiring artists:

“A studio is not a place in which to talk to friends. You will hate your friends if they destroy the atmosphere of your studio. As an artist you will have to try and live with inspiration. You are not like the little boy in the dirt free and open. The whole world which you now know intrudes. It is almost hopeless to expect clarity of mind. It is hopeless if your studio atmosphere cannot be preserved.”

But there is one kind of person who should be allowed, even invited, into the artist’s studio — the kind that calls to mind Patti Smith’s notion of those who magnify your spirit. Martin writes:

“There are some people to be allowed into the studio, however, who will not destroy the atmosphere but will bring encouragement and who are an absolute necessity in the field of art. They are not personal friends. Personal friends are a different thing entirely and should be met in cafés. They are Friends of Art.

Friends of art are people with very highly developed sensibilities whose inspiration leads them to devote their lives to the promotion of art work and to bringing it before the public.”

Such “friends of art,” Martin argues, bring with them a highly attuned intuition — intuition being, of course, merely the accretion of experience-encoded discernment — which can help guide the artist closer to his or her own truth:

“When they come to see the work it is not to judge it but to enjoy it… When these friends of art come to your studio they should be treated as honored guests, otherwise you will destroy the atmosphere of your studio yourself. If you are not ready to do this, be sure to wait till you are ready. The premature showing of work when you are perhaps struggling and even fighting is an unnecessary suffering. You will know when you are really ready.”

Because the studio should be a sacred space for the untroubled mind, Martin recommends avoiding physical clutter in order to prevent mental clutter:

“You must clean and arrange your studio in a way that will forward a quiet state of mind. This cautious care of atmosphere is really needed to show respect for the work. Respect for art work and everything connected with it, one’s own and that of everyone else, must be maintained and forwarded. No disrespect, carelessness or ego [and] selfishness must be allowed to interfere if it can be prevented. Indifference and antagonism are easily detected — you should take such people out immediately. Just turning the paintings to the wall is not enough. You yourself should not go to your studio in an indifferent or fighting mood.”

The Technical Constraints That Made Abbey Road So Good – The Atlantic

The Technical Constraints That Made Abbey Road So Good – The Atlantic.

The sanctum sanctorum of Abbey Road is Studio Two, the room where the majority of The Beatles’ recordings were made.

Standing at the threshold of Studio Two, it doesn’t look all that different from a small school gymnasium: a big rectangular box with white walls, 24-foot-high ceilings, and a parquet floor. But as soon as we entered, any thoughts of dribbling basketballs fell away, as I began to remember images of John Lennon and Paul McCartney standing around a microphone at the far end of the room, working out their harmonies.

[…]

When each of the tools in that display was first introduced, many music experts were totally wrong about the impact they would have on creative culture. “Records will kill live music,” they said as the phonograph gained popularity. Tape recording was initially viewed with suspicion by recordists accustomed to using disc-cutting lathes.

As digital technology arrived, many people thought it would surely relegate analog recording equipment to the scrap heap. In what seems like a stunning example of shortsightedness, some of Abbey Road’s most noteworthy gear was sold off in a 1980 sale as “memorabilia” at bargain-basement prices. One example—A 4-track recorder used on “Sgt. Peppers’” went for just $800 (that’s $2,300 in today’s money).

For melodic pop music, Studio Two has physical, tonal qualities which transcend its humble appearance. “It emphasizes the midrange,” Kehew says, ”and has a warm, short reverb unusual for a room its size.” These reverberant qualities are so well known that Abbey Road’s rental contract actually prohibits any sampling of its distinctive acoustic signature. As I stood in the room, I could hear the echoes of the vocals and kick drums on some of my favorite recordings of all time.

[…]

Kehew agrees that every tool can have a place as part of an artistic palate. “Old is not good or bad,” he said. “Question it. Try it. Listen. Buy weird bad gear and great quality gear—see what it does for you. I love Jon Brion’s quote—‘I don’t want to be Lo-Fi or Hi-Fi, I want to be ALL-Fi!’”

Scott touched on this in the lecture too, recounting that this was the approach that caused Beatles producer George Martin to turn down Abbey Road’s first 8-track recorder for use on the White Album. The 4-track recorders used for years by The Beatles had been specially modified to help create some of their signature sounds. Because the new 8-track recorder lacked those modifications, Martin declined to bring it into the session. His thinking, Scott said, was that it would be better for the process to maintain continuity.

In an ironic twist, Scott mentioned that The Beatles themselves had a different idea. They decided to use the 8-track without Martin’s permission, which got Scott and another engineer into a fair amount of trouble. The fact that the device was used to track parts of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” probably helped accelerate the forgiveness. Even though new technologies can kill off old ways of working, it’s ultimately up to humans to decide the hour that they should.

“It was the 60s,” Scott said of the incident. “Rules were meant to be broken.”

At the beginning of the Beatles era, technicians had to complete what amounted to an extended apprenticeship program—and were even required to wear white lab coats (Winston Churchill once quipped that Abbey Road made him feel like he was visiting a hospital). Prospective engineers were brought up through the ranks slowly and instructed on the “rules of the process” at each stage.

But as the 60s went on, culture—specifically counter-culture—began seeping into the studio and changing that dynamic relationship between the engineers and their tools. Over time, the room became filled with incredibly skilled people who were willing to break any rule if it helped their artists create new and interesting sounds.

It was this combination of playfulness, openness to risk-taking, and deep professionalism which enabled Abbey Road’s technicians to respond to seemingly off-the-wall requests from The Beatles. Engineers began to record amps inside cupboards to get unique sounds. The studio’s tape recorders were rewired to automatically double-track performances. The tapes themselves were sped-up, slowed-down, sliced, and looped—to great effect. Even a joke, Scott says, was turned into an engineering puzzle that he had to solve when John Lennon took him up on his “suggestion” to fit the entire band in a small utility closet for the recording of “Yer Blues.”

A sort of positive feedback loop was happening: Culture was driving the development of technologies which, in turn, emboldened that creative culture to go even farther to create new tools and techniques. This embrace of the unorthodox didn’t mean that the Abbey Road staff abandoned everything they had been taught in the “white coat days,” though. In fact, Scott says it was that training which gave engineers the necessary skills to successfully and intelligently break the rules and develop all those new sounds and techniques.

[…]

When you listen to recordings from a generation or two ago, though, you often hear all sorts of rough edges: large dynamic transitions between loud and quiet, the sounds of oversaturated tape and tubes, instruments bleeding together. Chunked notes. Vocals that are out of pitch. Drums that drift in and out of time. Mistakes. Lots of mistakes.

Today’s creative paradox is that this human element, which often makes a song distinct or artistically interesting, is the thing which is almost always erased from modern productions.

“Do mistakes make music better?” I asked Kehew. Not really, he responded. It’s just that, when it comes to what people like about music, there was actually only one thing worse than these imperfections: perfection.

“I’ve done it and seen it many times,” he said. “Take something flawed, work on it ’til every part is ‘improved’ then listen. It’s worse. How could that be? Every piece is now better. But it’s a worse final product.”

This tendency towards incessant improvement has been encouraged by the power of modern tools. These days, sounds are almost always passed through a computer at some point in the recording process. These computers have their own working paradigms—things like cutting-and-pasting, the automated repetition of tasks, and “infinite undo”—which gives them incredible power to alter performances. It also adds more potential for overpolishing and something recording engineers refer to as “option paralysis,” a state where the sheer number of choices available prevents decisions from being made. Almost any element of a recording can be changed, right up until the moment that a song is released to the public.

The limitations of Beatles-era technology were substantial by comparison, and they forced a commitment to creative choices at earlier stages of the recording process. If, for example, an engineer wanted to exceed the number of recorded tracks that their tape machine allowed, two or more tracks had to be mixed together and “bounced” to an open track elsewhere. Cuts were physical, done with razor blades and tape. Mixes were performed by engineers in real time. Big mistakes at any point in the process could force an entire recording to be scrapped.

It was because artists were often stuck with the mistakes they made that they sometimes decided to embrace them. Once while recording a Beatles song called “Glass Onion” Scott accidentally erased a large number of drum parts that had been painstakingly overdubbed. Certain that he’d be fired, he played the tape to John Lennon. To Scott’s surprise, Lennon said that he liked the unexpected effect created by the glitch—and both the track and Scott stayed.

Scott was clear in his opinion: It isn’t so much the use of these new tools as it is their overuse that serves to undermine musicality.

“The trick,” Kehew says, “is a savvy or talented producer or engineer knows when to be bold and stop. To let character and roughness and lack of polish exist. I can bet most people spend more time polishing something than writing or creating the substance of it. The only cure is to work faster, more often, so you don’t treat every damn thing as being so precious that ‘It Must Be Perfect For All Time.’”

I asked Kevin Ryan if he was able to heed Scott’s warning in his own work. He laughed and acknowledged that knowing the risks of overusing digital tools didn’t make it any easier for him to resist that temptation. Kehew’s final word on the subject was, I thought, an especially Beatle-like principle for not overworking something: “Let it be what it was,” he says. “If it’s not that good, you shouldn’t be recording it.”

[…]

Today, Abbey Road straddles a line between modern culture and English Heritage. It has become Pop Music’s Westminster Abbey: partly a tourist attraction, partly a working cathedral where all the traditional rites and rituals are still observed.

Abbey Road is still producing hits though—even as tighter budgets and rising costs have caused many other recording facilities to close. An almost unbelievable number of influential artists and projects have worked (and continue to work) at the studio. Even if you eliminated the entire Beatles oeuvre the list is impressive. Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” was tracked there. Acts like Kate Bush, Elton John, Oasis, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Green Day, U2, Radiohead, and Kanye West have all recorded there. Countless film scores, too—Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lord of the Rings.

A Rare Look at Apple’s Design Genius Jony Ive — Vogue

A Rare Look at Apple’s Design Genius Jony Ive — Vogue.

Jonathan Ive

Ive has a calming presence, like the Apple campus itself, whose very address, Infinite Loop, lulls you into a sense of Zen-ness. In the courtyard, trays of beautiful food—grass-fed steaks and fresh-made curries and California-born hot sauces—lead Apple employees out toward the open-air seating, away from the white cafeteria that might be described as a luxurious spa for the terminally nerdy. White is the color of choice at Apple HQ as in the Apple product line. It is through this white, with its clarity, its dust-hiding lack of distraction, that you have already met Jonathan Ive.

[…]

he is passionate about things, as in things, literally. “So much of my background is about making, physically doing it myself,” he says. In other words, the secret weapon of the most sought-after personal-electronics company in the world is a very nice guy from Northeast London who has a soft spot for woodworking and the sense that designers ought to keep their design talents backstage where they can do the most good.

[…]

“I wish I could articulate this more effectively,” he continues, addressing his ambitions as a designer. “But it is to have that sense that you know there couldn’t possibly be a sane or rational alternative.”

[…]

It may be easier to sneak into a North Korean cabinet meeting than into the Apple design studio, the place where a small group of people have all the tools and materials and machinery necessary to develop things that are not yet things. Reportedly Ive’s wife, Heather Pegg, has never been—he doesn’t even tell her what he’s working on—and his twin sons, like all but a few Apple employees, are not allowed in either. Work is conducted behind tinted windows, serenaded by the team’s beloved techno music, a must for the boss. “I find that when I write I need things to be quiet, but when I design, I can’t bear it if it’s quiet,” he says. Indeed, the design team is said to have followed an unwritten rule to move away from their work whenever the famously brusque Jobs entered the studio and turn up the volume so as to make his criticisms less audible, less likely to throw them off course.

[…]

“if you tasted some food that you didn’t think tasted right, you would assume that the food was wrong. But for some reason, it’s part of the human condition that if we struggle to use something, we assume that the problem resides with us.”

[…]

His father, Michael Ive, is a silversmith, and his grandfather was an engineer. When Ive was a boy, his father worked with the British government to develop and set the standards for design education. When he made things with his son—a toboggan, say—he would demand that Jony sketch his design before commencing construction.

[…]

Five years later, a disenchanted Ive was about to leave when Jobs returned to reboot the then-floundering Apple, which happened, by most analyses, when Jobs enabled Ive. By Ive’s account, the two hit it off immediately. “It was literally the meeting showing him what we’d worked on,” Ive says, “and we just clicked.” Ive talks about feeling a little apart, like Jobs. “When you feel that the way you interpret the world is fairly idiosyncratic, you can feel somewhat ostracized and lonely”—big laugh here—“and I think that we both perceived the world in the same way.”

[…]

Design critics now look back at the birth of the Jobs-Ive partnership as the dawn of a golden age in product design, when manufacturers began to understand that consumers would pay more for craftsmanship. Together Jobs and Ive centered their work on the notion that computers did not have to look as if they belonged in a room at NASA. The candy-colored iMac—their first smash hit—felt to consumers like a charming friend, revolutionary but approachable, and appealed to both men and women.

[…]

Throughout, Ive has refined Apple’s design process, which, he argues, is almost abstract in its devotion to pure idea: Good design creates the market; ideas are king. And here’s the next irony that defines Ive’s career: In the clutter of contemporary culture, where hits and likes threaten to overtake content in value, the purity of an idea takes on increasing currency. “I think now more than ever it’s important to be clear, to be singular,” he says, “and to have a perspective, one you didn’t generate as the result of doing a lot of focus groups.” Developing concepts and creating prototypes leads to “fascinating conversations” with his team, says Ive. “It’s a process I’ve been practicing for decades, but I still have the same wonder.”

[…]

“My boys are ten, and I like spending time with them doing stuff that I did, which is drawing and making things—real things, not virtual things,” he says. Easygoing Ive morphs into Serious Ive on this point: He sees design schools failing their students by moving away from a foundation in traditional skills. “I think it’s important that we learn how to draw and to make something and to do it directly,” he says, “to understand the properties you’re working with by manipulating them and transforming them yourself.”

[…]

On a recent birthday, Tang received two finely crafted wooden boxes containing large, engraved, Ive-designed ashtrays—Tang loves cigars—constructed from the next-generation iPhone material. “It was like getting the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey,” Tang says. Ive likes nothing better than to come up with mischievously inventive ways to use the technology at his fingertips. When a presenter from Blue Peter—Britain’s longest-running children’s TV show, known for encouraging kids to craft utilitarian designs from household objects—came to present him with its highest honor, a gold Blue Peter badge depicting a ship in full sail, Ive was delighted. In repayment, he fired up a Mikron HSM 600U, a computer-controlled machine that can cut up a chunk of aluminum like an origami flower, and in a mere ten hours created a Blue Peter badge that looked a lot like a not-so-distant cousin of the MacBook Air.

[…]

“Shit we hate,” says Newson, includes American cars. “It’s as if a giant stuck his straw in the exhaust pipe and inflated them,” he adds, “when you look at the beautiful proportions in other cars that have been lost.”

[…]

The watch underscores the fact that Ive is first and foremost a masterly product designer; technology almost comes second. It’s a beautiful object, a device you might like even if you don’t like devices. “Everything we’ve been trying to do,” he says, “it’s that pursuit of the very pure and very simple.”

[…]

“You just press this button and it slides off, and that is just gorgeous,” he was saying. He encouraged you to pause. “But listen as it closes,” he said. “It makes this fantastic k-chit.” He was nearly whispering. And when he said the word fantastic, he said it softly and slowly—“fan-tas-tic!”—as if he never wanted it to end. Aside from all the ways the watch connects to your phone, Ive is very interested in how the watch can connect to another human. “You know how very often technology tends to inhibit rather than enable more nuanced, subtle communication?” he asks. This is the question that haunts the son of a craftsman: Is he making tools that improve the world or shut people down? “We spent a lot of time working on this special mechanism inside, combined with the built-in speaker” —he demonstrates on his wrist. You can select a chosen person, also wearing the watch, and transmit your pulse to them. “You feel this very gentle tap,” he says, “and you can feel my heartbeat. This is a very big deal, I think. It’s being able to communicate in a very gentle way.”

Autechre – Sound On Sound

Autechre – Sound On Sound

“We used to do hip-hop-type mix tapes,” explains Booth, “with pretty intensive editing and lots of loops. We’d use the pause button to create loops, just recording the same section of tape over and over again onto another tape, and then put scratching on it. We went from cassette decks and Walkmans and stuff to multitracking, for a long time using a simple four-track cassette recorder. In 1988 a friend in Rochdale let us use his studio, where we began using an Atari and Cubase and Creator, and machines like the Roland R8 [drum machine] and Casio FZ1 [sampler]. We also acquired little delay devices and this little Boss thing that could do delays and be a sampler. Next we got a Roland TR606, with which we could trigger the sampler. We began making beats then, as well as doing tape editing. Next was a Roland MC202, and we got a Korg MS10 synth, and so things gradually built up.

“At this stage we weren’t really thinking about making music that was our own. What we did was modifying what existed. We didn’t really think about ownership of the music either. It was a few years later, when someone said, ‘Oh, these tracks are good, are they yours?’, that we recognised that we’d almost stopped making sounds that were recognisable. It seemed as if we had been in a grey area for ages, and then suddenly we were aware of actually creating music and playing it to other people, and they were saying it was ours. I think these congratulations satisfied our egos so much, we decided the music was ours!”

[…]

Until this stage Booth and Brown had considered their musical adventures a hobby, and were attending further education, presumably with a ‘proper’ job in mind for later. Brown went to art school and studied architecture, and Booth attended an audio engineering and electronics school for six months. While Brown’s experience with architecture would later provide reference points for the structuring of the duo’s music, Booth’s spell at the audio engineering school sharpened his sense of how not to do things.

[…]

I didn’t want to learn how to mike up a drum kit, I wanted to know how to use the studio as an instrument.

[…]

Booth has talked about “the idea of engineering being beautiful”, and when asked to elaborate he enthuses “Yeah, totally. I think we have a natural ability to recognise harmony and I think this exists as much within an engineering context as it does within music. Working in a studio is really no different than building a bridge from metal girders, isn’t it? Constructing harmony from a load of predefined frequencies is essentially no different. To me it’s all construction, building.”

[…]

Trying to pin down Booth and Brown’s working methods proves harder than describing their musical development. Not only do the duo refuse to supply an equipment list or pictures of themselves in the studio, but they are constantly improvising with different bits of kit, often modifying them and using them for purposes they weren’t intended for. This is not some sort of deliberate ploy by Booth and Brown to be pioneering or different, but simply the logical outcome of the sheer joy they experience in experimenting with gear. Booth and Brown like to get dirty and under the bonnet with any piece of gear they can lay their hands on, be it hardware or software, analogue or digital, computer or non-computer.

[…]

Whereas most people working with modern technology cope with the sheer overload of necessary know-how by organising their entire setup around one piece of gear and/or software, for Autechre no such rule applies. Because of their hunger for exploring different pieces of gear and different ways of using it, there’s no centrepiece in their studio that dictates their method of working.

[…]

“We don’t tend to build up tracks in the traditional way. It happens that we tap in a bass line on a synth, but often we’ll turn it into something else. It’s hard for us to trace the origins of the tracks that we’ve released. Things can be three or four generations down the line before they are used. We also don’t talk a lot about what we do. We’ve been at it for 10-odd years professionally, and six years before that of messing about. It’s very intuitive. Usually when working in the studio it’s like, ‘Do you want to do a bit?’ ‘Yeah, OK.’ And if we don’t like what the other is doing, we’ll say, ‘I’m not sure about that,’ or ‘That compression is a bit over,’ and the answer can be, ‘It’s supposed to be like that.’ There’s not much to discuss really. Mostly what we talk about is how this or that works.”

[…]

Perhaps the most challenging and potentially controversial aspect of Autechre’s music is their use of generative sequences. Confield contains more of these than their other works, though they also feature on their latest release, Draft 7:30. Insofar as these sequences involve drum machine sounds they are sometimes referred to as ‘random beats’. The adjective clearly sits uneasily with Booth, who is at pains to point out that the beats are far from random.

“There’s a lot of maths and generated beats on Confield, but we never considered that album very difficult,” asserts Booth. “It’s like pop music compared to some of the stuff we had considered putting out! And even when the beats sound like they are moving around in time and space, they’re not random. They’re based on sets of rules and we have a good handle on them. Draft is really straight, using straight-up normal sequencers and samplers. It’s written note by note, where we know exactly what we put on. Only ‘Reniform Puls’ has some generative stuff, done by Max, which also controls a vocal filter in that track.

“When we do generative stuff we work with real-time manipulation of MIDI faders that determines what the rhythms sound like. A sequencer is spitting out stuff and we’re using our ears and the faders to make the music. There’s no event generation taking place other than within the system we’ve designed. Sometimes we’ll stripe a whole load of stuff down as MIDI data, because there may be a couple of things we want to change. We generate these beats in Max and with home-made sequencers. And there are models of analogue sequencers in the computer that are doing manipulation like gating and compressing some of the beats.

“On Confield we also used analogue sequencers and drum machines, because you can do a lot with restarting patterns. You can hack things and maybe use a control volume to determine what step the drum machine is playing from. Perhaps you send that control volume from an analogue sequencer, so the drum machine is skipping around. And then you get another analogue sequencer to drive that analogue sequencer with a different timing. Immediately you have something that some people would call random, but I would say is quantifiable.

“It seems that for a lot of people, if they hear something that doesn’t sound regular, they assume it’s random. If live musicians were playing it, they’d probably call it jazz or something. But the fact that it’s coming out of a computer, as they perceive it, somehow seems to make it different. For me it’s just messing around with a lot of analogue sequencers and drum machines. It’s like saying, ‘I want this to go from this beat to that beat over this amount of time, with this curve, which is shaped according to this equation.’

“Or you want all the sounds and the way the rhythm works to change, and you don’t quite know how long the transform will take. You can then build a patch to do the transform, and you do it by ear with a fader. We may have one fader that determines how often a snare does a little roll or skip, and another thing that listens and says ‘If that snare plays that roll three times, then I’ll do this.’ We don’t use random operators because they’re irritating to work with — every time you run the process it sounds different. How we play the system dictates how the system responds.”

[…]

Of course, even with Autechre’s wide-ranging tastes, some pieces of kit are favoured over others, or have a more central function. This often-used gear includes Mackie 16:8 and 24:8 desks, a Shure Auxpander, and an Apple G4 Powerbook running OS X, running Cycling 74’s Max/MSP, MOTU’s Digital Performer, Emagic’s Logic Audio and Steinberg’s Cubase SX.

The Shure Auxpander is “basically a 8×8 patchbay with knobs instead of patches,” says Booth, “so you can decide how much signal goes into each one. It works kind of like a mixing desk. We use that a lot. Together with the Mackies we’re pretty limitless. Stuff can go back in and back out as many times as we want it to. They say that the Mackies are a workhorse, but I’ve had two break on me. But I really like how quiet they are and how much they cost. Otherwise the amount of money we’d spend on an analogue mixer would probably be what the whole studio costs.”

In addition to their computer equipment, Autechre have dozens of hardware synths, drum machines and effects. “In the beginning we had loads of analogue stuff and tape recorders and so on,” Booth relates. “We still have quite a bit of analogue gear and we still use it. It’s just there, it’s part of what we do, like the 202, the Roland SH2, or Korg MS10 and MS20, real cheap basic techno stuff from the time we were into acid house and dirty sounds. We also still have a lot of Roland gear and pedals and stuff. We even have a few Doepfer modules, the German stuff. I like to be surprised by equipment, and a lot of Yamaha gear still surprises me, especially the old stuff with the bad aliasing. The FS1R is a pretty mean thing.

“We’re still using the Nord Lead 1 v2 all the time, which is really good because you can do loads of beats with it. The version 2 software has rhythm patches, so you can have eight sounds playing at a time on each of the four channels. It means that you can constantly have 32 sounds sitting there, which is nice for gear that size. We still use it live quite a lot because you can do a lot of rhythmic stuff with it. We also collect weird, rare outboard effects. But these are hyper-private. There are things with pure character, stuff that’s vintage. We have some real gems, like a lot of early Boss rack units with beautiful-sounding chips in them. You can get really musical with them, actually involving synth patches. Have a few of them and a patchbay and a potentiometer and a bit of EQ, and you can make album after album. You don’t need computers or drum machines, that’s what we learned.”

Autechre’s hardware samplers include the likes of the Ensoniq ESR and EPS, Kurzweil K2500, Emu E-Synth, and Casio samplers like the FZ1, FZ10, SK1, SK5 and SK100. “Changing them is brilliant fun,” remarks Booth about the latter three, “get the backs off them and a few bits of wire and have an amazing time. We mess around with electronics, and have loads of broken half-bits of gear lying around. I learned some things at college and can use a soldering iron.”

In similar DIY fashion, Booth suggests that the way they use their equipment depends on the way they connect things. “A lot of the time we have the studio set up a certain way for one track, and then we have to completely rewire it for the next track. That’s mostly what we’re doing: putting the studio together in a certain way for each track, and I guess that when we saw Max and later MSP it was exciting. It mirrored the way we used to think about stuff. It was all about connectivity, very much like working with electronics, the same basic principle. We found it really easy to get our heads around.”

Unsurprisingly, Autechre have dozens of programs on their Macs, including Peak, Audio Hijack, Soundhack, Audioscope, Amadeus, MOTU’s Mach V, and many others, as well as a Symbolic Sound Kyma system. “We use anything, man. I don’t have favourites, and I don’t want habits either,” utters Booth. But as always, some things are more equal than others, and Max appears to have been the most influential piece of software in Autechre’s collection, ever since they acquired it in 1997.

“When I first encountered Max, I thought it was totally head-exploding,” recalls Booth. “We came up with some pretty interesting stuff as soon as we got it. It was almost exactly what we needed. We initially got it for making MIDI applications, and it was a way for us to make sequences in which we could manipulate and generate data on the fly. We could do any combination of things. For instance, if we wanted to have a snare sound late, and the bass note as well, we could have the tracks sync’ed and variables sent across. Before then we had to do this manually, but with Max we could connect things in a very literal way. This made it a lot easier to work with drum machines. You could now jam with them during a live set, and get a pattern to slide the timing. We began using Max for live work, and then ended up using it in the studio. Most of Confield came out of experiments with Max that weren’t really applicable in a club environment.”

[…]

“There’s nothing better than turning the screen off and just going analogue,” stresses Booth. “You’re not looking at data representation and so you can drift off and just listen. We do this a lot. When we’re putting things down and mixing things and are trying to make things sound right, the screen has to go off. It’s an illusion that totally pollutes what you’re thinking and what you’re listening to. Yes, you can be in the zone when sitting with a laptop. You absolutely can. But you just want to listen and not interact with the device. The worst things are the timeline sequencers where you can see on the screen what’s coming up. That really f**ks with your head when you’re listening.”