Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Manchester Week: Mindscramble

Mindscramble - Upstart (demo) by Mindscramble

Interviewing MINDSCRAMBLE is like greeting an old friend to me-- but we've never met in person.  When the blog was in its wee days of infancy, I received a few emails from interested people, him being one of the few.  Not sure what to think judging by his photo, I checked out his Soundcloud and was immediately excited-- I had found the type of readers who I wanted to listen to.  Mindscramble was the first of the Manchester crew I met, so it's a pleasure to have this interview.

Mindscramble combines the feelings of 80s montages and beats into great tracks.  While he claims to be a beginner, I never hear any evidence of it.  Check below as I delve into his influences and find out what makes him tick.  I'm also excited to show off a demo work in progress of his new track, 'Surge', and he takes a crack at the classic patch from Anoraak's 'Nightdrive with You'.

Describe your sound. What are some of your influences? Who are your old and new favourite artists?
MS: "It’s still in the embryonic stages at the moment but I’d say right now it’s a bit of a mish-mash of synth pop, french touch, progressive house and trance.

The 1980’s had a huge impact on my taste in music which has been generally leaning toward the electronic side of things from a very early age – although I’d say that the music and overall feel of the TV shows and movies from that era had a bigger impact, rather than any specific artists in particular, especially some of the darker moodier stuff like the theme tune to the Equalizer, Knight Rider, and some scores by Jon Carpenter & Brad Fiedel (Fright Night & The Terminator soundtracks) – a very early lesson that music can be dark but still melodic and powerful.

I still loved the non-TV / movie music too but I was too young to appreciate the artists at the time, other than the obvious mainstream stuff like Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Prince, Michael Jackson etc. I’ve only recently come across the term “Italo” but I really loved that stuff when I was a kid, despite not knowing what it actually was. I’m quite partial to a bit of 80’s rock too (I’m a real sucker for a big snare drum), I’m definitely in an 80’s timewarp right now, not just because of the nostalgia factor but I just love the music, imagery and TV / movies from back then.

Dance music was just the logical progression from that and I’ve been into most genres since I was an early teen, particularly late 90’s trance and progressive house – I was a huge fan of that scene, I used to DJ trance and went clubbing religiously, usually at Gatecrasher (hugely popular late 90’s superclub) on a weekly basis for about 5-6 years. I really loved most stuff by M.I.K.E. (Push, Plastic boy etc), Laurent Veronez (L-Vee, Airwave) Solarstone, Daft Punk, early Tiesto, Cassius, Ralph Fridge, Sean Dexter, Sasha, Jon Digweed, James Zabiela, Futureshock, Timo Maas, Vincent De Moor, Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Markus Schultz, The Thrillseekers, Paul Van Dyk etc.

My sound very much comes from those two main elements – the retro 80’s synth sound combined with elements of progressive house and trance (i.e. the construction of the track, build up, breakdown, mix out at the end etc). The name Mindscramble is a not-so-obvious 80’s reference from two of my all time favourite movies; Weird Science and The Lost Boys.

Artist-wise; in terms of recent stuff, I’m really into the majority of people associated to the dreamwave /nu-disco scene (although personally I don’t like the term “nu-disco”), it all really started with the Valerie collective for me but other stand out artists from the past few years are Le Matos, Ladytron, Mille, DVAS, Electric Youth, Multipac, Kavinsky, Michael Cassette, Adeyhawke, Powerglove, Risk Risk, Grum (too many to list really).

With the older stuff there’s a whole heap of different influences (not just synthy stuff), some who I remember from my youth and some I’ve only recently discovered but to name a few; The Cure, Tangerine Dream, Howard, Jones, Anne Clark, Depeche Mode, Desireless, Harold Faltermeyer, The Smiths, Brad Fiedel, Visage, Roxy Music, Gary Numan, Real Life, early Madonna, early Prince, Sique Sique Sputnik, Billy Ocean, Georgio Moroder, Blondie, Pat Benatar, Whitesnake, Europe, Mark Safan, Robert Tepper, Van Halen, Don Henley, Heart, Toto..."

2. What is your hardware and software collection like?
"Very basic and unexciting at the moment, a crusty old Acer Aspire 5920 laptop (that is on its last legs and desperately in need of replacing) with Reason 5 and an Oxygen 8 MIDI keyboard – I’m just about to start learning how to use Ableton Live 8 as I love the vintage synth sounds and I’m interested in some of the VST plugins that are available (Reason doesn’t support VST’s) although the intention is to ultimately rewire Ableton together with Reason as I love Reason’s interface, especially the Thor Synthesiser and Scream Distortion unit, and I’m also very excited about Reason 6 coming out later this year."

3. Outside of synths, what is your production setup like? Do you have any favorite plugins?

"I’ve briefly used the TAL UNO and Sylenth plug ins on Ableton so far, really can’t wait to see what sounds I can get out of them. No hardware at the moment, I have an addictive personality and I worry that if I get into hardware I won’t be able to stop and it’s a very expensive habit to get into."

4. How do you typically start a track?

"It varies as it could come from a spark such as a melody in my head, although usually I start with the bass and build the track around that – I usually start with a basic beat and arpeggiated bassline to begin with just to get the bare bones together, but then end up changing the bass as track progresses. I have no problems starting a track (the latest track I’m working on is Track number 48 out of all my unfinished projects) it’s finishing them that I find a real struggle especially now, as I’m starting to get a basic understanding of EQ and compression, I’m spending more & more time just trying to make everything sound as good as it can be – if I’m honest is slows down the creative process for me, but I know it’s something I need to get my head around in order to move forward.

I also love remixing and often find it easier than coming up with original material, as I tend to work with at least one element of the original (whether a sample, or the main hook or a variation of it) and just build the track around that but I always learn something new in the process - definitely want to do some more remixes soon"

5. What are your live shows like?
"I can’t see Mindscramble ever working as a live act; I’m not a musician and I have zero stage presence, it just wouldn’t work. I would love to DJ again though – probably wouldn’t be using vinyl this time around as it’s too expensive and I don’t have the space to store it – but I’m very excited about Ableton’s DJ mixing functionality (especially the ability to edit tracks, add my own elements etc), watch this space on that one...."

6. How long have you been making music? What inspired you to start?
"I’ve been doing it for two years now (although the first 6 months was really spent reading up on the basics and familiarising myself with the software); I’ve wanted to make music since I was in my early teens but I just never took the step and made the effort to try it which I really regret now, as I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I’ve always mentally remixed or added/changed melodies or riffs in my head when listening to music, or just made up music in my head – I could kick myself now for not doing something about it a lot sooner.

It wasn’t really until 2008 when I came across the Valerie Collective (Anoraak, College, The Outrunners etc) that I got excited about music again and it really inspired me to throw myself into it. I had a basic understanding of sequencers from using Music on the Sony Playstation, and I had used Reason version 1 on a couple of very brief occasions about 10 years ago so opted to go with that and see how it went, but other than that I started from scratch – I don’t play any instruments and there is so much more to production than I anticipated so you really have to live and breathe it and invest as much time as you can learning all the different aspects involved.

I’m fairly pleased with my progress so far (especially as I don’t get much free time to spend on production – certainly not enough anyway) and I’ve had some great feedback already from listeners on Soundcloud, but I still have a lot to learn.

My latest track “Surge” is technically my greatest achievement so far, as all of the patches (other than the drum samples) were made entirely from scratch (no altered presets, no reverse engineering, no tutorials etc) purely based on experimentation and what I’ve learned so far.... admittedly some of the patches happened purely by accident.

It’s not quite finished (really struggling with the EQ and compression in certain places) but here is the latest version...."

Mindscramble - Surge [Demo for The Synthesizer Sympathizer] by The Synth Symp

Mindscramble has also given us a look into some patch building.

"The patch I have featured first appears at 2:12 on Surge – it’s probably really basic for your more experienced readers who I’m sure will be able to do a way better job on this, but I’m coming at this purely from the angle of the beginner.

I called the patch “Nightdrive synth”, as it sounds (to me) similar to one of the lead synths Anoraak used in ‘Nightdrive with you’ (although I’m sure that it’s just a basic preset on a vintage hardware synth of some form or other), The patch isn’t 100% complete as I’m constantly making tweaks to it but hopefully it’ll give the beginners out there a nice basic patch to work from that they can start altering to make it their own.

I made it using Reason’s Thor Polysonic Synthesiser but it should be possible to make something similar using any analogue style synth that has at least two oscillators.

I started by initialising the patch, and selecting two analogue oscillators, both sawtooth set at Octave 4, detuned slightly by 0.3 to thicken it up. Set the keyboard tracking to full on both oscillators.

I’ve also included a third analogue oscillator with a sine wave form set at Octave 5 (although this is totally optional as it add very little to the sound, but I prefer to keep it in than take it out as it adds a nice tone to it).

Set the polyphony to 5 and the release polyphony to 2

You then need to run oscillators 1 & 2 through an LFO – for this particular synth I had the modulation set to 17% on both, with a delay of around 118ms (as you want the LFO to work on the release and not the initial attack) – I set the LFO rate to 0.57hz (with no tempo sync) using a sine wave form.

Then run all three oscillators through a low pass ladder filter, on setting 24db (if your filter has a self oscillator switch it on but it’s not essential).

I set the frequency (cut-off) to 75.2khz (about 23% open), and the resonance to 49 (about 45% open), keyboard tracking & filter envelope on full (this is important for the sound). I also would allow the velocity to have an impact but not too much, you can play around with this until to find a setting you’re comfortable with.

I used the following Filter & amp envelope settings specifically for Surge (as I had to modify the patch to make it sit better in the mix), however you could increase the decay or sustain for more prominence if you prefer.

Filter envelope
A - 0.4ms
D - 1.50ms
D - 8.4db
R - 5.35ms
Amp Envelope
A - 1.2ms
D - 15.4s
S - 10.2db
R - 2.12s

I added some chorus and a little bit of reverb with a ping pong delay, but this is down to personal choice specifically for this track – then I added an EQ to boost some of the higher frequencies and cut some of the low end.
You should now end up with something that sounds similar to this but now you have the basic patch, have fun & play around with it – increase the Decay and/or Sustain on the filter envelope for a more powerful sound, or decrease the filter envelope slightly to make it a bit more understated.

Hope this is useful to someone out there and hope you enjoy the new track...."

Nightdrive with You Synth Patch Demo from Mindscramble by The Synth Symp

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