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

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