Brooklyn composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Kelly Moran has developed a passionate following and critical acclaim for her unique and eclectic compositions, largely done on piano, that bridge the gap between classical, electronic and ambient music. She released a new album Ultraviolet just under a year ago and she is back with her new seven-track EP Origin. The new EP will sound similar to the music made on Ultraviolet, as they are all demos and unreleased tracks written during sessions for that album. We wanted to break down how the record was made and what she used to compose and produce it, so Moran is here to tell us How It Was Made. She has her own piano plus equipment like the Prophet 12 (assisted by a very cute and fluffy friend) and much more. Pick up a copy or the Origin EP here and listen below.
Continue on for Kelly Moran's guide to her equipment.
I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to equipment - I’m basically the opposite of a gear head and like to have a just a few high quality pieces that help me achieve what I’m trying to do when I make music.
The most important part of my gear… my piano! I have a Boston piano that is a GP 178 Performance Edition II. It’s 5’10’’ and is just big enough to be considered a full grand piano. My family got this piano for me when I was in high school and seriously studying to attend conservatories for piano performance. I’ve been preparing it with screws and bolts for the past three years and have made all of my recent records on it - including Bloodroot, Optimist, Ultraviolet, and Origin EP. Oddly enough, my piano tuner says my piano sounds better and better every time he comes to tune it, so feeding it a steady diet of screws and bolts must be working.
Perhaps I should explain exactly why there are screws and bolts inside my piano - I compose using a technique called “prepared piano,” in which the player inserts small objects between the strings of the piano to manipulate the sound. I like to use screws and bolts because they give the piano a sharp attack, while creating really delicate, gentle resonances that trigger different harmonics depending on where you played the preparations on the strings and how far they are from the hammers of the piano.
I record my piano with a pair of Rode NT 5 condenser mics. I bought these mics in college using money I got from selling a fretless Warwick Bass that I sadly got tired of trying to play adequately. (I went through a seriously heavy Jaco Pastorius phase as a teen!) They’re small-diaphragm cardioids, and they’ve been my trusty mics ever since 2007. I’ve recorded all my records with them!
I record everything using my Macbook Pro (2012 model). I’ve used Logic Pro as my DAW since I was 15 and am pretty stubborn about using other programs. I recorded all the piano and synth parts in Logic myself for Ultraviolet. I personally didn’t use any of the internal synths or MIDI sounds in Logic for this album - everything I made on the record is prepared piano and my synthesizer. (Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, contributed a few production touches to the record - but what sounds he used is a total mystery to me. I know he added some MIDI horns to the end of Helix and some Zebra patches to the end of Water Music - but other than that, he was quite restrained!)
A few years ago, I upgraded my interface to an RME Fireface 400. I bought it off eBay for a steal and it’s been an incredible investment. Not once has it ever given me trouble or not connected to my computer - after dealing with faulty interfaces for years, this piece of equipment was a godsend. I will sing RME’s praises forever!
The next step of creating music for me after I record piano is adding lots of synth layers to it! Like I mentioned, I am not a big gear head, so when I buy a piece of equipment, I have to really want it to invest in it. I decided to go straight to the top a few years ago and make my first synthesizer purchase a Prophet 12. I have not once regretted this decision! It’s just a beautiful instrument that sounds so warm, and it lets you have so much emotive control over the sounds. I don’t even know that much about programming with synths but the Prophet feels very intuitive to me. It allows you to be really expressive with how you craft the sounds and the default library of patches gives you a great place to start. I never use presets without heavily personalizing them first, and I did that for several of the electronic sounds heard on Ultraviolet.
For preliminary mixing at home, I have a pair of M-Audio Studiophile BX5 monitors! I bought these in college to mix my own music and I really love the balance on them.
That’s basically it! My process is pretty simple, but I might change it up for the next record, so if I do this again I might have a totally different setup :)