randy's Recent Posts

(in response to Aalto VST crashes in mint Live 10.0.3 and 10.0.4 (macOS))

Mon, Oct 22, 2018, 08:13

OK thanks for the info, I'll be in touch here about a plugin update.

(in response to Aalto VST crashes in mint Live 10.0.3 and 10.0.4 (macOS))

Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 08:47

In the first crash with the VST, you can see at Line 30: Crashed Thread: 5 AudioCalc

So you can scroll down to thread 5, which starts at line 114. The function calls are in order of most to least recent. Each line has the name of the executable module that is running, followed by hopefully the name of the function inside of it. For com.ableton.live you don't usually see function names, just numbers, because the function names have been stripped from the executable.

Roughly speaking, thread 5 tells you that the crash was in the kernel library, called by the C ++ standard library, called by Aalto, called by Ableton Live. My own code is trying to print some debug information, which it shouldn't be doing in a release build for various reasons, one of which being that the string library might allocate memory as we see here. Allocating memory in an audio processing thread is always something to avoid. Even so, it should not be crashing, so I will look to see what is causing the crash before simply removing the debug printing.

(in response to Aalto: value lists for parameters possible?)

Wed, Oct 17, 2018, 09:43

This change would be a fundamental one and is not going to happen in a minor update. It is exactly the kind of thing I will be looking at for a major update (Aalto 2).

(in response to Aalto VST crashes in mint Live 10.0.3 and 10.0.4 (macOS))

Wed, Oct 17, 2018, 09:40

Sorry you are running into problems. These are new to me. I appreciate the detailed reports.

You seem very on top of the latest from Ableton so you probably heard that Live 10.0.3 had some bad bugs with AU parameter updates. You say you are using 10.0.4, and I think these have been fixed in that version. Just FYI.

The VST crash report does not indicate the JuceVSTWrapper is the problem. It does point to some debugging code of my own. I should be able to post a beta very soon that I hope will fix this.

The AU crash you sent later does not point to Aalto. It looks like purely an issue with Live. If you want to experiment you might try the same track copying operation with a different AU instrument plugin.

(in response to Unexpected result from scala file)

Fri, Oct 12, 2018, 08:39

Hi, if you give the .kbm file the same name as the .scl file except for the extension, the mapping will load for that scale. Do you have a mapping you are using with the other programs? If so, try loading it using this method and you should get the same results.

If you are not using a mapping, you could try transposing the notes to get the same results.

I'll check out werck3 when I get a minute here.

(in response to Virta and MIDI Program Change)

Tue, Oct 09, 2018, 06:54

Ah yes, it only loads them when the plugin starts, good thing to go into the docs. Glad it's working.

Fri, Oct 05, 2018, 12:25

I'm happy to announce that our home here on teh interwebz, has a brand new look. The old site got the job done, but was not working on mobile and was generally starting to look a little, well, old.

Now we have a better-looking interface that's more usable. An update from 2009 to 2019, if you will. A year in the making, this overhaul brings our look up to date and supports mobile browsing. It should also respond quicker, and the infrastructure sets the stage for new features I want to add over the coming years.

Big thanks to the friends who have helped with this work: Joel Marchand, Brit Hansen and Philip Kobernik.

(in response to Virta and MIDI Program Change)

Mon, Oct 08, 2018, 11:44

Hi Greg, yes I know this works because I've used it in a performance. Maybe check the spelling of the "MIDI Programs" folder?

(in response to Current design of "MIDI Programs" is a nightmare)

Mon, Oct 08, 2018, 09:11

Yes, yes, I know this feature is not the best. It is just a stand-in that allows the job to be done, until I have time to make a good UI for associating patches with numbers. So far there have always been more critical things to do, and unfortunately it's just me writing the software.

Thanks for the feedback, though. If it's any consolation I have to use it for my own shows as well. I'll definitely change this for Aalto 2, which is the next update or very nearly so.

(in response to Aalto suggestion: add parameters for controls with quantized positions)

Mon, Oct 08, 2018, 09:02

Because you say "go to the GUI" I guess you are talking about using the controls of your Push here? From the GUI itself the dials snap to the quantized positions. The shift modifier allows a fine adjustment from there.

I should really get a Push 2 and do a run-though thinking about usability in general. It's a nice controller!

(in response to Aalto: value lists for parameters possible?)

Mon, Oct 08, 2018, 08:56

Thanks for the feedback. What format are these other plugins in? I'm not sure that VST2 for example supports this concept. I agree it would be a nice usability improvement for formats that support it.

(in response to Aalto: seq_wave parameter doesn't select any Preset waves)

Mon, Oct 08, 2018, 08:54

seq_wave is only there to communicate between the interface and the parameter system within Aalto. It shows up automatically as an automatable parameter but is not useful.

Later I added the concept of a non-automatable parameter, but to remove this one would break patches by changing the order of parameters. I could rename it "unused1" or something.

(in response to Virta 1.3.2 REAPER vocoder 256 bands preset not reloading correct)

Mon, Oct 08, 2018, 08:49

Hi Wolfgang, I'm sorry to hear this bug is still happening after the update. I'll check into it using Reaper.

(in response to A new look)

Sat, Oct 06, 2018, 14:32

@brianleu You can still find all the DIY stuff at madronalabs.com/DIY. Feel free to download it all!

(in response to Any news on Sumu?)

Fri, Oct 05, 2018, 14:47

Well OK, last in this series anyway. These four instruments make a great kind of group and next I need to do something different. I could put a patcher in the middle of something again, someday. But it will probably look different. Hopefully I'm always learning.

Mon, Nov 02, 2015, 10:12

Fedor Pereverzev, AKA Moa Pillar, is an artist who specializes in deep, dark electronic sounds. Hailing from Moscow, Fedor works by day as a sound designer for the audio company Monoleak. His recent album Humanity was released by the label Full of Nothing. A label based in Karelia and run by Anya Kuts and Ivan Zoloto of the noise duo Love Cult. Humanity is a beautifully textured journey through the Moa Pillar world, all while showcasing Pereverzev’s sound design expertise. We were happy to have the chance ask him some questions after learning he used Aalto as the main tool on his new album.

You’ve described your music as “Spiritual Bass”. Can you elaborate on what this means to you?:

Spiritual bass is a journalist’s term. I used tag “spiritual” only in track’s description on Soundcloud. This word is important because it allows me to show that this music is not only about dancing (although I attach great value to this aspect as well) but about my own way of understanding the world. The tag “Spiritual” points out that this music is a result of my own discoveries and experiences regarding to metaphysics of the world.

What is Moscow like as a place to be making electronic music like yours? Would you say that where you are physically, and a sense of place, is important to your work? Do you enjoy performing live?

I think Moscow, like any other big city, is a comfortable location for music making. There is always something going on. You can feel this eternal motion that motivates you to move on. You can always find somewhere to go or to be inspired. But at the same time, I can’t say that Moscow inspires me. I’m not interested in reflection on the aesthetics of the city or its metaphysic in my music.

I’ve truly started to enjoy live gigs just recently. Until now I had pretty mixed programme that didn’t allow the most important thing to happen - going deep into the music. It didn’t allow me to do this. Today meeting people is important for me. New programme is strong and solid. This is where the magic happens. Anyway, live performing is still a tricky thing for me technically. I never write music keeping in mind the way I will perform it. I always consciously choose building complicated structures instead of the ease of performance. So the question "how to play it?" is always acute. My music has lots of layers and I can’t play them all. You have to find balance between audio, that plays automatically, and structures, that should have been manipulative. This kind of analysis of my music is an interesting game for me.

You mentioned that you work as a professional sound designer by day. How does this line of work relate to your personal musical expression? What can you tell us about Monoleak?

Monoleak is a full service audio production and music agency, formed by me, Savely Shestak and Savva Rozanov. We’ve been producing music for movies, advertisement and shows for almost five years now. For the last couple of years we’ve worked with dozens of automobile brands with their launches in Russia and abroad. Our latest significant achievement is creating original soundtrack and sound design for the biggest show in world history of 3D-mapping created by Sila Seta Inc. covering huge Ministry of Defence building in Moscow.

The working process helps me with my own music growth. Working on the projects as part of Monoleak I better understand what is really interesting for me in music and what is superficial. I can realize all of my spontaneous desires, not allowing them to get into my personal field. For example I can write “sweet” house music, edm and so on. It’s also a constant improving of technical skills. By the way, we use Aalto pretty often in production. It’s perfect for background atmosphere and sound design.

You mentioned on our forums that your new album is 85% Aalto. What is it about Aalto that you connect with so well? Can you tell us anything about how it fits into your process? For example, do sounds tend to come first and lead to rhythms or vice versa?

Yes, that’s true. In fact I used Aalto (and sometimes Kaivo) for all the sessions except melodic bass and rhythm. Tracks without rhythmic structure (Essence and Magnets) had been made with Aalto. I can honestly say that I’m in love with this synth. I like its clarity, intuitive interface and certainly the sound! I had a feeling that I was working with a live instrument because with Aalto you can achieve tones and rhythm imperfection. And I really appreciate it. Should also note the ability to download different musical temperaments. It’s great! I was really impressed when I found variety of my favorite composers (Terry Riley and La Monte Young) in the list of “key tuning”. I dream about modular synth by Madrona Labs (as many other people I think).

My work starts with opening the session where all the knobs of Aalto are connected to Launch Control XL. Further, if I don’t have any specific idea, I just turn on the recording and improvising. Most often something impressive comes out during this process and I use it in further work. This approach and scopes of Aalto were very useful during my trip to the Caucasus, Kabardino-Balkaria. The purpose of the trip was the musical commination between me and the guys who play and learn traditional Kabardian folklore. The result of it was a documentary “Bonfires and Stars”, which is now being prepared to be shown at international festivals. It was filmed by Stereotactic team.

profile: Josh Leibsohn

photos: Fedor Pereverzev

Listen to Humanity: http://everything.fullofnothing.net/album/humanity

Moa Pillar:


Sun, Sep 30, 2018, 14:37

Rastko Lazic is a composer and improviser of electronic music based in Yangon, Myanmar. Through the magic of the internet, by which our shared love of weird devices and ideas about sound transcends time and space, many of his works made their way to Seattle. What's in them? A devotional attention to the basic qualities of sounds both found and generated, it seems, and a purposeful collection of digital and analog devices for focusing it.

In a recent video you posted online, you made a very expressive connection between the Soundplane and a Serge Modular Synthesizer. What are the aspects of the Soundplane that inspired you to use it in this way?

I have been interested in controlling the modular synthesizer with either movement (Serge Modular and the Theremin https://vimeo.com/42150452 and Tuning a Performance https://vimeo.com/86026852 and Tape002 https://vimeo.com/46954260) or touch and pressure (Popcorn https://vimeo.com/31022576) for a long time.

The Soundplane fits perfectly into this exploration. The Soundplane sends information from three dimensions and can do that from multiple touches simultaneously. From the four touches, I use one could take the difference between touched values and use that as a new value. Or any other equation. Like Wiard JAG https://malekkoheavyindustry.com/product/jag/ but with a possibility of 32 inputs. In this way, you get a lot from the touches and movements.
What is most important is that the Soundplane works and feels really well when played. A beautiful instrument.

For the connection between the Soundplane and the Serge I used the Expert Sleepers ES-3 module. For the translation from OSC into CV, I created a custom Max/MSP patch.

You seem to be a big user of modular synthesizers. What is it specifically about modular synthesis you enjoy?

The first thing I loved about the modular synths was the sound or either the vast possibilities to create new and alter existing sounds very fast. I love the way Serge (I have a Serge Modular synth) managed to make so many functions in a very compact space and I love the fact that nothing was forbidden and that with mistakes and chances one came to sounds never thought of or heard before. Many modular synth manufacturers are now expanding on this idea and are involving digital technology as well.

Modulars are great open systems and for the most part, the only limit is one's imagination.

You can hear some of my first recordings with my modular here on “This Room Is Too Small” https://rastko.bandcamp.com/album/this-room-is-too-small and see me playing my synth on my friends boat and on his artificial island (a movie prop he got as a present) in my favorite part of Belgrade, Serbia on the river: Rastko And His Serge https://vimeo.com/19058233

This love for modular begun with me listening to a lot to older electronic music from the late sixties. I bought a lot of old library books about the music and the techniques used and read through every manual for old modular synths I could download. I found out about the Serge modular synth from these books.

I really got obsessed with my Serge in a very good way and it makes me happy. Modulars can give you this childlike happiness of discovery and this is great. I always think about new ways to connect things and wonder what would happen. I love the feedback patches and the sounds coming from them, it is like a living organism. These patches never end to surprise and excite me. This is something I can not find in computer software.

The thing I discovered is that smaller modular systems are much better for performances and playing. At least for me.

I now use more software but I learned a lot from modular and I am creating presets in a similar way I would patch a modular.
Most of the software instruments I now use is inspired by the modular instruments so it is not so hard for me to adapt and understand them. Now I am creating more and more Max/MSP patches to add more control, randomness and the chance to midi that is sent to software instruments.The software instruments maybe do not sound as good as the Serge but they sound different and are sounding better and better. The reason why I do not use the modular so much anymore is that I like the idea of a static instrument in a sense that I separate patching and playing.

With modular I use a long time to patch and then after recording it is gone. In one way this is great but I also like to be able to just switch on the instrument and play it. This is what software is good at. I use them to create the patch in, for instance, Aalto and with a dial, I can come to that sound again and play it. This with live preset switching becomes very powerful.

I started performing and working like this with the wonderful Nord Modular Micro and, here again, I play with a controller but this time, I limited it to knobs and faders: Micro Modular Patches https://vimeo.com/65191738

In addition to modular synthesizers, you also employ Madrona Labs’ Aalto and Kaivo in your compositions. How do Aalto and Kaivo fit into your workflow?

Aalto and Kaivo work really well with the Soundplane. They are a perfect match. Aalto has a great interface and with the constraints, it has it forces the user to think of new ways to create presets and sounds. One can use some elements which are not intended to be used in some conventional software instruments. For instance envelope as a sound source. This is very much the thought of Buchla and Serge.

On the other hand, Kaivo sounds incredibly acoustic and often it is unreal when touching the wood surface of the Soundplane that these gorgeous string sounds come out. It really becomes an acoustic instrument and one forgets the computer and the electronics. Really you could think that these strings are somehow under the wood. Every subtle pressure or rub creates sound. These sounds can be wonderfully weird and abstract.

On these latest recordings, it is mostly Kaivo played live on the Soundplane: Yangon Miniatures: http://rastko.bandcamp.com/album/yangon-miniatures

Your website states that you have been composing music since 1996 for contemporary dance, theater, and television. What are some of your favorite compositions you have done?

Well, maybe the two beginnings are my favorite.

The first one was the soundscape for the Copenhagen Culture City 1996. The composition was performed from the underground toilet under the main square in Copenhagen. They had a joystick and 8 channels of audio I could move on a large array of speakers under the square. The speakers were in the water drains. This was the first time I was doing musique concrete. The first time doing soundscapes as well.

I just came back from studying audio engineering in London and amazingly enough on this whole audio engineering course there was no mention about the history of electronic music and sound. It was all about types of microphones, technique and industry. Now I am much more interested in the history and the art of sound.

The second favorite piece was done for Dalija Acin and her “Handle With Great Care” performance. This composition was important for me as I realized that I have to do what I feel like and not to try to please everybody and follow the rules. We created a long and loud noise piece that we felt is perfect for the choreography. At that time, some colleagues told me it is impossible to do such a thing and that these frequencies can not be used. The performance was a great success and while watching it I was really touched. My sound was just a part of this. Dalija and Ana are great performers.

This is actually a recording of the whole performance but it is hard to understand it from the video as it has to be loud and just being in the audience is different than watching it on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/11601471 What is really funny is that somebody posted the same performance but decided to put on something I assume he or she thinks is real music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRLfjBhK2XM

Much of the music you have shared online shares a unique style of electronic ambiance. What about this style of music speaks to you and what are your creative goals in terms of music composition?

It is a mix of a lot of things I am interested in. I like noise music and I use it subtly almost always. Then I like the self-generating patches and I made a lot of recordings of that. Right now I am interested in minimal music and just enjoy playing and recording simple short structures. Here in Myanmar, I play a lot of gongs and local percussions and now finally I have a possibility to record that properly so that should be on the net soon as well.

All these different sounds I make come from my surroundings and I am very much influenced by the people and the sounds that surround me every day. I am very lucky that I traveled a lot and lived in a lot of places so the sounds and smells from these places influence me and the music I play and record.

Often it is also some events in my life that put me usually in a rather melancholic mood. There is a reason for that and I think this is not so bad actually.

I really do not have any goals. I let the sounds play and I record them, then I like them or not. I try not to edit so much but to record as much as possible live.

I love sound. Melody and sound are for me equal. Sometimes in these sound textures there is a melody hidden, discovering this melody is the beauty.

profile: Josh Leibsohn
photos: Rastko Lazic

Serge Meets Soundplane from Rastko Lazic on Vimeo.

Mon, Apr 18, 2016, 11:57

interview by Geeta Dayal

At age 29, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is a rising star in the world of electronic music. Her music was shaped by her years spent exploring the pastoral landscapes of Orcas Island in the Pacific Northwest, which led to a chance encounter—via a neighbor—with a Buchla 100 modular system. This, in turn, led to an affinity for the Buchla Music Easel, a unique, portable synthesizer invented in the 1970s. After several experiments with releasing her own material, her first full-length album, Euclid, was released in 2015 on the label Western Vinyl. Her new album, EARS, is receiving major acclaim; NPR recently raved that it "elevates the warm pulse of the Music Easel into the realm of the divine" and Spin wrote that Smith's album is "startlingly, richly fulsome, commingling the mysticism of Smithsonian Folkways LPs, IDM’s furrowed futurism, and the free fall questing of Laurie Spiegel’s 1980 landmark, The Expanding Universe."

What drew you to composing electronic music in the first place? Can you talk about some of your early inspirations?

I studied orchestral music and composition in school, and my first introduction into making electronic music was on a Buchla 100. Immediately I felt like I had a personal orchestra at my fingertips with only my time to worry about.

In the beginning of my experience with electronic music, listening was my inspiration. Taking time to listen to one oscillator and then adding another and hearing how they interact. I spent a lot of time with the Buchla 100 trying to learn what It seemed like the machine wanted to do, rather than what I wanted it to do. I found this approach to be more enjoyable and less frustrating.

You’ve talked a bit in interviews about the natural environment of Orcas Island in Washington, and the profound effect it had on you. Can you briefly describe the landscape, for people who have never been there?

There are endless evergreen, aspen, madrona and cedar trees. The ground is lined with thick pads of moss. Lots of mushrooms. It is an island in the Puget Sound, so it is surrounded by other islands that look very similar. No poison oak. Lots of deer, rabbits, hawks, eagles. A lot of moisture in the air.

I was struck at how you are able to coax beautifully tonal music out of the Buchla Music Easel. It’s not an easy instrument to play in the way that you do. Can you talk about why and how you use the Easel? Some of your techniques and tricks?

Thank you. I approach the Easel in a similar way that I did the 100 but with a bit more intention now. I have spent enough time with it that it feels like an extension of my limbs, like how an acoustic instrument does. When I am composing, I use a mixture of intention and happy accident to guide the intention. If I could, I would use a Buchla 200 but since I don't have access to one, I am more than happy with the Easel. When I compose electronic music, the electronic part is always secondary to me. Composition is first.

You’ve used a combination of hardware and software instruments. Can you talk a bit about how you’ve used Aalto?

I love Aalto; it feels like a software version of a Buchla. Very intuitive to work with. Inspiring interface. It has a very complimentary tone to the Buchla. I like to map it to a hardware device and compose with it in real-time along with the Easel.

What’s your setup like at home for making music? How do you work?

My setup changes a lot depending on the project. Sometimes it is just a piano and sheet music; sometimes it is notation from Finale sending MIDI to the Easel; sometimes it is really elaborate with many synths connected to each other using the same clock, and a vocal mic so I can make everything in real time.

I find that I create best when I experience novelty, so I tend to not stick to a routine or similar setup when I create.


What are your plans for future projects? What are you looking forward to in the coming year?

I have a new album that I am very excited about — it combines synthesis with orchestral instruments and voice. I will be touring a lot over the next year and making more music.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s EARS is now available from Western Vinyl and at bandcamp.com.

Fri, Jul 06, 2018, 10:24

Kate Simko can trace her musical journey back to the age of five, when she began studying classical piano and music theory. Throughout her time growing up in the Chicago suburbs, music was a constant creative outlet but never something she considered as a career plan. Then in the early nineties, as a teenager, she found her way to the underground Midwest rave scene in the wild and full flower of its youth and something clicked. Having dance music as an abiding inspiration alongside her classical training led her to center her life more and more around music. She writes: "I was just starting to figure out who I was as an individual, and electronic music opened my mind and passion for life and self-discovery. It was through dancing til dawn at raves that I started absorbing new music and ways of thinking."

Kate began DJing on WNUR radio in Chicago in the early 2000’s. In 2002, she studied composition in Santiago, Chile, and recorded her first album Shapes of Summer with Chilean electronic producer Andres Bucci. Since then her catalogue has grown to include releases on a wide variety of labels Kupei Musika, Get Physical, Hello?Repeat, The Vinyl Factory, Leftroom, No.19, Sasha’s Last Night On Earth imprint, and Jamie Jones’ Emerald City.

She now lives in London, having recently completed a Masters in Composition for Film and Orchestra at the Royal College of Music. She works on a broad range of musical pursuits: producing dance music, composing soundtracks, remixing, DJing, and playing live with her group the London Electronic Orchestra. Through all of these her work projects her unique voice, combining classical orchestration with dance music's jack.

When I listen to your work, from earlier tracks on labels like Kupei Musika and Hello? Repeat to your latest work with London Electronic Orchestra, I hear a lot of careful attention to timbre. Instead of the kind of sound that references a certain genre, yours always seem more tailored to the particular composition and not so easily described. Can you talk about your process for coming up with these sounds?

Yes, I imagine the sound I’d like to create, then work towards creating it. Sometimes it’s achieved by an instrument with a lot of effects. For example, I might take an accordion, because it has a slow attack and release, and then add some distortion, a drastic EQ, panning, and delay or other modulation plug-ins to achieve a desired synth sound. I often lean towards “organic” sounding aesthetics, so taking a sound recording and manipulating it works well to have a warmer, less digital sound.

I take it that Aalto is a part of your process somehow. Is there a certain kind of sound or situation you use it for?

Aalto is fantastic for spatial sound design and pads and dense sounds with a sense of movement. Personally, I find myself drawn to Aalto for film scores, and actually am using Kaivo and Virta on a soundtrack right now too.

This film score, a science documentary, is working well with rhythmic synths, and these synths are ideal. They don’t sound too repetitive yet there is a sense of constant movement, which works well against the film.

You've talked about how, in your recent work with London Electronic Orchestra, you are giving what would normally be synthesizer parts to the acoustic performers. Do you end up composing in the same way you would for synths, or have you found a different approach is needed?

In general I compose for orchestral parts in an electronic song in the same way. I usually pull up the section of the orchestra I’d like to use (ex: French Horn for brass, Cello for low strings, etc). and record ideas from the MIDI piano. I don’t focus on the timbre of the orchestral samples, just the melody and rhythm, as I know the sound and orchestral instrument will change.

It many of the LEO pieces it sounds like the band is playing to a master clock. Do you use a click track? Has getting the group to feel right rhythmically been difficult?

The LEO musicians are excellent players with a great sense of rhythm, so they make it seem easy, not difficult! We always record to a click track, but they know they have freedom (especially when it’s a solo line) to express themselves and get back in time to hit the next phrase.

I'm curious about the path that led you from doing solo productions to becoming a bandleader. Is this something you've been trying to move towards for a while?

This was a surprise turn of events for me too! I moved to London in 2012 to get a masters in Composition for Screen (film and orchestra) at the Royal College of Music, and I was at the RCM recording studio (which charged only £20/hour including the engineer and Pro Tools recordings!) as much as possible. I started writing for an amazing harpist, Valeria Kurbatova, and our LEO violinist Kamila Bydlowska, and tried out every orchestral instrument possible. After two years I had a collection of songs which is the core of the debut London Electronic Orchestra album.

Between dance music, film/video work and the live performance you have a lot of irons in the fire. Are there any new projects coming up you'd like to mention?

Yes, it’s a balance between DJing, producing, film scores, and LEO. Right now the most exciting project on my plate is a collaboration with Jamie Jones called ‘Opus 1.’ Jamie and I have released a couple orchestral-electronic tracks together, and we debuted a show with live orchestra in Bogota, Colombia in December 2016. Now we are creating new material and bringing the show to the Barbican in London this November. It will be an expanded LEO full orchestra of 25 players, and Jamie and I on electronics. Hopefully we can take this show on tour next year, including to the states!

Mon, Feb 11, 2013, 12:51

Alex Menzies is a Scottish producer and DJ. As Alex Smoke, he has carved out a unique path through the dance music world since 1994 with three albums and numerous singles that display a rare talent for combining modern compositional ideas with the demands of the dancefloor. His most recent album, the self-titled Wraetlic, marks a new project that is based more on stripped-down pop structures and expressive sound design.

Long Glasgow-based, Alex has recently moved to Berlin. By email, I asked him a little about his new music and his writing process.

photo: Steffi Rossol

I like this new music and also the name “Wraetlic” very much. It and the track titles prime me to delve into a particular kind of kind of story, but leave ample room for mystery.

Cheers! Yeah anything too explicit, and the mystery has gone……things are better left unsaid and just skirted around. Just ask David Lynch.

You are working in an territory that I think of as in between tracks and songs, from where a lot of my favorite music has come. Can you point to any influences in this area?

Yeah it's very fertile ground as far as I'm concerned, somewhere you can experiment completely but still be able to keep it comprehensible by having a vocal narrative. You can have the weirdest stuff happening in the background, but if there's a vocal, it's suddenly very accessible. People who do it well are Matthew Dear, Khonnor, How To Dress Well, Autre ne Veut, Hype Williams, to name a few. They all come from totally different angles, but the voice is like a hook for the brain to latch on to.

You said that Aalto was an inspiration on the album. Are you able to say anything about how that happens? For example, some people talk about synthesizers as tools that help you get sounds you’ve imagined in your head out into the world. Others approach them more as boxes of mystery and possibility.

Firstly, yes it is no lie that Aalto was a big part of the production of this album, and came along at the time I was just starting the project. It really inspired me. There are several things about it which immediately made it stand out and invited me to experiment, the first thing being the simplicity of the layout which just makes it so approachable, despite the fact that it is semi-modular. I know I can create interesting sounds if I have access to that routing, so it is instantly creative, and encourages experimentation. It has a purity of conception about it, if that makes sense!

I am also the kind of producer who likes to have the ability to really make the sounds in my head, and again Aalto has some very unusual features which make it possible to create timbres which I am very fond of, especially bells and clicky, unpredictable tones. The Waveguide too is a big part of the appeal for me. That sound is so much more alive than a normal oscillator, and you get the sense that you are playing with a living thing, that has to be coaxed to do what you want of it. Unlike the standard oscillator, which just blurts out its noise for you to cosh into submission with a filter.

photo: Alex Smoke

I hear some short melodic parts that could have been done in Aalto’s sequencer. Was it useful that way?

I tend to use the sequencer as a control source for the pitch only when the sequence is either very simple or if the pitches aren't so important. For normal melodic sequences, I prefer the control of piano-roll, as it is much easier to create many pattern variations that way, and also to use that MIDI information for other parts etc. Where I do use the sequencer in particular is with the oscillator’s linear pitch input to create huge fast jumps between pitches, resulting in strange beeps and noises, especially in conjunction with the noise oscillator. Also, altering the offset of the sequencer at the same time creates some brilliantly complex tones.

What was your setup like for making this music? Do you stick to one software environment for recording? Do you do any hardware mixing or processing?

I am a simple man….I just use Logic for the sequencing aspects, although I also use Kyma as a sound design tool which is a separate environment. For me the most important thing of all is getting the ideas down fast so as not to lose any ideas, and software wins this battle hands down. I care a lot about my sound sources but again, the software is now so good that external synths are a largely unnecessary luxury for me. That's not to say I don't hanker after a Jupiter 4 or a Buchla, but they aren't strictly required, especially now that I have Aalto to fill that Buchla-shaped gap in my sound-arsenal! There is a certain amount of fetishism about hardware gear, and many people I think just have it for that added appeal. I am also less of an experimenter, in the sense that I want to write the stuff in my head, and hardware is especially suited to open experimentation where you approach with an empty idea.

Place is always important to making music, and software tools offer interesting possibilities that way. Some of this album sounds to me like it could have been made in a remote cabin or monastery. Any truth to that?

I will actually include a picture of my studio at exactly the time I was making the Wraetlic album, and you will be heavily underwhelmed……haha…… In a way you're right, in that my head is somewhere between a remote cabin and a monastery! I would still love to go on a retreat to write an album and I have always intended it, but this album was not the one. It is all down to your inner world, and that is I think the most brilliant thing of all about making music now. That you can take your inner world and express it, whilst surrounded by the most abject banality, anywhere at all. But it's that inner world that matters.

photo: Alex Smoke

Would you like to mention any other tools (hardware, software, consumables, rituals) that are important to your process?

My working processes alternate between the shockingly simple (such as doing vocals using the MacBook's inbuilt microphone) and the heavily labour-intensive (programming Kyma), but the only common threads are a lot of tea and working late at night. I have favourite software (there's a list on my website if it's of any interest) but I find that ultimately you need very few tools, as long as they are just the right ones. I know I could have just Aalto, Absynth and Soundtoys and still make 90% of what I want to. Although I'd also miss Kyma for that last 10% of madness.

Alex Smoke presents: Wraetlic is out now on Convex Industries.

(in response to Missing presets for Virta?)

Thu, Oct 04, 2018, 10:41

I've posted the Virta update with all the patches. Since the plugin code hasn't changed, the new installer is also v.1.8.3 but with all the patches.

Fri, Feb 13, 2015, 14:32

This year it seems desirable and possible for Madrona Labs to make a Soundplane to CV device. This would be primarily a Eurorack module, but the circuit could also be built into its own enclosure for use with vintage synths etc.

Normally I do most of my design work in private, and only announce a product when it's pretty much done. But we (Brian and I) are going to change it up this time. Because neither of us is that deeply into the Eurorack world, it makes sense to solicit input early on in the process this time. This is going to be a utility device (though hopefully an elegant one) — so before we get too far along, let's make sure it will be useful to you!

The basic idea

USB jack for powering the Soundplane. Module puts out CV / gates / mod outputs for individual touches. Like the Soundplane app, a zone map decides how the Soundplane surface is divided up into notes and what those notes are. You can switch between zone maps, and the name of the current one should be displayed somehow. Aside from this, visual feedback will be at least an LED per Z value. To keep costs low, probably nothing too graphical or fancy.

We're looking for input on things like:

How many voices?

Each voice of touch output will probably have 4 outputs for pitch, x, y and z. Setting up many voices on a modular is not the way most people use them, so I'm guessing that two voices of output will take care of 90% of what people want. We would probably add an expander module for more voices.

Any interesting modes?

A switch that changes z (pressure) into a strict on/off gate might be useful. Any other things like this?


individual voice groups vertical or horizontal? voice outputs at bottom or top? I'm thinking top, because a USB jack on the bottom will go to the Soundplane.


The module will need roughly 250mA at 5v to power the Soundplane. Brian will correct me if I'm wrong. Then there's whatever computing and display the module needs to do, and the outputs. Do we need our own power supply, or a list of compatible Euro power supplies that we can point people to? Any choices in connectivity to make here?

Finally, we're still looking for a great name…

(in response to Call for input: Soundplane to CV module)

Wed, Sep 26, 2018, 18:46

We put on a big push for Superbooth, which was exciting. I'm working full time on Sumu (the next plugin) now. When Sumu ships I can return to work on the module.

(in response to Missing presets for Virta?)

Mon, Sep 24, 2018, 08:36

Wow, so I looked at the installer and found some issue in my build here that clobbered most of the presets. Totally my problem and it was just something so weird I wasn't checking for it. I'll release a full update with all the presets tomorrow.

Meanwhile here's a .zip of all the presets separately:


(in response to no license after paying)

Sat, Sep 22, 2018, 08:13

sorted, please see your email.

(in response to Aalto. the versions appear in a disorderly manner)

Fri, Sep 21, 2018, 13:38

No worries! I'm here to help.

(in response to Aalto. the versions appear in a disorderly manner)

Fri, Sep 21, 2018, 12:33

OK, I get it now. I did not know if you meant versions of patches, or of the plugin. Updating to Aalto 1.8.3 should fix this. It's a free update.

(in response to Aalto. the versions appear in a disorderly manner)

Fri, Sep 21, 2018, 11:45

Sorry, can you explain in more detail? I don't understand what you mean.

When the problem happens,

  • what operation did you do immediately before the problem?
  • what did you expect to happen next?
  • what happened instead?

(in response to Aalto - MPE voices influence each other when modulating level with aftertouch)

Sat, Sep 15, 2018, 10:10

Of course having any sort of sound engine begs the question of why aren't there more sounds! I think just a few really solid ones might be a sweet spot though. Like some old analog synths that had 8 presets or whatever.

(in response to Aalto not following beat position in Cubase)

Sat, Sep 15, 2018, 10:08

You can email me at support @ madronalabs.com if you like.

If you start from the default patch, which has no patch cords going into the sequencer, and just set the int/host toggle to host, you'll have a simple patch that should track the clock repeatably.