The right tool for the job

Maslow, the psychologist with the pyramid of needs, is attributed the expression that goes something like this: If all you’ve got is a hammer, it’s tempting to treat everything you see as a nail. It’s a thought I carry with me, but I actually just googled to find it was Maslow, or maybe not only.

Good thing, because I just learnt that it’s called the Law of the instrument. A cognitive bias, that apparently limits our vision and creativity. We do things that are tried and true. We rely on what we know and fail to see possibilities and chances to innovate.

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January halftime.


It’s Saturday morning and I’m annoyed. At least I was yesterday evening. Now, it’s morning. I awoke early. -10 degrees C, clear sky and the sun has not yet risen over the hill. Everything is possible. I’m optimistic.

Still, I was annoyed going to bed. I’m dragging behind my plan. Making less music than I intend to. I don’t intend to whine, but since I enter this state so often. I need to think about what’s going wrong. What’s the culprit?

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Jamuary 13 – PogBrute.

Just a quick one before bedtime. I wanted to see what the Electro Harmonix POG 2 could bring to my Microbrute. In an annoying way a POG seems to turn everything into an organ. But when in the Vatican… My idea was to get a chordal texture going with multiple octaves, slow attack and slow delay to get a big buildup.

I thought it ended up quite nice. I had forgotten about how cool the detune-setting on the POG is. This is probably pretty useful since it can simulate a doubling effect, as if layered with another oscillator. POG also has an Attack-fader for swells and a Lo-pass filter to tame excessive digital highs. I just improvised a folky melody on the black keys. I often get some kind of Scotland/Highland-feel doing that. Bagpipes or what not.

A nice thing with the POG is that it has faders that you could actually tweak live. Like swelling in some extra low oompf on the sub-octaves. Picking together an electronic live-setup is a small goal for 2021 as well.

Here’s today’s setup: Microbrute – Pog2 – Boss CE-2 – Empress VMSD – Sansamp (Boss RV-2 on an aux send from mixer.) The main pad/melody is just this. I also added some sprinkles of granular delay with the Empress VMSD reverse setting but left the POG off. Organ on organ didn’t seem like a good idea. (Too tired now, just held back an organ-donor joke).

Jamuary 9 – FluteBrute

My idea for today was to see if I could make the Microbrute sound soft and beautiful. I ended up with three tracks.

1 – A step sequenced descending melody on Microbrute through Empress VMSD with its reverse granular delay setting. I have it pretty dry at the beginning and turn up the wet later on.

2 – a descending bass with tempo synced PWM (mostly square wave I believe).

3. And last – a flutey sound that I played by hand. The delay was set with tap tempo and drifts off a little, or if it’s my timing that is off. I’ll call that human for now.

Oh, and just to get some texture I quickly picked a field recording of rain and thunder. Not really the weather around here right now. But it was a quick choice.

When doing these kind of jams I just start. I stay on the white keys so I’m in key. Getting lost and finding your way out is not a bad idea for exploring. I have a similar experience when finding my ways through unusual tunings on guitar. In a way, it’s counter-productive because I’ve found I often gravitate towards establishing very simple structures like I – IV- V. On the other hand, these simple structures take on a new beauty when I’m lost, whereas I would find them just bland and boring if I had been doing it in standard tuning.

Here’s today’s jam:

Flutey Brute

The value of primitive tools

As written before I’m devoting January to learning my Arturia Microbrute. It’s a small cheap synth. Compared to what’s out there it can in many regards be seen as primitive. Crude, rude and well … a brute. It doesn’t automatically make sounds that come out as lush, ambient, lovely and beautiful. It forces me to work. To find ways around its constraints.

The good thing with doing this work I believe is that there will be more Me in the music. For a year or two I’ve lusted after an analog polysynth, especially the Korg Minilogue XD. Pricewise, it’s absolutely affordable. But so far I’ve withstood the impulse. Partly because I’m fearing that in my hands it will end up a preset-machine for pads. Making all the lovely lush atmospheres that never fail to impress me.

Exploring the Microbrute has already taught me a few things. Understanding how it works in itself, but more importantly understanding how it could work for me. I’m beginning to see how I could fuse simple Berlin School step sequences with my acoustic singer-songwriter music and maybe arriving at something that I could find interesting. Transposing a step sequence up and down to fit different chords also leads to interesting “mistakes” and forces my melody-composing (which I always do singing) to handle or include notes foreign to the scale etc. This might force or ignite new solutions that I wouldn’t come up with if I had a tool capable of everything. Which I suppose I have in my digital audio workstation, Ableton Live.

An acoustic instrument, like a guitar, is actually really primitive. Tensioned strings vibrating over a resonant body. And still building a great one is infinitely complex. Getting good at playing takes work. And yet it allows for so many different expressions and styles.

I also think there’s great value in staying with one tool. Digging deeper to let it reveal itself. I have often run around with my shovel and put it in the ground for a single-take. Trying a technique only once, only to forget it. This of course resonates with the popular/famous Bruce Lee-quote:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

So, it feels good to stay with this crude little synth. I probably need to come up with a list of challenges to explore it in a few different directions.

PS. In the last few days I have only made small voice-memos on my phone for my Jamuary entries. And yesterday only one with acoustic guitar. Sometimes you have to put your family before your synth. 😉

Jamuary 6: Love on a real train

Monophonic synths can only play one note at a time. This means playing chords is a challenge, or actually impossible. The solution is to play record every note of your chords separately. Although it’s more work, it comes with the benefit that you can dial in a new sound for every note – making your chords into lush pads.

Instead of doing any composition myself, this day’s jam was a riff on the song Love on a Real Train by German electronic legends Tangerine Dream. I came across remixes of this song a decade ago and it always struck me as a good use of a simple step sequencer as in the main repeating riff.

Here are a few different versions and last my jam for today – I seem to have made the riff in halftempo, without really knowing. Wasn’t that focused on doing anything verbatim, rather I focused on what I could do with the Microbrute.

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