Producer Spotlight: object blue
Producer Spotlight: object blueJuly 22, 2021
Whether she’s thrilling audiences with unpredictable live sets, pushing the limits of sound design in her production, or soundtracking fashion shows, Tokyo-born and Beijing-raised producer object blue always displays an instinctive and thoroughly authentic psyche. The breakthrough IDM artist has made London her home since 2011, and managed to sculpt an individual and globally recognizable sound. When it came to making Off Kilter Techno, her debut sample pack with Loopmasters, blue was conscious of staying true to that individuality, saying:
“I actually don’t think sample packs and loop packs are used very often in my little niche area of dance music, and I wasn’t looking to make something that competes with the best tech house sample packs. I was trying to make something that was very underrepresented; something that people would think of as a weird treat that they mightn’t have usually reached for.”
And what a treat it is, with 493 MB of weird and wonderful sonic goodies that you can use to bring layers and complexity to your productions. Although the pack is divided into tags like “Drum Loops” and “Musical Loops,” object blue encourages you not to focus on the traditional boundaries of music production, and instead use the sounds in alternative ways. It’s good advice from an artist who has been invited to record her debut BBC R1 Essential Mix, performed live at Paris Fashion Week, was announced as a SHAPE artist for 2020, and released three EPs receiving critical acclaim from Pitchfork, Dazed, Mixmag, DJ Mag, RA, The FACE, and more.
What was your approach to making the sample pack?
When I first started planning the pack I thought it would be easy. I’ve been producing and playing live for five years, so I thought I could go through all the files I’d ever made, export the sounds, and it would be done. When I exported everything I only had about a third of what was required! I ended up making the remainder of the pack completely from scratch, which was a really good exercise for me, and it made me realise that there are certain sounds that I really lean towards, like percussion. It was quite interesting to analyse my own back catalogue.
It was important for me to make loops or samples that change the atmosphere of a track or take it in a completely different direction because I really like unpredictability in music. I tried not to make straightforward beats, so a lot of stuff in the pack is syncopated – even though I love a good four to the floor kick as much as anybody else! When you play some of the loops on their own they sound uneven, but once you put them over your existing kick pattern you’ll actually get a complex rhythm that will make it really fun.
Did you think of it as a process of challenging yourself to make a certain thing, or were you very focused on giving a good account of your sound palette as a whole?
When I produce for myself and put out my own releases I’m very self-indulgent – I only write for myself. I remember I once finished an EP and didn’t think anyone liked it; l didn’t like it, my manager probably didn’t like it, but even still I said I’m not going to change it because I really like it and that’s all that matters! With the sample pack though, I’m giving people tools for their own music, so I really thought about the point at which someone would reach for this sample pack in their production. I tried to create elements that cater to all the stages of production.
I also find it quite hard to distinguish between rhythmic and melodic elements, and I often like using percussion to make something melodic, and vice versa. I knew it would confuse people, having percussion riffs in the melodic loop section, but again, I did that because I thought it would benefit the person who is using the pack. In my opinion, blurring the boundaries between what’s melodic, what’s rhythmical, and what are effects, enables you to branch out of traditional dance music production.
What hardware did you use to make the granular foley sounds in the pack, if any?
I don’t use any hardware. At all. I never have – I was always very much a bedroom producer, so everything in my studio is software. One of my favorite granular synths is the Ableton native Grain Delay, especially using the Low Tone Flutter preset. If you want to sound like me just use that and you’ll probably be there. There’s also an amazing granular effect set that you can get for free by a professor of music technology in America called Michael Norris, and it’s called Soundmagic Spectral. I made all the spliced-up sounds in the pack by zooming in to an audio sample, cutting out 1/64ths of a beat, editing them out, and then recombining them in different ways. It’s such an analog way to do it but it works really well.
I also believe in using many different reverbs in one project. I remember when I first started producing people were saying you have to bus all the audio into one reverb channel otherwise it’s messy, and I thought: “What do you mean I can’t use reverb as a sound editing tool for one percussion hit? I’m going to put a long tail, high-frequency reverb on the rim, and I’m going to put a short tail bandpass reverb on the kick – and yes, I believe in putting reverb on kick drums!” This is how I make all my sounds; I don’t play by the rules because I never really knew them.
What about the warped basslines, how did you create them?
I’m very much a sub bass person, and usually, in my own productions, I echo another element that’s happening in the track, whether that’s the kick pattern, a melodic riff, or even the hat pattern. I typically mirror those elements using a heavy sub bass with a tiny bit of distortion and delay on it so that it kicks out from underneath all the other layers. With a loop pack like this, I couldn’t really do that, I needed to make a bass loop that would stand on its own, so I used a free VST called Bazz::Murda. I got an email recently from somebody who was wondering how I made the bassline in “Cordelia’s Call to Arms”, on my second EP, REX, which was actually an Operator patch on Ableton, called Zapp Kick. I just automated all the parameters to make it sound like a bass going crazy, and that’s how I made some of the bass sounds in the pack as well.
What advice would you give to somebody who’s just downloaded the sample pack and wants to flip it somewhere far beyond the club scene?
If I wanted to do something a bit more experimental I might start by picking one of the ten-second FX sounds in the pack, and chopping it up to make it rhythmical. And then I might do the opposite after that; take a rhythmic one and time stretch it so it’s not very rhythmical. What I’m getting at is that if I wanted to use a sample pack creatively, I would probably start by swapping out all the different parts and their functions.
Do you have any other techniques for getting yourself into the right mindset when you enter the studio?
I try to hold on to a sound palette that I imagine beforehand, as with production it’s so easy to get carried away with what you make. Of course, I like responding to what I’ve just made and throwing out an original idea, but I think what really sets my music apart from other people – not necessarily in the sense that I’m better than them – is my use of sound design. That’s my core. So, I start by making a collection of sounds I really like, and then I think about structure afterward. I also draw diagrams because otherwise, I forget where to place each sound. If I don’t take care of both the sound palette and the visual references it’s really easy for me to close down Ableton after a day’s work and not like anything I made.
Your live performances are often very improvised and reactive – does that transfer over to your sound design and arrangements, and was it an important part of the process when you were making the sample pack?
Improvisation is a huge part of my creative process. It’s actually a bit miraculous that I ended up becoming a producer at all because I always found it hard to sit down and finish a track! All my live sets and DJ sets are at least 50 percent improvised, and for the Loopmasters pack, I plugged in my controller and improvised a lot of the melodic riffs and rhythms, and edited them afterward so that they fit the loop requirements. I like the organic nature of improvisation, but I enjoy really pristine mathematical calculations too. When people use sample packs they’re looking for accuracy; they know the beats should fit into a grid, so I wanted to have that aspect as well as an improvisatory element, or in other words things that I made via improvisation.