VTOL Instruments

Musicians. ‘Producers’. We like to fetishise our musical instruments. Whether it’s guitarists salivating over their priceless vintage Gibson SG or synthesists going all weak-kneed about their vintage Russian modular system; we all like to bang-on about our ‘kit’. It gives us our signature sound, it looks nice and it suggests musical knowledge and authenticity. Geeky Disco (@geekydisco on Twitter) talks about hardware vs software in a recent blog post, which is pretty thought-provoking stuff for music fetishists…..his well-written missive (here) highlights some of the motivation for using hardware and, particularly, classic vintage hardware or hardware that emulates vintage kit.

Anyway, in my opinion, having used software and hardware to make music; my view is that it doesn’t matter to the listener. If a musician makes good music, it doesn’t matter what equipment has been used. Personally, I tend to favour hardware for creating sounds, but software for sequencing and recording. But, as Geeky Disco points out, it’s as much a question of economics as taste. ‘Plugins’ are cheap or free, while hardware (particularly analogue gear) is relatively expensive.


Anyway, to adhere to the instrument fetishism, here’s a pointless run-down of gear I used when recording the album ‘VTOL’.

Alesis Fusion: a lovely, quirky, slightly outdated keyboard that claims to do everything but is flawed and occasionally does it’s own thing. It saves everything to hard-disk, so you can use massive samples! It isn’t at all analogue, but it emulates analogue synths pretty well. It’s got loads of synth engines inside: VA, FM and acoustic modelling. It’s my main keyboard instrument and mainly provided pads , drums and electric piano sounds on the album, played ‘live’….er….except the drums which I sequenced.

Korg MS20mini: not a ‘real’ MS20, but an authentic facsimile which uses the same filters and analogue circuitry. This is my other much-used instrument…..squelches, drones and squiggly sounds are its oeuvre and I love it. It provided the arpeggios on most of ‘Finish Line’, ‘Genes’ and ‘Pollution’.

Elektron Monomachine: harsher and cleaner than the MS20, this draws on the sounds of the Commodore SID chip and some incredibly searing analogue/digital hybrid sounds. Its filter is massive and can blow your monitors up. It was used on virtually all the tracks on the album.

Ableton Live: my sequencer/recorder of choice. It does everything really well and controls all my kit with no problems. As the adverts say, it allows for a smooth “workflow” (ugh!).

Rickenbacker 4003 bass: I’m a bassist in that I use a bass to occasionally record with. But my technique is ham-fisted and, shall we say, ‘unconventional’! But I always wanted a Ricky when I was young and it’s got a lot of sonic options in its circuits: from extremely deep and full to tinny and twangy.

JHS Vintage fretless bass: cheap and cheerful, but actually quite playable and with a wide range of tones. It was used for the solo at the end of ‘These Days’…..not the Joy Division track; the track with me and Nita Disaster!

So there you are. Not sure what the point of it was, but I feel gratified, at least!



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