Name: Bruno Cardoso aka Xinobi
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current release: Xinobi's new album, Balsame, is out via Discotexas.
Gear Recommendations: The Arturia V-Collection - All the synths you dream about are there, as virtual instruments, though.
UAD LA2A - it brings any instrument to the front of a mix.
If you enjoyed this interview with Xinobi and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
What was your first studio like?
Just like many other producers, I started the “bedroom studio” way. I think I had a decent desktop computer where I would jump between Propellerhead Rebirth and Fruity Loops, discovering my own ways of making electronic music just for the fun of it.
I had a pair of Cambridge Soundworks PCworks speakers with a really nice sub. To these days I still think these speakers have an extraordinary sound to listen to music, but they were definitely not a good reference for mixing music. I had the most basic Shure microphone, maybe a sv200, that I used to shyly record guitars or vocal elements. I had a Marshall ValveState 8240 amplifier and an Epiphone guitar and, finally, an Aiwa sound system to record to and from cassettes.
Zero acoustic treatment. My bed probably served as a bass trap. (laughs)
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?
To start with, I first improved my guitar oriented gear as I was part of a punk-rock band at the time. So I got a Gibson SG and a Fender Deluxe amp which kept helpful and used through all the following years on my music production.
Then, of course, I switched to more thrilling software, first with Propellerhead Reason and later with Ableton Live, better sound cards and better speakers, Akai and Behringer midi keyboards and controllers and quality headphones such as the HD25. At some point I started to share a studio space with Moullinex and he already had a bunch of synths and a really good pair of Event Opal speakers. We DIYed acoustic treatment in a very empiric way in a small cavernous room we rented in Lisbon in what became the test tube for the Discotexas studio. Then we moved to a bigger room, with more professional acoustic treatment, but still very DIY placed and we also got UAD system. For me personally that marks a huge step in terms of my music production. It was the moment I finally felt I was getting a really decent sound out of my mixes etc.
Finally, 2 years ago we started a new studio, with two rooms, professionally treated to sound amazing by Arda Recorders. It’s now possible for us to work at the same time, record drums, do our rehearsals etc. Me and Moullinex released 3 tracks together. Each one was made in one of the 3 studios we had so far.
[Read our Moullinex interview]
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?
I’ve forced myself to avoid installing 1000s of plugins or to build a huge sample bank, or I end up getting lost browsing through everything and I get tired even before I actually start doing music. And in the end I just go for my all time favorite 808 kick drum. (laughs)
So I like to introduce new stuff once in a while, normally around more ambitious releases, such as an album, so that new magic can happen. In my opinion that is enough to keep my output fresh.
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?
I love both. I make a lot of music on my couch. It’s amazing how a laptop with great software and headphones allows me to do that.
Normally I start projects at home, and take them to the studio for further development. The comfort at home is amazing, but nothing beats a great treated room with really good speakers as, especially for dance music, nothing will beat a club with a great sound system. I’m really grateful I can do music whenever I want and at any place, but I’m even more grateful we managed to build a studio to expand creativity. So there’s not a clear favorite situation between the handy laptop + headphones and the almost perfect conditions of a proper studio.
One of my own favorite tunes was completely made at home, with my computer, headphones and an electric piano I had just offered my wife that has midi connectivity:
For the curious this kind of summarizes my behavior in the studio:
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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?
Every time technology evolves I get the chance to add something new to my music by experimenting with new things. But I also love the reliability of an old guitar. So it’s amazing to gather the old and the new on production. It’s really healthy.
And I say this confessing at the same time I’m very “everything done inside the box” type of producer. 95% of my synths are VST, I rarely use outboard to record or mix. But I’m not a machine and I like external organic sonic textures, human mistakes and analog harmonics. That’s why I rely on guitars, basses and vocals to sum humanity to everything I do on the computer.
A great example of this approach is using the latest Arturia, a bass, a guitar, a vocal looper in most of the tracks from Balsame, being the opening track a great example:
All recorded at home (as the studio construction was paused due to lockdowns) and produced in Ableton with mostly Arturia and UAD plugins.
It’s also interesting how the tech of releasing music evolves, this song was out on both Vinyl, Mp3, Stream, video and NFT. The old and the new, hand in hand.
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 have these phases where I'll start like 10 tracks in a couple of days, and leave them for later development. Sometimes it takes some weeks or months to re-work and potentially finish them if I feel they are worth it. I might also group some that potentially could fit well together on an ep or an album.
Truth is, when doing bigger projects like an album I definitely go through old demos, sometimes years old, and see if there’s a fit. But sometimes I feel that archiving too much grounds you a lot to random ideas so sometimes it’s better to go absolutely spontaneous - a lot of times I mission myself to do an entire track to release some weeks after as a single, with no pressure at all. Just a release, no overthinking, no second thoughts. It’s a great exercise, and a pretty liberating strategy to release music and balance our attachment to all our other sketches that we take forever to finish.
I made this song in one day and released it soon after and it was really liberating in a phase I was almost finishing my album and really stressed about it.
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 always leave space for randomness and mistake.There are various ways to approach an empty project. Some producers I know start with a super defined idea of what they want. I rather let the things get jammy and open.
Most of the software I use has random modes that I sometimes use. To be honest, one thing I love to do is picking something I don’t really know or understand how it works and explore it in a completely naive way. Music is a great place to improvise with the toys you don’t totally understand.
Computers, Vsts and controllers made a heaven of possibilities for self taught-artists like me. I probably don’t use a lot of instruments the way they are supposed to be used because I don’t fully understand them so there’s a lot of space for new experiences.
I’ve even have a track where I used high latency on purpose to get an “off grid” piano melody. 1m30s into my track "Skateboarding" you’ll hear that piano.
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?
I think the concept might stay the same regardless of the final musical result. Production tools definitely suggest compositional ideas and song moods. They corrupt very easily any idea you were bringing into the studio and trigger ideas you were not even considering. Especially if you browse presets to get inspired as I commonly do.
But if you get to know your gear and software you will also go directly to what you think might serve an idea you were considering before entering the studio. For example, I know if I want to go cinematic I would rather use a CS80 simulator instead of a Roland TB 303 bass line. However, I always leave space to be surprised by the software while trying new sounds.
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?
100% important. I think I’m a control freak. I like to be present from scratch until it gets released. I only skip the mastering part.
I love the challenge of the mixing process event though, to be honest, I don’t completely understand what I’m doing when mixing. I put a lot of heart and empiric strength on it. I actually believe in creative mixing and that the mix might be the ultimate personality stamp on a piece of music. I only gave one song of mine to someone else to mix, and it got really well mixed and I was super happy with it. The mixer really understood my music personality and mixed it in a way that suits me. I think I’ll do it a few more times in the future.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
The biggest change really happened when I opened a computer to try to make music by myself for the first time. Suddenly I was able to do proper music with only a computer and little knowledge. I was used to the need of a band, a proper studio, a rehearsal space etc. So having the almost exact opposite way of doing music in my bedroom was really appealing.
It even moulded what I was doing in my Fine Arts University course. Suddenly I could easily incorporate sound in all my works to a point that my last presentation to the teachers was basically music-driven and not so visual. They liked it as it was completely unusual there.