Monday, July 4, 2011

Diamond Cut Interview

Diamond Cut is a rare breed of a producer.  While his remixes are catchy enough to blend with the best producers out there today, you'd be hard pressed to find much about him besides his fantastic SoundCloud page packed with some of the best tracks you've ever heard, and his recent interview on Fear of Tiger's podcast.  I got a chance to talk with the analog specialist on his gear, his tips for creating great tracks, and his patch building philosophy.  They say diamonds are a girl's best friend, but you'll find that Diamond Cut is your DJ's soul mate for a great club set.

These tracks are great.  You really kill it every time.  What kind of gear are you using?  What's your production set up like?

Thanks for the kind words about my tracks. I always try & make sure each track has at least some kind of special moment!

My set up is fairly consistent... I use Logic Pro as my DAW and I either sequence in there, or I sequence on my MPC3000 and record into Logic. Most of my important synth parts are either played live or sequenced from the MPC. As far as synths go, I've only just sold a bunch of stuff, but my mainstays are Roland Super Jupiter (MKS-80), Dave Smith Poly Evolver, Yamaha DX7, DX100, Oberheim Matrix 6R, ASR-10, Dave Smith Prophet 08, Emax, Studio Electronics SE-1, Linn 9000... and I use a fair bit of outboard processing as well. I have a Publison IM90 Infernal Machine which gives things a special glow when I need it. Ensoniq DP/4+ gets a good workout. Roland SBF-325, great pres/EQ & comp of course. But I HAVE had to do remixes on the road with just Logic & iPod headphones!!!! I do like certain plug-ins a lot too. Arturia Minimoog and ARP 2600, Waldorf PPG Wave 3.V, Korg Polysix and MS-20, Korg M1, Arturia Jupiter 8V but I have the Super Jupiter so I don't use the plug-in too much...

You have a beastly collection! I have to ask, what is your favorite?
Choosing a favorite synth is hard because they're like people... they all have strengths & weaknesses! The two that consistently get me excited are the MKS-80 and the Poly Evolver, but I rarely use them for the same thing... they cross over when it comes to making nice pad & brass sounds but when you go deeper they offer very different sound palettes. And in weird ways too. Yesterday I made a bass patch in the Super Jupiter that sounds like it's all wavetables!

I've got a Tetra, I'm not sure if you've ever seen it, but it's half of a Prophet 08.  It's got really great sounds and I think it does a better job at vintage than, say, my Little Phatty. 
Yeah the Tetra is fantastic... I think the sub oscillator makes it a bit more interesting than the Prophet. The P8 is still great though, it definitely has a unique quality.

You have some really great vintage sounding patches.  They hold up back to back against italo-disco records.  Are these programmed by you, or original patches, or a mix? What do you go for when you typically start a patch for yourself?
I always make synth patches from scratch... or at least I'll start with something close & then go deeper. Usually I'll have a reasonably clear idea of what I'm after so it's a matter of working on it until it's right. And generally I don't save patches, which I know is weird. But to me programming a synth is a bit like playing it. And most of the time once I've programmed a sound, I'll be tweaking stuff while I record it in anyway, so the whole thing feels like a performance. Although when I spend a long time creating a sound that's really different to anything else I've heard the synth do, or I think it's unique in some way, I'll save it then. Using that method I'm gradually building up a library of sounds in each machine that I can go to as starting points.

What's important to you to get the right groove in a dance track?
Groove can be such a strange thing in electronic music. I like to think of it from a different perspective other than how you program the parts. Basically you can program a machine to sound however you like. With lots of work you can make a sampler sound almost like a real drummer (sorry Jeff Porcaro) and with lots of work you can make a sequencer sound totally robotic or other-worldly or arhythmic. I think the important nuances come from how you use EQ & compression & effects. That's the way serious mix engineers think when they get a track to mix, they're like "how do I make this instrument groove better" or "how do I give this part a different character" and the only tools they have are mixing tools. If they feel like there's a hole at the end of a bar they're not going to reprogram the drum pattern, they're going to add another verb or something to the last snare in the bar. So I always find myself manipulating those kinds of things as an integral part of creating a rhythmic identity for a track.

I think rhythm is about difference & repetition. Using imperfections in repetitive ways... I think that's why the MPC feels so good, because of the imperfections in its clock & the way it loops. Even though I tend to use a lot of simple, straight rhythmic patterns, my aim is always to make it feel as good as the groove on an R&B record. I work on NS-10s too, so I'm always putting too much bottom end in my mixes & then wondering why the track doesn't "bounce" as much as it should!

I think it's important to work out what a machine does that excites you, and lean on it for that task. The same goes for plug-ins. Most plug-ins sound close to hardware, but you end up getting different results out of them, because the user experience is still totally different. But plug-ins can still do great things as long as you're open & listening out for it. I've tried to get big luscious polysynth pads out of the Arturia Jupiter 8V & always end up disgusted at myself because I can't make it work. It just doesn't sound like I want it to, and that kind of thing is so easy with the Super Jupiter. But I've also gotten some great results out of the plug-in by automating different modulation parameters on the grid, and gotten goosebumps from that... yeah I think it's about finding what excites you & following that path.

You've mostly done remixes, judging by your soundcloud.  Are you getting acapellas and building tracks around them?
I only post remixes on Soundcloud but I have been doing lots of production as well. In fact that's what I've mostly been doing for the last year or so. I haven't done a remix in a while. With remixes I just roll with the punches. If someone just gives me just an A Capella on its own then I'll work out how to do something with that, if it's full mix stems then I'll work with that... it totally depends on the situation. Usually I find the most inspiration from listening to the original track anyway, not the individual parts. For some reason I get most of my ideas from listening to a completed mix. So I'll listen to the original track on repeat for a while so I can invent something, then I'll start figuring out how to produce it.

I've read you've done some work with Visitor.  What can you tell me about that?
Yeah I'm kind of like the silent member of Visitor... those guys have had a number of projects in the past but formed Visitor after getting me involved on a remix a couple of years ago, and it all started from there. It's a great project, and the album is nearly finished! But at the moment I'm working on a lot of different stuff... Queen Of Hearts, Catcall, Radio Ink, Sister2Sister, Van She, Polysix, Che Jose... lots of things going on!

I need to settle a debate-- do you compress first, then EQ, or vice versa?
To me there are no rules about EQ & compression. It's all about what you're trying to do, what kind of sound you're trying to create. It's possible to think of mixing in terms of being "technically correct" but I don't think that ever leaves you with a compelling result! I think those tools are there to help you get somewhere, so there are really no standards. EQ & compression react to each other, so the decision to chain them a certain way is about how you want them to behave together. An example I have off the top of my head is with a bass synth. Say you think the track needs a really squashed, immediate, heavily compressed bass, but it has a couple of stray notes which pop out. In that case, maybe I'd EQ, or dynamic-EQ, those stray notes out a bit, so the result was a bit more uniform, THEN compress hard, so the compressor wasn't having to deal with the stray notes and could behave more like you want it to. Then again sometimes on say a lead vocal, if you've compressed hard you might find some interesting things going on in the top end which you need to accentuate or correct with EQ after compression. There are a million different scenarios and there are really no rules... I think the worst thing you can do is think "this is how I have to have my signal chain, this is the proper way to do it"... that's the best way to get a boring, lifeless result. The BEST thing you can do is listen, and decide with your ears.

The Poly Evolver is a particularly interesting synth, being that it has both analog and digital oscillators.  Do you think this helps solve the analog/digital debate, because it shows the harmony between both?
Yeah the Poly Evolver is a really groundbreaking synth because, like most of the good Dave Smith stuff, it has a really distinct identity. It's not complicated, but it's capable of some really amazing things. It kind of has one foot in the past and one foot in the future. The basic oscillator functions are pretty standard... and the digital wavetable technology is really old as well, but it's the way they come together which gives you something new. Being able to run the voices through distortion and bitcrushing inside the synth makes it possible to get some pretty aggressive sounds... but it can be lush & magical as well. I tend to use it a lot for atmosphere & sparkle, and all my bell sounds. There was a remix I did ages ago for Cinnamon Chasers, "I Like Watching You" and the Poly Evolver is making all those weird other-worldly atmospheric sounds in there. It's a great synth. It just all comes together in a unique way. I suppose that's the genius of Dave Smith.

Who are your biggest influences?
My influences are really varied. Obviously everybody's going to hear the Italo in there. Old & new. All the stuff on Clone... I went through a huge stage of just listening to Alden Tyrell, Legowelt, Professor X. Jam & Lewis. Crydamoure. Lifelike. Def Leppard. Anything by Mutt Lange. Gap Band. Zapp & Roger. If I say Prince does that make me sound like a moron? Everybody is influenced by Prince I guess.

What is the future of Diamond Cut?  I think it's safe to say we'd all love a proper record eventually.
At the moment I'm really concentrating hard on producing as much as I can for other people. I have some great material already for an album or an EP though... it's not the right time for that at the moment, but I can't wait until I can actually devote some proper time to doing a Diamond Cut record. I love creating that particular sound & doing a whole record would be so satisfying. I'm hoping by the end of this year I'll have something formed.

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