11
Mar
09

Meet Alkama, Geekzone’s contest winner

alkamaWe’ve recently made a contest in partnership with french ‘one stop geek blog’ Geekzone.fr, and Matthieu M. aka Alkama was the big winner, taking home a deserved Ohm Force ‘ALL-ALL Bundle’. The contest theme was about christmas – we’ve actually challenged the contenders to create some “Electrohmic Christmas” soundtrack – and Alkama did it greatly: he’s found a creative way to stay coherent to the proposed theme, with a groovy jingle-bell-bassline that goes along the whole track, but also with beats and melodies that go beyond the contest subject and could easily be at our Mp3 players during the whole year. The Ohm Side of the Moon has made a big interview with him, so click here to listen to his winner track while you check it out: 

1- For how long you produce music and what is your studio setup?
I’ve been producing music since the middle of the 90s, as a teenager, when I joined a digital movement called demoscene as a coder and musician. Back then, I used to run on C64, then Amiga, Atari and the early x86s. Those were quite stable platforms to develop on, with known reachable limits. Today, the average computer is quite a monster, and demoscene slowly evolved from its “pushing limits” goal to an expression media. A way to produce underground animated art.

My homestudio is made of a Desktop PC with an RME HDSP9632 sound card connected to a pair of DynAudio BM5A and a Mackie BigKnob to control the volume. The RME card is flawless and impressive, I used to plug some Sony MDR7509 headphones and it sounded just good enough. I’ve waited a long time before buying descent monitors: it’s an expensive investment. But now I got those Dynaudio, I just cant remember how I did before. It completely reshaped the way I mix my tracks. The mobile part of my studio is composed of a MacBook Pro laptop with a NI Audio Kontrol 1 sound card. The sound card is less important on macs, since audio latencies are short anyway.

On the software side, my main tools are Ableton Live and MaxMSP. As all geeks, I like to experiment and nothing beats the old good “do it yourself” state of mind. MaxMSP is a dream tool and a pleasure to play with (now that I went over the beginners aggressive learning curve), and Live is just easy and flexible enough not to be a hassle while trying to lay down an idea (click here to take a look at his track’s live arrangement). Plugin-wise, I’m a total fan of the Minimonsta. I use it for just everything. It’s much more versatile than one could suppose. And the idea of embedded “LFOs/ADSR on every control” makes it even deeper and expressive. Lately, I also bought myself Logic Studio, hoping to spend more time finalizing my songs.

2- How was your beginning in music production?
As a demoscener, my first tools were trackers on Amiga. 8bit, 4 channels, very little memory: it was quite tricky to achieve good sounding music. But that’s what made it all interesting! But as a young lad, I also used to go to music summer camps. (I can see some of you smile thinking about one of the “American Pie” movie, but I can assure you it wasn’t that lame 😉 It was much more “rock & roll”. And they had a bunch of interesting gears: Yamaha DX7, Roland D20, Proteus expanders, Korg M1, Ensoniq ASR10… all linked to an Atari running and early version of Cubase. It was my first encounter with MIDI, and brings back good memories ! It’s later, in 1997, when I was a student, that I started doing music more “seriously”. By more seriously, I mean producing “self sufficient” tracks. Back then, I met Olivier M. (aka “Rodriguez Jr”, also part of the duet “The Youngsters“) and we co-produced a bunch of songs under the “Alkama & Mo” moniker. It was just for fun but it’s been quite a trigger for me. He already was an impressive producer and I learnt a lot from him. Collaborating was a rich experience: mixing different ideas, never fearing the white paper syndrome and constant emulation. A good equation !

3- What instruments and effects have you used to produce your winner track?
This track is quite a showoff of the Minimonsta, about everything doing a “melody” is made with it. The recipe was “Minimonsta + Live + MaxMSP”. I used a lot of internal Ableton Live effects instances. The drums are output through a MaxMSP patch (used as a raw sampler) that some friends of mine designed and I bent a bit. I added some bounced audios homemade with a MaxMSP FM synth. The sound-destructions and digital distortions you can hear specially on the secondary basslines (the one that *prouts* a lot) are due to the “Ohmicide” and a bitcrusher made with MaxMSP. The only notable external plugins adding some hectic behavior are the infamous “Supatrigga” and “Beatfckr”..

4- What kinds of music you listen to and what have been on your Mp3 player during last months?
There are the things I never go out without: Various EPs of “Adam Kroll”, “Boris Brejcha” (especially his 2008 Brazil Tour Liveset), “Rodriguez Jr.”, “The Youngsters”, “Minilogue”, “Marc Romboy”, “Adam Beyer”, “Robert Babicz”, “Trentemoller”…So many to name… Those are very inspiring artists, building on detailed ambiance. These days I also listen to “Jamie Lidell”, “Tigran Hamasyan”, “Ahmad Jamal”, “General Electriks”, “Readymade FC”, “Avril” and more pop things like “Pink Floyd” and “Coldplay”. Those give me fresh air and sunshine;) I should also mention Chopin and Rachmaninoff, even if it’s strange to name them here!

5- How often do you produce?
I produce every single night. I cant have a day without building some patches or lighting Live. I’m mad enough to start tracks during my lunch pause at work. It’s a drug, a hard one.

6- How is your creation process? From where you start and how you set things up?
I usually start with the rhythm and the bassline. It gives me a basis so I can then spend some time working on. The very first step I do is creating a dozen of midi + corresponding audio tracks to split the drums parts. Thus I can apply different effects to each section. It also enables me to have different midi patterns with different length and make the drums more vivid, and it helps with the mix ! Adding the bassline then gives the color of the track to come. The rest is just unexpectable. That’s where I experiment a lot. I try different plugins, design some patches, until the initial color becomes an ambiance / a feeling. That’s where OhmForce plugins help me a lot ! As an 80s child that grew under the influence of electro and pop bands and having had a musical formation, my natural tendency is to do progressive tracks, add pads, and do melodies that are “harmonically correct”. But now I’m trying to escape from this scheme and get more minimalist, focusing on ambiance and overall feelings more than traditional music. But it’s very hard and I still have a lot of holes to dig;) For exemple, finish my tracks. I’ve got the “preview” syndrome. I start hundreds of tracks a bunch of which are interesting enough to be previewed or part of a gig, but then switch to new ones instead of polishing the existing ones… It’s a true curse. And I think I finally finding the cure 😉

7- If you try imagine the “plugin of your dreams”, what kind of effect it would be? With what feature?
Well, lately, I had this idea of a kind of “host” audio plugin. You load different VSTs and they get assigned to midi notes. By putting this metaplugin on a track, and routing midi notes to it, you could sequence the succession of effects. Now, to be more low-brow, I think the world still misses a good sounding affordable compressor 😉

8- How was and what still is your participation at the demoscene? Do you still use trackers?
I think nobody really leaves the demoscene, you just end not having enough time and motivation to invest. I’ve been active as a scener from the mid 90s to 2002. I started tracking a music for a French group called “Syndrome funny department”. I also used to code in assembler, it was more for the sake of know-how and self amusement than public release. I had a coding schoolmate with whom I used to have fun contests like “code the fastest polygon filler”, “code an autostereogram in the fewest line of assembly” or “make your HP48 (a pocket calculator) display a scroller in shades of grey” (which it shouldn’t be able to do). Enriching competitions. My first public production as a coder came later, on PC, when I joined “Calodox” and “TPOLM”. After spending numerous parties sharing beer and good talk, it looked just natural to join them and see what we could do altogether. Calodox members are mostly from Switzerland, and TPOLM ones are dispatched all around Europe. Making demos was about spending nights on IRC channels, chatting about what to do, exchanging files and advancement. After all those nights spent working altogether, you can imagine how good it is to be able to meet in real life at parties, while showing the result of our hard work. Those are magic moments 😉 All in all, I coded or took part to about 4 demos, 2 64kb intros, and a 32kb video game. I stopped tracking as a main tool in 97, but I purchased Renoise and still come to use it when I need precise control. A VST enabled tracker like Renoise can be very useful to handle tricky HitHats parts, or do special effects. Tracking is often more convenient than
automation curves.

9- What’s going on at the demoscene nowadays? Are there things still happening?
I follow the current demoscene productions from a distant sky. I still have a bunch of friends that find the time to do great demos, like the MFX, Kewlers, Farbrausch, Cocoon, Fairlight mates… Those are very talented guys and it’s always a pleasure to see they keep on being productive and creative. I personally think the scene failed to find a succession. The ticket to get in for the young generation is too high. Now, to impress someone, you have to compete with the video game industry which is just impossible. And if you cant marvel anymore and make one think “It’s great but I’m sure I can do that myself”, how can one attract new members? Demoparties are still fun thought, it’s a good place to see your old good friends altogether ! But not talking about the demoscene, it’s nice to see designers using projects like processing.org (or even Adobe flash) rediscovering the joys of computer-generated art in a whole fresh way. Those high level tools and languages like actionscript, processing (java), XNA (c#) or even the iPhone SDK (objectiveC+opengl|es) can bring back the fun of the early demoscene days! Adding the interaction
with the user.

10 – What comes next?
Nowadays, I spend my days coding at work, so music is my last precious creative escape. I dont plan to make it a career, but I hope to be able to release some tracks and do some gigs. I’d be glad to see how my music sounds when played loud on a dancefloor 😉 I’m sure it’s a great feeling! And if a single person enjoys the moment, one can call it a success 😉 And the very last word is to thank you, OhmForce people, for the talent, time, and hard work you put in your tools. I’m happy and proud you selected my track and now I cant wait diving into all those new plugins!!! thank you!

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