In the studio with µ‑Ziq

Let’s start at the very beginning. Can you tell us how you got involved in composing, and what was your very first piece of gear?
When I was about 3 or 4 years old, my uncle left his piano for safe keeping at our house. I used to only just be able to reach the keys and pick out little melodies, intervals and harmonies with two fingers. I would say the spark was ignited in those moments. When I was 9, I started writing songs with friends at school, and we formed a band named Short Circuit. The band eventually became Blue Innocence, and we played gigs until 1994. My first piece of gear was a Bontempi HF222 organ with rhythms, and it was the main workhorse in Short Circuit. I bought my first synth in 1986, the Korg Poly-800 MkII. I played this in Blue Innocence and occasionally made up my own little electronic songs on a borrowed 4-track recorder.

How many different studio iterations have you gone through, and what does your final setup look like right now?
30 years ago, when I released my first µ-Ziq album, “Tango N’Vectif”, I listed my equipment on the back cover. I used an Atari 1040ST running Cubeat sequencer, which controlled the following via MIDI: Yamaha DX11 multitimbral synth, Roland D-50 (I’d replaced my Korg with this) and the Alesis HR-16 drum machine. They went into a Fostex 280 mixer/4-track recorder with Multiverb LTX reverb and a Boss Digital delay pedal. Over the years, I added a Casio FZ-1 sampler and a Nord Lead 2 synth. I had to sell all my equipment in 2005 when I lost my house and had to move into a small room. Since then, I haven’t used any physical gear for production. I just use Logic on my MacBook Pro.

Tell us about your favourite piece of hardware.
I guess this would have to be my monitors. A pair of Genelec 8030s which I use mainly for mastering my releases and Planet Mu releases. They are quite detailed but also not too tiring to listen to. They combine with a Genelec F-series subwoofer.

And what about the software that you use for production?
I use Logic Pro X. I have some Waves and Izotope plug-ins which I use for mastering, EQ etc. I’ve used Logic ever since I moved from Atari to Mac in late 1998.

Is there a particular piece of gear that you’re just dying to get your hands on, and do you think one day you’ll have it?
In the old days, yes; in the 80s and early 90s, I used to lust after the synthesisers and samplers I read about in magazines, but now everything that comes bundled with Logic seems to be more than enough, and I’m always finding hidden depths in everything. I’m quite happy just using a laptop as my studio, and I can take it wherever I please and get to work very quickly. I have gotten used to the laptop speakers too. I don’t even need a keyboard; I just use ‘keyboard typing’ to play melodies and drum parts and correct it afterwards.

Can you please share some aspects of sound design in your work?
I just use presets and alter them a little. Finding a sound that works is half the battle. I am not one of those producers that considers themselves a ‘sound designer’. I hate the term, actually. It makes me think of cinematic rumblings, car park door slams, and Hans Zimmer – all that does nothing for me. I am a musician. I like to use what’s at hand to create music. Using a preset in a more creative way can do more to advance music scenes sometimes. Just listen to “Mentasm”.

Any particular new techniques that you tried out for your new album?
I did use Logic’s time-stretching/pitching features in the arrange window on a lot of the drums this time. Also, a lot of the Alchemy synth’s sampling features, like the granular sampler.

What does your live setup look like, and what do you bring with you when you travel for an extensive tour?
I just use my laptop, a small Akai keyboard controller (LPK25) and an audio interface (Universal Audio).

What can you tell us about your overall process of composition? How are the ideas born, where do they mature, and when do they finally see the light?
I like to work as quickly as possible. I will spend a lot of time improvising until I find a sound or melody that pleases me, and then very quickly will write a few parts/sounds that go well with it, usually within about 20 minutes. Then the more difficult job of arranging the parts into a composition usually takes a few days, depending on how excited I am or how much time I have to spend on it.

After the piece is complete, how do you audition the results? What are your reactions to hearing your music in a different context, setting, or a sound system?
I have gone back to mix down a track if it isn’t working in the live setting, usually with too little or too much bass…

Do you ever procrastinate? If so, what do you usually find yourself doing during those times?
Yes, all the time. I think if the piece you’re writing is exciting enough, you would rather be working on it. If I’m procrastinating, maybe it’s because the music is not engaging enough. I do take a break for a few minutes sometimes if I’m doing some intense beat work.

µ-Ziq – 1977 (Balmat)

What gets you inspired?
Mainly other people’s music. New scenes, new records, new albums, something I might hear while I’m in a shop, a sound on the bus, lots of little things.

And finally, what are your thoughts on the state of “electronic music” today?
There’s always lots of great music being made.