Composer and musician Michele Mercure recommends some studio essentials.
1. Ableton Live
I was a Pro tools user for many years, and still am for post production film sound, but made the transition to Ableton Live in 2018 - late to the party, I know. I like LIVE because it’s really easy to manipulate MIDI, there are different ways to use the application depending on what you’re recording and it makes playing a live performance possible for me. It’s expandable and doesn’t tax my computer when I use a ton of plug-ins, which I love to over-do.
2. Roland Juno 60
This has been my go-to synth since around 1983. I have had many synths through the years but this one is close to my heart. I just love the richness of the sound. I think you get used to a sound or an instrument and you bond with it. This instrument is in my DNA now.
I always need a sampler! A lot of my music relies on this instrument whether it’s an 8-bit Ensoniq Mirage, like I used in the 80s and 90s, or the sampler plug-ins that I use now. It’s important to me to make my own unique sounds. I love when someone asks me how I created some unusual element within a piece of music.
4. Ebow and real bow
I love my Ebow and I also love my real bow, which I use for long lush tones I can then mangle and effect. Each one reacts to the string differently and therefore has a different sound quality and texture and each one also has an element of surprise inherent in dragging something across a string.
5. Neumann u87
This is my workhorse mic. It’s stellar for vocals and anything else I need to record in the studio.
6. Composite Acoustics GX guitar
This carbon fiber guitar was given to me by Composite Acoustics when I was writing and recording the music for Home. I really have Chad Taylor from the band LIVE to thank for connecting us. I love this guitar. I put it in all kinds of crazy tunings and it stays in tune beautifully. The tone is beautiful and records like a dream.
7. Model D
An essential for me. It brings my low end and all the rumbles I need. I often use it to double other instruments to add depth and low end color.
8. Contact Mic
I’ve been having a lot of fun with a contact mic made by Jez Riley French. My first recording with it was assessing the yellow jacket nest in the wall of our house. I could hear their little feet scurrying about and their jaws munching on the drywall. Shocking, creepy, amazing. That recording will show up in something I write, for sure.
9. Learning something new
Sometimes I learn to play something for a particular project. When I scored the movie Home, I learned to play the spoons. I learned to play the bodhran for a documentary score. I play water. I play air.
I love plug-ins and I have an overly robust collection of them. I use a mix of hardware and soft synths.
Creating electronic music is like making a stew. The architecture of each different sound source helps to create a rich texture and environment. There are a few soft instruments that I seem to use regularly.
These are some of them:
Zebra - fantastic and deep soft synth which emulates analog.
Hexeract - also an amazing soft synth but works in a different way so the essence of the sound is very
Backmask - super fun sound mangler. It’s unpredictable and that’s part of its magic.
Valhalla Supermassive - beautiful reverb.
Strike - This is my go to instrument for drums when I’m not working with a real drummer.
Kontakt - I adore Kontakt. Violence and Fractured are two of my favorite Kontakt instruments.
Is the most important element in my studio. A quirk/ritual I use for conjuring inspiration is space. Moving space. When I start a new project I often change my workspace. This can take different forms. Sometimes I move everything in my studio around. Sometimes I move my studio to a different room. Sometimes to a different building. It’s also important to me to have an element of my recording setup that is portable. I don’t like being tied to always creating in the same space in the same way.
12. The Spark
All sorts of things can create that spark in me. Movies, books, conversation. I’ve recently completed an entire body of music based on research I was helping with for my partner, Mary Haverstick’s book, called A Woman I Know. It deals with women spies during the Cold War so all the music, sounds and dialog celebrates the clandestine arts. Artwork inspires me too. There are pieces of artwork that I’ve received that artists have sent me who were inspired by my music and I have those hanging in my studio to inspire me as well. And I have a lovely collage of photos from my last tour just before the pandemic. Wonderful memories. Wonderful stories. All these elements that spark me to create have one common purpose- they tell stories. And that’s what I do with my work. I’m simply telling stories with music.
Synth History Exclusive.
Photos provided by RVNG.