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IDM!! What to do? What to do!!?


I\'ve always tried to stay away from giving -direction- for people who\'ve just discovered an urge to create electronic music and, after stumbling upon an Esem track, have emailed me asking for advice. I\'ve kept my mouth shut in an attempt not to appear .. well, cocky. I go small, and feel comfortable. But every now and then I get the occasional \"What software do you use?\" and \"I wanted to get some recommendations from you\". So there you go, you\'ve cracked it, my advice:

The short version: I won\'t recommend anything. Go to YouTube and see what other people do with hardware units and computer software.

The (really) long version:

First things first: I hate the term IDM. Oh, and this post will not be about software. Or gear. If you came here to seek software or gear reviewed and/or recommended, you\'re out of luck, sorry.

But! The cool synths? The programs?

What follows is my advice, the way I\'d give it to anyone asking me the question. If you makes you feel uncomfortable, don\'t blame the answer, blame the question.


A nice synth can inspire a person to create more. I guess this is why synths change hands so often. What may work for you may be a disaster for your friend, or the random person you traded with on EBay. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands (or cash for that matter), try not to think about searching for that perfect synth as it may do you in.

Another thing to stay away from is, stacking up a roomful of synths to start with. Music takes a lot of time and you simply can\'t learn three synths at a time.

Last thing, just think of the word - synthesizer. Trust me, you can do a perfect job by sampling, instead of synthesizing! Which brings you to..


Sure, you can get a sampler that has a performance part built-in (think drumpads, or a keyboard of sorts). But if you already have a computer, why you would go for this is beyond me..


I, myself, started on ModEdit 3.0, then moved to Scream Tracker 3.2, and then to Impulse Tracker 2. And then moved to Logic Audio. And stayed with it.

The point is nobody can recommend you software, because it really is up to you. Everyone can point you in the direction of stuff you could use, such as Fruityloops, Reason, Ableton Live, Reaktor, whatever. But the real deal with software is, again, to find what you feel comfortable with.

It took me a lot of time, milk+cereal, and reading, to learn Logic. Mind, I am still far from knowing it inside out, but I do feel comfortable, and if I feel like fiddling for a bit, I can just start it, and I know where I am.

Are you feeling let down already?
Don\'t be. I had to go through this part.

The Music:

I started picking up my own choice of music to listen to, somewhere at the age of.. 13? more? I can\'t remember. Mind, records were difficult to obtain so you ended up listening to the same 10 tapes over and over. And over. And over.

Picture my world in a room at the age of 17. It\'s late in the evening. Light in the room consists of a bedside lamp, and the radiance of my (then black and white) computer screen. I am chatting to some (not too) random people on the Internet. A Technics cassette deck is playing a tape, connected to a pretty wrecked Unitra Finezija, used as an amp. There\'s a slight glow to the pulsing peak level meters of the deck, and the dim backlight of the VU needles.

Sound in the room - the (now boring) classics: \"I care because you do\" by Aphex Twin, \"Amber\" by Autechre, \"Freefloater\" by Higher Intelligence Agency, and my most revered tape - \"Snivilisation\" by Orbital (a very underrated album if you ask me). In two years\' time the same collection of tapes would expand to include The Orb\'s \"Orblivion\" and Autechre\'s \"Chiastic Slide\", among not too many others.

The idea is that you should take your time, and sift through some music titles, and find the ones that inspire you. Not just the ones you like, but the ones you really really like, despite what everyone else is saying. And then give them the well deserved place in your collection, and airplay in your time.

The Sound:

Learn the sound you hear. I can\'t emphasize on this enough, but you can waste years in switching houses, or just moving furniture, \"upgrading\" your speakers, and letting other people in what, I assume, for you, is a very personal experience.

The whole point of learning your sound is that you will feel very comfortable with it, and your musical ideas will not be hurt (entirely subconsciously) by sound you\'re not comfortable with.

I guess this is why people shut themselves in studios and spend days and nights there, non-bothered by anyone. You can\'t get into the Zone, by staying away from it, or being distracted.

I find getting used to a pair of speakers to be easier than getting used to headphones. You should learn the reasons for that. The environment, the information decoded from your eyesight and hearing, your brain having to glue all of this together. It all matters. Finding a sweet spot and sticking to it takes (me) so much time, it\'s incredible.

One plus the other:

By now you\'ve guessed it, I hint at conditioning your own brain, and basically sticking to a mood in which you are being creative -and- inspired. And there\'s nothing in your way. And you can take a simple \"clang\" and make a tune revolve around it.

The samples:

My earliest inspiration to begin a track must have been samples. I remember dissecting an enormous amount of MODs, and saving the sounds that I liked to my library. On a typical day I\'d just scroll through hundreds of files, browsing sounds, and loading ones I felt like loading. Then going with those.

The textures:

Later on, I\'d get into software synthesizers, and try to find a particular sound I like. It\'s difficult to explain this and you have to give up, instead of search for words to explain something that won\'t translate to anyone else.

The news:

I am 100% sure you could take pretty much any unit, be it a synth, a piece of software, a toy or thumb piano. It\'s completely, utterly wrong, to think from the angle - \"oh, noone thinks this sounds cool\". Truth, as I see it, is, there are tired sounds, and there are true sounds, and there are sounds (and techniques) in fashion, and there are sounds noone\'s thought of using. None of those are -right- per se. And you should only stick to the ones you -like-. It is only important to throw away one group. Throw away tired sounds. It\'s very easy to recognise those, only takes time to listen. And you started by listening.


A very good example of tired sounds is the General Midi (GM) sound set, but also, by all means, do not \"overlook\" the freely available sample packs on the Internet. They are very very tired.

The secret:

You can take the most tired sound in the universe and turn it into something useful. You can accomplish this using a sophisticated sampler, or by doing non-realtime, destructive transforms like chopping up, reversing, filtering, everything-ing the sample and saving it anew.

An example:

Eesn - \"L4tely\" - I had done a track called \"l2tely\", uploaded to (now!), and it had strings, and a repetitive theme, and a silly beat. I kept the strings, deleted everything else, and loaded a few -very- old (think 8+ years) samples into a sampler called Battery, then cranked it up. For the beats I created a pattern of uneven length, so it wouldn\'t hurt to have it repeating. And then I wired my Doepfer Pocket Control to Battery, so I could control how -likely- the original sequence would trigger the samples. I then recorded the beat variation live, throughout the track. Waldorf Attack (VST) is used for the tiny (really basic) percussion sounds and noises, which are sent through a short buzzing delay. For the chords I used a technique I discovered on my own - the dry sound of the EVP sent to a chorus+reverb chain, which gives it a fat lush envelope and echo. Oh and that has a layered EVD6 on top of it (the heresy!). For the end I borrowed these thin jar sounds that I so much like from Autechre\'s LP5, and did a very little theme with them, just to sound off. Ah yes, and there\'s a filtered ES1 there (I had the patch lying around for long). As you listen, you may notice how, beat aside, the tune starts big and spacey, and ends up small and dry.

There are no secrets. No special synths to make a characteristic sound (don\'t count the EVP, it\'s been around for ages, and it\'s a plugin). It\'s all in the way everything is put together. On a recent track I held a mic outside my window to pick up some ambience and then filtered it and used it for the beginning.

No synth or software will give you variation out of the box, or write the track for you. It\'s all about getting immersed, and staying late, and going the extra mile to put a break anywhere things seem boring, watch out for the balance, focus on execution, and tweak, steering further away from the presets.


That doesn\'t mean you shouldn\'t look for that piece of kit that inspires you. Every now and then, a design will make things really easy to tweak, and give you ideas as you search for that elusive perfect sound (or noise for that matter).

Or you may try to listen, and listen, and reverse-engineer the sound of your favourite artists. Thing is, it doesn\'t matter who did what and how they did it that much.

Sound design:

Invest some time in researching sound design and maybe (psycho)acoustics. It pays off.

In conclusion:

As you can see, \"What would you recommend?\" is not a simple question. I love Audiorealism\'s BassLine; Emagic\'s ES1, EVP88, Space Designer; Waldorf Attack; NI\'s Battery, Absynth; Panzertank\'s PM4; Ohmforce\'s Ohmboyz; the list goes on. That doesn\'t mean I don\'t tweak ensembles in Reaktor, or invoke presets from Logic\'s vast library. On the other hand, I have a friend who does a terrific job by just using Buzz.

You may be good with a genuine TB-303, 606, 808; an Access Virus; or a super-tweaked Roland JV880. I don\'t know. I have no synths myself. I know people who wouldn\'t part with a Moog Prodigy (understandable!) and can do wonders on a 202, or a Casio SK-1..

There is no recipe. It really is down to your technique, rather than gear, or software. So keep searching. That\'s all I can do. Stop reading. Go look for the kicks.


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