dimanche 6 juin 2021

Kitchen Notes : Hex Me on Some Robots Have All The Luck

Ken Mars the rest of it


Ken Mars nous présente la combinaison de matériels et logiciels qu'il a utilisée pour développer l'univers très personnel offert à nos oreilles dans sa dernière production sous le projet Hex Me :  Some Robots Have All The Luck
C'est aussi l'occasion d'évoquer ses autres projets musicaux comme Precision Field dont le dernier (et ultime malheureusement) album Love & Debauchery qui avait fait partie du Top 10 d'Electraumatisme l'année dernière.

Ken Mars present the software/hardware combination he used to develop his very personal universe opened to our ears in his latest Hex Me release : Some Robots Have All The Luck.
It is also the occasion to mention his other projects as Precision Field's Love & Debauchery was one of the best release for Electraumatisme podcast last year.

Gears and software

What gears/software did you use for this album ?

For recording I have a Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 and Acid as my DAW. For sounds I used a Roland JD-XI and a Roland JX-3P for most of it, along with a Cazio CZ-3000, Arturia Microfreak, Korg Volca FM, Korg EA-1, and Korg X5-DR. For drums I used samples and the vintage 808 and 909 kits from the JD-XI. Right before I finished the album, I got an Alesis Nitro Kit but only used it on one track. For “Earthbound” I used a very old song I made with Ejay as the basis and recorded over it.  I also tried sampling bass guitar using an Electro-Harmonix Bass Mono Synth pedal, but it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped so I will try that again.

 Your favorite gear(s)/software(s) ?

Roland and Boss are my all-time favorites, but I don’t limit myself. Arturia makes good products for the cost. I wish Yamaha would make more synths. I love Yamaha but other than the Reface series, they haven’t done much to get you exited. I also have a fetish for vintage Casio keyboards. The CZ series was visionary. I have used Acid for over 20 years so I can stay backwards compatible with old projects. It has always worked for what I need so they have my loyalty. Acid has changed ownership several times, Sonic Foundry, Sony, and now Magix. It isn’t fancy like a lot of DAW’s but that is exactly why I like it. So far, Magix have been very good with their service.

Any evolution in your setup ?

I started playing electronic music in the mid 1990’s so my setup has gone through multiple evolutions over the years. Currently, I have all my equipment for playing live mounted in a case for easy transportation and everything else revolves around that. My studio room is very small so I can’t have everything plugged in all the time the way I would like.  I recently bought a metal table with wheels on it so I can move around my equipment rack easier, which has been very helpful.


Sound Design

Do you use/tweak presets  ? 

Yes, but not as a rule. I try not to use the same sounds over and over, but a good pad is a good pad, and a good kick drum is a good kick drum. I don’t mind using a preset or sample as long as I don’t recognize it from somewhere else immediately.

Do you design you own sound  ? On which synth/plugin in particular ?

The JD-XI, JX-3P, and Microfreak are very expressive, so designing sounds is a lot of fun. I use a few common software synths and have a good controller, but it is not the same. I would prefer to record my synths and drums through amplifiers, but I don’t think my roommates would appreciate that.

Any personal synth story ?

When I was very young, maybe 6 or 7 years old, my family bought a big two-tier Yamaha console organ and when we were at the store the salesman gave us a demonstration of a synthesizer (I don’t know which) and I got to play it for a few minutes and turn some knobs. I wish I remembered more details, but I never forgot that brief experience. I was so young I did not understand what I was hearing, but that sound and feeling stuck with me for life.


Writing/composing method

What would be your main writing/composing method ? Do you start classical rythm/bassline then arrange around it ? Do you already have structure in mind ? Do you improvise, record sessions then select ?

It depends on the song and project, but for Hex Me I always start with a simple drum beat and then build up the bass line by improv jamming until I get a loop I like, which usually gives me more drum ideas, so I go back and forth with that until I have a melody line in my head. From there I’ll flesh it out and add parts. If I’m recording a guitar-based song I usually have it all written out on paper before I do it. The reason I like synths so much is that with a few adjustments, you can make things sound entirely different and get inspiration from that. My other band, Sick Tree, is very psychedelic and jazzy and slow by comparison, so the process of recording that project is much different. My singer for Sick Tree, DKA, plays harp and recording her is a fun challenge. I hope we will release an album at some point, but she is hesitant to do original material sometimes, so progress is slow. Mostly we play covers of Angelo Badalamenti or songs from David Lynch movies.


Producing/mixing method

Do you produce/mix in the box or do you use mainly external gears (effect/comp/eq...) ?

I do both, but it is mostly external gear driving the sound. I like VST’s but they don’t have the same feel.

What is your most painful / enjoyable step in track production ? Sound design, arrangement, mixing, mastering ?

I enjoy the whole production process, but the final mix is the most frustrating. Sometimes it helps not to listen to a song for a few days and come back to it with fresh ears. Writing lyrics is a challenge sometimes.


Ken Mars tips

You only learn by trying new things. Go fearlessly into the unknown.
Take notes on paper. Do not rely on your memory. Backup your data regularly.


Contact info







Final Note

Last year my best friend and bandmate of ten years, Hobart Blankenburg of the Industrial band, Precision Field, passed away. In support of his family I will be releasing tracks we recorded from 1999-2006, and some new material we recorded in 2019 and 2020. He was a brilliant musician and I hope Precision Field fans will enjoy our early material.



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