BODY IN THE THAMES – Artist Interview
Born in Manchester, lived 8 years in London, 2 years in Paris and now 13 years in Stockholm, Body in the Thames is quite the journeyman. From composing jingles for Microsoft CD-ROMs, to soundtracking Haute-Couture catwalk shows to playing in stoner rock garage bands with (then) future stars, to being a multi-instrumentalist on tour with well-established international stars, he is an artist who has been around the block enough times that he doesn’t need to namedrop any more.
Now a little older and more of a studiohead, he has spent the last few years in an actual former cold-war nuclear bunker under the Stockholm streets, crafting and releasing electronic explorations that cover a fairly broad range of genres and sub-genres which are mainly instrumental and “aimed at the dancefloor between your ears.”
In May of this year, he acquired an OB-6. We chatted with him about how he’s using it.
What made you choose the OB-6?
“I was actually about to buy a Prophet-6 the very day that you guys announced the OB-6. My main synth up until that time had been a Roland Jupiter 6, but I was getting so tired of the maintenance and other issues and limitations that come with a vintage beast, that I decided to sell it in order to fund a Prophet-6 purchase. My first synth love as a kid was the band Japan so an “updated Prophet-5” really appealed to me, since the original was so central to their sound. I was literally in the music store with the cash for the Prophet-6 but they only had a demo model, no stock and a 3-month waiting list. They refused to sell me the demo model. I think I tweeted something in annoyance and desperation and my good twitter pal Bob Swans tweeted back “Have you seen this?” with a link to your OB-6 announcement. I went straight to a fantastic specialist synth store and put in a pre-order immediately. Three months later, I think I got the first or second OB-6 to arrive in Sweden.”
How are you using it?
“I’m using it for everything. I am literally composing and recording entire productions using nothing else at all. Bass, strings, atmospheres, keys, effects, and even drums. I recently made a drum sample pack just using the OB6, and it was so much fun. Perceived wisdom is that you need a 24db self-oscillating filter for kicks and toms. But the OB-6 has a 12db filter which doesn’t self-oscillate. What it does have, though, is is an LFO which goes well into audible range, plus powerful cross-modulation, not to mention a great analog distortion. And so a percussion palette is another side to the OB-6 that might surprise a few people. Everyone knows the Oberheim sound is famously about big pads with that swooping harmonic resonance. And the OB-6 oscillators and filter are certainly truly awesome for that signature feel, but it really is an powerful, all-round tool with a vast range of possibilities.“
What’s one of your favorite things about it?
“Oh, that’s easy. It has character. It’s so musical. You know, you see people talking on music forums saying “It’s nowhere near the sound of an OB-8” or that you can’t compare them, and so on. But that’s just a load of… I can’t swear here can I? Anyway, that’s just nonsense. Those are people who haven’t had a few hours alone with an OB-6 to see what it can do — or what you can do with it. The thing has endless sweet spots. I mean, I could probably get “sweeter and purer” sounds out of my old Jupiter, but it used to take forever to find those sweet spots and that kills your creativity. Within two hours of plugging in the OB-6, I had made a 3-track, improvised, ambient EP which I released the same day. I’m not saying the EP is perfect or that the OB-6 is perfect. What I’m saying is that it’s the imperfections that give it life and character. This synth is inspirational. A real joy to work with.”
What does it give you that other instruments might not?
“Well, because it’s so inspirational it does not get in the way of your workflow. It amplifies your workflow. I’m not a keyboard player or a pianist really. I have decent, but limited skills in that regard. But I never feel like I’m programming it. I always feel like I’m playing it. It really encourages me to just dive in and wig out and play in the fullest sense of the word. And a consequence of that is I that have gotten so much more work done. In the last month alone I have written and recorded 37 compositions (see below). That’s like two per studio day. And I’ve never been that prolific with any other synth. Nowhere near.
I think that one of the reasons for that is because the music I make is very much groove based, and the OB-6 has a feature set that not only allows for great sounds but great grooves by syncing with the delays on the onboard effects. I have to admit that I was skeptical about the effects section when I bought the OB-6 and figured I would hardly ever use it. How wrong I was. Right there you have two great sounding delays that you can sync to the sequencer or arpeggiator. Also an LFO that can sync, too — all with adjustable tempo divisions. And with the cross mod and the fact that the waveshapes on both oscillators are continuous and the multi-mode filter is continuous and that you can modulate between filter modes into bandpass and back again… I mean, wow. You can get some powerful rhythmic modulations. All of which suit what I do so much. Then you stick in chord memory, the awesome chorus, phaser or flanger on top — you can get locked in a groove and lost for hours. Believe me, I know.”
Any interesting tricks or techniques you’d like to share?
“Yeah, lots. I like to really manipulate the controls, if I have a sequence or an arpeggiator going. One nice thing is that the pedal inputs on the back are control voltage, so I can use an external analog sequencer to add rhythmic dynamics in, to modulate the VCF, volume, and particularly the sustain, which is great for doing open and closed hi hats with the noise oscillator.
I guess the thing I do most and what’s quickly become a kind of signature sound for me is what I call the “pitch glitch.” When the delay is locked in sync, if you adjust the clock divisions, the delay trails glitch into a new pitch. But because they are all subdivisions of the same tempo, you can actually play the delay sync clock and make harmonies.
The simplest example is if you’re delaying a sound to the sixteenth note with lots of feedback and then you quickly switch the division to eighth note — the delay feedback trail drops an octave in pitch before it catches up with itself. I use this all the time. It’s really psychedelic. Check out the track “126.96.36.199.1” for a series of wild examples of this and the track “Tommy Afterglow Rides the Circle Line to Nowhere” for a more calculated use of pitch glitch playing of the delay as a fundamental compositional element. This trick is all over most of my tracks really. Now everyone’s gonna do it, too, I guess. Me and my big mouth.“
Can you share some of the compositions you’ve been working on that haven’t yet been released? Or examples of what you’ve been doing with the OB-6?
“Of course. That first EP I made just after unboxing is called “Music for USB Ports” which I released in May and is on Spotify/Tidal/iTunes/Apple Music. All the usual places as well as my Bandcamp page.
But I’ve put together a special Soundcloud playlist to show some of what I’ve been doing with the OB-6. There are 17 tracks there that stretch to two hours. I guess you’d call this a rough first draft of an LP which I’d describe as an eclectic mix of ambient, club, industrial and soundtrack electronica, with heavy doses of screwed-down futurefunk. I’m a big fan of Vangelis and D-Train in equal measure.
All the synth sounds on all of these tracks are OB-6. Almost all the drum sounds are OB-6. In fact anything which isn’t an 808, is the OB-6. The vast majority of the effects are also OB-6, so this playlist is pretty much two solid hours of pure OB-6. And as I mentioned regarding my workflow, every track on this playlist was created and recorded in the last 3 weeks — apart from one slightly older one that I made 12 weeks ago.
Hope this goes some way to showing just how awesome this synth is. Make sure to pass on my thanks to Dave and Tom.”