The Turbo Recordings producer shows off his Montreal studio, giving us an insight into his creative process and also explaining why TR-808 samples can never measure up to the real thing.
My Studio – Mike Mind
My studio’s currently thirteen floors up looking East out over Montreal’s Plateau and the Olympic Stadium. I moved here over a year ago knowing it’d be an inspiring vibe for the home studio and thus far it’s been a fantastic experience.
I’ve had a few studios that were rather dark and closed off from the outside world, so it’s rather different to be surrounded by so much light and sky for a change. It’s actually quite fun to make techno when there’s a storm right in front of the window or when the sun starts to rise at the end of an all-night session. At night, the city lights and studio LEDs play off each other pretty synchronously and the whole setup feels like the cockpit of an airplane or spaceship which I really enjoy too. Since making the move, my productivity’s been great and I think a lot of it just has to do with how much I like the feeling and mood of the place.
Akai MPC 1000 & Elektron Analog Four
I fell in love with my MPC immediately. The JJOS is a real game-changer for workflow too. As far as my studio goes, having a sampler/hardware production studio really made it possible to become less dependent on the computer and DAW-driven setup, while also providing a dedicated machine for all the other classic drum kits I like to use often like the 909 or 727. ‘Cloud Levels’ was the first track I made entirely on the MPC as an experiment and I really loved the process of working with it.
The Analog Four is a new and very welcome addition to the studio. Like the MPC, the A4 is going to expand the sound of what I can do here tremendously and I love that I now have a hardware sequencer that can handle direct CV control. I’m just scratching the surface of what the synth modules can do, but with its more complex filtering and synthesis modules, it’s a perfect compliment to the other synths currently in the studio. I’m currently using it for step sequencing the Sequential Circuits Pro-One and the Korg Sigma, but you also have the option to use the A4 as a straight MIDI-to-CV converter, bypassing the internal sequencer directly, which is an amazing bonus.
Allen & Heath Zed 24, Patchbay and Rack
The ergonomics of the studio have become increasingly important lately as there’s a lot more gear now and I’m starting to do more and more live mixes and session recording. It’s currently set up as three benches that I built just to try to fit everything and get it all within arm’s reach. The general idea is that the middle section is organised with as much of the studio controls and sequencers as possible while the outside benches are used mostly for instruments.
The Allen & Heath board was probably the best investment I made – not for the sound necessarily, but more for the effect it had on my own studio process. It really transformed the studio into a performance-ready environment and, combined with the patchbay, it’s totally replaced the computer as the centre. Since getting the board, I’ve had so much fun in the studio that I’ve actually spent most of my time just trying to get better at performing with this setup as a whole instead of tracking.
The patchbay is essential for being able to swap the machines in and out of the board quickly and for building the effect chains I use on the aux sends. Below it, there’s a small rack comprised mostly of cheap gear I’ve found on Craigslist or in pawn shops which just gives me a wider range of tools to work with.
Of the units worth mentioning, there’s the Tama Techstar, a 2-tom unit drum machine that I use for classic 80s synth toms, rising and falling synth sounds, and for noise and sub hits. It’s become a real secret weapon in the studio that always seems to contribute in a interesting way to most tracks.
Below that is the ADA tube amp unit I use mostly on an aux send to saturate a lot of the drum channels in parallel. That one’s great since you can save different programs. The other units below that the rack are just a digital delay and a scratchy old spring reverb unit that I use a bit less frequently, but which expand the range of sounds you can make with the setup.
Sequential Circuits Pro-One
The Pro-One was the first synth I ever bought and I use it extensively. It’s a real chameleon as far as synths go and has one of the best interface designs of all the gear I have: big rotary knobs, patches you can read from across the room, an internal sequencer and very clever modulation section. You can make entire tracks with this synth alone, but I tend to use it mostly for leads and hits these days. It’s fantastic for colder and noisier EBM style synth sounds, as well as bells and arpeggios. It’s the only synth I used on the Passarella Death Squad remix and ‘Sea Of Fog’.
Like the mixing board, the 808 was also one of those machines that changed how I worked the instant I started using it. Prior to having one, I always thought I could just use 808 samples, barely notice the difference, and save some cash, but I was so wrong. The difference is the sum of a hundred little details that are pretty hard to put your finger on: the way the sequencer influences your programming, the really subtle groove, the really inconsistent snare and claps, or just the way in which it’s very versatile and always sounds amazing no matter what you do with it. It really comes to life when you start to run it through the board and effects too. An added level of EQ, driving, and panning can really open up the sound in a lot of different directions.
I love how the 808’s designed as a performance machine too. The additional trigger outs are really useful for the JP-4 arpeggiator clock or Tama toms, and the pedal control for triggering fills in manual play mode is a nice feature. As far as the Roland drum machines go, this is easily my favourite build and interface.
Roland TB-303, Jomox T-Resonator, Moogerfooger Delay & Phaser
Over the years, the 303 has been a real staple in my studio and in the tracks I’ve made despite the fact that I don’t actually own one. I’m actually deeply indebted to Spaceman who was kind enough to give me his on extended loan for about four straight years. (I also used Spaceman’s studio to do a lot of recording on this last EP. Attack featured his studio already.) The 303 in this picture is actually a different one that I’m keeping safe for someone else at the moment. I don’t think there’s much I can say about this synth that hasn’t already been said, but it’s obviously one of my favourite pieces and the sound’s hard to beat!
The Jomox T-Resonator is one of the more unique effects I own, largely because of how its feedback routing works. It’s got a bit of a learning curve as far as using it goes, but you can do really wild stereo effects with it. I use it mostly as a reverb unit, but it can also be used as a chorus, delay and flanger.
At the top are the two Moogerfooger pedals which I bought this year to try to upgrade the sound quality of the effect setup. The two digital delays that I had at my disposal were fine for things like hi-hats or background FX, but for synths like the 303 or JP-4 the loss of sound quality really bothered me and I felt it was a worthwhile investment to get at least one delay that sounds really great. As for the Moogerfooger phaser, it’s probably the best phasing I’ve heard to date, and sounds especially incredible on noise and drones.
I lucked out and got my JP-4 off a local repair guru who’s been refurbishing synths here in Montreal for a really long time. It had been kept in absolutely perfect condition for about 30 years and it sounds brand new.
As it’s one of the newer arrivals in the studio, I feel like I’m still just scratching the surface with it, but I fell in love with the LFO modulation on the VCO immediately, and that became one of the main sounds on a lot of the Aether tracks. I used it for all the overdubbing on ‘Digging Up’ and it worked so well that I went back into a number of the other cuts on the record and added a few subtle passes with this synth to glue the sound of the EP together a bit more. The JP-4 has such an incredible range and it’s amazing for everything from drones to basslines to strange hits and FX patches.
I use the CR-8000 mostly as a secondary drum machine to complement the 808. It’s got a pretty similar palette but with totally different envelopes which can be really useful in some situations. It’s a great machine for faster tracks too.
As for the toys on top of the machine, it’s a pretty good time when the pig and flower are dancing, so that’s their role – having them around just encourages me to have a bit more fun when I’m working.
The Sigma’s a really strange old 70s Korg synth I bought off of Craigslist a few years ago that I had never really heard of before. It’s got a massive, noisy and raspy sound which I love and a fantastic sounding filter mapped to a joystick that’s great for drones and FX. It has a really sinister sound that’s been really growing on me the last few years. I’ve used it a bit on some of my live sessions (like this one), but it’s one of those synths I’ve mostly sampled for FX up until now and which will be used a lot more now that the Analog Four can sequence the less common Hz/V setting it requires.