Talking Shop: Concubine

Concubine is a new collaborative project from producers Noah Pred and Rick Bull - a Canadian and an Australian respectively - both of whom now reside in Berlin.

Born out of a mutual love of hardware instruments and hands-on creativity, the project is the result of a series of live jam sessions in Bull's home studio. With their excellent debut album available to download free from the pair's website, and a live show on the way, FM caught up with the pair to find out more about the instruments and ideas behind Concubine.

When did you start making music, and how did you first get started?

Rick: "Far too early for us both, I'd wager. I was swept away by the wave of mid-'90s warehouse rave culture as it hit Sydney during my final high school years. By 1995 I was done for. Acid-House. Community. New dreams. New forms. I was a guitar-head from way back, but everything changed when I picked up a Roland JX-3P and TR-525 which no one wanted in '93. Orbital, The Orb, Spooky, Jam and Spoon, Joey Beltram, Coco Steele and Love Bomb. Everything felt so new and inspiring. I was in awe. Still am."

Noah: "Remarkably similar timelines for both of us. After playing bass and guitar in a couple of Psych-Rock bands and making loads of four-track demos after school for a few years, I got hooked on House music when I went to my first underground rave in Victoria in 1994. I somehow acquired an old Realistic-branded Moog monosynth from Radio Shack and starting recording weird jams with that a TR-505. Listening to DJ mixes on repeat featuring Basement Jaxx, Derrick May, Phuture, The Orb. By the time I was introduced to the early Stockholm sounds of Jesper Dahlbäck, Cari Lekebusch, and Joel Mull, there was absolutely no turning back."

Tell us about your studio/set-up

Rick: "The Concubine 'studio' is located in my flat in Berlin - Noah is living just down the block on the same street. It's a mishmash of bits and pieces: filters, synths, drum-machines and borrowed equipment. The hardware/software/digital/analogue polarities have never been particularly interesting to either of us - we tend to just try to exploit whatever's in front of us. For this album, it's certainly been rather heavy on the hardware focus. The Concubine 'process' (in some contrast to our solo projects) has been primarily guided by spontaneity, tactility, and the fun of jamming live. There's nothing that I'd change about the setup - the studio-space is just an experiment in arbitrary restrictions. I think restrictions are helpful."

Noah: "It's so much easier to focus when you know where to start. A centrepiece of our sessions is Ableton's Push unit, which we both happen to own. Most times I would stroll over to Rick's with my laptop and maybe another drum machine or synth - depending on mood and availability - and plug my laptop directly into Rick's Push and Fireface. Surrounded by gear with that as the hub, it was really easy to get ideas flowing."

What DAW (or DAWs) do you use, and why did you choose it?

Rick: "Ableton - immediate, intuitive, expansive, robust, fun, and no-frills. Easy to sketch out ideas, and insanely detailed at interpolating them in more detail."

Noah: "As long time users, we're both fluent with Ableton so that's a no-brainer. Live 9 has brought some great workflow enhancements, and there's a few Max for Live devices that jumpstarted a Concubine session or two. I can't think of a better platform for both feeding the creative improvisation so crucial to the start of our sessions, and equally capable when it comes to the post-production automation and editing."

What one piece of gear in your studio could you not do without, and why?

Rick: "My Roland SH-101. The most elegant, intuitive, immediate and gorgeous mono-synth ever made. A moment of aesthetic glory and sonic confidence. It does what it does to perfection - and it still looks and sounds like the future. The SH-101 is not a 'synth' - it's an 'instrument'."

Noah: "What Rick can do with his 101 still blows my mind sometimes - just when I think I know everything it does, he squeezes some crazy new tone out of it. The Ableton Push has really changed how I interact with MIDI clips in Live. I can't imagine programming drums without it, and it's brilliant for discovering melodic and harmonic relationships that might otherwise stay hidden."

What's the latest addition to your studio?

Rick: "I've recently acquired the Roland Aira TR-8. It's ugly as hell - but it sounds glorious, personable, confident. Totally surprised me when I first heard it - and (unlike any piece of kit since my first-gen Elektron Machinedrum), the operating system on the TR-8 is immediate and intuitive. I still can't quite believe that Roland 'got it right' after so many years of misfires."

Noah: "That's funny you would single out the Machinedrum in that light, because I was going to mention my Elektron Analog RYTM. I've always loved the Elektron sequencer, and having that combined with the analog circuitry of the RYTM, along with the excellent effects, makes for a beast of a drum machine. I think we'll need to have a drum machine battle soon: RYTM vs. TR-8."

What dream bit of gear would you love to have in your studio?

Rick: "A Korg Mono-Poly. Another wonderful meeting of aesthetics, playability and simplicity. I'm smitten by instruments which do one thing well, unapologetically and directly. Instruments which reflect the kind of music I'd like to make."

Noah: "I recently had the pleasure of playing on a Yamaha CS-80 and I have to say, I'm hooked. The tones themselves are so rich, and the unique controls give it such a distinctly expressive voice."

When approaching a new track or project, where do you start?

Rick: "We usually begin with a moment of silence and a glass of wine. The Concubine process is quite focused on exploring sonic conversations between us and the machines. There's no set process, as such. We tend to focus on establishing track ideas around a certain set of tools or synths - something like, let's see how this SH-101 and Sherman Filterbank might get along tonight - and left much of the rest to intuition, trial and error. If the machines don't get along, so be it, if they do, all the better."

Noah: "Whether they get along or not, the results are usually intriguing at the very least. A lot of projects started out by applying different sequencing tools to different synths - like, let's try sending Monoseq to the Microbrute this time. Wrestling with occasional CV demons has led to some unexpected yet welcome ideas as well. Once we've got enough machines talking to each other, we'll record a pass of each instrument one by one.

"It's important to make sure we've got the full range of expression from each voice. In some cases there's a lot of editing required, but more often than not I've been astonished by how well the independent takes line up with one another in the arrangement. So each track on the album was started with a single tracking session at Rick's place, rarely more than three hours long. Capturing the kinetic energy in those sessions was essential. Then, with all the files on my laptop, the rest of the work of editing and mixing was done back at my studio."

What are you currently working on?

Rick: "Life maintenance. Cosmic humour."

Noah: "Our live set is coming together, and a couple new tracks are almost complete"

Concubine's essential music-making tips

Trust the moment

"Don't overthink what you're doing. In today's digital audio environment, there's very little need for a 'perfect' take, so capture everything from your machines. The imperfections are often where the real magic is hiding anyway - ghosts in the machine and all that. So keep it loose. With all the editing tools available to tighten things up later, there's no need to sterilize your ideas on the way in. Set up for recording and trust the moment to guide you. Don't force it. Let it flow."

Don't mix the streams

"There will be plenty of time to dial everything into diamond-like perfection once you're refining your arrangement - but keep this mentality separate from your initial creative sessions. Better yet, delineate your creative sessions from your editing and mixing sessions entirely.

"It's important to let your ideas flow and not hold them back with myopic detail-oriented fuss-buggery. Because you know what? You can tune your kick drum, EQ your lead, and find the perfect ride cymbal later on in the production process. But if you get caught up with obsessing over too much of that kind of detail in the initial creative phase, you risk losing the feeling that inspired you in the first place: above all, don't lose the spark."

Get honest feedback

"One of the best parts of collaboration is having a pair of trusted ears to provide instant feedback. Sounds that one of us would have taken hours to arrive at on our take shape much more quickly in each other's company, and bad ideas get quashed well before wasting valuable studio time.

"Whether or not you're collaborating, find some trusted critical ears - preferably someone who can deliver their critiques constructively - and get in the habit of running things by them. A lot of people surround themselves with yes men and their sound develops much more slowly as a result. As an artist, you have to be sensitive enough to express yourself authentically, but you also need to be able to take criticism in stride. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you'll do yourself a massive favour by inviting critique from people who understand your aesthetic aims."

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