Substance 02_ We wanted to build Elements around giving our family of artists a platform to speak and share their thoughts and also to share their passion for the studio. Sound design, equipment, and engineering are all very close to our heart so have kept Substance for our members only, the real fans who share our passion. Our first interview is with Cristi Cons, we had already spoken with his SIT and Amphia partner Vlad Caia so were expecting something good, Cristi didn’t disappoint and gave us a really valuable insight into his work, including the first machine he reaches for, in a studio session, the piece of gear that defines SIT’s sound, compressors, converters and more! We hope you enjoy it, this got very nerdy!
Hey Cristi, how has the last year been for you?
I think everyone can agree it’s been a difficult year. I’ve sadly witnessed how health and social issues have affected our society while doing my best to adapt to the current situation and find ways to stay as positive and productive as possible.
How was lockdown in Romania? What was the most difficult thing to cop with?
The first lockdown was quite strict. Circulation was heavily restricted and people could only leave the house with a signed declaration justifying their immediate needs.
Summer was more relaxed with a couple of events here and there, but now we’re back to a complete standstill, waiting for the vaccination process to move forward as quickly as possible.
One of the difficult aspects was the complete change of rhythm and sense of uncertainty, but looking at the bright side, I am grateful that my family and friends are healthy and safe.
Many people were stopped in their tracks at first and really had to adapt, what did you do? What did you catch up with or rediscover?
My first impulse was to make up for the studio time I had missed while the new place was under construction. This ultimately became my main focus and it’s been a constant learning process ever since. There are so many things to discover that it’s impossible to get bored.
Going back to the late 90s, you studied cello then moved to electronic music, what do you take out of learning an instrument for electronic music production?
Practicing an instrument every day for a long time gave me a steady work ethic and a hands-on approach which can only be a good thing but the transition to music production and understanding the technical aspects of it didn’t come so naturally. My early experiences were quite frustrating as I had little to no experience with computers or music software.
Do you think that understanding music theory on such a deep level helps with writing house and techno?
I’m not sure, to be honest with you. While it’s definitely beneficial to have musical training, it’s certainly not essential. There are many examples of artists and producers who make incredible music without knowing how to read a score. My classical music education, although helpful, constrained me to a certain mentality, which I didn’t necessarily find useful in music production or creativity for that matter.
After reading some studies about the differences between how classical and jazz musicians deal with the creative process, I understood why my musical sense felt so unidirectional. The general mentality of our teachers in both high school and University was to train us to be good performers which is ok but it doesn’t cover the entire range of knowledge a musician should possess. Studying jazz and practicing improvisation expands our creativity which is a major asset in composition.
When you first start to produce electronic music, what was the first piece of gear you bought and why did you choose it?
The first thing was a 300 dollars (that my dad gave me) computer which I bought after the first year of University. I couldn’t afford gear back then but it was enough to get me started.
Talk about a piece of gear that was very interesting for your to use after playing a classic instrument for many years. What possibilities did this open up for you?
The first drum machine I bought and really enjoyed was the Korg EMX-1 which i still use to this day. It felt more like playing an instrument than working ITB and definitely made the transition easier from playing cello to making electronic music. It was also my introduction to hardware so it helped me understand the workflow of a drum machine/synth.
Although it has an overall distinctive sound, it’s surprisingly versatile. The synth part with its motion sequence and modulation capabilities can produce from interesting sound effects to punchy bass lines while the drum part is fit for lots of genres from techno to hip hop or IDM. At that time, I was looking for a piece of gear that could bring some character to my tracks and the EMX did just that.
When was the first time you met Vlad and how the studio relation between you was born?
We met on Myspace back in 2007. I stumbled upon his profile and thought his tracks were super interesting. Very well produced and different sounding than what the other Romanian producers were doing.
I thought to myself: Wow, who’s this guy ? So I wrote him up in English because I wasn’t sure if he spoke Romanian or not! We started chatting, I would send him my first lousy sketches and he would give me feedback and tips on them. His support was essential in getting me pass that instrument to software barrier I was struggling with.
That summer we finally met in person when he came back to Romania as he was studying in Norway at the time. My friend Razvan and I were warming up for a day time party and we invited Vlad to come play with us. The first SIT tracks were made when I visited him in his hometown to hang out. We made an edit of a UK Garage track that Vlad had on a CD compilation, then started working on a couple of tracks together which got signed to Valentino Kanzyani’s “Jesus Loved you“ imprint, and here we are 14 years later. :)
Lets talk a bit about your work flow…
You come to the studio in the morning what’s the first machine you reach for?
Lately it’s been the Spectralis by Radikal Technologies which my friend Funk E recommended.
It’s an all in one virtual analog drum machine, synthesiser and sampler with a huge amount of routing and modulation capabilities. Its interface is different from any other piece of gear I’ve owned but it sounds amazing once you find its sweet spot.
Although it takes some time to learn its insights, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Which piece of gear is the centre piece of SIT? Without which the music would be totally different.
We’ve always worked on a hybrid analog/digital setup which evolved over the years so it’s difficult to pick one piece of gear.
On the first SIT album, the Moog Minitaur was used for most of the basslines and the Microkorg for synths and pads. The Sushitech album had the Dave Smith Tempest and the Juno 106 doing a lot of the synth parts, the Sub 37 for bass lines as well as virtual plugins.
The drum section on both albums was done with the Korg Electribe as it was the main drum machine in the setup for many years. I can’t say if any of the above defines the SIT sound as I think the ideas are what makes each piece of music unique.
"I thought to myself: Wow, who’s this guy? So I wrote him up in English because I wasn’t sure if he spoke Romanian or not! We started chatting, I would send him my first lousy sketches and he would give me feedback and tips on them. His support was essential in getting me past that instrument to software barrier I was struggling with."
As a producer I first think about how I want the track to sound loud and imagine it in a club. Do you have reference tracks in the studio? If so can you tell us!? What is it about them you like?
Reference tracks are important especially when mixing. Depending on the style or genre, I’ll pick a track that sounds similar to the aesthetic I want to achieve and try to get the mix as close as possible to that.
They can also be useful for creative purposes. Often I would hear an interesting effect or rhythm, especially in IDM productions, and try to figure out how it was made and reproduce it.
Do you listen to them before/after you start writing or you perhaps A/B them during the session?
Mostly during the session. Our ears quickly adjust to the sound of the mix and we lose objectivity in our decisions so A/B ing can keep us on the right track.
Where do you listen to your final versions to test your mix?
Listening on different speakers is the best way to test your mix. Laptop and car speakers, even if they seem inaccurate can give you pretty good perspective on the balance of elements.
Its the eternal question, how do you know when a track is finished?
After the arrangement is finished I’ll close the project and come back to it the next day/days and decide if it needs any other adjustments. If it feels right from start to finish it means it’s finished. Or is it? :))
Using the computer as the main recording system, what was the first DAW you worked with and what DAW do you use now?
I started working in Ableton Live and it’s been my main DAW ever since. I did track and mix some projects in Logic, and I’m currently working my own around Pro Tools which I plan on using for post production.
Do you use any external outboard processing while recording your sessions or you record the stems and then processing it all in the box?
No, I generally track everything through the mixer (post EQ) into Live and do additional processing ITB.
What are your go to plug-ins when you processing sound ITB?
Currently it’s the DBX 160 compressor from Waves for Parallel Compression (especially on drums), the CLA 76 for drums or bass and the Fabfilter Pro C2 for Sidechaining. For subtractive EQ ing, the Pro Q3 or the RChannel EQ from Waves, and for additive EQ the
API550, the E and G series from SSL or the Scheps 73 which is a nice emulation of the Neve 1073 EQ.
You recently moved to a new place and rebuild your studio, what was the concept and changes you made in the new room?
Well, first of all it’s my first studio with acoustic treatment which is already a huge improvement. I have to thank Mihnea (Herodot) for designing the space and Vladi for assembling it.
It needed a lot of adjustments, especially in the lower frequency range as the room is fairly small (14 square meters) and there was a lot of build up in that area. The front and back walls as well as the ceiling are basically absorbers and the side walls act as diffusers.
We had a back and forth conversation about the overall balance of the room as we didn’t want it sounding too flat. Reflections naturally occur in nature and our ears are accustomed to hearing them, so a certain amount is needed in order to have a natural sounding environment.
There are probably small improvements that can still be made but for now I’m happy with the way it sounds.
So some quick fire studio head questions - for those who know! Current favourite piece of gear?
Hard to say but at the moment it’s probably the Spectralis.
What’s on your master buss at the moment?
The Waves Puigtec EPQ-1A and the API 2500 Compressor.
What kind of convertors do you use in your new studio?
The main audio interface and converter is the Antelope Orion 32 +
Your favourite Plug In EQ?
The Puigtec EPQ-1A. It’s great for adding extra flavour to the low and high end.
Your go to bass synth?
There are a bunch of favourites in that area. The Sub 37, the Cwejman BLD, the Microkorg or the Spectralis.
"The arrangement is just as important. A good idea can work on its own but the context makes it stand out. The balance between elements, the flow, creating buildups and tension shape the track and gives it character"
Taking the music out of your studio, tell us about the live show….
What gear comes with you? What do have to leave behind? What limitations do you have to playing live?
In the Amorf live shows we each have established roles. Mischa plays the piano/ rhodes on his Yamaha MO 8 and part of synth lines that he has saved in his template, Vlad plays bass and sequences from his Sub 37 as well as synth lines and effects that he recorded in
our studio sessions, while I do the drums and part of the synth or bass lines which were recorded and saved on the Korg EMX-1. The idea behind the setup was to use gear we are comfortable with, while keeping it as compact as possible for travel and logistical reasons.
I personally love playing live, the intensity and connection with the guys makes it feel like playing a concert. We feed off each other’s energy and create something unique with every performance. Limitations have not been a topic so far, we try to focus on the possibilities. :)
When producing and playing with Amorf, each of you have your go to instruments or your it’s all improvised?
In the studio sessions we intuitively lean towards the instruments we play during the live shows but it’s not all set in stone. Usually we’ll use the modular systems for different purposes, which we later track and integrate into the template that Vlad controls through his Akai APC40.
The first shows were a bit more rigid in terms of improvisation, but things progressed over time up until the point that most part of each performance is improvised.
Since the explosion of Sunwaves, RPR and such there has been a merging of the European and local Romanian scene.
There’s more of an exchange of ideas going on now. How was it before this all started?
The local scene started to develop in the early 2000s and was quite strong, although smaller in numbers, when Sunwaves festival took off. By the time I became actively part of it, the community was growing, a new generation or djs and producers was merging with the existing one. There was constant flow of ideas and enthusiasm all around. I’m not sure how the very beginnings were but I’m happy I could take part in what followed.
Your relation with Sushitech started nearly 4 years ago, with an extended SIT album and a remix to Tikiman and Rhauder.
What was your impression on the label before and after those projects?
I’ve been following the label for a long time and own quite a bit of the catalogue. The Ralph Sliwinski record was the first record I bought which is already 12 years old. Yossi is a great selector, he brought together different generations of producers while keeping a certain signature and quality to both the music and visual artwork.
In the meantime while we all locked down, what inspires you outside the music world?
I enjoy reading a lot. It’s a great way of disconnecting from the daily routine which can sometimes become repetitive.
Can we expect for some new Cristi Cons / SIT / Amorf projects coming out anytime soon?
Yes, there are plans for each project lined up. There’s an Amorf release that just came out on Amphia and another one in the works, 2 SIT tracks coming out soon as well as an EP planned for the near future, a solo EP and an album also due to be released this year.
Last but not least, we ask our artists and engineers for three essential elements that go into each of their tracks.. We feel this is such a valuable thing to share with the Sushitech followers and to help build our community as a quality music platform for the future.
It’s probably cliche, but to me, these three elements are the most important:
The musical idea or the “hook” as some people call it. It’s essential in giving any track an identity. It can be anything from the bass line or synth line or just a specific sound that makes it unique.
The arrangement is just as important. A good idea can work on its own but the context makes it stand out. The balance between elements, the flow, creating buildups and tension shape the track and gives it character.
Last but not least is of course the mix. A great track can often go unnoticed if it doesn’t sound good. Getting the mix right can sometimes be the decisive factor in the impact the piece of music will have upon the audience.
Interview by Sushitech events manager and writer Ben Start.