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Chosen Waves 007: Nedemo – Phonogene

HannesHannes

Gohantapes is a Japanese Tape-based music label and “collaboration enabling collective” (as they state on their website). Their second release Nedemo is described as:

[…] the year long collaboration of two British guys who live at opposite ends of Japan. Ally Mobbs, a beat making finger wizard based in Kyoto and Nedavine, a modular synth nerd based in Saitama. They have come together to blend techno and hip hop all of which was liaised while shooting Zombies in the face (on playstation obviously).

We got in tough with one of the two artists, Nedavine, to know more about the project and modulars in Japan.

Horizontalpitch: You are originally from England, but live in Japan, just as your partner for this album, Ally Mobbs. How did you two meet and how was this album project born?

Nedavine: It might have been via Instagram or Soundcloud. For whatever reason we talked about doing a track together, but nothing came of it for ages. Just a few half baked unfinished things. Then one day we discovered that we both liked Playstation and that’s where it kicked off. Ally lives down in Kyoto which is pretty far from where I live. We started playing “The last of us” on the Playstation and we’d just chat about tunes and stuff while shooting each other. We found this thing called Splice which is essentially Dropbox for Ableton. We started using it to work on tracks via the net. We’d have “meetings” on Playstation to discuss our progress. I’d do modular jams and send them to Ally to do the rest. Then it kinda evolved into a full-on album and collaboration.

I did a bit of work for Elektron for the Tokyo Festival of Modular and got to go to Kyoto for that and that was the first time we met face to face. The album was about half way done then. Later, I had some gigs there and a work trip too, so we hung out a fair bit over the summer. Eventually we decided we’d like to curate some music and get other people collaborating like we had done, so the label kinda grew out of the Nedemo release.

Nedavine, photo courtesy of the artist

Nedavine, photo courtesy of the artist

HP: What’s your musical background, when did you first realize that you wanted to become a musician?

N: I’ve been a music nut since I was tiny. I used to ride the school bus when I was 11 with all the high-school kids. This one guy would always sit next to me and he’d give me one headphone from his Walkman. We’d listen to dark hardcore (right before drum and bass dropped) people like JumpingJack Frost or Ellis Dee. We used to go buy tape packs from UK raves (Hardcore Heaven, Helter Skelter and Seduction etc) with the money I’d get off my Nan. Then in high school I made friends with a lot of older kids and got into metal and guitars. We used to hang out in the music room at lunch time and jam Pantera and Fear Factory stuff. The Music teacher was a really good guy. He took us over to Ireland in the summer to play Irish folk in a bunch of bars in Ireland. We had a really varied exposure to music despite being metal heads. He really got us involved. He let me take home a Fostex 4 track and then I really got heavy into music. Recording random stuff in dark basements. In Uni I was in a metal band. We had a tour bus and played a really heavy gig schedule. I ended up quitting and that’s when the computer became my band. I started realising I could be the drummer and the bassist etc. It kind of blossomed (snowballed) from there.

HP: Did living in Japan influence the music you make and if so, in which ways?

N: For Nedemo yeah. Ally is really into field recording and so we used a lot of his field recordings across the album. He’s really good at integrating that kind of thing. “Gion” is the most obvious example but most tracks have some kind of noise floor made from some interesting recording in his collection.

HP: Can you give us a quick insight into the Japanese modular scene? What’s it like over there?

N: I can’t say I’m really part of any “Japanese” scene. I live quite a way out in the countryside (about an hour train ride from Tokyo). I did work at the Tokyo Festival of Modular last year though. I was working for Elektron and showing off how the Analog Four integrates with modular gear. I got to meet a bunch of awesome people there from all over.

I think in terms of the Japanese scene. Rintaro who runs clock face modular has had a real impact in Japan. He brought over lots of manufacturers like Mutable Instruments, 4MS, The Harvestman etc and many more. Until that point you could only really get Doepfer. If it wasn’t for him we’d all still be having to import from the states. He translates all the manuals to Japanese and does a ton of leg work. He’s an amazingly nice guy. I order modules and they arrive next day. It’s incredible.

Also Dave Skipper and Kenichi Hata are the guys who organise and run the Tokyo Festival of Modular. It’s kinda the key event and people come from all over. They get all the manufacturers out. It’s like NAMM just for modular. There aren’t too many Japanese modular manufacturers. Well, not until recently when Roland waded into the market with Malekko. There are quite a few 5U guys about though. But as I say, I am kinda insulated where I am. There are other people who know the scene much better than I do.

Ally, photo courtesy of the artist

Ally Mobbs, photo courtesy of the artist

HP: why did you choose to work with the modular? What fascinates you about this instrument?

N: I think electronic musicians are always struggling to put that organic element into their music. For me modular is a great way to get that. You often get these weird unpredictable results that break the tedium of computer music. I mean, my music is super cheesy, but modular just gives me that off-kilter wonkyness I am always striving for. In my head I always wanna be Tim Hecker but it usually comes out more like Elton John.

HP: Apart from Tim Hecker, what other influeces shaped the type of music you make?

N: In terms of influences that shape the music I make, I think my sense of melody comes from the Smashing Pumpkins or Radiohead as uncool as that may be. That’s pretty much how I learned to play guitar. Hours spent learning Radiohead and Pumpkins tabs. I think that influence is always there in my melodies. But really I am all over the place in terms of music. From GYBE to Clouddead to Oneohtrix Point Never to Shabazz Palaces to Dragon force. I love hip hop and I love post rock, I love all sorts. Who I want to emulate changes, but recently I find it almost always sounds like me no matter what I do. Whether that’s a good thing or not is hard to say.

HP: You regularly play live with a modular as part of your setup. How do you use it in your live sets?

N: My set up is rooted in the Octatrack. It’s my mixer and clock and basically my central hub as I don’t use a computer. I run the Modular into the Analog Four and the Analog Four into the Octatrack audio wise. I also recently added a RYTM which goes into the octatrack too. The Analog Four gives me all the sync in terms of CV (clocks, lfo’s enevelopes etc) it also works as my reverb and delay unit. I can then live sample, chop and add effects via the Octatrack. I also use the Analog Four performance mode a lot. It lets you control a bunch of parameters at once including CV and FX, or synth settings. You can mix and match and create really interesting things. It just takes a bit of prep work.

My live sets often take months to prepare. I usually memorise patches and structures of tracks and patch the modular live as I go. The Octatrack and Analog Four will hold the backbone of the track. It leaves enough room for improvisation but it takes a great deal of rehearsal having to memorise build ups and patterns. I’ve tried keeping notes but it just really doesn’t work. That’s part of the beauty of modular I guess. It’s like an ice sculpture. You spend all these hours crafting and making it, only for it to evaporate into thin air. It’s fun but also stressful. It makes live shows really unpredictable. I did try using a pre-patched set up once but it’s much harder to memorise what does what if you’re not patching as you go.

HP: What’s your modular like? which are your go-to modules and how do you build your patches?

N: My modular is really small. It’s only 6U, despite people saying you won’t be able to stop; it really seems an ideal size. There are always modules I’d like to get, but really when I sit and look at it, my system can do pretty munch everything I want. In terms of my “go to modules” it’s probably the Optomix and Hertz Donut. They’re not glamorous or anything but they really give me those acoustic plucked sounds I love so much. Those two together are just bliss.

I think that’s the hardest part of modular. Not trying to use every single module in one patch. You spend so much on modules, it’s easy to get carried away and think that you should use everything, but more often than not just a few modules will suffice.

The cover image for Nedemo's cassette album

The cover image for Nedemo’s cassette album

HP: Let’s talk about the featured track “Phonogene”, I suppose the title comes from the fact that the homonymous module from Make Noise was used a lot on the track. Tell us a bit more about how you made it and what the patch looked like.

N: Yeah Phonogene was fun. It’s actually 3 multi-tracked patches. The lead patch was me improvising on the keys with a simple patch using the Hertz Donut. The trigger out of the keys was acting as the clock in for the Echophon giving those out of time delay warps. Every time you hit a note it shifted the Echophone tempo and made this jaunty off-kilter lead. There was also a Phonogene patch that was just a super short Sufjan Stevens sample I took off my phone that made this awesome drone from. I think the third patch (the basic melody) was just the Donut going through the Phonogene in broken-echo mode. There may have been some live sampling and random triggering via the Turing Machine but I can’t remember that part of the patch all that well now. Ally did the beat and made the bass and really opened up the mix for me. He also added the field recording at the start. He’s really good at making my bland modular jams sound full and fresh and turning them into actual tracks. I just wing it but he’s actually talented. He plays all the beats by hand and doesn’t sequence anything. Watching him is mad. Wish I could do that.

HP: Some people tend to regard the technology they use as just a “tool”, others make the tools their artistic programme. What’s the relationship between technology, the instruments you use and your music to you?

N: For me using computers and synths etc. started out as compensating for not being in a band anymore. I’d be just as happy playing guitar but with my hardware set up I can be a drummer, a bass player and conductor all at once. Also I am a big synth nerd so just playing with sounds is fun in and of itself. So I guess that makes them tools for me?

HP: You’ve released this album as a tape+digital download. Why did you choose this medium?

N: Originally we looked into doing vinyl but it was just incredibly expensive. Shipping to Japan alone was ridiculous. We wanted to create something artistic and crafted that people could hold and keep. A CD is not much different than a download and we both liked beat tapes so we figured we’d make tapes. We can sell them at the same price as a download but you actually get something physical for your money rather than some 1’s and 0’s on a server somewhere. Also tape is a really interesting medium. It’s like having two versions of the album as they both sound rather different. Plus tapes are far more portable than vinyl.

HP: Final question: what’s coming up next on Gohan? Future projects?

N: Three new product beats are undergo as well as BeatPicnic part 2. First project should drop in February.

If you want to know more about Nedavine, you can check his Youtube channel here: www.youtube.com/nedavine

Graphic designer, illustrator and modular synth enthusiast. Founder of Papernoise, a small design studio located in northern Italy, specialised in graphic design for the world of music.

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