Down the Production Hole with Pablo Cahn

Words by: Lisa Loco
Posted: 26/4/11 12:14

Down the Production Hole with Pablo CahnThe profile of Columbian born, London-based DJ/producer Pablo Cahn-Speyer just keeps on rising - and rightly so.  His sound abounds with the kind of styles that give voice to his Latin soul and are always infused with serious groove.

Pablo has released tracks across imprints like Cadenza, 8Bit and Leftroom. He's also DJ'd everywhere from Fabric to Watergate to the Zoo Project. Meanwhile, his podcast right here  expressed the depth of the flow that is taking him to these places.

So brace yourself as we welcome back the hot-blooded cool customer that is Pablo to join us Down the Production Hole. Can he too bring something fresh and insightful to our regular irregular questions about the art of music making? Yes he Cahn!

First can you tell us something about your frames of reference/what you think makes for a high quality electronic sound recording?
Generally speaking, I believe the quality of any electronic music production (disregarding the mastering) mostly depends on how well the mix down is carried out, as well as on the original quality of any source material used, be it samples, or the producer's own audio recordings. I therefore always pay a lot of attention to these two aspects during the production process.

Concerning sources, I make an effort to avoid any MP3s encoded below 320kbps, any samples with a noticeable digital character or high noise content, as well as any bad quality plug-ins and hardware. I also keep appropriate gain structures throughout the signal chains to maintain the noise floors as low as possible and maximise the dynamic range.

Regarding the mix down, I keep several 'goals' in mind. These include: good frequency equilibrium, well-balanced stereo field, wide dynamic range, appropriate depth through the use of delays and reverb, and translatability into different systems, etc.

What's your current music production set-up like?
I currently have an almost 100% digital set-up, apart from a couple of outboard analogue goodies. Software wise, my set-up consists of Ableton Live as my main sequencer coupled with an arsenal of plug-ins of all sorts, most notably Kore 2, Komplete 7 and Maschine from Native Instruments, which I use extensively. I also have several other programs I use to edit, analyse, rip and convert samples/music files. Hardware wise, it all revolves around my good old PC tower, which I have been pimping up over the years and currently runs Windows 7 64-bit with an Intel Core 2 Quad, 2.4 Ghz processor and 8GB of RAM. (I am, however, on the verge of upgrading to a Mac Pro.) My audio interface is a MOTU Traveler MKI that is hooked up to a Samson MDR6 little mixer that I use to route signals, and as volume control to my Mackie HR824 MKI speakers. Other titbits include the Kore 2 and Maschine controllers, an Evolution UC-33 MIDI controller, a CME M-Key MIDI keyboard, and a Shure SM58 microphone that I use to record vocals and other things. My outboard gear consists of a Novation Bass Station rack and an Oberheim Matrix 1000 rack, which, despite them being analogue, I don't use too much due to their limitations.  I have been, however, wanting to get my hands on a fully featured analogue poly synth for years now and I am super intrigued by modular systems but unfortunately can't really afford any of the two at the moment.

Within that set-up what is/are your most essential tool/s of the trade?
That would have to be both Ableton Live and Native Instruments' Maschine. Ableton Live mainly because of the workflow improvements and intuitive approach to music making it allows for. I absolutely love how it makes everything easier, faster and much more fluid. I can't do without Ableton now (even though I first started using Logic and Cubase), because my current production methodologies are entirely based around it. Many of its features have become essential to my way of working such as the ability to record whatever is coming out from the speakers into any track with only a few clicks, the ability to quickly preview loops and samples in sync with your project's tempo, the ability to quickly sample any piece of audio in seconds, and, most importantly, the ability to record your arrangements in real time.

And Maschine because of its hands-on approach to beat programming and incredible flexibility in terms of envelopes and automation; I just can't see myself programming beats with a mouse ever again!

Can you reveal a secret about your production technique/s?
Sure I can. Although I am not sure how much of a secret it is. Just recently I figured out a way to analyse all my tonal samples and digital music collection, in order to find out what scale/key they are on, and tag this information to their file names. This now allows me to find samples much faster than before, as well as to tune them, if required, on the fly, saving the time it would take to do it by ear. This has proven to be a blessing to my workflow and productivity. The program I use to do it is Mixed In Key, which is meant to be a harmonic mixing tool for DJs but I figured out it could also be used as an excellent production tool. I still don't understand why they don't also market it as such as there clearly is a market for it waiting to be tapped into. Although perhaps there may be other tools out there that do the same thing that I am not aware of. In any case and regardless of how you achieve it, knowing your sources' tonal information in advance is incredibly helpful.

Down the Production Hole with Pablo CahnDo you have a general top tip for budding producers?
Probably not a 'top' tip, but I am willing to share something that really helped me when I was starting out. I have noticed that a lot of people who are in the initial stages of music production tend to get stuck in a loop and never progress from there. I myself was one of them some years back but managed to circumvent this obstacle when I realised that, to a certain extent and excluding other elements, an electronic music track was a succession of 32 or 16 bars sections and that in these sections there were 1-bar loops within 4-bar loops within 8-bar loops within 16-bar loops, and so on. And that the same question-answer rhythmic principle that applied to 1-bar loops applied to the other with the questions and answers spread further apart. I then learned it wasn't until you had your 16-bar or 32-bar loop with its inner loops all rolling that what you were working on started to sound like an actual track and it felt right to start arranging. So my advice for all those peeps in this situation would be to approach their projects within this framework, bearing in mind, of course, that it is only a general idea as there really aren't any rules in music.

Finally, what's your take on the future of electronic music production?
I believe it will continue in the same path it has followed for the last couple of decades, where new technologies shape the sound and genres of the day in some way or another. New technologies will also allow for all sorts of new tools and techniques to be used in areas including sampling, synthesis, audio editing and human interface. Some of these are already starting to show themselves, an obvious example being multi-touch screen control seen in devices like the iPad and the JazzMutant Lemur.

More interestingly, though, we are starting to see new technologies in programs like Prosoniq sonicWORX Pro (to be released this year) that are really pushing the boundaries in terms of audio manipulation. This program in particular allows you to edit and process individual sounds and instruments within a mix, as well as to completely erase them or extract them. So basically you can now do previously impossible things like extracting your favourite piano solo from an obscure 1970's recording or getting rid of that one annoying element that is messing up your otherwise perfect sample or even isolating all the instruments from your favourite tracks and making your own remixes.

The only problem being that you need an extremely fast machine and something stupid like 1GB free hard drive space per minute of audio processed to do so. Not to mention enough cash in the bank to allow yourself the luxury of being an early adopter. It doesn't take much to see that this particular technology is going to revolutionise the practices of sampling, editing and remixing once it becomes more accessible to the general public. My take is that similar 'revolutions' will happen in other areas as new tools and techniques become available. Maybe it will be possible to perfectly synthesise acoustic instruments and vocals or even be able to control your computer and software with your mind. Who knows!

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