“The PMCs are flush-mounted in my studio for maximum sonic yield. I almost cried the first time I switched them on. I’m still getting used to them but it feels great to have so much power in the room when I’m jamming.” Colin Benders shows us his stunning studio.
With a new EP ‘Rigmarole’ available to pre-order on Hiss & Hertz Colin Benders continues to evolve. His upcoming five-track odyssey takes the listener on a modular journey. Benders weaves a maze of intricate improvisations, hectic rhythmic landslides and mood-enslaved machine talk.
Recorded during the lockdown, like its predecessor, the album pledges to showcase the darker side of Benders’ live streams turned archival recordings, whilst shedding a broader light on his breadth of scope as a spur-of-the-moment conductor of highly demanding, circuit-bending symphonies of sorts.
Colin Benders has ditched the formulas for jam sessions on black wax thanks to the support of his community. We asked him to show us where and how he does this! Enter the modular world of Colin Benders…
My Studio – Colin Benders
This is me, Colin Benders, doing my facial expression of total frustration at my inability to take a proper selfie! I’ll spare you the other shots….
Anyway, welcome to my studio!
Inside My Studio
After years of looking for a proper studio space, and a lot of hopping around between temporary locations, me and a few close colleagues banded together and decided to build a studio complex.
We partnered up with studio builders Pinna Acoustics who helped us with some spectacular designs for each of our rooms. The studio is acoustically tuned for optimal sonic response. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time to have a studio like this, where I can trust my ears to hear exactly what is going on in my work.
I’m not a mix engineer per se, but even in the creative process, it helps a lot to have a clear sonic overview of what’s going on.
On the left you can see my main instrument, a modular synthesizer which I have been growing and tweaking over the span of about 10 years. On the right side is my recording setup, consisting of equipment that helps me record everything I am doing on the modular in a single take.
My Eurorack modular setup
This is my Eurorack modular setup.
When I started with modular I was mainly looking for more interesting sounds to work with than I had on my DAW. At the time I was working a lot with Logic Pro, however I got horribly stuck in my workflow as I would just make loops of parts stacked on top of each other without any real progression or flow.
So in my mind it would be a nice addition to my setup if I had an instrument which steered me a bit more out of my loop based workflow and gave me some more unique sounds to work with.
In reality, the modular ended up taking over my entire workflow until I somewhat replaced my studio with it. It took me quite a bit of time before the modular workflow made sense to me but once it clicked, it was the most liberating thing ever. I kept adding features to my system until it grew to something which I can only describe as an analog Ableton setup. The left side of my system has everything I need for polyphonic patching, the centre section is the core of my patches which I use for everything and the right side is a more experimental sound design sort of setup.
The only downside to this flow is that once I take my patch apart, the track I was working on is gone. On the other hand I could also describe that as a feature of sorts, as it encourages me to keep looking for new results rather than lingering on the same project for too long.
Macbeth Dual Oscillator Backend Filter
These top two modules in this image are probably the best sounding modules I have ever heard. On the left you have the Macbeth Dual oscillator, on the right side you have the “backend” filter. I guess I got lucky when I bought them. They were my first purchases when starting out with modular, purely based on how they looked.
When I got them I was blown away by their sound and feel. I have used these on just about everything I have ever done with my modular works, ranging from flute-type sounds on classical leaning patches (like on the vinyl release “Floaty Things”) to very gritty bass-lines and squelches on my techno jams. ‘I can’t feel my legs’ has these sounds very prominently worked into it.
The heart and soul of my modular setup
This is the heart and soul of my modular setup: the sequencer & FX sends section.
Bottom right you have the Circadian Rhythms sequencer, which is all about drums and triggers. It’s 8 channels of 64 steps per channel, which can be programmed on the fly. All my drum sounds are triggered and sequenced from this panel.0
Above that, at the top of this image hidden in the spaghetti of wires, there’s my ER-101/102 sequencer. This is a 4 track sequencer with virtually unlimited steps per track. I use this for all my melodies, bass-lines and sequenced events.
It was a bit tricky getting used to this flow, as you can only see one note at a time and have to somewhat remember everything else you have programmed into it – but over time it has become second nature to work with this sequencer. I do a lot of on-the-fly programming on this sequencer and with 4 melody tracks, it allows me to write everything I’d like to hear in a track on this unit.
On the left side, you see two identical modules with yellow glowing lights. These modules are the 4ms VCA Matrix, with 4 inputs on the left side and 4 outputs on the top. The way I use them is as FX sends. All my parts – drums, bass, melodies, etc – are patched in on the left side of the modules and then the outputs are patched to my reverbs, delays, etc.
The little black potmeters are what I use to control how much of each FX I’d like to apply to my parts.
A close up of the ER-101 sequencer
Here’s another close up of the ER-101 sequencer.
I’ve recommended it to a lot of people as I truly think it’s unique in it’s class. Some people hated it because of how abstract it can feel when working with sequences. Others loved it for the same reasons I do, as it’s probably the closest thing to a piano-roll sequencer you can get for modular setups.
For me I probably wouldn’t be able to do any of what I do without this module.
What it looks like under my modular setup
This is the usual state of my floor beneath the modular setup!
Cables everywhere, all clustered together in one massive knot. I’ve tried various organising solutions but always revert to just having it all on the floor.
There’s also a boss tuner there, which I borrowed from a friend years ago and never returned (sorry dude). It’s a crucial piece of equipment for my setup, as every oscillator requires tuning every time I fire up my system. There are about 50 oscillators in this setup and there is not really any workarounds for this.
However, I kind of enjoy the process. It forces me to slow down a bit and just take things one step at a time. I’m terribly ADD. I suspect this is one of the reasons why I enjoy working with modular so much, as it really forces me to concentrate while also allowing me to just zoom in on every part of the process. That, and the blinking lights of course.
My recording setup
This is my recording setup.
Over the years I have tested and tried many things. I started with a basic Logic setup, then switched over to a 100% analog approach with a 2” tape recorder.
After having experienced both extremes I went looking for a proper hybrid solution, where I got to combine the best of both worlds. My current DAW is ProTools, which I use to multitrack all my modular sessions.
The speakers got installed not long ago, it’s a set of PMC MB2S-XBD – a massive upgrade from my Adam S3X-H speakers which I had completely worn out over the years.
The PMCs are flush-mounted in my studio for maximum sonic yield. I almost cried the first time I switched them on. I’m still getting used to them but it feels great to have so much power in the room when I’m jamming.
My Burl Audio B80 Mothership converter
I replaced my tapemachine with the Burl Audio B80 Mothership converter. Since I do everything on the modular in one-take recording fashion, I needed a lot of inputs on my recording chain. I love the Burl sound, every input has a transformer on it which clips very nicely when driven a bit.
The Vacuvox U23 is probably the best sounding compressor I have ever heard. I’m always hunting for upgrades in my chain and was looking for a good sounding tube compressor.
Friends of mine recommended these and after a week of testing them, I knew I just had to get them. Also when tracking vocals or instruments these units really shine, even at ridiculous reduction levels the result still sounds open and effortless.
I’ve always loved having a mixing desk in my studio. The first desk I bought was a Trident 80B console which sounded absolutely brilliant but couldn’t keep up with my needs at the time. I used to do a lot of live recording with bigger groups of musicians and quite often I ended up needing more channels than the trident could give me.
So I upgraded the Trident to an SSL 9048J desk, a great sounding but very power-hungry and sensitive desk. We’ve done some great recordings on it and I’ve used it for quite a few years up until I switched over to working 100% on my modular setup.
For a while, I worked without a desk but felt like I was missing something. After a lot of research, I decided I wanted the SSL sound back – but not the massive power supply and desk that came with it.
The SSL XL desk which I have now gives me everything I need: the sweet clarity of an SSL with just the right number of channels for my needs, packed in a more compact box. It has a whole row of 500 slots available to use, which I am slowly filling up with API EQ’s and other things I’ll run into over time.
My 2 compressors, Vertigo VSC-2 and API 2500
On the other side of my desk i currently have two compressors, a Vertigo VSC-2 and an API 2500. The Vertigo is a unit I bought years ago when I was still doing orchestral recordings. It’s a very fast and versatile compressor that doesn’t choke up easily.
The API is something I bought recently from a friend of mine. I mainly use it for all my drum processing where it does a great job keeping everything in check.
My AR/VR workstation
On top of my studio is an AR/VR workstation. I’ve been doing a lot of streaming over the years and have started experimenting with augmented reality.
I have some brilliant developers working with me on all kinds of funky integrations for the video setup. I have no real idea of where this is going, but we’re having a lot of fun with it so far.
Who knows what the future will bring. As long as we have room to experiment I am sure it will be something fun(ny)…!
The instrument that started it all..
Before going full modular with my music, I used to be a trumpet and flugelhorn player. In a way, this is the instrument that started it all for me.
Even though I hardly play anymore, I still have a very warm soft spot for this instrument. Maybe one day I’ll pick it up again for one of my projects.
Until then I’ll always keep it with me in the studio and play with it every now and then, even if it’s just for that shot of nostalgia.
Pre-order Rigmarole now at Hiss & Hertz.