In The Studio With

The latest artist to agree to peel back their technological secrets and open up to us about their production processes is the Dutch born Boris Bunnick, a man who’s probably better known to the internet as Conforce. Since debuting on Amsterdam label Rush Hour back in 2007, Bunnick has engaged us with his all engulfing synth coloured techno offerings as Conforce whilst also wowing people in equal measure with his dystopian electro focussed Versalife project. Going on to release extensively on Delsin, his latest album project, Machine Conspiracy (which was released this autumn), makes up the fourth long player in his relatively short recording history but it really took lengths to demonstrate the impressive depth of sound involved in his analog toned music. So, with a live set due this coming Saturday in Room Two, we jumped at the opportunity to direct our gear based enquiries his way, keen to gain an insight into his hybridised take on music production.

Firstly can you give us a brief verbal tour of your studio?

Well, there are some new pieces that have been in my studio for a month or so, they're not yet fully installed but maybe I can start with those. One is the Acces Virus B, a virtual analog synth with parallel filters. This synth was mainly used for commercial trance hits and I’m curious if it is capable of doing other things besides the well known trance hoovers - it has a nice internal effects section that allows external audio routing. The Virus is good for drones and pads, sounds that cut trough a mix more easily than muddy analog stuff. I bought it because of the strange filter section. The other new baby is the Ensoniq ESQ1, something totally different that has been on my wish-list for quite some time. It’s a wavetable synthesizer with analog filters and has a really punchy gritty US ghetto sound. I think it has 8 or 12 bit samples. It’s a harsh beast good for techno and electro. I haven’t used it that much to be honest.

The rest of my set up is pretty compact, I like to keep all knobs directly under my finger tips. What I have is the Evolver Desktop, Bassstation 2, Nord Rack, Oberheim Matrix 1000, Miami Acidlab, Maschine, TG33, K2000 etc. I tend to focus on a few synths at the time. Logic is the core of all my production and I also use a lot of the internal software in combination with the hardware. Besides that I use an iPad mini for multiple things. The Lemur app for example; its cool to do all kinds of strange sequencing and midi cc modulations.

One of the most interesting synths from Reason called “Thor” has been ported for the iPad as a stand alone app. I use that quite often. It’s a soft synth with character. I think it’s the only VST I use at the moment. There is also a Roland D50 under my bed, but we never got along that well but maybe one day I will connect it again to see if there is chemistry.

What’s your favourite and most essential item?

The K2000, it's such a nice, weighty, retro, futuristic, underrated piece of equipment. I think it caused me a hernia when I bought it but it was worth it. I recently bought a SCSI harddrive for it in the United States from a special shop that still supports people with these synths. It’s loaded with a lot of sound and patch material from the 90s.

I remember there are a few other romplers that had soundbanks that could directly be converted to a K2000 patch so it can actually imitate other synths. It’s like a lyrebird [laughs]. It’s a fascinating machine and it was way ahead of it’s time when it got released. There’s too much technology inside but the interfacing is pretty OK and the weak buttons make it a shitty thing to program. It is a very intimidating machine.

Inside it’s full of strange algorithms and DSP functions to shape all kinds of sounds. I think they were sold for $5000 in the 90s, now they cost around $400. Some well known Detroit records were made on it. It’s a rompler, sampler, v/a synth, FM synth and it does all kinds of analog interpretations from vintage synthesizers too. It has a bottom frequency no other virtual analog synth has in my opinion, the Kurzweil factor. I like to call her the string machine but it’s capable of a lot more. Ever inspiring.

"Ableton is a damn fine piece of software; it's like an MPC with a large display."

What is it you’re performing on when you play live exactly?

I separate all my tracks into different layers so I can manipulate the arrangement in real time. On top of that are a few send channels with effects that help me to get more accents in the tracks and elevate certain sounds. The core is Ableton Live and besides that a UC33, A&H Xone 92, Echo Audiofire and a NI Maschine for additional patterns and drums. Maschine is also really amazing for live [performance] so I try to find a balance between playback and a bit of improvisation. I don’t want to mess things up too much...

Sometimes I strip things down and all of the sudden an emo string techno record becomes a bit more functional or I add things and the record sounds more finished. But in the end it’s always a large amount of playback, software or hardware, it doesn’t matter. I could go for a full improvised hardware set with drum modules but it’s simply not the sound that I want to achieve and present.

How often do you change up your live set?

It depends on the venue and country and the amount of space but my motto has always been to travel light and compact. In the end I have two hands, I could bring a large array of hardware but it doesn’t make me creative. Recently I’ve been adding a Roland TR-8 to the setup, it’s perfect for travelling and it’s a good replacement for a real 909. For the rest Ableton is a damn fine piece of software; it's like an MPC with a large display.

How much of it is new unreleased material? Do you find live sets double up as testing grounds for new tracks?

I think in most cases the live sets contain 50% or more new material. I try to keep my sets up to date to test new material and see what the response is. I also rework tracks sometimes after playing them in the clubs - I get more insight in what is missing or what frequencies parts should be adjusted more properly. Usually I do more with active drums on top of my tracks. It takes some tunes a bit out of the original context sometimes but is also an eye-opener for myself. I also end up playing material that never gets released so there is a certain unique factor in the sets.

Can you run us through why you’re working in this set up and what creative freedom it allows you?

I only have two hands so the best is to stick with a small array of options to become effective. Less is more. Besides that I keep it simple and light because of travelling. And I don’t want to waste my expensive synthesizers because of rough handling at airports. Sometime I play in DJ booths the size of a small toilet and there's no way I would ever be able to place gear in a space like that. I also don’t want to bother promoters with unrealistic gear lists. What I play is 100% me and my creativity. I can not translate the studio process to the stage, I can only attempt to get more out of my tracks on stage and review it during a performance.

How different is it from what you produce with in the studio?

In the studio I have a complete different setup with an array of hardware. The stage setup is totally stripped down. For example in the studio is use Logic 9; simply because it’s a DAW that suits my needs and has a brighter and more neutral sound in my opinion than Ableton. I’m more of an arranger than a looper.

How’s that developed from experience over time?

I’ve started with Reason then switched to Logic in combination with Reason. Then added two hardware synthesizers. Switched back to software. Added a few synths again and drum computers. So over the years it has become a very hybrid way of production. The last Delsin EP, Depth over Distance, contains a lot of hardware sounds but the stuff I’m working on at the moment is really a software based thing again.

I’m someone who prefers FM and wavetable above analog synthesis. Everything has it’s character of course, but I just love more alienated organic evolving sounds. I can make music with everything. My friends and I always say: 'analog ears, digital production.'

And finally, if money was limitless what’s your ultimate object of desire?

An Eventide Harmonizer. And I still need to get a real 808 one day...

Photography: Michel Mees

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