Reeking Havok with the Experience Music Project
Pages: 1, 2

Tell me about another interactive EMP exhibit, DJ Neighborhood. How has that been in terms of expanding the public's awareness about viewing turntables as true instruments?

Well, if it's any indication, I bought my own turntable last year. Our boss, when DJ Neighborhood was launched five years ago, Interactive Technology Director Andrea Weatherhead, saw the big trends in hip-hop and had the foresight to include these beat-matching and turntable exhibits at EMP. A little-known fact is that the turntables in the exhibit are made from potters' wheels; my Dad's machine shop made the tone arms out of solid steel rods, which are almost indestructible!

Midi the Kitty guards Havoc's workstation
Midi the Kitty guards Havok's workstation, which is built around a Korg MS-20 Controller (with yellow patch cords), Mackie Control Universal (fader box at right), E-mu EIV keyboard, Waldorf Microwave XT, and Mac.

Speaking of custom music technology creations, what the heck is a Meurglys-X?

Oh, that's my latest creation. Meurglys-X is a techno rig on steroids. It combines a couple of beat boxes for grooves and real-time performance instruments, including an M-Audio Oxygen 8 keyboard and Roland's electronic hand drum, the Handsonic. I have eight effect units arranged in-line with a Line 6 POD guitar-effects box and a couple of Korg KAOSS-2 touchpads for controlling various effects parameters. Distorted congas will totally floor you in a heavy psycho-groove!

Over the years, I've been involved with many different bands, both as a member, a studio musician, or as a programmer and sound designer. I have a wild imagination and don't try to follow common trends or do what everyone else is doing. I take risks. As an artist, you owe it to yourself to follow your instinct and imagination and just try it when it comes to creating sounds.

Plug the "wrong thing" into a device on purpose. Use your drum pads to play keyboards and your keyboard to play drum sounds and see what happens. I sometimes run my drum machine through my pitch-to-voltage converter to see what happens. It can't find the pitch, so it shoots all over the place with this crazy synth pattern. It's painfully cool.

When I designed Meurglys-X and started making noise with it, I loved it. It's incredibly outside, noisy, wild, and weird—I started to wonder if I had gone too far. The first time I used it was with my good friend Eddy Ferguson. I threw this gear together and we showed up, unrehearsed, at EMP and played. He played bass and sang, and I pushed buttons, processed things to high hell and back, and played my electronic instruments like a wild man. Meurglys-X is fresh and unique, and I have a lot of fun with it, which is my primary goal.

How do you control all of that technology?

The controllers are, for me, the icing on the cake. Having all the mixing tools and software synths in a computer is great, but mixing with a mouse is like trying to control your studio through a hole in the wall. My Mackie Control Universal provides the hands-on control I need to really take control of a lot of this software, and it makes the Cubase SX automation easier to manage as well. I couldn't live without it. Well, maybe I could, but I'd be cranky.

Drum Kit
Reek Havok's electronic drum setup, "Meurglys-X," lets him live up to his name when playing live. (Jump to the music examples.)

Sidebar: Finding Your Signature Sound with Soft Synths

By Reek Havok

I've been bitten by the soft synth bug. Soft Synths are virtual synthesizers that live inside your computer. I have everything from gorgeous pianos (the Steinberg Halion Grand) and strings (Halion String Player) to emulations of classic synths like the Gmedia Oddity (an ARP Odyssey emulation) and ImpOSCar (Oscar synth) to new formulations such as Native Instruments' Absynth and one of my latest favorites, Steinberg's Xphraze.

Xphraze is a four-part multitimbral, polyphonic phrase synthesizer with full loop and tempo-sync capability. In plain English, that means Xphraze is four synths in one, with independent envelopes and step sequencers that synchronize with each other and with your song tempo. That helps it create some great textures and amazing patterns. You can edit a great variety of complex sounds in the Xphraze patch, but I like to take a different approach. This tip can be used for almost any software synthesizer, as they typically all have multiple sound generators, whether those are oscillators, samples, noise generators, or whatever.

Steinberg Xphraze
Steinberg Xphraze, co-developed by Wizoo, offers some surprisingly twisted sound-design capabilities.

Divide and Conquer. One of the best ways to get the most out of these sounds is to break them into their individual parts. In Xphraze, once I've identified a patch I want to use, I then simply turn on and off various components of the sound by selecting one of the A-B-C-D buttons in it. Sometimes, I find two that I'll leave together, but more frequently, I'll record the audio from each onto its own audio track. From that point, I can EQ, pan, distort, and destroy each sound individually. This helps to keep my sound palette fresh while providing me with the most flexibility. It's like adding new crayons to the box!

Here's how I do it in Cubase:

  1. Find a software synthesizer sound you like and record your MIDI track.
  2. Enable an audio track to record the first part of your soft-synth track. A few audio tracks will use far less CPU power than opening four copies of one synthesizer plug-in, so it's best to convert your synth parts into audio tracks.
  3. In Cubase, enable the part of the Xphraze synth you want.
  4. Solo that track and choose "Export/Mixdown" from the File menu, making sure the "Pool" and "Export to Track" options are enabled.
  5. Click OK. This records the output of that soloed track to a new track in Cubase.
  6. Repeat this for each individual component of the synthesizer you want. When you're finished, turn off the soft synth to free up CPU power for all the cool plug-in effect processors you can apply to each of these new individual tracks. I apply different reverbs, filters, delays, etc. to each individual component of that segregated sound.

With 5.1-channel surround sound becoming more significant, this technique allows me to pan various elements independently from each other and sum it all into a central channel. Or, maybe I'll take it across all channels at a specific moment in the song or film. I can distort some parts, EQ others, and even sum them back into a common reverb via a common bus. The result is a set of sounds that become uniquely your own.

Sidebar: Drummer on a Disc

As a high-tech drummer, Reek Havok has also helped develop an innovative software product called DrumCore. "It's something we developed originally for Paul Allen and have now turned into a commercial product," he says. "It combines a versatile loop library on disc with a very easy-to-use and blazingly fast search engine and sound-audition tool. It was beautifully recorded with some of the best drummers in the business, including Matt Sorum [Guns 'N' Roses, The Cult], Alan White [Yes, Plastic Ono Band], and Sly Dunbar [Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, Mick Jagger]."

Submersible Music Drumcore
Submersible Music DrumCore is a combination software synthesizer and sound-file database with gigabytes of live drumming samples. The Gabrielize button creates random variations for more flexibility.

"We took a unique approach by having them play basically the same grooves at 5 bpm increments," Havok continues. "Most drum-loop libraries rely on time-stretching software to provide the various tempos a composer or producer might need, which is OK in small increments, but drummers tend to play grooves differently at different tempos. Also, DrumCore allows the user to search by drummer, style, and tempo, and instantly search eight gigabytes of grooves in less than one second. You can also use it to find any sound file on a hard drive, which is very cool."

Reek Havok: Music Examples

Here are two MP3 excerpts from an improvisational performance Reek Havok did at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame on the Meurglys-X System.

Havok on the stairs