Name: Lomond Campbell
Occupation: Composer, producer, songwriter
Current Release: Lomond Campbell's LŪP is out via One Little Independent on October 22nd.
Equipment Recommendations: So keeping it both modular and Scottish, I would recommend Expert Sleepers Disting EX as a piece of hardware. It’s like an entire studio inside a single 8HP module.
I think anyone interested in getting deeper in to music at a sub-atomic level should check out Pure Data. It’s powerful, free and it’s been around for a long time so there are a lot of tutorials and support out there.
If you enjoyed this interview with Lomond Campbell and would like to stay up to date on his work, visit his personal website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and bandcamp.
What was your first studio like?
My first set up was basic and almost entirely borrowed, but at the time it felt like I had everything:
Fostex XR7 4 track
Vestax DSG-05 sampler
Sharp MINIDISC recorder
How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
Circumstance usually plays a role. For example I used to work in a University linguistics department as a sound technician and they had maintained an expansive equipment archive since the 60s, so I incorporated a lot of that archaic gear in to my own set up. Nagra, Uher, Revox tape machines … an old Soundcraft mixing desk … some custom made outboard gear and lots of old microphones. Then at one point I planned to live on to a canal boat so, with much regret, I sold a lot of my equipment.
Events took another turn and now I live in a large building that used to be a school, so I use different areas to write and record in and treat the whole building as a studio. Nothing is hard wired in, so in that respect it’s important that my studio can adapt to being moved around. My API lunchbox (populated with API 512c, Inward Connections Opt1A limiters and a Wes Dione Bus Compressor) comes in useful and the MPC Live and Sound Devices MixPre10 are battery powered, so convenient for roving.
I recently bought a Tascam Model 12 which so small and versatile. Takes me right back to my days using the aforementioned Fostex XR7. My eurorack case isn’t too sprawling either so can be moved at will.
The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do go about you selecting it? How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?
The editable control offered by digital is incredible and despite rose tinted romanticism about the past, I think we are currently living in a golden age for music production.However, as an advocate of simplicity I often purposeful bake-in an effect or process just to stop myself procrastinating at a later point. If I give myself lots of opportunity to make decisions then I’ll spend most of my time deliberating on how to go about making those decisions, as opposed to actually just making the decisions and getting on with creating music.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
Using professional multi-room recording studios has been a positive experience for me, but not something I’ve done often as I’ve always preferred being in amongst my own set up. My studio follows me around and shapes itself to what I’m currently doing.
For example when I was making LŪP I was in my workshop most of the time so I set up a small studio system to suit that. I mixed everything through the MixPre 10, in to a OTO Machines Boum to warm it all up, then recorded straight to a stereo mix via the MPC Live. No edits, no automation, no undo, no overdubs. I pushed the limiters on each channel quite hard and in a way let the circuitry randomly mix the album for me to some extent.
It’s a pretty raw way of doing things, but I was sandwiched right between a table saw and a laser cutter machine so it made sense in the moment.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
As a born tinkerer I think I might have customised almost every instrument I’ve ever played. I’ve built lots of DIY controllers and specialist devices in the past too.
I’m guilty of being fetishistic about gear. If a button has a beautiful mechanical recoil to it or a dial has a satisfying click then I’m likely to keep coming back to it, even if it’s not a musically intuitive device.
Having said that I find lately I keep returning to the standard keyboard as my main tactile way of making music.
How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
LŪP is probably the most recent example. It’s an album created around a custom built tape looper I made for a musician friend.
Obviously an album based around 10 second disintegrating tape loops is going to be very repetitive, so I leaned hard on my modular synth to help colour the sound and add subtle detail and variety. I used the Makenoise Morphagene and Strymon Magneto all over the album. I also used the EricaSynths Pico DSP for its immense, glacial reverbs.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
I find it a bit burdensome. I have lots of ideas saved on different hardware sequencers or sketched on to various portable recording devices, labelled with nonsensical names. I’ve been contemplating a new strategy of purging my whole archive and starting with a clean slate.
Going forward, anything that doesn’t become a full idea within a few hours gets deleted. I’m cluttered with far too many vague sketches with my current chaotic system.
Despite the aforementioned near endless possibilities, many productions seem to follow conventional paths. How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?
I think the fear of trying something new is the biggest obstacle in creating elements of surprise in work. Recording improvisations straight to stereo is something I’m doing more of and that has helped me let go of control and silence the ego. In the past I’ve been forensic about production, occasionally taking months to produce one track. There’s nothing wrong with that approach but personally I find the magic happens more often when you’re not looking for it.
The modular synth is an open ended network that only understands voltage, so you can make anything trigger it with some basic DIY electronics and an Arduino or similar development board. That becomes very exciting as motion can be incorporated in to your music. I made two albums using a harmonograph connected to my modular system.
This kind of approach keeps things exciting and surprising for me.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
The machine I built for LŪP was almost entirely in charge of how the album came out. It dictated the overall sound by generating shifting clock signals that created unnatural patterns that I couldn’t have programmed very easily. The tape loops purposefully disintegrate over time because of a rotating magnetic disc, and the preamp circuit I built for the tape head sounded gnarly.The equipment in this case determined near enough the entire sound of the record.
How important is it for you that you personally create or participate in the creation of every element of a piece – from sound synthesis via rhythm programming to mixing?
I mostly work alone so in that sense I’m in control of every aspect of my music. I have been guilty of being quite puritanical about it all in the past, for example never using pre-set sounds. When you get in to something like Pure Data, it feels like you’re designing sound at a quantum level, and that can be seductive if you’re a control freak. It’s blinkered thinking though. Pre-sets and sound packs are often created by incredibly talented sound designers / musicians so why not take advantage of that?
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I took the plunge with modular synths about 6 years ago and I think that has had the biggest impact. It really feels like you are holding electricity in your hands.
Strangely though, for all the limitless possibilities this ‘nonstandard’ instrument offered, it made me more interested in music conventions. I wanted to learn music theory so I could more easily find musical balance when using the modular. This led me on to taking up the piano and over the past 2 years I’ve become very focussed on that.
So in a weird way, for me the modular system has been a gateway drug to learning how to be more conventional with music.
To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative provess. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
The idiosyncrasies in each music device I use forces me to behave differently and compose in a slightly varied way. In that sense I do see it as a collaboration and the machines have indisputable power over us. Just look at how music tech has shaped the music we make over the decades.
AI would be a natural progression to that, but I don’t fear we will all lose our core music skills overnight because of it. We’ll just adapt and incorporate, as always.
Do you personally see a potential for deeper forms of Artifical Intelligence in your music?
Many years ago I was involved in making a musical robot called Cybraphon that googled itself every 15 seconds. It had a social media accounts too and if it was getting traction it would play happy music, if it was being ignored it played sad music. It was a simple kind of AI … an artificial, moody, narcissistic music personality.
I would completely embrace any opportunity to experiment with AI / machine learning and incorporate it in to my work. I’m totally in to the Open AI Jukebox project and what direction that could take music.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
I began some research on a project involving gamma brain waves a few years back. The project never went ahead but I would like to revisit the ideas. I believe the technology has come on a lot recently and think there’s even an EEG eurorack module available now.