Superfreq’s Jonra & E:Machinery Share Their Top Analog Production Tips
Rave legend Mr. C’s Superfreq label has become a home for off-kilter, tripped-out tech-house, and Jonra & E:Machinery have been tapped as an act you simply can’t miss on the imprint.
The duo recently put out the five-track Call Me EP, a collection of furious hardware techno that righteously blends grinding basslines with acid aesthetics. Serving as the follow-up to their similarly superb Medicine Man EP last March, the EP serves as a fiery set of banging party-starters delivered straight from the underground.
What’s most notable about the pair, however, is their use of analog gear in the creation of all of their tunes—a quality not seen as often in today’s era of DAWs, laptops, and plug-in presets. We caught up with the duo to get their tips on breaking out of the box and incorporating analog gear into your future productions. Check out the tips below and purchase the Call Me EP here.
1) Keep it simple: The importance of a groove
All of the equipment is running in perfect sync at all times. With the ability to use any piece of gear at any time, this gives us the option to choose lots of different sounds without having to be concerned with clocking issues or audio patching. This can destroy your creativity very quickly. We try to keep it simple in that the feel or groove of the track we are working toward is the most important thing. Very often we will decide to adjust the tempo if things are not quite feeling right. Slowing the tempo down a few BPM can allow certain sounds to develop more easily than at the faster tempos. It just depends on the feel you are going for at the time. An active bass line may work better at a slower tempo where a less active bass line feels better at a faster tempo.
2) Record performances in live takes or jams
Recordings have a much better feel when performing with hardware synths and sequencers if you record your performance in a live take. This is especially effective if you collaborate with someone. The recordings seem to take on a life of their own when you are reacting to another person’s performances, much in the same way a drummer and bass player might react when playing in a room together.
We found early on that if we recorded parts individually as small clips then try to piece them together, the end result seemed very lifeless and lacking in energy.
We use step sequencers in a live fashion. Notes are written and removed until we feel we have something interesting. Once a groove starts to come together we will usually hit record in the DAW and begin shaping the idea as a live performance. All modulation such as filter sweeps, transposed patterns, note decays and effects are recorded live to 8 audio tracks in a DAW for editing and mixing later.
We will capture any vocal ideas that come to mind during the live jam as well. The vocal is processed live during the recording. We prefer to get a sound we like and commit to it.
3) Clock and synchronization.
One of the most important investments we made was the purchase of a solid MIDI clock generator. With around 8 to 10 hardware sequencers all trying to sync to the same MIDI clock it can be a timing nightmare. Since we prefer to generate clock from the DAW, we chose the Sync-Gen II Pro from Innerclock Systems. There are products on the market recently that accomplish the same task, but we love the rock-solid timing this unit provides us. Once we eliminated the jitter of USB based MIDI coming from the computer, everything locked up very tightly.
4) Choose sounds that inspire you
With so many affordable hardware synths and sequencers on the market, there are many units that will inspire you to create great sounds. It is so much more fun and inspiring to grab a hardware filter and oscillator than it is to mouse around endless presets in a software synth. Each unit has a personality all its own and eventually seems to develop a certain voice in the music that we create with it.
5) Layer instruments together
Very often we will distribute MIDI note data or CV/Gate from a sequencer to multiple synths in order to create a stacked voice. This can be done with a MIDI Thru box. We try to avoid using the MIDI Thru ports on our gear when possible both for clock and note data, as This can sometimes introduce timing problems. If several instruments are tuned slightly different from each other or set to different octaves, you can get some interesting layered tones. This applies to drum and percussion instruments as well. MIDI notes from a hardware drum machine can be sent to another groove box to trigger sounds as additional layers for a kick or snare etc.
Always try to find a new or different way to generate interesting sounds. Explore the sound palette of the gear you already own. Too often we see people set their gear for the same standard sounds. Connect instruments together in different ways. You may be surprised at what you find. For us, half the fun is trying new things. We try to rotate gear in and out of our set up to keep things fresh and inspire new ideas.
7) Small powerful gear for gigging
We like working with small portable boxes with built in sequencers. This allows us to create combinations of gear for live setups more easily. We’re very hands-on so the more control we have on the surface of the equipment we’re using, the better.