Our new interview series Circle of Questions is an experiment. It is about taking a step back and giving a bit more space to the artists themselves. It is an opportunity for artists to ask fellow artists questions, and share their reflections with the community. For our very first round Mary Yuzovskaya, Michał Wolski, Amandra, Raär and Grand River each got the chance to help shape this first instalment of our new format by freely choosing questions and interview partner, giving us small glimpses into nerdy deliberations on gear, the best snacks for long hours in the studio or practical advice when writer’s block hits. Every week for the next five weeks we will be sharing one set of questions with you – first one up being Mary Yuzovskaya and Michał Wolski.

Mary Yuzovskaya: Michał, what have you been currently working on?

Michał Wolski: The pandemic period has extended the time I spend in my music studio a bit. This has resulted in many, many tracks and sketches – and several projects are crystallizing. I try not to idle, and devote as much time as possible to music composition. Right now I’m working on my next album and a few more EPs. Collaborative projects are also being worked on. Quite an intense time. I’m also finalizing some mastering projects for other artists and labels. Mastering, which I have been doing for many years, is yet another facet of my musical activity. 

Tell us about your studio. What do you use, what are your favorite synths or machines? Is there any piece of equipment you think your studio is missing? If there is, what is it?

In my studio work I try to combine software tools and hardware. These two worlds complement each other wonderfully. Speaking of software, I’m particularly fond of Native Instruments’ Reaktor, because of the access to dozens and hundreds of wonderful synthesizers, sequencers, experimental solutions that are created by users for users. These ideas spark my imagination in unexpected ways. Reaktor is a bottomless pit. It’s one of the most important music apps for me. So is Maxforlive, which is a Max/MSP environment, optimized for use inside Ableton Live. I’ve also been exploring the Pure Data environment a bit, though more as a user of pre-built solutions. For example Automatonism is very close to me because of its modular architecture and the sound quality. It’s a really great program. I am also a huge fan of solutions created by Giorgio Sancristoforo, the creator of Gleetchlab, among others. It’s an absolutely fantastic idea. From other favorites I would also point out the Aalto modular synthesizer, which in its time was one of the most used programs by me. I also like to use Surge, a truly complex synthesizer. Also, Reason, Ableton Live or VCV Rack, which brought the world of modular synthesizers to laptops in an accessible way, has been close to me for years. 

Despite many great applications, the heart of my studio is the modular system, which I have been gradually developing for years. Its character revolves quite intensively around FM synthesis, which is very close to my music taste. The whole thing is controlled by Elektron Octatrack, which I love mainly because of the MIDI sequencer. This tool is absolutely irreplaceable. Also, I recently came back to Monomachine, also by Elektron. Recently I’ve got Tracker in my studio, made by Polyend, a Polish company I support very much. Tracker sheds new light on the way I make music. Nowadays, it seems quite a unique solution – although trackers are known from the 90s and before. Definitely a refreshing tool.

There is also another device that is particularly close to my heart. It is the OP-1, an inconspicuous synthesizer, sampler and multitrack recorder, which is one of the most powerful tools I have ever had to deal with. I can’t imagine my studio without this equipment.

I should also mention a tablet, which changed the way I work with music. Since years it’s been one of the most important tools in my studio – whether it comes to sequencing or synthesizing sounds. My studio wouldn’t exist without tape recorders either. Although lately I’ve been using tapes a bit less often than usual, for me tape is one of the most important mediums, the sound of which I love.

What is missing? Some time ago I sold an old Groovebox by Roland – the MC505. It was the first synthesizer I ever bought in my life, many years ago. Although at the time the sale was necessary because I needed to raise funds for one of my modular synth modules, in retrospect I feel that I should have raised the money in a different way. There are a few synths I sold that I miss… The moral is: selling a synth is usually a controversial decision. Be careful.

When you perform live: What is your set up, what do you use at a gig? Do you play hardware only sets or do you use a computer too?

For the past few years I’ve been using a laptop and a midi controller, a drum machine or sampler and a tablet during my live acts. Since a lot of my work is created using a modular system, during live acts I improvise using pre-recorded sequences which are no longer possible to recreate due to the ephemeral nature of working with a modular system. I also add sounds coming from the tablet, where either a virtual drum machine or a granular synthesizer is running. There are many fantastic solutions that turn the tablet into an extremely rich and unpredictable instrument. I also use the tablet to control Ableton Live. 

During live acts, I like to use either the Korg Electribe SX1 or the Electribe MX1. Both of them are fantastic when it comes to programming drum lines. So my live acts are a combination of the digital and hardware worlds. Sometimes I perform using a modular system, but it’s rather for more experimental concerts – when it comes to techno, in my experience, a laptop, tablet, midi controller and a drum machine works great.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

In my day-to-day musical work I deal with techno on the one hand, and more experimental, ambient forms on the other. When it’s hard to get the flow and lightness of the rhythmic forms, then I start writing some more abstract, non-rhythmic music. And when I feel that it’s getting stuffy in this space with no clear rhythm, then I start focusing on rhythm and the textures that fill it. So far this balancing act between the two poles works well.

What’s your passion outside the music?

Probably “passion” is too big a word, but I feel it’s photography. I love taking pictures. The phone I carry with me is always primarily a camera to me. While it still pales in comparison to a DSLR or even a compact camera, being able to take pictures with something you almost always have with you is fantastic.

Curious to hear what Michał Wolski wants to know from Amandra? Find out next week when we share the second part of our Circle of Questions #1!

In the meantime check out the artists of our first round here:
Mary Yuzovskaya
Michał Wolski
Grand River