TDC Tunes is a modular artist and producer based in London; he curates unique electronic events at an atmospheric north London venue and has several other projects on the go. Gourmet Gigs met up with him to find out more…
How did your love for modular synths start? Did you play an instrument at school?
Yes, I played piano, oboe and pipe organ. I was also in a church choir. and I went on to do A‑level in music; at that time I was also interested in electronic music and synths and computers but of course that was very early days of computers in music. I ended up going down a different route and became a computer programmer; music fell a bit by the wayside for a time. Then about six years ago I got back into music much more seriously. The passion came back and it was at that point I discovered modular synths which I suppose merged my nerdy computer wire engineer side with my passion for music.
Was there a cathartic moment that made you suddenly change career path?
Yes, I remember there was a moment where I just decided to go for modular synths. It was a moment where I thought, I just need to do something different and more radical. I had already been releasing synth-based tracks prior to that but one day something just snapped and I thought, this is the moment to go for it. I’d seen people doing it and I thought it looked crazy. I was drawn to the fact that it looked quite difficult, I like a challenge!
It’s natural evolution if you like – if you’re into computers and quite nerdy and have that kind of intellectual problem solving side, it’s the ultimate thing really.
Was there anyone there to show you the ropes or did you have to learn and experiment on your own?
Mostly on my own. There were plenty of people who inspired me – mostly on YouTube – there’s loads of tutorials. There wasn’t one individual person who became my modular mentor. So I’m mostly self taught, and look stuff up. It involves a lot of experimentation.
What about the initial financial outlay? Did you work on soft synth programmes or did you jump straight in?
I went straight into buying, although I thought I’d go slow and start small but I didn’t! I was producing music anyway using computers before then. Part of the drive of modular and anything to do with physical synths is to get away from the computer. There’s been a movement – it’s been around for the past ten years – called DAWless, it’s all about getting away from computers. It’s more creatively inspirational, you could say.
Do you feel there’s a community that you are part of?
I think so. Not so much modular, but the independent electronic community in London, definitely. EMOM started by Martin Christie, some years ago, is the important link. It’s an open mic movement for electronic music, and I’ve met loads of musicians through that platform. Most of the artists I’ve been doing my Electronic in the Tower gigs with are part of that scene. I feel really supported by those people.
How do you describe your music?
I’ve been trying a range of different things with different people. There’s examples of that on Spotify, like Traveller’s Path which I worked on before I got into modular, I played it recently at the Tower. Then I’ve been working with singer songwriter Rocco LDN. She joined me on an Electronic in the Tower in March last year, and we released a single. I really love the music I’m doing with her, although it’s not particularly modular.
Right now I’m working on being able to capture what I’m improvising on the modular. So the next few releases I bring out this year will be in that vein. Primarily they will be recorded when I’m either streaming or just playing. There will be some production on the computer but it will be minimal – a bit of arranging and a bit of fine tuning but primarily modular based music and I’m excited about that.
You’ve been putting on nights at The Intimate Space, north London, where you play plus you invite a guest synth artist and there are impressive visuals too, by 2 Digit Visuals [insta link]. Do you enjoy putting these events together?
Yes I’m really loving organising the events – making sure the set works. Basically, it’s my event. And I’m always going to play but part of organising the structure is making sure I pick another musician who will help create a balanced show. Sadler on the visuals is amazing and takes it to another level. And the venue, at St Mary’s Church Tower, is really special, so unique; it’s nice and close to home so there’s not too much travelling. The Intimate Space is a great venue that suits the music well.
As well as a guest modular synth artist and the visuals, you added a poet to the last one, which I thought worked really well.
I try to make the evening interesting for people. It’s an intimate, quite immersive evening that you aren’t going to find anywhere else. Obviously you have to like electronic and experimental music, but I’m offering people the whole package. I think I will include more poetry in the future!
How much equipment do you bring along to each performance?
It’s a complex issue, you could say a logistical nightmare! I brought along a piano to the last one, my Nord piano 2 and two cases of modular. Next week I’m bringing the whole modular. [TDC’s modules are listed on Modular Grid, a space where you can plan out all your modules.] We had the Noise artist Analog Leper perform last time and so for balance I brought the piano, to add contrast. Next time will be more modular, and there will be four cases.
You have recently started streaming on Twitch, how is that working out?
I’ve been dual streaming to Brixton Radio and Twitch. I’ve got this Twitch bot which is interactive – they can change the lights in my studio and do all these interactive things during my stream, like they are taking part. So basically I’m now playing live on Twitch from my home studio three times a week. I’m recording and hopefully use those recordings to release tracks. I’m going to build that up over the next few months. But I love playing live as well.
Can you explain for newbies a little bit about modular synths and tell us what you have?
I own modules from 10–12 different manufacturers. You tend to get your favourites but they all conform to a standard called Eurorack, invented by Dieter Doepfer. There are some old formats from the 70s – Roland and Moog. Some of the modules are copies of Moog circuits. Some of the companies making modules now though are one person working alone. Some are kits you build yourself.
What’s amazing is the power of them, there are thousands and thousands of modules so you create an instrument. You build it, change it every time; you might sell and buy. Some artists do DIY and build their own. Everywhere you rearrange them, not just the modules in their cases, but also the way you patch them. You wire them up, create a patch, and that’s how you make sounds. Every time you do that, you are creating a new evolution of your instrument. It’s totally unique.
So when you are on stage, you might have wired it up differently and you might not know what the sound will be like?
Yes, that’s part of the stress! So during this coming week I will be refining and honing a patch to use at next Saturday’s show and I’ll be practicing with it on my Twitch show. Hopefully I’ll do it so I won’t have to make too many reconnections for Saturday. I need to make sure it works. That has gone wrong in the past, when I thought I didn’t have time to make sure that everything worked or I thought the tuning was off.
You like to experiment with unusual sounds – such as copper kettles at live shows – can you tell us more about that?
I like to experiment by using objects that aren’t normally instruments – like the copper kettles. I’ve also created a ‘magic table’ where dropping things on the table caused sounds to trigger. And a few failed experiments too!
I also use sound sources from other places. This includes live radio (I did this at the last Tower gig and will do again next week) and mangling it in the modular to create something new. I’ve also used samples/snippets of recordings from everywhere – police radio, being on a tram in Portugal, a recording of one of my Twitch viewer’s son practicing the violin. It’s unlimited.
This last point is an important one because it brings an element of interactivity with my audience in the music I create. If people send me recordings – what can I create from that? I’ve also done a Twitch stream where the audience could interact live with a chatbot to make actual changes to the patch in the modular synth to influence the music/sound being created.
Do you always record your shows?
If I record to the computer I’ve recorded the audio, so I record about eight different tracks for the Twitch show. It’s very difficult to get back to what you had before. That’s also the nature of the beast. A traditional synth has patch memory so you can save it – on a modular synth you can take a photo and try and get it the same but it’s always a bit unique
Are there any other plans in the pipeline?
I am talking to someone about putting shows on in Brixton, in the arches. I’ll be able to reveal more about that soon!
Other equipment used by TDC Tunes includes:
Nord Piano 2
Prophet Rev 2 (synth)
Arturia KeyStep Pro (controller keyboard and sequencer)
Playtronica Playtron (this is what allows me to turn signals from the copper kettles into notes/sounds!)
On the computer for music production: Ableton Live