Insight: Put in the Time to Find Your Sound

Getting accustomed to a user interface is of a piece with choosing your sounds.
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I think my colleagues at EM and would agree that trying out new products is one of the best perks of the job. But we spend much of our time figuring out user interfaces, testing features, and pushing gear to its limits as we do the research for our articles. With so many items coming and going from the studio, we can easily forget to devote time to our main instruments—and our own music.

I was reminded of this as I read Jean-Michel Jarre’s interview, when he says “…limitations are the key in any kind of art form, and especially in electronic music,” before advising young musicians to “choose your plug-ins and your instruments very carefully, and when you have chosen one, try to stick with it for six months.”

As I pondered Jarre’s words, the corner of my eye caught the flashing LEDs of a 12U case full of Eurorack modules, many of which I’d barely begun to explore. How many of them would I want to spend several weeks digging into? Sometimes, the decision is easier than we think.

For example, as I packed for a gig later that week, I instinctively grabbed the two items I’ve brought onstage for more than a decade—the Blippoo Box (a keyboard-less analog synth) and an Alesis Philtre. With Jarre’s words swimming in my head, I had a sudden realization about my setup: The reason I’ve used these instruments for so long was not simply because of their sound, but because of their user interfaces; particularly the Blippoo Box, with its 12 chicken-head knobs (like the kind you see on vintage tube amps).

I remembered how the instrument clicked with me once I started focusing in on it: The extended shape of the knobs allowed me to accurately control the dual oscillator/dual filter configuration with one hand, leaving my other hand free to play percussion or another synth. In other words, once I devoted a few hours learning to use it, I found that this odd little synth solved a real-world problem while catching me ear at the same time. At this point, I know the Blippoo Box well enough that I can easily express my musical ideas on it, even without looking.

As you go through the various articles and reviews in this issue, keep in mind that our goal is to help you find the tools that not only capture your attention and imagination, but help you clearly express your musical ideas.