The setup

I recently quit my job, and with a block of time over the holidays staring me down — I decided I would take four weeks and try to make four techno tracks. I’ve played lots different instruments through the years, but this would be the first time I’ve attempted to make a finished work to be released.

Deadlines and constraints are valuable tools in the creative process. Before I started, I knew that one week per track wouldn’t be nearly enough time. Even with that knowledge, I didn’t understand why it wasn’t enough time until I was well into my third week.

I don’t know if other people who have been through this process have the same experience, but I found myself hitting a brick wall with the material. It was as though the tracks would stop sounding like music at all. I would find myself after days of effort unable to tell if the track was worth saving, or whether I should throw it out. It’s not a great feeling. I’ve gained a tremendous amount of respect for people who do any sort of creative work for a living. I did this for fun, but doing this for a paycheck would be incredibly stressful.

I found that I needed to spend almost as much time away from the material as I did working on it. Some people talk about needing time to let their ears “reset”. In my case, I needed time to let my mind wander and let go. I had the Awesome Games Done Quick marathon running in a browser tab the entire time I was working. I would flip over to my browser window and watch it when I got stuck.

I named these tracks after the Ranger Program. The first six flights of Ranger were abject failures. According to the oral history transcript, the program was often called “Shoot and Hope”. The later missions provided valuable experience and high resolution images for landing on the moon. Ranger was a good metaphor for early work and a reminder for me that failure is an important part of the process.

The process

To make these tracks, I used three flat, square Swedish boxes; the Elektron Octatrack, the Elektron Analog Four, and the Elektron Analog RYTM. They are fantastic, tactile, and helped me iterate on an idea quickly. I bought them all from Control Voltage. I recorded each of them individually into Ableton Live and mixed from there.

I also disregarded the common wisdom that you shouldn’t master your own music. I learned quite a bit while attempting to master the tracks myself, but in the end I found it to be a huge distraction. My Soundcloud account is littered with failed attempts to make something that didn’t sound like mud. In retrospect, I would have been better served by removing one large time sink from the process and spending that time focused on arrangement and mixing.

After my failed mastering attempts, I sent the tracks to Inner Portal Studio. Erik Magrini is well known in the Elektron community, and I was happy to discover that he offers mastering services. Erik was awesome to work with and it was money well spent.

I started out with the idea to make four tracks, and ended up with three. The first ranger track I was working on is shall we say… lost in space. In the back and forth between Ableton and the Elektron boxes, I made the mistake of trying to mix and re-arrange at the same time — I lost a lot of the character of the track and ended up letting it go. Perhaps it achieved a stable orbit and will circle back again in time.

The good

Thankfully, nobody disowned me as I forced them to listen to multiple early takes of this material. I feel as though I have learned a ton about the Elektron machines, Ableton and music production in general.

I have several friends who have inspired me greatly with their creative work. I thought of them often while working on this project. While I certainly don’t think I’ve produced anything as great as what they have produced, I’m happy to have taken a small step in the right direction by finishing something.

Thanks for reading and listening.