WAVEFORMLESS: Can you take us a bit through your song creation process? How does a typical Portion Control song take shape?
PORTION CONTROL: A Portion Control song usually starts with a simple kick pattern followed by a one or two bar step-programmed bass line. Strobe is a recent favourite, Z3ta an old favourite, as well as Reaktor (user ensemble) Viral Extinction. Then, the other drums are built up. Often I'll add a one bar note and flick through presets on our synths adding LFO, gating, phasing, distortion and bit reduction until a rhythm or sound fits into place. Meanwhile, Dean works on the vocals, which are laid into the track, and the arrangement is worked on – small snippets of found sounds, samples or effected synth parts are added – distilling the arrangement. We use hard quantized sequencing, often with unchanging cycling patterns to form the tracks basis. Sound shaping and effects play a major role on a track by track basis. We are conscious not to over embellish - an easy trap to fall into with today’s powerful sequencers. If we are working on a CD we keep writing tracks, constantly reviewing them until we have 10-12 with enough variety to form a product. These are then worked on simultaneously until finalized. As a result, we usually end up with lots of small 1,2,4, and 8 bar parts which aren't used in tracks but are archived into our sample libraries for future projects. Dean also programs ideas in Reason on his laptop – mainly bass lines and rhythm parts which I then work into finished tracks
WAVEFORMLESS: I’m assuming you’ve at least partially embraced software as a part of your music making, as even in the old days you made use of an Apple II for sampling if I’m not mistaken. What are your favorite pieces of software these days, whether it’s a DAW, effects, soft synths, etc? How do you feel the modern software instruments compare to the hardware synths you used earlier in your career?
PORTION CONTROL: Favourite piece of software is very difficult. Native Instruments Reaktor is great especially if you delve into the user ensembles. The FXpansion DCAM Synth Squad is as good as software gets (at the moment). Lots of bass and presence - just push up that drive knob! Guru, also from FXpansion, is great. It works well with any samples, allows more sound shaping than anything else, and you can just drag the MIDI or even render the parts and drag them into your DAW. From our earliest beginnings, we were early adopters of new kit and so it’s natural that we were quick to embrace new software. In 2004 when we released “Wellcome”, we had a number of listeners refusing to believe it was made with software only.
WAVEFORMLESS: Tell us a bit about the mixers, audio interfaces, mics, and monitors you favor these days.
PORTION CONTROL: We use Genelec powered monitors, a Focusrite Sapphire LE card. Rock 17” Laptop with Resolume for live graphics. A fast quad core PC with 2X26” monitors. The only recorded content is vocals.
WAVEFORMLESS: What computer platform and DAW?
PORTION CONTROL: We use PC’s and a number of different DAW's which all have different strengths. Ableton we bought recently at version 8 when group tracks were added. We had been skeptical about Ableton's reputation as a DJ tool, but the more we use it the better it gets, especially for cropping loops and creating song sections. We also like Reaper for sound design as it's very stable and light on resources and we have a few macro commands to render MIDI to audio etc. We also use Acid Pro 7 which is good for arranging samples as you can see lots of tracks and the stretching, slicing, snapping is excellent. Lastly, we have Cubase, which we have used from its early days on the Atari ST - just hate the price of updates and it seems so bloated and counter intuitive nowadays. We did also use Sonar, but it just proved unreliable and would freeze when using some more demanding Audio Damage plug-ins. The biggest single most liberating factor has been that we can mix and master ourselves to have total control over the final product. Our set-up is completely different from our beginnings where sequencing was in its infancy – and we don’t miss anything from this period apart from our naivety in song writing – which added character to the early material.
WAVEFORMLESS: Is there a piece of gear or software that doesn’t exist that you’d like to see someone create? Do you find any frustrations working with computers and software in general?