Yamaha Synth (YS): So you stopped touring, kind of settled down a bit, got a “real job” but I know you are still doing a lot of music.
Scott Brackett (SB): One of the projects I am doing is called Worms and Bugs with my friend Chris, who I’ve known since my sophomore year in high school. He was the one I worked with when I started doing electronic music back in Redding…that music that we initially looked at as fun and not “serious” music. Chris moved to Austin in 2013, right around the time I stopped touring and was looking to do something new and engaging. We reconnected and picked up the electronic thing again and Worms and Bugs was born.
Living in the so-called live music capital of the world there historically have been very few venues for electronic music. But really over the past year that has changed dramatically. Interestingly enough, the composer of the music for “Stranger Things” is from Austin and I think that has added to the allure. Synthesizers are getting more and more popular and it was happening even before Stranger Things aired. So I’ve been looking at different ways to use these tools in different creative ways. Worms and Bugs is one of those projects.
Another one I am involved with is called The Metaphysical Club. I am a big fan of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies deck and The Metaphysical Club was influenced by that. Basically, it’s a game that we perform live. It initially started out with instructions on cards and basic text prompts that each musician gets and we improvise based on the prompts. There were limitations to passing the cards around so I switched to projecting and wrote a program that does automated prompting. One of the potential problems with group improvisation is people don’t drop out enough; it just becomes this wall of noodles! The visual prompts remind people to drop out or to play, adding a bit of control to the improvisation. And since the audience can see them, they can also be a part of the experience.
YS: What kind of prompts are given?
SB: Some can be not only very specific, but specific to the player. So for example it could say “Rob and Tom play on beats one and three for six measures”. Some can be very nonspecific or just visual like “Form of eagle” or “You’re walking through a forest of crystals. Go!” The result we are going for is a directed improvisation and each time we play something different happens.
YS: Let’s talk a bit about your gear. I know you have three cool Yamaha products in your setup: MOXF6, reface DX and the QY100. Let’s start with the MOXF. What do you like about it?
SB: We were talking about why people like hardware synthesizers and one of the things I love about hardware is the absence of a computer. I am a computer programmer. All day long I sit in front of my workstation and the last thing I want to do when I want to create something is to go there! I think that is a lot of the reasons synthesizers and hardware seems to be coming back. I love to walk up to a piece of dedicated hardware, something that doesn’t have social media on it, and be able to compose in a nuanced way.
That’s one of the things I love about the Yamaha sequencer: In my opinion it’s like the apex predator of hardware sequencers. It’s got the lineage of the QY sequencers that I absolutely love. 480 PPQN resolution, odd meters like 5 and 7, the ability to have different lengths of sequences in the same pattern so one track could be three measures alongside of one that’s 32 or whatever. There are certain things that are just great about having that dedicated piece of hardware.
You know, trying to fit creativity in this modern life is so much easier when you have a dedicated machine that boots up in seven seconds!
You know, people don’t really understand that the synth engine is so crazy deep. You know, an eight-oscillator synth with like this crazy modulation box which you can route LFOs in different ways. You have the master LFO, then you have an LFO per element/oscillator. It is so cool and when you load your own sample in there, but even with the stock sounds it’s amazing. You can do these cool duty cycle sweeps by assigning a square or pulse wave with different widths to different Elements and you can have an envelope the controls what enters when. It’s ridiculous and it all comes in a 15-pound package.
YS: I know you have a QY100 and I have a special place in my heart for that product. Can you tell me a little about what you like about that product and how you use it?
SB: Yes! I mean, it’s very similar to the MOXF actually. The architecture of the sequencer is really similar, but it’s the size of a Gameboy and it runs on batteries! Actually, the thing I love about both the MOXF and the QY100 is that that sequencer and operation isn’t so musically “opinionated”. What myself and many of my other friends struggle with is that we love to use electronic hardware but most of the hardware with sequencers on board are focused on the techno/DJ electronic dance market. So that means that the sequencer operation is blocked into 16 or 32 steps. That’s fine if you are that type of musician, but for me having a sequencer that doesn’t lock the feel down and allows flexibly to do lots of different things is super important and that is what the Yamaha sequencer is all about.
YS: I know you use the reface CS and DX in your set up. How do you use those instruments in your set up and what do you like about them?
SB: One thing that comes to mind is the looper. Both the DX and the CS have a really interesting, single track, polyphonic midi-phrase looper built into it. And as of the 1.20 firmware update you can choose to have your input quantized to 16th note or 8th note triplets. The phrases can be 10 minutes long at 120 BPM, or 2,000 notes, according to the manual.
I resent being locked into an 8/16/32 step grid, so this is a breath of fresh air for me. The instruction booklet also states that the phrase looper is “…for new forms of musical expression…”. As lofty as that might sound, I think it’s correct.
Posting quick videos on YouTube or Instagram is a great way to engage with other synth enthusiasts, especially for those isolated by geography or crippling social anxiety. I don’t know if posting “vids” qualifies as a new form of musical expression, but the Yamaha midi looper caters to whatever you call that environment perfectly. I use Instagram posts as sketches for me and “in process” content for anyone following and doing a quick video with my morning coffee couldn’t be easier with the DX and CS.
YS: I love the looper too! What do find useful with the synthesis engines in reface CS and DX?
SB: On the reface CS the Type/Texture/Mod controls are like the patch normalization equivalent of a lovingly crafted mix-tape; all killer, no filler! I love being able to crawl around the 1-to-1 knob to parameter layout and sculpt as I play. I especially love knowing that I can instantly go from zero to strange and back again using the multi-function oscillator controls at any time.
The reface DX was a great addition to my set up. Before I got it I only had a superficial understanding of FM synthesis, but the DX has allowed me to really get the “feel” of how to craft quality sounds from scratch using FM synthesis. Particularly the power of dedicated envelopes per operator for both pitch and amplitude has allowed me to really focus in on what makes FM synthesis so incredible.
I can sit down and find some new way of getting the Operators to interact with each other every time, and what’s more: I actually can understand how I got there and reproduce the same result from an initialized patch. So, we’re not just talking about gaining understanding of a particular platform, but truly portable understanding of core synthesis concepts. In my opinion the architecture does a good job of getting out of the way and letting you get to those universal sound-design truths. In addition to being the easiest FM synth to program that I’ve ever come across, the engine just sounds really, really, really, good. When I record videos with the DX next to analog synths I find that people frequently mistake the sounds coming out of the DX for the “analog warmth” of another piece of gear. I love the DX engine. I’ve got two of them now because of it, and I wrestle almost daily with trying to get hold of a third!
Not had a chance to check out Part I? Check it out here.
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