In a time so close to Superbooth18 this article might surprise you. Right now everybody seems to be holding their breath waiting for all the new gear to be announced (or at least teased), and that’s great and exciting! I am certainly not immune to that myself! But with all the talk about gear (new and old) we sometimes forget about other aspects of making music with the modular.
For this article we’re about to embark on a completely different voyage. One into the world of making more with what you already have; About focusing not so much on the gear, but on the space where you make music, or better, the scarcity of it.
But before we get to that, here’s a little backstory.
My previous flat (where I lived until recently) was relatively small and intermittently doubled as our studio/office (Papernoise). For the past two years, we also have a little kid running around and destroying anything that isn’t high enough for him not to reach. In this context, finding the space to make music was a difficult and sometimes frustrating endeavour. I temporarily solved that by moving all the gear down into the cellar, until we eventually moved into a bigger flat.
This is more or less where the idea for this article came from. I was complaining (as I so often do) to my wife and partner at Papernoise about the lack of space for my music making, when she said: “hey, you’re probably not alone with this problem! Why don’t you write an article about people who have really tiny corners for their modular?”. I immediately liked the idea. It seemed a cool thing to do and I also hoped that it would give me some inspiration to solve the problem with my own lack of space.
Since a couple of years I have been pretty active on llllllll.co (aka lines), an electronic-music-focused online forum unlike any other. Plus, of course, I am also on the Mutable Instruments forum. For various reasons, I decided to start from there, finding people with interesting spaces for their (mostly modular) music making. As you will see over course of this series, I found quite a few!
I could have extended the search to other forums as well, but somehow I never got around doing it. Most of the people who I talked with on the Mutable Instruments forum, were also on lines and the topic is kind of close to the spirit of that forum anyway. So this whole thing slowly developed into a sort of undeclared “lines project”. The only outsider so far is Felix from TNM, who I have been knowing for some time through his Youtube channel.
Talking of which, let’s dive right into it!
Felix (Tuesday Night Machines)
Just like me, you probably already know Felix from his Youtube channel: The Tuesday Night Machines.
After moving to a new flat in 2015 Felix lost his “music room”. He spent several years trying different solutions to make up for the lack of a dedicated space, but nothing really seemed to stick. “Either everything was crammed somewhere too much out of the way to make music-making comfortable and fun, or the gear was always present and made the space look untidy. I do like my synths, but the – quite necessary – creative chaos does not have to be sitting around in my livingroom or bedroom” he tells me in the interview. Last year, while performing a general reorganization of the flat, Felix had the idea to reduce everything to a defined area of the house. From there one thing lead to another and he had the final idea: to put everything into a wardrobe!
Initially Felix wanted to build everything himself and started with the idea of making a set of small cabinets hanging from the walls. Eventually he found out about Ikea’s PAX system, which offered enough flexibility (thanks to its modular design) and was more cost-effective.
Above: This is the type of music Felix makes in his modular wardrobe
Of course it wasn’t as simple as it might seem. It’s easy to make mistakes when all you have to work with is a 3D model on Ikea’s website, Felix explains: “When I was planning the whole thing, I mistakenly used the outer dimensions instead of the inner ones (i.e. 1m). In that width I could have fitted two 19″ racks one next to the other, but it turned out that they wouldn’t fit by a tiny amount. Good that I built the wooden frame for the racks only later”.
More info about his project can be found on his PAX Build Thread on Muff Wiggler and on this post on Ikea Hackers.
If you want to see more of Felix’s DIY projects, check out his Case from a few years ago.
Hannes Iversen (inuti/Elementen)
Hannes Iversen makes music under various monikers, the ones he focuses most on atm are inuti and the Improvisation/sound exploring duo Elementen (together with Ssebastian Fritzon). Interestingly we do not only share the same name, Hannes is also an illustrator and visual artist, who mostly works from home.
His story is similar to Felix’s in some regards: “There’s a couple of reasons I decided that I wanted to have a smaller space. Part necessity of course. But I was also moving my gear back and forth in me and my partner’s apartment, and it became a hassle and kind of irritating part of my process, not being able to just sit down and focus.”
Separating the music making from the rest of the house also seems to be an important factor: “[…] I do often keep the door closed, to kind of screen it off, or how to put it… make the space rest a bit when I’m not actively using it, and find other stuff to focus on – like my visual work. The closet is is this way secluded from the rest of the apartment, like, a place of it’s own. Like a different zone. I can enter there, and turn off everything else for a while – 10-15 min, or for longer stretches of time.”
The “different zone” aspect is an interesting one. Can the addition of a simple door to ones music making space really have such a big effect on it? Hannes explains more in detail: “t can be hard to actually keep track of time, while sitting there and tinkering. It’s easy to get “lost” in it. In the exploring aspect of patching, tweaking sounds – exploring and finding ways to express my mood.”
But the door can also stay open, and the spaces merge a bit more: “When I’m home alone I also sometimes leave the door open and have a patch going for quite some time. […] When doing this, the sounds seep out in the rest of the apartment. And when I’m in that kind of mood, I let it be part of the background while doing other things – occasionally being a part of my visual practice. Influencing one another. I get new ideas on both ends, and go in there and just tweak or adjust some small detail and return to my other work in my living room”.
Living in a city where housing isn’t cheap or the available spaces aren’t that generously spaced is of course also a strong factor, but Hannes took this as a positive challenge more than an annoying issue: “[…] I also liked the aspect of limitation and constraint of what I could fit in there. Actually I sold off a lot of effects and some synths lately and I’ve found that my use of the instruments I actually have left is more focused and fun to use.”
This is an interesting aspect, which did come up often when talking to people on lines (and which is why I think this article series resonated so well with the people over there): many musicians see GAS as a obstacle to more creativity, or to say it with Hannes’ words: “[…] it cuts away from the creative process/expression. The focus should be on sound/music-crafting and not chasing the dragon, trying to find/aquiring the newest gear, etc.”
Having to deal with a very small space makes it easier to choose and to focus, even if of course nothing is ever final, or finished. “I’ve been constantly tweaking it” Hannes tells me during the interview, “trying to find different solutions: fitting a bigger mixer, different positions for the gear, trying to create a more ergonomic space, etc. Also the aesthetic in the room, different lighting, art on the walls and I installed a small shelf for my coffee cup.”
Still, it seems to work fine for him, and after a first period, where his partner would complain about the “noise”, she started to get interested in it and is now even using the closet herself.
You can find his live improvised jams on instagram: @ex_cerpt, and check out Elementen’s recently released album Chrysopoeia!
You might never have heard about Sean, except you probably have. Together with Isaiah Saxon and Daren Rabinovitch, he is leading the animation studio Enciclopedia Pictura, known – among other things – for having produced videos for artists like Panda Bear and Bjork.
Sean himself has been co-directing the aforementioned Panda Bear video with Isaiah Saxon and you can check out these films about building forts, which he made recently.
He’s also married to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, with whom he runs the label Touchtheplants and for whom he created all the current live-show visuals.
If that’s not enough he also makes music as Cool Maritime, with three albums released since 2011.
It’s hard enough for a single person to find the space to make music, let alone if both have this same need, but apparently each found a solution: ” It was Kaitlyn’s idea to build it. We had just started setting up her studio in the garage, and she could sense I was longing for a creative place to call my own. It was very thoughtful of her”.
Figuring out how to organize the space required to get a proper feeling for it first: “I sat in there with a chair for a while to get an idea of what direction I’d like to face and how things would fit. It’s very small but a great appreciation for tiny nooks that are just the right size.”
On the practical side, Sean opted for an L-shaped desk and – after a few months of regular use – added some shelves to be able to keep the desk more open.
Similarly to Felix, he likes the fact that “the doors of the closet have the same wood panelling as the rest of the room, so when they close, the studio disappears”.
When I asked Sean why he did that, he tells me: “For me to have a workspace at home it has to be able to be hidden when I’m done creating. I have a separate studio for filmmaking and animation that I share with others. When I go there I slip into that film-making mode and it’s very effective for getting to work and remaining focused. It’s the same for my home music studio – when I open up the doors my mode shifts. But it’s important to be able to close that off and make room for other things to happen. My creativity certainly comes from experimenting with musical instruments and sound tools – but more importantly it comes from the rest of life – the people and places and ideas around me. So I need to hide away the gear sometimes otherwise I’ll keep thinking about how to wire this to that, etc. also all those wires can make things feel cluttered and we strive to keep our living space open and light.”
Just a couple of days ago, perfectly in time with this article, Sean released his third album Sharing Waves!
Sharing Waves is all-expansive environments, and fully-realized worlds to explore and get lost in. A persistent sense of adventure and excitement is practically baked into the songs, many of them having been recorded in inspiring and remote outdoor locations using a nomadic studio including a “lunchbox” modular system.
In an interesting development from the perspective of this article, Sean moves from his small domestic studio space out into the openness of outdoor locations, and back to the studio again. “It’s like opening your eyes wide and taking in as much as you can in the moment” he tells me, “Later you are internal, reflecting on memories from a quiet place in the mind.”
I hope this first instalment of the “modular spaces” series was interesting and inspiring for you! More will be coming in the future, when we will be looking at cozy corners, and decluttered desks.
Cover illustration by Papernoise, all photos courtesy of the artists.