Guest Post: Tim Held of Podular Modcast
This is part of a series of guest-post tutorials from Noise Engineering users showing off various tips for NE modules, modular use in general, or how they integrate modular into their workflow.
Have someone you think would be great to write relevant a guest post? Have a modular tip you want to submit for us to create a video around? Please submit ideas here.
This week, Kris turns the tables on Tim Held. Readers of our blog probably already know Tim’s work -- he runs the popular Podular Modcast. Tim interviewed Kris and Stephen a while back, when PodMod was in its infancy, and now we flip it around and learn all about Tim! If you haven’t listened to it, it’s a fun podcast with a pretty good amount of modular noodling. He’s got great guests, great sponsors, and lots of fun stuff. If you’re not listening to it, go put it in your queue!
KK: Hi Tim! It’s awesome to see the podcast thriving. It’s such a huge undertaking -- what made you decide to start it?
Tim Held: I started the podcast a few months after I dove into to eurorack for two reasons: to learn as much as I could about it through one-on-one conversations with those designing and using the technology and because my then fiance could only talk about it so much and was at her wits end with my ranting and raving. Luckily I started outsourcing those chats to people like Noise Engineering, so she agreed to go through with the wedding and we just celebrated our one year wedding anniversary.
KK: Congratulations! I guess that leads to the underlying question. Before there was the podcast, you clearly found modular. How did that come to pass?
Modular was an obvious choice for me once I understood the enormity of its power. However, I wasn’t aware of it for the first 3 or 4 years of my electronic music endeavors. I come from a guitar background and like many of us in the modular community with a similar starting point, I found myself spending more time playing the pedals than the guitar. I eventually started experimenting with drum machines and synths through various guitar pedals.
When I was working on my first full-length album, Typical Haunts, I didn’t have much of a studio and no money to remedy that. Still I was driven by the desire to make a good record. So I decided to make my limitations work for me. I had just got a Korg Volca Beats and decided to double-down on the lo-fi aspect of my set-up and use the outboard speaker on it as my main output and use the laptop mic as my input. On top of this I was spending a lot of time with my sister and her family and her son was around 3 at the time. So I would go into the room where everyone was hanging out with a rambunctious toddler and I’d set the Beats right next to my laptop and hit record. I’d let it go for a few minutes, switch to a different beat I had programmed and do it again. After I had a sufficient amount of “field recordings” I would get to work on making what in most cases would be unwanted noise, work for me. I’d listen until I found a few moments that grabbed my ear and then I’d chop out a few measures and build a little sequence, usually of four different measures, to copy and paste over and over to build the rhythmic backbone of the track and then I’d saturate it with reverb.
KK: I like this approach a lot. In some ways, it mirrors what composer Jeff Rona said recently -- prepare to wade through a lot before you find the right sounds for what you’re doing. His point was that there’s a difference between “good” and “right”, but maybe a larger point is that to even get some good takes a lot of noodling. I’m thinking of concentric circles -- the largest one being all the stuff you put down for a track, the next one being the stuff that has potential (the good), and the inner circle -- the “right” -- what you end up using.
I’m interested in this reverb saturation idea, though. That seems like it has the potential for some messiness. Tell me more.
TH: I had just recently learned about side-chain compressing elongated bass lines to make them pulse so I decided to try and use that concept in a different way. I’d set up a 4-on-the-floor kick, mute it in the main mix, but use it to trigger a compressor to squash the noisy percussive track. This resulted in grimy drums that felt like they were breathing intensely. I loved it. I used many similar techniques like this throughout the recording of this album, but as I started getting more serious about recording and making more money I got higher quality gear and my methods changed.
A couple albums and a few years later a few of my friends who knew how I approached electronic music were all hounding about getting into modular. I was confused by the power supply case set up and very put off by the price.
KK: A common sentiment…
TH: ...but once I played with one of their set-ups it was all over. This is about when my then fiance began being tormented by my incessant cries of longing.
All of the preamble was necessary for me to share with you the purpose of this blog-post. I got into modular in the hopes of using some of my old tricks but to the umpteenth degree. This didn’t happen though. I was a novice.
KK: hahah yeah, it turns out anyone can plug shit in, but it takes some practice to really learn to skillfully and masterfully plug shit in, as it were. I don’t mean that as a joke -- modular is an instrument like any other that takes work to master.
TH: yeah. I’ve spent the last 2 years finding my bearings in the eurorack environment. It wasn’t until I started experimenting with the Pura Ruina that I found a way to employ one of my favorite methods for creating interesting drum sounds.
KK: SQUEEEEE!!!!! Sorry. I love this thing way too much. Continue.
TH: Because you can individually control the 4 different distortion levels with CV, I thought that I’d try putting some reverb-drenched drums into it and use various envelopes and LFOs to try and create an alternate breathing percussive pattern out of a beat like I did with my Volca Beats. It worked like a charm. I drench it in reverb so the distortion has more signal to grab onto. I’d split the original signal so the clean beat could go into channel 1 of my mixer and then put PR’s various outputs into different channels. This allowed me to distribute the different distortions in the stereo field in interesting ways. I was elated to revisit an old concept and be able to finally employ it to the umpteenth degree!
Of course this is not the only application for PR. It is a distortion monster! In true NE fashion wonderfully harsh tones are easily achieved and the harmonic possibilities are LEGION. However, because of the CV control it is also very useful for taking a pretty pad or lovely melodic line and adding some grime. Again I like to split my signal so I can have the pretty part be up front in the mix, but I still spread the various distortion outputs into the stereo field and turn them on and off with various CV sources, Here I put the PR before the reverb (and often delay) to lend to the ambience of the overall feel of the track.
Below is a video of a demo I did for the PR showing some of these techniques.
KK: Wow. I love these concepts so much. I know how I’ll be spending my weekend…
Thanks to Tim for the great tips. And I’ll say it again: if you’re not already listening to PodularModcast, go get it wherever you get your podcasts.
And check out some of Tim’s music (specifically an example of the Breathing Volca drums) here: