At NAMM this year I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel for A3E (Advance Audio and Applications Exchange). The topic was Designing Custom Plugin-ins for your Production Workflow, something 2getheraudio is passionate about, so I was excited to see it well attended and received.
As a bonus for my efforts, Sarah Hartman and Cason Trager of the Chicago based electronica duo R34L came up to meet me after the talk and expressed interest in making their own plugin. A few minutes in I knew this duo had some very interesting stuff going on, both musically and technically. Thus, our conversation continued well after we all went home and recovered from NAMM’s late night parties.
Fast forward a few months and I could not be more excited to share R34L’s music, artistic vision and process, and even a great set of RE4ORM synth patches with you! If you like R34L, please support them and share their interview, video and music on your social networks by clicking the share buttons.
2getheraudio: First off, can you tell us a little bit about you two? How you met, when you formed R34L, and what’s behind this fantastic music you are producing?
C: Four years ago, I had started an ableton tutoring business called able2play. I acquired a lot of like-minded clients; I became friends with one client Mike, who I decided to pop in on when I was passing through Chicago one afternoon. Earlier that week, Mike had posted on Craigslist looking for collaborators interested in live electronic music. Sarah responded, who lived five minutes away from him. She came by, and we clicked right away. We met up three days later for a session. Immediately we could tell there was an infectious musical connection between us. We were inseparable when it came to working on music. A lot of changes took place for both of us. Before we knew it our lives revolved around making music together.
S: The whole thing was quite serendipitous–Cason was about to leave right before I arrived. Mike persuaded Cason to stay–he said he had this weird feeling…he nailed it! Anyway we’ve been working together for a while now. The project is really a shared vision, and equal parts collaboration. We both have similar taste and musical direction but very different backgrounds. Cason toured with previous projects and has a more traditional jazz background. I studied piano and classical voice while growing up, but pursued neuropsychology and visual arts at university. I rediscovered my passion for writing and producing after finishing school. Both of us are self taught producers and we’ve taught each other in different ways, pushed each other to grow. We both want to combine songwriting and sound design to create music that feels like an experience, or a physical landscape. Something that you can dive into and find metaphor across many elements. Something that changes depending on how you look at, like surrealist art.
2getheraudio: Your music has so much sonic texture and so much rhythmic drive. I thought at first one of you might concentrate on beats and the other texture and melody, but when I got two separate music tracks from each of you using RE4ORM, it was clear you both can rock the beats, textures and melodies. Do you typically write your material separately or do tend to collaborate on the same tracks? Tell us a little about your creation process if you don’t mind?
C: There’s no particular order we have to composing, and every song has a unique approach. We’re both always making stuff and we’ll trade tracks back and forth, and play different roles in every song. For example, “Hellow” and “Undone” were both created experimentally. We made a half hour field mic recording in our kitchen. Each of us took that sample and made a different beat. The sounds had a natural flow around 175 bpm for “Hellow.” One of the more interesting layers in that song was the sub. I took the sound of mic knocking on the counter, and processed it to sound like a heartbeat. I sampled Sarah asking me “what time were you born?” and I also found a sample of Sarah saying “hello”, and “boom”. I used her saying “boom!” as a rhythmic fill, with filters on it. Sarah immediately started writing the lyrics centered around the concept of the Big Bang.S: We were both chugging away in separate rooms. Cason created the beat for “hellow” while I was building the beat for “undone” out of other chops in the sample. The microwave had an strange resonance that I used as a synth sound. The sounds from the dishes clanking gave the beat a very organic industrial feel. Kind of like a set of chemistry reactions cascading in a repetitive but precarious way. Most of the time, Cason and I work independently then collaborate more as the tracks develop. Our individual creative processes are similar but a bit different. There are so many endless ways to experiment in producing—which is what I love. We’re both striving for texture that feels like it is speaking something. I used to do a lot of theater growing up and producing is a lot like directing a cast of sounds–the melodies and rhythms are the lines. I also do a lot of painting and my process is quite like painting with layers of sonic motifs instead of visual ones. Each layer gives more clues about what the piece is saying. Once I find my direction, everything works to fulfill that direction. Every song is a different personal journey. For both of us, the mixing is part of the writing–there are so many ways to express the soul of the piece in the mixing alone. Improvisation is often a starting point for both of us.C: A more recent approach for us has been utilizing a customized Ableton Live setup that we both created. We used it to perform and it also allows us to compose on the fly. We run two computers. I run my bass, guitar, and synths with some customized midi controllers. Sarah has her own Ableton setup for looping vocals and synths. It’s an endless improvisation playground. When we rehearse and perform, we often improvise between songs. Before you know it, we have several clips that we’ll use to produce a new song. At that point we usually bounce back and forth until it’s near the end, where we work together and finish it.
2getheraudio: Chicago has a long standing iconic music scene, especially for jazz and classical music, but it may not be the first city people think of for electronic music. What sort of cool things are happening there for electronic music and what are your favorite venues to play there?
S: There’s always a lot going on in the city in the music scene. Our visuals artist (Brandyn Zpacely) started these monthly music at a new venue, Bourbon on Division. They’ve become a cool hub for musicians and producers in the scene to hang and jam. Everyone contributes instruments and Zpacely brings out really cool production. There’s always a ton of gear, including a variety of synths and weird circuit bent toys. Everyone takes turns and music goes until 4am. They’re called Zecret Zets and each one has a theme. It’s awesome because the vibe is really inclusive and unpretentious. The music community here in Chicago is very open and passionate.C: This is an interesting question. Chicago’s music scene is very diverse among jazz, rock, cover bands, metal, and jam bands. In the electronic scene here, there is a huge wave of house music, EDM, hip hop, and dubstep/future bass music. Then, there are other areas in Chicago that will only have top 40 DJ’s. We fall into a newer wave approach with electronic music which doesn’t have a big scene here yet. We’re working to cultivate a niche for electronic music that incorporates more live elements, and connects more to the roots of jazz fusion. Balancing the risk factor is difficult, but I like to push the envelope as much as possible live. We have a different approach than most of the producers who DJ their material. We’re kind of alone in our bubble of live electronic music, but it’s comforting that we have an opportunity to create something new.S: Also, while it’s not an official venue, we’ve thrown several shows in our studio. Our buddies rent out a Funktion One sound system and they’ve brought it over to our studio on several occasions. Since our studio is underground, the sound is surprisingly well-contained from the outside. After the show, I’ll spend the next day enjoying the hell out of those speakers! It’s pretty awesome when the venue comes to you!
2getheraudio: You’ve got a new music CD that’s just about to release. The pre-release tracks I heard were great. Can you tell us a bit about the release and what some of the songs are about?
S: Thanks! So glad you dig it! It’s called WHAT/IS — the title is both a question and a statement — it’s kind of the ultimate question of life and reality, but also the eternal state of existence. The slash represents a variety of things; I see both as a boundary and a common ground, as well as a mirror. Or a fulcrum on a scale—balance is a big theme—like the mind and the external world in state of constant flux, responding to each other. We wanted the vocals to blend in with the other instruments, so all the elements feel balanced. We didn’t stick to one style. It’s definitely a journey. A lot of love went into the each song; it’s very emotional. The album was inspired by trying to understand the mind and the whole experience of consciousness and culture–the things that separate us and those that connect us, to each other and to ourselves. I hesitate to talk too much about the personal meanings because I love music that lets me find my own meaning. There’s beauty in the ambiguity. I also feel that every song has multiple interpretations.
C: For us, the album feels a lot like the journey and experience of life as a whole. If there was a song for when the whole universe popped up out of nowhere, “Hellow” would be that anthem. We were going to open the album with that song but decided to put it as the last song. It gave the album a kind of cyclical quality, where the end feels like a beginning. It’s a re-tracing of steps. “Possibility” feels like zooming out from the smallest unit of life, to seeing the entire beauty of nature and an endless universe. The other songs are experiences and insights along the way. It would be a novel to describe each track in full detail…
S: Wake Up was the first song we made together. The first time I went over to Cason’s I had this gibberish scratch vocal in a set. Cason was playing with the set and called me the next day saying he loved the verse. I actually had no idea that I wrote anything tangible. It was kind of a surrealist approach–we were extracting subconscious meaning from raw sounds. For that song we also recorded an accordion while bouncing up and down, to get a cool natural sidechain compression effect.
2getheraudio: Of course we have to mention the 2getheraudio virtual instrument RE4ORM you’ve gotten to work with. What is it you like about that plugin and have you had a chance to use it live yet?
S: We love the plugin! The sound engine is very well designed—it’s got a great rich character. I love how many wavetables there are to choose from, and how you can shape the harmonics by manipulating the wave-table manually. You can dial in a the character of a sound and give it a lot of movement through modulating the effects. I love the inclusion of the fractal ramps (I’m kind of obsessed with fractals) and it’s useful to be able to draw your own shapes for the LFO. The pipe model adds beautiful harmonics when you get it in the right configuration that suits sound you’re working it. The UI is super elegant in its simplicity and functionality. It’s been a ton of fun to integrate the synth into our workflow.
C: Using RE4ORM has been a fantastic addition to our process; designing presets inspired a bunch of new songs for both of us. We couldn’t help but make songs from the sounds, it seemed totally inevitable! The X-Y pads are great for fast modulations. I love that you can create an infinite number of LFO shapes with the pen tool. The filter envelope produces really drastic modulations in conjunction with the LFO–I’ve gotten some powerful synth riffs this way. The pipe model is one of the most clean resonant fx that I’ve ever used built in to a synth. We plan on using it live soon once we complete the production for the songs we’ve made utilizing it. I’m stoked to use it live, because there are so many simple and expressive parameters that to modulate. And then RE4ORM FX–absolutely cannot wait to integrate that into the live set!
2getheraudio: Anything else you want to add? Your favorite color or favorite Chicago beer?
S: Yeah! We seriously can’t even tell you how many new songs we’ve made recently that were inspired by sounds we designed in RE4ORM. So thank you! And we’re crazy excited to share all the music we’ve been working on!! Favorite color would be the paint color Golden Gate by Benjamin Moore (Cason is laughing at me right now and about to google that color). It’s kind of a raspberry coral/terra-cotta, blue and pink undertones. I’ve painted every bedroom I’ve lived in that color and our studio. Something about it feels so…balanced. And it looks rad under color changing lights. If I was in charge of the world all of the lights everywhere would be replaced with slow-fade color-changing LEDs.
C: We’re super stoked on RE4ORM and really grateful to be apart of the testing and launch! Oh, and the best Chicago Beer–I’d have to say Pipeworks and Off Color, and now this other new company that we just stumbled upon called Marz. Untouchable! Especially the sour beers in these lines, you cannot find a bad beer by these local companies!
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