Wuzik Sound Magazine Dec 2008

2/2/2009 6:10 PM
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*) What was it about the Yamaha TX16W that made you want to rewrite the OS with Typhoon? Was it simply getting your money's worth out of a nice sounding sampler that was horribly crippled with sorry programming? Or was it just a challenge to see if it could be done?

Lust. When I was a kid I drooled over synthesizers just like any other kid and dreamt that one day I'll be able to afford these, or even better, one day I'll be able to create these myself. When I was around 19 years old I discovered that the CPU in my Yamaha TX16W was the same model as the one in my Mac, a Motorola 68000. It was a CPU that I was pretty familiar with and it is one of the easiest to program in machine code.

I don't think I hesitated two seconds before I attempted to put some own code into the TX16W just to see what I could do with it. The software that came with it was a catastrophe. I am certain that it killed the sales of an otherwise fine piece of hardware.

Two years later I had my first commercial product: Typhoon. I sold a few hundreds copies of the software, which I remember felt a bit disappointing, but looking back I can see that for a 20 year old kid, that wasn't half bad.

*) Aside from XLN Audio, Propellerheads, and your own Sonic Charge, what else is NuEdge involved with? Is NuEdge your day job? If not, what is?

I started NuEdge Development when I wrote Typhoon in the early 90's, but the large part of that decade I spent working as a consultant in the blooming IT business. Mostly telecommunication (IVR and that sort of thing) and database-programming.

Computers weren't yet powerful enough to do the type of real-time synthesis that I had in mind (things like the graintables in Malström, which I experimented with in the mid 90's). Furthermore, I didn't know enough about hardware to start building my own DSP-boards etc, so it wasn't until -98 that I managed to write my first experimental music application with real-time synthesis. Not long after that I got involved in Reason 1.0, then Reason 2 with Malström and you know the rest.

*) First off, thanks for the interview. It is great to hear from you directly. Before anything else, congratulations on the new baby!!!! You know I have a few questions about that. How has fatherhood been so far? How much of your life has changed, and what does Tetris think about all this? 

Haha. Tetris doesn't seem bothered at all, but not very excited either. She is simply a very cool cat. Helena and I on the other hand are both bothered and excited of course. It is a lot of work but extremely rewarding too. I survived becoming a dad in the midst of the Synplant release, but it is not something I would want to do again. I'm looking forward to getting some proper time off during my paternity leave next year.

*) I gotta say it. Personally, I think µTonic is the greatest drum synthesizer ever. For drums, for synth sounds, for weird oddball noises, whatever...it really is fantastic. I use it every where in my music. I don't think I have produced a track that doesn't have in there somewhere...even just for a weird effect sound or something. What made you decide to go with a drum synthesizer first with Sonic Charge?

Everybody loves drums. When the Malström project for Reason 2.0 turned up I had actually expressed my wish to add a synthetic drum-machine to Reason, but Propellerheads wanted another synth. Later when I decided to try my luck in VST-world, that old idea surfaced again. It was not planned to become the one and only Sonic Charge product for so many years. I had this long list of plug-ins that I wanted to do. I am glad I started out with MicroTonic though, cause it turned out to fill a hole in the market and it is still going strong so many years down the line.

*) The amount of patches and kits for it, available just from your website speak to its versatility and endless possibilities. For many drum synthesizers, it is fairly easy to tap out of variances before having to depend on external effects. Was it your goal to give this synth as much features and flexibility as possible, or did it just end up like that as you went on?

It was absolutely my intention to find the optimal solution to the equation n * p = f, where n is number of knobs, p is power per knob and f is flexibility in sound. :) I started out with a few weeks of research into how various analogue drum-machines achieve their sound and after that I sat down and cut down on the number of modules required to emulate them. I was actually quite worried for a long time that the hi-hats in particular wouldn't cut it, but eventually the audio-rate pitch modulation of the oscillator made it possible to add that certain ringing to the hats. Crash cymbals are still tough of course.

*) Can we gather from your work with µTonic and Addictive Drums that you are big into drums and percussion?

Yes. Rhythm is the essence of life. It is almost like there is a pulse in my head all of the time, and a rhythm to everything I do (except my sleeping patterns, which are totally erratic). Sometimes I even type my source code on the computer in rhythmic phrasing. I have thought of looking for (or creating) a little app that assigns different sounds to the keys so that I actually create music while I program, but I haven't got around to it yet. :)

*) Addictive Drums and µTonic polar opposites in terms of drum and percussion sounds and approach, but are by no means mutually exclusive within the context of any given track. I am sure, given that it is an outstanding product, that you loved working on Addictive Drums and love using it...but, and be honest, do you prefer synthesized drums or acoustic drums in your music?

I don't think I have ever had what you would call "acoustic drums" in any track I've ever done in my entire life. Even when I was a little kid in the early 80's I was overly enthusiastic for electronic drums and drum-machines and I loathed the boring rock / jazz / acoustic sounds. I've broadened my musical taste since then of course, but I still prefer synthetic abstract sound-worlds to real conventional ones. Actually, I knew very little about how "acoustic drums" are recorded and mixed before joining the Addictive Drums team. But of course, I use AD a lot in my music. What appeals to me with AD is that I can easily mangle the drum sounds to obscurity and create something new with it... something personal.

*) What is in your studio set-up if we may ask, and what instruments can you play?

I can play a little piano, but nothing to brag about. That's it. My "studio" is my office nowadays and I am just too lazy to dig out my analogue gear / old samplers from the storage room where I keep them, so my studio is my laptop. Although from time to time, I still use my very first synth, an Ensoniq ESQ-1, as master keyboard. :)

*) Now, Synplant has become a huge hit with everyone across the board. Music producers, regardless of their genre, have flocked to this thing, and the amount of patches already floating about speaks a lot about the synth on many levels. Did you honestly expect this kind of warm reception for your plug-in, especially given how jaded many electronic musicians are these days when it comes to software instruments in general? I mean, Synplant is talked about and loved everywhere. 

Before the long and intensive beta-period began I had no clue whatsoever if and how Synplant would be noticed. During the beta, it became fairly obvious that people had a lot to say about it. Not all positive of course, but mostly so. The beta certainly helped me to more clearly define what I wanted to say with the product and how I should launch it. Still, I had not expected the massive response and sheer amount of talk it caused right on the launching day. If I would have had time I would have loved to get more involved on some of the forums, but the hundreds and hundreds of e-mails I received prevented me from doing that. Now, things are slowing down at last and this is almost welcome so that I can have a chance on catching up with work. Regardless, I am very, very happy with the response on this release. I won't argue with that.

*) When manipulating the branches in the upper part of the GUI, it is easy to form a very familiar looking plant leaf...completely unrelated to that, what was your inspiration for this synth. From the GUI to the sound, to the actual implementation with the design? People have been saying for years that they want to see the evolution of the way users can interact with software instruments, but I imagine that actually doing something different like this, and not have it be gimmicky, but rather directly interacting with the sound design process in such a way that it couldn't operate any differently. I'd imagine this requires a lot more thought, effort, creativity, and imagination that people would think.  

Yeah. I think, when you put out a product like this, and people haven't seen the long and bumpy road that led to it, they might be inclined to label it a "stroke of genious" or a "brilliant innovation". I don't see it quite that way. In my eyes this has been a very long straining journey of experimentation and exploration. I have lost count over how many iterations this product has gone through already. As you've noticed, I don't release stuff too often, but instead I keep things under the lid until I feel that the design is as good as it will ever get. I guess that as much as 80% of the code I write and the designs that I draw on never end up in any finished product. But it all leads me down the path to where I can put out products like Synplant.

*) The patches, the seeds, etc. all have ingenious names fitting for Synplant. How did that come about and how much digging around did you have to do to come up with all that? 

Naming can be terribly hard for me. I think I probably put too much work into it. Sometimes, especially with Synplant, coming up with a good patch name has taken as long as creating the actual patch. :) But it says more of how quickly you can come up with patches in Synplant than anything. I added the random latin name thing (when you plant a new random seed) because I thought that would make things easier, but in the end I never use those random names anyhow. If everything else in Synplant is random, I like at least for the patch names to be deliberate and descriptive. :)

*) Even though the target usage is designing your own sounds, can we expect patch expansions and maybe even some more seed expansions in the future like with µTonic?

We will definitely be offering more free patches for both Synplant and µTonic in the future. I can also reveal that we are working on some form of community around patch exchanging, but it is too early to tell exactly which form it will take.

*) As a privileged beta-tester of Synplant (full disclosure thing), I know from the forums that the Synplant radio and the website re-design was a big priority. You had mentioned that some of your best music has been coming out lately with Synplant, and you've put it into rotation over there. Do these new musical ideas come from a culmination of creating Synplant, or just forgetting the work put into creating it and approaching it with as fresh eyes and ears as you can and look at it from a purely musical standpoint? Both?

I try to develop software that I like to use myself, and if I would ever stop making music I would probably stop making music software too. The ideas behind my products come partly from musical ideas (I want _this_ for my tune!), partly from technical achievements (inventing some new dsp algorithm) and partly from psychological observations (user interface stuff). But then when the products begin to take shape and I can start making new music with them, they affect the form of music I produce as well. So it goes back and forth. My music affects my products which affects my music again. It is a symbiosis thing.

*) As a musician as well as a developer, do you have any goals for your music itself?

As in "making money on my music"? No not really. I don't think I've ever had that. As in "having ambitions with my music", yeah, of course I like a few other people to hear it and enjoy it, but my main ambition is to have fun and music making is primarily a form of recreation to me (instead of doing sports or playing computer games or something equally healthy).

*) As a company philosophy, you keep your prices very reasonable for your instruments, especially that given their quality, you could charge more than you do. Does part of that come from being younger and wanting all those instruments that were beyond your ability to afford, and didn't want anyone to feel that way towards your products if they wanted them?

Software pricing is tricky, especially for download-only products. The price-tag becomes more arbitrary than for hardware, having only the development costs to cover and no production costs. I can't claim that I am an expert in economics but if the question boils down to selling a few expensive products or many inexpensive products I choose the latter. My reasoning when setting a price is "how much would I be willing to pay for it if I hadn't done it myself?". Perhaps that is why my products are cheap. Because I am a cheap bastard. :)

*) Other than your new expanded family, music, and developing, what interests you when you have what I imagine to be very little free time?

Yeah, the little free time I had kind of blew away with Kasper. But I can't say I've ever been very good at "having free time" or having many interests outside of computers and music. The boundaries are very blurred in my life between work and recreation. I've always enjoyed, also on a non-professional level, programming and experimenting with things like esoteric computer languages etc. I guess I am pretty single-minded in a sense, but I enjoy partying, hanging out with good friends, eating good food and drinking a few too many beers also of course.

*) If you weren't designing brilliant musical instruments for a living, you would be...

Working less and making more money perhaps? :) Seriously, I am a computer enthusiast foremost, musician secondly. If there wasn't music, I could probably do anything else that has to do with computers to a certain degree of success. If there weren't computers though, I would be in big trouble.

*) To wrap up, I won't ask what you have next, but I will ask if there will be as much time between Synplant and your next product as there was between µTonic and Synplant? I only ask because after this, we are already excited about what is to come next...though understanding that these things take time and all that...Also, do you have some ideas kicking around that are gonna top your current offerings? 

I already have a pretty clear idea of where I could go with Synplant if time and economy allow me, but I never commit to projects officially by giving away details too early. That would only hinder my freedom of choice later on. If there is one thing I have learned over the years it is to trust my gut feeling and focus on what I personally believe in and what I find most intriguing to work on. It has been Synplant now for a while, but who knows what may come next? I won't tell, because I honestly don't now, and that is part of the charm. I hope that I will be able to give you something new soon, but I can only promise you this and that is that Synplant is not the final chapter.