Software vs Hardware and Collaborating with Ribongia: Gear Talk With Owen Rabbit

Owen Rabbit

Melbourne-based multi-instrumentalist and producer Owen Rabbit is an artist that relishes in tangibility, creating controlled chaos with things he can touch and feel and wrangle. He made quite a stir with his debut single Holy Holy back in 2014, and since then has trodden a path of creative excess, but not creative indulgence. He is constantly working and experimenting, and has released a deluge of brilliant music in the past three years, pushing himself to find discover new realms of electronic music and then master them.

We spoke with Owen about some of the gear that has been inspiring him lately, working with fellow producer Ribongia on his brilliant new single Golden, and why he loves the rough imperfections of hardware synths.

Owen Rabbit

Melbourne-based multi-instrumentalist and producer, Owen Rabbit weighs in on the software/hardware debate and talks us through his recent collab with Ribongia.

Hey Owen. Can you give us a bit of a run down on some of the gear you’re working with at the moment?

My two favourite things in my studio at the moment are both from Arturia. The Drumbrute and the Minibrute. The Drumbrute has been so much fun to get my head around. It’s a great bit of kit and it’s focused my songwriting away from flipping through folders full of samples.

The Minibrute is such a good mono synth. I love it because it can get out of control. I also have a Korg Minilogue which I’ve been using a lot too for safer bell sounds, and the sequencer’s super easy to use. It also has an onboard analogue delay which really opens up the sound, but overall the synth I feel is a bit safer than the Minibrute which really just makes ripping good leads and can descend into chaos, which I’m super into in synthesisers.

I really dig the recent track you did with Ribongia. How did that collab come about? Can you tell us a little about how the track came together in the studio?

I wrote the song with a keyboard and sent him stems. We went back and forth for a bit. He’s in Sydney and I’m in Melbourne and we didn’t end up needing any time together in the studio. Magic of the internet etc. He’s a wizard though. I love his style it’s super lush and textured. It’s like he’s one of those nannas meticulously embroidering some bit of fabric for hours and then when you step back you’re like HOLY FUCK! It’s a lion or a boat! Or some shit.

Drum samples. Where do you find them? Dare I ask how many you have saved up at this point?

Well, none actually. I think I still have a few on my lappy. I deleted most of them to save space. I’m trying to make everything from scratch either with my new drum machine or a microphone. I’ve even been trying to learn how to make drum sounds just with a synthesiser to differing results. I’ve got a pretty sweet kick sound out of the Minilogue.

What synths/controllers are you currently playing on live?

Well I’m on a break from touring at the moment. Life has punched me right in the face. Also I’m writing the next thing that I’ll put out sometime later. So my whole live rig’s probably going to change. But I’ll definitely be taking my Moog Minitaur synth, my Arturia Beatstep Pro (to use as MIDI and as a sequencer.) I’ll probably be taking the Minilogue on the road as well. I’m also writing bass and drum parts so there’ll probably be like two other people too.

Do you have a favourite piece of gear?

Arturia Minibrute. It’s such a brutal synth. It’s so hands on and tactile. I tend to reach for that one the most.

How do you approach vocal processing and effects?

I like my voice pretty dry. It’s super tempting to reach for the reverbs and the delays because they make it sound palatable but I think if I’ve gotta hide it I can probably just get a better take. Also I feel like it tends to wash out all the instrumentation and little synth flickers and clicks I’ve spent all that time on. Live I feel pretty much the same. Clean is best.

Is there a company or maker you feel like you gel with best?

Arturia. It’s probably cos I’m poor though. I’m sure if I had a Moog Voyager or an Oberheim OB8 I’d probably say that. I like Korg as well. I’ve got the Minilogue and the Korg SV1, which is a super powerful weighted keyboard that sounds bananas. The next synth I wanna get is the Korg MS-20 mini. That thing looks hell chaotic and screechy and awesome.

What was the first synth you bought? Are you still using it? If you’re not, how come?

The first synth I bought was the Moog Minitaur Bass Rack Synthesizer. I still use it all the time. It’s fucking awesome. I’ve gotten more versatile instruments since then, but it’s the only thing in my studio that gives that fuzzy warm Moog filter sound so it comes out a lot.

Is there a piece of gear you’ve used but only dream of actually owning?

I’ve played around with some modulars that I’d love to have.

But I don’t have any money for anything stupid like that. I saw Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith at Mono Foma last year and she blew my mind. Apparently she was busy just like hugging trees and going whale watching when this dude just gave her a humungous Buchla modular rig. Then again I wonder if it would be a waste of money. You know like. I have these synths that are all in the box and they make awesome sounds and it’s kinda cool that I just play them and I’m not like doing algebra trying to figure out which chord goes in where.

How heavily do you use presets, or lightly modded presets? Has that changed over time?

I used to use presets but I don’t really need to anymore. I have instruments and I just play them. Hardware kinda comes out sounding more mixed than stuff off a laptop. I don’t begrudge anyone for it though. There’s nothing wrong with presets. I’m just lucky I’ve been doing it for long enough to have assembled enough things to make a variety of cool sounds.

What are your thoughts on the software/hardware synth debate? Do you use a bit of both, is there a preference?

I’m all hardware now. I don’t really need any presets. Big picture I think the instruments you choose have a much bigger influence on the kind of sound your band or your record is gonna have. A lot of people are using Logic or Ableton with VSTs that kinda sound a bit cookie cutter and a bit safe. Maybe it’s a personal taste thing. There’s also the huge financial barrier to being able to get out of the laptop. I like music to be rough and imperfect. If you’re doing that on a laptop you have to cook it in. It’s like the difference between like frying a steak and putting liquid smoke on it and lighting a wood fire and cooking on it. I’m also not particularly obsessed with having everything be super loud and crisp. That sound used to really excite me when I was younger and I’d listen to like Noisia or something and be like ‘IT’S SO FAAAAT’, but now I kinda like more gentle stuff where you can just hear the instruments. Like on Radiohead’s last album how on heaps of songs it just sounds like there’s a drum machine in a room. It doesn’t need to explode your brains all over the ceiling.

What’s the cheapest piece of gear you feel like you’ve gotten the best value out of?

I’ve got heaps of $2 store instruments. Probably one of them. I’ve got this little Chinese new year drum and a baby’s rattle that I’ve used in heaps of my songs. And a wooden recorder. If you mean like real hardware gear. All my stuff is at a pretty similar price point. I don’t really have any astronomically expensive stuff. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of use out of the Minilogue and if someone asked me what synth they should buy if they only wanted one and they didn’t wanna spend too much I’d say the Korg Minilogue is the one.

Is there a chord, sequence type, effect etc. you find yourself always falling into when starting an arpeggiator or sequencer up?

I tend to pad out my mix with a lot of little chaotic sounds. It’s usually me just noodling on the Arturia Minibrute with the LFO and the filter and the overdrive Brutefactor thingy. I’ve also been doing lots of little jingly high piano sounds on the Korg SV-1 and reversing them and stretching them in Ableton.

If you could copy/paste one feature from another piece of gear onto another to make it perfect, what would you do?

I’d put CV Gates on the back of the Minilogue. It’s the only thing it doesn’t do. It’s just got MIDI. If it did CV as well I couldn’t really fault it.

If you had to grab a new piece of gear, what would it be right now?

I’ve had my eye on the new remake of the Korg MS-20 for a while. If I had a bit more money I’d love a prophet or maybe something older like a Korg CS-80. I also really want a saxophone. And a NoCoast Make Noise. And a BigSky reverb. And a Vibraphone. And a big fucking drum kit like the dude from KISS has even though he only ever plays the snare and the hi hat cos he’s a dick. And heaps of stuff. It’s so sad that you don’t get to have all the things you want.

Check out more from Owen Rabbit on his Soundcloud.

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