Apr 302012

Follow the link and click on the Free Demo Pack to try a taste of the Barbed Wire Ear Candy sound pack!  These are a few hand picked free sounds from the rest of the hard edged, abrasive, harsh and bold yet musical samples.  While there why not give a listen to the audio previews to hear what this collection can sound like in a musical context.


Apr 282012

Recently Studio Wormbone spoke with Tom Shear, the mastermind behind the dark melodic electronic dance music of the band Assemblage 23.  As it turns out, when he’s not running the softsynths U-HE DIVA, Spectrasonics Omnisphere, and his vintage Sequential Circuits Pro One through guitar amp simulators he likes to dine with jackals.  Read on to find out more about his creative impulses and the new album Bruise.



[SWB]  The A23 website has a thorough FAQ page here about the band’s history, personnel, and general info.  In addition to what’s there can you say a little about what motivated you to start, and has the motivation to be a musician changed over the years as you’ve been polishing your craft?

I’ve always had an interest in music, even as a kid.  I used to ask for toy instruments all the time for Christmas when I was very young and my parents must’ve put up with a pretty horrific racket.  They were very supportive, though.  In 1979, I heard Gary Numan’s “Cars” and I knew at that moment that whatever made the strange sounds in that song was something I wanted to learn about.  The rest is history. haha

[SWB]  If you had to describe your music in terms of genre which genres might it be included in?

Hard to say.  We tend to tread this sort of uneasy ground between synth-pop and EBM.  We’re too heavy to be straight synth-pop, but not as heavy as the average EBM band either.

[SWB]  There are so many genres these days, in your opinion is it still worthwhile to describe a band’s style using genre references or have you found a better way to get the point across?

It’s less important than it used to be because everyone has access to pretty much any song ever at their fingertips, so they can check bands out themselves.  I wonder sometimes if bands slapping themselves with a genre label hurts more than helps them.  How many people never bother to discover other bands because they think they hate an entire genre?

[SWB]  When can we look forward to hearing A23 jump on the Dubstep bandwagon?  : )

Already did it back in 2007!  The Nerve Filter Dub of “Binary” on the “Binary” single was very influenced by the dubstep bands of that time.  This was the pre-wub era, though. haha

[SWB]  You’ve got seven previous full length releases and an new one just about to launch.  What can we look forward to with this next album “Bruise”?

I think it’s a very diverse album.  Style wise, it’s kind of all over the place.  But I think (or I hope, more accurately), that it still sounds coherent as an album and everything that is on there still sounds like A23.

[SWB]  Tell us about how a new A23 song typically comes into being from start to finish . . .

I keep a folder of ideas for an album pretty much from the time I’ve completed the previous album.  These are usually very quick sketches… basslines or chord progressions… just so I don’t forget them.  As time goes on and I accumulate more of these, I start weeding out the weaker material and flesh the stuff I like into full arrangements.  Lyrics and vocals usually come last.

[SWB]  What triggers inspiration for you?

It can really be anything.  You might hear a sequence of notes in the creaking of a rusty gate… you might hear a new style of music that inspires you… you might just improvise on a really cool synth sound.  I think inspiration can come from anywhere if you keep yourself open to it.

[SWB]  What role does production play in your creative process?

Quite a bit, actually.  So much of the music I was influenced by in the 80′s sounded cool because of the creative use of effects or sampling.  So I spend quite a bit of time building sounds and arrangements with layers and using the effects as just another part of the sound design.  It’s pretty amazing how drastically you can alter the sound of an instrument just using effects alone.

[SWB]  Your lyrics often follow dark themes.  Many songs seem to be about interpersonal relationships and introspection, though some might have political undertones like “How Can You Sleep” on the album Compass, or topics involving current world events like Katrina hitting New Orleans in the song “Madman’s Dream” on the album Meta.  There’s also a fantastically hypocritical vocal sample of Mr. Rush Limbaugh on one of the Nerve Filter songs that I’m always re-amused by whenever I hear it.  What makes you choose a particular lyrical or thematic topic when song writing?  Is the concept in place before the music is written?

It’s rare that the lyrics come first, but sometimes the musical and lyrical ideas develop independent of one another and get married together further down the road.  I keep a notebook and sometimes will just write down a combination of words or a phrase that comes to me that I think might be useful later.  For me, writing has always been a bit therapeutic, so the themes tend to be a bit darker.  It’s just a way to deal with things that bother me in a constructive way.

[SWB]  There’s a drool worthy list on the A23 website of equipment that you use.  (I for one was pleased to see that the mighty Oberheim Expander is still in your kit list as I’ve been lusting over one of those for years.)  In recent years it seems to have grown more in the software realm than hardware . . . is that due to personal preference or do you see software as the wave of the future?

I think the ideal set-up includes a bit of both, but there’s no doubt that software is the direction things are headed these days.  There are a lot of insanely good-sounding software instruments coming out these days and with computers only getting more powerful, it’s safe to say we will eventually reach a point where the two are indistinguishable.  Instruments like u-he’s Diva are already pretty damn close.  But, there’s different advantages to both.  The instant recall aspect of software instruments is insanely useful, but the more hands on approach of programming a synth with knobs is loads more fun than pushing imaginary ones on a softsynth.  And unfortunately, I had to get rid of the Xpander about a year ago when tax time came around.  A really fun instrument, but to be honest, I rarely used it in my own productions.

[SWB]  As far as gear/instruments go, are you more prone to owning a few highly versatile items, or a larger selection of ‘one trick pony’ specialty pieces?

Obviously, I prefer to work with instruments I can get a lot of mileage out of, but sometimes a one-trick pony can be cool if you need “that” sound.  But I honestly don’t think there are all that many one trick ponies as far as synths go… they are what you make of them.  Even if the synthesis options are limited, you can use effects to sculpt the sound further and take it beyond what it can sound like alone.  I’m a big fan of amp simulators for this purpose.

[SWB]  What’s your current favorite hardware?  Software?

Hardware, probably my Sequential Circuits Pro One, even though it’s in pretty rough shape. It won’t stay in tune, so sometimes I have to sample it, but it just has such a great, punchy sound.  So fantastic for basses.  Software, I used a lot of [Spectrasonics] Omnisphere on the new album and really love that one a lot.  Lots of programming possibilities and an amazing range of raw material to work from.  It can sound amazingly analog if you program it right.  I recently picked up u-he Diva and am loving that, although I haven’t used it on any productions yet.  It’s a processor hog, but it sounds so convincing.  It has really helped quell my lust for vintage analogs, as it can get pretty damn close and is really versatile.

[SWB]  What are some of the best musical samples you’ve created and how might they get applied in a song?

One that comes to mind is the piano part in “How Can You Sleep?” from “Meta”.  It’s layer of a grand piano, an ebow guitar, and the sort of metallic attack is a tune sample of me hitting the washing machine in my basement.  I really like the Alan Wilder approach to sound design where the sounds have both electronic and organic qualities to them.  Sampling is great for that sort of thing and synths like Camel Audio’s Alchemy are really useful for building your own sounds that way.

[SWB]  How often do you perform, and where?  How often would you prefer to perform, and where?

We’ve performed pretty much everywhere except South America and Asia at this point.  How often depends on if there’s a new album out or not, but we usually tour a few months out of the year in total.  I enjoy the live performance aspect, and particularly the travel, but it’s hard work, too, so you have to be careful not to burn yourself out.  I’d really like to get to Asia and South America so we can cross those off the list of places we’ve been lucky enough to visit.

[SWB]  During the traveling for your international shows do you have many chances to break away and sight see for pleasure?  If so, what have been some of the highlight locales you’ve been to . . .

Sometimes.  The thing you have to remember is that every day of a tour that you’re not playing a show, you’re losing money.  So typically, we try to tour as efficiently as we can, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to sight see, but every now and then you get a day off in a city you’ve never been to before and those are pretty awesome.  It’d be hard to highlight… every place has something special about it.  BBQing on a back porch in a game preserve in South Africa as the jackals cackled just a few yards away was something I’ll always remember, though.

[SWB]  What does your live performance setup consist of?

It’s extremely simple.  We run the backing tracks off an iPod.  It’s small, it’s quick and easy to throw together a set list, and if it breaks, it’s relatively cheap to replace and they’re available everywhere.  The keyboard player uses a controller to control his Access Virus C, which is usually split into several different zones to play different sounds.  Then we have a drummer who uses Roland e-drums.

[SWB]  With the radical shifts in the music industry in recent years (record labels shrinking, direct artist interaction with fan base via social networking, file sharing, etc) where do you see the business side of music going in the next 5 or ten years?

If I knew that, I’d be a millionaire.  I don’t believe that labels are going to totally disappear.  I think that until there is some “gatekeeper” to sort the wheat form the chaff, labels are going to be necessary.  That said, people are buying less music and downloading more, so it’s hard to see how labels will survive such a hostile environment. I think bands will need to focus on cultivating smaller, but more dedicated fans if they want to pursue music professionally.

[SWB]  How much time do you devote to promotion/business as opposed to being creative?

If you count time spent interacting with fans online or at shows, which I do, I spend much more time on the promotion side.  It’s about finding a balance, though.

[SWB]  Where can people go to find out more info about Assemblage 23?

Check out Assemblage23.com or Official Assemblage 23 on Facebook!


Apr 272012

This has been one of the most ubiquitous hardware compressors in pro recording studios for about the last 30 years.  After having personally used this software plugin extensively I can totally understand why.  This is one fantastic comp with lots of appealing character.  I particularly like it on snare and guitar.  Walk through it’s features in this helpful tutorial video.


Apr 262012

This Imogen Heap song could be described as being A Capella but it has a more synthetic feel since the backing parts are harmonized real time via midi controller.  I admit it took me a few listens before I was accustomed to the effect aesthetically but the beauty of the chords and melody are right there underneath the gadgetry.

Apr 262012

I’ve been recently re-inspired by this band after having listened to them on and off for over twenty years now.  It occurred to me that no two of their songs sound even remotely similar.  Considering they’ve recorded 40 plus albums and have many hundreds (if not over a thousand!) songs to their compositional credit, they are a true embodiment of original creativity.  Thank you Dots for many an hour of listening enjoyment.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.