My main instruments are modular analog synthesizers,” says Olivier Gerber, who, under the name Smoo, released Traffic in My Soul (Neuronium, 2002). “Working with them is really fun. And because I create all the sounds myself, they give me the flexibility I need. “ Based in Zürich, Switzerland, Gerber cut his teeth creating drum loops and producing house music for various European labels. Inspired by the recordings of Enigma, Nor Elle, and Snap!, as well as the downtempo and ambient underground tracks he hears in clubs, Gerber's extraordinary programming skills give life to his moody, soulful songs. His expert use of rhythm and timbre combine contemporary European dance sounds with dreamy textures reminiscent of Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, and even Echoes-era Pink Floyd.
When he began working on Traffic in My Soul, Gerber ordered a Wiard synthesizer, which plays a major sonic role on the album. “It was inspiring for me to work with a synthesizer as sophisticated as the Wiard,” he says. “But my other modulars are very important to me as well, and I often combine different synth brands in a patch.” The modules he uses are by Analogue Solutions, Analogue Systems, Blacet, Doepfer, and Technosaurus.
“I am a filter and phaser freak,” Gerber continues. “I have 11 modular filters and every filter has its strengths. For example, the Technosaurus Selector filter sounds round and can go extremely deep. My Doepfer Wasp filter sounds strange, but it's perfect for certain things. The Wiard Omni filter is a more neutral filter, but my favorite.”
One of the first things you notice about Traffic in My Soul is its timbral diversity of the percussion. Gerber says he created about 80 percent of the drum sounds using his modules. “When I make drum sounds with the modular synths, I record everything digitally and sample them with Steinberg HALion,” he says. “It's easy to program all kinds of different snares or bass drums, but to program good claps is much harder. I used the Blacet Dark Star Chaos module for some of the claps, and the random-voltage output on the Wiard VCO for others.”
“I love the envelopes from the Blacet EG1 2070 module,” he continues. “To get really snappy envelopes, I feed back the decay phase on the Blacet module. That technique is also possible with the Wiard Envelator. The envelopes don't have to be extremely fast for percussion, but they should have a nice, controllable, exponential decay.”
Gerber played many of the sequenced parts using a MIDI keyboard, and he relied on his Latronic Notron MK II sequencer for the rest. To translate the MIDI sequences into the necessary control-voltage and gate signals, Gerber used a Doepfer MCV24 MIDI-to-CV converter.
“I used very controlled and planned patches,” says Gerber. “For example, the Wiard VCOs can be modulated with linear FM, so I created big FM patches. Linear FM on analog modulars sounds warmer, rounder, and more lively than digital FM.”
As an example, Gerber points to the opening sequences on his CD's title track, which uses arpeggiated plucked sounds through the Omni filter in highpass mode. “I could listen to such a sequence for a long time, and it never gets boring. That is what my kind of sound programming is all about.”