Recent release: Phairo's “Drum Workout!” is out now on LG105 as part of his upcoming ‘9’ project. Get it here.
Tool of Creation: MFB Synth Pro
Type of Tool: Polyphonic analogue synthesiser
Designed by: Manfred Fricke
Country of origin: Germany
Became available in: 2019
If you enjoyed this interview with Phairo about the MFB Synth Pro and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit him on Instagram, Soundcloud, and twitter.
What was your first encounter with the MFB Synth Pro?
I saw the producer Stimming do a YouTube demo of it and fell in love with its sound! It helped that he was playing lovely chords on it which can be rare in YouTube demos.
But I kept coming back to it and drooling over it for quite a few weeks until I finally took the plunge.
Just like any other piece of equipment, the MFB Synth Pro has a rich history. Are you interested in it? And if so, what are some of the key points from this history for you personally?
Being released about 2 years ago the Synth Pro is still quite young, but I am interested in the history of MFB.
I was aware of a few of their legendary drum machines before I came across this synth and found out that sadly the founder Manfred Fricke passed away shortly after I bought my Synth Pro. Apparently he was still involved in developing new instruments while he was undergoing cancer treatment which is insanely inspiring.
I know it’s a family business too and I’ll definitely be continuing to follow their output closely.
What, to you, are some of the most interesting recordings made with the MFB Synth Pro?
To be honest I don’t know of any other than my own! Apart from that Stimming demo on YouTube which sold it to me in the first place which is worth a watch for anyone who’s into synths or nice chords.
What interests you about the MFB Synth Pro in terms of it contributing to your creative ideals?
It’s a fun one! Quite hard to make it sound bad. The treble isn’t harsh when the filters are all the way open which I love.
I think its core sound is quite beautiful and characterful. So it finds its way into a lot of tunes!
What are some of the stand-out features from your point of view?
You can modulate the pitch of each of the 3 oscillators individually which can make for some woozy lush chord sounds, and it has loopable envelopes which is an interesting feature than none of my other synths have.
Prior to using it for the first time, how did you acquaint yourself with the MFB Synth Pro? Will you usually consult a manual before starting to work with a new device – and what was that like for the MFB Synth Pro?
I’m a bit lazy when it comes to this stuff and want to get straight in, so I fired her up and started tweaking! Tried to get a feel for the main controls and save a few presets if I made a decent sound.
The only manual that came with it was German too so for the odd thing that I wanted to figure out and remember I’d look up the PDF of the English one on the MFB website.
Tell me a bit about the interface of the MFB Synth Pro – what does playing it feel like, what do you enjoy about it, compared to some of your other instruments?
It’s pretty logical, for the most part every knob has a specific job, so once you get used to a couple of button functions it’s not too complicated which I love.
Like a lot of analog synths when you play it you get a sense of its inconsistencies and imperfections which is always loads of fun.
How would you describe the sonic potential of the MFB Synth Pro?
I find it to be a warm, capable and sonically distinctive synth that is a perfect projector for some lovely chords. It’s an 8 voice poly, with loads of parameters and a unique tone, which for £750 is a pretty brilliant snatch in my eyes!
In which way does the MFB Synth Pro influence musical results and what kind of compositions does it encourage / foster?
That’s a tricky one as it’s quite versatile.
I have been drawn to the quite open, wavy sounds it’s capable of. It can be fun to record two takes of a part in different octaves and pan them, and especially if there’s slightly different vibrato rates on each, shit gets rich!
Being drawn to those sorts of sounds from the MFB I think has added a slightly ethereal, emotive feeling to the tracks it’s on.
Could you describe working with the MFB Synth Pro on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I made ‘Galacticon’, the first single from this project, not long after I got the Synth Pro.
I had been playing the 3 chords whenever I sat down at the piano for a while, and having recently acquainted myself a little bit with the MFB I knew a rich, unfiltered sound would suit the wide open voicings of the chords. Before I knew it, it was dialled in and recorded! It’s such a simple tune and those chords are the missing element that comes in halfway through.
To me ‘Galacticon’ wouldn’t make sense without those chords and that synth sound.
How does the MFB Synth Pro interact with some of the other tools in your studio?
It’s really the only polysynth I’ve been using lately, so it’s an integral fixture! Occasionally there’s room for a Juno or something but the MFB is definitely my main synth for chords.
I use the Korg MS-20 quite a lot, which I find has a super warm analog sound, and with it on a bass or melodic line and the MFB on the chords I’m often happy as a dog in a pond.
[Read our feature on the Juno 106]
Are there other artists working with the MFB Synth Pro whose work you find inspiring? What do you appreciate about their take on it?
Other than the demo video with Stimming there are none that I’m aware of, although I’m sure there are others who have found it and love it like me, and I’d love to know who they are and what they’re making!
How do you see the relationship between your instruments and the music you make?
I see instruments as sorts of vessels for communicating melodic, harmonic or rhythmic ideas. The same way painters have different paintbrushes for different purposes, each instrument has a distinctive character which affects how the idea will be realised and conveyed.
Sometimes an instrument can birth an idea, but usually for me it’s the melody / chords / beat that I’m realising via the instrument.
Some see instruments and equipment as far less important than actual creativity, others feel they go hand in hand. What's your take on that?
I would agree, very little equipment is needed to be creative. A microphone and a voice are all you need to make a great recording.
That being said, unusual instruments and machines can lead to unexpected sounds that are often welcome additions in a track and can even be the seed that leads to something bigger!
More often than not for me however, creativity starts with something musical in my head that I attempt to translate into audio via an instrument.
In the light of picking your tools, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I don’t think those ideas are necessarily mutually exclusive, why can’t something be original and timeless? The Beatles and Radiohead spring to mind. Perfection on the other hand isn’t something that’s worth pursuing, in my opinion, in music or any other art form. The imperfection is very often where the magic lies in music, in every element and at every stage of the process.
With regard to ‘continuing a tradition’ and ‘music of the future’ I believe to make anything, musical or otherwise, without the influence of the past is pretty much impossible. I think all artists have a kind of creative DNA formed by life experiences and art that they’ve been exposed to since birth, which can’t be rewritten and will come out one way or another whether you like it or not!
Traditions morph and evolve, and as long as people are exploring music – originality / innovation are inevitable.