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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Brandon Ivers: Quantized Gear Therapy

posted by on September 4 at 16:53 PM


Inside the Mind and Makings of a Gear Headís Gear Head

There is a man walking among us here in Seattle who is addicted to gear. I sought him out to find out why. His name is Brandon Ivers and he doesnít breath air.

Brandon Ivers breathes gear. He breathes knowledge of gear. He may inhale oxygen yes, but what is exhaled is a molecule of CO2 with an oscillator, a circuit board, and Ableton Live attached. Ivers is modular. Heís analog. Heís micro. He is a processor. A Rolodex of technical know how and interfacing abilities of the soul. Through his veins flows blood of Robert Moog, corpuscles inside a constant hum of how to make sounds. The guy sleeps and figures things out at the same time.

Ivers calls himself a geek. But heís not geeky. Heís just a genius. A severe music appreciatist. A drum n bass historian. He understands electronics, programs, and manuals. But his extensive savant-ish know how really comes from hours and hours of experimenting and messing with equipment. Heís a Linux administrator and writes for XLR8R, URB, and The Stranger at times. He also reviews gear.

We sat for a talk and picked his gear-addled brain. Next to him was an Akai 4400 reel-to-reel tape recorder. He derived pleasure from the Akai’s presence. Heíd been bouncing audio tracks through it using its unintentional internal distortion and sending it back into his computer to get a tape sound. He broke quickly into a monologue on artifacting and what happens when the analog and digital worlds collide. When you go from an analog signal to digital, quantization happens:

Where did you come by this extreme knowledge of gear? How do you know so much about gear?
Ivers: Because Iím an obsessive-compulsive nerd.

No youíre not.
Yes I am. One time I sat in a basement for thirty hours trying to emulate a drum n bass bass sound when I could have just used a Korg MS20 and gotten the sound in fifteen minutes.

Why do you mess around so much with gear? What is it about musical equipment that draws you in?
I donít know if I have a choice. Iíve always messed around with gear and gravitated toward electrical circuits and nerdy things, things I can sit in front of for hours and try to figure out. Itís all a puzzle. It keeps my mind occupied and levels me out. It keeps me from thinking about all the terrible things that go on in the world. Iíd get depressed if I didnít have something I could sink hours and hours of time into.

So itís therapeutic for you.
Super therapeutic. A lot of natural musicians arenít good gear heads. Gear heads are a certain breed. One of the things Iíve tried to fight in my gear writing is the idea that gear is more important than ideas. Because really, the ideas are always going to be more important and you really should use the equipment that youíve got. Thereís nothing preventing you from doing the track on your laptop and taking it into a nice studio and using their high-end compressors and mixing desk. You donít have to go buy all the expensive gear. But we gear heads have a way of always needing more. If I just had that one keyboard, Iíd be set. But itís never enough. You always want more. Hip Hop producers horde everything in their own studio, they never think about bringing it out to another place or doing the final mixdowns elsewhere.

Itís like gateway drugs. Except gateway gear. First itís the Korg MS20, then the next thing you know youíve got a down payment on a 56 channel Neve 8128 thatís bigger than your apartment.

Youíre a drum n bass scholar. Where does your appreciation for drum n bass come from?
I was a DJ in Minneapolis and played drum n bass and used to make drum n bass. I guess at the time, drum n bass was the most technologically advanced music out there. It was like hip-hop but it involved a different structure. You kind of had to be a jack of all trades to play drum n bass and there wasnít really anyone else doing it. I figured I should learn everything about it. I started out with Sonic Foundry Acid version 1 and then ended up going to hardware like the E-Mu E5000 and I did everything on that. It was my best friend for five years. I didnít even have a mixing desk, I would just use the filters on the E5000. I would have a break beat on there and use the filter to shape the EQ sound. There was no compression or anything.

Whatís an aspect of drum n bass that you find enjoyable?
The Reese bass sound. One of the original Detroit techno founders Kevin Reese Saunderson came up with it. The sound kind of has a mythical status in the drum n bass scene in terms of where he got it from. Iím pretty sure he got it from a Roland Juno 6. Itís that warbling bass youíve heard a million times. He had it on a track that was out on KMS in ‘87 or ‘88 called “Just Want Another Chance”. The first drum n bass track to technically use it was Ray Keithís ďTerroristĒ. A lot of people call it the Terrorist Bass. Konflictís ďMessiahĒ is another D n B classic as far as anthems go.

Can you talk more about the d n b bass sound?
The sound itself is two de-tuned square waves with a low-pass filter. You get this sort of growly overtone if you crank up the resonance, too. To get the warble you de-tune the two oscillators against each other or you use pulse width modulation. The PWM gives it the movement.

Are you a Jimmy Buffet fan?

What is your least favorite music?
Better Than Ezra.

Are you Tron?
I think I might be.

RSS icon Comments


more importantly, than "Are you Tron" is are your shoes still sticky with you-know-what from you-know-where??

Posted by KELLY O | September 4, 2008 5:18 PM

sorry off topic

Posted by KELLY O | September 4, 2008 5:18 PM

My shoes are still sticky. Actually, I'm still sticky all over. I've been practicing walking with a pitcher on my head all day.

Posted by trent moorman | September 4, 2008 10:41 PM

another awesome interview. i'm definitely going to try that bass oscillation technique this coming week.

Posted by cosby | September 5, 2008 9:16 AM

Ivers loves his Bauhaus tribute nights too

Posted by lar | September 5, 2008 4:56 PM

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