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Science

Adding warmth to digital sounds worth the 'additional step'

The Vienna-based electro quartet Ghost Capsules loves its analog tech. But band members also use software synths and laptops. Problem is, they've found the technology needs a lot of warming up.

DW: How do you use technology when you're making music?

Tim Simenon: Ghost Capsules is a live band but, of course, we use technology to get from A to B - in terms of sequencing parts, even though Georg plays a lot of the stuff live, and exchanging files so that I can take stuff away and work on it. Roman plays live drums on top of that, which he then edits himself. It's a patchwork of different ideas, really, that ultimately all come together when Laura starts singing on the backing tracks.

But compared to how you started off in the mid-80s with Bomb The Bass, the technology has really progressed. Does the technology influence the ideas and concepts behind the music?

Tim: Ultimately, for me, it's about the ideas and the songs. The technology is secondary. I went through a stage of amassing a lot of analog gear when I was still living in London - I had a studio full of great gear - synths and drum machines - and when I moved to Amsterdam I realized it was a burden. Just because of all the choices. I felt it was just too much. The idea for me was to reduce the technology, and from that point on I felt the creative process became easier - having less technology around.

In the Ghost Capsules record you can feel the energy and the vibrations of analog synths, which you can't always get from softsynths or mobile apps. Do you use mobile apps or softsynths, or is that a no-go?

Georg Lichtenauer: Of course, we use softsynths because today there are some really good ones. For instance, Native Instruments is definitely a good one. But on the Internet there are also many free plug-ins now, which have some quite interesting features. It also depends on how you use the synths: whether you use a compressor or whether you run it through an analog mixing desk to give it more of an analog feeling.

You run the sounds back through an analog chain in order to beef up the sound? How much is the thinness of digital sounds an issue for you - enough that you wouldn't want to use softsynths on a proper album?

Tim: Well, no, the idea is that we would use it on a proper record, just as we have done. But it also depends on how we see the sound sounding at the end of the production. I've listened to a lot of modern productions where the producers are happy using the softsynths, but there is a bright, crunchy sound to a lot of that stuff, which works well with what they do, but I think what we wanted to do was to have something a little bit rounder and a little bit warmer and a bit more central. The idea, once we'd recorded using softsynths… well, actually, the Moog Phatty makes an appearance quite often for the basses…

But that's a hardware synth.

Tim: Yes, that's a hardware synth… but we did run all the stems [Eds: individual audio tracks] through an old Philips mixing desk that my friend in Amsterdam has, and we brought it back here, and then mixed it. There is this additional process of trying to warm things up and getting it to sound like it has that analog feel.

Roland's System 700 Synthesizer http://www.flickr.com/photos/62058656@N02/5647107448/ Aufgenommen am 16. April 2011 Panasonic DMC-G2 ***

Roland's System 700 Synthesizer - big enough to fill your living room

Say you had a dream vintage synth or vintage drum kit, but you just couldn't store it anymore: What would you really want as software, as an app, so you could fit it in your back pocket and take it with you everywhere?

Roman Lugmayr: For the electronic drums, I would really like to check out the very first Simmons [Eds: electronic drum company], and acoustic-wise there's just so much gear out there, starting in the 40s and 50s… there is a lot to discover, so everything before 1960 is great!

Georg: Maybe a Roland Jupiter 8 [synthesizer] with a Space Echo [effects box] included!

Why?

Georg: Because of the possibilities of playing around with the sounds, and the Space Echo to give warmth to the sound, and make it a little more freaky.

And Tim?

Tim: A Roland System 700 could be interesting as an app!

How so?

Tim: Well, the sounds… I actually owned one for a few years. It's a modular synth, but as you're talking about size - you know, getting it into your back pocket - [the System 700] was a beast. It took up my living room! So, I think the idea of reducing that into something that sounds nice and crisp with all the various patches you can play around with would be really interesting.

Tim Simenon, Roman Lugmayr and Georg Lichtenauer are three-quarters of the Vienna-based electro band, Ghost Capsules (O*Solo Recordings). Laura Gomez is the singer.