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overwhelmed: simplify March 17, 2007

Posted by taylor in Uncategorized.


sitting in bed this morning doing some stuff in Reaktor… and realizing that this program, more than others, simply has too many choices. i find myself never using it for this reason. it’s impossible to focus, there’s too much eye candy and its a perfect example of a tool getting in the way of productivity.

i’ve downloaded a LOT of ensembles from the reaktor library and am going to go into my folders today and delete 95% of it, maybe then i’ll focus on what i’ve created and the ensembles i find most inspiring… or else i fear i’ll never use the program again.

i’m curious if anyone else has similar feelings with reaktor, or another program, or audio software in general… feel free to chime in.



1. chriscousin - March 17, 2007

hi taylor

i’ve worked a little with reaktor and have been using MAX MSP recently and i feel the very same thing, except that the options available with max grow exponentially……

i find it helps to have an clear idea of what i want to do before i start to tinker, otherwise i get nowhere very quickly. i’m still not sure whether i’m cut out to be a progammer or whether i should stick to using third party tools

out of interest what tools do you normally use ?



Bathysphere Recordings

2. 12kblog - March 17, 2007

definitely having a clear idea as well as limiting yourself to a select group of instruments/tools for any given project…

i’ve been getting a bit back into some of my hardware synths lately. the past 4 or 5 tracks i’ve done have all had Jupiter-8 and Oberheim Xpander in them.. but mostly i use software like Kyma, MX4, FM8…Cube….. i haven’t used reaktor much lately, although i still use it from time to time.. and i have a few other soft synths as well… and other hardware synths (microwave XT, and a small pile of old analogs)… i’m sort of addicted to sound design.. so i love new synthesizers.. theh problem is.. the subject of this posting… too many choices.

i think if i had to keep only one sound tool in the studio it would be either Kyma or the nord G2 modular…

one reason reaktor frustrates me is the eye candy.. it really bugs me when people put scopes and things in their patches that have no analytical value or real-world use whatsoever besides making trippy graphics. it should be about SOUND.

3. wndfrm - March 17, 2007

i definately concurr with the ‘kid in a candy store’ bit.. (sic).. it’s very easy to lose track of what you want to do (make music), and get lost in the mechanism of doing this..

having said that, those same mechanisms are designed for exploring, and often surprise and delight us with new ways we can use them, which we would never find without exploring..

around and around we go..

4. 12kblog - March 17, 2007

yes, it definitely goes both ways… the new technology brings about all sorts of new paths and inspirations… i justify it by having a lot of tools at hand, but limiting myself from project to project…

so, overall, i have a lot (too much) to choose from, but when i get down to it i only choose a small handful…

5. billjarboe - March 18, 2007

a problem i have with many synthesizers manufactured these days is that they might make interesting sounds; when i choose to play a synthesizer i usually don’t want interesting sounds, i want a particular sound.

although theoretically the designs of many of the machines are good; the way parameters are represented isn’t always musically useful. physical modelling synths, for example may give the keyboardist choices, yet the choices result in approximating something usually different from the something i hear in my head.

it might be good if software and hardware designers could figure out ways to be less jaded and overstimulated. even if someone is responsive to customer feedback; a request for ‘spacious’ could result in 5:1 surround sound, which might be a nice idea yet nothing like the spacious the musician had in mind.

of course, i like software synthesizers because they often don’t sound like they are trying to sound like something else. the strangeness and kind of alienation is what makes them fun.

6. 12kblog - March 18, 2007

that’s one reason i like modular synthesizers (kyma, nord mod, reaktor, etc).. becuase you can start with a blank slate…

i do a lot of programming on the nord G2 because i can get the sound i WANT, for a given track.

another approach that i find works well is that when you’re in the middle of working on a song and looking for the next sound.. i’ll take out a synth (often hardware) and just start building a new sound that fits exactly into place in the song i’m working on. this may not lead to an interesting sound on its own, or out of context, but something that fits specificially into the track i’m working on… with the filter, envelopes, etc, tuned to just the right settings to work..

this is often the way savvas ysatis and i work together.. everything gets built up from scratch, building on the previous sound..

7. steinbruchel - March 19, 2007

for me less is also in this discussion more. out of the endless technological possibilities i usually tend to choose nothing (or almost nothing) over all that is possible.

the most important aspect (in my opinion) is to have a very clear vision of what you want to achieve. i had my shares of trying out all the plugins and trying to work with max/msp and installing reaktor but never getting past the presets stage mainly because i always was more interested in “making music” then reading manuals. jitter looks interesting, but i just know that this will not be my world and i like the sound of supercollider (a friend of mine here in zurich is doing amazing stuff with it), but when i look at this screen and watch him working i’m just to confused…

nowadays, i just work with one max/msp patch (not programmed myself i must confess, which always bugs me, but the sound and possibilities are amazing and just exactly what i’m looking for… so why change it, just that i can say i did it myself?) and about three or four plugins and use logic pro for sequencing. but even in logic pro would assume, that i probably use only about 5% of the technology that the program contains…

same goes with mobile phones (for instance, please fill in whatever technological gadget you’d like). what is all this techno crap for? it’s a phone and i want to use it as a phone. i don’t want to take any pictures or read emails or anything… to much to choose from…

i’ve used to work with a nord modular, but now it’s packed in a box since years (anybody interested in acquiring?), also because it seemed to complicated for me… maybe i’m just not the right type of person for this kind of music, but i’m more happy with my music now then years ago, when i used about 10x as much technological gadgets for creating it…

8. 12kblog - March 19, 2007

ralph, you bring up a lot of nice points… especially about having a clear vision of what you want to achieve… however, i feel that even when i think i have a clear vision, the outcome can often be quite different.

i agree too about being more interesting in making music than coding.. although, i find the Nord Modular to be incredibly intuitive and easy to program, and use it quite a bit.. for me, between the big 3 “do everything” programs… which i consider to be Reaktor, Max/MSP, and Kyma.. i have basically chosen Kyma as the one to concentrate on. i never got along well with MSP and have never actually put it to use…

i’m very impressed that you work with one MSP patch.. definitely a streamlined approach that i envy! although, the gear-lover in me would never be able to be that restrained 🙂

one thing that i’ve been concentrating on for the past couple+ years, and i think that a lot of electronic musicians such as ourselves really need to spend more time doing… is focusing on recording quality and mixing techniques. for our style of music, sound is everything.. and far too many artists out there would rather add another synthesizer to their collection than a nice outboard compressor or EQ…or the best quality plug ins for your DAW (things like the UAD-1) it’s just something i’ve been thinking about a lot lately and trying to move myself towards.

i strive to simplify, but i have trouble doing it.. but it is certainly always at the front of my mind.

i, too, may sell my nord modular keyboard.. as i have modular G2.. so, sadly, the modular 1 doesn’t get used very much.. but i tend to have attachments to equipment i’ve used a lot.. so it’s hard to get rid of..

9. steinbruchel - March 20, 2007

of course the outcome can be quite different and also in my case most of the times is. one of the main reasons that keeps me interested in continuing working on music: the tracks and sequences always come out different then i’ve imagined, but it’s very important to have a vision to know where to start and then let yourself be guided by the musical flow and the moment and not be guided by technological circumstances and the manual.

i think my problem with the nordmodular is, that the sound is to clean and cold for my taste, but maybe i just haven’t got past the bleepy and clonky stage. it just always sounded to artificial for me…

is kyma difficult to work with? i don’t know why but i’m just not a gear-lover at all. i only change a part of my working method, when i’m not satisfied anymore and have the feeling that i can’t discover anything new with the situation i’m in.

most of the little money i spend on technical stuff is for soundcards and mastering plugins, etc. you’re definitely right concerning the eq and mastering plugins. i’m happy to be able to work on my sound with not one internal or external synthesizer. i just don’t like to work with them… and i’d rather spend all my money on an eq or some similar plugin.

10. phijel - March 20, 2007

Don’t you believe that, on a certain level, and because of the infinite level of possibilities technology is offering, most of the time, things just happen accidentally ? And that it is part of the process.

I think that chance and randomness are playing a bigger role in electronic music than any other style, precisely because it seems impossible for a normal human brain to assimilate all the potential of these technologies, and even more to anticipate the result of complex interaction between all these tools, (besides, how can you to stay continuously up to date with it ? – you’re all alone, when team of engineers are working hard to get the “new version” of this and that out, and you didn’t even had the time to start reading the manual for the “old” one)

11. 12kblog - March 20, 2007


yeah, the nord is very clean…. not always so cold though. in fact, i’d say it quite fits your own style.. i think your sounds are very clean and precise. and yes, certainly it sounds artificial. it’s supposed to sound like a synthesizer…. although it can do some quite interesting physical modelling, it really excels at being synthetic.

kyma can be very difficult to work with, yes. like any of these programs you can modify on basic levels and program on deep levels. and kyma really works beautifully on all levels. some basic knowledge of algebraic math helps a lot with kyma…and it can definitely get too “programmy” for me.. as i, like you, prefer to make sounds.. not crunch numbers. however, it’s kyma’s incredible sound quality (and support) that make it so unique.

and yes, having the right EQs and mixing tools for the job is very important. there are a lot of plug ins out there that don’t do your sound quality any good.. and there are a lot that are wonderful and musical.

12. steinbruchel - March 20, 2007

yes, i know that accidents and chance can play an important role in music. but i wouldn’t necessarily rely on it… i know that many artists work with a certain degree of randomness, but i want to be able to controll the amount of how random something is.

with accepting chance in the creation of music, i would in my case rather describe it as “letting yourself be guided through the process of making the music and the music itself”.

now on to the reply of taylor:
i try to achieve a sound that is clean and precise and organic and warm at the same time. certainly a contradiction, but one i focus on very much. i think the thing with the modular for me is, that i spent a certain amount of time with it (years ago) and it didn’t come to the point where i was satisfied with it and then i kind of lost interest. and as long as i’m happy with the sound i’m using nowadays and still feel challenged everyday i don’t even want to think about getting used to some new tool. still to much to explore with the tech stuff in front of my hands… when i get bored with that and the music i create, then i’ll either stop or move on into whatever direction…

concerning kyma, i’m sure it’s great and i’m sure you can do excellent stuff with it. it probably, as with any other technological tool or gadget, just takes a certain amount of time to get used to it and learn how it functions, before you actually can start working just on music.

i remember how i started working with my first sampler (probably now something between 10 and 15 years ago). anyway, it took me at least six months until i understood where and how i have to store the sounds so they where still at the same place when i turned the damn thing on again 🙂

13. 12kblog - March 20, 2007

sometime around 1991, or 1990 or something… i had a pile of cheap synthesizers, what i could afford a the time.. but quite a few things, maybe a half dozen or so + a couple drum machines.

at one point, i sold EVERYTHING and bought a single Emax keyboard sampler (quite high tech at the time)..and my entire studio was reduced to one Emax, a kawai K4 synth, and a yamaha Rx5 drum machine. one sampler, one synth, one drum machine.

i got to know those devices SO well, and knew so many tricks and ways around them, it was fantastic…

i could never bring myself to purge like that these days, but the point was made to me long ago…

14. ishishiba - March 21, 2007

hiya taylor…
i always wondered if you used much max/msp, so your earlier post answered this! i find it interesting regarding your comments about reaktor as i’ve read in interviews you saying that you use it. as a reaktor user i agree with your sentiments, as i could spend way too much time building ensembles instead of actually making music.
i think there are two kinds of reaktor users: those who are synth programmers and get pleasure from designing machines, and those who are music makers and enjoy designing sounds. i guess i’m more of the latter.
by the way taylor, you said you will delete 95% of your ensembles, so i’d be interested to know what is in the 5% that remains. i’m assuming things you have built yourself, but can you please tell me what ensembles you like from the factory or user library? also, have you ever uploaded one of your self-made synths to the UL?
thanks, darren

15. 12kblog - March 21, 2007

no, i don’t really use max/msp. i actually own it, because they gave me a great deal on it… but, i quickly realized that between kyma, reaktor, and the nord modular.. i really don’t need another big modular system.

oh, don’t get me wrong, i DO use reaktor.. it just frustrates me sometimes. and i, like you, would rather spend my time making sounds with it than creating my own ensembles. sadly, i gave up programming my own ensembles years ago when the user library got so big.. basically, anything i could ever want is up there, and done better than i could program it. but, considering every reaktor ensemble is an entire synth or processor in its own right i find more than enough room for originality. as well, i know reaktor enough to replace a module here or there if i find myself needing something different.

and yes, definitely 2 different breeds of reaktor users… i really WISH that i had the programming chops to just whip up some crazy ensembles.. but, my time is limited and i find what i need already made.

yes, i still need to clean up my ensemble folders.. i keep a folder called “favorites” which will probably remain.. various sample processors. i tend to use reaktor more for sample processing than synthesizers, as i have other software and hardware synthesizers i use.. for example, i have no reason to use reaktor as an analog synth emulator when i have a Jupiter 8 and Xpander sitting right next to me.

i’ve never uploaded a reaktor ensemble.. haven’t done anything that wasn’t already done.. i did, however, upload some Absynth patches that were really well received..

16. brucelev - March 21, 2007

Interesting that this topic should come up. I’m not a musician, but I blogged about a related topic not too long ago, referencing some things Eno and Markus Popp said about software interfaces and art.


17. subbasshead - March 24, 2007

Whenever i get overwhelmed with the technology in my studio i just love turning it all off & only using a mic and portable hard disk recorder to find the next sound… the rich harmonics of acoustically generated sound is always so refreshing to the ears, brain & aesthetics & it always makes me appreciate the digital world even more, for what it can & cannot do…

18. 12kblog - March 25, 2007

bruce, that’s an interesting read… this in particular caught my attention:

“The main point I took away from Eno and Popp is that we should be aware that software (any tool, really) is biased. We shouldn’t get fooled into thinking that just because we have lots of options and we are choosing between them that we have total freedom. The fact is that some options will be easier to use, or easier to choose, and those will emerge more often in works created with that tool.”

this is one of the reasons i have a lot of tools in my studio. take Kyma for example.. kyma can, probably literally, do anything i want. it is so powerful.. however, i’m not going to use Kyma to generate some basic (or not so basic) synthesizer tone. for that, i can turn to an analog synth, or a well designed piece of software (MX-4, for example) and get the job done much quicker.. and get on to writing music. sure, i can make such a sound in Kyma, but i have other tools that were designed to get to that end quicker, leaving me more time to write music than program.

19. donnachacostello - March 30, 2007

Hi Taylor.

Hope you’re well.

It was quite timely for me that you should blog about this issue

I recently had this conversation with some friends. I finished in a standing position almost shouting about how I just want a few simple items, each performing a single function very very well.

I’m so sick of things that ‘do everything’ or claim to offer (near) infinite possibility. I’ve just sold half of my studio equipment for this reason. I don’t want it around.

I think the problem stems from equipment manufacturers and software programmers ignoring the fact that the merits of choice tend to diminish exponentially.

I’m guessing their research shows them that the ‘market’ demands more choice, whether the ‘market’ realises the implications or not.

Having 2 choices might be better than having 1. However, is having 202 choices really better than having 201?

2002 choices better than 2001?



20. 12k - April 17, 2007

hi donnacha,

sorry for the late reply… yeah, i agree about having instruments that do one thing well, and not do everything… it’s the reason i always disliked “workstation” keyboards… music that came out of them always sounded like they came from one instrument… always a bit boxed in and ‘samey”….

also, it’s frustrating when software companies release updates with MORE FEATURES, MORE FEATURES MORE FEATUERS!! what about improving the features we have! what about making the programs run more smoothly… what about improving the GUI>

for example, i don’t want Ableton Live to have more features! the reason it works so well in a live situation is that it’s simple and really good at doing what it does… they’re overcomplicating it.

i’m a dedicated Digital Performer user.. have been since 1990 when it was just Performer. out of all of the updates that have come out, each update, i usually use 1 or 2 new features.. out of 5 or 10 offered.. i guess not everyone will use everything.. but i honestly can’t think of what else they, or other major pieces of software (photoshop… etc) can add that would actual be useful..

programs start feeling bloated.. and, it will never stop!

i agree.. 2 is better than 1… but 200 is worse than 1

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