ACID TEST INTERVIEW
Todd’s been a visionary electronic music artist for many, many years, and he hasn’t played his full analog live set in San Francisco for approximately 10 years, since the last time he played “Clean Plate Club” (pre KONTROL), at the EndUp nightclub. In preparation for this occasion, we sent him some interview questions regarding his use of modular analog synthesizers (for which he was interviewed in a modular synth documentary [http://vimeo.com/34580585]), his favorite gear, his thoughts on non-analog (in the box) production, and to hear about some of his favorite current artists. In addition, we asked Todd questions about his +SCALE studio, where the intersection between art and commercial enterprise comes to a head.
Thanks so much to Todd for finding time to answer our questions. We are very excited to bring this amazing artist back to San Francisco, to play a set for electronic music enthusiasts who understand that the most forward-thinking music has one foot in the future, but keeps one foot in the past. Read on for the interview:
Acid Test SF: You were interviewed for a documentary about modular synthesizers called “I Dream Of Wires.” How much do modular synthesizers fit into your production workflow these days (if at all)?
Todd Sines: I have gone back and forth with modulars over the last 20 years. I was taught by Dr. Thomas Wells at Ohio State University in 1992 on a large Moog, Serge, and hand built modular by Dr. Wells himself. However it wasn’t all that portable, and usually needed a full room to realize a composition due to the size of modules required to make sounds. I had an Arp 2600 10 years ago, sold it, then went to Blacet / Frac Rack; sold that a year later. Then I had just got the Synthesizers.com system that you see in the documentary. I loved it, but it was just so large for the actual sounds it could make. So I finally settled on Euro — and I swore I wouldn’t ever succumb, but it was an issue of real estate.
Despite selling my gigantic 32-channel Sound Workshop console, which basically funded a 6u Euro system, it got me back into making music in a big way. I took a 5 year self-imposed hiatus and now I’m making tracks every other day. It’s been really inspiring.
Acid Test SF: You’re trapped on a desert island. What 3 pieces of gear would you take with you to continue making music?
Todd Sines: Roland SH-101. Akai MPC-2000. Yamaha DX-100. I would normally say something vague like “modular” but that is sort of cheating. I’d ideally want one in there, but I couldn’t just leave the 101 behind. The Yamaha CS-30 is a close tie though; despite it not being modular, it certainly is flexible and very capable of making some weird ass sounds.
Acid Test SF: Tell us about some new music that’s making you excited? What artists are really blowing your mind right now?
Todd Sines: Charles Manier on Nation, Martial Canterel, Terreke, Aurora Halal / Ital, Factory Floor, Paranoid London, and pretty much anything my buddy Juan Mendez puts out on his Silent Servant mixes. Also digging Kyle Hall and the last Pepe Bradock 12″, “Lifting Weights”. I do a lot of digital digging for old weird no / new / cold wave EBM stuff, so Traxx’s sessions keep me up to date, so along that path, I’ve been into CH-BB, Robert Rental, Po, Desmond Simmons, early Cabaret Voltaire and Wire side projects such as Dome, He Said, Gilbert/Lewis, and Colin Newman’s solo stuff. We have a band called Interval with two guys that I do + SCALE with, Charles Noel and Andries Boekelman; and it’s been described as a sort of This Heat “jam band” .. I’m ok with that association.
Acid Test SF: You’re known for playing and producing music using analog gear and techniques, do you also produce music “in the box,” using software? If so, what is your “DAW of choice”?
Todd Sines: Since I started releasing music over 20 years ago, I used a computer based sequencer, originating on a Mac SE. I have been trying to completely detach myself from the computer’s timeline and use my ears with the MPC and MFB drum sequencers. For tracking the output, though, I’m using Logic; I fooled myself into thinking that it renders audio better than Ableton, but they are probably the same. I have an Otari 8-track 1/2″ reel-to-reel which records to analog TAPE, along with an Ampex 440 1/2″ machine. I’ve been threatening to go that route completely but I’ve got well over 100 Logic sequences that need to get out before I leave it behind.
Acid Test SF: You took off a few years from the music world, can you go into a little detail why you took a step back?
I think I got in over my head with trying to set up “the perfect studio”. I had tried to acquire every piece of gear I could afford that Martin Hannett [Factory records, who produced Joy Division and New Order] supposedly used; really expensive ancient reverbs, modulators and EQs. Realizing that it’s all in the hand of the creator, I started to rethink the fact that I probably don’t need 10 reverbs and 15 delays, and that I should keep a more “desert island” approach. After “retooling” I arrived at a smaller footprint for everything that didn’t require an EE degree to make a tone.
Acid Test SF: You’re the director of + SCALE, an award-winning multidisciplinary studio working in design, film, video, music and fashion. Can you tell us a little about + SCALE, projects you’ve been working on, and how this commercial work fits into your larger work as an artist?
Todd Sines: + SCALE has been my nom de plum for my work in direction, design and visual effects, with frequent collaborators, since 2000. We started as an extension of the ele_mental and Firexit collectives, doing art and music events while I was in Columbus. In 2003 I moved to NYC and started working in film and television. In the last few months, I’ve shifting to doing more direction of live action, complimented with visual effects and design for a bunch of fashion brands — V magazine, Tsvetnoy, Nicole Miller, Dannijo. As I continue to gain more experience in commercial work, it adds layers of experience and insight for my own work as a director of features, shorts and installations.