James Blake: “It takes about six months before you can get anything out of a modular synth”

The producer dives deep into the making of his latest album, Playing Robots Into Heaven.

James Blake

Image: Sergione Infuso – Corbis / Getty Images

English producer and songwriter James Blake has spoken about the long journey it takes to create “listenable” music using modular synthesisers.

Appearing on the latest episode of John Kennedy’s Tape Notes podcast, Blake dives deep into the writing, recording and production of his new album Playing Robots Into Heaven.

Discussing the album’s origins, the musician says that a lot of the material on the record began as modular synth sketches created during his free time between tour gigs. The track, Big Hammer, for one, started out as a “huge long jam file” that Blake describes as “mostly chaotic distress” until he’d arrived at something.

“Eventually I got there, but I didn’t know where I was going, obviously,” he says, adding that “A modular synth is kind of like modern art, in a way.”

“It’s kind of odd. There’s more of a sense of curating something coming in rather than actually composing like you would with the piano, or whatever.”

And as masterful as Blake might be with the modular synth right now, he says that the road to creating “listenable” music using them is a long one.

“I went down a rabbit hole, which every producer gets into it does, of making some of the least listenable music probably ever created, and then eventually being able to harness it into something like, listenable,” he explains.

“But it takes, I’m sure, about six months before you can get anything out of a modular synth when you first start.”

In other news, Blake recently commented on how AI technology could play a role in making music production more accessible for creators.

“AI is going to open up a lot of possibilities for composition.” the producer told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. “For example, there’s this one guy who created a synth called Synplant – you can put in any sample and then the synth will recreate that sound on a synth, magically – it just does it. You don’t have to do anything. It’s like, you can just imagine a thing and it just… can be there.”

“If you wanted to do that now, you’ve got to sit at a synth, know how to use it, figure it out. There’s going to be a lot of people who [will] make music, who weren’t previously able to in the ways that they want to.”


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