This interview is from DivKid’s Month Of Modular Issue 9 back in June which was before the album System was released.
Getting to know people is always good and getting to know people who have new products or music coming out is always good too. Only briefly had I spoken to Joseph Fraioli before but more recently we’ve been talking about his new album as “Datach’i” called “System”. You can pre-order for various formats on Bandcamp HERE or through the Planet Mu website HERE. You may also know Joseph as Jafbox Sound which is an award winning sound design company. Check out the website it’s full of all sorts to check out. Excitingly for modular users (or wannabe modular users looking to get into it) pre-orders are entered into a competition partnered with TipTop Audio to win an oscillator and starter case/power set. Check out the quotes below from the press information and read ahead for an interview discussing general approaches to music with modular and some track specific things (huge thanks to the team for giving me a sneak peak) to ‘whet your appetite’ prior to the release on August 19th.
“Featuring 16 tracks of beautiful yet unsettling electronic music recorded exclusively on a Eurorack Modular synth, ‘System’ will be released on August 19th via Venetian Snares’ Timesig imprint.
Speaking about the album Fraioli said, “I’ve spent much of the past decade building up my own sound design company, Jafbox Sound, and in recent years have become fascinated by modular synths. I’d been making a series of performance videos, showing how they work and that inspired me to start making music as Datach’i again. I suddenly realized I had a growing collection of tracks that worked together and had something new to say. Aaron heard some of them and encouraged me to start thinking of them in terms of an album and here we are.””
On with the interview – Hey Joseph cheers for taking the time to answer some questions. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to ‘System’ your new album prior to this interview so I’d like to bring up a few questions relating to specific tracks as well as the process in the general. A quick note for the readers we’ll also be creating a video interview for Modular Podcast after the album release where we’ll go into detail and have a group discussion about gear, techniques and approaches where we can all share experiences alongside Datach’i. So watch out for that one.
My first question about the album has to be, what gear did you use? The promotional material around the states an all modular set up, deliberately making things hard to force working with limitations. Was literally nothing else used?
The only non-modular sound on the album is the Luminist Garden by Folktek which was used on the track “Luminist Modular”. I played this instrument during the performance of the patch and processed through the modular. It’s more used as an effect rather then a musical part. What’s funny is that out of the 108 tracks I made for this release, that’s the only one that has anything used out side the modular system. So I like that its on there and is the last track and sends you off in a slightly different space.
The opening track has flurries of single notes that swell and echo across the choral backdrop, was that composed / sequenced to be specific and repeatable or is there an element of random generation possibly feeding a quantizer to create that line?
I wouldn’t say random, Just longer phrasing probability. More specifically because of the amount of notes in the sequence (5 triggers across a 16 step note sequencer – Tiptop Circadian Rhythms and Z8000) and durations of those notes in the lead line, that lead melody would start and end at different points of the chord sequence which is a sequence of 8 at a different division. I do this a lot actually. Can create an interesting feel.
Sticking with the opening track ‘In The Field With Brain’ how are the chords generated? Are they layers of single notes or a chord mode on a digital oscillator?
The chords on that one are the Modcan Triple VCO with Modcan Multimode LPF sequenced by the Tiptop Audio Circadian Rhythms and Make Noise Pressure Points. (Unquantized) though it’s really fun to create chords with layers as well. Love doing that with pressure points as you can sequence three note chords that have varying note composition quality across the steps.
Across the album we hear various reverb and modulated textures, what are you using for FX?
Oh, so many FX! I collect them all like Garbage Pail Kids. Lets see off the top of my head, Tiptop ZDSP, MI clouds and rings, mungo D0, mungo G0, qu-bit RT 60, synth tech e560, e580, modcan dual delay, audio damage dub junior and spectre, ladik R-330, intellijel rainmaker, flame FX-6, Make Noise Erbe Verb and Echophon and problaby others I’m forgetting 🙂
A question that comes up with lots of modular related content is – how are you handling pitch information across multiple layers? Is it several quantizers or pre quantized sequencers with oscillators tuned in prior to recording?
It’s all over the map. To this day I have not tuned an osc with a tuner! haha. I like how when sequences appear slightly detuned from one another they can feel more human and honest almost. It’s also a cool way to discover microtonal scales. Most often ill start with a chord structure or melodic sequence and layer on top of that other sequences and find the notes I like by ear. It’s also really fun to use unquantized and quantized sequences together. Can lead to interesting results. I also often create multiple layers of simpler sequences instead of fewer more complex ones as the separate parts lends the patch to have more variation options while performing.
The album has elements of more standard “drum machine” like percussion sounds but on the third track ‘Synthetic Metals’ (and others) we also get more synth heavy clicks, pops and low-end thumpy kicks. So on that note, what are you using to create the drum sounds across the album?
Well on “Synthetic Metals” specifically the kicks are the blue lantern asteroid BD v4 and Tiptop BD808, the main snare I made from the epoch Benjolin and then the metal clank snare that comes in later on is the Noise Engineering Basimilus Iterus. Hats are the SSF Quantum Rainbow with a maths expo envelope. The more microtonal melodic metallic percussion stuff is the MI elements that’s sequenced / performed on the circadian rhythms and z8000.. For the album as a whole, percussion sounds are coming from a variety of places, I tend to lean on kick modules such as the blue lantern Bv4, audio damage neuron, jomox mod.brane 11 for kicks and often wind up making the snares from various sources though I do use the hex intvertor mutant clap, ALM dinkys, MI peaks and jomox mod.brane 11 for “snares” too. Sequenced percussion I often used fro the cylonix shapeshifter and MI Braids in Meta mode both which I use additional envelopes for more control and variance.
Out of curiosity as this is something I’m considering at the moment – are you using compressor modules as part of either the creative process creating sounds or as part of the mixing within the modular system?
Yea ill use the L-1 stereo micro compressor but for a very different more utilitarian purpose.. The stereo out of my modular goes through a recording chain before hitting the convertors. In that recording chain is an API compressor that I use to get ultra tight and sharp transients. The downside to this is that it can suck out all your low end as its making the linear bass envelopes hyper exponential. To counter this id use the L1 to really push the bass envelopes into heavy logrhythmic territory so when they hit the external compressor they level out to more linear. That said the L-1 is great creative tool as well. You can get really cool pumping and sidechaing effects going. You can hear this done really well on Surachais new one “Instinct and Memory”. His use of the L-1 here is amazing and inspired me to pick one up.
As part of Modular Podcast I recently interviewed Richard Devine talking about his use and processes with regards to modular synthesis. I asked him “Looking at a blank set up with no cables patched, what would be the first cable you plug in?” Richard’s answer was that it’s always different, experimenting and trying new things. I’m sure you experiment in the same way but some of us do tend to have habits when working towards certain goals so I’ll put the same question to you. Looking at a blank set up with nothing patched what would be the first thing you patch?
More often then not, a patch (or track) starts with a question “ I wonder what happens if I do this……” so its always changing. Though making so many patches/tracks now I know if I want to achieve a certain style of sound design or music I can patch it up pretty quickly but try not to do that and continue exploration with each new piece.
The harmony choices and chord voicings used are often dark and ominous providing a definite “vibe” or “feel” through the album. Are they conscious pre-defined efforts to work with that harmony or does the equipment influence that sound and style in anyway?
I do everything by feel alone. Basically just know when the sounds and
sequences are feeling right and then I build off of that. I’d say the design of sounds that feel right can influence the sequences greatly though. Like I love how 24db slope LPF on detuned saws sound. So warm and intimate which can inspire the feel of the melodic sequence.
You’ve a sizeable eurorack system that I imagine many of the readers have seen in your videos, is that a set system in anyway? To expand on that do you feel either all of or certain parts of your system do everything you want to when making music on that system?
I rarely use the entire setup for a track, in fact I don’t think I ever have. The variety and largess of my system is greatly there for my work as a post production sound designer so ill have multiple paths to choose from given a clients needs. The system itself is not set up with any logic. I prefer it to be all over the place, sometimes ill move modules around so the workflow feels a little different, while this is a really simple change, it can really inspire you because you wind up interacting with the system a bit differently and certain modules you’ve had for a while can feel new again just based on their location.
On track 7 ‘Omni 2’ as the track plays out it’s final peak and wind down there’s a hint of a speak and spell or some primitive vocal synthesis sounds. Firstly, am I right in that’s what I’m hearing? And second if it is, what module or piece of equipment was that? I’m a sucker for those retro vocal synth sounds!
haha! Me too. That’s MI braids in Meta mode with internal tong env and external maths env for extra control. Both of those modules are being modulated by the Macro Machines OMNI.
How much interaction do you have with your patches for the album once set up? From your videos we often see you set something going and then little interaction beyond that.
My patches for tracks usually start out pretty complex with a lot more patch points then what I do in the videos. I typically go through a process of evaluation of what’s necessary and then re-patch more efficiently and/or simplify based on what aspects of the track I want to perform and which I prefer to be automated. Mostly I do a lot of control with the Circadian Rhythms in terms of performance but also will switch parts with the WMD SSM, or even play melodic lines on the Pressure Points in real time and of course various filter and modulation tweaks 🙂
There are some intense and sporadic rhythmic moments across the album with fills, flurries, gestures and stutter style effects changing amongst what I imagine are set sequenced rhythms. However beats 2 and 4 seemed to pinned down on some sort of snare, clap or glitchy synth percussion sound throughout. Is that an effort to keep a steady sense of time? Do you feel that having a simple and more static element allows you to be more free with the other rhythmic layers?
YES and YES 🙂 I love keeping the funk in the beats by having somewhat
consistent 2s and 4s and then manually performing the various features of the Tiptop Circadian Rhythms in a way that allows me to be expressive with the beats and sequences.
I can go on asking lots of specific questions about gear and approaches with tracks on the album but I’d like to save some of these for the discussion we’ll be having on Modular Podcast post album release. So finally, is there anything you’d like to add?
Thanks Ben, I suppose the only thing id like to add as while were talking loads of fun tech stuff, what really got me on the path of making the music that’s on the album was looking beyond the idea that its made in such a technical way and making a more intimate and emotive experience that’s as genuine as it could be. For example, sort of inspired by sci-fi, I started to think of the system as a bit of artificial intelligence that I collaborate with.. So in my mind the more emotion I could get out of a patch/track just felt like the system was a higher level of artificial intelligence. that said of course I love the more abstract patching flows as well. There’s just something really special and exciting when you have a patch going that’s automated and emotive in a way that really feels right.
I’d like to say thanks to Joseph for the interview and I’m looking forward to exploring his ideas and album further in the up-coming video interview with Modular Podcast.