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Arthur Hnatek (English)

This is part of a series of guest-post tutorials from Noise Engineering users showing off various tips for NE modules, modular use in general, or how they integrate modular into their workflow.

Have someone you think would be great to write a guest post? Have a modular tip you want to submit for us to create a video around? Let us know!

This week, I got to talk with friend of Noise Eng, Arthur Hnatek. Arthur is one of the most talented musicians I know, and while my musical tastes span quite the range, I realized recently that the music Arthur is involved in is some of the stuff that has excited me the most in a long time (it helps that I am percussion obsessed). It’s a pleasure to bring this chat to the blog so others can see the incredible stuff this guy is doing.

KK: Arthur, would you please introduce yourself?

AH: My name is Arthur Hnatek. I'm a swiss musician, currently based in Zürich. Most people would consider me a drummer primarily even though since a very early age I've been playing many different instruments and interested in many avenues in music.

Since my jazz studies at the New School for Contemporary Music in New York City, I've been busy touring the world as a drummer for jazz musicians like Tigran Hamasyan or Erik Truffaz's Quartet (and many other great jazz musicians). [Editor’s note: If you don’t know these musicians, go listen right now. Genre-bending, incredible. Seriously that’s pretty much all I listened to for about 3 weeks when I met Arthur.]

At the same time, I've been working on creating my own music through different projects: composing music for small ensembles, symphony orchestras, jazz trios and lastly producing electronic music and performing it live (since 2018).

My solo project SWIMS is where I focus these days performing live, semi-improvised, modular, drum concerts.

Learn more:

Basimilus Iteritas Alter

Mimetic Digitalis

KK: You have an impressive resume, playing with some incredibly talented musicians. Tell us about your training and how you got to this point.

AH: I would say quite my training was quite a formal one! :)

I started going to the conservatory when I was 8. My parents owned a music store in Geneva and I was surrounded by music and musicians. Quickly I took also piano lessons and played classical music too. As my interest in composition grew, I decided to study it mainly during my time in New York (taking conducting classes, orchestration, harmony and composition lessons with amazing teachers).

As a drummer, I was focused on jazz drumming since a kid too. Even though I was always listening to other styles of music for fun and playing in school rock bands etc. One of the most important shifts was when I discovered Aphex Twin. The world of electronic music opened up and since then I must say this is what I listen to mostly.

KK: This doesn’t surprise me that your training is so formal but also diverse. I listen to your drumming and the complexity blows my mind! But even more, the fluidity with which you are changing between complicated times.

KK: With all this training in the classics, what brought you to modular synthesizers?

AH: This a very recent one for me!

I was always aware of that trend going on but (probably a common story) was quite overwhelmed with getting into it and (honestly) didn't understand the logic behind it.

As an improviser I'm very receptive to those moments when you play with someone and connect on musical ideas without any forms or structures. I had an encounter during a concert improvising with a friend of mine who's a brilliant modular synthesizer musician. His stage name is Olan. I was impressed how seamlessly he could integrate his machines with my playing (and as a drummer you're used to being the ground/beat and tempo layer in the music). That night was so much fun and he created sounds that were so inspiring that after the show I was like: You need to show me what was going on!

The bass player in Erik [Truffaz]'s band Marcello Giuliani also encouraged me to look into it. He also showed me a recent acquisition of his: the Noise Engineering Manis Iteritas. [Editor’s note: Marcello is also how we met Arthur. Thanks Marcello! We love the Erik Truffaz Quartet!]

I got a small setup going and very quickly wanted to integrate this with my drumming.

KK: This was so exciting to us when Marcello told us about it. We’ve heard of people wanting to incorporate many different instruments with their modular, but never drums, so this was really a novelty. Tell us about how you use modular with your drums.

AH: The idea to interface both the drumming and the modules came a while back and I'm experimenting with it all the time. But I started by creating some music without direct communication between them.

In collaboration with the German cymbal company Meinl, we created a series of videos showcasing different cymbal setups. The idea was for me to play the same track 3 times and display how the cymbal setup could influence the overall style and feel of the song.

I had this idea that instead of playing back a track (which would ultimately sound exactly the same each time) I could compose a song and have the eurorack system play it back with chance and randomness factors dialed making it ever so slightly different each time (which was fun and inspiring to me).

We filmed the whole thing in Berlin and I simply went to Schneidersladen and rented a system (which was crazy because most of those modules were unknown to me).

We made a jazzy version:

A “beat version”:

And a functional “techno” version:

all showcasing different drumming choices over the same simple melody and AB type composition.

KK: I love all three of these so much, and was so excited when I saw them. So that was your first step in. But I know you eventually started actually incorporating your drumming into the system. How does that work, and what are you using to do it?

AH: I use Sunhouse Sensory Percussion sensors (2 of them in the case). Sunhouse is an amazing company that created sensors that can “read” your drumming and convert it into fun things like using their own sampler software platform but also generate MIDI that can interface with other hardware. In the case I use the Endorphines Shuttle Control to communicate to my system.

In the video here, I wanted to set some simple guidelines for an improvisation:

“Use only 1 module as the sound source: the BIA. You have to input CV into every single CV inputs on that module (9!). You are not allowed to use your hands to tweak knobs: all CV should come directly from the drums themselves (or a byproduct of it).”

The kick drum triggers the Trig from BIA but also generates an envelope that controls the Decay and the FM on my Intellijel Polaris.

I also use a Mimetic Digitalis to sequence some CV (like S/L/M or Attack) but the rim of the kick drum (when I hit it with the stick) triggers the Origin input, so I'm able to offset and restart the sequence whenever I want.

Another important one is the rim of the tom (with the gong on it), it triggers another envelope that creates a rise in pitch via the Bias input of a 2hp Tune. I'm able to generate pitch variations that are still “in tune”.

All pretty simple and straightforward!

The ultimate idea is to be able to have the system follow my drumming and generate new variations constantly (aka the second I stop playing, there's no sound coming out of the module).

KK: I can’t say enough how much fun I think this is. What’s next for you in modular synth use?

AH: I just want to push even further that interfacing idea into a more largely composition/full set concept.

It's fun to find cool sounds and play with them. It's a whole other game to sustain a 1h set with engaging ideas and compelling songs.

I would love also to collaborate with other modular musicians and possibly even create environments where my drumming outputs data and CV information that could be used in real time by someone else in their system.

See more of Arthur’s work here:

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