Q&A With Harmonic 313 (aka Mark Pritchard)

From the sound of When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence, one might think Harmonic 313, aka Mark Pritchard, hails straight from the D.

From the sound of When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence (Warp, 2009), one might think Harmonic 313 (aka Mark Pritchard) hails straight from the D. With heavy J Dilla-esque beats, distorted wobbly bass lines and sinister synth stabs drenched in delay, it's surprising to discover that Harmonic 313 (yes, the 313 is a reference to Detroit) hails from Yeovil, UK and now resides in Syndey, Australia. This glitch-wielding beatsmith creates the music of early Detroit electronic (with some sweet 8-bit video-game synth bleeps) while adding his own blipped-out sound, making this retro-futuristic vibe all his own. Make sure to turn up your sub when you spin this album. Really.

Remix wanted to get the bottom of this deliciously dark retro-futuristic sound, so we asked Pritchard to geek out about how he created When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence.

(You can read our review of When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence here.)

There is a dark, buzzy, almost sinister-sounding synth that seems to appear in a number of the tracks. What piece of gear re you using to create that?

Not sure what that is...but "Dirtbox" has a Minimoog doing the bass that's side-chained off the hats to get the pulsing effect. The same sound is highpass-filtered, which makes it sound more fizzy for that section. I try not to use the same sounds over again or the same drums. That bass is also run through distortion.

What specifically are your favorite pieces of gear? What can''t you live without in the studio?

Moog Minimoog, Yamaha DX-100, a spring reverb, Echoplex Tape Echo, EMS Synthi A, Universal Audio Precision Maximizer, ARP Odyssey and a Waterphone. I probably have used the Minimoog on more tracks that any other synth that I own.

What DAW do you use? Why do you like it?
I use Apple Logic Pro 8 to sequence everything. I use two MOTU HD192 audio interfaces with an Apogee Big Ben clocking them. I like Logic because it doesn't really have a sound—what you put in is what you get out. The MOTU HD192s are okay, especially with the Big Ben clock—it tightens them up a bit. I'm looking to upgrade at some point, though.

Do you do your own mixing? Do you have any special tricks/techniques you use when mixing?
I have always mixed my own music. I have an AMEK BCII radio broadcast desk that I mix everything through. I don't like mixing in the box so I never do it—the desk sounds big and open. I like to use a mixture of analog synths and early digital synths and some plug-ins (mainly ones from UAD-1). If I end up using a lot of plug-ins, I will try to run sounds through old guitar pedals to give them character and take away digital coldness.

I also use side-chaining a lot, both as an effect and as a mixing tool. I work at 24 bits/96kHz most of the time. I find that gives me more of everything, and at the mastering stage, I'll have to do less. Mastering is a big part of my sound; I have a good relationship with my mastering guy [John Dent at UK-based LOUD Mastering], and nowadays I send stems and he masters from that—usually a track with no bass, a bass-only one and then vocal if there is one, or any other element that I think may need turning up or down.

On "Dirtbox," what piece of gear do you use to effect the vocals?
The vocals were time-stretched in Logic Pro and then put through a color sound flanger to try and re-create the old-school Akai S950 time-stretch that was used in early '90s jungle.

Can you take us through the step-by-step process of creating "Köln"? For example, did you come up with the beat first, and then layer sounds upon that?
I started that track on my laptop with Logic Pro. I came up with the drums first, and then played the main pads and then the bass line. I played it all in on the laptop keyboard, which you can do in Logic when you press Caps Lock. Then three or four months later, I transferred it to my main computer and added the Yamaha DX-100 percussive sections that happen halfway through. Then I added the Minimoog sound effects and mixed it through my desk.

On "Don't Panic," what did you use to create those hollow plucking sounds?
It was a Minimoog pulsewidth single note going through Logic's Delay Designer plug-in, which helps re-create some of those pitch-shifting delays that disco producers used in the '80s.

Are there any live instruments on this album, or is it all done within the box?
There aren't any live instruments—just synths and soft synths.

What are your favorite plug-ins? Why do you like them?
I like the Spectrasonics Trilogy for bass—there are some waveforms in there that are huge, and the waveforms are all taken from analog synths. I really like UAD-1 plug-ins a lot. Sonalksis plug-ins also sound great.

I really like the Mellotron plug in; they didn't clean up the waveforms that they recorded direct from original tapes and left in the noise and out of tuneness.

And finally, what are you currently listening to?

  • Zomby, Zomby EP (Hyperdub)
  • Loads of new amazing dubplates from Mala
  • Dorian Concept, When Planets Explode (Kindred Spirits)
  • Various tracks by Roska
  • New material from Joker (dubstep/grime from Bristol)
  • New material from Martyn and Flying Lotus
  • Silkie and Mizz Beats, Purple Love (forthcoming on Deep Medi)
  • Loads of '80s digital dancehall