Guest Post: Joey Blush on Making Living, Breathing Techno
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.
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This week, I got to talk (via interwebs) with Joey Blush. We met Joey at Superbooth a couple of years ago and his brand of techno is some of my favorite. If you haven’t seen his Boiler Room set, you should.
I asked Joey to talk about what brought him to modular and and how he uses it to make some of the best damned techno out there.
Kris: Tell me a bit about who you are and where you came from.
Joey Blush: I am a sound designer and producer based out of Berlin, Germany.
I make music under the name BLUSH:RESPONSE, and have several other collaborations such as Konkurs (with SARIN), Impulse Controls (with Ontal), Drax Response (With Thomas P. Heckmann), and Hakai (with Jagoda Nagel). I have toured as a live member of Joey Jordison's (Slipknot) Scar The Martyr project, and sometimes play live with Front Line Assembly. I have done sound design for companies such as Elektron, Arturia, and Glitchmachines, and also programmed/produced for other artists like Fear Factory and Operant.
I was born in Miami, Florida to Cuban parents, and lived there until the age of 16 when my family moved to New York. I stayed there until the end of 2014 when I moved to Berlin, where I now reside. My childhood was shaped by the sense of adventure that presented itself within the beauty of Miami, and the dark technological worlds of the video games I would spend my time in when in my home. I used to spend entire summers on the beach, attending and working at a camp for aquatic sports (swimming, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, sailing, etc...). The water was like a second home for me, and I miss it a lot.
I didn't have so many friends growing up, so I would stay home and play video games endlessly. That’s where my first exposure to synthesizers and electronic sound came from. I started with SNES and Sega Genesis, and still game heavily to this day. I remember hearing the sounds and music in games like Mega Man X, Perfect Dark, Zone of the Enders, and Starcraft and wondering how they were made. I'd leave the systems on for hours with the music playing just to hear the sounds.
KK: How did you become a modular user?
JB: When I first started making music, my focus was really powerful digital synths. I had an Access Virus TI, Waldorf Microwave XTk, Nord Lead 2x, and some other things. I really love those synths, but also wanted something more unpredictable, so I got myself an original Korg MS20 and Sherman Filterbank 2. The rawness of the sound and open endedness of their approach made me want more, and soon I discovered the Muff Wiggler forum and the then up-and-coming eurorack format.
KK: When was this?
JB: We're talking 2010 here. There were nowhere near as many modules out, and not so much information, so I basically learned everything I could by reading Muffs religiously. My first module was a WMD Geiger Counter. This put me on the biggest sound quest of my life, that I am still on to this day.
I love modular because of its potential. It can be anything you want it to be, and you will never run out of possibilities. Some of the modules in my rack have been there for 4-5 years and I still haven't explored everything they can do. These days it is my main compositional tool and sound source. I gravitate to it the most because of the directness of the interaction. Patching an entire system like a living beast that can evolve and shape itself, different parts of the system influencing each other. I'm really into recursive modulation, where one element of a patch modulates another which modulates the first in return, so everything breathes in time.
KK: Talk to me a bit about the music you do and how you approach it.
JB: Techno is a genre really based around the idea of loopy repetition with slow changes over time. To break from the formula, and keep it interesting for myself, I introduce probability into the equation. I try to make patterns that can be manipulated a lot, but never lose their groove. All the elements working in this patch move together as one, and even though the probability and my hands influence what is happening, the groove never disappears. I imagine this like a generative techno system, where you hear patterns that iterate on themselves and morph dynamically but don't ever fall out of time or move in a way that you can't really figure out where they start or end.
Part of the reason for doing this is that I find it creates a more organic approach to sound. It's very easy to sit in front of a timeline on your computer and put together a track that works well in the club. I find that relying too much on the timeline often produces boring or predictable results, and at least in my case, I revert to the same tricks over and over again. This is why I prefer to perform things in live, and let the tracks guide me into a natural flow. Of course it's cool to do some editing and overdubs after, but a structure that grows as it is meant to is always more interesting than something obviously cut up to fit the club mold, at least for me.
KK: Oh my. Tell me about what you’ve done here.
JB: This patch is based around the idea of using probability with hands-on modulation to mutate techno loops.
Full patch breakdown:
Kick - Basimilus Iteritas - Triggered by Elektron Octatrack MKII with Vermona QMI into a 2HP Burst, with a pitch envelope from the Make Noise Maths, and modulated by the (Mutable) Peaks and (Make Noise) Wogglebug. The 2hp Burst is modulated by the mod out on the Nerdseq, and the trigger speed is modulated by a Rene. The octatrack is also using a lot of trigger probability to introduce variation in the kick pattern.
Main Synth - Loquelic Iteritas Percido - Sequenced by the Nerdseq. The Nerdseq also modulates algorithm. The LIP goes out into WMD/SSF MMF, then into Mutable Warps in ring modulation mode, the modulation signal is a Braids in meta mode, then into the Erica Polivoks VCF, Erica Fusion Tube Delay, and Intellijel Rainmaker. The MMF and Warps are both modulated by the LIP's envelope output.
Deep Bass synth - Piston Honda III, Schippmann CS-8 VCO with multiple outputs split into the Random Source Serge Wave multiplier and other things, all mixed into the Catalyst audio buchla mixer, then into the Random Source VCFQ
I add some additional percussion from the Elektron Analog Rytm MKII. Both of these voices are triggered by the Mutable Grids, each trigger out going into a Mutable Branches which is used as a probabilistic gate skipper.
All of this is recorded into Ableton, some additional effects and compression + EQ are added, then a send out to the camera so everything happens in real time.
KK: Easy…haha! Definitely a lot going on here. If someone wanted to venture down this probability-based techno path, what might you recommend — or how might you change this patch up?
JB: In terms of creating probability, there are a lot of ways to do it. Even within my own system. I could have done the kick pattern with the Nerdseq, using its own probability system (which can define different amounts per output, cv, trig, mod, etc...). Using one sequencer to modulate the parameters of another also leads to great results. Throw in a weird modulation source quantized to only a few notes in whatever key you are, transposing the sequencer, and right there you have variable patterns. Other trigger sources and modulators could also be the Zularic and Numeric repetitors paired with the Variatic Erumption, and the Confundo Funkitus. Really there are so many ways to do this kind of thing, but the result will always be different depending on the user. Each approach will also provide vastly different results as well. Even while writing this I thought of another way to change up this patch into something new. The possibilities are endless, and that is the beauty of modular :)
Want more on Joey and his work? Check out his work and what he’s up to at the usual spots: