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Square Wave - Tweaking, Tito, and the Electronic Luddite

Some pre-tweaked skeletons from Abdullah's closet, and a brief interview with producer MUTA.
January 3, 2012, 12:00am

I recently found a bunch of old tracks I made in 2002 when I first got a copy of Reason 1.0. Check these out:

This set gave me a peek into my former untweaking self: stock drums and intrument patches all the way. Like many wizards today, I learned what the knobs on each machine did through years of twisting them and seeing what happens, rarely understanding what was occurring on a technical level under the virtual plastic and steel. Processing sounds is a fine art, and it marks the difference between factory soundbank assembly and refined, well-produced music.


What's happening now, partly in the spirit of lo-fi and partly in the spirit of kitsch, is that unprocessed sound is acceptable, celebrated even. In the 80s there were less parameters to manipulate for the average producer, so synthetic sound was more homogenous. As home studios grew more hi-tech through the 90s, the standard for what you could do at home rose until there was no excuse but to get your sounds perfect. Anything else just sounded lazy. Over the last decade plus, those cheesy-ass keyboard patches became gems to blow the dust off of.

To me, μ-Ziq's Royal Astronomy was the first record that sounded unprocessed on purpose. The production was brilliant, sweeping and orchestral, but it sounded like Paradinas had set some of the instrument patches back to their defaults when finalizing the tracks, a surprising choice for an Expert Knob Twiddler. At the time, it kind of annoyed me, but hearing that record now reveals that it was both ahead of and severely behind its time.

It gives new value to listening to old tracks. Technology and style change so rapidly nowadays that your tracks from five years ago are from a different generation of music than those you're making today. Back when I was just graduating from tinny, simple loops to more sophisticated sample work, my housemate Tito out in West Philly started messing with the software as well and, with his novice production sense, created something awesome.


It was a set of 50 plus tracks at the same BPM, each a single bar about four seconds long, each one slightly more layered and processed than the last. He burned the tracks to CDs and used the “Repeat” function as a looper, and the forward and back buttons to shuffle around through the loops. Since there was no lag time between tracks, the mix never missed a beat. The result was the sound of Tito learning how to fuck with the knobs and sliders over about five minutes, powering through transitional loops and staying long on the really groovy ones. Anyone could try their hand at it and each time it was played was different: interactivity incarnate.

Who knows where the hell that CD went, and it's a damn shame too, the countless amateur experiments from all over that have been lost forever on that awfully perishable format. Tito and I lost touch, but he recently messaged me saying that he has picked Reason back up. It's been nearly a decade since those old tracks, so he's basically relearning how to process his sound with a different mindset. Can't deny the charm in this stuff.

MySpace embeds really suck, so check out his page here to listen.

* * *

For part two of this rumination on tweaking, I'm talking about MUTA. Peter at a King Deluxe records sent me MUTA's new release Runner, describing him as a “Luddite electronic producer.” Apprently he's got some strong feelings about gear. He also told me to call him Harrison. No, Cliff. Cliff Harris.

A student of Warp, Anticon, and more recently the LA beat scene, MUTA's beats have a deconstructed sound a la Analog Worms Attack. On Runner, I especially appreciate the throwback lack of beat shuffle.


Here's "Runner," by MUTA:

I asked MUTA a little bit about his production process and some of the technology he uses, and technology in general. Read along while you listen above, if you please.

How do you feel about the use of technology in your music?

I could go on for a while about the goods and evils of technology but I don’t want to eat your head off. When it comes to music I do value technology. Even something as simple as a midi controller amazes me. You can personalize and change it however you like. Producers all over have their own unique styles because of how they manipulate and utilize their technology, and what you hear from MUTA is simply how I express myself through technology, in a musical sense. The dark side of technology in music is that it is dependent on an unreliable resource: electricity. This is why, although I consider electronic music my favorite form of expression, I always keep around an acoustic guitar or something like that because you never know when the power might go out!

Do you have any standby synths in your collection that you find yourself using the most? Do you extensively tweak your sounds or do you keep them pretty raw?

OK synths, I love synths! They changed my life, really! When it comes to producing, I do have some go-tos that I think compliment my tracks well. Although I use a range of synths from soft synths to hardware synths, so I will give you my favorite from each of those categories. For favorite hardware synth I would have to chose my Akai AX-60 programmable analog synth. It’s a fairly hard to find, fairly cheap synth, but I am just in love! For my favorite soft synth I would have to say either Malstrom or Subtractor from Reason because I have been using that program since electronic music first became an obsession of mine. In both cases - soft synth or hardware - I always tweak! That’s all the fun in using synths, man! I nearly always start with an initial patch and go to work on it making it sound as far removed from the original as possible. This is how I can get a unique sound, ya know? On occasion I will use a preset patch if I am digging how it sounds with other sounds.

Runner is out on King Deluxe now.

Previously - SertOne