Bakis Sirros in his studio. Photo credit: Antonis Chaniotis
In this era of digitally manipulated sound, pure electronic music — that is, music based totally on analog synthesis — could be considered a lost art. But take one look around the module-packed studio of Greek composer Bakis Sirros, and you might feel thrown back to a time when spaghetti-like coils of multicolored patch cords were still in vogue, and tireless innovators in overheated sound labs were pushing huge banks of analog circuitry to their limits.
“I'd always wanted the real hardware,” says Sirros, who acquired his first Doepfer A-100 modular synth (and founded the first online Doepfer users group — with Dieter Doepfer himself as a member) about eight years ago, “because I liked the open architecture. Whenever I was working with monosynths, I was always thinking, ‘What if I had one more LFO and could modulate this?’ No hardwired synthesizer could give me that capability, so it was very important for me to get the real thing, with all the knobs to touch and cables to plug in.”
Sirros has been making music under the Parallel Worlds alias since 1998, and his fourth album, Obsessive Surrealism (DiN, 2007), owes a nod to his influences (among them Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Robert Rich, and Autechre) while standing apart for its dark, densely layered textures and subtle rhythmic complexity. The CD features titles like “Into the Caves of the Mind,” “Beneath Fear,” and “Mindmists,” atmospheric pieces that spiral inward, featuring moods both aggressive and serene. An example of the former is in the saw-toothed stutter beats of “Distracted,” while the latter is exemplified by the drawn-out strings and softly churning bass arpeggios of “Reflective.” For all his reliance on modular synthesis, Sirros's setup isn't entirely analog, although even his digital quirks are decidedly old-school. He uses an early version of Ableton Live for most of his recording (having gradually moved away from a vintage Steinberg Cubase system for Atari) and still delves occasionally into Native Instruments Generator (the forerunner of Reaktor) for its ease of virtual synthesis. “I also have various MIDI-to-CV converters to control the modulars,” Sirros says. “That's how I keep Live's software sequencer in sync with the analog step sequencers. Now I can record various loops in Live and then combine them.”
Some of the beats on Obsessive Surrealism were created with a Korg Electribe R or a modified Roland TR-606, often with the individual drum voices being processed again through the Doepfer. Sirros also uses several drum modules designed by Analogue Solutions and Metalbox, which grant him the added flexibility to discover new drum patterns that can then be reprocessed even further. Whenever possible, Sirros avoids stock or preset sounds in favor of finding something truly original, particularly when it involves rhythm.
“Now that I'm working on my next album,” he says, “I'm using even more modular percussion. I think modulars are better for creating analog drum patterns than melodies. But I'm not so obsessed with a pure analog sound — I'll still do my melodies with software synths sometimes. But to have all the modules in front of me, and to be able to see the signal path that I've created — that gives me a visual representation of the sound that I'm making, without an oscilloscope or anything like that. I just see the cables, and that's what's most important for me.”
Bakis Sirros/Parallel Worlds
Home base: Athens, Greece
Key software: Ableton Live 4
Main synths: Doepfer A-100 modular, Analogue
Systems RS Integrator series (50 modules), and two modified EMS VCS3s