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green empire
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Joined: Fri Apr 04, 2008 5:40 pm
Location: frankfurt - berlin


Post by green empire » Wed Dec 19, 2012 8:21 pm

These days when many producers refer to their "studios" what they are more than likely referring to is a
corner of their room with an iMac and some monitors, perhaps a midi controllers or a keyboard thrown
in to remind them where they are. That comment is not condescending by intent as my own opinion is
that software has now developed to the point that arguments over the merits of "in" and "out of the box"
are only distinguishable to a very trained ear, it's mostly down to the personal choice a producer and
how he/she prefers to work.

However in this series of interviews we examine producers who are fully rooted in the tactile world of
hardware musical equipment. We are specifically looking at producers who are known for a big analogue
sound but achieve this with relatively small and inexpensive studio set ups.

One such producer is German born Franklin De Costa. Releasing on labels such as Mule Musiq, Resopal Red and
Trapez back as far as the turn of the millennium De Costa's studio methods are rooted in the old school of
music production. His music is known for it's deep and rich analogue sound, something he surprisingly achieves
in quite a compact studio…

OK so lets get the geeky bit out of the way first, what kit are you working on?

Focal Solo 6 Be
Cubase 6 on Windows
Doepfer Dark Energy + Eurorack Wiard Anti-Osc, Wiard Borg
DSI Mopho
Kawai K1
Moog Minitaur
Mbase 11
Nord Micro Modular
Ensoniq DP 4
Yamaha SPX 90
Mooger Fooger Phaser / Cluster Flux / CP 251
Thermionic Culture Vulture
Elektro Harmonix LPB 2ube
ADA MP2 Tube Guitar Preamp
SPL Dynamaxx
TL Audio 5021


On first glance that looks like rather a lot of gear, however on further inspection I notice a lot of this stuff is mini!
It seems you don't need a huge collection of vintage analogue kit to achieve a warm and rich analogue sound?

No the hardware just makes it easier and faster for me to get that sound I prefer. Mixing entirely on computer is
a bit different than with outboard equipment. You can easily achieve saturation and noise in an analog mixer
but you need to apply that all by yourself in the digital world. So if you know how to work with distortion and
saturation plug-in's you can achieve a lot ITB when you are looking for an analog sound.

You have a nice mix of old and new, how have you arrived at your current set up, have you been through a
lot of different kinds of hardware over the years?

It started in the 90's with my dads home recording studio, it was based around an old Fostex mixing console and
logic on PC. My most used synth was my Access Virus. Later I got a Microwave XT and Nord Micro Mod. I had also
had a Juno 106 in top shape but I sold it at some point which I now regret. Around 2002 I started doing everything
in the computer as I loved having total recall and working quickly on different things. Also there was no use for
virtual analog synths (access virus, nordlead etc) for me so I sold most of my synths but kept my compressors and
fx units. The problem with soft synths was that they always have a limited sweet spot where they sound good.
Over time I just changed my taste and preferred the beauty of pure analog sounds compared to just their
emulations but I´m generally not a purist.

Do you have particular uses for each piece of kit?

The dark energy in combination with the Wiard Anti-Osc is super versatile for me. From bass to hi-hats I do a lot
with that. With some extra noise added and ran through my phaser I get super warm hi-hats. Used that combo
on the Vitalik Gold Series release. Listen to the hihats ; )

I just added the Minitaur and the Moog flanger recently as I got them cheap on a US tour. At first I thought
the Minitaur is a bit limited but after concentrating on it and doing a lot tracks with it I must say its more than
just a bass machine. But the strength is absolutely on earthshaking deep basses. I won't sell that.
The Ensonique DP4 is an old 16 bit effects unit but it has so much character. Especially the flanger and
phaser programs aren't touched by any plugin that I have tried so far. I also do ambient music and electronica.
So for an extra level of modulating sounds I use the DP4 to enhance my drone sounds which I also mix with
soft synth pads. Actually thats what I do a lot. Mixing soft synths with a layer of analog sounds.


Can you give us a brief description of your normal process or signal path?

My basic chain is taking a sound source like a synth(digital or analog) or a sample from the PC and running
it through the Borg Filter, the Moog Pedals, maybe DP4 and then the JDK Compressor and Culture Vulture
before recording to hard disk. Maybe I add some extra tube distortion in-between or use a different
outboard effect for more lo-fi crunch.


It seems like you have a very utilitarian set up rather than some kind of sentimental tribute
to retro analogue synthesis.

The result is more important to me than the tools. So running a soft synth through an old cheap guitar
preamp with tubes can give amazing results that I couldn't achieve with the best distortion plug-in.
Yet the use of that amp is limited as the distortion plug-in can do other things to help in the mix.
So I try to use my ears and listen instead of falling for some (analog) hype. It is like cooking. I like the
digital flavor in combination with the analog.

Do you have a favourite pieces if kit

The Culture Vulture and the Moog Phaser get used in every track. The phaser is even more important.
I use it to stereoize mono-signals, for saturation/distortion and of course phasing.


You use a mixture of hardware and soft synths now what advantages do each have over the other?

As I said before the soft synths have a limited sweet spot where they sound good. Especially when its
about modulating in the classic subtractive way. Mostly it´s the filters in soft synths that lack that
special sound I like in the analog world. After I tested the Schipmann filter for example there was clear
to me that we still have a long way to go to get that sound in the box you can easily have with
good analog gear. There are really good simulations that are most of the time good enough for most
of us but when you push things more extreme the difference gets more obvious. I only use the
hardware effects because they have their sound. That's what I often miss in standard effect plug-ins,
their lack of character. You can get that with effect chains but it´s still different to using a
dedicated machine where every component is chosen to achieve a certain end result and you
can work with that. Learn the in's and out's and restrict yourself to open up new possibilities.

Do you think much of the music that that inspires you is made in a similar way to your approach -
was this an influence achieving your setup?

Maybe. When someone uses his stuff clever its hard to tell today if it´s a pure computer, hybrid or
hardware setup. I wasn't so happy with my sound and work environment so I produced less and
less after 2006. But the mixture now seems to be the right way for me to be inspired instead of
frustrated. So that was a big reason to expand the hardware part of my setup.

Do you feel as though the combination of your equipment distinguishes your sound?

Its more how I use it. Most of the stuff I have is very common. The typical “it´s not what you have
but what you do with it”. It helped that I had to a lot different synths over time so I know how
certain things sound. I´m lucky that I had the opportunity to make tracks on a real 303, Minimoog, Jomox Sunsyn or a Jupiter 4.

Ultimately the idea prevails over the equipment though no?


What would you recommend as a good starting point for people interested introducing hardware to their studio set-up?

I think the best is always the hands-on approach. Try to test at a friend's or at a store,
find out how things sound. I tested the mopho in a store before I bought it. The dark energy
was lent to me for some weeks. In general some people really don't need an expensive monosynth
for their music and should be happy with the right midi controllers. Some really do.

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