Meet Cikira

music explorer and dance devotee

"Cikira" is the creative side of "Amanda"

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Meet the studio mascots

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...an AIBO litter! "Who's that lookin'?" "Ya' don't say?"

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Cikira talks about G.A.S.

(Gear Acquisition Syndrome)

A Q & A session with Fuse and members of the Dutch Synth Forum at www.synthforum.nl in November, 2003

Fuse:

We have lots of questions which we like you to answer.
We picked out the best (and left out the worst) since there were so many of them.

Heh, thanks, Fuse, for leaving out the worst! I am occasionally alerted to some horrifying legends and speculations about myself on forums all over the world, so I'll begin by countering several theories I have seen out there, which you were (fortunately) too polite to ask about!

  1. No, my site is NOT an April Fool's joke!
  2. No, I'm not rich! But I have been fortunate and careful with money, and there are many things I have avoided spending money for in order to develop my studio and build my dream house.
  3. No, I'm not a man! (Believe it or not, I've seen that one several places -- it's a silly reflection on humanity, in several ways.)
  4. No, I'm not Bob Moog's girlfriend! (I hope that one makes Bob laugh, too!)
  5. No, I didn't acquire someone else's gear--it's all mine.
  6. The much-maligned blue Viscount OB12 sits in the middle of my studio because it's quirky, it's flashy, and I'm not sure where it belongs. It's like me!
  7. Do NOT annoy the Pterrible Pterodactyl of RedMoon with foolish theories! Her memory is long and she is eeeeevil! :-)
C-Code asks:

I am curious about how much time you spend making music.

Here in the countryside of Washington state (about two hours' drive from Seattle), life isn't very expensive. I'm fortunate to be able to stay home and give my time to my studio and personal projects.
I'm definitely a night-owl in my work habits. I've never counted the hours I spend, but I often get my teeth into a programming problem or a synth-patching experiment that turns into an all-night session before I arrive at a good stopping place. After a long work binge, I tend to turn my mind to something else for a couple of days.
To relax, I spend a lot of time reading gear discussion lists and socializing in email. I listen to pounding dance music while I do an exercise workout every day -- that's when my good ideas always happen!

What was the first synthesizer you ever laid your hands on?

Click for larger imageThe first "synth" I ever played with was a cheap home keyboard in the electronics section of a department store. All you could do with it was layer presets, but the sound-making bug bit me suddenly and hard!
For a long time I had been doing visual design projects -- I had a business as a performing belly dancer and dance teacher for many years (that's where the name Cikira comes from). I designed and made opulent dance costumes, and I choreographed dances for middle eastern troupes in the Seattle area.
I always carried visions in my head of beautiful fabrics and colored veils flying through space, and I spent hours carefully hand-sewing patterns of beads and sequins onto costumes. As I explored this crappy keyboard, I realized that I could make colored veils of sound, and substitute sequences for sequins! For a long time I had been telling dance students to let music speak to them and follow it -- that they should discard the notion of their music as backdrop to an ego-driven performance.
Instead, the performer should see herself as a servant and interpreter of her music -- the music is the master element. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I could explore making my own music, and I was consumed by that idea.

I didn't know anything about synths then. I was thrilled when I discovered Korg's Wavestation and the concept of changing patch parameters visually through software. I started soaking up information about synthesis and composition from the internet.

Have you ever been to Holland?

No, I haven't, but my father's family (named Pool) came from there! I lived in England as a child, and travelled to many places in Europe with my parents, who were in the American Foreign Service. When my father retired he became a world-history professor, and so he was the best possible travel guide. His love of his old opera records and piano songs put into my brain a reverence for music's emotion-generating potential.

Bass asks:

At what age did you start making electronic music? Listening to which artist(s) made you want to play the synthesizer?

Well, my epiphany with the cheap keyboard happened in 1993 or so. For a long time I had been deeply involved in collecting Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Egyptian and North African ethnic recordings on vinyl. So I was a "blank slate" in terms of influences from the world of electronica, and I think this has been a good thing! I love ethnic rhythms combined with purely electronic (non-emulative) sounds. It wasn't until a after a couple of years of playing with almost every composing program available for the Mac, that I got into Max programming.

What is your favourite synth in your collection?

I guess it has to be my Minimoog Voyager. Besides being "the real thing," it sounds alive, it looks beautiful, it has personal significance, and it's a classic. I almost bought a second one, but then I had an attack of common sense!

Summer 2004 update!
...But then (of course) I got over it! My gear-pile welcomes Anniversary Edition Voyager Serial #44 :-)

Olafmol asks:

If you have to choose: collector or musician?

That's a tough one, because it's easy to show that you're a collector simply by pointing to a collection. It's harder to show that you are a musician. What's the definition of "musician?" Is musicianship demonstrated when you have good performance chops? If so, then I'm a dancer, not a musician, because I can move myself better than I can move an instrument's keys, strings, or valves. If I write a software program that lets people make music, does that make me a musician? I like to make the argument that it does, and see what people say. It's certainly gratifying to become a tool-builder along the path to becoming a musician.

If I had to choose between ownership of instruments and the possession of skills to be creative, I'd choose to keep such skills as I have, because a person's value lies not so much in what they own, as in what they can do.

But no, I don't think I'm ready to give away my synths :-)

JohnnyBusca (modular monk) asks:

What, in your opinion, is the main difference between VA and Analogue gear?

I certainly respect the appeal of sound made using genuine analog circuitry. If I had a clone of myself, I'm sure I would tell her to start building a modular synth. I keep thinking about the nice hallway in my house that would be a great place for one, so maybe there's a G.A.S. phase yet to come! As we know, the latest VA's can do analog-like sounds, and go beyond those. E-music is much richer when different forms of sound generation are combined. People who make music commercially or primarily for others' enjoyment know that there is no inherently superior type of gear. What matters is how well tracks work together when they're mixed and effected. But if you are studio-puttering for your own enjoyment, then more power to you if you are an analog fetishist -- you're a sonic gourmand!

Saint Eric (analog fetishist) asks:

I don't see any analog old stuff on your equipment list. Don't you like old Moogs, Arps etc?

I do indeed. If I were to collect those, it would become progressively more necessary to ship them elsewhere for maintenance and repair, and that would be costly. I don't often buy used gear, and I wouldn't enjoy the anxiety of buying pieces sight unseen. Also, I need to be practical. MIDI is a crucial tool for me, because the entire complex of equipment that you see in my studio is a giant workstation. With the exception of a few "odd ducks," each piece of gear has an easily accessible MIDI configuration in the system. My Mac functions purely as a sequencer, patch-editing station, and storage center. By the way, there are four networked MIDI interfaces, each with eight ports of sixteen MIDI channels. I sometimes repatch MIDI cables in order to bypass MIDI THRU connections, and no, I don't keep all the synths powered up all the time! Before adding a piece of gear, I consider its ability to "play well with others" with regard to MIDI control. So it's just as well that I don't often run across old classic synths.

N0_key asks:

Personally, my creativity suffers under big amounts of gear. I kind of get lost in temptation of all those knobs, buttons and LEDs.
Do you recognize this? How do you handle the number of synthesizers you own vs. your creativity and productivity?

I certainly am with you about that! I handle it in a radical way, because otherwise I'd quickly become a babbling lunatic! My strategy is sometimes called top-down composing. I make what could be called a pencil sketch of my piece using looping patterns and generic sample-based sounds, and after a great deal of comparative listening I replace the target synth for each track one by one during the production stages. Rather than go into detail here about this, I'll refer you to the web page about my software that's given below.

Senso (analog sensei) asks:

Any chance of the Kong Fu Hamster becoming the star in a video-clip?

Hi Senso, he's the best, isn't he? He was a gift from my geeky friend the Feature Creep. I had been complaining at length in email about rewriting a major part in my Max coding effort, maxWerk, which runs up to 16 MIDI step-sequences. I told him that I had too many hamsters running in too many wheels, and that I needed to come up with a more efficient and centralized timing engine. Shortly afterward I received a package containing the UberHamster. He twirls his nunchakus fiercely with alarming gestures and utterances, and sings "Kung Fu Fighters." MIDI sync has been much better in my studio ever since. It's nice to have friends!

Wout Blommers asks:

There is a lot of Clavia 'red' in the racks (Nord Leads) What do you think of the Nord Modular and the newer one, the G2?

Uh-oh, now the Clavia 'red' department in my studio has gotten even worse! The sexy-red-things stack is up to four, because the devil made me buy a NL2x! I thought I would take out the NL2 and sell it, but I find I'm in no hurry. And I can easily fantasize about an Electro!

I have played with a friend's Nord Modular, and I would love to have a G2 and a computer to run it on, but when I consider all the glorious software companions to hardware that you can get lost in for days, such as G2, Kyma, and lately Chameleon programming, I run up against the realization that I'm already a Max MIDI-control addict, and I don't have enough lifetimes to devote to these other universes of fun. There are simply too many of them, given that I have a long-range goal in mind to self-produce a CD. So I have imposed the constraint that since I have music-making methods in software that are fine for my needs, they should remain as they are. I can always add or subtract hardware from the gear pile, but I derive a sense of stability from knowing that I have gotten my head around the computer programs I want to use. Now I don't have to worry about changes to my music computer setup. That saves me money and stress, though it doesn't make me a very good advertisement for the music industry in these days of flourishing software development!

About sound design: using so many synths, is it easier to use presets and just adjust some parameters a little, or do you create sounds from scratch?

I don't have any problem with the idea of using other people's sound-design work, and it's especially fun if I know the programmer from a synth list or forum! I tend to want to make my own lead or specialty sounds to add a personal stamp, as I'm sure many others do. I'm not a purist who immediately clears all the presets in a new synth. If I find great patches done by people who know a lot more than I do about programming a certain synth, then I feel a collaborative solidarity with them, and I know they probably are as pleased to have me use their patch as I am when I hear from someone who is making tunes with my program.

Oh, I forgot...
Please tell Mark Pulver Wout Blommers says hello! :)

In case you didn't know, Wout, Mark and I were married for just a short time, and we're divorced now. He is well known as a longtime source of 'net knowlege about synths, thanks to his talent for explaining how complex things work, and the useful archives he hosts at www.midiwall.com.

Bikkel asks:

Do you principally buy everything that synthesizes, or do you have a dislike of certain brands or products you will never buy even if they are the last synths you haven't collected?

Ha! No, I don't buy everything, by any means -- in fact, I haven't bought many new synths since I built my new house and studio. I made a point of acquiring examples of most synthesis types that have been packaged in hardware, so now (fortunately for my bank account!) I'm at a comfortable plateau. I lose interest when synthesis methods are simply re-packaged that are already represented in my studio. I'm not eager to get lost in the computer-dependent world of softsynths, though I'm quick to advise others that they are a great way to get into electronic music.

Sample-based workstations that include sequencers are redundant for me. I think carefully about all the synth hardware that comes out. I like to stew over reviews and magazines! I usually find a good reason to lust after or forget about a certain piece, though sometimes I revisit the whole problem months or years later, just for the fun of it. I believe that even a superficial negative attribute in a synth can be considered a valid reason not to buy, if it fails to inspire. I have avoided several synths that are prized and respected because something about them didn't sit well with me. After all, the person in the chair is the most vital and hardest to manage component of the gear-pile, and needs to be kept free of system conflicts!

I don't feel comfortable making a public list of my don't-wants, but I will say that I have been consistently annoyed by the UI's, manuals and OS architectures from one of the Japanese manufacturers. I'll say too that while I have paid attention to several newer number-crunchers that have flamboyantly named functions, the variations they offer on sound-mangling don't interest me enough to spend the money for them.

Bananaworld asks:

What is the must-have synth (you're probably the only one who can compare them all)?

You give me WAY too much credit for perspective. I don't have the experience with pre-MIDI synths that the hard-core analog-heads do! Doesn't the answer really depend on one's primary goals? To capture basic music tracks in a form that can be the basis for a full production, I want to have around, of all things, a Roland Sound Canvas sample-playback module -- something many people scoff at. Still, it's pretty important to the composing environment I described on the RedMoon pages. For must-have sound design, I don't know what to say... Alesis Andromeda and Oberheim Xpander come to mind right away, and then I think of FS1R, K5000S, Z1, Casio CZ, the monosynths... hey! If you asked a painter who has them all, "What is the must-have paint set?" I bet he'd have a hard time with that one, too.

Danny asks: (Fuse: he's Belgian, but a fun guy)

Do you use multitimbral capabilities of some instruments, or do you prefer to work with synths in 'voice mode'?

Definitely voice or "program" mode, as opposed to "combis," "mixes" or "performances." One nice thing about having multiple synths is the ability to layer sounds from several different ones into a custom "stack." I have a contrarian tendency to want to get a sound out of the most unlikely source, instead of the most obvious one. I used to make dance costumes out of the most unlikely materials too, with often unique results -- and sometimes they were a disaster! :-)

Yoozer asks:

As one of the few who posess so much soundsculpting possibilities, you must also have a good idea of what's missing in your current collection.
What is something you could advise to synth/software manufacturers (if you don't do so already) that should be implemented in a new synth/sequencer?
I've learned that your Opcode software has quite a number of things current sequencing software misses, but is there something similar for synths?

Off the top of my head, it always annoys me when I see a combined MIDI THRU/OUT port. Hardware shortcuts make a synth user-unfriendly. Give us at least the three basic MIDI connectors!

In standalone synths, I'd like to see a greater variety of onboard MIDI note and controller mapping functions, for increased versatility without a computer.

Cadra asks:

Is there any synth, or other device, that is yet to arrive in the shops, that you look forward to purchasing in particular?

My answer to this will be out of date soon, but as of November 2003 I'm excitedly awaiting two hardware sequencers -- Infection Instruments' Zeit, and Colin Fraser's P3. I'm also looking forward to Dave Smith's polyphonic Evolver. I'm watching Elektron's Monomachine and the various applications under development for the Chameleon. There are other temptations lurking that I don't yet know about, of course!

Sander02 asks:

What was it that called your attention to synths -- a specific song, a person you met, or perhaps a relative?

It was none of those -- it was my discovery of the Opcode programs, and the abilility we all take for granted now to visualize notes and controller patterns on screen without worrying about traditional music notation. It seemed to me that electronically generated sounds should naturally follow, so I was never interested in trying to achieve acoustic instrument "realism." I experimented in a vacuum for what seemed like a long time, poring over my second inspirational discovery, which was Christopher Yavelow's thick 1992 book "The MacWorld Music and Sound Bible." While I played with one controller and sound module, I imagined the glories of multi-port interfaces!

Bazziman asks:

What do you expect to be the single most exciting innovative breakthrough we can expect from any synth company in the next few years to come?

I'll be excited to see further advances in wireless MIDI. I have always been interested in alternative controllers, and I'll be especially interested in developments that let musicians dance and dancers play, blurring the line between them. Maybe I'll be able to dance about synth-architecture!

Dob (circuit bender) asks:

Do you really love those AIBO's as much as your synths?

This is a great question because it lets me explain the appeal (to me) of the doggy-bots. AIBO is most fun as a shared experience. When two people act as though AIBO is a real animal and discuss what it appears to be thinking, all kinds of funny interactions happen. When one or two people take AIBO to a public place it's even funnier, and it's a great excuse to talk to strangers and watch little kids, who are always enchanted by it.
The latest LAN-dependent features of AIBO are less engaging to me than the more basic autonomous, unpredictable, happy-go-lucky puppy behavior. When I'm trying to concentrate, I really don't need an AIBO underfoot singing, dancing, and distracting me as it chases a ball under my chair and gets stuck. So, I wait until I'm with friends to switch into AIBO-parenting mode.

I prefer having AIBOs to carbon-based pets these days. I'm enjoying the freedom of not having to worry about real pets when I'm away from home.

And lastly, myself (Fuse) asks:

Have you ever sold a synth, or do you lend out gear?

I haven't sold many things. I do have a smaller pile of items not listed on my gear page, that I should get around to selling. I find, though, that it's really fun to lend to trusted friends items that I have "phased through." I have enough bits and pieces and old computers to assemble several small home studios. So, I think it's rather valuable to keep these things around, to drag others into the bottomless abyss that is gear lust!

Since MAX/MSP is available on PC, will you also develop software for the PC platform?

I'm at a point now with my composing program maxWerk that it can serve my needs, and it runs on the platform I use. I face a choice to either develop it further, or keep working towards making my own music. I would be delighted to team up with someone to carry it forward to OSX and Windows, but it would be too expensive for me to gather the hardware, software and knowledge to do this alone, and it would take too much more time out of my life. I'm not interested in managing a software business with issues of copy protection and return on investment. I'd be happy to turn over maxWerk to someone else for a nice chunk of money :-)

In the meantime, it's is a freely downloadable work in progress, and you can read about it at http://www.RedMoon-Music.com/products/maxWerk/.

The other day we had a discussion over here about female synth enthusiasts being scarce and what about it. What's your view on this?

It surprises me that there aren't more women involved with music technology. Certainly the present ratio of men to women makes it lots of fun! ;-)

I do find some annoying assumptions. One is that a woman who has recording gear must be into it because she's a singer. If I start to sing, cover your ears and run! I have walked into synth manufacturers' booths at the NAMM show to ask questions, and been ignored even though I'm a potential purchaser of an expensive product. Females aren't regarded as likely synth users.

I don't really take offense to that, because I've always been used to doing unexpected things. I'm glad to see that there are more and more female DJ's, but you don't see very many female synth-heads who are over 30. I'm always delighted to hear from them!

And the most asked question was:

Will there ever be a moment in your life that you decide you have enough gear?

Whaaaat? Enough beautiful sleek or knobby keyboards? Enough treasure-chest rack boxes? You know the gear-junkie's answer to that! ;-)

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Email: Cikira [at] Cikira [dot] Com