Had the great pleasure of interviewing and learning more about the hardware intricacies of musician, producer and song-writer Ela Minus.
Synth History: What got you into making music with synthesizers?
Ela: Freedom. Synthesizers make me free... it was a gradual, slow shift for me from acoustic instruments to synths. I mainly played drums in bands all my life, the most acoustic instrument in a way, so I always depended on so many external factors to play or make music - bandmates, a space where I could be loud, the time of the day so neighbors wouldn't complain, etc. The more I got into synths, the more I shifted away from those restraints. I mean of course just falling in love with the sound of synthesizers is probably the main factor you know? I just fell in love with synthesis, profoundly, but the freedom and self-sufficiency that synths gave me was life changing.
Synth History: Can you describe your process on stage versus in the studio?
Ela: Well first of all let me tell you my setup for both, then I can get into the different part which is my mindset. An MPC 1000 - one MIDI out goes to a MIDI multiplier and that sends MIDI to a Moog Minitaur, a Moog Sirin, a Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano and a Strymon TimeLine Delay. The other MIDI out of the MPC goes to the analog rhythm sending only clock. Audio routing is: out of the Elektron to an Oto Boum to distort/compress the drums and all the other synths are going straight into a Mackie mixer. In the mixer I have the Strymon Delay in an aux and a Strymon blueSky in the other. My vocals go through a TC Helicon echo pedal, I use the aux FXs on the mixer and the EQ heavily on my vocals.
For the stage - I love performing, playing live. It's like I'm not there but I'm also more present than I am doing any other thing, it's like meditating, but on a truly good day, when you don't know how you got there but you also never want it to end and you can’t even really grasp what is happening. So all I do is try to prepare the synths and myself as best I can to get to that place on stage - because of course it doesn't happen every time and the conditions have to be just right, but you can do a lot to try and make the conditions right, so precisely because of that there is actually a lot of programming I do at home on the MPC before I get to the stage. I do a lot so that I can be freer on stage, both to improvise even more with the synths but also to be able to perform with and for an audience. Physically leave the synth setup when I feel like it and go dance with people, look them straight in the eyes, hug them, dance around the entire stage, etc. I didn't use to program so much before and just did it all live, but with time, I have learned that having certain things programmed from home helps a lot to be freerer on stage. For example: I’ll program the songs in which I sing the most almost completely with program changes, section changes, etc. All done on the MPC to go from one sequence to the next for song parts, etc. so that I can focus on the singing and the performing of the lyrics for the people that are there, present, with me. But then I'll leave completely empty sequences in between the songs with vocals and on those I completely improvise, I have the Pocket Piano going into the MIDI in of the MPC and if I feel like playing a line I'll choose which synth I want to play and with MIDI thru play it, if I like it record into MPC, loop, then choose the next synth, repeat, and that is how I improvise at shows and at the end of the night if something cool came out, i'll save the night’s MPC project and when I get home to the studio I’ll develop those ideas.
For the studio - I have essentially only two differences from the stage setup: a couple of polyphonic synths - Juno 60 and a Yamaha dx100, and a small eurorack with more FXs - a couple of delays and a compressor that I use mainly to distort. I develop the ideas that come out live and usually record in pairs of two.. just have the setup at home going to my interface, RME Babyface Pro, instead of a P.A and that is really it. I write lyrics to the ideas, that is it.
Synth History: What records were you most inspired by growing up?
Ela: Red Medicine by Fugazi, There is Love in You by Four Tet, Dónde Están Los Ladrones by Shakira, Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors.
Synth History: If you had a time machine and could be transported to any event or performance, what would it be? (yourself + someone elses)
Ela: Radiohead + Caribou King of Limbs tour. And my performance for Pitchfork Festival in Paris, 2019.
Synth History: Outside of music, what inspires you to create?
Ela: Hum, if I'm honest, I have no idea how to answer this question. I ask it to myself everyday, and I don't have an answer beyond “because I feel like it”, like you eat because you’re hungry. It's just something in my stomach, an impulse, a desire.
Synth History: What does your dream music studio consist of?
Ela: (laughs) This question makes me anxious because the first thing I think of is having a permanent residency, which I do not have at the moment, and I think the first thing you need to have a studio is a house or at least a permanent city you live in so you can set up shop there, I've always been very much a nomad so it's hard for me to imagine a permanent physical space.
But a good-sounding-cozy-cabin somewhere surrounded only by nature with beautiful synths, an acoustic piano, trees and animals sounds like my dream.
Synth History: Favorite synthesizers that you’re using right now?
Ela: The Juno 60 is just an all-time favorite. I almost always write in it, or there is some element recorded by it on all my recorded songs. Also the Moog Minitaur, lately paired with a Sirin. gives me goosebumps.
References: Synth History Exclusive, Photo Credits: Juan Ortiz Arenas, Ela Minus.